Progressive Politics & Witchcraft: Brazier’s Park, Order of Woodcraft, Common Wealth (Occult Yorkshire 4)


“Under Socialism, you would not be allowed to be poor. You would be forcibly fed, clothed, lodged, taught, and employed whether you liked it or not. If it were discovered that you had not character and industry enough to be worth all this trouble, you might possibly be executed in a kindly manner; but whilst you were permitted to live, you would have to live well.”
—George Bernard Shaw, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism

We will need to make a leap now that may at first seem to take us into areas unrelated to the previous material. It would be nice if, somehow, I could lay all of this information out as a straightforward, linear narrative; but that would be a little like hoping to put a leash on an octopus. If the connections I am attempting to map were simple, straightforward, and linear, they would already be obvious for all to see. Octopi do not come to heel when called. Of course, there is a danger that, since I am selecting the material in order to show how it is all inter-connected, I will create a picture that exists only in my own mind, due to perceptual bias. The only remedy I know of for this is to resist the temptation to emphasize the connections, and focus primarily on the facts that appear to be connected. The reader can then decide if these various elements really are connected by anything other than the author’s imagination.

I have briefly mentioned Common Wealth, the organization set up by my grandfather’s friends, Sir Richard Acland and J. B. Priestley, and to which Alec Horsley belonged. Another member was Norman Glaister, a Fabian. In 1950, Glaister set up something called Braziers Park, a country house in Oxfordshire, England, owned and operated by a charitable trust as a residential adult education college, and center for the School of Integrative Social Research.


Braziers Park

castle house

Castle House, where we lived when I was born.

The following is from the Braziers Park website.

“Norman Glaister was a medical student during the period when Wilfred Trotter was Professor of Surgery at University College Hospital, although he was unaware of Trotter’s interest in sociology. However, when Glaister was serving as a Captain in the RAMC [Royal Army Medical Corps] in Palestine and heard that his wife (neé Irene Sowerbutts) had died in the ‘flu epidemic of 1918, he felt that he could only face the future if he could find some meaningful research and activity that would improve the human condition. The chance finding of Trotter’s The Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War gave him his inspiration. Back in England, he studied psychiatry, worked for the Ministry of Pensions, the Tavistock Clinic and the Royal Free Hospital.[1] He built up his own practice. Glaister became interested in the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry, a pacifist, camping movement that encouraged children and adults to work together learning woodcraft skills and fostering new educational ideas coming from the study of evolution and psychology. He took his three young children to the annual camp in 1924.

Glaister had initially wanted to open a school where “the adults in charge . . . would offer the children experiences which would enable them to make positive and balanced choices at the time, and in later life.” When this plan was frustrated, “Glaister settled for general practice and psychological work for the Clinic”(presumably Tavistock). [“PDF”]  It was not until 1950 that Glaister set up the School of Integrative Social Research, the same year Braziers Park was established. The School is partly a commune; its aim was and is “to explore the dynamics of people living in groups.”


Norman Glaister

Glaister was inspired by Trotter, who was known as “the biological father of British psychoanalysis.”(Origins and Context of Bion’s Contributions to Theory and Practice, by Robert M. Lipgar, Malcolm Pines, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2003, p. 104.) It was under Trotter that another Wilfred, Wilfred Bion (whose tenure at Oxford may have overlapped with my grandfather’s) worked in his own medical training, before going on to study group psychology and train as a psychoanalyst at the Tavistock Institute. In her account of his life “The Days of Our Years,” Bion’s wife writes that Trotter greatly influenced the direction of Bion’s work on group relations. Edward Bernays, the now-notorious (thanks to Adam Curtis’ documentary, Century of the Self) social engineer, author of Propaganda, and nephew to Freud, also cites Trotter in his writings.

One of Trotter’s primary ideas, besides that of the herd instinct (which Freud rejected), 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). Glaister later replaced “unstable” with “sensitive,” and later still, “sensory.” 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, which included a “Sensory Advisory Committee.” Glaister joined The Order—described by Derek Edgell as “a New Age Alternative to the Boy Scouts”—in 1924, and there met Dorothy Revel, who became his second wife.



The Order is said to have provided the basis for the New Forest coven, and through that the Neopagan religion of Wicca. Westlake was a naturalist, anthropologist and traveler of Quaker upbringing, who moved away from Quakerism to extol the “old gods” of paganism. Inspired by authors such as Edward Carpenter, Nietzsche, Havelock Ellis, and J. G. Frazer, he created the Order as a means to escape “the cul-de-sac of intellectualized religion” and revive the “greater Hellas” of modern civilization. He saw women as incarnations of God, to be “worshiped in spirit and in truth,” revered the Jack-in-the-Green as the English equivalent of Dionysus, and proposed a “Trinity of Woodcraft” consisting of Pan, Artemis and Dionysus. After Westlake’s death in a motoring accident in 1922, the role of British Chief of the Order fell to Harry Byngham, who subsequently changed his name to Dion, short for Dionysus. Byngham promoted phallic worship as a means of venerating the life force. He introduced an Order periodical called The Pinecone, which included nudity (rare at that time) and published work by Victor Benjamin Neuburg. It was Neuberg who introduced Byngham to the ideas of Aleister Crowley, under whom Neuberg discipled (he was also his lover, or abuse-victim, depending on how you read it). The Order was primarily aimed at children and, by its pacifist stance, had particularly appealed to Quaker families as an alternative to Scouting. 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.[2]

If we seem to have strayed very far from my grandfather’s leftist interests or from Fabianism, we haven’t. The Order of Woodcraft Chivalry was directly affiliated with Richard Acland’s party, Common Wealth, of which Alec Horsley was a member.


Sir Richard Acland


Common Wealth 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.”[3] For example:

“[F]or the first time as far as our records suggest, the full panoply of Trotter’s ideas, the gregarious habit and the Resistive/Sensitive concept were covered extensively as if laying down the framework for future development. There is a new sense of confidence, determination and an ambition to make progress from first principles—and to many, much of this would be new. I think 44 people passed through the Summer School during the fortnight. Reference was made to the Resistive/Sensory team to stress the idea that it was the creative balance of the two functions that would improve action. Their main task was to increase the positive and reduce the negative element in all situations, to try to see issues not in dualistic terms but to find a unitary approach.”[link]

The overlap is surprisingly clear, then, not only between leftist politics and social psychology, but between social psychology and “witchcraft.” Nor does this overlap need to be inferred: Wilfred Bion’s research into group psychology included what would now be classified as a distinctly “parapsychological” angle:

“Bion’s description of group phenomenology is vivid and is suggestive of what might be called ESP (extrasensory perception) elements. He states that there is such a thing as the psychology of the group but that the origins of this psychology lie solely within the individuals comprising the group, but he also seems to believe that the potential group-relating aspect within the individuals is activated by the group, i.e., the existence of the group evokes what we call ‘group psychology.’ How does this happen? 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. Yet Bion did not believe that the group itself had an independent agency. Agency in the group became prime cause but remained ineffable and inscrutable—as a mysterious, potentiating, synergistic summation and transformation of the combined agencies of the individuals in the group.” (Lipgar & Pines, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2003, p. 14.)

Returning to Common Wealth: “In 1941, during World War II, Sir Richard Acland founded a new political party, Common Wealth, which Norman Glaister joined.”[link] The Order of Woodcraft Chivalry had been proposed to affiliate with Common Wealth, but for whatever reason this did not happen. “Instead, another group had been set up, called ‘Our Struggle,’ in the late 1930s and it was this group that became part of Common Wealth.” Nonetheless, Common Wealth adopted some of the same organizational/psychological principals and methods as the Order, including the quasi-biological approach to human organization.[4]

“Common Wealth’s first Sensory Committee meeting took place in April 1947. Olaf Stapleton the novelist and John MacMurray were to be invited to join later. The first Common Wealth Sensory Summer School took place only 4 months after that. That Sensory Summer School took place within three years of the founding of Braziers, which occurred as a result of this and two subsequent Summer Schools.”[link]

Olaf Stapleton is the well-known author of Last and First Men, a science-fiction novel about genetic engineering that has influenced writers as diverse as Arthur C. Clarke, Jorge Luis Borges, J. B. Priestley, Bertrand Russell, Arnold Bennett, and Virginia Woolf (as well as Winston Churchill). Stapleton also happened to go to Abbotsholme School, an unusual school which myself and both of my siblings attended. It is considered to be one of the prototypes for “progressive” schooling in Britain.

Here’s its Coat of Arms:



[1] My mother did volunteer work for this hospital (in Hampstead) in the later years of her life. I visited her there sometimes.

[2] It has been proposed, originally in the Druidic journal Aisling that [Gerald] Gardner’s New Forest coven was the pagan section of the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry; this order performed rituals in the New Forest in the early 1920s and its pagan section honored a moon goddess and a horned god, and believed in ritual nakedness. One of Ronald Hutton’s informants reports that Gardner was familiar with this order at least by the 1950s. A major difficulty with identifying this group with the New Forest coven is that it does not appear to have met in the New Forest between 1934 and 1945. Gardner records a working by the coven in the New Forest in 1940 against the projected Nazi invasion.

[3] “It is the opening gambit in Norman’s ambitious drive towards instituting a Sensory Committee in Common Wealth and it was to be five years before the first Sensory Committee meeting proper took place. . . . It points out the need for men of ideas (as opposed to men of action) who could function as a ‘sensory body’ rather than an ‘advisory committee’ since the word ‘advisory’ might suggest claims to superior wisdom for its members. The Sensory Committee ‘might be a nervous system for the Governing Body. The sensory system constantly brings to the brain up-to-the-minute information of the local conditions in every part of the body so that the motor action may be perfectly coordinated.’” “Norman Glaister and the Sensory Process Before the Founding of Brazier’s Park.”

[4] In 1940, Richard Acland’s Unser Kampf (Our Struggle) was published by Penguin Books. Why the German title and clear homage to Hitler’s Mein Kampf? It is especially suggestive in light of how Nazis and Fabians both advocated eugenics.

7 thoughts on “Progressive Politics & Witchcraft: Brazier’s Park, Order of Woodcraft, Common Wealth (Occult Yorkshire 4)

  1. The uncanny grins of British Pathe are triumphant, well-fed. Haha…

    A real contrast with Continental grimaces of the Right and of the Left.

  2. ” … The chance finding of Trotter’s The Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War gave him his inspiration. …”


    Astonishing. I own that book. I bought on ex-library copy with the ex libris from the “Columbia University in the City of New York” on May, 17, 2005. The book had been recommended to me by an old man, dead now, who said it was one if not the best book he had ever read. I marked the following passage on p. 51:

    “The individual of a gregarious species can never be truly independent and self-sufficient. Natural selection has ensured that as an individual he must have an abiding sense of incompleteness, which, as thought develops in complexity, will come to be more and more abstractly expressed.”

    Reminds me of your “hardest thing”:

    Maybe the hardest thing of all is to admit that, once we have laid to rest all the ghosts that haunt us, it will just be us, all alone in our houses.

    — and Bukowski:

    oh yes

    there are worse things than
    being alone
    but it often takes decades
    to realize this
    and most often
    when you do
    it’s too late
    and there’s nothing worse
    too late.

  3. I am struggling to see why the connections you are attempting to map are anything other than simple, straightforward, and linear. The clearest connection is the involvement of Norman Glaister in these organisations. The topic of these connections is still very often discussed at Braziers Park. Feel free to email us if you would like to collaborate with research.

  4. A 20-minute drive from Greys Court to Ipsden via Peppard Common and the A4074 Oxford-Reading road takes you to another Fleming residence: Braziers Park. This country pile was home to Valentine and Eve Fleming from 1906 to 1914, and was where the young Ian, born in 1908, spent his earliest years. Braziers Park was built in 1688, but was radically altered at the end of the 18th century by one Daniel Harris, who turned the Jacobean house into a Gothic-style mock castle (a style that Valentine retained when he added the west wing). More sombre than elegant was Nikolaus Pevsner‘s view of the building, but he admired its symmetry. Harris was keeper of Oxford Gaol, and the young Ian may have been amused to learn that Harris often employed convicts to build his houses.

  5. Pingback: Le Yorkshire occulte (1) | systèmophobe

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