One of the best-known Witches of the twentieth century, Sybil Leek was born on 22 February 1922 in Staffordshire, England. She claimed descent from the Imperial Court of Russia through her father, and her mother was of Irish ancestry.
AN UNUSUAL HOUSEHOLD
Her family was an interesting one: though outwardly typical English gentry, many members of her immediate family were well versed in the occult arts. Sybil’s mother and aunt, for example, were psychics; and her grandmother was a folk witch and expert astrologer. From early childhood, each instructed Sybil in his or her area of interest. She recalled, for example, how her grandmother taught her astrology with just basic things at hand, such as drawing symbols on pastries and cookies. On mountain walks, her father taught her basic philosophy and mental exercises.
Unusual, too, were the visitors to her family home. Sybil remembered visits from H. G. Wells, T. E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”), and the notorious Aleister Crowley. She didn’t know, at the time, of Crowley's reputation; Sybil knew him more as a poet and an expert mountaineer. By the time she met up with him again in Paris, Sybil was older and wiser. “Every damning word that can be used has been used against you, “ she told Crowley, “and you let it happen.” Crowley shrugged off her accusation; believing that she would someday take up the burden of public occultism, he warned her, “... and they’ll say the same about you.” In later years, she would recall Crowley’s words, when tempted to compromise her beliefs.
YOUNG WITCH AND YOUNG WIDOW
When she was sixteen and a conservatory student, Sybil met a famous concert pianist whose name she never disclosed. Though he was much older, they fell in love and and rather romantically eloped. Two years later, he died suddenly and Sybil returned to her family. She had little time to grieve, however. While she was away, a witch relative of hers had died in France, and Sybil was to undergo initiation into witchcraft in order to take her relative's place in the coven. A quick ceremony was arranged, and she became the High Priestess of the Horsa Coven.
During World War II, Sybil served in the Red Cross and worked as a nurse, alongside commoners and nobility alike. She was stationed, for a time, at the military hospital at Anzio Beach. After the war, she returned home to find her family’s fortunes changed for the worse. Undaunted, Sybil resumed her life as much as was possible in that post-war world. She returned to the Horsa Coven and took up her old duties. Needing a bit of adventure, Sybil moved out of her family's house and spent a year with the New Forest gypsies, learning their ways and traditions. She was recognized immediately by them as one who followed the "old ways", and they bestowed upon her the title of "The Lady".
CONTROVERSY AND CHANGE
Returning to mundane life, Sybil married again, and established herself in the town of Burley as an antiques dealer. She continued to study and practice witchcraft and, when the Witchcraft Laws were repealed in 1951, decided to go public. She published a series of articles and appeared regularly on BBC radio and television. This, of course, led to no small amount of controversy. Eventually Sybil was forced out of her shop when, due to her "notoriety", the landlord demanded that she renounce witchcraft or her lease would not be renewed.
Sybil, her husband, and her two young sons decided instead to emigrate to America and settled in New York for a time. There, she parlayed her writing talents into a career as a journalist and lecturer. She joined forces with noted author Dr. Hans Holzer, and they began a series of psychic-related investigations. These efforts resulted in a series of popular books, chronicling their ghost-hunting adventures. The books are still good reading today. Sybil and Dr. Holzer took a scientific approach to their investigations, and found a mundane reason behind many phenomena as often as they found no rational explanation.
THE PUBLIC WITCH
Sybil published a number of books on witchcraft and astrology, and two best-selling autobiographies, Diary of A Witch, and My Life in Astrology. For many people, Sybil and her books were their introduction to real witchcraft. Through her works, the public was able to glimpse witchcraft as a religion and a modern system of spiritual belief. During this time, she frequently appeared with her pet jackdaw, Mr. Hotfoot Jackson. The media seized on this, and she became known as “The Lady with the Jackdaw”.
Sybil’s reputation as an astrologer was almost as well established as her public witch persona. In St. Louis, she established a school of astrology that was in operation for many years. Through her magazine Sybil Leek’s Astrology, she showed readers that professional astrology had a solid mathematical background and was more than just a matter of checking a daily horoscope.
Near the end of her life, Sybil strained her credibility somewhat with a series of articles for the National Enquirer tabloid. Her popularity was undiminished, though, and Sybil remained in demand on the lecture circuit and in the popular media. Today many people, myself included, regard her as one of the true “elders” of modern witchcraft.
Sybil Leek died in Melbourne, Florida, on 26 October 1982, of cancer.
Leek, Sybil. A Shop in the High Street. London: Jarrods, 1964.
Leek, Sybil. Diary of a Witch. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey|NJ]: Prentice-Hall, 1968.
Leek, Sybil. My Life in Astrology. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1972.
Leek, Sybil. The Complete Art of Witchcraft. New York: New American Library, 1973.
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. The Encyclopedia of
Witches and Witchcraft. New York: Facts on File, Inc., 1989.