Witches from all over the world descended on Brighton yesterday for the unveiling of the first ever blue plaque in honour of the occult.

Incense filled the air as a high priest led the gathering in an ancient ritual in memory of the mother of modern witchcraft, Doreen Valiente.

Followers travelled from as far as America for the ceremony, which culminated in the unveiling of the plaque at her former home in Tyson Place.

High priest Ralph Harvey, who led the ancient rituals, said her influence was “incredible” and “wide-reaching”.

The 85-year-old from Shoreham said: “Doreen was the person who brought witchcraft into the 20th Century, she blew away the cobwebs through her extensive writings.

“She changed the wider understanding of witchcraft from devils and red hot pokers to a religion of love and understanding.”

Mrs Valiente, who died in 1999, spent much of her life in the city and penned numerous books on witchcraft and associated beliefs.

Her teachings are now recognised as the basis of modern witchcraft and practised as far away as Canada and New Zealand.

The day began with hundreds of witches, some dressed as trees, others with robes and antlers, gathered at the Old Steine.

The date was chosen as it also marked the summer solstice and Mrs Valiente’s 60th anniversary of becoming a witch.

Mr Harvey led the ritual, which included the reciting of an ancient witch’s ballad and numerous songs accompanied by a green-faced drummer.

Mr Harvey explained that he first became involved in witchcraft after becoming disillusioned with Christianity following his time in the forces.

He said: “Brighton and Hove is the perfect place for witchcraft with its parks, seafront and green credentials.

“In fact witchcraft is the original Green Party, we were here first.”

Following the ritual the crowd made their way to Tyson Place, where the mayor, Councillor Denise Cobb, unveiled the plaque.

John Belham-Payne, who was Mrs Valiente’s final working partner, travelled from his home in Spain for the event.

The 61-year-old said: “She was a wonderful lady but didn’t like the attention at all. She would have found today very embarrassing.”

Mr Belham-Payne, who was bequeathed Mrs Valiente’s collection of witchcraft artefacts and writings, is now in the process of opening a museum in the city.

He said: “We are in talks with the council and have three sites we are looking at. I would expect it to be up and running within two years.

“I’ve been contacted by museum owners in Salem but Brighton is the only place for the collection.”