A History of the Craft in America: The Family Tree of the New England Coven of Traditionalist Witches, Part II

The New York Coven of Welsh Traditional Witches was founded about 1970 by Edmund Buczynski (1947-1989), Herman Slater (1938-1992), and Leo Martello (1930-2000). All three were among the first to publicly defend gay rights within the Pagan movement, long before the rise of the Gay Rights movement.

Ed, who had been working in Lady Gwen’s NECTW coven, brought her rituals to New York and, working with Slater and Martello, gradually rewrote them into the rituals used by the NYCWTW and its descendants. He seems to have claimed that the rituals went back to a medieval Welsh source, but they are essentially Gardnerian. According to papers owned by Carol Bulzone (Lady Miw), which she showed to me when I was in New York in 1988, Buczynski was later able to obtain a Gardnerian lineage for the NYCWTW that reached back to England independently of the Long Island lineage.

The coven was at first based in Herman and Ed’s Brooklyn store, the Warlock Shop, and sponsored a networking organization called Friends of the Craft. The NYCWTW became prominent as public advocates for the Craft in the early 1970s. Slater, for example, presented NBC on a live program with an award as Bigots of the Year for an episode of “Macmillan and Wife” that defamed Witches, and was physically thrown out of the studio as a result.

Slater edited Earth Religion News in the mid-1970s. It was one of the first national Craft periodicals and carried many important articles; however, it lasted for only six issues. Slater assumed leadership of the coven in the late 1970s and moved it and the bookstore to Manhattan. The coven was renamed Earthstar Temple and the bookstore was renamed the Magickal Childe; the business then evolved into one of the most important occult publishing and distribution companies in America. For example, Slater published most of the Pagan Way rituals written by Ed Fitch. The Magickal Childe sponsored the Pan Pagan Samhain in New York City every year from 1981 to 1992. Both Buczynski (d. 1987) and Slater (d. 1992) succumbed to complications of AIDS.

Margot Adler was initially a member of the NYCWTW before she joined a Gardnerian coven. Many important New York covens were descendants of the NYCWTW. These include the Enchantments Covens trained by Carol Bulzone, some of which then evolved into the Minoan Tradition covens. Others were the Welsh Traditionalist coven headed by Lady Siobhan in Brooklyn, and the Gaia Group (see below).

You can learn a great deal more about Eddie and the Pagan scene in New York in the 1970s and 1980s from Michael Lloyd’s Bull of Heaven, his biography of Eddie. I have not had a chance to read it yet, but it has been getting excellent reviews. It seems odd to me that biographies of people I have known are starting to appear, but it’s high time. I have a friend who is, I believe, working on a biography of Isaac Bonewits, who was one of my greatest allies as a writer and in the development of Paganism in America.

 The Witches International Craft Associates (WICA) was founded by Leo Martello in 1970 as one of the first networking organizations for Witches in America. His WICA Newsletter (published 1970-75) was instrumental in tying together the Witches scattered acros sAmerica before the rise to prominence of Green Egg in about 1972.

Martello had been an ordained Spiritualist minister for fifteen years before making the decision to “come out of the closet” about his background as a Sicilian strege. He said that he had received a family initiation in 1951, and in the 1960s traveled toSicily to connect with the Strege and receive full initiation and authorization to represent his tradition inAmerica. The tradition is closely akin to (though not identical with) the Aradia traditions discovered by Charles Leland in the 1890s.

Martello also founded the Witches Liberation Movement, one of the first organizations to work for equal legal rights for Witches (he forced the City of New York to allow perhaps the first public Sabbat in Central Park in about 1972), and the Witches Anti-Defamation League. Martello also wrote and had published half a dozen works on the Craft.

Martello was a flamboyant and argumentive character, the sort of person who cannot accept any sort of criticism, no matter how positive and well-intentioned it might be, and was therefore quite difficult to get along with, just as Victor Anderson was, for much the same reason.

Some covens that descend from Martello’s Strege tradition include Lori Bruno’s Our Lady of the Trinakrian Rose in Medford, MA; and Diane DesRochers, High Priestess of the Temple of AppleMoon Coven and Teaching Grove in Groton, MA, who was elevated to the Third Degree by Lori Bruno.

The Gaia Group was founded in New York City by Roger and Crystal Tier. Roger Tier (1947-2010) had joined a NYCWTW group in 1970. Crystal (b. 1945) had first belonged to a Gardnerian Outer Court group in Islip ,Long Island, then came to the NYCWTW, where she met Roger in 1972. They founded their coven in August 1973 and were married at Yule 1973. The group was first known as the Coven of Caerlleuad (Castle of the Moon) and originally was a merger of the Gardnerian and “Welsh” Traditions. It also functioned as a Pagan Way grove, a Church of All Worlds nest, and a Pagans for Peace contact, and met on Staten Island from the mid-1970s until well into the 1990s.

(Crystal and Roger were good friends of mine. When I was planning a move to New York in 1983, Margot Adler, who had known them since their NYCWTW days, asked if I could stay with them while househunting, which they graciously allowed me to do. Crystal, when young, had been a Roman Catholic sister. She was tricked into taking a leave of absence from her Order after Vatican II, then was not allowed to come back. She was quite bitter about that. She tried being an Episcopalian for a while, but found their politics to be even more distasteful. Her choice of the Craft as her path was quite well-informed.)

Their coven’s original orientation was Welsh, but in 1985, to reflect an understanding that the Craft is a universal religion, the Welsh deities and mythology were replaced by a simple Great Earth Mother and Great Sky Father. The medieval term “coven” was also dropped, and replaced by a good modern equivalent, “group.” Crystal and Roger were active in the New York area Craft Leaders Group in the 1980s and 1990s. In the mid-1990s, the Gaia Group had a daughter group in Boulder, CO, a study group in Tulsa, OK, and initiates and affiliated groups scattered about the world. Roger was well liked as a sane and hard-working Elder; his passing was widely mourned.

 

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