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Eleanor Ray Bone's Biography (Photos)

Eleanor Ray Bone
Eleanor Ray Bone (Artemis) (1910-2001) "Matriarch of British Witchcraft" was one of Gerald Gardner's High Priestesses, and played an important part in the revival of contemporary Wicca/Witchcraft. She claimed to have been initiated into a hereditary coven in Cumbria, and later formed her own coven in South London. During the early 1960's and 70's she was responsible for initiating some of the early prominent leaders of the craft, including: Prudence Jones, Vivianne and Chris Crowley, Madge and Arthur Worthington and authors John and Kathy (Caitlen) Matthews.

Eleanor was the daughter of a Girls School Headmistress (name unknown, but died in 1942), and was born in London in 1911. From her mother she naturally received a good and varied education, but an experience in early childhood caused her to question her faith, Eleanor explained why in a later interview:

"I've held unorthodox views on religion since 8 when my cat died. I was very upset and cried when I asked the Vicar whether the creature had gone to heaven; he replied that animals did not go there. This comment did not sit well with me and I began to read the Golden Bough and became interested in folklore".

Nothing more about her early life is known at this time, until at the start of World War II in 1939, she went to work in Cumbria in the North of England and came under the care of an elderly couple. One evening after work, conversation fell to reincarnation and Eleanor mentioned her belief in it, at which the couple revealed themselves to be hereditary witches. Later in August 1941 the couple initiated Eleanor into their coven of Traditional Witchcraft. Over the next four years Eleanor practised and learned from them before returning to London at the end of the war in 1945.

After the war Eleanor married her husband Bill and settled into a house called the Towers in Streatham, South London. During the day Eleanor worked as a matron running a home for the elderly, while at night she ran a witches coven, as she explained in a later interview:

"My flat is a four-penny bus ride from the old folk's home in Streatham, in a house called The Towers. The cauldron inside my front door is no door-stop, it's part of my other life. I'm not only a witch, but one of Britain's three High Priestesses. By day I dress for my job as matron in a tweed suit, thick lisle stockings and brogues. By night I dance naked with only a garter on my left thigh. I've often wondered what my neighbours at the Towers think of the bumps in the night. I tell them it's me moving the furniture about.

My coven meets in the living room. I take everything out of the room, clear off the magic circle on the carpet, and setting up an altar is no easy task. I use a huge old chest on which I lay my ritual knives. Sacrifice? Never. People confuse witches like me with Black Magic. They say the red wine and small cakes I administer to my kneeling coven are a travesty of the Holy Communion. Piffle! They are symbolic of the harvest and we are simply giving thanks to the gods for the grapes and the grain.

It is true that we are always naked at our rituals, but the reason is our search for purity. We don't wear clothes because they bring foreign particles into our magic circle. Our magic circle is purified with salt water. It is a big ring drawn at the beginning of each ceremony. It is drawn symbolically with the witches' sword - but I've painted mine on the carpet to save time. Once the circle is made, the High Priestess - that's me - sprinkles salt water all over it. You might call it our equivalent of Holy Water. When the circle has been purified in this way no member of the coven can enter it unless they are naked, for a speck of dust from our everyday clothes might spoil our magic.

Please don't run away with the idea that we have a sexual orgy. My coven is made up of middle-aged men and women - the kind of people you see in any bus queue. There is nothing sexy about us with our clothes off. We take it all very seriously and a prospective member to the "craft" is watched closely for three months before his or her nomination is put to the vote. That's how choosy we are.

As high-priestess of the coven I've had my share of crank letters, but I've a stock answer for those kind of crackpots - I write and tell them it's a psychiatrist they need, not a witch".

Through the early to mid 1950's when Gerald Gardner was becoming prominent in the press, and Gardnerian covens began forming around the country, Eleanor was introduced to him and the two became good friends. Later she was initiated into one of his London covens, and in 1960 raised and appointed High Priestess of her own Gardnerian coven in Tooting Bec, London. Eleanor's craft name was Artemis, and among her early initiates were: Vivianne and Chris Crowley, John and Kathy (Caitlen) Matthews, Prudence Jones and Madge and Arthur Worthington. Madge and Arthur in decent from Eleanor founded the Whitecroft coven in south London, which ultimately was responsible for large numbers of initiations and ensuring the survival of the Gardnerian Tradition in the UK.