Silver Circle is one of the largest organizations, or network of practitioners and seekers of (Gardnerian) Wicca in continental Europe. Yet, the history of this organization has never been seriously studied. British researchers tend to have little interest in what is happening outside of their islands, and their American colleagues are often indifferent to the affairs of Old Europe. This short essay is intended to fill the information gap surrounding Silver Circle. This organization (and Pagan Federation International) has done a lot for the development of Paganism and Wicca, not only in their home country – the Netherlands – but also in many other European countries.
Silver Circle is the labour of love of two of the most important figures in modern Dutch Paganism – Morgana and Merlin Sythove. Morgana, a British native, grew up in Lancashire – a region known, among other things, for Pendle Hill and the Lancashire witch trials. In 1974, after graduating from Teacher Training College Morgana moved to the Netherlands, looking for work and adventure. There she met Merlin, a young Dutch fellow, who was studying Psychology at the local university (Utrecht). They discovered their common interest in spirituality. They were both particularly interested in paganism and other religions that enable women to directly participate in religious rites on par with men. They were looking for a philosophy that leaves room for magic, thus offering a deeper meaning to human existence, a certain sense of mystery.
In 1977, Morgana embarked on a spiritual journey to India. She was probably one of the last of the hippie generation to follow the famous “hippie trail”. It was a journey by bus through Greece to India, via Istanbul, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. She also visited Nepal and Sri Lanka. When her mystical and enchanting “Indian journey” ended, Morgana returned to the Netherlands. Flying back from Delhi to Kabul, she witnessed the Soviet troops in Afghanistan. Hers was the last train to the “land of hippies “. War and destruction forever closed that path shortly after.
On her return to the Netherlands Morgana met up again with Merlin – who had, in between times, met with initiates of the Alexandrian tradition of Wicca, the modern magical tradition of Witchcraft with European pagan roots. They heard of Wicca before, but never met any actual practitioners of this religion. After talking with them, Morgana and Merlin did not continue with them In modern Wicca it is most important to feel some instinctive, intuitive push inside – a “feeling in the stomach”, so to speak, a “gut feeling”, and have people “click” together. It is necessary to feel this elusive “click” for people to work well together in the circle. If the “click” is not there, it certainly does not mean that you have met bad people, but simply that you probably should not be with them in a magic circle.
After their experience with Alexandrians, Morgana and Merlin started to look at other opportunities to learn more about Wicca and pagan Witchcraft and found Marian Green’s Natural Magic correspondence course. This course left a strong impression on Morgana and Merlin. Silver Circle’s “earthy” and very natural philosophy in many ways resembles Marian’s approach to witchcraft and paganism. Marian was not initiated into British Traditional Wicca and her practice is exclusively solitary to this day. Over time, they became acquainted with Marian personally and they remain good friends. They still meet regularly, when Morgana visits England.
Around the same time, Morgana and Merlin learned of another correspondence course, the one offered by Dolores Ashcroft – Nowicki, a British esoteric and occult practitioner, author of many popular books on magick, working in the Western Hermetical tradition. She is the Director of Studies in Servants of the Light, a modern British esoteric order founded by W.E. Butler in 1965. Both W.E. Butler and Dolores were involved with the Fraternity of the Inner Light, an offshoot of the famous Order of the Golden Dawn vie Alpha et Omega, initially founded by Dion Fortune in 1922. Accordingly, Servants of the Light system is also directly related to the teachings of the Order of the Golden Dawn.
At a later point in time, Morgana and Merlin met Dolores personally and became friends. They corresponded throughout the years, learning magic and occult philosophy from this great matron of modern occultism. Dolores’ teachings had a strong influence on Merlin and Morgana’s magical practice.
Life never stands still. The European economy was going through another round of rough times. You can call it a coincidence, or, as Carl Jung would have said, synchronicity, but Morgana lost her job, and her landlord terminated the rent on her room. In such dire circumstances, our young people did not allow themselves to be discouraged. They simply loaded all their belongings into the car and hit the road! They went on a grand road trip to England. It was very much in the spirit of the times. Along with visiting relatives and the usual sightseeing, they made sure to pay homage to sacred Pagan sites. In addition, there are many places like that in England!
They also visited the oldest and most famous occult bookstore in London (and the entire western world) – “The Atlantis Bookshop”. Merlin picked up a newsletter there featuring a call for new members from a coven in Brighton. No phone number, just an address. Morgana and Merlin felt they had nothing to lose, and they paid a visit to Brighton on the last leg of their grand tour of England. This is how Morgana described their fateful encounter:
” .. There one late afternoon I knocked on the door of an old Victorian house. The door opened and a man – the spitting image of Gerald Gardner – stood before us. However, he just looked at us and closed the door! A minute later the door re-opened – he said, “I have to pick up my wife, would you like to come?” Therefore, 2 seconds later we were in a car with a complete stranger heading for the centre of Brighton.
We met a woman – in her late 30’s early 40’s. She looked at us and said “Aha…” Later she told us that they had been expecting us! We joined them for dinner and talked and talked. Who were we? What were we looking for? Who were they? We met them once more before leaving back to Holland.”
– Excerpt from Morgana’s interview with ACTION magazine, by Christopher Blackwell, 2009. http://www.aren.org/newsletter/2009-yule/action.php?num=1
Back home in the Netherlands, about 3 weeks later, the phone rang and they heard: “Would you like to be initiated?”
The coven in Brighton was descended from Eleanor Bone (1911-2001), one of several High Priestesses, who worked directly with Gerald Gardner. Eleanor’s first experience in witchcraft came from a traditional coven in Cumbria. Very little is known about that coven’s practices, although Eleanor did mention that they were very much unlike what Gerald Gardner was practicing. Eleanor said that during the Second World War, she was called into service and performed her duties in Cumbria, where she stayed in the house of an elderly couple. They took the young lady under their wing, so to speak. One evening they were having tea and she said something about her beliefs in reincarnation and the fact that animals have souls too. In return, her hosts shared that they are some of the last practitioners of the ancient art of Witchcraft and invited her to participate in their rituals.
After reading Gerald Gardner’s book “Witchcraft Today” in 1959, Eleanor wrote him a letter describing her experiences in the Cumbrian coven. She also expressed a wish to meet other witches, the ones Gardner mentioned in his book. Shortly afterwards they met in person. Gardner introduced her to the members of the Bricket Wood coven and she was initiated in 1960. Eleanor’s experience in the hereditary Cumbrian coven and her undeniable talent enabled her to quickly become the High Priestess of her own Gardnerian coven in Tooting Bec, London. It should be added that Gerald made Eleanor promise not to mention the initiation she had undergone in the family tradition in 1941.
This coven was responsible for producing some of the best witches in England. One pair of her students – Madge and Arthur Worthington – established the very respected and vibrant Whitecroft line of the Gardnerian tradition in the UK. Prudence Jones, author of “History of Pagan Europe” and Vivianne Crowley, author of numerous works, including the extremely popular book “Wicca: the Old Religion in the New Age” also descend from Eleanor via Madge & Arthur.
Eleanor was an amazing woman. She combined her down-to-earth wisdom with ecstatic sacraments of ancient mysteries. In ordinary life, she ran a nursing home, helping people in their twilight years live out their lives with dignity and respect. She supported the living and comforted the dying. And at full moon she called up her coven to worship the Old Gods and do magic. Eleanor was a good teacher, and her coven was always an excellent place for learning. She did not shy away from the attention of the press either, generously agreeing to participate in several TV shows and documentaries in the 1960s, giving interviews to newspapers and magazines. She was featured on a front cover of Life magazine in 1964.
In the 80’s and 90’s Eleanor kept her life away from the prying eyes of national press. She retired and moved back to Cumbria, effectively retiring from directly leading covens as well. However, she remained available to her students on the phone, and was gracious with guests. In later years, her health deteriorated, her husband Bill passed away, and Eleanor herself started feeling the pull of the Other World. Predicting the date of her death during a teleconference at Occulture (an Occult Festival), Eleanor Bone, the Grand Matron of Gardnerian tradition, died a month later, exactly twelve years ago, at the Autumn Equinox in 2001. She was on the 91st year of her life. Many of her students still love her dearly, and pass on stories about her to their students, thus keeping memories of her life and work alive.
Eleanor considered Wicca, first and foremost, to be the religion of nature, closely related to the earth. She paid special attention to healing and doing magic to help coven members and others, ease the burdens and mundane worries. Sometimes, she held healing rites for residents of her nursing home, upon receiving such request from a suffering soul. Eleanor sympathized with the ideals of the Pagan Federation, although she personally never participated in this organization. Eleanor Bone’s legacy lives on among many of the priests and priestesses, whose lines of initiation descend from her. This is also true of the Silver Circle.
The Brighton couple hived from Eleanor and passed on the Gardnerian tradition to Morgana and Merlin in 1979. They frequently travelled to Brighton to participate in rituals and training sessions. Back in those days airfare was still very expensive, so travelling from the Netherlands to England was not for the faint of heart. In the following year, Morgana and Merlin launched their quarterly magazine “Wiccan Rede”. It was the first Wiccan magazine in the Netherlands. Most articles were written by Morgana and Merlin themselves, and the articles were in English. Soon they began translating articles into Dutch.
In those days, there was almost no Wiccan literature in Dutch and Wiccan Rede articles were extremely popular. Readers would often write letters to the editors, wanting to learn more about Wicca, asking how they can become part of the tradition. Some readers wanted to meet them in person. Through Wiccan Rede Morgana and Merlin were getting to know quite a few people and if they felt that special “click” we mentioned before, they would consider taking them in as students.
Slowly a so-called “Outer Court” group formed around Morgana and Merlin, which later grew into the first Gardnerian coven in the Netherlands.
Gradually, initiates gained enough experience, by working the rites and going through the appropriate initiations. At a later date, some initiates hived and established their own covens. These daughter covens often maintain a close relationship with their “upline” initiators. Thus, a true “network” of covens was formed around the parent group, with Silver Circle growing from a networking organization to a true fully-fledged separate line of the Gardnerian tradition. This line is now known as the Silver Circle line in the Benelux whilst worldwide it is referred to as the Andred / Silver Circle line. Andred refers to the area (and Goddess) of the original English coven. **
Silver Circle covens are still quite close. From time to time, Silver Circle initiates come and celebrate their anniversaries together. A summer picnic in Panbos over time turned into a traditional annual gathering of Silver Circle. Morgana and Merlin’s students are involved in the production of Wiccan Rede. Their first initiate is now the magazine’s editor. With the advent of digital technology and the spread of Internet technology, Silver Circle also gained its online presence with the silvercircle.org site and the discussion forum there, uniting all Silver Circle initiates and seekers into a single community. Merlin was the techno-wizard behind all of that.
In January 3, 2012, at the height of his strength and potential Merlin stepped into the “other world”. We miss him dearly.
Previous issues of Wiccan Rede, starting from 1984, can be found at archive.silvercircle.org. Recently, Wiccan Rede moved entirely to an online format, available free of charge. Silver Circle has never been an exclusively Dutch organization. Merlin, Morgana, and their “downline” also had British, American, Belgian, Canadian, German, Hungarian, Polish, Spanish and Russian initiates. Unification of Europe into a single union contributed to the strengthening of ties between various Continental nations. Modern technology such as the Internet, affordable air flights, superfast trains, allowed seekers and teachers to find each other.
Silver Circle practice was always securely within the strictest definition of the Gardnerian tradition. It successfully retained the quiet, simple, “earthy” Witchcraft, which Eleanor passed to Silver Circle through the coven in Brighton. Due to Morgana and Merlin’s close relationship with Marian Green, her down-to-earth, “green” rustic witchcraft flavours also organically made their way into Silver Circle’s practice. When Morgana and Merlin started to practice the tradition in the Netherlands, they quickly realized that the flow of forces and spirits of the land in this country were different from those in Britain. They listened to the feel of the land, experimented with the flow of power, and worked on integrating some of the local folk customs into their witch practice. Therefore, Silver Circle obtains its unique Dutch flavor. That is how Morgana and Merlin were able to help the foreign British religion of Wicca take root in the Dutch soil.
After all, the only way for a tradition to survive is to become rooted in the local soil, otherwise it will never last beyond its original founders and carriers. This is and was always true everywhere, in all religious traditions of the world.
The Netherlands is a small country, stretching along the shores of the North Sea. The water and the sea are always there, always close to the people. The sea is a man’s best friend, a source of wealth, the means of communication and transportation. It is the bosom of the Great Mother, and at the same time, a rival, eroding the coasts, a destroyer of dykes, a killer through storms and floods. Here we see a primordial aspect of a chthonic Mother Goddess, who gives life and may bring death. The entire country lies at or below sea level; a complex system of dykes keeps the sea from re-possessing the land. The Dutch have a saying: “God created the earth, and the Dutch created Holland.”
In ancient times, the “Low lands” were inhabited by various tribes speaking Celtic and Germanic languages. The Romans called this region Lower Germany (Germania Inferior). The Romans also founded the first cities in this country (Utrecht). Historians found references to the ancient local goddess Nerthis, whose chariot was ceremonially bathed in the sea and was taken around the countryside during an annual procession.
This land had been forcibly baptized during the Frankish rule in the 9th century CE, and for quite some time local folks retained their pagan customs, alongside the official Christian faith. In the 16th century, most Dutch people moved away from the Catholic Church and became Protestant. During the decades of religious wars of the 16 – 17th centuries, the Dutch have learned to appreciate the value of patience, tolerance and non-interference in the personal space of others. That is why, in spite of the general conservatism and Christian beliefs of most Dutch folks, they are quite tolerant to Wicca and Paganism.
Silver Circle is a good example of how Wicca may become an integral part of a diverse tapestry of various religious paths in a non-English-speaking country, an example of how a vibrant and active community may be created through love and labours of dedicated people. It is also an excellent example of how the Gardnerian tradition can take root in a foreign soil, while not just simply preserving its core and essence, but also increasing the tradition’s treasury. Silver Circle, therefore, remains within even the most stringent definition of the Gardnerian tradition, recognized by Gardnerian initiates all over the world.
Silver Circle’s relationship with other pagan religions and Wiccan traditions is also worth mentioning. The Alexandrian tradition also came to the Netherlands in 1979 or so. Alexandrian and Gardnerian covens have grown beside each other, and, thanks to wisdom, tact and diplomacy on both sides, witches from both traditions seem to be getting along quite well.
It was not easy, and both sides had to learn the fine art of compromise, so that traditions remain friendly with each other, with a share of mutual respect. Community leaders worked hard to nip any “witch wars” in the bud.
They were also instrumental in creating the “Witch cafes/ heksencafes” which are monthly informal moots for seekers, throughout the Netherlands and Belgium.
When PFI was being formed in the Netherlands, Morgana offered Lady Bara, one of the leaders of the local Alexandrian community to join her as a co-national coordinator of PFI Netherlands. In fact Morgana performs many other duties in PFI, both on the national (Dutch) and international level. To this day Lady Bara organizes regular workshops and the lovely PFI International Conference in Lunteren.
Silver Circle is a living and growing network. New seekers come looking for tradition all the time. Morgana and many others continue to work hard to ensure that Silver Circle is open to seekers including those from other countries. Morgana still runs introductory correspondence courses in English. In order to join the course, the applicant must send her a letter of introduction, explaining why they want to take the course and describing some of their own experiences. This course is not designed to teach the Gardnerian tradition, of course, because it is impossible to train Gardnerian without being initiated first. Nevertheless, this course is valuable to seekers, because it enables them to evaluate whether the Gardnerian path is right for them, and helps them acquire the knowledge base and skills any modern witch needs these days.
This path requires a great deal of patience, willpower, the ability to motivate oneself, the ability to learn independently. This path is not for everyone. However, this is how Traditional Wicca usually spreads into different countries. Either the initiates move to another country and bring the Tradition with them, or folks living in other countries travel or immigrate to a country, where Wicca already exists, try to learn as much as they can there and then continue their training though written correspondence and rare personal meetings.
This is how Raymond Buckland trained with Monique and Scotty Wilson, Morgana and Merlin – with a coven in Brighton, Jim Baker in the London coven of Alex and Maxine Sanders. Roy Dymond was initiated in New York and moved back home to Canada. Janet and Stewart Farrar trained in England and then immigrated to Ireland. There are many more examples, of course.
These days, a well-developed network of modern information technology, such as Skype, email, and social networks, allows people to communicate with each other over long distances free of charge. Foreign seekers can easily find Silver Circle websites, Wiccan Rede Online and back issues. Seekers can always chat with Morgana and her friends at PFI – Pagan Federation International – forum. Seekers can attend one of several PFI national conferences; many Traditional Wicca initiates visit these conferences, as well as local pagan pub moots. There will always be representatives of Silver Circle at the annual PFI international conference in The Netherlands.
Silver Circle is keeping the old traditions alive and strives to keep up with the changing times. Learn what it means to be a Tradition in the 21st century.
Europe and the whole world are getting smaller all the time. What was difficult to imagine in the 1980’s, like Gardnerians in the Soviet Union, is now a reality. It is a new world out there!
First published at silvercircle.ru
Moscow, June 2013
(Revised and updated, January 2014, Morgana)
** NB the name Andred is referred to by Doreen Valiente in her book “Where Witchcraft Lives” (first published in 1962, new edition 2010, Whyte Tracks ISBN: 978-879-2632-09-8)
‘Before the Roman Conquest, much of Sussex was covered by a forest … The Ancient Britons called this forest Coid Andred. The Romans knew it as Silva Anderida’ – A word from the author.. page xix
and many Facebook pages… Silver Circle, Wiccan Rede Online and PFI