Cochrane-Based Witchcraft Traditions

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

Jones and CochraneThe 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.

Resources

Books:

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.

Websites:

Articles:

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

Join the discussion No Comments

  • Aelwyn says:

    Awesome blog post! Thank you!

  • Stoatfire says:

    Hi Sarah

    Excellent blog peice (as always) and a very useful resource list for those wishing to explore the subject further. Its always a pleasure to visit your site :)

    F/F/F

    Matt
    Tubals Forge / Clan of Tubal Cain

  • micki says:

    thank you for your blog on this matter i believe in the religion of grey its my own religion and i believe in most the things written here i didnt think no one else could possibly believe in the same things wow i am not alone even though my beliefs are different but almost the same as this may the gods of light and dark bless you in your hunting of the final truth thank you again

  • Magister says:

    An excellent blog on the Great man, the “grey” workings, are still misunderstood today by many, though those who follow this path tend to blend into the background – which sometimes is the Grey mist of dawn or Dusk itself.
    Sadly, one of Robert Cochranes contempories from this period, died just last weekend, the late , and also -in my humble opinion, Great, Iain Steele, a leader of a Celtic tradition known to those along the Shropshire/Welsh borders.
    I am honoured to have been “taken under his wing” during the last few years, and he mentioned the “old days” with nostalgia, and great affection.
    Numbers are rapidly reducing of those who were without a doubt, “pathfinders” for those who are today, granted Spiritual freedom to pursue their own pathways, be theydark, light, or that strange world in between.
    I rember Iains words well -“it is more or less accepted these days, amongst those in the know, that the Great Nostradamus was a Grey Magickian, and could blend the energies of both dark, and light”.
    Wise words froma wise man, who will be missed amongst those who knew him.
    Many blessings for sharing with us.
    M.

  • Stoatfire says:

    Hi Magister

    Thats really sad news about Iain’s passing.

    Our Clan had brief e-mail and telephone communication with him about 18 months ago and he presented as such a vibrant and enthusiastic gentleman. He certainly knew his craft and was clearly a man of wisdom and great integrity.

    F/F/F

    Stoatfire
    Clan of Tubal Cain

  • Hi Sarah, this is a very interesting site offering a reasonable and balanced introduction for those curious about Robert Cochrane and his tradition.

    It may be of interest to you therefore to learn a little more about Iain Steele, mentioned here by others. As close friends of his, myself and Shani attended his recent funeral in Wales. We have also been asked by his good lady to compose an obituary for him which will appear shortly in a few pagan magazines. Iain was of the ‘Old school’ and extened his hand only to those he trusted and could call ‘friend’. If he could not do this, then you were NOT a friend. Simple as that. He rejected those he considered false, and supported us against our own detractors and pretenders.

    Thus it is a sad fact that when people die, all kinds of people pop up and make spurious claims regarding their alleged associations. Few others may yet have valid and provable links. So I post this to clarify for interested parties reading your blog to learn how things really were with him.

    Another very interesting notion was his absolute dedication to the eternal feminine and to what he considerd the only traditional way any man of the Craft could teach, which was to a woman only. He believed most emphatically that a man cannot teach a man. This is of course very different to my own tradition which rests on man to woman teaching. Even so he had several male friends within the Craft. This and many other issues about RC, Ejj and Craft politics were discussed at depth.

    To my good friend and fellow crafter I owe this inkling of Truth, lest there be misunderstandings in the future about someone no longer here to refute it for himself. This will be a single post to that end, to defend a dear friend. Out of respect to you and your site, I do not post here to open dialogue with those pretenders posted already on it, hopeing therefore to avoid taint to it and ourselves by association with them.

    Yours in Truth

    Robin-the dart,

    Magister of the Clan of Tubal Cain

    MAY THE WORD PROTECT YOU FROM THE LIE!

  • Sarah says:

    Thank you T. Within my unrelated tradition, training is carried out in a similar manner – woman to man or man to woman only – however in our practice homosexuality of the teacher and/or student alters this structure. Aside from the magical reasons, it’s also a good way to keep track of who was really trained by who.

    Blessings of the deep and the wild,
    Sarah