LONDON — British Gardnerian Witch Lois Bourne, also known as Lois Pearson, died December 22, 2017 in Watford, England. She was 89 years old, and it perhaps is no surprise that this long-serving member of the Craft departed this life during the Winter Solstice.Lois is one of the last surviving members of Gardner’s Bricket Wood coven in which she served as High Priestess. Using the magical name of Tanith, Lois was a crucial figure in British Wicca, influencing many of the younger generation through her appearances and her writing, including her autobiography Witch Amongst Us.
Lois first became involved in Wicca in the early 1960s and kept faith with the Craft for the rest of her life.
Forthright and unafraid to speak her mind, Lois was something of a bridge builder between Wicca and Christianity, asserting that “there’s a great deal of good in the Christian religion.” However, she is best known as a Witch and a respected elder of the Craft.
Her book Witch Amongst Us: An Autobiography of a Witch begins with the gripping words “I was born on a bright spring day with the rising sun under the sign of Aries, and I became the seventh child of a seventh child.”
When she was still a baby, a Romany woman told Lois’ mother that she would ‘have the sight and the power.’ From Lois’ own account, this would seem to have been prophetic. She described how, as a child, she could see ghosts and spirits. This ability lasted into her days as a student nurse, when she could tell when patients were about to die.
A student of the Maharishi as well as of Spiritualism, Lois seems to have retained a down-to-earth sense of skepticism about many of the ‘gurus’ who she encountered. And on her own admission, Lois lived an outwardly conventional life: married, with two children.
Her autobiography is notable for the discretion exhibited toward her coven. Although she goes into considerable detail regarding her own magical practices and experiences, the people with whom she worked, such as Gerald Gardner, are mentioned only in regard to their public written material.
However, she is known to have travelled to Majorca with Gardner and Idries Shah during the early 60s. They stayed with poet Robert Graves, and she entered into correspondence with Philip Heselton when he was undertaking research for his two-volume biography of Gardner.
Gerald Gardner himself claimed a long witch lineage for Lois, as he was wont to do with his High Priestesses. However, Lois reportedly did not make such a claim for herself, although her grandmother possessed a large and comprehensive family herbal. Lois said of her grandmother “I have always had my suspicions that she knew more about ancient lore than anyone realized.”
Despite questions on lineage, Lois’ own work was substantial. In her book Conversations with a Witch, she speaks of the ‘thousands’ of letters that she received requesting magical help. In the days before the internet, authorities on Witchcraft were obviously not so easy to track down and, unless a person had appeared on television or the newspapers, had written books, or had a word of mouth reputation, they remained unknown.
Lois, however, fitted all of those categories and had an extensive correspondence practice, advising enquirers on matters of love and health, on legal problems and on spiritual crises.
In the 1990s, Lois and her husband had a business, named Magistra, selling magical regalia. They made appearances at Pagan conferences as well as running an online business. This journalist met her only once at an appreciation day for Gerald Gardner held in London in 2010. She was exceptionally forthright, and it became plain that she had issues with contemporary British Wicca. It appeared that she felt that it had lost its way and that the old tradition of coven secrecy was perhaps best.
Regardless, Lois was admired her for her take-no-prisoners attitude and her refusal to treat the Craft as something ephemeral and fashionable. It is clear that Lois believed the Craft to be a lifetime’s work, not something one could pick up at a couple of workshops.
After news spread, the Doreen Valiente Foundation posted a photo of Lois on its wall and wrote, “all our thoughts are with her friends and family at this sad time.”
In memory, historian Ronald Hutton told The Wild Hunt:
…a memory of the enormous number of statuettes and reliefs of ancient deities, especially Greek and Egyptian, which she crammed into her tiny house at St Albans, “Mushroom Cottage”.
And Janet Farrar, when asked for her own reminiscences, commented:
When I first met Lois, it was back in the 1970’s when Stewart and I were doing a television program for Thames Television; it was about six o clock in the evening, just after the News. I was very young in the Craft, at the time and was terribly enamored of the other attendees, which was Ruth Wynn-Owen and Lois. As it was live TV and my first ever appearance as a Witch, I hoped I would present myself well as such a young woman. After the program Lois came up to me and gave me a hug, and said it was nice to see a young person of my age presenting themselves with so much confidence, as that I had done the Craft proud.
That was the first time I met her and I walked away from that first encounter on cloud nine. I met her several other times after that and we always got on very well. I have a lovely photo of her on our ancestral wall with our arms around each other. I am proud to have known this amazing woman. Lois was not just supportive of Stewart and myself, but also many others she thought would push the Craft forward.
Lois Bourne might have described herself as ‘a very ordinary, average-looking woman, living a quiet and apparently conventional life,’ yet she is respected and known as far more. Her rich legacy is buried in her lifelong dedication to the Craft, the many people she taught and advised, and in the growth and endurance of the practice of Wicca.
What is remembered, lives.