Alternative MethodsConventional Methods

March 29

How the Power of Witchcraft Gripped 70s Britain

Emma Wood
Core Spirit member since Dec 24, 2020
Reading time 9 min.

In modern society, we’re totally past burning people at the stake, or dunking women in the town lake because our crops died. The tendrils of witchcraft have found their way into contemporary fashion, zine culture and sharp-tongued 90s rom-coms. Not that this change in global consciousness towards the magical practice was smooth sailing. Up until 1951, the practice of witchcraft was outlawed in Britain.

When it was finally repealed with the enactment of the Fraudulent Mediums Act, witchy practices and elements began to seep into the mainstream narrative; and so began bringing the witch out of the underground in the ‘occult explosion’ of the 1970s.

From here, witchcraft permeated popular culture, reaching its peak in the 1970s. Gary Parsons, the filmmaker behind Thelema Films and an expert in this period of the esoteric and documentary, recalls growing up at a time when it was everywhere. TIME magazine ran a cover story in 1972 that declared “Satan Returns”.

Horror mainstay Hammer Film Productions was in its heyday and Children of the Stones was a popular serial show for kids based on pagan folklore. There was children’s encyclopedia magazine Man, Myth and Magic, detailing everything from witchcraft to cults, drugs, zombies and ESP, talking about each topic on an academic level.

Mainstream cinema saw the underground rise up in the form of The Wicker Man and The Blood on Satan’s Claw – basically witchcraft was a cinema ticket or trip to the newsagents away. The prolific writings and teachings of famed English occultist , who championed the Thelemite religion, also ran rampant at the time, and similar figureheads of witchcraft and other elements of the occult found their way into daytime TV and BBC documentaries.

“I collected Man, Myth and Magic every week and put it into binders. It was everywhere,” says Gary Parsons. “Myself, I got more involved in investigating magic properly as a teenager. My dad worked for Hammer films so it was in the house really, but it was Aleister Crowley that kicked the thing up for me. By then it was getting a bit difficult though, because of the ‘satanic panic’. I was getting my mail opened up all the time.”

The ‘satanic panic’ that Parsons refers to is the mass panic that characterized the 90s. Thousands were investigated when unfounded cases of sexual abuse were linked to witchcraft and devil worship. Though witchcraft was dwindling in popularity as the decades of free love and revolution came to end, it was this moral panic that snuffed out the most outward of practicing.

Preceding this however, the lifted ban on witchcraft gave light to pieces of literature like Margaret Murray’s The Witch-Cult in Western Europe (1921) and The White Goddess (1948) by Robert Graves, which illustrated what had been a movement working quietly from within the shadows.

However, it was the writing of Gerald Gardner that initially helped witchcraft to ascend into a viable spiritual alternative in the every day psyche. Other authors followed his lead with DIY books to getting initiated and practicing, but it was Gardner’s book Witchcraft Today that became a go-to for modern Wiccans. It was the basis for the tradition of Gardnerian Wicca: a neopagan religion that led the charge of British Traditional Wicca practiced mostly in the south east of England.

“Instead of an old woman living next door practicing some underground religion, witches were younger and hip” – Gary Parsons

Parsons recently held a talk on the importance of British witchcraft documentaries in the 1970s at The Underground Gallery. Here, he explains how Wicca rode on the countercultural sentiment of the late 60s onward. The 60s were a technicolour era, when recreational drugs got big, as did sexual liberation and a mass distrust of authority.

“People were looking for alternative religious beliefs, a lot of people went to India to try and find themselves, being gurus,” Parsons tells Dazed. “Folk music was coming back again, so bands like The Incredible String Band were forming communes, getting people back into nature. Witchcraft is so intrinsically linked with nature, it was a natural progression, but it had been in the doldrums since the 40s.”

Gardner was popping up on television to do interviews, and later, so were Alex and Maxine Sanders – who Parsons called “the witch king of Britain. “He was suddenly everywhere. In newspapers, on TV, releasing music,” says Parsons. There’s a famous incident of Maxine performing rites on stage with the band Black Widow live in 1970.

“They upped people’s interest in it. Out of the very few films that have survived from that era, Alex and Maxine Sanders feature in most of them,” says Parsons.

Alex and Maxine Sanders represented the new age. Rather than pointy hats and wrinkles that hid years of magical secrets, they were young and open about what they were doing in their fast multiplying coven. Stories of their initiations were fascinating – Maxine had been involved in astral projection and a cult since her early teens, and Alex told the media the story of having his scrotum nicked by his grandmother to welcome him to the fold (a story he later admitted as false).

Their practice – which fostered Alexandrian Wicca – involved a lot of nudity and dramatic rituals. It was seriously good fodder for local tabloids, and opened up the demographic for those in their teens and their twenties that wanted to embrace another faction of counterculture. Gardenerianism became “fuddy duddy” according to Parsons, and this new ideal was very attractive.

“Instead of an old woman living next door practicing some underground religion, they were younger and hip. You didn’t have Sybil Leek doing witchcraft at the roadside anymore, but young, hip, and most of the time barely clothed people.”

This pretty much defines Legend of the Witches (1970), one of the most complete, serious investigations into modern day witchcraft on film that’s been salvaged from the era. It was one of the biggest contemporary features too, with an actual gala premiere, as well as a brief cinematic run. However, because of its nudity, Parsons relates that it was advertised as “effectively a softcore porn, shown in Soho”.

It premiered alongside Do You Want To Be A Virgin Forever? – meaning it probably wasn’t given the opportunity to be as serious as it took itself. It features men and women, performing long – if a little tedious – naked ceremonies while telling folk stories about the gods. Sanders’ coven makes an appearance in the black and white rural setting.

There’s also The Dunsmore Devil Worshippers, a rare cut that shows something slightly more sinister. Parsons says, because of its short length, it was probably a featurette in a bigger show. The witches involved are practicing a black mass, killing a cockerel to initiate a naked woman. “They’re very polite, very posh people in a mansion somewhere. It’s very different from Alexandrian witchcraft which was nature-based, so we’re seeing two ends of the same spectrum,” says Parsons.

A lot of misconceptions about paganism, and more generally witchcraft, were whipped up at the time by ‘witchsploitation’ fiction films – a genre that was birthed and peaked in the 70s. Sex, violence and scenes of gore were massively far removed from the quiet, remote, rural practices documented elsewhere, but it proved popular with the crowds. This form of sleaze was riddled with historical inaccuracies too.

“Certainly horror films didn’t help at the time, you had a film called Blood on Satan’s Claw, that mashes together Wicca with what had happened with the Manson family – you’re getting a warped view of it. Most fictional films get devil worshipping and black magic, then meld the two together in an uneasy way,” explains Parsons. Other films from the era, like 1972’s Virgin Witch or Black Death (conflating the witch-hunting plot with the plague) and Mark of the Devil (1970) offered a debauched, hedonistic lens on the culture. And though this perspective on witchcraft is all sorts of awful, the genre is a product of its time; illustrating conservative factions of society’s struggle with the spiritualist, sexually liberated rebels and hippies of the era.

Today, Parsons is in the editing process of his film Conjuration, due to be premiered at the British Museum’s Folk Horror Revival convention. Parson’s draws on the work of occultist heavyweight filmmakers like Kenneth Anger, particularly the dark angel-summoning film Lucifer Rising (1973) and Alejandro Jodorowsky for his esoteric cult film The Holy Mountain (1973). It’s partly filmed in areas of ‘magical interest’ in the UK, like Stonehenge, and also in Pompeii. “It’s a film about how magic is an energy that goes back beyond Christianity, back into ancient time,” he explains.

“So it’s looking at someone who worshipped at Stonehenge back in 2000bc, but also tapping into the energy of someone who is doing magic today. There is a recreation of an Alexandrian ritual from the late 60s in there, and I like to think of it as almost a homage to those 70s witchcraft documentaries.”

Though this is his thirteenth film on witchcraft, he’s definitely noticed an exponential growth in interest with what he’s doing. It’s the fastest growing religion in America, and we see witchcraft conventions regularly – the upcoming Witchfest in London and Brighton for one – and Facebook groups for finding your coven. There’s even websites for self-initiating, and running DIY covens online. So why are we now seeing one of the biggest modern resurgences in witchcraft since the 70s? Maybe counterculture and mass disillusionment is at its strongest once more: and we need something a bit magical.



Leave your questions here

To write a comment you must
Category filter
Concern filter
Type filter

All categories

Spiritual Healing
$222 USD
Healing from Trauma at a Quantum Soul Level

Are you burnt out from clinical therapy practices that require years of treatment with few results? Are you ready to release and transmute your trauma once and…

LunaRio Silver Deer
Spiritual Healing
$10 USD
I will do spiritual transformation for you

I will do spiritual transformation. Life occurs as a series of cycles in a single human lifetime. Cycles exist in almost a spiral pattern. There is a flow and …

Wisdom Realms
Career Coaching
$499 USD
Reset 1-0n1 Coaching and Mentoring Programme

Are you returning to work after a career break, or are you looking for a new job or career change?

This programme is for you.

I’ve developed the RESET coachi…

Carla Martins
Life Coaching
$399 USD
1-on-1 Coaching

The journey started with our discovery call, and You decided: ” I’m ready! Let’s do this!”.

We will engage in 1-on-1 coaching sessions for 90 minutes. In this…

Carla Martins
Emotional Stress Release
$800 USD
Retreat( India): Connect With Your Inner Wisdom 1st to 4th Sept

Join us for an immersive experience anchored amidst the beauty and tranquillity of Kasar Devi, Almora, India

1st Sept’22 ( Thursday) - 4th Sept 2022 ( Sunday …

Psychic Reading
$80 USD
I will do oracle and tarot card readings

I will do oracle & tarot card reading in any area of your life. You will get answer from the Angelic, Elemental, Faerie or Galactic realms. I will share wi…

Wisdom Realms
Natal Astrology
$15 USD
15 min reading of SOUL structure

[SOUL STRUCTURE]Each soul has own structure,and knowing it means to have unlimited access to inner energy. This readings are telling about your talents and str…

Ksenia Jdanova
Wellness Coaching
$10 USD
Ask a Question?

Supportive reflection of a current question that you would like clarity around. Using the SMART method to seek quidance in stepping onto your path of potential…

Beverly Lynn
$150 USD
Reiki Services (distant healing session)

In this hour long distant healing session I will use long distance Reiki, crystals and essential oils to balance your Chakras. Balancing your Chakras allows en…

Erin Kirby
Tarot Reading
$10 USD
Intuitive Tarot Reading

Affordable Tarot reading to offer guidance on any given concern.

Elphie Shoppe
$10 USD
Talk Therapy Sessions

Hello there: These times are dread. Do you need to talk with a safe professional about a troubling personal challenge? I am a professional listener and will li…

Eulalee Thompson
Tarot Reading
$10 USD
Tarot Reading

I offer tarot readings with a 100% accuracy rate. The tarot is meant to give you advice, to point you in the right direction or to provide you with clarity. Bu…

Zara Kalil
Angel Healing
$10 USD
Mental Health Advice & Tips

I can help you with past issues and give advice and tips on how to better your life. I can see through my third eye and receive messageson what you need to do …

Beings Of Light
Life Coaching
$10 USD
Discovery call

Are you interested in supporting your health with safe and effective holistic medicine? Not sure if you should switch diets, work with a health coach or explor…

Suzana Da Costa
Wellness Coaching
$50 USD
Mental Health and Holistic Lifestyle Coaching

Hi there! I’m Doug and I offer 1 on 1 Holistic Lifestyle and Mental Health Coaching sessions. Navtigating life with mental health issues of any sevarity is a h…

Doug Peterson
Wellness Coaching
$10 USD
Mental Health and Holistic Lifestyle Coaching Consultation

Hi there! I’m Doug and I offer 1 on 1 Holistic Lifestyle and Mental Health Coaching sessions. Navtigating life with mental health issues of any sevarity is a h…

Doug Peterson
Family Psychology
$10 USD
Psychic Reading

Expert in Love Relationship, Tarot Psychic Reading
I can give you more powerful insight of every part of your life. With the help of Crystal ball my Psychic re…

Aamir Bilal
Career Coaching
$195 USD
Holistic Lifestyle & Nutrition Coaching


If this sounds like you, then you don’t need a new diet… you n…

David Giddings
Bach flower therapy
$120 USD
Bach Flower Essence Consultation

Exploration of where you’re feeling stuck or limited in life and recommendations of Bach Flower Essences to help loosen and dissolve old patterns.

Suzana Da Costa
Cognitive-behavioral therapy
$100 USD
Subliminal therapy

In this service we will use Subliminal therapy and Sound healing as alternative to tradition cognitive behavioral therapy.

We are born with our thoughts. Do n…

Ahmed Amin Youssef
Spiritual Healing
$10 USD
Intro 2 Alignment Healing Chant


That is my greeting to the spirit within you. Join me for a welcome introduction session to celebrate my arrival at Core Spirit!

For 15 minutes I wi…

Ti3rc3 Fire
$55 USD
Psychic Medium Readings

Currently, all readings will be offered virtually.
Appointments are available on Tuesday and Thursday mornings between 9am-1pm (UK Time Zone).
When we…

Jan Morgan
Oracle Cards Reading
$25 USD
Psychic Reading 15 Minutes

Well-versed in the main 5 clairs, I will Intuitively answer your questions for 15 minutes.

Jyll Hoyrup
Emotional Stress Release
$150 USD
Creatrix® Breakthrough

This is a revolutionary process, SPECIALLY designed for women. You will be able to clear your most depeest BLOCKS and limiting beliefs. 

This is the only too…

Tamar Viva