The summer of 1940 was an incredibly tough time in our nation’s history. It wasn’t that long after the British Army had narrowly escaped from Dunkirk, and the country was now preparing itself for a potential invasion by Germany. All along the south coast of England and in the New Forest, towns and villages prepared themselves with sandbags, roadblocks, concrete pillboxes, with the Home Guard on standby.
But if Gerald Gardner, known as the “Father of Wicca” is to be believed, a coven of New Forest witches would also do their bit. In his 1954 book, “Witchcraft Today”, Gerald says the secretive coven gathered at night in a clearing in the forest and cast a spell on Adolf Hitler.
The story starts with Gardner explaining how he first met the New Forest Coven in 1939 after being invited to Dorothy Clutterbuck’s house. She was a wealthy woman who lived at the Mill House in Highcliffe, Christchurch. Gardner says he was blindfolded and asked to strip naked as part of an initiation ceremony.
I should point out that Dorothy never identified as a witch in public, and in her diaries left behind after her death, there are no suggestions that she had any unconventional religious beliefs or links to paganism.
However, Gardner claims Dorothy Clutterbuck was a leading member of the New Forest Coven and was involved in the ritual that he called “Operation Cone of Power”. This was the ritual that the New Forest witches hoped would influence the Nazi High Command and stop them from invading Britain.
According to Gardner, the ritual took place just before midnight on August the 1st, 1940. The date was significant, as it was “Lammas Eve”, a pagan holiday and one of eight Wiccan celebrations during the year.
The group of witches gathered in a clearing and marked out a circle for the ritual. They did not light a traditional fire, probably due to wartime blackout rules or to not attract attention to themselves. Instead, they possibly used a flashlight or shuttered lantern. A giant wooden cone was built – the “Cone of Power” – which was pointed east towards Berlin.
The group, all of whom were of pensionable age, danced naked around the circle, building up to a state of ecstasy that they believed could control magical forces. As they danced, their chants repeated a magical formula that Gardner claimed was used in previous ceremonies to ward off invasions by both the Spanish Armada and Napoleon.
The chant was said to include the lyric:
“You cannot cross the sea, you cannot cross the sea, you cannot come, you cannot come”
The intention was that the ritual would weaken Adolf Hitler’s resolve to invade England through a psychological attack on his mind.
Gardner said that the frenzy of dancing and chanting was so intense that it caused some of the participants to pass away from exhaustion in the following days.
While the exact location of the ritual was not disclosed by Gardner, some authors have attempted to identify the site. In his book “The Book of English Magic”, Philip Carr-Gomm believes it could have taken place in the clearing where the Rufus Stone is located.
However, another author, Heselton, argues in “Witchfather” that the ritual likely occurred near the Naked Man, a large oak tree on Wilverley Plain where convicted highwaymen were hanged.
Whether any of this happened, or if the New Forest Coven even existed, has never been proven as it’s all based on Gardner’s accounts and cannot be verified. If I am wrong on this, please do contact me.
But what we do know for certain is that German invasion of Britain never came.
So, if the ritual performed by naked pensioners dancing around in the woods at midnight in the New Forest really did work, the country is forever in their debt.
References & credits
- Witchcraft Today by Gerald Gardner
- Witchfather by Philip Heselton
- The Book of English Magic by Philip Carr-Gomm