Cochrane is one of many names connected to the revival of Modern Witchcraft in Britain in the 1950s and 60s, along with Gerald Gardner, Doreen Valiente, Alex Sanders and Sybil Leek. But he was different from the others. Like many Witches, I knew of Robert Cochrane and was aware of his impact on Occultism and Wicca from my studies in the Craft. I’d never taken the time to learn about the man before and I’ve found him an interesting individual. I feel it’s unfortunate that he died so early in life because I can’t help but wonder how else he would have shaped Modern Witchcraft.
Robert Cochrane was born Roy Leonard Bowers in London in 1931 to a Methodist family and was one of eight children. There isn’t much known about his formative years, other than the area in which he grew up in was a working-class neighborhood. Cochrane was quoted later in life as describing the area a ‘slum’, but there is no evidence that it was.
I wonder if Cochrane and his siblings had remained in London during World War II. I know that many children from the city were relocated to the countryside at the time because of all the bombings the city suffered. I can’t help but wonder what life would have been like if he had in fact stayed in the city and how that might have effected a young boy. He would have been only 8 years old at the beginning of the war. The thought is horrifying.
He apparently had a mentor or teacher as a teen that was probably either a member of the Druid or Celtic Tradition. He claimed to be a hereditary witch, but there was never any proof of this and even his stories differed from time to time (see Occultism and Practice section below). What is known for certain is that he read a great deal and researched the best he could until he created what he thought was the Old Religion.
He served in the English Army in the 1950s and went AWOL for a time, which landed him in military prison for a time. He was a blacksmith at a foundry and that was probably where he picked up the name for his future coven, from the mythical blacksmith Tubal Cain.
He married a woman named Jane and they had a son.
Occultism and Practice
Cochrane first came to Occultism after attending a lecture given by the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), a group whose purpose is to understand psychic and paranormal activities that was founded in 1882.
It was after this experience that he began to claim that he had been born to a hereditary family of witches whose practices went back to sometime in the 17th century. In an article by George Knowles (linked below) I found an interesting quote:
“He claimed to be a hereditary witch and at times spoke of a great-grandfather who supposedly practiced witchcraft in Warwickshire, he also referred to an Aunt Lucy who kept an impressive collection of ‘Witchy’ things in her home. In one of his letters he describes her as a ‘terrible old woman’. Another claim was that he had ancestors who had been executed for witchcraft, and at other times a great uncle on his mother’s side who had been his teacher. Then in contradiction to this he claimed his mother had taught him as her grandmother had taught her. Whatever the truth none of the above has yet been proved.”
His nephew, Martin Lloyd, has refuted that the family were ever Witches, insisting that they were Methodists, while his wife Jane also later asserted that Cochrane’s claims to have come from a hereditary Witch-Cult were untrue.
He was a talented philosopher and poet whose writings held a great deal of mystic influence. He wrote articles for periodicals such as The Pentagram and Psychic News and attended meetings of the short-lived Witchcraft Research Association.
He formed a coven before his better known Clan of Tubal Cain, but it was short lived when one member died and Cochrane had a falling out with another. I couldn’t find name, or anything else about the coven.
Clan of Tubal Cain
Cochran formed a coven known as the Clan of Tubal Cain in his early 20s, about the same time that Gerald Gardner founded his own coven in the early 1950s. He named his coven after Tubal Cain, the first blacksmith, who is also a masonic deity, and the coven still exists today, but in two different lines.
“Searching for members, he placed an advert in the Manchester Guardian requesting that anyone interested in Graves’ The White Goddess contact him; he received a response from the schoolteacher Ronald Milland White, known to his friends as “Chalky”] White then introduced him to George Arthur Stannard (also known as George Winter), who ran a betting shop near Kings Cross in Central London. White and Stannard joined this nascent coven, the latter taking up the position of Summoner. Describing his creation of his Witchcraft tradition, later Maid of the Clan Shani Oates remarked that ‘Like any true craftsman, he was able to mold raw material into a magical synthesis, creating a marvelous working system, at once instinctively true and intrinsically beautiful.’”
The coven was a combination of Celtic mysticism and village witchcraft philosophy and they always performed rituals outside, sometimes near Cochrane’s home in London or they would travel to more remote places like Mendip Hills in Somerset, or to Brecon Beacons in Wales. They wore black hooded robes and danced around a fire in the center of a circle. They worshiped the Wheel of the year and had 2 central deities, the Horned God, in a goat-footed form that represented fire and death, and the Triple Goddess that ruled over fate and destine. From their union was created the Horned God (also referred to as the young solar deity).
“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.”
In 1964 Cochrane met Doreen Valiente, who had formerly been a High Priestess of the Gardnerian Bricket Wood coven, through mutual friends which he had met at a gathering at Glastonbury Tor held by the Brotherhood of the Essenes. The two became friends, and Valiente joined the Clan of Tubal Cain. She later remarked that there were certain things in this coven that were better than those in Gardner’s, for instance she thought that “[Cochrane] believed in getting close to nature as few Gardnerian witches at that time seemed to do”. She also commented on how Cochrane did not seem to want lots of publicity, as Gardner had done, something which she admired. She began to become dissatisfied with Cochrane however, over some of his practices.
Cochrane often insulted and mocked Gardnerian witches, which annoyed Valiente. This reached such an extreme that at one point in 1966 he called for “a Night of the Long Knives of the Gardnerians”, at which point Doreen, in her own words, “rose up and challenged him in the presence of the rest of the coven. I told him that I was fed up with listening to all this senseless malice, and that, if a ‘Night of the Long Knives’ was what his sick little soul craved, he could get on with it, but he could get on with it alone, because I had better things to do”. She left the coven, and never came back.
After Doreen’s departure, Cochrane committed adultery with a new woman who had joined the coven, and, according to other coven members, did not care that his wife Jane knew. In May 1966, Jane left Cochrane, initiating divorce proceedings and considering performing a death rite against her husband involving the sacrifice of a black cockerel. Without her, the coven collapsed.
The interesting thing about Cochrane is that he never wrote a single book or 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.”
Later in his life, Wilson moved away from 1734 and focused on forming another group, the Toteg Tribe, based on shamanic teachings. He died in August of 2004 and the 1734 tradition was continued by Joe’s students, Dave and Ann Finnin who founded The Ancient Keltic Church in California and who traveled to England to meet
There is a great deal of discussion concerning Cochrane’s death in 1966. The formal word is that he committed suicide, but some believe that it was a ritual suicide. Prior to his death, Cochrane’s wife had filed for divorce and afterward he began to show signs of mental instability. He was diagnosed with depression and given a prescription for lithium.
On was the eve of the Summer Solstice and he ingested a mixture of belladonna leaves, lithium and hellebore, the contents all spelled out in a note left by Cochrane for the Coroner. He was found wrapped in a sleeping bag on his couch in a coma and taken to the hospital, where he died nine days later.
Much speculation surrounds his death. Some believe it was an accident, others believe it was plain suicide. Still others, particularly his craft members believe that he appointed himself the “actual” male sacrifice, as is sometimes symbolically enacted at the height of the Summer Solstice. After his death, his personal papers were burned by his brother and there was no mention of witchcraft in his obituary.
Contributions After Death
Even though he never published any books, Cochrane continues to be seen as a key inspirational figure in the Traditional Witchcraft movement. Ever since his death, a number of Neopagan and magical groups have continued to adhere to his teachings, including the original Clan of Tubal Cain, even if they are said to have strayed from their origins.
Evan John Jones edited two anthologies with Mike Howard, 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). 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.
Robert Cochrane Facts:
Born – January 26, 1931, London, England
Died – July 3, 1966 (suicide)
Real name – Roy Bowers
Spouse – Jane Bowers
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