There are numerous references to witchcraft in the archives at the Norfolk Record Office. These references typically relate to cases of people being tried as witches. Of course, the defendants in these cases were victims of persecution but what about ‘real’ witches? It is understandable that there might be few voices from that side of the cloak recorded in the archives from the 16th and 17th century when to express such beliefs could mean death. Fast-forward to the 1960s, where the counterculture and the increased interest in alternative lifestyles would allow Wiccan beliefs to become more widely accepted. In the archives from that decade can be found an unassuming, crudely drawn pamphlet, which gives a practitioner’s view of ‘white’ witchcraft. Welcome to the world of Raymond Howard and the mysteries of the Coven of Atho (NRO, MC 2817/1).
Raymond Howard begun offering a correspondence course in white witchcraft from his antiques shop in Field Dalling in 1962. He sold the course notes for the sum of 3 guineas, with a full money-back guarantee, in order to raise funds for the building of the first Temple of White Witchcraft. He had previously worked for prominent wiccans, Charles and Mary Cardell, in Surrey. Howard had worked as a handyman for the pair, but they fell out after Howard’s divorce, when Mary Cardell sided with his wife. In response, he exposed the Cardell’s involvement in witchcraft to the media and produced his own magic guide, based in part, on the work of Cardell and his predecessors.
Howard claimed to have been given the secrets of the Coven and related paraphernalia by a white witch called Alice Franch, who he had known since he was four years old. This included a large wooden head representing Atho, the Horned God of Witchcraft. Howard was pictured with the head in the Eastern Daily Press on 6 March 1967.
The report stated that the head was carved from oak and covered in symbols representing the ceremonies of the coven. It emitted steam when a crucible of water and a lighted candle were placed in the back. It was even claimed that the speedster, Donald Campbell, rubbed the head for luck before attempting the world land speed record. Unfortunately, some time after the report, the head was stolen from Howard’s workshop.
There has been some disagreement about the authenticity of the head, with Howard’s son reportedly saying he saw his father making it in his workshop [ibid www.thewica.co.uk ]. To add a further level of intrigue, a copy of the course was offered for sale in 2007 and the sales catalogue claimed that Howard’s statue was not the original, which was safely held in secret by surviving members of the coven.
The pamphlet begins by describing the symbols of the coven, with a signed letter from Raymond outlining its history and explaining he is offering this course after the loss of his family had made him review his life and realise that he had failed to help others.
The foundations of the Coven were the five Dienetic Laws- Birth, Survival, Reproduction, Death, and Return-and the Eight Paths of Majick, eight symbols arranged in a circle leading inward to the waxing and waning moon, representing the goddess Diana.
These paths are:
The Eye of the Crystal: symbolises scrying using a crystal ball.
The Ear in the Shell: showing how to commune with nature by listening to the waves and the wind.
The Symbol of Atho: representing all the secret knowledge of the order.
The Wine Cup: representing the imbibing of herbs to permit astral projection or clairvoyance.
The Joining Ceremony of Fertility: the physical joining of the man and the maid.
The Incense Taper: the use of incense to ‘create the atmosphere for Occult Perception’.
Vitality: The spiritual joining of the man and the maid.
The Hand of Glory; the coven’s sign of greeting.
Instructions were given on how to create five ritual circles. Each month, on the night of the full moon, Howard would send the subscriber one set of instructions, including how to make a charged sword . All the ritual circles were created using this a sword; the key requirement being that it must be made with no thought of destruction, so not to use a soldier’s or antique sword.
The ritual circles were:
The Circle of Brotherhood: used to bond the Coven together and to heal.
The Circle of Fertility: this concerned spiritual fertility, rather than reproduction, and helped the caster to question and seek the truth.
The Circle of Vitality: this joined together men and women at the summer solstice to promote physical vitality and create leaders, the magician and the witch, to achieve vitality of the spirit.
The Circle of Travel: this was not physical travel but clairvoyance and was cast to allow communication with the spirit world.
The Circle of Return: this was cast by a dying person and allowed them to come back in spirit through a medium, who was their pupil or otherwise connected to them.
Included with the pamphlet was background information describing in detail the Five Dienetic Laws, the Head of Atho, and the Hand of Glory.
In traditional lore, a Hand of Glory was the preserved hand of an executed murder, set with a wick at each fingertip. This could be used to paralyse a person or to unlock any door. However this phrase was used within the Coven to denote the secret symbols and greetings of ranked Members of the Order, which were not be revealed to outsiders (although Howard seems quite happy to give away that secret to anyone buying his pamphlets).
Howard also owned an old mill at Treago nr Crantock in Cornwall. He ends his instructions by advertising the sale of lucky Magic Touchstones to raise funds for repair and upkeep of the mill. Today there are holiday cottages on the site, near to the old ruins, so it appears that Howard never achieved his goal.
Researched and compiled by Alison Barnard, Norfolk Record Office