A History of the Craft in America: The Heartland in the Early 1970s

During the decade from the late 1960s to the late 1970s, at least half the Craft activity in America occurred in California or had direct ties to California, for reasons that might perhaps be transparent to sociologists. I will tell that story next, but first I need to cover developments in the Heartland, many of which tie into that story, especially since one comment has asked why I seem to be ignoring everything in between New York and California. I’m also hoping Orion Foxwood will be able to enlighten me on what relationship, if any, there was between Lady Circe and Lady Cybele, but for now I plan to perhaps add an update about that later.

 The Kansas-Missouri Nexus

The earliest date I know for modern Witchcraft in the region more or less centering on Kansas City is 1962, when Joe Wilson, as already described, was initiated into a pre-Gardnerian coven. St. Louis, MO, was also the original home of the Church of All Worlds from the late 1960s to 1976. Although they are quite different in most ways, the Church of All Worlds and the Church and School of Wicca are linked by the fact that the founders of both were initiated into “Celtic Tradition” witchcraft in 1970, by Carolyn Clark.

Gavin Frost, who started out as an aerospace engineer, first contacted people interested in the Witchcraft Revival during his university days in England, and apparently knew T.C. Lethbridge. He met his future wife, Yvonne, while they were working for an aerospace company in Anaheim, CA. She had been involved with the Spiritual Frontiers Fellowship, and together they studied psychic development. Another career move took them to St. Louis, where they pursued the Craft and were initiated by Clark (that’s according to Shelley Rabinovitch).

Their Church and School of Wiccawas founded in St. Charles, MO, in 1970 and was moved to New Bern, NC, in the late 1970s. The Frosts began writing The Witch’s Bible, based on the correspondence courses they were teaching. It was published in 1971 and caused much controversy among Witches, almost none of whom were able to perceive that the Frosts’ Tradition went back to the 18th-century concepts of the master forger Iolo Morganwg, along a pathway different from that of Gardnerianism. CSW also practiced rituals derived from British ceremonial magick, rather than the system that the Gardnerians based on Margaret Murray and Robert Graves; these peculiarities led to some unfortunate misunderstandings with other Witches in the early 1970s. Like Laurie Cabot, the Frosts gradually assimilated more to the “standard” Craft pattern, evolving an eclectic theology compatible with the beliefs of other Witches, and also developed a uniquely Western form of Tantric Yoga.
The Church and School of Wicca has been one of the largest and most accessible of the Witchcraft groups, and has sponsored some of the largest festivals. Its Samhain Seminar was held, usually in Durham, NC, every year beginning in 1972, and was one of the models on which the later system of festivals was based. It had chartered 28 independent CSW-Tradition churches by the 1990s and published a journal titled Survival.

 McFarland Dianics

Morgan McFarland and Mark Roberts founded their Dianic Tradition (which includes men) in the late 1960s. It was soon very heavily influenced by the Pagan Way Tradition. There may have been some contact between McFarland and Z. Budapest about 1970, and hence some connection between the two major types of Dianic Tradition. In 1972, McFarland and Roberts began publishing The New Broom inDallas; although very well-liked, it was, like almost all Craft periodicals, not a financial success and folded after producing about four issues in four years.

However, because The New Broom had made her well-known, McFarland was invited by the women in the Craft community in Boston to work the opening ritual for a women’s conference. On April 23, 1976, McFarland led 1,000 women in a Goddess ritual in Boston’s Arlington Street Church, beginning a three-day Women’s Spirituality Conference and introducing most of the women attending to the Craft. The Women’s Spirituality Movement was never the same again. McFarland soon thereafter faded from national prominence. Roberts began another periodical, The Harp, but it too soon disappeared. Roberts then went on to found the Hyperborean Tradition and to inspire the beginnings of the Fairie Faith Tradition (all to be discussed later).

 American Celtic Tradition

The two major proponents of the American Celtic Tradition have been Lady Sheba (Jessie Wicker Bell, 1920-2002) and Carl Llewellyn Weschcke, who was born September 10, 1930, in St. Paul, to a Roman Catholic family. In 1960 he purchased Llewellyn Publishing Co., a small mail-order house selling three astrology books and calendars, based inLos Angeles. The founder, Llewellyn George, had died six years earlier. Weschcke moved the business to St. Paul and began building a complete line of astrology and occult books. He purchased titles from all over the world, at one time carrying 3,000 of them.

Weschcke opened the Gnostica Bookstore inMinneapolisin 1970. A year later, a local convention manager suggested thatMinneapolis could benefit from a Woodstock-style festival, and Weschcke took the opportunity to host it. The first of several annual festivals was held in 1971. Initially called The First American Aquarian Festival of Astrology and the Occult Sciences, and later called Gnosticon, the festival drew Witches, Neopagans, magicians, astrologers, and others from all over the world.

Weschcke was approached about 1970 by Jessie Wicker Bell, who called herself Lady Sheba. Weschcke was impressed enough by her to not only publish her books, but also be initiated into her “American Celtic” Tradition in 1972. He rose to the rank of High Priest and held coven meetings in his Summit   Avenuehome. Lady Sheba’s Book of Shadows, also issued as The Grimoire of Lady Sheba, was, she claimed, the Book of Shadows of her family tradition; however, it soon proved to be essentially the Gardnerian Book of Shadows, which she had obtained from a coven in England. Her book was thus the first publication of much of the Gardnerian Book of Shadows in America, the first such publication in England having been the pamphlet Witch by Charles Cardell, which published rituals that Gardner had given to Olive Green, a cohort of Cardell.

Lady Sheba claimed that a fairly large number of covens belonged to her Tradition, although, as usual, it is difficult to make an accurate count of them. Apparently one coven of the American Celtic Tradition was Coven Elysium, which began in 1971 and was the Mother Coven of the Minnesota Church of Wicca. The Minnesota Church of Wicca Newsletter began in 1980.

The Council of American Witches was founded at Llewellyn’s Gnosticon in 1973, when about 75 Witches from various Traditions around theUSAwere persuaded to come to the gathering in order to hear from LadySheba. William Beebe “Bud” Chase III (Radamus Ragweed) was the New Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn’s “delegate” (by virtue of the fact that he was willing to go) to the gathering. He reported that on the first night the chairs were lined up in neat rows, facing the podium, from which Lady Sheba “explained” why all present should accept her as the Rightful Witch Queen of North America—which they didn’t, of course. The next night, the Witches rearranged the chairs into a circle, ignored Lady Sheba, and had a general discussion of where the Craft movement was at in America and what the options were for influencing its future growth and directions. Most of them, according to Radamus, seemed to feel that this unprecedented inter-Traditional discussion was very useful. Hence, even though the “delegates” did not take Lady Sheba very seriously, they still felt much goodwill toward Carl Weschcke for making this meeting possible and agreed to let the Council of American Witches be formed and Weschcke be its Chair.

Weschcke set to work gathering statements of theological and ethical principles from Wiccan Traditions around the country, and by April 1974 was able to propose a general set of 13 principles that are as close as anyone has come yet to a universal creed for Witches. These principles have often been reprinted, and since Gordon Melton incorporated them into the Chaplains’ Handbook for the Department of Defense, they form the basis for the rights of Wiccans serving in the American Armed Forces and therefore have real legal standing in American law. That was therefore, in retrospect, a major accomplishment. However, the Council soon thereafter disbanded, being unable to agree on or cooperate over any other significant issues.

 Sisterhood and Brotherhood of Wicca

The Church of the Wyccan Rede was a “Celtic Traditional” group headed by Lady Cybele in Madison, WI, in the 1970s. Its rituals were fairly standard, but its leadership was somewhat more democratic than average. Members took turns as coven leader and in leading the rituals. Lady Cybele seems to have regarded herself as a teacher and facilitator, not as an authoritarian administrator.

According to information that Lady Sintana (Candace Lehrman White,  1937-2010)  shared with me in a long phone call about 1993, after she had moved to Sacramento,  the Church of the Wyccan Rede followed the Sisterhood and Brotherhood of Wicca Tradition that had been founded by Lady Circe (1921-2004), who stated that she had learned it from her grandmother. Lady Circe operated The Cauldron in Toledo, OH, as a “Craft Shop.” Another coven associated with the Church of the Wyccan Rede was located in Milwaukee, WI, headed by Frederic A. Buchholtz, head of the Temple of the Wyccan Rede and proprietor of Sanctum Regnum, another “Craft Shop.”

In the early 1970s, Lady Sintana accompanied Lady Circe to Atlanta, GA, to help her open up a metaphysical shop. Unfortunately, almost as soon as they had done so, they were arrested for giving Tarot readings and had to spend a few days in jail. Lady Circe then went home to Ohio in disgust, and Lady Sintana decided to take a different approach to teaching the Craft, which she did by founding the Ravenwood Church and Seminary of the Old Religion in 1976.

Lady Circe had also passed her Tradition on to Lady Arwen Fae of the Tree of Life coven in Pittsburgh, PA, by 1977.  Lady Sintana passed the tradition on to Lady Alexandria of Foxmoore Coven inLaurel,MD, who in turn passed it on to Lord Orion of the Foxwood Temple of the Old Religion, which was founded on May 1, 1990. Many current covens thus trace their ancestry back to a person who was trained and initiated in one of the Wyccan Rede covens, which in that sense have had a marked influence on the evolution of the Craft in America.

 

There was proportionally far more Craft and Pagan activity around the large cities in Ohio in the 1970s than elsewhere. Active groups included:

Bill and Judy Snodgrass’s Coven of New Hope and Frank Collins’s Coven of Aphrodite in Toledo;

the Elf Queen’s Daughters in Worthington;

Lady Pythia’s Coven of the Floating Spiral in Kent;

Lady Selene (Phyllis Lewis) and Promethios’ Gardnerian coven in Rayland;

the Order of Middle Earth Study Group in North Royalton;

Patricia Barber (Astraea), Coven of Owlanan and First Ohio Church of Wicca in New London;

the Starwise Society in Cleveland;

Ariadne and Silvanus’s Gardnerian coven and Roberta Kennedy’s Alexandrian Rainbow Coven in Cincinnati. Roberta also served as a CAW nest and was a member of the Council of Themis. (That will be explained next).

 

[Once again, I must thank my old friend Oberon Zell-Ravenheart for carrying out the unwelcome task of assembled the vital statistics on the many of our friends and colleagues who have already passed over.]

 

  • Dave Burwasser

    First, there’s a glitch in the presentation of the above post; the text is repeated twice.
    Secondly, I’m surprised not to see mention of ACE, the Association for Consciouness Exploration, in Cleveland, nor the Chameleon Club organization that founded and still runs it. This is the outfit that puts on Starwood, one of the largest neoPagan gatherings in the country if not the world. I know they were around at least since the early 1980s (because they were on the scene before I became Pagan) and that Ian Corrigan was (and, afaik, remains) deeply involved.
    Thirdly, I am wondering if we can expect anything on witchcraft history in Appalachia, of whose founding as a white settlement zone I’ve only recently become aware from reading Colin Woodard’s “American Nations.” I should think the combination of settlers, Indians and escaped slaves would have given rise to some interesting spiritual manfestations.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Aidan-Kelly/607751097 Aidan Kelly

      Hi, Dave,
      I’ll edit out the duplication; my bad.
      ACE didn’t start until after my arbitrary cutoff date for this phase of the history; I’ll get to it.
      I’m not trying to cover that sort of “folk witchcraft” unless it has direct connections with contemporary Gardnerian-style witchcraft, just to keep all this manageable.

      • Dave Burwasser

        Gotcha. Thank you.

  • Gaddy

    I know this this will be an overly broad question, but can you identify specific differences in the way that the history of The Craft was documented and it’s history presented between the Midwest and the west-coast in this early, formative period?

    You’ve mentioned Oberon Zell-Ravenheart as your “fact checker” here. But is there anyone else as knowledgeable about the history of The Craft in the Midwest as a historical movement as you are about it in the West?

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Aidan-Kelly/607751097 Aidan Kelly

      Gaddy, except for those people I’ve mentioned, AFAIK, there is no observable history of the Craft to document in the Midwest before about 1970. I did not mean that Oberon is being a fact checker, only that I’m pulling birth and dates dates from his list.

  • Aurie

    I’m wondering if you are going to be covering anything from the Detroit/Windsor area. There was activity there in that era, but things tended to be kept quiet.

  • Matthaios

    Aidan,

    You mention Lady Sintana told you that “the Church of the Wyccan Rede followed the Sisterhood and Brotherhood of Wicca Tradition that had been founded by Lady Circe.”

    Later, right after talking about groups that are downline from Lady Circe, you write that “Many current covens thus trace their ancestry back to a person who was trained and initiated in one of the Wyccan Rede covens, which in that sense have had a marked influence on the evolution of the Craft in America.”

    I’m not sure I see the connection. If “Wyccan Rede” groups are an offshoot from Lady Circe’s tradition, how do “Many current covens thus trace their ancestry back to [...] one of the Wyccan Rede covens?” I only see from what you’ve written that there are a significant number of groups that trace ancestry back to Lady Circe.


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