Leek, Sybil (1923–1983)
English witch and astrologer
who moved to America in the 1960s and gained fame by
publicizing the renaissance of witchcraft in the Western
world. Her trademarks were a cape, loose gowns and a
jackdaw named Mr. Hotfoot Jackson who perched on her
shoulder. She always wore a crystal necklace, passed on
to her, she said, by her psychic Russian grandmother.
Leek claimed to be a hereditary witch and also to have
been trained by Aleister Crowley. Probably much of
her witch biogaphy was embellished, intended to create
Leek was born in the Midlands in England. Her family,
she said, came from a long line of hereditary witches
that could trace its roots in the Old Religion to 1134 in
southern Ireland on her mother’s side and to occultists
close to the royalty of czarist Russia on her father’s side.
Leek’s mother sported red-gold hair, a color said to be
common among witches. Psychic ability ran in all members
of her family. Her most famous ancestor, she said,
was an English witch named Molly Leigh, who died in
1663. According to Leek, Leigh was buried at the very
edge of the local church graveyard. Some time afterward,
the vicar and others went to open Leigh’s cottage and were
shocked to see Leigh, or her apparition, sitting in a chair
with her jackdaw perched on her shoulder. The vicar and
his company allegedly reopened her grave, drove a stake
through her heart, threw the living jackdaw into the coffin
and reburied it.
Leek, who claimed an IQ of 164, said she was taught
at home by her grandmother until local officials required
her to be enrolled in school at age 12. She stayed four
years and left at 16.
Leek was nine years old when she met Crowley, supposedly
a frequent visitor to the household. She said
Crowley would take her out climbing in the rocks and
recited his poetry, which encouraged her to write her own
poetry. He also gave Leek instruction in the importance
of words of power and the power of sound. According to
Leek, Crowley announced to her grandmother that little
Leek would someday pick up where Crowley would leave
off in occultism. The last time she saw him was in 1947,
shortly before his death.
However, Crowley left no records indicating that he
was acquainted with Leek or her family.
When Leek was 15, she met a well-known pianist-conductor
who was 24 years her senior and fell in love. They
were married shortly after her 16th birthday and traveled
about England and Europe. He died when she was 18.
Leek returned home.
Leek said she was initiated into the Craft in southern
France, in George du Loup in the hills above Nice, an
area that was populated by Cathars in the Middle Ages.
According to Leek, her initiation was to replace an elderly
Russian aunt, who had been high priestess of a coven
and had died. Returning again to England, Leek went to
live in Burley, a village in the heart of the New Forest. She
lived among Gypsies and joined the Horsa coven which
claimed to have existed for 700 years. She eventually became
its high priestess. She successfully ran three antique
202 Leek, Sybil
shops. At some point, she married a man named Brian
and had two sons, Stephen and Julian, who inherited the
family’s psychic gifts.
In the 1950s, she experienced a mystical vision one
spring day while walking alone in the New Forest. She became
enveloped in a bright blue light that instilled in her
a great sense of peace and the realization that her purpose
in life was as an evangelist for the Old Religion.
It was not until 1962 that she began to promote herself
as a hereditary witch and coven leader, and by 1963 the
press was giving her attention. The death of Gerald B.
Gardner in February 1964 created a vacuum for witch
personalities—Gardner was a lover of the media limelight—and
Leek stepped in. She announced the founding
of the Witchcraft Research Association (WRA) with
herself as president.
She also received a lot of media attention in 1964,
when she challenged the academic Rossell Hope Robbins,
who had written an encyclopedia on witchcraft and
was lecturing against Margaret Murray and her assertions
that witchcraft was an ancient religion passed down
through generations. Leek attended at least one lecture by
Robbins and verbally sparred with him, with her jackdaw
giving hoots as well. The media lapped it up and dubbed
Leek “Britain’s Number One Witch.”
The publicity brought tourists and more media to her
village. Business at her antique shop declined in the wake
of autograph seekers, and her landlord refused to renew
her lease unless she publicly denounced witchcraft. She
refused, closed up the shop and left the New Forest.
Leek’s career as a witch in Britain came to an end in
1964. In 1963–64, churches in Britain were victims of
ritualized vandalism, including a Sussex church not far
from Leek’s home. She claimed that the symbols that defaced
the church were directed at her and that the attack
had been led by a black magician whom she had healed of
illness. Despite her condemnation of the vandalism, the
link she made between herself as a witch and black magic
cost her supporters. In July 1964 she was forced to resign
from the WRA. She moved to the United States.
Leek lived first in New York, but found it a depressing
city, and particularly gloomy during the winter. She
moved to Los Angeles, where she became acquainted with
Crowley’s onetime secretary Israel Regardie. In her later
years, she divided her time between Houston and Florida.
She worked as an astrologer, becoming editor and
publisher of her own astrological journal. In 1968, her
first book, Diary of a Witch, was published. The book described
what it was like to be a “modern woman” practicing
witchcraft, and it unleashed an enormous public
response. Leek made frequent appearances on the media
circuit. She met with mixed success, as some of her interviewers
expected her to reinforce the stereotypes of
witches as evil hags. One of her greatest trials, she said,
was learning patience and tolerance in dealing with such
In all, Leek wrote more than 60 books, plus an internationally
syndicated column. She liked to say that she
never “preached” witchcraft, but sought only to explain
the holistic philosophy of the religion and how it differed
from satanism. She did not approve of nudity in rituals
(see skyclad) or of drugs. She believed in cursing, which
set her apart from many witches. (See curse.)
Leek wrote and spoke a great deal about reincarnation,
guided, she said, by the spirit of Madame Helena P. Blavatsky,
cofounder of the Theosophical Society. One night
as she stood at a lectern to give a talk on psychic phenomena
to an audience of the Theosophical Society in St. Louis,
Leek was overcome with a shining light, in which she
could see the face of an elderly woman. The light seemed
to penetrate into Leek. She began her talk, but it was not
her original speech, but on reincarnation. She said later
she had no awareness of what she was saying.
Afterward, Leek saw a photograph of Blavatsky and
recognized her as the woman in her vision. For the rest of
her life, Leek said, she felt that Blavatsky had become part
of her, using her as an instrument to finish her own work
and educate others on reincarnation.
Leek had a particular fondness for snakes and birds.
The jackdaw (a relative of the raven) accompanied her to
all coven meetings until his death in 1969. Leek had a pet
boa constrictor named Miss Sashima.
Leek suffered from illness in her last years and died in
Melbourne, Florida, in 1983.
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Categories: Paganism and Witchcraft
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