Before the Gardnerians: Introducing the Magus, Part III

In his travels, Hansen encountered more Traditional Witches than probably anyone else had in the twentieth century, and his views on that sort of witchcraft are therefore extremely well-informed. He has written on this subject,

 Traditional Witchcraft will probably go on as it has for centuries, with each ethnic witchcraft group trying to maintain its ethnic origins, while at the same time accumulating such magical varied practices from other groups as they are able to gather. In time a true native American Traditional Witchcraft may be born.

[Having been a professional editor for 30-odd years, with a certain degree of induced OCD, I feel compelled to regularize the pronouns in what follows, but please be aware that each “himself” could just as well be a “herself”.]

 Traditional Witchcraft, taking the form of a single individual who practices magic and calls [himself] a witch, is another occult practice altogether [i.e., utterly different from Gardnerian Wicca]. This person usually calls [himself] a witch because [he has] learned the ability to perform magic from someone who calls [himself] a witch. They may decide not to reveal their abilities to anyone, although a few people usually know that they are practitioners. The person may also decide to train another person to become a witch. These people mostly use their magical efforts to their own ends; they usually do not work for clients or others. While they may “do a spell” for a friend, they are definitely not found in public practice.

This occult practice follows a much different pattern than the group-oriented quasireligious practice of what is popularly called “witchcraft” [i.e., Gardnerian Wicca]. The occult practice of . . . “Traditional Witchcraft” is so altogether different from nature-oriented religious witchcraft that there is no real connection between them. Firstly, “Traditional Witchcraft” is primarily ethnic, . . . [being] concentrated among a group of people who have a common ethnic origin. Secondly, it is family based, being passed on either primarily along family lines or between a group of families in a particular geographic location.

In this purely occult practice, there is always individual, one-to-one training of the novice. This training is designed to teach [her] to understand and to use the various facets of the magical practice [she is] learning. There are really no covens known in this strictly occult practice; there are only individual witches. As “witches,” they may meet together if they desire to do so, but usually they do not so desire.

… there are also particular magical forms, techniques, and practices which are passed, verbally, mentally, and often physically, from the teaching witch to the student witch. Few, if any, of these real magical practices have anything at all to do with the “classical medieval magical practices” as presented either in the medieval grimoires of the occult world or in any of the material of the Order of the Golden Dawn and its later successors. Further, . . . nudity is either accepted as a normal part of the practice, or it is not. There is no hard and fast rule. . . .

From all that I have learned about these practices, sexual contact is always practiced at the initiation . . . [during which] the supposed “power” of the teaching witch is passed . . . to the student . . .not as a succession of power, but as a sharing of power between them. The actual initiation, however, is usually not referred to, or even known as, an initiation. . . . .

Once the transference or sharing of power is accomplished, . . . there are always limits of behavior placed on any practice of magic by the new witch. There is usually another long period of close supervision by the person who taught [her]. . . . Usually additional training, sometimes quite specialized, is given in this period . . . In some cases the teaching witch will send the student to another witch for specialized training . . .

Traditional Witchcraft practice, in this context, is . . . whatever magical practice into which an individual has been trained. This Traditional Witchcraft has no deific or other religious overtones. It has no known coven structure and no particular specific ritual base. Traditional Witchcraft in this context could not be further from anything Gerald Gardner founded than Roman Catholicism is from the religion of the Tibetan Lamas.

Hansen initiated his wife as soon as he returned from Chicago, but they still had no idea how to perform rituals. Through a subscription to Fate magazine, they were able to receive their first copy of Joe Wilson’s Waxing Moon, the first American Craft periodical, in 1964. They soon visited Joe and Daisy Wilson and began a long-term friendship with them. Traveling again on business, in Los Angeles Hansen

 met a man who originally came from the Ozarks. He told me he had an aunt who was a witch . . . and that evening he took me to her home in Burbank. . . . We spoke for several hours, and I learned a lot about what was considered witchcraft in the Ozarks of Arkansas. She told me that she was not an initiated witch, as she had left the mountains before her mother thought she was ready to be initiated. . . . Her entire concept of witchcraft seemed to revolve around superstition and folk magic.

During the following months, Hansen was able to tour the Rosicrucian Museum in San Jose, California, and the voodoo shops of New Orleans. He also was able to get to Long Island to visit Raymond Buckland, who had brought Gardnerian Wicca to New York in 1963.

 I do not think that we became good friends . . . but at least we seemed to accept each other. He was convinced that Gerald Gardner had the whole of the witchcraft movement in his hand, and that being a witch meant being a Gardnerian. I was not so certain, but I did decide that what I had was at least as good as being a Gardnerian for me. I did not tell Ray Buckland this, but I assume he picked it up.

 After another move and several years later, the Hansens finally met a couple with whom they believed they could begin a coven. They began putting together a training system and writing rituals, and agreed that, for very practical reasons,

 the initiation would not be sexual, but that it would be simple and similar to the rituals we had read about and thought we knew. By this time we had read all the books by Gerald Gardner. . . We were quick to adopt some of the ritual practices suggested in these books . . . We added four candles at the four directions of the circle [and] dealing with the elemental forces at the cardinal points. We kept the making of the circle to the simple way which I had been taught, as that seemed to be the most effective way.

We were not concerned about the supposed long-lasting hidden tradition of witchcraft, but it became easy to identify with it. I had dropped Olney Richmond as the Master Magus, because I had no idea who he was. As I had only met Virginia once, I dropped her as well, and we decided to eliminate all of the various bells and whistles from the initiation, as given in the various books, sticking to what we considered to be the essentials. The wine and cakes in the circle seemed to be a good idea, especially for worship, so we added these to our circle. . . .

We were nervous about doing the initiation, but it was successful. By the end of the following month, we had a four-person coven which was functioning with regular monthly worship.

About this time Joe Wilson [being a sergeant in the Air Force] was transferred overseas. He asked me to be the mailing center for the Waxing Moon in the United States . . . Throughout . . . the next few  years, this remained our primary coven project.

As will become clear later, this narrative has arrived at a major turning point in the history of Wicca and Paganism in the United States. Before I explain that, I need to tell of the other cases of pre-Gardnerian Craft and similar sorts of Paganism that I’ve been able to learn about.

 

  • Jonathan N

    This has jogged my memory back to what I considered at the time to be an interesting, but seemingly unimportant, conversation with a customer in The Occult Bookstore in Chicago sometime in the early 1980′s. This was with an older woman, I don’t remember her name; she came into the store on a few occasions when I happened to be there. I had a few short conversations with her. I remember that she looked to be in her 50′s to 60′s, but could have been much older as she wore a heavy dark beehive type wig and makeup. She also wore real fur coats which she defended against the then developing movement against using real fur in coats. The only thing that I can really remember information wise is that she told me in an angry tone that she believed “that she was a real witch and all these modern young witches were just hippies who didn’t know what real witchcraft was.” She also said that her “witchcraft was passed down in her family and that they called it’s practice ‘Wiggling” with I believe a slight V inflected pronunciation of the W. I don’t remember what ethnic background she was from, but I think that she told me at the time. Now I wish that I would have had more discussions with her.


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