Ronald ‘Chalky’ White

a celebration

The Regency & the Cochrane Coven, by John of Monmouth

‘Wisdom comes to those who deserve it’

‘And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.’- Matthew (15:14)

This is the first of two articles on the Regency, written by a genuine member of the Regency. It is a response to Ken Rees’ lecture on the Regency delivered at the Esoteric Conference in Ludlow last June organised by Verdelet magazine. Whilst Rees’ brief, an academic observation of the Regency, has offered some interesting descriptions of the woodland rites, his work offers no detailed analysis. His subsequent speculations have done little other than to mystify the Regency, whose beauty and simplicity made it ‘open to all’. This article, and its companion, is written to guide those with a genuine interest back onto the path.

What is the connection between the Regency and the ‘Cochrane Coven’ (the ‘Clan of Tubal Cain’ prior to 1967)? The answer is simple. The Regency was an evolution of the ‘Cochrane Coven’. Not only was the Regency founded by members of the coven and most of the members were, at least initially, members of the Regency, but the organisation, rites and beliefs of the Regency originated in the coven.

‘Robert Cochrane’ (Roy Bowers) died of belladonna poisoning at midsummer 1966. He was the leading member of a coven known as ‘The Clan of Tubal Cain’. A few months after his death, on Hallowe’en 1966, members of the coven, under the leadership of Ron White (the coven’s Summoner), initiated the Regency.

The Regency held public, pagan celebrations of the seasonal festivals that were open to anyone. Initially, these celebrations were scripted and held in the homes of members of the ‘Cochrane Coven’. They soon moved outdoors, with a celebration of May Eve on Hampstead Heath in North-west London in 1967. They also soon dispensed with the written scripts, which were counter to the spirit of the intention of the celebrations.

By the time I joined the Regency in 1969, all that remained of the original organisation of the celebrations was the guidance of Ron White’s ‘The Reading of the Festivals of the Year’, its ten annual meetings and the presence of the Magister, Maid and Summoner (which had been part of the ‘Cochrane Coven’), who now existed in role, rather than title. This ‘stripped down’ version of the Regency was essential to its aim.

The Regency met, mostly, in Queen’s Wood, Highgate, North London, where it had been given the right by the LCC (London County Council) to celebrate the seasonal festivals. It also met at the Rollright Stones in Oxfordshire, Runton Woods in Norfolk, and at various locations in Shropshire and North Wales. With the exception of one festival (Candlemas), all its meetings took place outdoors. It met to celebrate the quarter and cross-quarter days. It also met on Twelfth Night and at the start of Advent, when ‘The Reading of the Festivals of the Year’ would be read.

Its open, public meetings took place between 1966 and 1979. Thereafter, the Regency met privately and attendance was by invitation only. I attended meetings until 1983 and the Regency still meets to this day. Members of the Regency formed a ‘family’ (or ‘clan’) and would meet privately, a few days before each festival, to meditate on the action, dramatis personae, setting and props of the forthcoming celebration. This ‘pooling’ of the intuitive understanding of the festivals was an important feature of the Regency.

The Regency had no titular leader, hence its name. Ron White explains this in his first article on the Regency where he writes that: ‘At present, we have no living leader of sufficient spiritual authority to speak with the authority of the great religious leaders of the past.’ [1]. He clarifies this in his second article on the Regency where he asks:’ Who can be so great as to presume the power of the gods?’ and continues: ‘We call it the Regency, for we are all regents in our outer selves for that centre of our being where the Goddess and the Gods dwell.’ [2].

Ron led the Regency’s celebrations until 1974 by which time we were able to lead ourselves. Recognising this, Ron ritually passed on his leadership to ‘one more virile and younger than he’ [3]. Thereafter, with the guidance and support of the entire Regency, we took turns in planning and leading the celebrations.

Ron White said: ‘Every ceremony grows out of the ground as it were’ [4]. ‘The Reading of the Festivals of the Year’ provided the meditative focus of the seasonal celebrations. This ‘Reading’ divided the festivals into ‘The Festivals of the Goddess’ and ‘The Festivals of the Gods’. It informed the Regency’s rites.

To the observer, these rites were little more than a cycle of seasonal dramas acted out by a group of people, mostly in a woodland setting. To the members of the Regency, however, they were an allegorical journey, through the realm of the Archetypes, towards self-knowledge; towards ‘Wisdom’. They were the rites of the Mystery religion, no longer ‘lost’ among the ‘aboriginal beliefs’, known as ‘witchcraft’, that Robert Cochrane had drawn attention to in his writings [5].

These rites took the form of a ‘shamanistic’ voyage into the Otherworld of the Goddess and the Gods. They used consciousness-changing techniques to facilitate a mystical union with the Cycle of the Seasons, not only around us, but within us. They drew on ‘the old ideas of trance-based shamanistic Witchcraft’ that Chas S. Clifton says characterised the rituals of the ‘Cochrane Coven’ [6]. ‘The approaches to ritual’, he writes, ‘go far beyond merely theatrical ideas of “ritual drama”. Instead, their aim is a dramatic form of consciousness alteration in a Pagan religious mode … to awaken dormant spiritual states.’ [7].

At the start of each rite, the Regency used maze-walking, circling, drumming, stamping, chanting, meditation on the Mysteries, solemnity, fear of the Unknown, and transformations of the landscape to disorient its ‘attenders’ and produce in them an altered state of consciousness that would lead them into the Otherworld of the Goddess and the Gods. On occasion, they would also use ‘magic’ to bring the Dead to their celebrations or to surround their celebrations with mist.

The rites of the Regency also continued the feast, which Evan John Jones says was integral to the ritual of the ‘Cochrane Coven’ [8]. In the Regency, after the work of the initial ritual, and before the ritual was closed, the ritual continued with a feast, shared with the Goddess and the Gods, and at Hallowe’en, with the Dead. The feast was a time of resting, eating and drinking, playing games, dancing and telling shaggy-dog stories. It was, to repeat Evan John Jones, ‘integral’ to the rites.

The content of the rites varied from festival to festival, reflecting Ron White’s ‘The Reading of the Festivals of the Year’. They also varied from year to year according to the group’s meditations. In essence, they used archetypal figures, objects, settings and scripts to guide the ‘attender’ towards his or her meeting with the Goddess and the Gods. To do so they had to follow the Goddess and the Gods through the seasonal changes. The rites of each celebration changed from festival to festival in accord with this.

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 detail of the seasonal meditations and rites used by the Regency will be the subject of the next article.

‘The simpler the understanding, the deeper the truth. It is the moment of communication with oneself under the trees that counts. It is the atmosphere of sincere worship and solemn joy that sinks deep into the heart’ – Ron White [9]. The Regency re-established the Mystery religion that Robert Cochrane had made reference to [10]. He wrote of the need for ‘the Craft’ to recover the ‘profound secrets’ hidden in ‘fossilised superstitious tradition’ and to evolve with society. The Regency demonstrates this evolution. It explains why the festivals retained their current names, rather then reverting to the old Celtic names. In the Regency, Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh and Samhain remained as Candlemas, May Eve, Lammas and Hallowe’en.

In an interview, Ron White speaks of ‘inventing a new religion’, which recognises that ‘much of pagan belief, custom and ceremonial has permanent relevance to humanity’ but is ‘too distant for the ordinary man to feel akin to’ and so is a religion’ to which any honourable and honest person may accede’ [11]. This is the religion to which Robert Cochrane refers [12]. The aim to establish this old Mystery religion is clear from Ron White’s comments in the same interview. It is not insignificant that, like his old Magister, he also prefers ‘tribe’ to ‘coven’: ‘We do have 13 main members … but we are not a “coven” and we don’t think ourselves as such’, he says; ‘I believe in a tribal idea … Eventually, we shall … form new groups all over the country.’

To achieve this aim, the Regency continued and extended Cochrane’s tradition, referred to by Doreen Valiente, of inviting ‘guests’ to coven meetings [13]. It was Cochrane’s view that ‘The genuine Mysteries are open to all.’ [14]. This view was carried through into the Regency in many ways. ‘Simplicity’, writes Ron White, ‘is at the heart of the Regency … Its ceremonies are public … A sincere belief is all that is required … There is no oath, no membership fee, no initiation … The rites are simple, direct childlike. The myth is told over and acted out. Each attender can read its significance for himself whether at a simple or more esoteric level.’ [15].

The purpose of these rites is explained in Ron White’s earlier article on the Regency: ‘In worshipping the Gods, we identify ourselves with the process of which we are a part. We cannot, outside the mystic communion, ever fully comprehend that process; and in what understanding we may gain is ultimately inexplicable. The written word is useless to describe the full experience. The notion of progress as against this process is illusory. By following the path of the Gods throughout the year, we may come closer to the real knowing which is of the heart, and distinct from knowing about.’ [16].

This purpose is the same as that of the ‘new religion’ described by Robert Cochrane: ‘Ritual basically becomes a matter of increasing perception until … that which is within and without is partially … comprehended in the physical person of the participant until it becomes one with his total being. The forces comprehended are part of the living person, incorporated into everyday life as part of a spiritual, mental and physical discipline that returns the devotee again and again to the original source’. [17].

Just as ‘the genuine witch is a mystic at heart’ [18], to Robert Cochrane the ‘mystical union’ is at the heart of the Mystery religion. ‘All mystical thought’, he writes, ‘is based upon one major premise: the realisation of truth as opposed to illusion … Truth is Wisdom … The Mysteries are, in essence, means by which man may perceive his own inherent divinity.’ [18]. ‘The Faith’, he writes elsewhere, ‘is potent, bringing as it does, Man into contact with the Gods, and Man into contact with Self … It has, in common with all great religions, an inner experience that is greater than the exterior world. It is a discipline that creates from the world an enriched inward vision … It is never fully forgotten and never fully remembered. The True Faith is the life of the follower.’ [20].

This was the essence of the Regency: ‘We call it the Regency for we are all regents in our inner selves for that centre of our being where the Goddess and the Gods dwell. There is only to each one that self, and the possibility of realising that self … We meet on the seasonal festivals, seeing these festivals not only as markers of the year, but as a repeated allegory of our lives. [21].

The aim of the new Mystery religion was to experience Truth – Wisdom – through mystical communion. This experience of Truth, however, is transitory, existing in the moment alone. To maintain and develop awareness of Truth, the mystical experience has to be repeated again and again. This is where the seasonal celebrations come into play. ‘Legends, rituals and myths’, Robert Cochrane writes, are ‘the roads through many layers of consciousness to the area of the mind where the soul can exist in its totality.’ [22].

To the observer, the Regency simply acted a cycle of seasonal dramas in the woods. These dramas might well have been inspired and, indeed, had an impact, but that was it. Certainly there was no magic!

There was magic, but it was not used as an end in itself [23]. It was used as a tool to transform the world of the wood and the people within it. The entire rite was magical. It took place in an Otherworld in which the participants met with the Goddess and the Gods, both without and within. They met Truth, not the truth that could be communicated but the Truth that could only be understood by those who had participated in it.

This Truth, ‘never fully forgotten, never fully remembered’, was deepened and made more permanent by following the evolving repetition of the cycle of seasonal rites. It developed a ‘pagan consciousness’: a pagan way of being, and hence seeing, that made lives truly pagan. It was not the paganism that is separated from everyday life, but one that constantly revealed the sacred in the profane. It was not the paganism of seasonal celebration, but that is where it began.

The ideas that inspired and the initiative that created the Regency came out of the ‘Cochrane Coven’ and the writings of Robert Cochrane. It was ‘the Mystery religion’ restored in modern times. If anything, it was before its time. Its ideas are now everywhere within paganism and witchcraft, but as fragments, lost again in ‘superstitious tradition’.

‘Give us what we need, not what we want’

The Path to Queen’s Wood was the Path to Wisdom

References:

[1] ‘The Regency’ by Ronald White in Pentagram No 6 (Candlemas 1967)
[2] ‘The Regency’ by Ronald White in Spectrum No 7 (November 1974)
[3] The author
[4] Ronald White (1967 op. cit)
[5] ‘The Craft Today’ by Robert Cochrane in Pentagram No 2 (November 1964)
[6] ‘Preface’ by Chas S. Clifton to Sacred Mask, Sacred Dance by Evan John Jones with Chas S. Clifton (Llewellyn USA 1997: xv)
[7] Ibid: xix
[8] Sacred Mask, Sacred Dance by Evan John Jones with Chas S. Clifton (Llewellyn 1997: 165)
[9] Ronald White (1974 op. cit)
[10] Robert Cochrane (1964 op. cit)
[11] ‘The Messiah of Highgate Hill’ in Frontiers in the Man, Myth & Magic part work (1967)
[12] Robert Cochrane (1964 op. cit)
[13] The Rebirth of Witchcraft by Doreen Valiente (Robert Hale 1989: 126)
[14] Robert Cochrane (1964 op. cit)
[15] Ronald White (1974 op. cit)
[16] Ronald White (1967 op. cit)
[17] ‘The Faith of the Wise’ in Pentagram No 4 (August 1965)
[18] ‘Genuine Witchcraft is Defended’ letter by Robert Cochrane in Psychic News (08.11.1963)
[19] Robert Cochrane (1964 op. cit)
[20] Robert Cochrane (1965 op. cit)
[21] Ronald White (1967 op. cit)
[22] Robert Cochrane [1964 op. cit)
[23] Robert Cochrane, in ‘The Craft Today’, comments that ‘magic is only a by-product of the search for truth, and holds an inferior position to truth.’

© John of Monmouth 2008

2 Comments »

  1. A superb article – thanks. I particularly agree with the notion that the location – Queens Woods in this instance is important. It is not only a place of very ancient ritual but also a delightful experience for all believers.

    Comment by Tony Stewart | December 26, 2011

  2. I’m very glad that I’ve found this wonderful website. I was walking in Queen’s Wood this afternoon with a friend, looking for potential ritual sites, and I mentioned that I’d heard of a group called the Regency who used to work there. Then this evening, someone else I know posted a link to your Lammas article, so I find myself here reading about the Regency. It sounds like something that I wish that I could have been part of. Here’s to more rituals in Queens Wood in the future!

    Comment by Ian | July 22, 2012


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