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The Magical Battle of Britain

Fighting Hitler's Nazis with occult ritual


Illustration by Alex Tomlinson


Fundamentalists sometimes assure us that “There is War in Heaven.” Jesus and Lucifer are perpetually at each other’s throats, and the archangel Michael has his sword drawn at all times. Similar imagery can also be found in occultism, where motifs such as the ‘magical attack’ or the stereotypical figure of the ‘magical warrior’ are commonplace. Such martial symbols most often derive from purely personal conflicts – the products of egotism, paranoid imagination or persecution complexes. However, on the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, this article looks at the ways in which magic was used in the wider conflict of World War II. Alongside the aerial battle being fought overhead during the summer and autumn of 1940, there was another battle being fought simultan­eously – a magical Battle of Britain.

Let’s be clear – we’re talking here about ‘magic’ in the occult sense, rather than ‘magic’ as conjuring or illusionism, which has already been discussed in these pages (see Gordon Rutter: “Magic goes to War”). War and Magic have long been regular bedfellows. The legendary King Arthur won his victories with his faithful sorcerer Merlin at his side and his magical sword Excalibur in his hand. On the early-modern stage, a British magician was set at combat with a German one in Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay. [1] Moving forward in time, and from myth and literature into history, in 1588 Queen Elizabeth I’s mathematician, court magician and spy, Doctor John Dee, is alleged to have conjured a massive gale to blow the retreating Spanish Armada into disarray. The threat of Napoleon’s invasion in 1807 is said to have been, at least in part, turned back by south coast British witches performing rituals to psychologically deter the French from thinking they could cross the sea in safety. World War I saw the appearance of the mystical motif of the Angels of Mons among other supernatural interventions (see FT68:34–37; 170:30–38; 183:48–51; 210:32–40), and on an individual level many soldiers carried homemade folk-magical talismans to prevent injury or death. [2]

World War II was destined to be fought on many levels. Above and beyond the tried and tested methods of firing some kind of projectile at the enemy, it saw the use of disinformation and the manipulation of psychology reach new heights as a means of waging war. The astrologer Louis de Wohl (1903–1961) was employed by the British Intelligence services, whose staff also included Dennis Wheatley and Ian Fleming, to feed disinform­ation about astrological predict­ions regarding Hitler directly to the German high command; it has been argued that this is what led to Rudolph Hess’s bizarre flight to Britain in May 1941. See panel ‘Aleister Crowley and Operation Mistletoe’. [3]

The ‘black arts’ of spin, propaganda and disinformation might be one kind of magic, but British occultists were also involved in helping the war effort through even less traditional means.


One figure more than any other has come to be associated with the Magical Battle of Britain: magician and writer Dion Fortune. Born Violet Mary Firth in 1890 to a family of Christian Scientists in North Wales, she was subject to visionary and mediumistic experiences from childhood onwards, believing herself to be a reincarnated Atlantean priestess and to have psychically channelled both Socrates and Merlin. She began to direct these experiences more coherently through her membership of the Theosophical Society. After World War I, she joined the Stella Matutina, a seed group from the original Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the one-time magical proving ground of Crowley, MacGregor Mathers, WB Yeats and others, of which she also became a member. The magical and pen name of ‘Dion Fortune’ under which she became known was a shortening of her inducted name when she joined the Golden Dawn – ‘Deo, Non Fortuna’, which roughly translates as ‘not by luck, but by God’ and derives from the Latin motto from her family crest.

As seems always to be the case with the Golden Dawn, inner schisms led to Fortune leaving to set up her own group, with a strong emphasis on esoteric Christianity and a less formal outlook. She went on to perform considerable meditational and magical experimentation with the Arthurian Grail myths surrounding Glaston­bury, on which aspect she worked with the visionary archæologist and mystic Frederick Bligh Bond (see FT143:40–44; 249:50–54).

Perhaps ironically, following what by today’s standards would be called a nervous breakdown, and often perceiving herself to be under some kind of magical attack (one of her most famous books is Psychic Self-Defence, 1930), Fortune also trained and practised as a psycho­therap­ist. She wrote numerous factual books, novels and articles for such influential magazines as the Occult Review, many of these combining her psychological and mystical interests, exploring the collective unconscious, Jungian notions of the anima/animus, ‘ley lines’, psychic protection and esoteric methods of healing. Fortune developed a profoundly ‘psychologised’ occultism (she used the phrase “occult science” habitually), a syncretic system taking elements from many religious cultures, including Egyptian cosmology, Theosophy, astrology, numerology, Cabbalah and such Eastern techniques as accessing that “psychic library of all things”, the Akashic Record. She employed techniques of channelling, the creation of thought-form entities, trance induction, guided meditat­ions, pathworkings, visualisations of protective pentagrams and glowing white spheres, auto-hypnosis, ascetic methods of prayer and meditation, the development of psychic abilities through divination tools such as tarot, scrying with crystal balls and dark mirrors, analysis of visionary dreams, breathing exercises, remote viewing and developing psychic contacts with ‘ascended masters’, inner-plane spirit guides and the ‘Secret Chiefs’ of the Occult Orders which control the world.


For Fortune, what mattered was inclusive and stringent study, with any ‘magical’ effects produced being seen as subsidiary to the overall aim of higher personal and spiritual development: “being in the world but not of it”. She was a pure ‘detached’ mystic who believed massive social problems could have purely magical solutions, and thus eschewed political involvement.

She considered occultism to be “a noble quest for the soul, a true crusade against the Powers of Darkness”, [4] its aim the magical service of humanity, and from 1939 onwards she believed her order – The Frat­ernity of the Inner Light – to be entrusted with the magical defence of the realm, inheriting its task from King Arthur and his Grail knights. With the coming of war, she also realised that the task would require more effort than the existing magical initiates of the order, now dispersed around the country, could provide; in a surprising magical ‘call-up’, Fortune invited outsiders into the order, making it, temporarily at least, a mirror of the new democratic spirit abroad in Britain, the idea that “we’re all in it together” reflected in so many wartime speeches, posters and films. With members scattered and meetings difficult, this extended magical fraternity would have to find a new way of operating in such desperate times.

Fortune made 3 Queensborough Terrace, Bayswater, the group’s London ‘HQ’ (the order also owned a property in Glastonbury) and directed her magical war effort from here. Over a period of three years (October 1939–October 1942), she sent a series of weekly (and later, after the tide of the war had turned, monthly) letters to her followers, describing in great detail an escalating series of magical meditations to be performed every Sunday, based on Golden Dawn protection and visualisation techniques and centred around the building up of a vortex of powerful psychic imagery from the ‘national spirit’. [5]

Fortune believed that this national spirit resided in Glastonbury, personified by an Excalibur-wielding King Arthur, although encompassing far more. Focusing on the supposed hollow space beneath Glastonbury Tor, the group also visualised Jesus, [6] the Rosicrucian cross, Merlin, the Holy Grail and the Archangel Michael (whose ley passes across the country, and right through Glastonbury), all united with Arthur in their stand to protect the nation.


Before the first letter was sent out, group members received a set of ‘Meditation Instructions’ on how to prepare for the coming magical battle:

“The members of the Fraternity of Inner Light have been carefully trained in the theory and practice of meditation. Every Sunday morning from 12.15 to 12.30 certain members will hold a meditation circle in the Sanctuary at 3 Queensborough Terrace. Other members, scattered all over the country, will also sit in meditation at the same time. Thus a nucleus of trained minds will be formed… The weekly letters will be sent every Wednesday in order to ensure the punctual arrival in time for the following Sunday. On that day, but not before, study the contents of the letter in preparation for the united meditation at 12.15… Having studied the letter, take your seat if poss­ible in a quiet, dimly lit room secure from disturbance; face towards London; sit in such an attitude that your feet are together and your hands clasped, thus making a closed circuit of yourself. Your hands should rest on the weekly letter lying on your lap, for these letters will be consecrated before they are sent out in order that they may form a link.”

Then, through breathing and relaxation, each member, wherever they might be, would enter a meditative state, thinking about the week’s subject and producing visualisations of the appropriate symbolic images and archetypes: “Think of yourself as part of the Group-soul of your race; your life a part of its life, and its life the basis of yours. Then, invoking the name of God, open your minds as a channel for the work of the Masters of Wisdom”

The first meditations were intended to inoculate the ‘group mind’ of the nation against the dark forces of enemy propaganda, but in her fourth letter (29 October 1939) Fortune reported that the symbols were already taking on their own “definite astral forms and appeared and maintained themselves of their own accord”. That this was the case was made clear by the fact that “one member of the group… got switched onto another line, as a train is switched by the points, and found herself in the sanctuary at Glastonbury, instead of at 3QT; and despite all her efforts had to stay there till the meditation ended.”

Such accidents were perhaps bound to happen as the new recruits settled down to life during wartime, but by the year’s end they had begun to get “the feeling that we are not isolated individuals but part of a disciplined army…”. The work of this magical army was both to create a magical powerhouse of specific archetypal imagery that could be tapped into, and to attempt to heal a national psyche under immense stress in time of war.

As their confidence grew, Fortune started to push her psychic soldiers harder. By 28 January 1940 (Letter 15) she was guiding them into an active defence of the realm: “Let us meditate upon angelic Presences, red-robed and armed, patrolling the length and breadth of our land. Visualise a map of Great Britain, and picture these great Presences moving as a vast shadowy form along the coasts, and backwards and forwards from north to south and east to west, keeping watch and ward so that nothing alien can move unobserved.”

By 21 April (Letter 26), she was planning more ambitious experiments in remote viewing, extending the angelic patrols to defend the UK coast and beyond: “…those who have a taste for psychic adventure might… mark out on a map, the long line of the mine-fields that run from the far north down the coast of Norway, divide into two at the passage of the Baltic and wall off both eastern and western seaboards of Germany… such a patrol would be stormy work, and only those with steady nerves should attempt it… The experiment should first be made of patrolling the North Sea coastline, and only when it is proved poss­ible to do this steadily and clearly should the attempt be made to carry the patrol through the narrow waters into the Baltic.”

Soon, Fortune was leading magical ritual attacks and ‘astral plane’ battles, with the group visualising themselves armed with swords and flaming torches pointing towards Germany, entering the head­quarters and bedrooms of leading Nazis and performing magical attacks on them in attempts either to ‘curse’ Britain’s enemies or to change their behaviour towards good rather than evil.

But even as she went on the offensive, Fortune believed that there were similarly magical forces – much darker ones – at work just across the Channel in occupied Europe. She wasn’t sure to what extent Hitler had “an accurate knowledge of technical occultism and how far in military matters, he avails himself of the services of the experts”, but she was in no doubt that the Führer was, in any case, “himself a natural occultist and highly developed medium” (Letter 86, 5 October 1941).

There is considerable literature supporting the idea that leading Nazis followed their own esoteric interests (see FT196:32–39), particularly the Grail myths, even if nothing has yet come to light to suggest that any of their magicians were involved in any particular magical battle with British occultists at this time. But, according to Fortune, the battle had indeed been joined on the inner planes. Just as she and her followers were sending out telepathic messages to heal a nation under fire and interfere with Nazi propaganda, the Germans were also broadcasting their evil ideology through magical means: “We are… dealing with definite occult forces being used telepathically on the group souls of nations, and finding channels of expression through the subconsciousness of susceptible people who lack spiritual principles.”

Such Nazi occult weapons formed a sort of psychic ‘fifth column’, argued Fortune, adding: “So specialised and unrecognised is it that we might justly talk of Sixth Column activities” (Letter 34, 7 July 1940).


By the time that the Battle of Britain was at its height in the summer of 1940, Fortune felt that the group had already achieved some success; she often heard echoes of their meditations and visualisations in the sermons and speeches of senior establishment figures – from the Archbishop of York to the Prime Minister himself – and saw such momentous events as the evacuation from Dunkirk – “when the storm and the calm fell exactly as needed, and even the military authorities talked of a miracle” – as revealing the rightness of Britain’s course and the support of the higher powers (Letter 34).

The Order’s London HQ at 3 Queensborough Terrace had become a “centre of peace” from which positive energies might radiate out to its dispersed psychic army, who in turn were becoming “nuclei of stability in a profoundly disturbed world” (Letter 26, 21 April 1940).

Despite growing magical success, the war was coming ever closer. In her letter of 2 September 1940 (Letter 40), Fortune noted that “Our meditation this week was conducted to the accompaniment of a dogfight at a low altitude immediately overhead and an incendiary bomb next door but one, and we have never had a more absolute sense of peace and power.”

Such confidence proved slightly misplaced when the London Blitz began in earnest and the HQ was “straddled by a stick of four bombs, our headquarters just fitting neatly into the middle of them, and, though well shaken, escaping all damage”. Even with bombs falling and anti-aircraft fire blasting out, she wrote, “[I]t was possible to see the Invisible Helpers at work as innum­erable shadowy presences… Over all was the iridescent dome of protection guarded by great angelic presences. These are among the things we have been visualising and building on the astral, and at the moment of testing it was a wonderful experience to see how potent and tangible they were… there were no casualties. This is the second time this has happened in our vicinity. That there are powerful forces at work can hardly be denied.” (Letter 47, 20 October 1940)

But despite asking members to pray for the protection of the HQ, the following week’s letter recorded that the Order had been bombed out of it, though thankfully without casualties, “ so it may be maintained that the invocation was at least a partial success, though your leader and her librarian look like a couple of sweeps owing to a difference of opinion with the roof, which fell in on them, but tactfully refrained from hitting them”. Whether Fortune’s undimmed good humour was the manifestation of a powerful archetype or simply an example of typical British pluck, this was indeed the ‘Spirit of the Blitz’. She continued: “It has often been alleged that Dion Fortune is a Black Occultist, and we regretfully admit that the allegation can no longer be denied; however, it is hoped that soap and water will restore her to the Right Hand Path…” (Letter 48, 27 October 1940)


As the Battle of Britain and the Blitz passed and the war gradually turned in the Allies’ favour, Fortune directed more of her efforts to the conflict’s aftermath and the challenges of peace. Like many people, she looked forward to a period of reconstruction not just physical but social; the Age of Aquarius, she knew, was dawning, and a bold programme embracing fundamental social change was required to meet it. The practical realm of politics was not open to occult workers like Fortune, but by the end of the war she felt that her Order’s work had been accomplished, the archetypes created. The seeds of the post-war settlement, both at home and abroad, were manifestations of the Fraternity’s work: “Those who were with us in those days will remember how we opened our doors and welcomed all who would sit in meditation with us and taught them the esoteric methods of mind-working that had never been revealed before outside the Veil of Mysteries, and that this work was done with a view to bringing into manifestation those very ideas that are now manifesting. What part we played in their manifestation we cannot know; but we do know that whereas the Fraternity was a voice crying in the wilderness, the cry has now become a chorus.” [7]

Some of Fortune’s followers believe the physical demands of the psychic efforts she expended in magical attacks on the Nazis drove her to an early grave. Having taught her methods to members of her group for around two decades, she succumbed to late-diagnosed leukæmia not long after the war’s end – in 1946, just before her 56th birthday. She is buried in Glastonbury. Her magical order flourishes to this day as the Society of the Inner Light. [8]


The Battle of Britain was won, of course, by the immense courage, determination and skill of the British, Commonwealth and Allied pilots fighting in the summer skies of 1940; it was a victory hugely significant for the unfolding history of World War II and the 20th century. Operation Sea Lion was ultimately prevented not by magic, but by the profound sacrifice of these young men, and subsequently – as Hitler turned east – by the even more massive one of the Russian nation. After the beating sustained on the Russian front, it was inconceivable that the German army could be refreshed and rebuilt enough to mount a seaborne invasion, and the entry of the USA into the war in December 1941 had tipped the balance in the Allies’ favour, permanently.

We know that Fortune’s campaign of meditations really did happen between 1939 and 1942, even if the Once and Future King didn’t arise from his slumbers under Glastonbury Tor and smite the Nazi foe with Excalibur. Gerald Gardner’s 1940 Rufus Stone rite might have actually taken place in some form, although it would seem that Crowley’s Ashdown Forest working is more than likely pure myth. Both Fortune and Crowley died soon after the end of hostil­ities, with Austin Spare following in 1956 and Gardner living until 1964.

Perhaps Fortune and the others really did achieve something during those dark days: the emergence at the time of the so-called ‘Blitz spirit’ produced a powerful new archetype that Britain continues to call on in times of adversity – after the 7/7 bombings in London, for example. Could the focused activity of Fortune’s patriotic meditation teams have played a part in creating, bolstering and maintaining that spirit?

While the occult interventions of Fortune, Gardner and others might have had a magical, a morale-boosting, or perhaps a purely psychological effect, the efforts of those who actually fought should never be minimised. In oral history work with our ageing WWII veterans, we regularly hear that very few of them felt that God – any kind of God – was protecting them personally in those difficult days. There was, at best, an inconsistent level of divine protection for anyone in a war that claimed, at the latest estimates, some 70 million victims.

Possibly such tales of magical warfare are simply one of the ways, as esoteric scholar Professor Wouter Hanegraaff describes, in “which magic­ians seek to legitimate magic to the wider society as well as to themselves” in the modern era. [9]

But magic has continued to play its part, right up until today. In the 1980s, ‘King of the witches’ Alex Sanders performed several magical rituals intended to hasten the British Army’s victory in the Falklands War. [10] And following 9/11, seven and a half tons of steel salvaged from the wreckage of the Twin Towers was used in the construction of a major battleship, the USS New York, which entered service in November 2009. This is a huge piece of magical symbolism, even if we ignore the rumours that some of the same steel is being used to forge symbolic swords for ceremonial ritual use by the US military! It does make you wonder though, who, if anyone, is doing magic regarding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to what ends?

Robert Greene: The Honourable History of Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, c. 1589.
Vanessa Chambers: “A shell with my name on it: the reliance on the supernatural during the First World War”, Journal for the Academic Study of Magic 2, 2004.
Richard Norton-Taylor: “Star turn: astrologer who became SOE’s secret weapon against Hitler: How Britain tried to exploit the Führer’s supposed superstitions”, Guardian, 4 Mar 2008.
Dion Fortune: The Esoteric Orders and Their Work, Thorsons, 1994, p4.
All quotations from the letters are taken from Dion Fortune: The Magical Battle of Britain (with an introduction and commentary by Damon Knight), Golden Gates Press, Bradford on Avon, 1993.
If the use of Jesus surprises anyone who thinks that magic and Christianity don’t cross over, Fort­une earlier wrote that: “the mantric effect of the use of the Sacred Name of Jesus is such that anything impure seems unable to withstand its vibrations and has to take refuge in flight”. Dion Fortune: Sane Occultism, Aquarian, 1979, p90.
The Magical Battle of Britain, p x.
Society of the Inner Light, www.innerlight.org.uk.
Wouter J Hanegraaff: “How Magic Survived the Disenchantment of the World”, Religion, 33, 357–380.
Alex Sanders archive, Museum of Witchcraft, Cornwall. The documents archive is available to researchers by prior appointment. Some of the documents are access­ible at www.museumofwitchcraft.com/archive, which is a work in progress. Copyright/access terms and conditions apply. Used by kind permission.


The infamous magic­ian Aleister Crowley (1875–1947; see FT231:28–57) produced a very small symbolic book in July 1941 designed to boost morale and the war effort via the medium of poetry. [1] For example:

England, stand fast!
Stand fast against the foe!
They struck the first blow: we shall strike the last.
Peace at the price of Freedom? We say No.
England, stand fast!

But there are also stories of a more active war effort on the part of the Great Beast (below left), largely circulated in the 1990s by the late, self-styled ‘Amado Crowley’, who claimed to be Aleister’s son. These include accounts of him and ‘dad’ performing wartime rituals, including a rite held in Sussex in 1941 and intended to bring Rudolph Hess to Britain. [2] Hess had a profound interest in ‘ley lines’, various forms of mysticism and astro­logy (in another life he might have been a Fortean Times subscriber!), and his mysterious flight to Britain in May 1941 was allegedly influenced by astro­logical propaganda, via deliberately false charts distributed in Germany by British agents.

‘Operation Mistletoe’ was purportedly cooked up by James Bond creator Ian Fleming during his time in Naval Intelligence, and was intended to use Crowley’s occult powers to lure the Deputy Führer to Britain. The ritual, held in Ashdown Forest, involved a large number of sold­iers dressed in ad hoc magical robes, and either a burning dummy in Nazi uniform or a symbolic model aeroplane which flew down on a cable stretched from a church tower to a nearby tree, accompanied by considerable pyrotechnics and much ritual chanting. (In some versions of the tale, two German SS officers, codenamed ‘Kestrel’ and ‘Sea Eagle’, had been somehow duped into attending the Ashdown Forest ritual and reported back to Hess that the Order of the Golden Dawn was alive and well and waiting to take power once peace was established).

Cecil Williamson (a former intelligence officer and subsequently the first owner of the Museum of Witchcraft) also describes this ritual in what appears to be confirmatory detail, but in previous corre­spondence with Gerald Yorke (one of Crowley’s literary compilers and later the Dalai Lama’s emissary to Britain) Williamson remarks that he’d never met Crowley. Therefore, if Williamson was at Ashdown Forest then Crowley couldn’t have been; and if Williamson was not there, how can he claim to give a firsthand account? [3] The most parsimonious answer appears to be that Williamson is regurgitating Amado’s tale as if it were his own. More tellingly, there is not a single reference to any such event in Crowley’s own volum­inous magical diaries and no independent account has ever arisen; nor can any record of soldiers being deployed be found in the National Records Office or Military archives, while the physical geography described in the tale does not fit current or past maps of the area. All in all, it’s extremely unlikely that anything like the event described ever happened, in Ashdown Forest, or anywhere else. [4]

What does appear to be true is that Ian Fleming suggested Crowley be used to question Hess about Nazi occultism follow­ing his capture. Crowley was keen to help, writing a letter to the Director of Naval Intelligence in 1941 stating that: “[I]f it is true that Herr Hess is much influenced by astrology and Magick, my services might be of use to the Department in case he should not be willing to do what you wish.” [5] Crowley was ultimately not employed, his reputation (and his pro-German statements during WWI) perhaps preceding him.

Some of Dion Fortune’s follow­ers believe that their works of remote viewing and remote magical influence were the main reason that Hess came to Britain; they see his flight not as a defection, but rather an act of repentance as a consequence of the magical efforts directed at him, causing him to sacrifice himself in the manner of Jesus.

Hess died in 1987 after over 45 years in jail, and was the last senior Nazi in captivity to die. Over 20 books examine the myths around Hess’s flight and the subsequent political machinations surrounding his imprisonment, and the waters are now hugely muddied; the only thing we can be certain of is that the Hess story, with so many unanswered questions, is a boon to conspiracy theorists.

Aleister Crowley: Thumbs Up – a Pantacle [sic] to Win the War, Privately published, 1941 (subsequently Mandrake Press, 1993).
Amado has given another account of a major magical ritual performed with Crowley at a megalithic site, the Men an Tol stones in rural Cornwall, in 1943, which supposedly had a powerful effect on the other side of the Atlantic. This has since been absorbed uncritic­ally into the Philadelphia Experiment/Montauk mythology in books by Preston B Nichols & Peter Moon. Amado’s account is utter nonsense, of course.
Cecil Williamson: Letter to Gerald Yorke, 7-8-1952, Warburg Institute, London. Yorke Collection, Folder YC1EE2.
Dave Evans: The History of British Magick After Crowley, Hidden, 2007. One magical event that did happen in Ashdown Forest was that it inspired AA Milne to describe the Hundred Acre wood, whence the British racial-cultural archetypes of Pooh and Piglet and Christopher Robin emerged.
John Pearson: The life of Ian Fleming, Jonathan Cape, 1966, p117.


In England shortly before World War II, the retired Civil Servant and recently returned expatriate plant­ation manager Gerald Gardner (1884–1964) became involved with the Fellowship of Crotona, a Co-Masonic group (they admitted men and women) with Theosophical Society links. Within this occult body was another more secret group claiming to be made up of hereditary witches. On the eve of war, Gardner (right) was initiated into what he discovered was the ‘New Forest Coven’, which he believed was a genuine survival of the supposed pre-Christian ‘Wiccan’ religion. On 31 July (Lammas Eve) 1940, the coven joined with other witches at the Rufus Stone in the New Forest for a lengthy ritual to prevent Hitler from invading.

Gardner later recalled: “We were taken at night to a place in the Forest, where the Great Circle was erected; and that was done which may not be done except in great emerg­ency. And the great cone of power was raised and slowly directed in the general direction of Hitler. The command was given: ‘You cannot cross the sea, you cannot cross the sea, you cannot come, you cannot come.’ Just as was done, we were told, to Napoleon, when he had his army ready to invade England and never came. And, as was done to the Spanish Armada, mighty forces were used, of which I may not speak.” [1] Five witches of the 17 present died soon after, poss­ibly because of the demands of the rite – the energetic dancing and chanting required proved a bit too much for some of the older people present (Gardner believed his health had suff­ered too – although he lived for nearly 25 more years). Some coven members claimed family traditions involving a similar ritual (and with a similar body count) being performed to stop Napoleon invading almost 150 years before, the death of some elderly and frail witches being considered a boost to the rite’s power. Interestingly, Gardner’s claimed family line contains a Vice-Admiral Alan Gardner, a significant tactician in the British fleet that opposed the French navy at the time. However, it must be remarked that Gardner made very many claims, and only some of them are supported by verifiable facts.

The choice of the Rufus Stone, which marked the death site (and probable assassinat­ion) of a King of England in 1100, might seem unusual for a ritual intended to protect the nation; although given that Will­iam Rufus was the son of the invader William the Conqueror, perhaps it was an inspired and apposite location to stage such a rite. Gardner of course went on to be the founder, or discoverer (however you wish to view the disputed histories) of modern Witchcraft.

Jack Bracelin: Gerald Gardner: Witch, Octagon Press, 1960, p167.

If ever there was a witch who had good reason to ‘work against’ Hitler, it was the artist and occultist Austin Osman Spare (see FT144:34–40). Before the war, an emissary of Hitler had bought one of Spare’s portraits and the one-time Austrian housepainter wanted Spare to do a portrait of him, complete with Charlie Chaplin moustache. Spare wrote back saying: “If you are Superman, let me be forever animal”.

Spare, who had been a war artist in World War I, lived and worked in a studio at the back of Woolworths in the Walworth Road, near the Elephant and Castle in south London. He even had pencils printed with ‘Spare’s School of Draughtsmanship’ for use by his pupils.

AOS had often recorded the magical involvements he had with contacts from other dimensions, but he’d encountered nothing so foul as the Germans’ attempted destruction of London. He was 57 and working as a firewatcher on the roof of Collier’s, the local department store. He spent many tedious hours while waiting to ‘spot’ enemy aircraft and filled the time drawing his fellow firewatchers as well as pondering the implications of what was happening. During the tense hours of the night shifts, he produced some fabulous sketches showing the psychic devastat­ion being inflicted on the capital. Some have a monumental quality, others a real poignancy, with armless but heroic figures endlessly wandering the wastes. He drew in autograph books and in cheap drawing books, but these sketches are some of his finest work. He also worked on camouflage for the Army but was cheated out of the recognition he deserved by the War Office.

He was bombed out of his studio on 10 May 1941, during the last of the Luftwaffe’s raids on the capital. He was lucky. 3,000 people died and many thousands more were wounded in the frenzied attempts to destroy the London docks. Spare lost his home, all his possessions and the use of his right arm, although the physical wounds were nothing compared to the emotional ones he suff­ered from being thrown off a fire escape and left lying in his smouldering clothes. After losing everything in the Blitz, Spare was a lost soul, living poorly, in bad health and not having a settled home for many years. We have a young art student called Steffi Grant to thank for his last, bright flowering from their meeting in 1948 until his death in 1956. They connected, she gave him pastels and paper and the magician in him made a magician of her.
Geraldine Beskin

There are two exhibitions of Austin Spare’s work in London this autumn. Austin Osman Spare: Fallen Visionary at The Cuming Museum, Walworth Road, SE17 13 Sept­ember – 14 November, and The Spare Spare Show at The Atlantis Bookshop, Museum Street, WC1A 1LY. 13 September – 14 November. The 171 bus conn­ects the two venues.

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Rudolph Hess
Getty Images/Fox Photos

  Dr John Dee

Dr John Dee

  Austin Osman Spare

Austin Osman Spare
Frank Letchford


Aleister Crowley
Getty Images / General Photographic Agency

  glastonbury tor

Glastonbury Tor
Getty Images / Matt Cardy

Gerald Gardner

Gerald Gardner


  ashdown forest

Ashdown forest in Sussex
Getty Images / Hulton Archive / Kenneth Rittener

3 queensborough terrace

3 Queensborough Terrace
Etienne Gilfillan

Author Biography
DR DAVE EVANS is a social hist­orian of postwar Britain and World War II, appearing online and in print, and an occasional FT contributor. His PhD thesis was published as History of British Magick After Crowley in 2007: http://hiddenpublishing.com/books/.


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