Joe Wilson, the Pagan Way, and 1734

I’ve had to decide whether to write about Raymond Buckland next or Joe Wilson. Ray is the man who brought Gardnerian Craft to the New World, and I certainly will relate what I know about him, but looking at all the details, I think it’s more useful to tell Joe’s story first. The history of the Craft is not linear. During the late 1960s, at least a dozen threads popped into existence at almost the same time; logically, they should all be described simultaneously. In practice, only one tale can be told at a time, but I can give explanations of how they relate to one another as I go along.

Joseph Bearwalker Wilson (1942-2004), like John Hansen, was one of the most important founders of the Wiccan movement in America. Also like Hansen, he had been initiated into a pre-Gardnerian Tradition of the Craft and, in 1994, sent me a long autobiographical essay, which is just as entertaining as John’s, to use to write Craft history. A later version of it entitled Warts and All can be found on the TOTEG website, but the version he sent me had somewhat different information.

 Joe was born on December 11th, 1942, and raised just inside the city limits of St. Johns, Michigan, a small town 18 miles north of the state capital. He read prodigiously in his youth, on mythology, magic, the occult, science fiction and fantasy. After graduating from high school, he married his high-school sweetheart, Daisy, and enlisted on the Air Force, which soon sent him to a base in Kansas. In the autumn of 1962 Joe auditioned for a part in the base little theater’s production of Bell, Book, and Candle. The person who played the lead male was Sean, who claimed to be half Cherokee and half Scots/Irish. He was a political science student at the University of Wichita, about eight years older than Joe. Sean soon established that Joe did not know much about witchcraft, but wanted to learn.

 Over the next few years Sean taught me how to shoot a pistol, how to defend myself with gun and knife, surveillance methods, survival techniques, and similar skills that a sensible and sane person does not need. I told Sean I wanted power.

He told me that if I wanted power I should go and make a lot of money, because people with a lot of money have a lot of power, and that was a lot easier than gaining magical powers. He also said if I wanted something important I’d have to choose another path than the search for power. Nevertheless, from time to time he’d have his wife show me how to do things with roots and herbs to cause things to happen. Old fashioned magic spells.

Sean taught me a lot—but it wasn’t so much what he taught as how he taught that has had lasting importance for me. From time to time Sean would take me to northeastern Oklahoma, where his family owned a horse ranch. In the back woods of their property there were some small hills and a cave in the side of one of them. We would go out there, sit around a campfire, and talk. We never did any fancy or special ceremonies. No invoking quarters, no pipe ceremonies, no sweat lodges, nothing like that.

From time to time he’d hand me something—a feather, an animal pelt, a rock, a stick, a plant—and ask me what it said to me. Most of the time I didn’t have any idea of what he was talking about. He’d tell me to not pay any attention to what things should mean and just tell him what I felt and saw in my mind’s eye. Sometimes I could feel and see something, sometimes not.

He’d tell me to listen to the wind in the trees and see if I could figure out what it was telling me. And to watch the animals, and see what I could learn from them. He did the same with the sounds of the woods. He never would tell me if my interpretations were right or wrong. He told me I needed to discover that for myself.

 He’d tell me things about the Earth being our Mother and Grandmother, since we got our bodies from Her and our food and clothing came from Her, and the Sun being our Father and Grandfather, since we got our energy from it, and without it the Earth Mother could not bring forth any of the things which are necessary for life.

 He never said that what we were doing had anything to do with ancient European or Native American Spirituality or witchcraft. He implied that the things he was teaching me were handed down in his family (“Oh, it’s just some things some of the old folks do”), and I assumed it was from the Irish/Scottish side. Looking back, it was probably a little of that, and a little of the stuff other country folks in those hills did. Anyway, he said that if this were the Middle Ages we would be accused of witchcraft for doing these things.

He said that although outsiders might call us witches we should avoid the term since it was derogatory . . . I took him literally.

 At the beginning of September in 1963 Sean, his wife, Siobhan, Barbara, and a fellow named Phil took me to the Cave. . . . There they took my clothing and told me to spend my time praying and listening to the answers until they came back for me. They left me without food or water for four days. I kept warm at night by making a heap shelter of dry leaves and fallen branches (learned from watching squirrels), and got enough water from the dew on the plants in the morning to survive. It really taught me to be grateful for the gifts Mother Earth gives! That was the way Sean taught.

[Soon after this, Barbara gave him some additional training and the traditional sexual initiation.]

I was still young and immature, and wanted magical powers, so I read everything I could find about the occult, magic, and witchcraft, including Charles Godfrey Leland’s books about Gypsy practices and such.  It was about this time I discovered Fate magazine, which I read thoroughly monthly, including the classified advertisements. Towards the end of 1963 I answered a classified for Pentagram, a Witchcraft newsletter published by the Witchcraft Research Association of London, England.

 Ir was actually in August 1964 that a young editor in London named Gerard Noel started publishing Pentagram, which was labeled “A Witchcraft Review—for private circulation only.” In it he introduced an organization to be called the Witchcraft Research Association, which did come into existence, but did not survive very long because of the all-too-frequent lack of staff and money. It was the first attempt to create a national organization and periodical for Witches in the UK.

In October 1965 Pentagram sponsored a dinner at which Doreen Valiente was the keynote speaker. Her topic was essentially, “Now that `Old Gerald’ has passed over, what do we do next?” She stressed the need for cooperation among covens and for searching out forgotten groups of Witches throughout the world. The dinner was attended by a significant fraction of the Witches in Britain at that time. It established a network of friendships among coven and Craft leaders who had not known each other very well beforehand.

[To be continued]

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