Joe Wilson, Part IV

In 1972Wilson’s life became extremely difficult because of both political and health problems. He was transferred to Athens, Greece, and after a long hospitalization was allowed to retire from the Air Force, on February 2nd, 1973. Susan Roberts reported:

 Shortly after I had finished writing about him . . . he was transferred to England. Some months later he was identified in a story in the New York Times as being an undercover agent for the Air Force when he testified at the court-martial trial of Captain Thomas S. Culver, who was charged with antiwar demonstrations in England. Some of his critics called him a “traitor.” Since Joe was subpoenaed to testify, not to act as judge and jury, and being in the armed services had little choice but to comply, such a term seems inflammatory and possibly libelous. . . . Joe, I learned from personal correspondence, was re-assigned to Athens shortly after the trial. This is standard operating procedure whenever an enlisted man is called to testify against an officer. Joe was in Greece for over a year. He is now back in America, retired from the Air Force . . .

When Wilson returned to the States, he lived for most of 1973 in Missouri, where he established the Gliochas Tuatha coven. It was taken over by Sandra Wills when Wilson separated from his first wife, Daisy, and  moved to California in October 1973, at the invitation of Bill and Helen Mohs. At that time Daisy burned all of Joe’s papers, including the originals of the letters written by Roy Bowers.

 During the years since I last saw them, Bill and Helen had worked hard to develop their circle. They told me their ultimate goal was to invoke Pan to visible and physical appearance so he would again be free to wander the earth. . . . When asked what their tradition was, they replied “an American Tradition, I suppose.” . . .  Now they had an extensive set of ceremonies and rituals, dedicated to the Goddess and God in their guise as Aphrodite and Pan, . . .

I gave them copies of Roy’s letters, they obtained some of the Plant Bran material from Martha Adler, and got a document called “The Rule of Daanan” from John Hansen—all of which was absorbed into their American Tradition in one form or another.

According to both Dana Corby and Season (who was the High Priestess of the Keepers of the Flame Coven in Sacramento, California, in 1998), the Mohsian Tradition of Wicca had been founded before 1965, as is consistent with what Joe Wilson wrote about them. Corby comments, in her essay on the Mohsian Tradition on Witchvox,

It was not customary at that time for Craft groups to have names or consider themselves a “tradition,” but when it became necessary to call themselves something, they used American Eclectic Traditional Wicca. . . . Within a few years of its inception, members and friends of Bill & Helen’s group were calling it “Mohsian” and this is the name that stuck.

In about 1960, Bill and Helen were experimenting with a Ouija board and began getting messages from an entity calling itself Pan, who told them that they were to find and bring together “my people.” … they went to the library and were astonished to learn that they had been contacted by one of the Old Gods. They began searching for people who could teach them, a search that took them throughout the Midwest and eventually to California. They made friends and acquired information wherever they went—Crafters shared freely in those days. Their home coven is known to have existed by 1965 and was eventually called Pan’s Garden.

Season adds, “It is important to note that ‘traditions’, as we now know them, did not exist at the time our ‘tradition’ began. The Elders knew, worked and shared with each other. The strong boundaries of separate ‘traditions’ did not come about until later.”

Corby also reported that, at Yule of 1971, Pan’s Garden was invited to circle with Lady Sara Cunningham’s First Church of Tiphareth, of which Corby was a neophyte member, in Pasadena,California. There she met Bran and Moria, who were both Mohsian and Gardnerian initiates. They hived from Pan’s Garden to form their own coven, Corax, shortly after Corby met them, and she and her then-partner were soon initiated into Corax.

Continuing with Wilson,

 While I stayed with them I attended Bill and Helen’s circles and assisted in some initiations, including that of Ann and Van Tipton, who lived in San Bernardino at the time. . . . Some months later [in 1974] Ann and Van traveled to New York, where they were initiated into the Gardnerian tradition and became authorized to establish that lineage in Southern California. [That is, they became the first Gardnerian coven in California authorized by Lady Theos.]. . .

I met Mara Schaeffer at one of Bill and Helen’s circles the first month I was there. . . . Mara was not one of Bill and Helen’s initiates, but was considering becoming one. She had previously been studying with Sara Cunningham, a woman who operated an occult shop [and who] had recently moved to the Grants Pass, Oregon, area with the intent of forming a commune with and for her followers.

During the next few months, largely through Ed Fitch,Wilson met many of the Craft and Pagan leaders in the Los Angeles area. These included Nan Poss of the Sea Coven and Carroll (Poke) Runyon, founder of the Church of Hermetic Sciences and Ordo Templi Astarte, whom Wilson had corresponded with while in Greece. Wilson also trained Mara, who later became his second wife, and initiated her into what would come to be called the 1734 Tradition, based largely on Cochrane’s teachings.

 In November, I think it was, over the Thanksgiving holiday [it was actually on December 7, 1973], Mara and I went on a trip to visit Sara in Oregon. On the way we stopped at Tom DeLong’s. . . . During our stay there, Gwydion and I continued our discussion about finally forming an umbrella church for the Craft in the United States. I encouraged him to talk with the people he knew there and he did so. The seeds of CoG were planted with those discussions.

That evening in 1973 was also the occasion on which I first met Joe. At that time I did not have a clue how central Joe was for Craft history. Perhaps because of Joe’s urging, Gwydion did begin agitating for holding a conference of Pagan leaders, and just such a conference took place in Burbank about 10 weeks later.

I’m breaking off Joe’s story here, but will come back to it later, because 1973 marked a turning point in the evolution of several major Wiccan and Pagan groups in the US. It will be clearer for me to describe more of those groups before I explain the events of the mid-1970s. In the meantime, if you would like to know more about Joe, look at the website of the 1734 Tradition at, where you can find more of Joe’s writings and the complete text of Bowers’ letters. The complete, unexpurgated text of Joe’s autobiography, as far as he took it, can be seen on the website of the Temple of the Elder Gods., also founded by Joe. It does contain some gossip and personal details that I choose not to repeat here.

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