The quintessential Sybil Leek – with rare audio interview
[su_box title=”Who Was Sybil Leek?” style=”noise” box_color=”#05022a” radius=”8″]The world’s media flocked to her door when she announced she was a white witch. The Witchcraft Act was only repealed in 1951 and few witches dared to reveal their craft at this time. Her village was besieged by tourists and many residents were also uncomfortable having a white witch in their midst. Burley resident Dionis MacNair says, “People either thought she was a bit of a joke or a fraud.”[/su_box]
Sybil Leek was an English Witch, a gifted Psychic, Astrologer and prolific Author who wrote more than 60 books on such subjects as Astrology, Numerology, and Reincarnation. She was born with a witch’s mark and claimed to be a hereditary witch of Irish and Russian Descent. A colorful character in her time, her trademarks were a cape, loose gowns and a pet jackdaw named Mr. Hotfoot Jackson perched on her shoulders. She always wore a crystal necklace that she claimed had been passed down to her from a psychic Russian grandmother. Her entire family was involved in astrology and some of the guests who visited her home included: H.G. Wells, Lawrence of Arabia and Aleister Crowley.
Sybil claimed to be able to trace her mother’s ancestry back to the witches of southern Ireland in 1134, and her father’s ancestry to occultists close to royalty in czarist Russia. Her most notable ancestor was Molly Leigh from Burslem near Stoke-on-Trent, and her choice of a pet Jackdaw as a familiar, bears an uncanny relationship:
As the story goes, Molly was born in 1685 and lived in a cottage on the edge of the moors at Burslem near Stoke-on-Trent. Molly was a solitary character who never married; she talked to the animals and kept a pet Blackbird. She made her living selling milk from a herd of cows to travelers and passers-by. An eccentric person, the Blackbird was often seen perched on her shoulder as she delivered milk to the dairy in Burslem.
Molly was known for her quick temper and the people of Burslem were suspicious and frightened of her. This was not uncommon in those times, for throughout the country ‘women’ and particularly elderly women who lived on their own in remote places, were labeled as witches.
In Molly’s case, it was the local vicar the Rev. Spencer who made witchcraft accusations against her. He claimed that Molly sent her Blackbird to sit on the sign of the Turk’s Head pub, a pub that the vicar frequently visited, and when it did the beer turned sour. She was also blamed for other ailments suffered by numerous townsfolk.
Molly died in 1746 and was buried in the Burslem churchyard, but then many claimed that her ghost haunted the town. A short time after her burial, the Rev. Spencer along with clerics from Stoke, Wolstanton and Newcastle went to open her cottage and retrieve her pet Blackbird. When they arrived they were shocked to see Molly (or an apparition of her), sitting in a favorite armchair knitting with her pet Blackbird perched on her shoulders (just as she had often been seen in real life). Frightened, the vicar and others returned to the graveyard and reopened her grave. They drove a stake through her heart and threw the living Blackbird into the coffin. The vicar then decreed that as she was a witch, she would not rest easy until her body was buried lying North to South. To this day, Molly’s tomb is the only one that lies at right angles to all the other graves in the churchyard.
Molly’s Grave in St. John’s churchyard, Burslem
Sybil took special pride in being descendant from Molly Leigh, and on a visit to Burslem she visited Molly’s grave. Later she was seen about town with her own pet jackdaw perched on her shoulders, following the same custom that old Molly had done before her.
Sybil was born on the 22nd February 1917 (see note below) in Straffordshire, England. From an early age, she lived and grew up in the New Forrest area of Hampshire and demonstrated an early gift for writing. The New Forrest is one of the oldest forests in England and is steeped in folklore and witchcraft associations. The same area is where Gerald B. Gardner first joined Old Dorothy Clutterbuck’s coven in 1939. That coven was reportedly descended from one of Old George Pickingill’s famous Nine Covens. Sybil claims that during her time in the area, there were still four old covens that had survived from the days of King William Rufus.
Leek, who claimed an IQ of 164, said she was taught at home by her grandmother until local officials required her to be enrolled in school at age 12.
She stayed four years and left at 16. Leek was nine years old when she met Crowley, supposedly a frequent visitor to the household. She said Crowley would take her out climbing in the rocks and recited his poetry, which encouraged her to write her own poetry.
One of the most incredible claims about her is that she was recruited by the British Government during the Second World War. According to the Second World War author Michael Salazar, her role was to provide phony horoscopes for the Germans who believed in Astrology.
She apparently wrote a chart which convinced the Nazi Rudolf Hess to fly to England, where he was captured. Michael says;
“World War II was a battle between good and evil and Sybil was in the middle of it.”
After the war and into her twenties, Sybil returned to Hampshire and lived in a small village called Burley situated in the heart of the New Forest. There she mixed with and lived among the Gypsies. She also joined their ‘Horsa’ coven, a coven they claimed had existed for 700 years. The Gypsy knowing she was a witch born, accepted Sybil as one of their own. From them, she learned a great deal about herbal potions and elixirs. When the time came for her to move on, they honored her in the traditional Gypsy way reserved only for the most respected of outsiders. They made her a ‘blood-sister’. This was done by cutting her wrist and mixing her blood with the blood of the Gypsy leaders.
Crowley also gave Leek instruction in the importance of words of power and the power of sound. According to Leek, Crowley announced to her grandmother that little Leek would someday pick up where Crowley would leave off in occultism. The last time she saw him was in 1947, shortly before his death.
However, Crowley left no records indicating that he was acquainted with Leek or her family. When Leek was 15, she met a well-known pianist-conductor who was 24 years her senior and fell in love. They were married shortly after her 16th birthday and traveled about England and Europe. He died when she was 18. Leek returned home.
Sybil’s family was relatively well to do and she grew up as a young lady of privileged societal standing, her mother was related to the Masters family, well known in high society. In their New Forest home her mother and a group of friends regularly met for tea, they called their group the Pentagram Club. When she was fifteen years old and during one of the family’s regular trips to the south of France, Sybil was initiated into a French coven based at George du Loup in the hills above Nice. According to Sybil, she was initiated to replace an elderly Russian aunt who had been High Priestess of the coven, and it was from this coven that the New Forest covens in England were descended.
Returning home Sybil met a well-known pianist-conductor who was 24 years her senior. Despite the age difference they fell in love and were married shortly after her 16th birthday. During the relative quiet of the pre-war years, they toured and traveled about England and Europe. He died two years later and she returned home to Hampshire. During World War II, Sybil joined the Red Cross and worked as a nurse in a military hospital near Southampton. Later she was sent to help nurse the wounded at Anzio Beach, before returning to England and being stationed at a military barracks in the isolated Scottish Hebrides Islands. She ended the War with a handful of medals, but the prosperity of her family had been lost to the austerity of the War.
Leek said she was initiated into the Craft in southern France, in George du Loup in the hills above Nice, an area that was populated by Cathars in the Middle Ages. According to Leek, her initiation was to replace an elderly Russian aunt, who had been the high priestess of a Coven and had died. returning again to England, Leek went to live in Burley, a village in the heart of the New Forest.
She lived among Gypsies and joined the Horsa coven which claimed to have existed for 700 years. She eventually became its high priestess. She successfully ran three antique shops. At some point, she married a man named Brian and had two sons, Stephen and Julian, who inherited the family’s psychic gifts.
In the 1950s, she experienced a mystical vision one spring day while walking alone in the New Forest. She became enveloped in a bright blue light that instilled in her a great sense of peace and the realization that her purpose in life was as an evangelist for the Old Religion. It was not until 1962 that she began to promote herself as a hereditary witch and coven leader, and by 1963 the press was giving her attention.
The death of Gerald B. Gardner in February 1964 created a vacuum for witch personalities—Gardner was a lover of the media limelight—and Leek stepped in. She announced the founding of the Witchcraft Research Association (WRA) with herself as president.
While living in Burley, Sybil started up and ran a successful antique shop. Then at some point, she met and married a man called Brian. Together they had two sons Stephan and Julian who are reported to have inherited the family’s psychic gifts. While walking in the woods one day Sybil had a vision, it brought to her the realization that her purpose in life was to promote the craft and the Old Religion. She began to do just that and into the 1950’s her reputation as a Psychic, Astrologer, and Witch, began to attract attention. Media publicity brought tourists to her village but in the wake of autograph seekers, her antique business began to suffer. Witchcraft was still viewed with suspicion in those times and her landlord refused to renew her lease unless she publicly denounced it. Sybil declined and was forced to close up shop and leave.
She also received a lot of media attention in 1964, when she challenged the academic Rossell Hope Robbins, who had written an encyclopedia on witchcraft and was lecturing against Margaret Murray and her assertions that witchcraft was an ancient religion passed down through generations. Leek attended at least one lecture by Robbins and verbally sparred with him, with her jackdaw giving hoots as well. The media lapped it up and dubbed Leek “Britain’s Number One Witch.” The publicity brought tourists and more media to her village. Business at her antique shop declined in the wake of autograph seekers, and her landlord’s refusal to renew her lease unless she publicly denounced witchcraft, put her in a position to make a decision. Should she denounce witchcraft? She refused, closed up the shop and left the New Forest. Leek’s career as a witch in Britain came to an end in 1964.
In 1963–64, churches in Britain were victims of ritualized vandalism, including a Sussex church not far from Leek’s home. She claimed that the symbols that defaced the church were directed at her and that the attack had been led by a black magician whom she had healed of illness. Despite her condemnation of the vandalism, the link she made between herself as a witch and black magic cost her supporters.
After her husband Brian Leek passed into the Summerland in 1974 Sybil emigrated to the United States. At first, she lived in New York, but found the city foreboding and not to her liking, at all. She moved to Los Angeles, where she became acquainted with Crowley’s onetime secretary Israel Regardie. In her later years, she divided her time between Houston and Florida. She worked as an astrologer, becoming editor and publisher of her own astrological journal.
Eventually, she settled in Indialantic, Florida. She would say that the lovely little beach town reminded her of the French Riviera. Eventually, her two sons, Stephen and Julian followed her.
An interesting side note to her life was her strong belief in reincarnation.
In 1968, her first book, Diary of a Witch, was published. The book described what it was like to be a “modern woman” practicing witchcraft, and it unleashed an enormous public response. Leek made frequent appearances on the media circuit. She met with mixed success, as some of her interviewers expected her to reinforce the stereotypes of witches as evil hags.
One of her greatest trials, she said, was learning patience and tolerance in dealing with such situations.
In all, Leek wrote more than 60 books, plus an internationally syndicated column. She liked to say that she never “preached” witchcraft, but sought only to explain the holistic philosophy of the religion and how it differed from satanism. She did not approve of nudity in rituals(see Skyclad) or of drugs. She believed in cursing, which set her apart from many witches. (See Curse.)
Leek wrote and spoke a great deal about Reincarnation, guided, she said, by the spirit of Madame Helena P. Blavatsky, co-founder of the Theosophical Society. One night as she stood at a lectern to give a talk on psychic phenomena to an audience of the Theosophical Society in St. Louis, Leek was overcome with a shining light, in which she could see the face of an elderly woman. The light seemed to penetrate into Leek. She began her talk, but it was not her original speech, but on Reincarnation. She said later she had no awareness of what she was saying.
Afterward, Leek saw a photograph of Blavatsky and recognized her as the woman in her vision. For the rest of her life, Leek said, she felt that Blavatsky had become part of her, using her as an instrument to finish her own work and educate others on Reincarnation.
Sybil’s son, Julian, spent his life building a research center in Melbourne Beach, Florida.
It would house a huge archive dedicated to his mom. By the time she died in 1982, she had written over 60 books, given hundreds of interviews and was a millionaire.
But the best legacy for Sybil is the fact that witchcraft is thriving in America and the UK.
A coven of white witches in the New Forest are following in Sybil’s footsteps. High Priestess Julie Forest says;
“She was a pioneer of her time and she is an inspiration to modern day witches.”