Women and the Occult – Sybil Leek

We continue our celebration of ladies on the dark side with a look at one of the first modern occult practitioners to unfurl her cape in public – Sybil Leek.

A hereditary witch who hailed from a small village in Staffordshire England,  Sybil settled in the U.S. after her American publisher pushed her for a book tour (ah, those were the days!) and her U.K. landlord kicked her out for drawing crowds. The relocation worked out rather well for Sybil, as you will see in this excerpt from The Weiser Field Guide to Witches, by Judika Illes:

Among the first to emerge from the broom closet, publicly revealing her identity as a witch, Sybil Leek was an accomplished astrologer, fortune-teller, author, lecturer, ghost hunter, and a popular television and radio personality.

Born in what she described as a “witch-ridden” part of Staffordshire, England, near the crossroads of three rivers, Leek’s birthday was February 22, but some controversy exists as to her age. Leek claimed 1922 as her natal year, but printed cards given to mourners at her 1982 memorial service gave the year 1917 instead.

Sybil was a hereditary witch from a family steeped in magic and metaphysics. On her paternal side, she claimed descent from Russian occultists affiliated with Russia’s royal court. Her mother and aunt were both psychics. Her grandmother, a hedge witch and astrologer, prepared charts for such friends and house guests as Lawrence of Arabia and author Thomas Hardy.

Sybil grew up in England’s New Forest region, an area with historic associations with witchcraft. Mainly home-schooled until age eleven, she never had more than a few years of conventional education, but beginning in childhood, Sybil studied witchcraft, occultism, astrology, Kabbalah, and the Bible, as well as Eastern religions, philosophies, and mystical traditions.

Aleister Crowley was a Leek family friend and predicted great things for Sybil. Another family friend, H. G. Wells, author of War of the Worlds, took little Sybil to see her first eclipse. Her grandmother taught Sybil astrology by baking cookies, decorating them with astrological sigils, and asking little Sybil to put them in order or explain their significance before being permitted to eat them. Sybil herself would eventually establish what is described as the world’s first astrological management consulting service.

During World War II, Sybil was a military nurse, serving for a while at the military hospital in Anzio Beach. After the war, she began to ply her trade as an astrologer. Among the clients described in her writings were the future King Hussein of Jordan, Egypt’s King Farouk, and the man who deposed him, Gamal Abdel Nasser. In the 1950s, following the repeal of England’s last law against witchcraft, Sybil began living openly and publicly as a witch. She published a series of articles and was interviewed by the BBC, resulting in much media attention.

For years, Sybil ran an antique store in Burley, Hampshire. As she began to attract notoriety, she was pursued by reporters and the village besieged by tourists. When her landlord declined to renew her lease, she took this as a sign to leave England and travel to the United States. Her original intent was merely to promote a book, but she fell in love with America and elected to stay permanently, emerging as perhaps the first witch celebrity. She gave many interviews, and appeared on the Johnny Carson and Merv Griffin television talk shows. The author of over sixty books, her autobiography, Diary of a Witch, was published in 1969. By the time she died on October 26, 1982 in Melbourne, Florida, Sybil Leek was a millionaire.

For further information on the inspirational Sybil Leek:



Witchcraft: a guide to the misunderstood and maligned

BBC: Inside Out


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