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Who Was Dorothy Clutterbuck?

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Although she never publicly claimed to practice witchcraft -- or even left any evidence of it after her death -- Dorothy Clutterbuck is credited with initiating Gerald Gardner into the New Forest coven of witches. Dorothy was born in India in 1880 to a British Army captain, who brought his family back to England after his retirement from service. She was briefly married in her mid-fifties to a local justice of the peace who was killed in a car accident in 1939. By all appearances, Dorothy Clutterbuck seemed to be a perfectly respectable English country widow who attended church regularly and was an ardent supporter of the local conservative party.

Following her death in 1951, Gardner indicated that Dorothy had in fact been a member of the New Forest coven of witches that he had joined in 1939. There was some question about whether Dorothy initiated Gardner, but it appears that Gardner may have actually been initiated by Edith Woodford-Grimes.

The real controversy surrounding Dorothy Clutterbuck has been brought up by historians who question Gardner's statements. Jeffrey Russell, who has written a number of historical works on English and European witchcraft, suggests that Dorothy may have been "invented" by Gardner to support his claims of an ancient tradition of witchcraft in Britain. Ronald Hutton, author of Triumph of the Moon, suggests that the use of Dorothy's name as a potential witch might have been a joke on Gardner's part, done in order to conceal the true identity of his high priestess. Hutton also indicates that the date of Gardner's initiation would coincide with Dorothy's mourning period after the loss of her husband -- a time when she cancelled nearly all other social engagements -- and so it's unlikely that she was involved in his initiation ceremony.

Dorothy left a number of diaries, and there are different interpretations as to how the contents should be viewed. The diaries are a collection of poems, essays and other writings, which may or may not be associated to witchcraft or Paganism, depending on how one sees them. The diaries contain some references to fairies, nature and herb lore, but also include a number of references to Christian themes.

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