In the summer of 1940, with Britain still reeling from the Dunkirk evacuation, an air of determination enveloped the country. The South Coast, transformed into a fortress braced for a German invasion, became a stage for an extraordinary chapter in Highcliffe-on-Sea.

Here, a secretive gathering of witches and spiritualists, stirred by the urgency of the times, resolved to contribute to their nation’s defense in a most unconventional way. As Lammas Eve approached, marking the start of the harvest festival, they planned a covert operation, not with weapons of war, but with the ancient arts of magic and ritual. This operation, later dubbed with the intriguing code name “Operation Cone of Power,” aimed at nothing less than the mental subjugation of Adolf Hitler himself.

Gerald Gardner, a retired British civil servant and a pivotal figure in the modern Wiccan movement, chronicled this enigmatic event in his book “Witchcraft Today,” published in 1954. According to Gardner, this was not the first time English witches had influenced the course of national defense. He recounted tales of similar magical interventions during critical moments in English history – notably, the dispersion of the Spanish Armada in 1588 and the thwarting of Napoleon’s invasion plans in 1805.

These historical precedents set the stage for what was to transpire in 1940. Gardner detailed how a coven of witches, rooted in Highcliffe and steeped in ancient lore, rallied to cast spells aimed at deterring Hitler from crossing the Channel. Their ritual, echoing those used against previous invaders, was a bold attempt to implant a single, powerful thought in the Nazi leader’s mind: “You cannot cross the sea.”

British author and Wiccan Philip Heselton, in his biography of Gardner titled “Witchfather,” explored the details of this Lammas Eve ritual. He believed that 17 individuals, including local residents connected through the esoteric Rosicrucian Crotona Fellowship, gathered in the New Forest for this purpose. Near the Naked Man, an ancient gallows-tree, they marked out a witches’ circle in a forest clearing, forgoing a bonfire to avoid detection.

The ritual itself was an intricate dance of both physical and spiritual elements. Participants, skyclad as per Wiccan tradition, spiraled around the circle, reaching a communal ecstatic state believed to harness magical forces. Their chants were not just mere words but a psychological assault on Hitler’s resolve, echoing the magical formulas used against the Armada and Napoleon.

But beyond Gardner’s writings, hard evidence for the ritual is scant. This lack of concrete proof has led to debates among historians and Wiccans alike. Professor Sabina Magliocco of California State University, a Gardnerian witch and an expert in folklore, acknowledges the uncertainty surrounding the event. For Magliocco, whether or not the ritual occurred is less significant than what the narrative reveals about the values and aspirations of the witches involved. It speaks of their patriotism, their belief in the power of witchcraft, and their connection to the forces of nature.

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Gardner’s accounts, while raising eyebrows in the 1950s, offered a different perspective on Wiccans, often maligned in the media as nefarious figures. By highlighting their patriotism and willingness to defend their country, Gardner sought to reshape public perception of witches from sinister to sympathetic.

Yet, this tale of magical resistance does not go unchallenged. In the 1970s, Amado Crowley, who claimed to be the son of the famed occultist Aleister Crowley, contested Gardner’s version. He proposed an alternative narrative involving his father in a similar ritual dubbed “Operation Mistletoe.” This account, however, is also mired in skepticism, with historians like Ronald Hutton of Bristol University questioning the veracity of Amado’s connection to Aleister Crowley and his supposed wartime activities.

Despite these controversies, what remains clear is the enduring fascination with Operation Cone of Power. Whether fact or folklore, it symbolizes a unique intersection of history, mysticism, and national pride. It’s a story that resonates with the human desire to influence the course of events, however improbable the means. As the summer of 1940 fades into history, the tale of Highcliffe’s witches remains a captivating footnote, blurring the lines between myth and reality.

As the narrative of Operation Cone of Power continues, it invites us into a world where history and myth intersect. Gerald Gardner’s descriptions in “Witchcraft Today” reveal not just the alleged actions of a secretive coven but also shine a light on the lesser-known aspects of Britain’s wartime esoteric practices.

In the New Forest, Gardner tells of a group, bound by their belief in the arcane, embarking on a mission of monumental significance. Their objective was bold: to mentally influence one of the most infamous figures in history and prevent his invasion plans.

Philip Heselton’s research paints a detailed picture of the ritual’s participants and setting. This diverse group, linked by their involvement in local esoteric circles, gathered in secrecy. The location, near the Naked Man, was steeped in historical and mystical meaning.

Their ritual was a dynamic blend of chants and movements, designed to channel their collective will. In the moonlight, they became mediums for the forces they aimed to harness. A flashlight or lantern, aimed towards Berlin, focused their intentions.

However, Gardner’s account is met with skepticism due to the lack of supporting evidence. Critics argue that it might be a fictional tale created to enhance the public image of Wicca.

Contrasting Gardner’s story is Amado Crowley’s narrative of “Operation Mistletoe,” supposedly led by his alleged father, Aleister Crowley. This version, though colorful, is also shrouded in doubt due to its lack of historical backing.

Historian Ronald Hutton’s examination of Aleister Crowley’s diaries, which make no mention of Amado or related rituals, suggests that Amado’s claims are likely unfounded.

Despite these uncertainties, the story of Operation Cone of Power remains intriguing. It reflects a time when the distinction between reality and the mystical was blurred by the urgencies of war. It shows the human tendency to seek influence over uncontrollable events through any means, including witchcraft.

Gardner’s narrative, factual or not, served an essential purpose. It offered a different perspective on witches, portraying them as dedicated patriots. This portrayal was vital in an era when witches were often misunderstood and vilified.

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