What better time than the approach of Halloween to discover that witchcraft is alive and well in the New Forest.
The village of Burley has been associated with witches (and warlocks, dragons and all manner of things mystical) for many years. A lot of people assume that the connection goes back to the 17th Century, when women accused of being witches (usually because they were healers, wise in the ways of plants and herbs and the Church wanted to undermine their power) were persecuted and burned for their witchcraft. But in fact Burley is famous for only one witch, and she was there relatively recently, in the 1950s.
Sybil Leek was a white witch, who walked around the village in a flowing black cloak with a tame jackdaw, known as Mr Hotfoot Jackson, sitting on her shoulder. She lived, with her husband and two sons, behind the post office and she wrote many books about the occult, palmistry and astrology. She belonged to the Horsa Coven, which went back 700 years and was one of the original covens, around not long after King William Rufus hunted in the New Forest.
It was Sybil who named the village gift shop, which belonged to her friend, A Coven of Witches, establishing a permanent association between Burley, with its thatched cottages and roaming ponies, and witchcraft.
However Sybil found herself unpopular with some of the locals, who weren’t keen on all this witchy business. In fact the Witchcraft Act, banning witches and acts of witchcraft, had only been repealed in 1951, so she eventually went to live in the USA.
However, Sybil was not the only witch in the Forest; there were, and still are, many more. There are believed to be up to 100 Covens (a group of 13 witches) around the Forest, both male and female, all of them believing in the healing powers of nature, in our connection with Kair – Mother Earth and living by the principle that we should harm nothing and no-one. Hardly the stuff of black witchcraft, in fact their beliefs are now bang up to date, as we all turn our thoughts to saving the planet’s precious resources.