Arnold Crowther (1909-1974) was an English Witch and skilled stage magician, friend of Gerald B. Gardner and husband of Patricia C. Crowther. According to Patricia, Crowther, like Gardner, was an “old” soul who had lived many earthly lives. He discovered a past life as a Tibetan monk, and he experienced vivid dreams in which the secrets of ancient Magic were revealed to him.
Crowther was born on October 6, 1909, in Chatham, Kent, one of a pair of fraternal twin brothers. His mother was Scottish and his father, an optician, was from Yorkshire. Crowther was fascinated with sleight-of-hand, magic tricks, ventriloquism and puppeteering. From the age of about eight on, he practiced tricks in secret in his bedroom. Both he and his twin planned to follow their father’s footsteps as opticians, but magic led Crowther in another direction. By his early twenties, he was touring his professional magic act. He had a good stage persona and was very clever at sleight-of-hand.
He worked in cabaret, and in 1938-39, he entertained the then-Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose at Buckingham Palace, which led to numerous engagements to entertain the titled gentry of England. He was a founder member of the Puppet Guild and made more than 500 puppets. He lectured on “curios of the world” to various societies and clubs and was himself a collector of odd items from around the world. An African witch doctor gave him the title “White Witch Doctor.” Crowther was a Freemason and was interested in Buddhism, until he entered the Craft.
Crowther met Gardner and Gardner’s wife, Donna, shortly before the start of World War II, probably at a lecture, and struck up a friendship with them.
Crowther became very interested in the Craft but was not initiated into it for about 18 years (see initiation). Gardner’s coven was wary of adverse publicity and felt that Crowther might use the Craft in his act. Gardner assured Crowther that the time would come when a “very special person” would initiate him into the Craft. The Gardners kept a flat in London, and Crowther frequently met them there, especially at the Caledonian Market, an antique market where Gardner loved to browse. Crowther was often out of town during the summer season, but upon his return, he would drop by the Caledonian Market and often find Gardner, who would greet him as though he’d never been gone: “Oh, hello, old man, did I tell you . . . ?”
During the war, Crowther was in the Entertainers National Services Association and toured throughout Europe entertaining troops with his show, “Black Magic.” The show’s name derived from its African Basuto choir. Crowther performed wherever required, including in a DC 3 plane at 4,000 feet, en route from Tripoli to Malta on November 10, 1943.
While stationed in Paris, he learned of his past life as a beggar Tibetan monk when he and an officer visited a palmist, Madame Brux, who invited them to a Séance and introduced them to a medium. The medium went into trance and began communicating with a masculine spirit who said he had been Crowther’s teacher in a previous life and was his guide in the present life. The medium reported that Crowther had been a young student in a Tibetan lamasary and had been killed. She spoke the name “Younghusband,” but Crowther knew no one of that name. “Your possessions will be returned to you,” the medium said. With that, an object fell on the Séance table. It was a Tibetan prayer wheel inscribed with the most holy of mantras, “Om mani padme hum.” The medium said it was an apport.
After the war, other Tibetan articles found their way into Crowther’s possession: a butter lamp, a trumpet made of a human thigh bone, a drum made of a human skull and a small rattle hand-drum. An expert told Crowther such articles were used by the Z’i-jed-pa, “The Mild Doer,” a homeless medicant class of Yogi regarded as saints, who should attain Nirvana after death and not have to be born again.
If he had indeed been such a monk in a previous life, then he would not have reincarnated as Crowther, he reasoned. He discovered, however, that if he, as the monk, had killed someone, he would have had to be reincarnated to balance the karma. At an exhibition of Tibetan curios in London, Crowther discovered that a Colonel Younghusband had led a military attack against Tibet in 1904. Crowther believed he had killed one of the soldiers in the attack before being killed himself.
During his travels Crowther also met Aleister Crowley. He introduced Gardner to Crowley on May 1, 1947. Crowley’s diary entry for that date reads “Dr. G.B. Gardner, Ph.D. Singapore, Arnold Crowther Prof. G. a Magician to tea . . .”
After the war, Crowther returned to the public stage. Just as Gardner had predicted, he met a fair-haired woman, Patricia Dawson, who initiated him into the Craft. After their marriage in 1960, he and Patricia made their home in Sheffield and achieved prominence as spokespersons for the Craft.
Crowther died on Beltane (May 1), 1974. He was given the Passing Rite of the Old Religion at his funeral. A piper played a lament, as he had requested before his death. When the music ended, the sound of a running brook could be heard: the Brook of Love, said by Dion Fortune to exist on the other side.
In addition to two books, numerous articles for a wide variety of magazines, and a radio series on Witchcraft written in collaboration with Patricia, Crowther’s published credits include:
- Let’s Put on a Show (1964), a how-to book of magic which he illustrated himself;
- Linda and the Lollipop Man (1973), a book on road safety for children; Yorkshire Customs (1974); and
- Hex Certificate (late 1970s), a collection of cartoons he drew on themes of Witchcraft.
His autobiography, Hand in Glove, was not published but was serialized on B.B.C. Radio in Bristol, Sheffield, Medway and Leeds between 1975 and 1977.