The Making of Doreen Valiente Witch
by Philip Heselton . . . . . by Philip Heselton(!)

Since reading Gerald Gardner's Witchcraft Today (Rider 1954) in 1959, I have been intrigued by the story he told of how he was initiated into "the witch cult" and I gradually accumulated more information until I reached the stage where the only sensible thing to do was to write about it all.

This ultimately resulted in my two books on the history of the modern witchcraft revival, Wiccan Roots (Capall Bann 2000), and Gerald Gardner and the Cauldron of Inspiration (Capall Bann 2003). This was followed by a full-scale two volume biography of Gardner, Witchfather (Thoth 2012).

I have long admired the work of Doreen Valiente ever since I bought a copy of her first book, Where Witchcraft Lives (Aquarian 1962). Following a prophetic dream, I acquired a copy of her An ABC of Witchcraft Past and Present (Hale 1973) and wrote a review of it for The Ley Hunter, a magazine about the ancient alignments known as leys, of which I was the first editor.

So I was familiar with and much appreciated the work of Doreen Valiente when John Belham-Payne, of the Centre for Pagan Studies and the Doreen Valiente Foundation, asked me to write Doreen's biography. As the inheritor of Doreen's artefacts, library and papers, John had been hoping to write her biography himself but he realised that he had bitten off more than he could chew.

I was delighted to be asked, but also apprehensive, because it felt presumptuous to undertake such a venture when I was surrounded by people who knew Doreen well, whereas I had never met her. So, it was a daunting task, but one that I have enjoyed tremendously.

So I started by getting together as much as I could of what had been published about Doreen's life, including her substantially autobiographical The Rebirth of Witchcraft (Hale 1989) together with articles and interviews by such individuals as Rufus Harrington and Kevin Carlyon.

The next step was to examine Doreen's library and papers which are held by the Doreen Valiente Foundation. This involved a research trip to Spain, during which I was the guest of John and Julie Belham-Payne. I could really only dip my toe into this vast resource, but I concentrated on looking at Doreen's notebooks, which she kept from 1957 to 1987, and the correspondence which she had with many individuals throughout the world.

There were also photographs in the collection showing Doreen from her youngest years to more recent times, and many of these have been reproduced in the biography.

Doreen had been planning an autobiography to be entitled "Have Broomstick: Will Travel". We only have her synopsis, but this has provided many valuable clues, though in many cases intriguingly incomplete.

Doreen had no close living relatives, but, by looking at a combination of birth, marriage and death records with the telephone directory, I managed to track down some family members who were able to give me some valuable insights into Doreen's early life, particularly a remarkable lady, Hazel Hall, who lived near Southampton.

Indeed, individuals have been a particularly valuable source of information. I must particularly mention Janet Farrar, who gave me the first clue about what Doreen did during the war, and made available to me files of correspondence between Doreen and her late husband, Stewart. And people have been very kind in giving up their time to talk to me about their memories of Doreen, in many cases offering me very welcome hospitality.

My method of writing has always been somewhat idiosyncratic. After a while of collecting information, I was able to put the main events of Doreen's life into some sort of order.

When I had written a synopsis, I made a first attempt at subdividing it into chapters and sorting the material out into each chapter. Here I used ring binders and subject dividers.

Then I started to write - with a black ball-point pen on A4 lined paper, so that there was a sort of "running order" for each chapter. Initially there were plenty of gaps where I noted in brackets that something was to be fitted in.

And in a book of this sort, quoting other people is always a significant feature. Here I used my photocopier and stuck the relevant quotation into the text with Sellotape at the relevant point.

At that stage I put it all on computer, printing it out. There was then the (sometimes lengthy) process of adding further bits in, deleting bits and moving bits around. Coloured pens were very useful for this process.

Eventually, the book was complete, or as complete as I could make it!

The process of getting the book ready for publication now began. And here I worked closely with Ashley Mortimer, who has been the most helpful publisher I have ever worked with. I am immensely grateful to him.

When we knew what page everything was on, it was time for me to prepare the index. This is a boring and time-consuming task, but essential for a book of this sort.

We also worked closely on the cover design and wording, which has, I think, worked out very successfully.

Particularly with a biography there are so many people who have helped in some way to make the book what it is. I am really grateful to all of them and I hope they like the end result!


(Photograph of the author by Hilary Byers)