On Jan. 8, Maureen Wheeler, fondly known as Aunty Bunty, passed away after a long battle with cancer. Maureen was a Witch, High Priestess and Elder member of the U.K.’s Pagan community. She trained and was initiated by Gavin Bone in the early 1990s. By 2001, she had birthed a legacy of more than a dozen covens around the country. As noted by Bone in his personal tribute, “Magically [Maureen] was a witch, not a Wiccan, not any particular tradition, she was a witch. She was a witch before I met her and she died a witch above all else.”
In a video titled Witchways 1, Maureen describes her first experience with Witchcraft. In 1955, at the age of 17, she was introduced to a man wearing an inverted pentacle and, out of curiosity, accompanied him to an event. But it wasn’t what she wanted, and many years passed before she once again encountered anyone practicing Witchcraft.
That year was 1990. Maureen discovered that her daughter-in-law was studying Witchcraft. Once again, Maureen’s curiosity was piqued, and so she attended a meeting. This is where she met Gavin Bone, who would become her initiator and good friend. Bone said, “I still remember the first time I saw her; she was in battle dress! Dressed in leather jacket, dark glasses read to wrestle her daughter in law from us evil satanists! The reverse happened in stead she stayed.”
Soon after, Maureen became an initiated Witch, studying with Bone and eventually with others, including The Fellowship of Isis. As time passed, she formed her own coven and became a High Priestess, a respected teacher, a skilled Tarot reader, and an active member of UK’s Pagan community.Maureen never hid her practice, and was willing to be filmed and interviewed. Along with the two short Witchways videos, Maureen participated in several BBC programs. In 2001, she was featured on a show titled ‘Rush,” which includes a dramatically-filmed bit on modern Witchcraft. In 2005, she consented to be part of an episode of the BBC TV show called “Inside Out.” Focused on the magic in Kingsley Vale, the segment shows Maureen with her coven performing a ritual in a Yew grove and ends with a brief interview.
In 2011, Vogue UK did an editorial, titled “Merrie England,” exploring the folk revival in the region. Included in the twenty photographs taken by renowned photographer Tim Walker is the striking image of Maureen in ritual dress. The article’s subtitle appropriately reads, “Tim Walker captures its practitioners at their most magical.”
Unfortunately, this past October, cancer caught back up with Maureen after being in remission for nine years. The treatments were difficult and eventually took their toll on her body. Maureen passed into the Summer lands in the presence of her daughter at 8:50 a.m. on January 8.
Maureen’s daughter, Louise Hilborne, was initiated by her mother and said, “From a very early age she told me I was a witch as she was but it would be many years later that I was woken to this. It terrified me.” She added, “I will do my best to carry on her good work in the way I know how. ”
Maureen’s son, Dave Hilborne wrote this tribute:
My dear mum was the most remarkable woman,it didn’t matter if you were 16 or 66 she could and would make a connection with people. My greatest pride was that she took enormous joy from watching me perform and even more so I would love to make her laugh until the tears rolled down her cheeks. My mum saved me from almost intolerable hardship as a child,she taught me the value of saving and being grateful for all that I have. She taught me to be tolerant. She taught me life. (reprinted with permission)
Simon Costin, director of The Museum of Witchcraft, said:
She had a remarkable life and a very unique take on the craft that was very much her own. I learnt more from Maureen over a cup of tea than from any number of books. Hers was a meaty, no nonsense kind of magic and all the better for it….I will miss her dearly.
At the end of his tribute, Gavin Bone said:
She was my friend as well as my initiate. Alex Sander’s said (stolen of course from someone else): ‘If the initiate does not surpass the initiator, the initiator has failed!’ I did not fail, she surpassed me and I am proud of it. But I will not take any credit for this as Maureen was a witch from the day she was born, I learnt as much from her as she did from me; we initiated each other. I will miss her but know we will ‘…meet again’!
Maureen was a dedicated and passionate Witch, Priestess, teacher and guide. She was deeply respected and loved. She will be missed by her family, her friends and her students. Her legacy will live on through her work, her teachings, and the impact that she had on the modern practice of Witchcraft.
What is remembered, lives.