Having been a co-founder of the NROOGD and a ringleader in it for its first decade, I naturally have at least ten times more information about it than about almost any other Craft or Pagan group. Trying to include all that in the general history of the Craft that these blogs are aiming toward would have totally unbalanced it. Putting it together in my Hippie Commie Beatnik Witches has solved the problem. Here I will be giving a much more general overview of the NROOGD, in about as much detail as for other groups, mainly to set the stage for explaining the role it played in the developments of the mid-1970s.
It Began as Art
What set the NROOGD off was Sarah Erif Thunen’s graduate seminar in ritual, taught by James Broughton atSan FranciscoStateUniversityin 1967. The term project was to come up with a ritual that the class could participate in. Knowing that I had been gathering data since 1955 (I had read every relevant book I could find; there were then only about a dozen), Sarah asked me if I could create a “Witches’ Sabbath” for her class, which I did. Given a first draft of this ritual, a group of friends (which included Glenn Turner) began meeting to rehearse and rewrite it. Since Glenn and Judy A. also wanted to be priestesses, and since we were fascinated byGraves’ concept of the Threefold White Goddess, we created a three-priestess ritual that has ever since been a hallmark of NROOGD Sabbats. In the course of the rehearsals, we named the group in honor of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and especially of William Butler Yeats, and signed a charter for it onOctober 31, 1967.
After working the ritual for Sarah’s class at Muir Beach Lodge in January 1968, during which we observed no significant changes in our consciousness, our group of friends nevertheless transformed into an informal study group that met at Joe and Glenn’s home almost every Saturday night during the next year. In these conversations we pooled out knowledge of the occult arts and sciences, mythology, classical religions, and many books, those by Margaret Murray, Gerald Gardner, but especially Robert Graves. As we evolved our own system of correspondences, theories of divination and parapsychology, our fascination withGraves gave the NROOGD rituals and stories a distinct flavor of their own.
At the summer solstice in 1968, we worked the ritual for the second time, as the framework for the wedding of two friends. This time we noticed a subtle change in ourselves, perhaps because the ritual was worked as a liturgy, not a play. After a great deal more rewriting, we worked our first full-scale Sabbat, with every detail we knew about, for Lammas 1968. Its effects on us were so indisputable that we were bonded into what we would later realize was a Pagan magical order.
The Order began holding regular public circles for the Sabbats and has continued to do so ever since. At these Sabbats we offered initiation into the Order to anyone present, and continued to do so until well into the mid-1970s; initiation was accepted by several hundred people during that period. The circles were held in public parks in good weather, in rented halls during the rainy season. During the early 1970s it was not unusual for one or two hundred people to attend a Sabbat, which people knew about only by word of mouth. That is, the NROOGD Sabbats were larger than many of the later festivals in the 1980s. In the San Francisco Bay Area, beset by student revolts, war protests, and civil rights marches, the peaceful NROOGD circles attracted no official attention whatsoever. The success of these public circles helped overcome the initial secrecy of the Wiccan movement and led to the creation of regional and national festivals beginning in the late 1970s.
In 1969 we decided to award “Order White Cords” to members who had been coming regularly to the Sabbats during the preceding year. The Cords were not initiatory, but rather an invitation to help form (and later to join) a coven. The first ones were given out at the Lammas and Mabon Sabbats in 1969. In October 1969, a core group of those who had received the White Cord met at Joe and Glenn’s home in Lagunitas and held the first esbat of what later came to be called the Full Moon Coven. (About 55 people earned the Order White Cord before that system was discontinued in 1973.)
The Full Moon Coven existed from October 1969 to December 1974. It usually met on Bernal Heights in San Francisco (and occasionally in Marin or Sonoma county) until March 1971. After a few months in the Diamond Heights area ofSan Francisco, Alta and I moved toHarrison Avenue in Oakland, where the coven usually met from mid-1971 to early 1973; then from about February 1973 until its disbandment in December 1974, it focused on Hanover Avenue in Oakland.
It was huge by current standards. There was a core group of 18 people who were active for most of the coven’s existence, all of whom received the Red Cord (the NROOGD equivalent of the Second Degree) as the rite of full empowerment and full commitment to the Craft as their spiritual path. There were another 27 who were partially active in the coven for between six months and two years. Not everyone came to every meeting, but average attendance remained at about 16 for most of the coven’s life.
The Full Moon Coven operated largely by consensus and with a collective authority. There was no “High Priest” or “High Priestess” as such; rather, ritual roles were rotated among members of this group, and newer people were brought in to be trained. Those who have made their membership in the coven public include myself, my wife Alta Picchi Kelly, Glenn Turner, Geri DeStefano, the late Judith Foster, Mikel Clifford, Erif Thunen, and Fritz Muntean.
The Full Moon Coven was huge simply because we were then the “only game in town.” The only other coven we learned about, the Andersons’ Double Helix Coven, whom we connected with in 1971, was small, secretive, and not open to new members, because of Victor’s strict training standards. Its active members were Victor and Cora Anderson, Gwydion Penderwen (Tom DeLong), Alison Harlow, and Gwydion’s wife, Cynthia. Much of Gwydion’s now well-known poetry was written while the Double Helix Coven was active, from 1971 to 1975. In 1975, assisted by Radamus (William Beebe Chase III, a member of the NROOGD and a virtuoso on both string bass and tuba) and Dana Corby of Corax Covenstead in LaVerne, CA, Gwydion recorded his Songs for the Old Religion, now regarded as the first example of “Pagan music.” Gwydion generously included songs by others on the album, including “The Lady’s Bransle,” composed by Glenn Turner and her mother, Hope Athearn, and Dana’s “Hymn to the Sun God.”
Because of Gwydion’s contacts with other Witches, during 1972 I met John Hansen and Ed Fitch, then in 1973 met Joe Wilson; these three were the chief architects of the Pagan Way movement. In 1972 we were visited by Tim Zell and Julie Carter, and thus learned of the existence and importance of the Churchof All Worlds and especially of its journal, Green Egg. We were also visited by the journalist Susan Roberts, whose book Witches USA was the catalyst for the formation of thePagan Way movement. All this laid the groundwork for our future local, and later national, networking.
In 1971, the Full Moon Coven had begun working its qualified members through the Red Cord initiation, one or two at each esbat. As that process was approaching completion, in discussing how to attract new members, we decided to try using the system that, John Hansen informed me, had been devised by Martha Adler in Los Angeles, of holding a public class on thoroughly nonsecret divination techniques and other information relevant for the Craft (the sort of class now called “Wicca 101”), selecting the suitable people from the class for an “Outer Court” study group, and then offering initiation into a coven to the suitable people in that group. In late 1971 Alta invited some students from her Free University classes on psychic development to join a study group. By January 1972, attendance at it had settled down to a group of regulars. In February and March we took members of the group through a new “Coven White Cord” initiation and began a year of training them. They decided to call themselves the “Spiral Dance Coven.”
With the Spiral Dance becoming closed in February 1972, other Red Cord members began a new series of study groups. By June, Judy Foster had founded the Moon Seed study group, which evolved into a full coven during the next year; Geri DeStefano began a study group in San Francisco that evolved into the Isis Rising Coven; and Glenn Turner began one in Lagunitas, inMarinCounty. Glenn had also begun a “Horned Moon” study group in San Francisco in 1971 and declared it to be a coven in May 1972.
Also in 1972 Alta and I received training in psychic development and clairvoyant reading from Helen Palmer. We had also been given a copy of Ed Fitch’s “magic manual.” Alta then integrated her background in psychology with these new materials to create a comprehensive system for developing psychic and intuitive talents, and began taking our coven members through it. She also created a periodical, The Witches Trine, which was published from 1972 through 1976. Its exchange subscriptions with a dozen other Craft and Pagan periodicals brought us into contact with other Witches across the country.
[To be continued]