Tales from the Archive: Sea washes up witchcraft box, 1966

[This story was published on December 15 in the Observer series. Read the original story at chichester.co.uk/news/nostalgia-sea-washes-up-witchcraft-box-1966-1-7733015.]

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[Image: Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers in Egyptian setup performing a ritual in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn]

A fascinating discovery was made on the beach between Bracklesham and Selsey in 1966. The Observer reported, in its October 21 edition of that year, that the sea had washed up a box full of mysterious regalia.

The box was discovered by Judith Hobson, a 24 year old school teacher of West Ewell, Surrey, while she was on holiday with her parents. Helped by her father, she dragged it out of the water and up the beach.

Inside, wrapped in a newspaper dated January 30, 1936, were swords, a dagger, a pair of tongs, a candle holder, a chalice, a red cape, and two coloured robes. Also in the box was a plaque embossed with the Star of David, which was ringed with Hebrew “God” and “North”. Carved into the ring of the plaque was the Latin tag, “Ex Fide Fortis” (“Strong in the Faith”). On finding the box, the Hobsons handed it to the police at Chichester.

A police spokesman interviewed in the Observer’s report said: “We made every possible inquiry among religious, Masonic and other organisations, but we could not find an owner or anything to suggest where the box came from. When the statutory time elapsed, the finders came to the police station and took the box away. It is now their property.”

Although the police established that the box had not been in the water very long when it was found, they could not determine how it came to be there. They hypothesised that it could have been buried in the sand or thrown in the sea from a boat. But as Jewish and Masonic representatives confirmed that the articles in the box had nothing to do with them – and as the Theosophical Society also disassociated itself – experts concluded that the box must have been connected with witchcraft.

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[Image: Folio 13 of the Cipher Manuscripts]

The mystery was finally solved when the box was later identified as belonging to a member of the occultist Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. 32 year old Francis King, a Notting Hill accountant, identified the regalia in the mysterious case. He said he had made a study of occult and came across the Order after reading that the Irish poet, W. B. Yeats, was connected with it. The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was an organisation which was devoted to the study and practice of the occult and paranormal, and inspired modern ‘witchcraft’ movements such as Wicca and Thelema.

The Order was founded at the end on the nineteenth century, and by the mid 1890s, it was well established in Great Britain with more than 100 members from every class of Victorian society. It had quite a large following before and after World War I, but it was thought to be almost extinct by 1966. Like the Masonic Lodges, the Golden Dawn system was based on hierarchy and initiation. Women could be admitted on an equal basis with men. The Golden Dawn was actually the first of three ‘Orders’, although all three were known collectively as the ‘Golden Dawn’.

A group of foundational documents known as the ‘Cipher Manuscripts’, written in English using the Trithemius cipher, lay out the outlines of the organisation. The First Order taught esoteric philosophy, personal development through the four Classical Elements, and the basics of geomancy, tarot divination and astrology. The Second Order taught magic in the form of alchemy, scrying, and astral travel. The Third Order was the home of the ‘Secret Chiefs’, highly skilled members who coordinated the activities of the First and Second Orders through ‘spirit communication’. Known or alleged members of the Hemetic Order of the Golden Dawn are thought to include Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker, Edith Nesbit, Charles Rosher, and Aleister Crowley.

It is thought that the regalia inside the mysterious box found near Chichester may have belonged to a dead member of the Order who asked that it be thrown in the sea, since occultists believe sea water has great purifying powers.

I wonder if anyone remembers what happened to the box?

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