To start, who is Robert Cochrane? Robert Cochrane was the pen name of Roy Bowers, a ‘famous’ witchcraft personality from the same time as Gardner, Valiente, Sanders, and Sybil Leek during the height of the modern witchcraft revival in Britain. However, Bowers was different in that he didn’t ride the Wicca wave, but instead claimed he came from a traditional witchcraft family in England and that the tradition his coven followed was based on his family’s practices. He was actively involved in the witchcraft movement in Britain in the 1960s writing articles for periodicals such as The Pentagram and Psychic News and attending meetings of the short-lived Witchcraft Research Association. He was a friend of the esteemed occultist William Gray and Doreen Valiente was a member of his coven, The Clan of Tubal Cain, at one time, and both have left accounts of how powerful and effective Cochrane’s ritual workings were.
There are many romanticisations about his death, but the following are fact: After Bowers’ wife filed for divorce, he began showing signs of mental instability and was diagnosed with depression and given a prescription of lithium by his doctor. On the traditional date of Midsummer’s Eve, June 23rd, Roy Bowers took a lethal dose of lithium, belladonna, and hellebore (the ingredients left in a suicide note to the coroner) attempting to commit suicide, but instead went into a coma. The police, called by his wife after receiving a letter from Bowers, found him wrapped in a sleeping bag on his couch. He died nine days later in the hospital on July 3rd, 1966, at the age of 35, without having come out of his comatose state. After his death his personal papers were burned by his brother and there was no mention of witchcraft in his obituary.
The Clan of Tubal Cain
The Clan of Tubal Cain was Cochrane’s coven which was active in the 1960s and still exists in a different incarnation within two different lines today. The name came from Bowers’ time as a blacksmith, the practice of which is steeped with folklore. He named his coven after Tubal Cain, the first blacksmith, who is also a masonic deity. They were a robed tradition, practicing rituals mainly outdoors. They observed the Sabbats and Esbats and worshipped the Goddess and God as the ancient powers of nature. Cochrane was enamored with Graves The White Goddess as well as the concept of the Divine King. He was known to his coven members for his love of riddles and mystification of teachings. The tradition usually used a stang instead of an altar; a forked ash staff with an iron nail hammered into the base, decorated with wreaths and crossed arrows for the sabbats. His rituals were unique and effective and have been adapted by many modern traditional witchcraft covens along with his coven’s other practices.
The Birth of 1734
The unique thing about Bowers is that unlike the other witchcraft personalities of the time, he never wrote a single book nor had more than the one coven. He became famous from his letters of correspondence with a young american, Joe Wilson, in the year before his death. From the teachings and religious philosophy within Bowers’ letters and articles, Wilson founded the 1734 Tradition in the United States supplemented with knowledge from both his first craft teacher and Ruth Wynn-Owen of Y Plant Bran. 1734 was founded by Joseph Wilson, and is a separate tradition from Bowers’ own Clan of Tubal Cain. 1734 is a riddle of Cochrane’s, in solving the riddle of the number you will find the name of the Goddess.
Later in his life Wilson started to moved away from 1734 and focused on forming a group, the Toteg Tribe, based on shamanic teachings. Wilson died in August of 2004 and is much missed by the community. The 1734 tradition was continued by Joe’s students and Dave and Ann Finnin who founded The Ancient Keltic Church in California and who travelled to England to meet Evan John Jones.
Modern Cochrane-Based Traditions
Because Cochrane did not leave any books or set tradition structure behind when he died, many people and groups have used his letters and writings to create traditions of their own based on his philosophy. Some of these incarnations include Joe Wilson’s 1734, the Ancient Keltic Church, 1734 Wicca, (which is a bit of an oxymoron because Cochrane was a very vocal opposer to Wicca), Briar Rose, as well as the traditions written about by authors strongly influenced by Cochrane including: Nigel Jackson, William Gray, Robin Artisson, and Peter Paddon. With the renewed interest in Cochrane in the United States, Evan John Jones published a series of articles in the UK periodical The Cauldron run by Mike Howard. More recently he also published a few books: two anthologies with Howard being The Roebuck in the Thicket (an anthology of Cochrane and Jones’ articles from The Cauldron and The Pentagram) and The Robert Cochrane Letters, Witchcraft: A Tradition Renewed (with an introduction by Valiente), and Sacred Mask, Sacred Dance. These books and others with the same influences form the basis of many traditional witchcraft practices today and, as said in the disambiguation of the traditional witchcraft lesson, some people may be led to think that this is the only tradition within traditional witchcraft. While Cochrane’s legacy is certainly one of the strongest influences, it is not the only one.
I apologise that many of these are rare books, however those who are obsessed with Cochrane and 1734 will be interested in these titles. As a side note, Jones’ books are a frustrating read and much of the material presented is his own, not Cochrane’s.
- The Roebuck in the Thicket – Jones & Howard
- The Robert Cochrane Letters – Jones & Howard
- Witchcraft: A Tradition Renewed – Jones
- Sacred Mask, Sacred Dance – Jones & Chas S. Clifton
- The Rollright Ritual – William Gray
- Standing Stone and Elder Tree – William Gray (newer version of Rollright)
- Western Inner Workings (Chapter 10) – William Gray
- The Rebirth of Witchcraft (Chapter 8 ) – Doreen Valiente
- Triumph of the Moon (Chapter 15-16) – Ronald Hutton (not the most accurate or unbiased account)
- Witchcraft, The Sixth Sense (Chapters 1, 10 & 11) – Justine Glass (Cochrane gave her a lot of misinformation, so don’t take the quotes as writ)
- The White Goddess – Robert Graves
- 1734 Witchcraft (Joe Wilson)
- Ancient Keltic Church
- Clan of Tubal Cain
- Clan of Tubal Cain (People of Goda)
- Toteg Tribe
- Writings of Roy Bowers (Robert Cochrane)
- Y Plant Brân
For Cochrane’s published works see the above link ‘Writings of Roy Bowers’
- “A Poisoned Chalice: The Death of Robert Cochrane” by Gavin W. Semple, Reineke Verlag 2004 – also available in the November 2004 issue of The Cauldron