A History of the Craft in America: California and Councils, VI, The Second PEC

In discussing the first Pagan Ecumenical Council meeting afterward, Gwydion, Alison, I and several others realized that we had not arrived at a specific proposal for an organizational structure because, in fact, the Pagan groups represented at the meeting did not have enough common ground to define any goals or structures. The PEC had focused on Pagan religions, excluding the magical lodges, political associations, and metaphysical churches, yet we still differed on what we did, how we worked, how we ran our organizations, and what we believed, so much so that we could not define ourselves specifically enough to have a foundation for an organization. In contrast, there was much common ground among all the Witches, however they defined their own traditions—but could we exclude the other Pagans? It seemed unfair to do so—hence we could not see what to do next. Still, the meeting was regarded as a milestone in cooperation among Pagan groups. We sent out copies of our minutes to many friends. Lady Theos, as head of the Gardnerian movement, wrote back to us on April 3, saying,

Phoenix & I both endorse the purpose and function of the PEC, and support fully its existence and goals. Moreover, we both add a collective”aye” to the matters discussed at your February meeting as outlined in the minutes. While we do not have anything so formidable as the PEC here in the NYC area, our coven hosts regular meetings of leaders of local Gardnerian covens . . . usually attended by invited leaders of other Wiccan & Pagan groups. At our next meeting . . . we will read the minutes of your meeting for the benefit of these people, who all share your desire for advancing Paganism.

Developments in Northern California

Knowing what else was going on from late 1973 through 1975 helps explain which covens became active in the process of creating the Covenant of the Goddess. The developments in California were not more important than what was going on elsewhere in the country; I just have more information about them. Rather, they were typical, because by 1974 covens were proliferating in New York, Boston, Chicago, and probably elsewhere.

By the end of 1974, the NROOGD consisted of seven covens, the first being the original Full Moon Coven. The new Spiral Dance Coven came into full existence by March 1973. Although Alta and I had trained its members very thoroughly, with great help by Taoni and Geri, we had not been able to choose them for compatibility. As a result, by late 1973 the five Red Cords who had survived the training had diverged onto separate paths. Latona (Lynn H.) remained as High Priestess and built the coven back up; it flourished through 1977.

After the Spiral Dance study group became closed in March 1972, Glenn Turner, who has always been the Matriarch of the NROOGD, had begun a new study group in San Francisco. By March 1973 its members decided they were now a real coven and took on the name Horned Moon. When they began meeting at full moon in September 1973, they changed their name to Stone Moon. Similarly, the Moon Seed study group that Judy Foster (Calypso Iris), Brandel, and Ivy had started in the East Bay declared itself to also be a real coven in April 1973.

Gandalf (Larry K.), from Spiral Dance, founded the Tuatha de Taran in September 1973 and began training Gavlin (Karla), whom he married, as his High Priestess. Gandalf emphasized some aspects of the Craft that other NROOGD covens did not. Because of the resulting controversy, Gandalf stopped telling his initiates that they were part of the NROOGD. As a result, covens that descend from the Tuatha de Taran—Lady Allusha (Rose S.) had founded several in southern California by the early 1990s—usually don’t know about their NROOGD ancestry.

In March 1974 Geri de Stefano (Lilith) and David (Roland) began another new study group in San Francisco, and in September 1974 founded the Isis Rising Coven, which flourished through 1977. In April 1974, I, Alta, Judy G. (Rhiannon), and Dick B. (Burbage Rowanstump) founded the Coven of Eurynome in the East Bay. It flourished through 1977.

In addition to the covens, the NROOGD was governed by a Red Cord Council, which had been formed in March 1973 and would consist of all who had earned the Red Cord, the NROOGD badge of full empowerment, in any of the covens. It functioned through 1976.

Ursa Maior was the first all-women’s circle founded in the San Francisco area and sparked a great deal of debate over whether single-sex covens were “really” covens. They worked together from about 1973 to 1977, and exerted a great influence on the women’s spirituality movement because of their vitality and creativity, especially through the summer-solstice ritual that they worked for about 150 women at the Women’s Spirituality Festival in Oregon in about 1974. Founding and key members included Barbry MyOwn, Deborah Bender, Hallie Mountain Wing,  and Tiponya (Rita R.). The group worked by consensus. Technically they were not a NROOGD coven, but there was much overlapping membership.

A second Feri Tradition coven was active in Berkeley, under the leadership of Gabriel Caradoc and Eldri Littlewolf (Esther Z.) Valerie Voigt was an active member in it.

Other Pagan groups active in northern California in 1973-74 included:
the Reformed Druids of North America, specifically Bill Heidrick, Bob Larson, and Isaac Bonewits;
a Nemeton chapter headed by Tina Musgrove;
a chapter of the Discordian Society in San Francisco, headed by Greg Hill (Malaypse the Younger), another in Guerneville, headed by Robert Anton Wilson;
the San Francisco Nest of the Church of All Words, headed by Jack and Rae Hurley, and the Nest in San Jose headed by Dan Norman.
The New Wiccan Church in Sacramento was being started around this time also.

Given Gwydion’s energetic advocacy, a second meeting of the Pagan Ecumenical Council was held at his and Alison Harlow’s home in Oakland on June 1 and 2, 1974, attended by fewer people from southern California, more from the northern half, but no one seems to have taken notes on who attended. Meanwhile, Sylvia Porter’s national economics column of May 2, 1974, had maligned Witches, identifying us with Satanists, con artists, gangsters, and so on. A letter of protest was sent to her, with a copy to Green Egg, the latter accompanied by a second letter about the need for a legal organization to combat slander and other negative publicity.  Unfortunately, when this issue was raised at the second PEC meeting, the representatives of several of the Pagan groups said, in effect, “But that’s not our problem. That’s why we don’t call ourselves Witches.” It too was overall a friendly and pleasant meeting, but also made no progress toward creating a useful organization.

Afterward, we ringleaders chewed it over and considered that, if our being maligned was not the other Pagans’ problem, then maybe they weren’t our problem either. We’d been going nuts trying to figure out how to include them; maybe we really didn’t have to. Organizing something just for Witches would be much simpler. Now we had a reason, or at least an excuse, for narrowing our focus. During past decades, this pattern, of having to narrow the focus down from alternative religions in general to only Pagan religions and then to Witches only, has been repeated many times. I will give other examples as we come to them.

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Nostalgia as a Root of Reactionary Politics
War Against Women: Empower the Victims
Prologue to a Story of Jesus and Mary
  • http://www.facebook.com/merritodd.webster Merri-Todd Webster

    You’re missing a word here, Aidan: “The new Spiral Dance Coven came into full existence by March 1973.
    Although Alta and I had trained its members very thoroughly, with great
    help by Taoni and Geri, we had not been able to [??] them for compatibility.”

  • Deborah Bender

    There were ties between NROOGD and Ursa Maior, but not as much overlapping membership as you state. Since you are writing for the historical record, I’m going to go into some detail, in a series of comments.

    1. When the first issue of Nemeton came out, I purchased it at A Woman’s Place Bookstore in Oakland, California. I wrote to the editors; Alison Harlow and Cynthia introduced me to Judy Foster. Judy invited me to a NROOGD open sabbat, the first witchcraft ritual I had ever attended. I began attending NROOGD open sabbats regularly and subscribed to The Witches Trine, the NROOGD zine. The entire San Francisco Bay Area pagan community showed up at NROOGD sabbats in those days, and I got to meet a lot of people and groups quickly.

    2. Judy also invited me to a meeting of her NROOGD study group, but I decided I would rather start off learning the Craft in an all female coven. I looked around; there weren’t any. I asked Claire P. if she would be willing to start one so I could be in it; she declined, having enough to do as the HPS of NROOGD coven Silver Star. (continued next post).

    • Deborah Bender

      3. I realized that if I wanted to be in an all-female coven, I would have to start it myself. NROOGD, a self-declared bootstrap tradition, showed that this was possible. The first issue of The New Broom, which I had purchased on the same trip to A Woman’s Place Bookstore, had informed me that there was at least one all-female coven already in existence, part of an established Craft tradition in Dallas, Texas.

      I figured that the best way to go about starting a coven was to find some collaborators and do it in stages. My friend and housemate Rita was reading the feminist and pagan literature I brought home, went to some sabbats with me, and got interested. I met Barbry when she was working at A Women’s Place Bookstore; she had been doing self-directed spiritual practices for awhile and was thinking about working with others. The three of us decided to teach a women’s spirituality class through the local Free University, with the hope that some of the students might become the core of a coven.

      The three of us were capable of covering the basics (Rita had an anthropology major; I was a Religious Studies major; both of us were well read in feminist theory; Barbry had the practice), but we needed a witch to teach about witchcraft. I asked Claire if she would co-teach the first ten classes. She consented. (continued next post)

      • Deborah Bender

        4. The class, titled Women, Goddesses and Homemade Religion, met on Wednesday nights. At the end of ten weeks, Claire departed. Four of the students wanted to continue meeting. It became clear that one student, Hallie, was as knowledgeable as the teachers, and she became a de facto leader of the group.

        When we had been meeting for some months, Rita, Barbry and I decided the time was right to tell them that we were hoping to start a coven. The idea had not occurred to any of them, but they were game. I suggested the name Ursa Maior.

        5. There was a lot of talk in feminist literature of the time that menstruation ought to be celebrated instead of being regarded as a curse. I suggested to the coven that we create a ritual celebrating menstruation as a holy act and blessing. Barbry and two other coveners took it on. We performed the ritual with other women at least twice, at a local Nemeton festival and at a women’s spirituality conference in Massachusetts, and published it in Womanspirit Magazine and in the book Moon, Moon. This was the first ritual done in modern times for this particular women’s mystery. (continued next post)

        • Deborah Bender

          (almost done)

          6. Rita became romantically involved with a member of Silver Star and joined that coven in order to work with him. The two covens were guests at each other’s rituals on a few occasions. I received one of the last NROOGD Order Initiations at an open sabbat. Later, after Ursa Maior disbanded, I also became a member of Silver Star. None of the other members of Ursa Maior were ever NROOGD initiates.

          Aidan, thank you for mentioning Ursa Maior. If you decide to turn these posts into a book, please run the pertinent passage by Rita or me for fact checking.

          • aidanakelly

            Thank you very much, Deborah. Ursa Maior was of far more historical importance than was obvious at that time–but life is always like that, I think–and I’m glad to have this detailed account of it. I will certainly include it in the hopefully forthcoming boo.

          • aidanakelly

            “Boo” is obviously wrong. It should be Tickety-boo.

        • Deborah Bender

          “first ritual done in modern times” except of course for existing tribal and indigenous rites of passage and rites of purity/taboo/isolation, which express other viewpoints.