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Old 11-16-11   #1
ffetcher
 
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Default Sybil Leek, 1917 - 1982

Okay, I'll start. verifiable facts are in normal case, items from her writings, from verbal anecdotes passed on locally or from the internet and for which I cannot find corroboration are in italics. If you look at the combination, and add up the dates, you'll see the problem. This is what I would do as a folklorist and I can always edit it later if anyone disputes stuff. What I'm trying to do here is not to produce a definitive biography, but to break the log-jam and figure out how we're going to do this.

Sybil Leek was born in Staffordshire into a well-to-do family.

She claimed descent from Molly Leigh, the subject of a mid-eighteenth century accusation of witchcraft, from Burslem in Staffordshire.

Her family mixed in high society circles, but she had only a few years of formal schooling and was then educated at home.

Members of her family encouraged her to learn about witchcraft, paganism and the occult, including Eastern philosophies.

At the age of sixteen, she married her music teacher, but he died two years later and she returned to her grandmother.

Her grandmother sent her to France to be the successor to a distant relative as the high priestess of a coven.

She returned to England and lived for a while with a friend in Lyndhurst, where she met a number of local Romany Gypsies.

She ran away from home and lived for a while with the Gypsies, becoming for a while high priestess of the Horsa Coven, one of the 'Nine Covens', and thus became a council member.

By the age of twenty (1937) she was back living with her parents, then opened three antique shops including one in Burley, in the centre of the New Forest, and she moved to a house in the village shortly thereafter.

During the Second World War she worked as a nurse, including some service abroad.

She was also recruited as a spy, producing fake horoscopes to deceive the Nazis.

She rose to fame in the mid-1950s, and wrote prolifically on witchcraft, paganism and the occult. But her fame as an 'out' witch soon got to be a nuisance. Locals thought she was 'either a joke or a fraud' and resented the attention she brought. When she was offered the opportunity to visit the US on a publicity tour for her latest book, she took it and stayed there.

A present-day coven in the New Forest is 'following in her footsteps', but in public at least stops short of claiming direct lineage.

In New York, Sybil met the parapsychologist Hans Holzer and collaborated with him on several projects. She then moved to Los Angeles.

In Los Angeles she met Israel Regardie and spent time with him discussing and performing Golden Dawn rituals.

Sybil Leek died in 1982 at her house in Florida, leaving behind a son, Julian, and countless US covens.
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Old 11-16-11   #2
Nacken

 
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Default Re: Sybil Leek, 1917 - 1982

I've had friends who knew her. According to them, most of her later books were ghost written by others and that only some of her earlier stuff was her actual material. They say that she was very mischievous, and a bit of a trickster. I gather that she tried to make herself seem more powerful and important than she was, so it makes it harder to evaluate her claims. For instance, she did claim to have been a member of the New Forest coven at one time. Then there is her being HPs to the Horsa Coven. She was more consistent in what she said about this coven, which makes it a bit easier to believe.

Sibyl actually only fully trained a very few people, probably three to ten approximately, although a larger number of people than this claim to be her successor. Her legacy is hard to pin down. She did travel widely, holding the equivalent of workshops. She was well known due to her books, and was one of the public faces of witchcraft. Her claims to have been part of the New Forest Coven and the Horsa Coven bolstered Gerald Gardner's position, and she somewhat Wiccanized her teaching over time. Sybil has become mythologized somewhat. This is partially her doing, and partially the work of others, but it makes it hard to discern the truth from the myth. One thing you can say about her; she was certainly a colourful character. But she would probably be amused by that.
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Old 11-16-11   #3
Cassie
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Default Re: Sybil Leek, 1917 - 1982

Quote:
she was certainly a colourful character.
Indeed.
Are there any points of belief or methodology that are directly attributable to her?
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Old 11-17-11   #4
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Default Re: Sybil Leek, 1917 - 1982

Quote:
Originally Posted by Nacken View Post
I've had friends who knew her. According to them, most of her later books were ghost written by others and that only some of her earlier stuff was her actual material. They say that she was very mischievous, and a bit of a trickster. I gather that she tried to make herself seem more powerful and important than she was, so it makes it harder to evaluate her claims. For instance, she did claim to have been a member of the New Forest coven at one time. Then there is her being HPs to the Horsa Coven. She was more consistent in what she said about this coven, which makes it a bit easier to believe.
Basically, looking at the period between 1933 and 1937 from the POV I apply to other types of folklore (and in the case of the local people from the ROCF and later that's exactly what I've been doing since I moved down here in 1975), it doesn't appear to stack up. I've spoken with local Romani on many occasions (fieldwork can be hazardous to the liver and your sanity) and the best I can come up with is that she did indeed know many of them but never lived with them. Romani lineages and histories are held by various matriarchs, around here at least, and I suspect that one of the Martins or Coopers would by now have claimed 'ownership' if she had indeed 'run away' to live with them (probably both would have, each dissing the other's claim).

I find it extremely unlikely that in the less than two years missing she could travel to France, be initiated, become HPs and return to England. The big question would be why? I'm not saying it's provably untrue, but even in terms of the high rate of coven splits in present day south-east England, that must have been one hell of a spat.

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Originally Posted by Nacken View Post
Sibyl actually only fully trained a very few people, probably three to ten approximately, although a larger number of people than this claim to be her successor. Her legacy is hard to pin down. She did travel widely, holding the equivalent of workshops. She was well known due to her books, and was one of the public faces of witchcraft. Her claims to have been part of the New Forest Coven and the Horsa Coven bolstered Gerald Gardner's position, and she somewhat Wiccanized her teaching over time. Sybil has become mythologized somewhat. This is partially her doing, and partially the work of others, but it makes it hard to discern the truth from the myth. One thing you can say about her; she was certainly a colourful character. But she would probably be amused by that.
Yep, I suspect that most claims of 'succession' are actually that one or more founders of a coven attended her introductory training sessions. Certainly the local group oft-times known as the New Forest Coven, in public at least, only claim to be 'following', not to have a direct lineage.

And if, as I surmise, the New Forest Coven was, in 1939, at least an intersection set with the ROCF, if not entirely contained within it, then membership of the NFC is extremely unlikely. I'll leave others to comment on Horsa, since I don't want to be seen to be the only one rocking the boat.

I know little about her career in the US and I'd love for people from that side of the pond to expand on this.

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Originally Posted by Cassie View Post
Are there any points of belief or methodology that are directly attributable to her?
I've never been a member of the 'new NFC', nor sought admission, so the straight answer is that I don't know. And I'm not about to barge into the local pub and ask someone to break oaths - I value my rep and my nose - so I can make an educated guess from a position of no actual knowledge: 'no', or in the extreme positive 'she absorbed more from what was developing into Wicca than vice versa and the results are so intertwined that we'll never know'. I suspect that the two or three on ESF who might actually know, can't say.

blessings
ffetcher
(who is glad not to have started with Gardner)
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Old 11-23-11   #5
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Default Re: Sybil Leek, 1917 - 1982

I am sort of an amateur folklorist and researcher on Sybil's life, and have been a fan of her work since the '70s. Although I did not know her personally, I was close friends with her last student and nurse, Christine Jones, who published a memoir earlier this year, titled
Sybil Leek: Out of the Shadows Sybil Leek: Out of the Shadows
(out of print). Alas, Chris died a few months ago (read her obituary here: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/floridatoday/obituary.aspx?n=christine-m-jones&pid=153365838). According to her publisher, "Her letters from Sybil were donated to the Witchcraft Museum in Bocastle, Cornwall, along with a copy of her book." She had also previously published two other chapbooks about Sybil's teachings under the pseudonym "Lady Athena." Before she died, Chris told me she had sent Sybil's initiation robe and athame to Ray Buckland, who was also friends with Chris and had known her for many years. And she sent me Sybil's old bottle of "Lucky Planet Oil," which I treasure.

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Originally Posted by Nacken View Post
I've had friends who knew her. According to them, most of her later books were ghost written by others and that only some of her earlier stuff was her actual material. They say that she was very mischievous, and a bit of a trickster.
According to Chris, it was mainly Sybil's astrology books that were ghostwritten. Some of the people who did ghostwriting for Sybil included Candice Shoaf Leek (her daughter-in-law) and Dikki-Jo Mullen, who is the astrologer for The Witches' Almanac. Dikki-Jo wrote an article about Sybil in issue # 29. The majority of Sybil's books were on astrology; she wrote very little on Witchcraft. Chris said that Sybil would also contract others to do charts for her.

When I first heard that Sybil had hired ghostwriters for many of her astrology books, I felt extremely disillusioned. But I recently had a revelation that has served to mitigate these feelings somewhat. I co-own a small indie press, and as a publisher I've been told that some famous celebrity authors do not write their own books either because they don't have the time, because they are busy working on other projects, or because of age. At this stage in their careers, their name is a marketable brand. I now believe this is what happened with Sybil. It is said that she was a millionairess, and Sybil herself alluded to making her fortune through writing and astrology.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Nacken View Post
I gather that she tried to make herself seem more powerful and important than she was, so it makes it harder to evaluate her claims. For instance, she did claim to have been a member of the New Forest coven at one time. Then there is her being HPs to the Horsa Coven. She was more consistent in what she said about this coven, which makes it a bit easier to believe.
According to Chris, Sybil was actually quite powerful and effective as a Witch. She just wasn't very forthcoming. According to Hans Holzer, "As for her witchcraft, she always considered this her private business, except that she also made it a public business by talking about it on the air" (Holzer, Witches). Chris said that Sybil was very skilled at mind control (Holzer also mentions this). This is not difficult to believe, as Sybil demonstrated this on animals on TV.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Nacken View Post
Sibyl actually only fully trained a very few people, probably three to ten approximately, although a larger number of people than this claim to be her successor. Her legacy is hard to pin down. She did travel widely, holding the equivalent of workshops.
She also taught writing seminars, as one of my coveners and authors knew Sybil and took this course from her.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Nacken View Post
She was well known due to her books, and was one of the public faces of witchcraft. Her claims to have been part of the New Forest Coven and the Horsa Coven bolstered Gerald Gardner's position, and she somewhat Wiccanized her teaching over time. Sybil has become mythologized somewhat. This is partially her doing, and partially the work of others, but it makes it hard to discern the truth from the myth. One thing you can say about her; she was certainly a colourful character. But she would probably be amused by that.
Agreed.

It's interesting to read the early interviews with Sybil. In them, her description of Witchcraft is odd … different from Wicca. For instance, in the first published newspaper story about Sybil, she says that Horsa worked with a "god of fire" and a "god of earth," and that they used the cauldron literally for cooking the meal, which the coveners shared. She said that "it always seems to be her turn to carry the cauldron" (Daily Herald, Sept. 16, 1963). She also said they would "draw energy from the trees" (Holzer).

Cecil Williamson, a contemporary of Gerald Gardner, said that Sybil did meet some genuine Witches in the forest who were all village "wise women" (Michael Howard, Wicca). They lived in Beaulieu, Sway, and Stoney Cross. Chris said Sybil had shown her a photo of them. A few years ago, a BNP told me that Sybil and a motley group of women who accompanied her made an appearance on a talk show in England. The women had long black, stringy hair, and heckled the psychologists on stage. Could these have been the members of the Horsa "coven" that Sybil wrote about? We may never know.

Philip Heselton quotes Deric James, the editor of Insight magazine who knew Sybil in the '60s, as saying that the rituals of the Horsa Coven were largely based on Crowley's writings (Howard, Wicca). On the show mentioned above, however, Sybil gave a demonstration using Lewis Declaremont's Great Book of Hindu Magic, according to one of my colleagues who was there. Chris independently verified that that was one of Sybil's favorite grimoires.

The spells and rites and recipes that Chris taught me that she had learned from Sybil are very folksy and simple. One such spell, which I can share, is that Sybil would put some peppercorns in a pot of water and boil them while concentrating on a person that she wanted to send a message to telepathically. There are a few of Sybil's spells in Chris' memoir, though if you want more, you'll have to track down the chapbooks that Chris self-published.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Cassie View Post
Indeed.
Are there any points of belief or methodology that are directly attributable to her?
Yes. Sybil's eight Tenets of Witchcraft: Reincarnation, Balanced Life, Harmony, Love, Trust, Humility, Tolerance, and Learning. She discusses these in depth in her most enduring contribution to the Craft,
The Complete Art of Witchcraft The Complete Art of Witchcraft
(circa 1971 or '73). Though somewhat dated and containing some bias by the author, much of it is still relevant today. If you only read one book by Sybil, let it be this one.

Many Old Guard, such as myself, cut their teeth on Diary of a Witch (among other early titles). It became a bestseller. Barbara Walters interviewed Sybil twice on the Today Show as a result. (The BBC also supposedly filmed a documentary about her called "The Several Lives of Sybil Leek.") A BNP who met her in the '60s or '70s, whose name I won't repeat, once told me a few years ago that the story of Sybil's initiation in the south of France is straight out of Dennis Wheatley's novel To the Devil a Daughter. As I have not read it, I can't answer to that. But I now consider Diary to be mainly fiction, though it does contain some good insights sprinkled throughout, and it's entertaining.

But I personally love Sybil's early non-Witchcraft books such as A Shop in the High Street and A Fool and a Tree, which I recommend to avid fans or researchers. A Ring of Magic Islands is also good.
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Last edited by SoulFire; 05-21-18 at 02:24 AM. Reason: Fixed a link.
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Old 11-24-11   #6
SoulFire

 
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Default Re: Sybil Leek, 1917 - 1982

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Originally Posted by ffetcher View Post
Sybil Leek died in 1982 at her house in Florida, leaving behind a son, Julian, and countless US covens.
P.S. She had two sons, Stephen and Julian.

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Old 11-24-11   #7
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Default Re: Sybil Leek, 1917 - 1982

Thanks for all the information, Soulfire, filled in a lot of stuff that local folklore doesn't know. The good residents of Burley, who once complained bitterly about the results of people who came to visit because she was there, now. of course, dine out on her reputation, but a lot of the time the stories are inaccurate versions of episodes that may be dubious in the first place.

blessings
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Old 02-13-14   #8
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Default Re: Sybil Leek, 1917 - 1982

Greetings - this is an interesting and informative discussion about Dame Sybil Leek. I just want everyone to know that she initiated Dr Frederick LaMotte Santee aka Merlin who initiated Lady Phoebe Athene Nimue at the original Coven of the Catta Covenstead in Doc Santee' library back in 1967. I am not sure if i can post links here as this is my first time on a forum but will try. Lady Phoebe initiated me into my first second and third degrees from 1981-1988 and even though she passed on a couple years ago the Coven continues alive and well both in the Berwick PA area at Lady Alsace's house and at my house north of Harrisburg PA and I am Shawnus Merlin Belarion 3* Coven of the Catta. Our members at one time dwindled to just me and Alsace but now we are up to five 3rd*s and two Probationers spread from NY to PA, NC to FLA. Our blog is http://covenofthecatta.wordpress.com/ and our FB page brand new is https://www.facebook.com/gary.hoke.31 and you can download free PDFs of booklets i wrote on Santee and the coven at http://www.lulu.com/shop/search.ep?t...com&q=&x=0&y=0 or you can just contact me at my public addy of shawnuscoc@gmail.com As may have been written before Sybil also initiated Grace Kemelek at The Covenant of Rhiannon but she unfortunately passed on before passing on the lineage there. I am not sure is Sybil initiated Christine Jones her nurse and last biographer or not.
BB. SMB 3* COC
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Old 02-20-14   #9
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Default Re: Sybil Leek, 1917 - 1982

I never met Sybil Leek but I briefly corresponded with her shortly before her death. In addition to this, one of my friends in Toronto, Canada, was acquainted with her and some of her initiates. (The late Jonathan Zotique was initiated by Sybil Leek; white robes were worn at the ceremony.)


Sybil Leek really was initiated into the Coven of the Red Dragon in la Gorge du Loup. Her contact for the coven was, appropriately, a Chinese gentleman who sold antiques and curios.


Sybil Leek did indeed meet and work with Israel Regardie. I direct you to this cached page:


http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:9LXwlxkqzQQJ:archive.is/fk3HO


Unfortunately, Israel Regardie referred to her, rather misogynistically, as “the old fat girl.”


The liturgical material contained in her “Complete Art of Witchcraft” derives almost entirely from a pamphlet entitled “Witch” published by Charles Cardell under the pseudonym of Rex Nemorensis. This can be easily verified by comparing each to the other. Note especially the idiosyncratic punctuation used in the Charge as published by both Cardell and Leek. In fact, Sybil makes a veiled reference to Cardell in the introductory material of her book.


Incidentally, on September 2, 1964, CBC-TV in Canada broadcast “Circles of Power,” a documentary about witchcraft that featured Sybil Leek leading her New Forest coven.


Sybil Leek derived her tradition of witchcraft from an eclectic combination of beliefs and practices. She placed little emphasis on formal ritual and initially practiced in the “peller” tradition, which she was introduced to by the village “wise women” mentioned above. There were elements of shamanism involved, such as the use of astral totem animals.


She came from a family of occult enthusiasts for whom rosicrucianism, spiritualism, and theosophy were all “grist for the magical mill.” Witchcraft could be whatever one wanted it to be. It was really not until the mid-60s that Sybil Leek incorporated some aspects of the Gardnerian tradition into her entirely unique, highly idiosyncratic practice of witchcraft.
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Old 02-23-14   #10
Lee Shawnus

 
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Default Re: Sybil Leek, 1917 - 1982

Interesting about your having communications with her by mail i assume? At first i thought you might be K aka SF on here but think you must be older. I looked up Jonathan Zotique and am fascinated that he seems tied with the Wandering Bishops perhaps of the ECG as i am a 1* in the Caliphate OTO. The Wiki on JZ says The Ancient British Church in North America (The Autocephalous Glastonbury Rite in Diaspora) is a small body claiming to be Eastern Orthodox in Toronto to serve marginalised people who feel that they are rejected by the Eastern Orthodox Community and the Roman Catholic Church.
Also interesting about the white robes because in old pics of coveners they all wore white robes too. I was just talking with Lady Alsace on the phone planning Beltane and she mentioned Lady Phoebe past life regressing her to SE France and i told her that is where the Coven of the Red Dragon came from, thought the name may be one from England connected with the King. I have a theory that in the mid 1800s some local "pagans" may have actually written the type of rituals that are in our BOS from the template of the Catholic Mass, they of course having stolen it from pagan sources.
There is another Leek expert on this forum whom i have talked to and i like one of the links above think SL did learn more from the "Peller" trads of East Anglica which is basically where the New Forest is as she claims. I do not think she had a BOS per se but probably just notebooks of spells and formulas which she published in her many books.
Redflame93 is of course a Thelemic name and all live links to that url seem to be dead ending at some server in Korea.
Thank you for sharing what you obviously know a lot of here and if u want to email my public addy is shawnuscoc@gmail.com and then i can give u my private addy. 93/BB SMB
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