Saturday, February 05, 2005

Helen Duncan, accidental godmother of Wicca

A movement is underway in Britain to clear the name of Helen Duncan, a Scottish Spiritualist medium sent to prison during World War II under the Witchcraft Act of 1735.

She was convicted of faking mediumistic abilities, but as this reviewer says, some people thought she was a true medium at times:

Her partisans, and conspiracy theorists in general, looked back to 1941, when at an earlier séance in Portsmouth Helen had raised the spirit of a young sailor. In life, he had served in HMS Barham. News of his materialisation soon spread among the families in the port. This was a source of dismay to the Admiralty, who had not yet admitted that the warship had gone down.

A film is now being made about her life.

What is the Wiccan connection? After the war, British Spiritualists lobbied Parliament to repeal the 1735 act. Eventually, it was replaced by a milder law. The repeal occurred in 1951--and suddenly here was Gerald Gardner proclaiming the existence of the hither-to unknown Southern Coven of British witches.

Cynic that I am, I think that Gardner & Friends only felt safe to create the coven then, in part to furnish a "back story" to Cecil Williamson and Gardner's new witchcraft museum on the Isle of Man, which opened that year.

Indeed, it may be the museum that makes 1951 significant, and that invoking the repeal of the 1735 anti-witchcraft law was merely another of Gardner's dramatizations.

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