Thirteen Days of Halloween: Sybil Leek
Sybil Leek, “Britain’s most famous witch,” is often referred to as the “Mother” of modern witchcraft. Rising to fame in the 1960s, she became the inspiration for thousands of aspirants to discover the “old religion,” or Wicca as it is known today.
Famed English witch and occultist Sybil Leek was born in the village of Normacot in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England on February 22nd, 1917. Daughter of wealthy and socially-prominent parents, Sybil claimed from an early age that she traced her family history to the 16th century witch Molly Leigh, accused and charged with witchcraft during the European witch hunts.
While records cannot affirm Sybil’s pedigree, is it known that her family encouraged her even as a child to follow the craft, learning much from her father about nature, animals, and the use of herbs (the two of them said to have frequently taken long walks while discussing metaphysics), while her grandmother taught her astrology, the psychic arts, divination, and even discussed Eastern philosophy.
When Sybil was 16, she met a prominent concert pianist who became her music teacher, and then her husband, that same year. When he died two years later, Sybil returned home grief-stricken to her grandmother’s house, but her life was about to take a significant turn. A short time later, she received her formal entry into the practice of witchcraft when her grandmother sent her to replace a distant relative as High Priestess of a French coven based at Gorge du Loup (Wolf Canyon) in the hills above Nice.
Gypsie, High Priestess
Eventually returning to England, Sybil then established a friendship with a clan of Romany Gypsies, eventually living with them in the English countryside, learning ancient folklore and more about the practical use of herbs. While living as an adopted Romany, Sybil attended rituals with the Horsa coven in the New Forest, of which she was High Priestess for a short time and therefore a member of the Nine Covens council. At age 20, Sybil returned to her family, who had moved by then to the edge of the New Forest, at Burley.
Never one to hide her spiritual inclinations, the media soon began to take an interest in Sybil’s public persona and activities. As public interest grew, Sybil found her personal life constantly invaded by news reporters and tourists who routinely showed up on her doorstep. Sybil began enlisting friends to serve as decoys in order to be able to leave the village and attend secret meetings of her coven. Although the village itself thrived on the influx of tourists, residents were not happy about the extra traffic and attention Sybil drew, her landlord eventually asking her to leave for the good of the village.
Sybil in America
In April of 1964, Sybil took advantage of an invitation to appear on American television to visit the United States. In New York, she quickly become a recognized celebrity, constantly mobbed by fans and the press. While in New York she was contacted by Hans Holzer, a well-known parapsychologist who invited her to join him in investigating spirit hauntings and other psychic phenomena. The two went on to do numerous TV and radio programs on the subject--making Sybil even more of a phenomenon. Moving to Los Angeles the following year, Sybil then met world-renown occultist and expert on ritual magic(k), Dr. Israel Regardie, the two reportedly spending a great deal of time discussing and practicing ritual magic(k).
Because Sybil rose to fame in the 1960s (after the repeal of the 1735 Witchcraft Act in 1951), she became a great influence on a generation of both old and aspiring young Neo-pagan practitioners, and inspired countless more to discover the “old religion,” or Wicca as it is known today. Always strongly in defense of her beliefs and spiritual convictions, Sybil became an outspoken opponent of nudity in rituals (a common tenet of many American Wiccans and a requirement in some traditions), strongly opposed the use of drugs both recreationally and ritually-related), and was also one of the first modern-day witches to take up environmental causes, aspiring Wiccan activism. Though dubbed “Britain’s most famous witch” by the BBC, Sybil did as much for the American craft scene as she did for Britain.
Sybil died at her Melbourne, Florida home on October 26th, 1982, at the age of 65, having written more than 60 books on occult and esoteric subjects. Today she is often referred to as the “mother” of modern witchcraft.
images via wikipedia.org, except Romany Gypsies, via emri.com