Clutterbuck, Old Dorothy (1880–1951)

High priestess of a coven of hereditary Witches in the New Forest of England, who initiated Gerald B. Gardner into Witchcraft in 1939. Little was known about Clutterbuck for many years, prompting some outside observers to speculate that she had never existed at all but was fabricated by Gardner. In 1980 Doreen Valiente, English high priestess and an early initiate to Gardner’s coven, undertook a search of records to prove that Old Dorothy Clutterbuck had indeed lived and died. Clutterbuck was born January 19, 1880, in Bengal, to Thomas St. Quintin Clutterbuck, a captain (later major) in the Indian Local Forces, and Ellen Anne Clutterbuck.

The Clutterbucks had been married in Bengal in 1877 at the ages of 38 and 20, respectively. Virtually nothing is known about Clutterbuck’s early years. At some point, she went to live in England, where she enjoyed an affluent life. Gardner said he became acquainted with her through the Fellowship of Crotona, a group that opened “The First Rosicrucian Theatre in England” in 1938 in the New Forest region, and performed plays with occult themes. Some of the members of the Fellowship revealed themselves to Gardner as Witches.

In 1939, just after the start of World War II, Gardner said Clutterbuck initiated him in her home. She was considered “a lady of note in the district” and had a large house, and a pearl necklace valued at 5,000 pounds, which she liked to wear often. Clutterbuck died in 1951, leaving a considerable estate of more than 60,000 pounds.

Valiente began her search near Samhain (All Hallow’s Eve), 1980. On the actual night of Samhain, Valiente said that she and three other Witches met in a wood in southern England and called upon Clutterbuck’s spirit to show a sign that she wished Valiente to succeed in her search. An answer interpreted as affirmative came when the lantern at the south quarter of the magic circle suddenly tipped over and broke its glass. Valiente also heard the deceased Gardner calling her name. It took Valiente two years to trace the documents proving the existence of Clutterbuck.

More recently, doubt has been cast on Clutterbuck’s alleged role in Witchcraft. Scholar Ronald Hutton researched Clutterbuck’s life and background and found no proof that she was or wasn’t a Witch. Her diaries and the details of her life point to a woman who was a conservative Christian, a scion of society and active in supporting local charities. She was married to a Tory, Rupert Fordham, a retired landowner. (There is some question as to whether the marriage was legal.) Her diaries, full of poetry and art, make no references to the Craft in either word or image. She had no obvious relationship with Gardner and was not associated with the
Rosicrucian theatre.

The argument can be made that Clutterbuck was following the convention of the time to be careful and secret about her Craft involvement. But if this were the case, she led an amazingly complex double life that fooled both her family and her neighbours and risked exposure that would have caused a monumental scandal. She is remembered by others as being a sweet, kind, compassionate woman who had no marked intellectual pursuits.

Gardner claimed that his initiation took place at Clutterbuck’s home. This, too, is improbable, given Clutterbuck’s social standing and visibility. Hutton says that Gardner may have used Clutterbuck as a blind to protect his real high priestess, a woman known only as Dafo. Gardner had promised Dafo that he would never reveal her identity. Clutterbuck, who died before Gardner went public as a Witch, may have provided a convenient means for him to keep the promise

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