Progressive Politics and Witchcraft in the UK (Brazier’s Park, Tavistock, Order of Woodcraft, Common Wealth)


What follows is a series of interconnecting strands from early-to-mid 20th century British history showing a surprisingly clear overlap, not only between leftist politics and social psychology, but between social psychology and “witchcraft.” Common Wealth was a socialist party set up by Sir Richard Acland and J. B. Priestley during World War 2. Another member of Common Wealth was Norman Glaister, a Fabian, who studied psychiatry and worked for the Tavistock Clinic in the 1920s. Glaister also participated in the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry, a camping movement where children and adults studied evolution and psychology.  In 1950, he set up Braziers Park, a residential adult education college and center for the School of Integrative Social Research. Braziers Park functioned also as a commune; its aim was “to explore the dynamics of people living in groups.”

Glaister was inspired by Wilfred Trotter, known as “the biological father of British psychoanalysis.” Another Wilfred, Wilfred Bion, worked under Trotter in the 1920s before studying group psychology and training as a psychoanalyst at the Tavistock Institute in the 1930s. One of Trotter’s primary ideas was that of the herd instinct (first proposed in 1908); another was that of two types of human being, the “resistive” type (making up the majority) and the “unstable” type (the minority who bring about, or at least are open to, change, later termed “sensitives”). This basic psychological premise of a dichotomy within the human species was adopted by The Order of Woodcraft Chivalry, founded in 1916 by Ernest Westlake, “a New Age Alternative to the Boy Scouts.” (Trotter was also a primary influence on propaganda-pioneer, Edward Bernays.)

The Order of Woodcraft Chivalry is said to have provided the basis the Neopagan religion of Wicca. In 1922, the role of British Chief of the Order fell to Harry Byngham, who changed his name to Dion. Byngham promoted phallic worship as a means of venerating the life force. His Order periodical, The Pinecone, published work by Victor Neuburg, who introduced Byngham to the ideas of Aleister Crowley. The Order was primarily aimed at children. Even more directly linked to the Order than Crowley was Gerald Gardner, one of the leading figures in the Wiccan revival of 20th century Britain.

The Order of Woodcraft Chivalry was directly affiliated with Richard Acland’s party, Common Wealth, which also incorporated Trotter and Glaister’s philosophy of human dichotomy (resistives and sensitives) into its programs for social reform, with its peculiar emphasis on the “sensory.” Common Wealth adopted some of the same organizational/psychological principals and methods as the Order, including the quasi-biological approach to human organization.

If the overlap between progressive politics, social psychology, and witchcraft isn’t clear enough yet, Wilfred Bion’s research into group psychology included a distinctly “parapsychological” angle: “Bion’s description of group phenomenology is vivid and is suggestive of what might be called ESP (extrasensory perception) elements. . . . Bion describes how individuals become caught up in different strands of the group process as if they were puppets being controlled and manipulated by an invisible puppeteer.”

For the full piece, including references, go here.

Jasun Horsley

Jasun Horsley

Existential detective. Liminalist author. Movie autist in chronic confessional mode. You only think you don't know who I am.
Jasun Horsley

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