The Gardnerians, 1963-1972

Raymond Buckland was one of the very first people to foresee how important the Gardnerian Witchcraft movement would be and who therefore imported it into the US. I am personally very grateful to Ray, not only for the nice things he said about me in his Witchcraft from the Inside, but also because it was his strong recommendation that persuaded Carl Weschcke to publish my Crafting the Art of Magick: A History of Witchcraft in England, 1939-1964. That was the popularized version of my doctoral research on how the Gardnerian Book of Shadows was composed. A second edition of the latter, reintroducing much more of the minutia of textual analysis, has been published by Thoth Publications in Leicestershire, UK, with the title Inventing Witchcraft: A Case Study in the Creation of a New Religion.

I last saw Ray in New Orleans at Velvet West’s Yule party in 2009; he had come down to deal with problems about his museum exhibits. I had asked him at some point to look over the material I am presenting here. He just said, “Look at my autobiography.” I recommend your doing that. It provides many details that I am not including. What I do present is publicly available information—if you know where to look for it,

 Raymond Buckland was born in London on August 31, 1934. He was educated at King’s College School in London and served in the Royal Air Force from 1957 to 1959. He had married his first wife, Rosemary, in 1955. Ray had been studying the occult for many years. When he read Gardner’s Witchcraft Today in the late 1950s, he knew that Witchcraft was the religion he had been searching for.  He wrote to Gardner, who was living on the Isle of Man, and struck up a mail and telephone relationship. He and Rosemary emigrated to the United States in 1962 and settled in Brentwood, Long Island, where he worked for British Airways (then BOAC). He then became Gardner’s spokesperson in the United States; whenever Gardner received a query from an American, he forwarded the letter to Buckland.

Buckland finally met Gardner in 1963, when he and Rosemary journeyed to Perth, Scotland, where, as Gerald had arranged, they underwent intense training by Lady Olwen and were initiated on November 30, 1963. They then brought the Gardnerian Book of Shadows and secret names back toNew York, where they founded the New York Coven in Bay Shore, Long Island. That coven became the center of the Gardnerian movement in Americafor the next twenty years. Almost all the “official” Gardnerians in America descend from it.

The Bucklands did their best to screen people carefully and train them thoroughly according to the principles and procedures in the Gardnerian Book. Over the years, however, more and more people came banging on the door, demanding to learn the Craft, and threatening to start an imitation based on Rosemary’s Baby if they weren’t let in. In order to prevent such a tendency from growing wild, the Bucklands gradually relented: letting people in sooner, training them less rigorously, elevating them to the higher degrees sooner. Still, as far as Ray remembers, fewer than 20 women were raised to the Third Degree during the nine years of their “administration” of the New York Coven.

Two of their earliest initiates were Theo and Thane (Gerald and Fran Fischer), who opened their Covenstead Museum in Louisville, Kentucky, in the 1960s. They in turn trained and initiated Deirdre, who, with her partner Modred, at about the time she was taking up her position as a professor of mathematics at a nearby university, founded the Coven of the Silver Trine, also in Louisville. They began publishing Nemesis as their coven newsletter. Later renamed The Hidden Path, it became the internal communication channel for the official Gardnerians in America; subscriptions were available only to documented initiates of the Tradition. The covens that descend from the Silver Trine are known collectively as the Kentucky Lineage. The earliest ones included Adrienne and Zeus’sCandlelight Circle, which was founded by two members of the Silver Trine Coven in 1973; and later Artemis and Dagda’s Adena Coven in Lexington, which had hived from the Coven of the Silver Trine by 1975.

Another early initiate was Lady Cara, who with her partner Edwyon began the Path of the Pentacle Coven on Long Island in 1975, then relocated it to Hollywood, Florida, in about 1978, thus becoming the progenitor of the family of Gardnerian covens in the South. Another was Lady Cerwin, who has been leading her Rowyntree Coven in Long Branch, NJ, for about the last 35 years, also publishing the coven’s journal, Dark Cypress, and in the 1970s also leading a Pagan Way grove.

I will, of course, go on to tell about Lady Theos and Phoenix( Judy and Tom Kneitel), who became the High Priestess and High Priest of the coven when the Bucklands retired in 1972, but first I need to describe Ed Fitch, who, as I said in previous blogs, was the third of the triumvirate that created the Pagan Way movement, thus opening up Gardnerian-style Wicca to many more people than the strictly Gardnerian covens could handle even now.

 Ed Fitch

Ed Fitch, a career Air Force officer working in intelligence, discovered Gardnerian Witchcraft by meeting Margaret St. Clair, who had taken Gardnerian terms and symbols from Gardner’s books and woven them into her novel Sign of the Labrys. The novel brought her to the attention of the Bucklands, who subsequently initiated her and her husband—she already knew too much. (You should look up Chas Clifton’s excellent article about her.) When they met, the St. Clairs referred Ed to the Bucklands, with whom he became good friends. However, their friendship was interrupted in 1964, when Ed was recalled by the Air Force and sent first to Vietnam and then on to Thailand.

 While sitting in an intelligence outpost in Thailand, and no doubt quite bored, Fitch apparently thought carefully about the future of the Gardnerian movement. It must have seemed obvious to him that this religion, lately called “Wicca,” had the potential to appeal to a great many people, but that its growth would be limited, perhaps even strangled, by the strict rules of the Long Island coven about how long it must take for a person to be fully trained and initiated. Ed thought he might be able to create a version of the religion that left out all the specific details that a Gardnerian coven would believe to be oathbound. Such a version could be taught openly and practiced by a great many more people than a Gardnerian coven as such could handle. With this goal in mind, Fitch rewrote the Book of Shadows, keeping the general outline of the rituals, but creating entirely new wording for them. He also created a “magic manual,” based on Franz Bardon’s Initiation into Hermetics, that would enable seekers to develop usable psychic and magical talents. He brought these manuscripts with him upon his return in 1967 to the States, where they circulated freely around the Pagan community and soon became underground classics. During the next 30 years, material from these books often surfaced in new traditions and rituals, sometimes being labeled as an “ancient Celtic tradition from Ireland and Scotland,” much to Ed’s amusement and/or annoyance. The books were finally published by Llewellyn in the early 1990s.

After Thailand Fitch was stationed first in North Dakota, where he worked on the redesign of the Minuteman rockets, then at Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts. During this time, whenever he had a weekend free from his duties, he was able to visit the Bucklands, who in 1967 initiated him into the Gardnerian Tradition and then elevated him to the Third Degree in the early 1970s. During this period, as already described, Fitch was instrumental in the creation of the Pagan Way and, as will be seen, was also central in further developments in the Pagan Movement.

 Donna Cole

Coming along a different trajectory, another important Gardnerian initiate was Donna Cole Schultz (Lady Morda, 1937-2004) in Chicago, who discovered the existence of the Craft in the late 1960s. I knew Donna from her photograph that appeared in the issue of Look in 1971that also featured members of the NROOGD and as a penpal, but did not meet her until 1992, when she did  an informal interview at the COG Merrymeet with me and Judy Harrow. Donna said that she and her husband had discovered the Craft by meeting some teenagers who were attempting to form their own coven using Gardner’s books—which was essentially what the NROOGD was doing out in California. She and her husband traveled to England in 1969 specifically to receive Gardnerian initiation, spent a year working with Madge Worthington and Arthur Edmonds, two of Eleanor Bone’s initiates, and were raised to Second Degree by them. She was also close friends with Lois Bourne, who had succeeded Doreen Valiente as High Priestess of the original London coven, to which Fred Lamond also belonged. Donna then brought the Gardnerian Craft to Chicago, establishing the Coven of the Sacred Stones, one of the first officially Gardnerian covens in America after the Long Island coven. She also teamed up with Herman Enderle and Ginnie Brubaker, adapted Ed Fitch’s new Pagan Waymaterials, and thus helped create the Templeof the Pagan Way as an eclectic Tradition with a Gardnerian core. The Temple was later renamed the Covenant of Gaia under the leadership of Christa Heiden Landon.

Donna also told me that, as soon as Ed had received his Third Degree, he came to Chicago and elevated her as well. Donna said that she believed it was this incident that inspired Lady Theos to institute a new rule: that a Gardnerian initiation was valid only if the circle for it had been cast by a valid Third Degree High Priestess. Lady Theos later solved this institutional problem by bringing Donna to Long Island to be initiated and elevated according toNew York procedures, thus grafting the two lines together. Covens that descend from Lady Morda are thus Gardnerian by several different definitions.

(To be continued)

  • Kate Gladstone

    “The novel brought her to the attention of the Bucklands, who subsequently initiated her and her husband—she already knew too much.”
    If so, then arguably he should have also initiated anyone who could simply prove that s/he had read the novel!

  • Jonathan N

    Lady Morda/Donna Cole (Schultz) was my Craft mentor and a very good friend. Perhaps I can add some additional information and be helpful in clarifying some of her Craft history as given above.

    Donna first encountered the Craft in Chicago around 1966 through a group of students of her husband who had formed a coven based on Gardner’s books and the rituals in the book “Witch” by Rex Nemorensis (Charles Cardell), which was written as an expose of Gardnerian rituals. Donna and her first husband Henry did soon thereafter travel to England (1968/69, spending a year there) seeking the English Craft at it’s source, becoming initiated, and working with various English witches during this time. She was initiated into the Whitecroft line of Gardnerian Craft in a coven run by Madge Worthington and Arthur Eaglen (not Edmonds). She was indeed a very close friend of, and attended rituals with Lois Bourne (who partly dedicated her book “Dancing With Witches” to Donna), keeping in communication with her through Donna’s passing in 2004. Donna was offered the 3rd Degree in England but decided not to take it at that time.

    Donna also worked closely with other Witches not in the public eye, including a photographer and poet (RH) who Patricia Crowther refers to as Gwion in her book “One Witches World.” She met and learned from Ruth Wynn Owen of “Y Plant Bran” family tradition and knew Justine Glass who wrote “Witchcraft, The Sixth Sense and Us.” On returning to the US, Donna started a coven in Chicago, but soon after returning to the States her first marriage ended which left her without a High Priest. In her own words, “I put out a strong thought-form for a new High Priest,” and this is when she met Herman Enderle who became her coven’s High Priest.

    Donna met John Hansen, Ed Fitch, and other early US Crafters who were in written communication at that time. Donna and Herman became involved in setting up the Chicago Temple of the Pagan Way as an open outer Pagan group separate from the coven. Donna and Herman wrote most parts of Volume II, Advanced Pagan Rituals, published by Herman Slater as Part Two of “A Book of Pagan Rituals” which they were never credited for (Part I was written by Ed Fitch with a chapter by Tony Kelly). A photo of Donna and Herman shot during one of the Chicago Pagan Way rituals appeared in Time magazine (June 19, 1972). Donna and Herman were visited by Hans Holzer and mentioned in his book “The New Pagans.” She was also interviewed by Brad Steiger for his book “Psychic City Chicago.” {Note: Many witches called themselves Crafters, not Wiccans, at this time).

    Donna was also searching for a new love in her life after her first marriage ended (Herman was HP of the coven, not a romantic partner). Again, as she put it, she “worked magic and thought-formed the specifications for her new love” and Robert soon after entered her life. There may be various passed on versions of what happened at this point, but basically Donna and Robert (as her new High Priest) kept the coven, then named The Temple of the Sacred Stones; and Herman Enderle and Ginny Brubaker continued with the leadership of The Temple of the Pagan Way. The Temple of The Sacred Stones continued in Chicago for over 30 years until Lady Morda passed to the Summerlands.

    Backing up a bit – After Donna’s first 3rd elevation (as noted above), after much communication, she did accept an invitation from Theos and Phoenix to visit them at the same time that she could also visit friends in the New York area. She then accepted her second 3rd (merging the lines) while also keeping her independence through her Whitecroft lineage. From what she told me, Lady Morda became good friends with Lady Theos and Phoenix over the next few years.

    I have read conjectures that the “must be initiated in a Circle cast by 3rd HPS only” rule somehow derived from Lady Olwen (Monique Wilson), which could be how it was transmitted to the Long Island line. There is discussion of this question as it pertains to the NY Craft scene in Michael Lloyd’s new book “Bull of Heaven” which I heartily recommend. This could probably lead to much involved discussion, but hopefully the Witch Wars are behind us.

    At Lady Morda’s memorial service in Chicago there were approximately 100 local Pagans, Witches and friends of Donna in attendance. She is sorely missed by many of us who loved her dearly and also continue to honor her for the work that she performed in the Craft that she loved.

    • aidanakelly

      Jonathon, thank you very, very much for all this information. It will certainly enhance the book these blogs will eventually turn into, and I will certainly give you credit. For that matter, there’s a lot more about the Craft in Chicago that I could use help with. I know that Deena is almost anxious to do so.

      • Jonathan Nightshade

        Glad to have been of help Aidan. Re-reading this, I should go back further in time and expand upon my second paragraph.

        Donna and her husband Henry Cole were on a spiritual search, and had first found the Craft in their lives through reading Gardner’s books in the mid 1960′s. Henry sometimes provided book reviews for Fate magazine and had acquired some books of Gardner’s. Donna and her husband first practiced on their own from this little information, then “as if by magic,” met the young coven in Chicago. They somehow made a contact in England which expanded into being introduced to many English witches. Donna always told me that “the Gods will provide.” I now remember that she was also in contact with Gerard Noel, the publisher of Pentagram, while in England.. There are answers from Donna to questions on her viewpoints on the Craft in the book “Keepers of the Flame” by Morganna Davies & Aradia Lynch, wherein elders of initiatory lines of the Craft in America were interviewed.

        I met Donna and Robert in 1979 and was initiated in 1980. I do not have much information on “other” Chicago groups’ history, I wish that I had paid more attention to what was happening locally at that time historically, but I was young. If I think of any other pertinent information I will contact you. I think that you are correct in speaking with Deena of FOI for information. From what I know, I do believe that much of the Chicago Craft community somehow traces it’s beginnings, in one way or another, back to either Donna, the Temple of the Sacred Stones, or the Chicago Pagan Way. Another source for information on those early days would be Dr. Christa Heiden Landon who I believe is a UU Minister in MN.

        I know that in the Milwaukee area, that most of the initiatory Craft in Milwaukee traces back to one Alexandrian coven in that area in the early 1970′s. Pre-internet the Craft was very regional and contacts usually made through local occult stores. I can provide you with a contact who can provide information on the Milwaukee area if you are interested. Blessings!

        • aidanakelly

          Thank you again, Jonathon. I’m in touch with Christa also. AFAIK, all the activity in Chicago before about the mid-1970s does go back to Donna. By about 1973 it starts getting more complex, and I know I’ll need help. This work needs doing now, before all the early activists have passed to the Summerland. Just heard from Dr. Lezlie that my old friend Herb DeGrasse passed over last night. The list is getting depressingly long.

  • ArtfullDodger

    i was going through my old stuff, and came across my hidden path’s.
    i searched and found you. i was originally part of cerwins coven..
    nice to know someone remembers us :)

  • namron

    This is Namron, a Pagan way 3rd (1971-73) and a wicca Gardnerian (Sacred Stones) initiated by Donna Cole Schultz in 1972. I’m 3rd degree Gardnerian, 66 years old, and I miss Donna every day.