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Pagan Pioneers:  Founders, Elders, Leaders and Others

Old George Pickingill



This photograph purporting to be Old George Pickingill is in fact a photo of Alf Cavill, a station porter at Ellstree, taken in the early 1960s.


Written and compiled by George Knowles


George Pickingill was a legend in his own time, a feared “Cunning Man” by local residents, a sought after Witch and Magician by those in occult circles.  Born to Charles and Susannah Pickingill (nee Cudner) on the 26th May 1816, George was the eldest of nine children.  They lived in a small Essex village called Hockley in East Anglia, from where he later he moved to the nearby village of Canewdon, and there he remained until his death in 1909.


“Old George” as he became known, was a hereditary witch and claimed he could trace his ancestry back to the time of “Julia Pickingill – The Witch of Brandon”, who lived in a village north of Thetford in Norfolk.  Julia as legend would have it was hired in 1071 to make magical chants for the troops of “Lord Harewood the Wake” inspiring them into battle against the Normans.  During the battle, Julia was seen standing in a wooden tower overlooking the two opposing armies and where her chants could be heard across the battlefield.  Her chants seemed to be working, but then the Normans set fire to the dry reeds around the tower and Julia died in the flames.  Since that time each generation of the Pickingill family have served as Priests and Priestesses in the Old Religion.


Old George like his father was a humble farm worker, yet all who knew him held him in awe.  Many of the local village folk were afraid of him and his mysterious abilities, it was said he could set magical imps to work bring in the harvest and that they could clear a field in half an hour while he sat under a tree and smoked a pipe.  He was not well liked in the village and even feared, it was said that he terrorized the villagers for money and beer, and threatening to blight their crops if they refuse him.  Despite this he would charm their warts and dispense cures, and was sometimes called in to settle their disputes.



Canewdon Church circa 1900


(Legend now has is that as long as the tower of Canewdon’s St Nicholas Church stands; there will always be six witches living in the village).


In occult circles he was highly regarded, and was widely acknowledged as the country’s foremost authority on Witchcraft, Satanism and Black Magick.  Overtime, many of the days leading Witches, Satanists, Rosicrucian’s, Freemasons, Magicians and other magically inclined people traveled from all over England, Europe and the United States to consult with him.  As his reputation grew, Old George became just as infamous as Aleister Crowley was in his time.  He was also known to have encouraged Satanism, which horrified other Craft Elders who considered him a renegade and a disgrace to the craft.


Over the course of his lifetime, Old George established a total of nine hereditary covens, situated in Norfolk, Essex, Hertfordshire, Sussex and Hampshire.  In many ways he was a zealot, for when he started a new coven; he insisted its leaders produce evidence that they came from hereditary witch lineage.  Each coven he formed worshiped the “Horned God” and used a basic set of rites, though he was constantly changing, embellishing and introducing new concepts as they developed.  All rituals were conducted by women and involved ritual nudity and sexual inductions.


The Pickingill family, including Old George, were renowned for their allegiance to the Horned God and adopted many ancient Craft practices that were not observed in other parts of the country.  The rites developed by the Pickingill tradition were a unique blend of French and Scandinavian craft practices.  This was due in part by the influx of French and Flemish weavers into East Anglia, who introduced elements of the Cathar faith and the Old Religion as observed in France during the Middle Ages.  Old George used a basic format for each of his covens, but he was always re-writing, revising and introducing new rituals, therefore each of his nine covens although similar, were not exactly the same.


Up until Old George’s time, many existing covens were based on oral traditions, their knowledge and rituals having been passed down from generation to generation, and instilled upon their members by repetition, memory and practice.  This in part due to the secrecy imposed on witches during the “Burning Times”, which inevitably, and over time, led to fragments of their traditions being lost.  However, some hereditary covens kept a “Coven Rulebook”, now called a “Book of Shadows”, which contained a list of all the coven members and outlined the covens basic rites.  For safekeeping, the book was guarded by the coven’s secret “male” deputy, often referred to as “the Man in Black”, and only made available on special occasions at the Master’s bidding to add/delete names or transfer authority.  No members, particularly woman, were ever permitted to read it.  This may have been due to the opinion that a woman would reveal the location of the book if her children were tortured in front of her, whereas a man may not.


As the fear of the “Witch-hunts” began to decline in the later half of the 18th century, Old George always willing to change, adapt and evolve took the idea of the “Coven Rulebook” and developed it, starting the tradition of keeping a “Book of Shadows” for the exclusive use of all coven members.  The original Book of Shadows as compiled by Old George and modified over a period of his lifetime was then passed on to each of his nine covens, a legacy that lives on today.  Many think Aleister Crowley passed on the details of one of Old George’s Book of Shadows to Gerald Gardner who adopted the same into his own tradition.  The concept of keeping an individual “Book of Shadows” in your own handwriting, evidently originated from Alex Sanders who founded the Alexandrian Tradition witchcraft.


Aleister Crowley is reported to have been a member of one of Old George’s covens in or around 1899.  He is thought to have obtained his Second Degree before being dismissed due to his contemptuous attitude toward women and deplorable behaviour.  Other pupils of note were two Master Masons by the names of “Hargrave Jennings” and “W.J. Hughan”.  Both later become founder members of the “Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia”; from which the “Order of the Golden Dawn” would eventually emerge.  Doreen Valiente in her book “Witchcraft for Tomorrow” alleges that Jennings consulted with Old George and conspired with him to concoct a cipher manuscript (Cipher MS), which led to the founding of the Golden Dawn.  However such claims have since been discredited.


Aside from his famous “Nine Covens”, there was a more sinister side to “Old George” for which he became notorious.  Old George had an intense dislike for Christianity and local authority.  He openly campaigned for the overthrow of the Christian Religion and the establishment in generally.  Some claim he even collaborate with Satanists, because he believed that by promoting Satanism, he was helping to ensure the destruction of the Christian church.  This brought him into conflict with other Craft Elders who strongly objected to his activities.


Contrary to popular belief, for many misinformed articles are commonly sensationalized in the Press, witches do not believe in “devil-worship”, nor do they invoke Satan during ritual to carry out evil deeds.  Satan and the Devil are by-products of Christianity and have nothing to do with the Old Religion.  The Old Religion was being practiced well before Christianity came along.  This in mind, the other Craft Elders had good cause for objecting to what “Old George” was advocating, preferring secrecy and discretion to the unwanted attention he was arousing.


After Old George’s death in 1909, and some 30 years later, Gerald B. Gardner was initiated into one of his descendent covens and began openly writing about Wicca and Witchcraft.  In 1946 when Gardner met with Aleister Crowley shortly before his death, it was alleged that Gardner paid him to write in his original “Book of Shadows”, but this has now been discounted.  While his BOS did contain some of Crowley’s writings, this is now believed to have been the result of Gardner and Crowley comparing notes on rituals used in Old George’s New Forrest coven.  Doreen Valiente in her book “Witchcraft for Tomorrow” does much to shed light on this controversy.


In 1951 when the old antiquated Witchcraft Act of 1735 was repealed causing a resurgence of interest in the Old Religion, many Craft Elders became concerned that exposure of Old George’s satanic activities would distort and damage the newly evolving image of Wicca and Witchcraft.  To protect against this, the Elders of the Hereditary Tradition in East Anglia conspired to discredit any claims made by Gardner and others concerning the survival of Hereditary Witches.  This in part involved the eradication of many traces of “Old George” and his “Nine Covens” as was possible.  Today as a result, the real importance of Old George’s contributions to the revival of present day witchcraft may never be determined.





The Encyclopedia of Witches &Witchcraft  - by Rosemary Ellen Guiley.

The New Encyclopedia of the Occult - by John Michael Greer.

Encyclopedia of Wicca &Witchcraft  - by Raven Grimassi.

Witchcraft for Tomorrow  - by Doreen Valiente.

The Dark World of Witches - by Eric Maple.



First published on the 02nd February 2001, up-dated 08th June 2007 © George Knowles



Best wishes and Blessed Be



Site Contents - Links to all Pages


Home Page


A Universal Message:


Let there be peace in the world  -   Where have all the flowers gone?


About me:

My Personal PageMy Place in England / My Family Tree (Ancestry)


Wicca & Witchcraft


Wicca/Witchcraft /  What is Wicca What is Magick


Traditional Writings:


The Wiccan Rede Charge of the Goddess Charge of the God  /  The Three-Fold Law (includes The Law of Power and The Four Powers of the Magus) /  The Witches Chant The Witches Creed Descent of the Goddess Drawing Down the Moon The Great Rite Invocation Invocation of the Horned GodThe 13 Principles of Wiccan Belief /  The Witches Rede of Chivalry A Pledge to Pagan Spirituality


Correspondence Tables:


IncenseCandlesColours Magickal Days Stones and Gems Elements and Elementals




Traditions Part 1  -  Alexandrian Wicca /  Aquarian Tabernacle Church (ATC) /  Ár Ndraíocht Féin (ADF) /  Blue Star Wicca /  British Traditional (Druidic Witchcraft) /  Celtic Wicca /  Ceremonial Magic /  Chaos Magic /  Church and School of Wicca /  Circle Sanctuary /  Covenant of the Goddess (COG) /  Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) /  Cyber Wicca /  Dianic Wicca /  Eclectic Wicca /  Feri Wicca /


Traditions Part 2 Gardnerian Wicca /  Georgian Tradition /  Henge of Keltria /  Hereditary Witchcraft /  Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (H.O.G.D.) /  Kitchen Witch (Hedge Witch) /  Minoan Brotherhood and Minoan Sisterhood Tradition /  Nordic Paganism /  Pagan Federation /  Pectic-Wita /  Seax-Wica /  Shamanism /  Solitary /  Strega /  Sylvan Tradition /  Vodoun or Voodoo /  Witches League of Public Awareness (WLPA) /


Other things of interest:


Gods and Goddesses (Greek Mythology) /  Esbats & Full Moons Links to Personal Friends & Resources Wicca/Witchcraft Resources What's a spell? Circle Casting and Sacred Space  Pentagram - Pentacle Marks of a Witch The Witches Power The Witches Hat An esoteric guide to visiting London SatanismPow-wowThe Unitarian Universalist Association /  Numerology:  Part 1  Part 2  /  Part 3A history of the Malleus Maleficarum:  includes:  Pope Innocent VIII  /  The papal Bull  /   The Malleus Maleficarum  /  An extract from the Malleus Maleficarum  /  The letter of approbation  /  Johann Nider’s Formicarius  /  Jacob Sprenger  /  Heinrich Kramer  /  Stefano Infessura  /  Montague Summers  /  The Waldenses  /  The Albigenses  /  The Hussites /  The Native American Sun DanceShielding (Occult and Psychic Protection)  The History of ThanksgivingAuras  - Part 1 and Part 2 Doreen Valiente Witch” (A Book Review) /   


Sabbats and Festivals:


The Sabbats in History and Mythology /  Samhain (October 31st)  /  Yule (December 21st)  /  Imbolc (February 2nd)  /  Ostara (March 21st)  /  Beltane (April 30th)  /  Litha (June 21st)  /  Lammas/Lughnasadh (August 1st)  /  Mabon (September 21st)


Rituals contributed by Crone:


Samhain / Yule Imbolc Ostara /  Beltane Litha Lammas Mabon




Tools of a Witch  /  The Besom (Broom) /  Poppets and DollsPendulums / Cauldron Magick Mirror Gazing




Animals in Witchcraft (The Witches Familiar and Totem Animals) /  AntelopeBatsCrow Fox Frog and Toads Goat / HoneybeeKangarooLion OwlPhoenix Rabbits and HaresRaven Robin RedbreastSheep Spider SquirrelSwansUnicornWild Boar Wolf /  Serpent /  Pig /  Stag /  Horse /  Mouse /  Cat /  Rats /  Unicorn




In Worship of Trees - Myths, Lore and the Celtic Tree Calendar.  For descriptions and correspondences of the thirteen sacred trees of Wicca/Witchcraft see the following:  Birch /  Rowan / Ash /  Alder /  Willow Hawthorn /  Oak /  Holly /  Hazel /  Vine /  Ivy /  Reed /  Elder


Sacred Sites:


Mystical Sacred Sites  -  Stonehenge /  Glastonbury Tor /  Malta - The Hypogeum of Hal Saflieni /  Avebury /  Cerne Abbas - The Chalk Giant /  Ireland - Newgrange /


Rocks and Stones:


Stones - History, Myths and Lore


Articles contributed by Patricia Jean Martin:


Apophyllite  / Amber Amethyst Aquamarine Aragonite Aventurine Black Tourmaline Bloodstone Calcite Carnelian Celestite Citrine Chrysanthemum StoneDiamond  /  Emerald / Fluorite Garnet /  Hematite Herkimer Diamond Labradorite Lapis Lazuli Malachite Moonstone Obsidian Opal Pyrite Quartz (Rock Crystal) Rose Quartz Ruby Selenite Seraphinite  /  Silver and GoldSmoky QuartzSodalite Sunstone ThundereggTree AgateZebra Marble


Wisdom and Inspiration:


Knowledge vs Wisdom by Ardriana Cahill I Talk to the TreesAwakening The Witch in YouA Tale of the Woods I have a Dream by Martin Luther King /


Articles and Stories about Witchcraft:


Murdered by Witchcraft The Fairy Witch of Clonmel A Battleship, U-boat, and a Witch The Troll-Tear (A story for Children) /  Goody Hawkins - The Wise Goodwife /  The Story of Jack-O-Lantern The Murder of the Hammersmith Ghost Josephine Gray (The Infamous Black Widow) /  The Two Brothers - Light and Dark


Old Masters of Academia:


Pliny the ElderHesiodPythagoras





A "Who's Who" of Witches, Pagans and other associated People

(Ancient, Past and Present)


Remembered at Samhain

(Departed Pagan Pioneers, Founders, Elders and Others)


Pagan Pioneers:  Founders, Elders, Leaders and Others


Abramelin the Mage /  Agrippa Aidan A KellyAlbertus Magnus - “Albert the Great” Aleister Crowley - “The Great Beast” /  Alex Sanders - “King of the Witches” /  Alison Harlow /   Allan Bennett - the Ven. Ananda MetteyyaAllan Kardec (Spiritism) /  Alphonsus de SpinaAmber KAnn Moura /  Anna FranklinAnodea JudithAnton Szandor LaVey /  Arnold CrowtherArthur Edward Waite /  Austin Osman SpareBalthasar Bekker /  Biddy EarlyBarbara Vickers /  Bridget Cleary - The Fairy Witch of Clonmel /  Carl " Llewellyn" Weschcke Cecil Hugh WilliamsonCharles Godfrey Leland /   Charles WaltonChristopher PenczakChristina Oakley Harrington Cornelius Loos /  Damh the Bard - "Dave Smith" /  Dion Fortune /  Dolores Aschroft-NowickiDonald Michael Kraig Doreen ValienteDorothy MorrisonDr. John Dee & Edward Kelly /  Dr. Leo Louis Martello /  Edain McCoy /  Edward FitchEleanor Ray Bone - “Matriarch of British Witchcraft” Eliphas Levi /  Ernest Thompson Seton /  Ernest Westlake /  Fiona Horne /   Frederick McLaren Adams - Feraferia Friedrich von Spee /  Francis Barrett /  Gavin and Yvonne Frost and the School and Church of Wicca /  Gerald B. Gardner - The father of contemporary Witchcraft /  Gwydion Pendderwen Hans HolzerHelen Duncan /   Herman Slater - Horrible Herman /  Heinrich KramerIsaac Bonewits Israel RegardieIvo Domínguez Jr. /  Jack Whiteside Parsons - Rocket Science and Magick /  James "Cunning" Murrell - The Master of Witches /  Janet Farrar and Gavin BoneJean Bodin Jessie Wicker Bell - “Lady Sheba” / Johann Weyer  / Johannes Junius - "The Burgomaster of Bamberg" /   Johann Georg Fuchs von Dornheim  -  the “Hexenbrenner” (witch burner) /  John Belham-Payne John George Hohman - "Pow-wow" /  John Gerard /  John Gordon Hargrave and the Kibbo Kith Kindred /  John Michael Greer /  John Score /  Joseph “Bearwalker” Wilson /  Joseph John Campbell /  Karl von Eckartshausen Lady Gwen Thompson - and "The Rede of the Wiccae" /   Laurie Cabot  - "the Official Witch of Salem" /  Lewis SpenceLodovico Maria Sinistrari Ludwig LavaterMadeline Montalban and the Order of the Morning Star /  Margaret Alice MurrayMargot AdlerMichael Howard and the UK "Cauldron Magazine" /  Margaret St. Clair - the “Sign of the Labrys” /  Marie Laveau - " the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans" /  Marion WeinsteinMartin Antoine Del Rio Matthew Hopkins - “The Witch-Finder General” /   Max Ehrmann and the "Desiderata" /  Michael A. Aquino - and The Temple of Set /  Monique WilsonMontague Summers /  Nicholas CulpeperNicholas RemyM. R. SellarsMrs. Maud Grieve - "A Modern Herbal" /  Oberon Zell-Ravenheart and Morning GloryOld Dorothy Clutterbuck /  Old George PickingillOlivia Durdin-Robertson - co-founder of the Fellowship of Isis /  Paddy SladePamela Colman-SmithParacelsus /  Patricia CrowtherPatricia Monaghan /  Patricia “Trish” TelescoPaul Foster Case and the “Builders of the Adytum” mystery school /  Peter Binsfeld /  Philip HeseltonRaven GrimassiRaymond Buckland /  Reginald Scot /  Richard BaxterRobert CochraneRobert ‘von Ranke’ Graves and the "The White Goddess" /  Rosaleen Norton - “The Witch of Kings Cross” /  Rossell Hope Robbins /   Ross Nichols and the " Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids" (OBOD) /  Rudolf SteinerSabrina Underwood - "The Ink Witch" /  Scott CunninghamSelena Fox - founder of "Circle Sanctuary" /  Silver RavenwolfSir Francis Dashwood /  Sir James George Frazer and the " The Golden Bough"S.L. MacGregor Mathers and the “Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn” /  Starhawk /  Stewart Farrar /  Sybil LeekTed Andrews The Mather Family - (includes:  Richard Mather, Increase Mather and Cotton Mather ) /   Thomas AdyT. Thorn CoyleVera ChapmanVictor & Cora Anderson and the " Feri Tradition" /  Vivianne CrowleyWalter Brown GibsonWalter Ernest ButlerWilliam Butler YeatsZsuzsanna Budapest /  



Many of the above biographies are briefs and far from complete.  If you know about any of these individuals and can help with additional information, please contact me privately at my email address below.  Many thanks for reading  :-)



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