Hallowe’en, which Chalky in his writings on ritual preferred to call ‘The Hallows’, is a traditional time for riddles. Here is a riddle or bardic question that Chalky once posed me:
Who inspired the sweet feast of the hill? What was the history?
I will add here that I am not an initiate of any arcane tradition. I can answer the first question easily enough out of my reading in legends, folklore and poetry. As for the ‘history’: in the same sources there are various narratives with a bearing on this theme. I do not know for certain which ‘history’ Chalky had in mind, or exactly what it meant to him, though I think there are some clues in his writings.
The formation of the Regency was announced early in 1967 in the Candlemas issue of Pentagram. This is the statement of its nature and creed that was made at that time:
FIRST DETAILS OF A NEW RELIGIOUS SOCIETY
The Regency is a religious society with a central belief in a Goddess as Mother and Creatrix of all things. She represents the stable feminine principle: and, of Her emanations, The Gods represent the active male principle.
As the roots of this belief are ancient, The Regency holds that much of pagan belief, custom, and ceremonial has permanent relevance to humanity: and that this can be seen in the persistence of such traditions throughout the world. It holds, further, that there is a collective psyche; but that there are regional differences upon that basis. These require differing forms of expression suited to variations in climate, environment, and inherited ancestral patterns. Therefore The Regency, being British, practises and propagates those ideals, beliefs and ceremonies that have found continuing life among the people of these islands.
Even here there is much regional variation. A great deal of pagan ceremony and even belief was absorbed by Christianity; but other features have stubbornly resisted the erosion of clerical propaganda. It is in all these continuing features that still lies the core of a living myth and theology fitting to our people, and with its roots firmly anchored in the National Psyche.
Over the next ten days I am expecting life to be chaotic, as some fairly extensive decorating work is taking place. I shall attempt to keep up the same posting routine, but if it slips a bit, I ask your indulgence.
Meanwhile, here is the next instalment of The New Pagans’ Handbook:
The Implements of Ritual
It is said to be possible for extreme adepts to carry out a ritual using neither implements nor images. This is, however, altogether a too spartan procedure for most of us, for it argues that the Deities have been so interiorised that no external stimuli nor aids are necessary. Such a perfect response we aspire to make perhaps, but in practice we need images and ritual to assist our concentration and to serve as points of focus to our thoughts. Their use adds a magic quality to our observances and makes them feel ‘otherworld’, and so holy.
All instruments used for ritual must be dedicated to the worship of the Deities. This means that they must be properly made, preferably by hand, and preferably by the hand of one of the celebrants of the group if the devotee is unable to fashion them himself. But best of all is self-made matter, for the concentration and will required in the making are held in the field of the object, and in use reflect our purpose back to ourselves, whence we can fortify our dedication outwards to the Deities. These tools need not necessarily be reserved for ritual purposes, but then should be re-dedicated at each time of ritual use. In practice it is simpler to lay up such tools apart, placing them before a symbol or statuette of the Goddess or image of Her Gods.
Lilac and blue, the daisies nurse now
Quiet suns in a centre of petals.
They are delicate — fading water-colours
Painted on a bronze of weeds.
A trance of pale ladies
In an autumn of declines.
Mists, mists, be mourners
For their services.
Midwived by mists – seasonal –
You in your birth bring
October’s glory — cold fire
In a flame of hands.
Still poised into peace
Lives on my Golden Age;
Under your final moon
The balance — stays:
The Hunter yet to whirl the wind
And run the tumbled wood with hounds.
The balance, for an instant, holds,
The Hunter yet to whirl the wind and run
The tumbled wood with hounds.
Still the poise of peace
Living its Golden Age
Under a final moon.
Midwived by mists October bears
Cold fire in a flame of hands,
Silently — burning — first leaves fall.
© The Estate of Ronald M. White
This drawing by Ronald M. White has the following inscription on the back: ‘To George with Best Wishes Yule 1976′.
The latest issue of The Cauldron is now out. It contains an excellent article by John of Monmouth on ‘The Regency and the Robert Cochrane Coven’. The Cauldron website has information about the other articles in this issue plus instructions for obtaining a copy.
It is well known that the Regency met mostly in Queen’s Wood, Highgate, London. John says in his article:
‘The Regency made imaginative use of Queen’s Wood. This use of the wood was also integral to the rites. It provided a journey through the landscape of the wood that reflected the allegorical journey. At different times of the year, the celebrations took place in different clearings in the wood. These, chosen for their power to reflect particular seasons were linked by a sinuous, labyrinthine path. As the year turned, the Regency celebrations followed this path.’
The next section of The New Pagans’ Handbook deals with the selection and dedication of sites for rituals:
The holding of a ritual is no trifling matter. Not only does it require thought and planning, but a careful consideration of ‘Place’. We should also decide upon any ritual implements to be used, and, if needed, masks and images.
In theory, a ritual can be held anywhere, and in practice we may have to settle for places that are less than ideal. Nevertheless every attempt should be made to ensure that the place of the rite is felt to be somewhere special, or, by a dedication, has been made so. Ideal of course are woods, preferably old woods of deciduous trees. Open places, moorlands, heaths, stone circles and any fragments of the wild that have been left to us by the exploiters and despoilers of our landscape. Even if it is indoors and in a city the site should be carefully considered. The atmosphere of a place is of paramount importance. We all know that there are places which repel and are unfriendly, sometimes even downright hostile. Any scintilla of doubt about a location should effectively rule it out for ritual. T. C. Lethbridge in his perceptive book Ghost and Ghoul, has discussed this problem of influences at some length, and in this connection it might be helpful to study it.
Here is the next section of The New Pagans’ Handbook:
Names are but labels, not the thing itself. However, we feel more comfortable in the presence of an object when we have named it. This is also true of people and certainly of Gods. The name should be capable of carrying more than one idea and more than one aspect of personality. It should carry with it its legend and express the persona of the God. It can be considered as being a shorthand form of all the qualities that the God possesses. It is not the God.
As with all matters of great moment simplicity should be sought. The complex explains little but its own obscurity. We must go carefully and prefer the childlike and simple, for to young children there is little difficulty in names; Mum and Dad would be good enough. Sometimes also children invent secret names for the persons or things they prize. A secret name is a word of power, and it may be that behind our adoption of an obvious and simple name there can also be a secret one shared only with the group and helping to give its members a sense of comradeship and cohesion.
And here is an article by Ron White on the nature and names of the Gods, originally published in Spectrum in 1975:
Who are the Gods?
All over the ancient world the smoke of incense rose incessantly to the heavens from the altars of Goddesses and Gods.
Their attributes were many and their powers various. Devotees frequented the homes of their chosen divinity.
Travellers from city to city might not find their home Gods exactly represented either in ritual or name; yet the similarities were sufficient for a man of Corinth to discover no unease at a temple in Ephesus.
The intelligent knew these deities were aspects of divinity, and although some attempts were made to equate one God with another, there was no sectarian strife and very little of the futilities of theology, which, like heresy, is a child of Monotheism. The story of the Gods and Goddesses was told in myth, altered, varnished, changed to suit invaders and amended to account for great epics in history. The divine function was to help man by providing a focus for his anxieties and hopes; rather than by imposing crippling moral burdens and demanding unnatural behaviour patterns.
In 1968, Chalky White was interviewed for the ‘Frontiers of Belief’ section of Man, Myth and Magic, the famous encyclopedia edited by Richard Cavendish which was published in weekly instalments between 1970 and 1972. I learned of the existence of this interview from the article by Ken Rees on the Regency which was published earlier this summer.
Three weeks ago I wrote to Mr Rees taking issue with a number of inaccurate and in some cases highly defamatory statements that he has made about Ron White in his talks and articles about the Regency. He emailed me soon afterwards to promise a reply within two weeks. That reply has not been received.
Although Rees gives a brief quotation from the Man, Myth and Magic interview, he does not supply a proper citation for it and I was initially unable to find it. But now, through the kindness of friends, I have been able to read the complete interview. (It is on the back page of issue no. 43.)
‘We decided to invent a religion’
It starts by describing the beginnings of the Regency in a pub conversation between Ronald ‘Chalky’ White and George Winter at Hallowe’en in 1966. As Chalky is reported as saying, ‘We decided to invent a religion.’ This is one of the respects in which Chalky and George were ahead of their time: they never pretended that the Regency had existed secretly from time immemorial.
No mention is made of the fact that Chalky and George had been members of Robert Cochrane’s Royal Windsor Cuveen. Either they decided to keep quiet about this or the interviewer suppressed it on the grounds that it would mean nothing to the general public. They are said to have previously had an interest in ‘Gardnerian witchcraft, Druidism and Nature worship’. It is true that Chalky had dabbled briefly in Wicca before joining Cochrane’s group.
The reporter states that in 1968 the Regency had 100 members, of whom about 40 regularly turned up to meetings. Chalky saw the Regency as a tribe in the making; he states: ‘I believe in a tribal idea, not in a family unit … The tribal notion worked in the old days.’
‘a religion to which any honourable … person may accede’
Out of this very informative interview, Ken Rees quotes part of a sentence, selected in isolation to support his claim (a complete calumny) that Ron was a racist: ‘I doubt if an African would find much to benefit him at our meetings’.
The following is the paragraph from which that quotation was extracted:
‘As the roots of this belief are ancient, we hold that much of pagan belief, custom and ceremonial has permanent relevance to humanity, and that this can be seen in the persistence of these traditions throughout the world. But the beliefs are regional and national. As we follow the old British practices, I doubt whether an African, for instance, would find much to benefit him at our meetings. But basically, we feel that the Regency is a religion to which any honourable and honest person may accede.’
It will be noticed that Ken Rees has suppressed the final sentence of the paragraph, which makes it clear that anyone at all was welcome to take part in the Regency rituals, so long as their intentions and behaviour were honourable.
Nor has he drawn attention to the context of the statement he quotes. In the 60s and 70s many Pagans were prepared to argue that one of the merits of their tradition was that it had deep roots in the land and the culture, in contrast to ‘imported’ religions such as Christianity.
Ken Rees has left out the words ‘for instance’ from his quotation. (He has also failed to mark the omission with the customary ellipsis.) Chalky is using this hypothetical African as an example.
Why an African in particular? The answer isn’t difficult to see: it is because Africa as a continent is associated with strong indigenous traditions of Paganism and tribalism.
In Chalky’s way of thinking, an African person wouldn’t need the Regency: he or she would almost certainly have inherited a well-developed Pagan tradition that was distinctively African. This isn’t racism; it is something much more like modern multi-culturalism.
Moreover, as Chalky makes it clear in the interview, there is no question of turning away any ‘honourable and honest’ person who is drawn to the teachings of the Regency.
‘Chalky … tends towards the Left in politics’
In addition to calling Chalky a racist, Rees describes the Regency as ‘right-wing’, and he even tries to associate it with fascism. This is offensive nonsense, as anyone who knew Chalky is keenly aware.
The 1968 interview gives an accurate sketch of his real political beliefs and the way they shaped the Regency. Stating that ‘Chalky, who tends toward the Left in politics, … distrusted the idea of High Priests and Chief Druids’, the interviewer quotes him as saying: ‘The idea was that we would have no dogma, no creed and no leaders.’
Ken Rees must have seen this passage.
‘stress on honour and truthfulness’
Speaking of the teachings of the Regency, Chalky says: ‘We lay stress on honour and truthfulness – the ancients used to say “do not dishonour yourself and the gods”.’
Here is the next section of The New Pagans’ Handbook:
The Basic Myth
If there is one great pagan theme it is that of the universally popular Mother and Child myth. It is often coupled with that of the twin brothers who contend for mastery and rule turn and turn about. These themes are present with others in the great literature of myth, Greek, Celtic, Egyptian, Hindu and other more widespread and primitive sources: even Grimms’ Fairy Tales have this mythic element and reflect the beliefs of earlier North European cultures. The elements of these basic myths, particularly the two mentioned above have been brilliantly set out by Robert Graves in his work, The White Goddess. An even larger canvas is painted by Joseph Campbell in his monumental work, The Masks of God. Both works repay careful study by any inquiring pagan.
Basically then, the whole universe is seen as the domain and being of the Great Goddess, who has brought everything forth and is Herself everything including the Gods. Contemporary cosmology has arrived at a similar situation in its consideration of the singularity that brought forth the universe. The idea is not new and is akin to the Hindu view of its genesis and apparent duration, which they call a ‘kalpa’. The Hindus further suggest that at the end of each kalpa the universe renews itself in another expansion, another contraction follows, and the process repeats itself endlessly.
However that may be, we have to consider Her basic manifestations. She is in turn Maiden, Mother, and lastly Crone. The three phases of the moon are Hers; the new, the full, the old. Indeed all triads and nenneads are Hers. She has also brought forth Her counterpart, the God. He manifests himself in multiple series of twos. Basic are His two aspects: one as the God of the Waxing Year, and the other as God of the Waning year. He can manifest in quadruple or octuple and so on endlessly. The Goddess, as seen, can be considered as multiples of three. Any consideration of these multiples will lead to the rapid realisation that between them they make up all the matter seen and unseen in the entire universe.
Ronald ‘Chalky’ White never sought publicity for himself, but he did seek to publicise and promote his religion. He and his friends in the Regency welcomed all well-intentioned persons to join them in public worship of the divinities they revered.
In the mid-eighties, after he retired, he spent some time preparing for publication a book that he called The New Pagans’ Handbook. This is based closely on the rituals developed by the Regency under his leadership. Over the next few months, the text of the Handbook, which has never been published, will be posted in instalments on this website.
Recently, some wildly inaccurate and misleading rumours have been attached to Chalky’s name. It is time people met with the real Chalky, communicating through his writings and art works.
In addition to the Handbook, it is intended to post here images of his ceramics and drawings, along with a number of his poems.
Some of us who knew him well will be posting short memoirs and other material related to his life and work.
Here is the beginning of Chalky’s introduction to The New Pagans’ Handbook:
There is a constant need in man to relate to the world and the universe around him, and as far as he perceives it, to express his understanding in ritual and myth. From the obvious cycles of night and day, the phases of the moon, the place of the sun in the heavens, the unfolding story of the seasons, and the nature of our surroundings and their impact on our lives, our beliefs and our apprehensions of the Gods are formed. Also they have to take into account our observed behaviour and the patterns of thought, whether conscious or unconscious, that trigger our responses to our perceived universe and the condition of man within it.
Naturally religious rites have always varied to the circumstances, both physical and spiritual, of the people. They have all tried at many levels to explain the workings of our minds and souls. It is from such apprehensions that the stories of the Gods have been fashioned and great and enduring works of art, drama, music and literature have arisen.
One of the prime movers of our minds is myth. If rightly understood it can be our key to self understanding and psychological wholeness; and because myth and ritual are rooted in the structure of the human psyche, any pattern of religious belief can only be a re-phrasing of eternal themes tailored, as they must be, to new needs and circumstances.
The powers of myth are deployed through the story of the Gods and our relationship with them and the Goddess who is above them. Dance, music, mime and drama keep their ancient powers ever fresh because they speak to our deepest selves and of our relationships with nature and the felt magic that is at the heart of the universe.