A Curious Discourse
In 2005 I was put in touch with a Canadian lady who initially introduced herself to me as ‘Jet’. Her real name was Jane Estelle Trombley. At that time, Jane’s and my own situation were similar, we both felt a little isolated, part of a near-forgotten ‘wing’ of The Wica and we started corresponding. Jane spoke to me of her initiator and of an original Isle of Man coven that she told me Gardner had been initiated into.
In this article I want to tell you a little bit about Jane, her initiator, and explore some of what she wrote to me.
Jane was a talented artist and showed me some of her work. I say ‘was’ as sadly, she passed away in 2013 at just 47 years old. She created a tarot deck, the ‘Arto Tarot’ for Adam McLean which sold out. Her artistic blog and accompanying thoughts are still viewable online due to the power of the internet allowing echoes to ripple on through digital near-immortality. https://jetarts.wordpress.com/
Fig 1: The Moon card from the Arto Tarot by Jane Trombley.
Jane was born in 1965, in Canada. After a career in the arts and business, she entered Toronto University as a mature student. She took several courses pursuing her interests in the study of mediaeval and early modern witchcraft, working extensively with Professor Leslie Hayes.
My correspondence with Jane extended over nearly four years between 2005 and 2009. Initially veiled and cryptic, she mentioned no names and occasionally just gave initials. I originally thought she may be a Liddell-like character, but after a few emails I was both struck and touched by her sincerity. Jane wrote to me:
“I will tell you the truth of my personal motivation. My Coven and I have been very isolated and we know how different we are from the other 'Gardnerians'. We still have connections to the I.O.M [Isle of Man] however, the Priesthood is very old and there is 'no one' and I mean not a soul, where they will point to as 'our family' besides themselves. (The Manx can be very exclusionary.) So, this is my personal quest. I am looking for the lost Brothers and Sisters of my line.”
Jane went on to tell me that she was a High Priestess of what was “sometimes called the Old Order, Robe Clad Covens from the Isle of Mann.” She also stated that these groups didn’t work all their rites robed, only certain ones.
Fig 2: Jane Trombley
She asked if Charles Clark (my initiator) ever mentioned anything like this to me. Charles had indeed said to me that he believed that Gardner had been initiated into a Manx coven on the Isle.
I was keen to find out if any of the names given to me by Charles may have been people on the Isle of Man. Jane was looking for similar information from me and wanted to know if Charles had ever mentioned her own initiator, James [Jim] Davies, or his initiating High Priestess, one Dorothy Plunkett.
I must say, it’s been a struggle and Dorothy Plunkett largely remains an enigma. There is evidence for a contemporary Plunkett family in the Douglas region of the Isle of Man going back well over a hundred years but to date, I have not found any evidence for a Dorothy.
Jane said that Dorothy was born around 1906 and had ran a boarding house. A friend informed me that he had searched the Isle’s boarding house records for a period of 50 years (it was a legal requirement to be registered to run a boarding house) and no one of that name existed on that list. He looked in the phone book, in the tourist register, the birth, marriage and death records and searched the museum’s libraries records. Nothing.
The only thing Jane told me about ‘Dorothy’ is that she had no idea when her initiation would have been, but it would have been ‘quite early’ and that she would have been born around 1906. She wrote:
“When looking at the family tree that you posted, I couldn't help but notice that you had none of the Manx people. Is that because you are still keeping many names secret or is it just that you don't know them? I suppose it would be hard to place them as quite a few were already 'in' and only circled with Gerald. If you are ever updating it though, I would appreciate it if you would add D.P. (I have no idea what the date would be for her initiations but they would be quite early - Isle of Mann HPS) and J.D. (1959 [Jane later corrected this to 1960] - Isle of Mann.”
The DP and JD addition to my barebones ‘Gardnerian Family Tree’ were based on this email from Jane. I think it’s interesting to note her words “I suppose it would be hard to place them as quite a few were already ‘in’”. This suggests a type of thinking, a distinction between Manx Witchcraft and what she perceived as Gardner’s Craft.
In another email, Jane says that Dorothy Plunkett was not Old Order Robe Clad but from another line of Witchcraft and was the High Priestess of a couple of covens, further complicating the picture.
I suspect we could be dealing here with classic case of witchy obfuscation and reveal/conceal tactics with regards to the name ‘Dorothy Plunkett’ and so far have been unable to get to the bottom of this. Of course, Craft historians have reason to be wary when presented with an ‘Old Dorothy’ story.
Jim Davies – Magister for a Traditional Manx Witchcraft
In contrast to Dorothy Plunkett, we know quite a lot about the Manx-born James Davies (he preferred ‘Jim’). Jane wrote affectionately of Jim, whom she first met in 1987:
“As a witch from the old lines, he was also very good at talking in circles and both revealing and concealing the mysteries, magic and history of the Cult. He was born and raised on the Isle of Mann and Manx through and through. His sense of humour was infectious and the wealth of knowledge he carried in his balding head was boggling. He was a man of honour. He always kept his word and did not give it lightly. He would never lie and he kept the secrets and never betrayed a Brother or Sister. I have not met a man who comes even close to being as dazzling as he was.”
Fig 3. Jim Davies
A visit to the Isle of Man Births, Marriages and Deaths, database reveals two, ‘James Alfred Davies’ One born in 1901 and one born in 1944. Both registered in the Douglas district of the Isle. It is a father and son record.
Fig 4. James Davies birth record.
In his book Witchfather Volume 2 Philip Heselton gives us a passage from an article written by Jim Davies in the 1980s entitled ’Gerald Gardner and the Isle of Mann’, which he penned under the pseudonym ‘Astrophel’. I suspect this may have been in a mid-1980s Canadian publication, with the fabulous name of Rags to Witches, with which Jim was involved. He writes:
“In my pre-pubescent years, a day in the country (as we towneys referred to any outing which took us beyond the boundaries of Douglas) was not quite complete without a visit to the Witches Mill.”
This shows that the ‘James Alfred Davies’ born in 1944 would have been both the perfect age and in the perfect place to have such a recollection, and I am certain they are one and the same. I have further managed to confirm through genealogical records that Jim was born on the 10th March 1944 on the Isle of Man and died on the 5th of June 2002 in Toronto, Canada, having emigrated there in 1965.
Through Jane’s emails we know a bit more about Jim. His aunt was reputedly the housekeeper for Mr Henri Leopold Dor (the publisher of the occult magazine ‘Fate’) and wrote a column for The Isle of Man Times. Davies was also known as an excellent maker of tools and for a while, he made replacement parts for the Isle of Man Railroad.
Fig 5. An example of Jim Davies workmanship.
After emigrating to Canada he settled in Toronto, where he spent some time as a correctional officer at a jail and was quite open about being a Witch. He travelled regularly between Canada and the Isle of Man.
In the early 1980s he initiated a Greek woman known as ‘Raven’ and, for a short time, they ran an occult shop on Harbord Street in Toronto aptly named ‘The Witchy Shoppe’. Jim was also a tarot reader at ‘The Occult Shop’, which is still a famous occult store in Toronto.
Jim’s first article from the 1980s includes a child’s perspective on Gerald Gardner:
“If you were really lucky you got to meet the Witch, himself. The first time that I met Gerald, I was about 12 years old. He was standing at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the museum holding a broomstick. Pretty scary! I (very nervously) asked the most obvious and probably tedious question. ‘Do Witches really fly on broomsticks?’ Gerald slowly looked down and eyeballed me. “No …”, he monotoned, “we ride them!” Then grinning from ear to ear, he cackled at his private little joke’”.
In the same article, Jim continues to express affection for Gardner as he writes:
“…he [Gardner] opened doors for me that would change my life.”
Indeed, Gardner did just that, for it was Gardner who was the Hight Priest for Jim’s initiation in 1960 as confirmed by Jane who wrote:
“Gerald was the HP for J.D.'s initiations... the lucky bugger!... Jim, idolized Gerald. This is for certain. He first met him as a young boy at the Mill. What kid with an active imagination wouldn't be impressed!”
Jim’s 1980s article continues:
“The Ways of the Craft were different then. The 'Gardnerian Tradition' as the Old Order has become known, was not quite as it is now. My Initiations were not as 'slick' as many that I have witnessed in subsequent years, but the feeling, the meaning and the Magick was just as real.”
Here we see Jim’s thinking revealed – it is his opinion that what became known as the Gardnerian tradition should acknowledge a homage to having some roots in a traditional Manx Witchcraft.
“Gerald Gardner was an enigma. He was not a messiah, he was not a genius, nor was he a charlatan that many have tried to make him out to be. Gerald Gardner was a Witch. He passed along much of that which had been passed along to him and more, with the help of others he was able to gather around him.”
We are used to accepting that Gardner was initiated into a New Forest group but this doesn’t in any way detract from the idea that he may have also been initiated into an older, ‘pre-Gardnerian’ Isle of Man coven. Let us just continue to entertain that thought…
In 2005 Michael Howard, who also had an exchange with Jane, wrote to me:
“Some years ago, I was in contact with a woman [Jane Trombley] in Toronto who claimed to be a traditional. She was in a coven founded by a man [Jim Davies] who knew Gardner on the IOM and had been born there. He claimed that Gardner had been initiated into one of the surviving local 'old' covens and knew the 'real stuff', but had decided to launch a popular neo-pagan fertility religion instead. I met him when the Toronto coven visited Wales some years ago, but he was unwilling to talk about it.”
We can see both Jane and Jim’s assertion that Gardner was initiated into a surviving, local ‘old’ coven. The unwillingness of Jim to talk to Mike demonstrates the insular attitude that’s long been held to be characteristic of what it is to be a Witch; Mike’s experience was in keeping with that. A similar attitude is true of the Isle of Man and its people. Even today, there is an ‘of the Mann’ and ‘not of the Mann’ feel that is pervasive, like an unwritten code.
Despite Jim’s reluctance to talk with Mike Howard, he had written further articles about Witchcraft. One, entitled ‘Ye Olde Detrius’ (written under his preferred name Jim Davies) appeared at Beltane 1993 in the Canadian publication, Wiccan Candle. This was followed by another in the Midsummer 1993 edition entitled ‘Manx Witchery’ under the pseudonym ‘Astrophel’. These are both somewhat cynical in their tone.
The first of these is about 'Ye Bok of Ye Art Magical' and how Jim believed it was a prop created by Gardner for use in his museum. It reads like he is almost laughing at others who were hailing 'Ye Bok of Ye Art Magical' as the oldest version of the Gardnerian Book of Shadows. Jim writes:
“No, and I lie to ye not, this ‘Ye Bok of Ye Art Magical’ was a book that was purposely and meticulously crafted, by Gerald, as a public display for the museum. Yup, that’s right… it’s what would be known in the film business as a ‘PROP’.”
He then goes on to give his account of how he knows 'Ye Bok of Ye Art Magical' was created as an impressive, magical-looking museum piece, citing evidence of its placement from his childhood memories and what can be seen of it in pictures of exhibits in the Museum used in Bracelin/Shah’s book, Gerald Gardner – Witch.
Given that Jim was born and raised on the Isle of Man and lived locally, I feel we can give credence to his testimony. Having looked at 'Ye Bok' myself, there are issues with it. It is derived in the main from MacGregor Mathers’ well-known translations of various magical grimoires, plus extracts from the King James Bible, the Talmud and the works of Crowley, alongside material that is now uniquely identified with Gardnerian Witchcraft. Some pages appear to have extra-large writing and diagrams on them which suggest it is something to be viewed from a distance. It is arguable whether that distance is for visitors to the Museum, or for someone dancing around a circle.
Jim’s second 1993 article ‘Manx Witchery’ is essentially him extolling the existence of a traditional form of Witchcraft on the Isle of Man. This article relies heavily on evidence presented by folklorist W. Walter Gill in his series of three Manx Scrapbooks which date from 1929 – 1938. These scrapbooks are a compilation of traditional Manx names and folklore and mention a fair amount about a surviving traditional form of Witchcraft on the island. Jim writes:
“…Indeed, not all book references are undesirable. Occasionally, little gems [the ‘Manx Scrapbooks’] of published information come to light from people in the past with no Gardnerian axe to grind. They illuminate our minds and remind us that Witchcraft really did exist before Gardner was ever initiated into the Way, or added his fillers to the holes in the almost abandoned Path.”
Here we can see Jim’s view of traditional Manx Witchcraft as an almost abandoned path, not as something obsolete. He is also asserting Gardner’s initiation into, and his additions to ‘the Way’ as he referred to Witchcraft. Jim may well have a point. After all, the modern Gardnerian Book of Shadows has much evidence for its creation and adaptation throughout the 1950s, though maybe not its entirety.
“[Gill’s writings] are just some of the written reference to Witchcraft and Witchcraft traditions existing in Man prior to Gardner (Do you think that the New Forest group was Gerald’s only ‘background’?) Ellan Vannin, as the island of Mannanin is called in Manx, was certainly not exclusionary. However, as an insular place the ‘Old Tradition’ did manage to keep a penurious hold. The Old Ways’ in Man, as in other places, were not to be spoken of, and Gerald, in his day, took a lot of flack for letting it be known that they still existed.”
As a small aside, The Cauldron's 2000 reprint of Jim’s 1993 article states ‘The writer is an initiate of the OTO’. Unfortunately, this was an editorial error and in the following edition we find a ‘mea culpa’ from Mike Howard, apologising for the error and stating “…In fact he is a companion of the OTD (Ordo Templi Duo) an esoteric order which is not related in any way to the OTO.”
The Ordo Templi Duo was a Canadian temple that blended ceremonial magic with the Pagan duality of God and Goddess instead of using Judeo-Christian symbolism.
During his life, Jim Davies also claimed Gardnerian, Traditional Manx and later, in the 1980s, Alexandrian lineages.
Jim certainly believed that Gill’s writings revealed evidence of an old Manx Witchcraft tradition “of fertility cult and rites, of secret worship of pagan Gods and Goddesses. Of circle dances for magic…. Of Witch initiations and of higher degrees of Witchcraft.” This is something quite distinct from the concept of cunning folk and traditional folkloric customs though we do find that their boundaries, if any, tend to blur together.
I found it interesting that there is a definite change of tone between Jim’s articles. The 1980s one feels like a warm recollection of his time as a child visiting the mill, meeting Gerald Gardner and then later being initiated by him. Jim’s second two articles are more assertive, insistent and cynical. We find Jim reaffirming the long existence of a traditional Manx Witchcraft. Importantly, I feel it should be noted that The Cauldron reprint’s footnote, states that “… [this article was first] published at a time when derogatory comments about Gerald Gardner were circulating.”
It seems likely that Jim wrote the later articles as a political poke at certain Gardnerians, particularly those hailing 'Ye Bok of Ye Art Magical' as the first Gardnerian Book of Shadows. In the second of the 1993 articles, Jim focused upon a long tradition of Manx Witchcraft and Gardner’s involvement with it.
There were ‘Witch Wars’ going on in Canada at this time between initiates of the Long Island style of Witchcraft, some of whom presented as purists, plus the very public dissent over the publication of Aidan Kelly’s 1991 book, Crafting the Art of Magic. Jim was very upset by both of these.
Further evidence of Jim’s cynicism and discontent can be seen in Jane’s correspondence where she writes of him:
“At the time I met him he really had 'given up the Craft' due to unfortunate experiences with people over here [North America]. He, like one of his older Brothers on Mann, felt that "They killed the Craft, let them keep the corpse." This refers to modern 'Gardnerian' and the egocentric priesthood lines... etc... of which I and my Brothers and Sisters stay clear of.”
It is clear that by this time, there was indeed a separation in thinking and ideologies between those who believed themselves as hailing from a traditional Manx-Gardnerian ‘hybrid’ line and certain other Gardnerians. A not too dissimilar thought was shared by Charles Clark, who interestingly to me, as in Jim’s own Book of Shadows, always spelt ‘Wica’ with one ‘c’. This may be a small, but I feel, significant thing that tells us about our history. Indeed, ‘Wica’ was clearly the word of choice for Gardner during the early to mid-1950s. This is something I strongly suspect changed into ‘Wicca’ due to the delightful, etymological pedantry of Doreen Valiente.
In conclusion, Jim’s impact on the local witchcraft scene seems unclear, with some people saying that many seekers were introduced to Gardnerian practices through him and others saying that he was a bit of a lone wolf. After ‘The Witchy Shop’ closed Jim Davies remained a visible presence in the area until his death.
Hopefully, I have demonstrated that Jane Trombley and Jim Davies considered themselves to be from a traditional line of Manx Witchcraft but also embraced Gardner. Having looked as far as I can into these things and supported by what Charles said to me about Gardner having an initiation on the Isle of Man (a knowledge also proffered independently by Jane and Jim), I have to say I believe them and find them credible.
This is a view also supported by Michael Howard who in his book, Modern Wicca – A history from Gerald Gardner to the present asserts: “Jim Davies was the magister of a traditional coven”. In fact, in 2002, upon hearing of Jim’s death, Mike Howard had wanted to put an obituary in The Cauldron but Jane (who had worked as a High Priestess with Jim) did not want attention to be drawn to him – a viewpoint she later changed, wishing she had given Mike the permission.
We come now to an article published in February 2014 in The Cauldron. Its authorship is attributed to ‘Manxwytch’. He writes:
“Outside of its initiatory lineages, scarcely any research has been done on the influence that traditional Manx witchcraft had on Gerald B. Gardner. This is a seemingly obvious line of enquiry, given that the infancy of modern neo-pagan Wicca was on Ellan Vannin (Gaelic for the Isle of Man) and that Gardner was primarily surrounded by Manx witches during his years there.”
I think this is a good point. As humans we value things of age and do tend to look for proof of longevity by co-opting history, much as we see with Gardner and his (at times) ‘inventive’ writings. We also see this with Jim Davies holding up Gill’s writings as evidence for a tradition of old Manx Witchcraft. Whilst their conclusions may not be strictly upheld through a more robust scientific method, historical research will always entail a degree of subjectivity and personal interpretation as to the words and recollections of others.
As previously stated, none of this detracts from the research carried out on the New Forest Coven. Indeed, Jane wrote of them:
“I really don't doubt the New Forest coven existed... of course I don't think that they practiced in the same way people do now. Things back then were a bit less [rigid]. But they were in England … I do know that they did correspond with the Isle but letters tend to get burned after people pass away. That's what we do.”
The Isle of Man has a rich history of folklore and traditions and I don’t think it’s hard to envisage that Jim was not the only one involved with Gardner and his Witchcraft practices on the island.
From Jim and Jane’s recollections we get a sense of a once-contented ‘hybrid’ of Gardnerian and Manx Witchcraft on the island in the 1950s and early 60s. Then in 1964, after inheriting Gardner’s museum, Monique and Scotty Wilson brought a media frenzy to the Isle of Man and along with it, I suspect, a segregation on the island into the ‘Old Ones’ of the Wica and the ‘New’ Gardnerians as exemplified by the Wilsons.
A Tangential Digression
In another of Jane’s emails she wrote: “Donna and Gerald's gravestone bears the star and triangle. It was placed there by a close friend of theirs on the Isle. (And I don't mean Monique or her crew, etc.).” Words that show her knowledge, awareness and perception of a different set of non-Gardnerian Isle of Man witches. I’m also inclined to think that the following statement by Manxwytch is related to Jane’s comment above. The blog entry reads:
“In advance of Sauin, I undertook a pilgrimage to several of the important sites sacred to the traditional witches in my Line on the Isle… Kirk Michael, Kirk Malew, and Kirk Patrick all contain memorials to ancestors of my Line. I paid respects at each, caring for the two sites that were not being maintained by others on the Isle.”
Fig 6. Donna Gardner's gravestone.
Intriguingly, Donna Gardner’s grave is at Kirk Malew. As some of you will know, Charles Clark stated that Donna Gardner was his initiating High Priestess but there is little independent evidence to support her Craft involvement. Most of what there is can be found on my website. I do believe Donna was involved on occasion, as an embodiment of a Priestess and helped her husband. Donna was known to be a very likeable and amenable woman. That said, I do have some photos of Donna that were given to us by Charles that I have never published.
In 2006 I decided to share one of these photos with Jane. It shows Donna skyclad, wearing sandals, adorned with a thick cuff, holding a sword and for all intents and purposes, looking like a High Priestess of the Craft. Jane posted it on to a Craft elder, still alive on the Isle of Man, who had known Donna and Gerald Gardner. Jane asked him if he knew whether Donna circled and got involved. Upon receiving the photo, his reply was simply: ‘It says enough’.
This Craft elder was, I am sure, Johnny Harrison. He is mentioned in Manxwytch’s 2014 article in The Cauldron where he writes:
“The Manx witches looked for candidates with something to offer the covines and they did not initiate those who were simply spiritual seekers. Artists, poets, toolmakers and metalworkers were brought into the witch-cult and put to work composing the rituals and making the tools of the Arte. The most famous example of this workmanship were the Solomonic swords made for Gardner by Johnny Harrison and Angus M[a]cLeod based on designs in the Key of Solomon grimoire.”
Fig 7. Johnny Harrison.
Johnny Edward Harrison died at the beginning of 2011 on the Isle and I’m certain that it is he referred to by Jane through her website, where a few months after his death she wrote of a particular painting of hers:
“This painting was for a beloved old wizard on the Isle of Mann. Where it is now, I do not know? Like all magical things and rings, I’m sure it will find the right owner.”
Seeing Through the Veil
So, what do we have here? I feel we have evidence for a bubbling cauldron on the Isle of Man in the 1950s. Given the vehemence of Jim Davies’ articles, and both his and Jane’s assertions, I do believe that there was a form of traditional Witchcraft existing on the Isle of Man into which Gardner was initiated. I also find it highly plausible that he filled in what he saw as lacunae, with his own extensive knowledge. That is what we now know as ‘classic Gerald behaviour’.
Perhaps, there are those who will choose to see Jane and Jim’s words as a grand conspiracy in action; Bill Liddell-like behaviour from people who knew each other. However, I believe there is truth here because of what Charles Clark told me. It is for you, the reader, to make the call. I am just trying to untangle a little more about the Craft on the Isle of Man in the 1950s.
Before closing, I would just like to mention Jane Trombley’s own memorial stone. Jane was born and raised in Canada and as far as I can tell, has no ancestry back to the Isle of Man. Her gravestone is stunningly beautiful. It is a decorated standing stone with a hole pierced straight through, adorned with images of a spiral and a cup and ring style marking. Most importantly though, is the inscription on it, which is in Manx – a barely used language with less than 2000 speakers. Its similarity to Irish Gaelic affords us a translation: “To know, to remember and to love again.”
The Manx people are quite protective of their culture, their people and their heritage and at first glance it seems almost audacious of Jane, a Canadian, to have this on her memorial. I think however, that it speaks far louder about her sincerity and belief in the path she trod in life.
I want to end with some words from Mike Howard who wrote to me of Jane and Jim:
“…my gut feeling from meeting her [Jane] and her past magister [Jim] is that they are the real thing.”
I can’t help but agree.
* * * * *
A note on the use of Man / Mann
The astute will notice that both Jane, Jim and Manxwytch use the term ‘Isle of Mann’. I have been informed that in general usage, it is usually the ‘Isle of Man’. I find their use interesting and I suspect ties back to the Isles cultural God ‘Mannin’ (Manx variation of Manannan) Son of the Sea, warrior and King! As such, I have not edited their use of ‘Mann.’
 Adam McLean is a well-known authority on and enthusiast for alchemical texts and symbolism, the editor and publisher of over 40 books on alchemical and Hermetic ideas.
 The spelling of Dorothy’s surname has also been suggested as ‘Plunket’. I have put ‘Plunkett’ as there is evidence for a family of this name on the Island. This is not true for ‘Plunket’.
 Philip Heselton, Witchfather Volume 2, pp 567-568, Thoth 2012.
 Private correspondence.
 Jim Davies ‘Gerald Gardner and the Isle of Mann’ 1980s. I suspect it was in the Canadian publication Rags to Witches.
 Jim Davies (Astrophel) ‘Manx Witchcraft’ First published in the Canadian publication Wiccan Candle 1993 (original not seen) and subsequently in The Cauldron no. 95, 2000.
 The Cauldron no. 95, 2000.
 ‘Wica or Wicca? Politics and the Power of Words’ https://www.thewica.co.uk/wica-or-wicca
 Mike Howard, Modern Wicca – A history from Gerald Gardner to the present. pp.123, Llewellyn 2010.
 The Cauldron No. 151, 2014.
 https://manxwytch.wordpress.com/ I have reason to believe this is the same person as the author of The Cauldron articles by ‘Manxwytch’.
 The Cauldron No. 151, 2014.