The Passing of Lord Merlin

Lord Merlin (David John White) Born ?? England - Died Sept. 23, 2011 Atlanta, GA

Lord Merlin, aka David John White, was the elder high priest of the Ravenwood tradition for almost three decades and he died over a week ago, on Mabon. He led an extraordinary life, much like his wife Lady Sintana, and he died a year and a week after she passed from us. He was there by the Lady to bless the founding of my coven, and when I’m initiated this Saturday he will be a part of my lineage, my spiritual grandfather. Though I never met him, his passing fills me with sadness, and more than a little anger.

I’m sad and angry because he was an extraordinary man, yet no obit has yet appeared. RavenStone has a brief memorial on their website, but as of this writing I can’t find even a sparse and stingy newspaper obituary to mark his passing. I can’t tell you how old he was or when he was born or even if he left any family behind, but I know he was from England and trained in the Craft there. I know he died surrounded by loved ones. I know he practiced the Old Religion for for longer than I’ve lived and that he was fiercely loved. Yes, I can tell you that for sure. He was loved by many, many people.

There’s one thing I can tell you, one thing left out of the obituaries of Lady Sintana, and quite possibly left out of any official obituaries to come: Lord Merlin was gay. He was married to Lady Sintana, and they loved each other dearly. They were fast friends and fiercely loyal to each other, but they had other lovers. They lived in separate houses, and sometimes separate states. Lord Merlin was involved with Gay Spirit Visions here in Atlanta and he lived with his partner Charles for years until Charles’ death. He was a grandfather for Lady Sintana’s grandson, a mentor for many Witches and by all accounts a warm, funny and loyal man.

There are a lot of stories out there about Lord Merlin. People are privately remembering him and exchanging photos. Starbridge Sanctuary here in Dahlonega has a lake named after him. A memorial festival is being held for him there later this month. People will tell stories there. Perhaps the people who hear the stories will pass them on.

Lord Merlin won’t be able to tell his stories though, and the stories told about him will dwindle. Perhaps in a few decades he will be only a name in Ravenwood history. A researcher looking for him would find a straight man who died a year after his wife. Apparently Wiccan. Not terribly interesting. Just another Wiccan lost to history.

This is what makes me sad and angry. The idea that yet another elder’s years of service and love will be lost. That yet another GLBT person’s life might be whitewashed after death. That this vibrant influential Witch who was part of the coalition to fight the Helms amendment, who mentored Witches for almost 30 years in the Atlanta area and worked to help create a spiritual haven for gay men in Atlanta, will fade as our memories fade. He will be nothing more than a name, a footnote of history, a one-dimesional cardboard figure, an image with an unknown face.

Maybe his students and friends will speak up. Maybe the men of Gay Spirit Visions will share their memories of the man they knew. Maybe his students will speak out about the man they knew and share stories of his amazing life with the rest of the Witchcraft and Pagan community. Maybe. We’ll see.

There are people who won’t be happy about me writing this. Criticizing your Craft elders less than a week from your initiation isn’t a wise move. That’s ok. I’ll take the heat and the consequences. Trying to get proper obituaries on elders in our communities isn’t merely difficult, but damn near impossible. I just wish we thought enough of our elders to not let their memory fade into obscurity. After all, crafting an obituary for a man in his eighties shouldn’t come as a surprise, and if you need a guidance there are examples of obituaries in every paper in America. There is no good reason any public Witch should be lost to history. None at all.

UPDATE: I did find an obit, by Lord Peregrine of Sage Moon Grove. Many thanks to him for posting a timely obituary.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution obit, linked here per request of Lord Peregrine. Normally I don’t link news stories with intentional errors in them.

*If anything in this account is factually wrong please kindly let me know and I will correct it. Please feel free to share memories of Lord Merlin in the comments if you feel so inclined.*

About Star Foster

Polytheistic Wiccan initiated into the Ravenwood tradition, she has many opinions. Some of them are actually useful.

  • Aine

    Well said.

  • Aine

    Well said.

  • kenneth

    There’s a good lesson in this for the pagan media and for the history keepers of covens and traditions themselves. Many of the people we might consider important figures in our history are not celebrities in the sense mainstream media understands that. Many of them are in fact off the radar screen entirely for a variety of reasons. That’s especially true if they were not big-name authors or were leaders of oath-bound and secretive traditions from the pre-Internet days.

     The other complication is that of time. When you’re dealing with a man the age of Lord Merlin, there simply aren’t that many people left who know the full story firsthand.  Back when I was a journalist, one of the first things we did, especially as young reporters, was to write obits.  For anyone of public note, they were pre-written as much as possible, with their bio and life background recorded and updated from time to time. Whenever the did pass, it was a very simple thing to plug in the circumstances of their passing and get at least a first version into print very quickly. 

  • kenneth

    There’s a good lesson in this for the pagan media and for the history keepers of covens and traditions themselves. Many of the people we might consider important figures in our history are not celebrities in the sense mainstream media understands that. Many of them are in fact off the radar screen entirely for a variety of reasons. That’s especially true if they were not big-name authors or were leaders of oath-bound and secretive traditions from the pre-Internet days.

     The other complication is that of time. When you’re dealing with a man the age of Lord Merlin, there simply aren’t that many people left who know the full story firsthand.  Back when I was a journalist, one of the first things we did, especially as young reporters, was to write obits.  For anyone of public note, they were pre-written as much as possible, with their bio and life background recorded and updated from time to time. Whenever the did pass, it was a very simple thing to plug in the circumstances of their passing and get at least a first version into print very quickly. 

  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    I’m terribly sorry to hear this…

    Before I read the story and anything of his life, Lord Merlin’s photo seemed to me to speak that he was one of us, if you understand my meaning…

    Tell me, Star, do you think the Ravenwood tradition would object to the Ekklesía Antínoou counting him as one of our Sancti?

    • http://www.patheos.com Star Foster

      I obviously can’t speak for the trad, his life wasn’t without controversy and I expect different initiates would have different opinions on the matter.

      That said, if you feel moved to do so, I think that would be nice. Sometimes what we do for the dead is not so much what they would approve of or what they deserve, but what we would like done for us. Creating a culture of honoring the dead is a good thing I think. If we do it for others, perhaps one day people will do the same for us.

      • Parnassus

        Star, most Ravenwood initiates knew that the marriage was to get L.Sintana insurance and medical coverage, nothing more.  I remember when L.Merlin came to Ravenwood.  All most of us were told was that he was British and he was from the Alexandrian tradition.   L.Colin was acting High Priest at that time, so L.Merlin did not become High Priest for a while.  BB Parnassus

      • Parnassus

        Oh, BTW, Charles was a wonderful man and companion to L.Merlin and congrats on your upcoming 1st!!

        • http://www.patheos.com Star Foster

          Thanks! I’m hoping to make it down to your store soon. I keep hearing great things about it!

          • Parnassus

            Looking forward to it, we have much to discuss.

  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    I’m terribly sorry to hear this…

    Before I read the story and anything of his life, Lord Merlin’s photo seemed to me to speak that he was one of us, if you understand my meaning…

    Tell me, Star, do you think the Ravenwood tradition would object to the Ekklesía Antínoou counting him as one of our Sancti?

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

      I obviously can’t speak for the trad, his life wasn’t without controversy and I expect different initiates would have different opinions on the matter.

      That said, if you feel moved to do so, I think that would be nice. Sometimes what we do for the dead is not so much what they would approve of or what they deserve, but what we would like done for us. Creating a culture of honoring the dead is a good thing I think. If we do it for others, perhaps one day people will do the same for us.

      • Parnassus

        Star, most Ravenwood initiates knew that the marriage was to get L.Sintana insurance and medical coverage, nothing more.  I remember when L.Merlin came to Ravenwood.  All most of us were told was that he was British and he was from the Alexandrian tradition.   L.Colin was acting High Priest at that time, so L.Merlin did not become High Priest for a while.  BB Parnassus

      • Parnassus

        Oh, BTW, Charles was a wonderful man and companion to L.Merlin and congrats on your upcoming 1st!!

        • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

          Thanks! I’m hoping to make it down to your store soon. I keep hearing great things about it!

          • Parnassus

            Looking forward to it, we have much to discuss.

  • Gael

    Thank you for you post on Lord Merlin.  I didn’t know him but he sounds like an awesome witch who will be sorely missed in his community.  I do know of Ravenwood because some 30 years ago my good friend spent a year or two with them.  So I’m sure she remembers Lord Merlin.  We are all connected in some way.  It is important to remember our elders and to share their stories.  I believe it enriches and strengthens our pagan culture.

    May he travel lovingly in the Goddess’s arms across the Universe.

    Gael, Dragonweyr Priestess
    Chamisa Local Council, CoG

  • Gael

    Thank you for you post on Lord Merlin.  I didn’t know him but he sounds like an awesome witch who will be sorely missed in his community.  I do know of Ravenwood because some 30 years ago my good friend spent a year or two with them.  So I’m sure she remembers Lord Merlin.  We are all connected in some way.  It is important to remember our elders and to share their stories.  I believe it enriches and strengthens our pagan culture.

    May he travel lovingly in the Goddess’s arms across the Universe.

    Gael, Dragonweyr Priestess
    Chamisa Local Council, CoG

  • Lord Hermes

    Very sorry to hear of his passing.

  • Lord Hermes

    Very sorry to hear of his passing.

  • Anna Greenflame

    I think there should be a website, or a registry, or a database — something like that — to record the biographies and obituaries of deceased members of our Faith. This is important. Every year I practice, maintaining right relationship with my personal ancestors and my Craft ancestors becomes more important and more rewarding. These were brave people who did remarkable things.

    And I think standing up and saying “this is important, and this person was important” will help us claim a sense of real “Pagan pride.”

  • Anna Greenflame

    I think there should be a website, or a registry, or a database — something like that — to record the biographies and obituaries of deceased members of our Faith. This is important. Every year I practice, maintaining right relationship with my personal ancestors and my Craft ancestors becomes more important and more rewarding. These were brave people who did remarkable things.

    And I think standing up and saying “this is important, and this person was important” will help us claim a sense of real “Pagan pride.”

  • http://ianphanes.livejournal.com/ Ian Phanes

    After reading this, I immediately went to check out Living Witchcraft: A Contemporary American Coven, an ethnography of Ravenwood written in 1992.  I was surprised to find no mention of a Lord Merlin.  Though Lady Sintana’s obituary says that they were married in 1982, the book implies that she is unmarried, though there is a paragraph reading:
    “A coven’s High Priestess may select a High Priest to serve at her pleasure, but that position remained vacant at Ravenwood during the research project.  However, two men are especially significant in the Ravenwood hierarchy.  One is the Lady’s Consort, Lord Gothwen, a second-degree Witch who is the Lady’s romantic partner, housemate, and personal as well as professional confidant.  The other is Lord Dorian.  A third-degree Witch, he is a member of her coven household along with the High Priestess, her Consort, her secretary and two other initiates whose rent help finance coven activities.  Lord Dorian figures prominently in speculations about who will eventually become High Priest of Ravenwood.”

    On the other hand, of the five chapters that profile individuals, two of them are openly gay men, both of who lived in the covenhouse at the time of the book: new 1*Zigular, and 2* Lord Starhawk.  So there will always be a record that Ravenwood fully welcomed gay men.

    Scarboro, Allen, Nancy Campbell, and Shirley Stave.  Living Witchcraft: A Contemporary American Coven.  1994.  (While the scholarship is weak, this book is an important historical record of the Craft in that time and place, as one of the authors was a Ravenwood initiate.)

    • http://www.patheos.com Star Foster

      That book is a polaroid snapshot in time. It’s my understanding she and L. Merlin were on the outs at the time. They were characters, and sometimes led dramatic lives.

      • http://ianphanes.livejournal.com/ Ian Phanes

        Lady Sintana was dramatic?  I would never have guessed that about her.  *flutters eyelashes*

        I’m guessing, then, that he is the businessman who is mentioned in passing?

  • http://ianphanes.livejournal.com/ Ian Phanes

    After reading this, I immediately went to check out Living Witchcraft: A Contemporary American Coven, an ethnography of Ravenwood written in 1992.  I was surprised to find no mention of a Lord Merlin.  Though Lady Sintana’s obituary says that they were married in 1982, the book implies that she is unmarried, though there is a paragraph reading:
    “A coven’s High Priestess may select a High Priest to serve at her pleasure, but that position remained vacant at Ravenwood during the research project.  However, two men are especially significant in the Ravenwood hierarchy.  One is the Lady’s Consort, Lord Gothwen, a second-degree Witch who is the Lady’s romantic partner, housemate, and personal as well as professional confidant.  The other is Lord Dorian.  A third-degree Witch, he is a member of her coven household along with the High Priestess, her Consort, her secretary and two other initiates whose rent help finance coven activities.  Lord Dorian figures prominently in speculations about who will eventually become High Priest of Ravenwood.”

    On the other hand, of the five chapters that profile individuals, two of them are openly gay men, both of who lived in the covenhouse at the time of the book: new 1*Zigular, and 2* Lord Starhawk.  So there will always be a record that Ravenwood fully welcomed gay men.

    Scarboro, Allen, Nancy Campbell, and Shirley Stave.  Living Witchcraft: A Contemporary American Coven.  1994.  (While the scholarship is weak, this book is an important historical record of the Craft in that time and place, as one of the authors was a Ravenwood initiate.)

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

      That book is a polaroid snapshot in time. It’s my understanding she and L. Merlin were on the outs at the time. They were characters, and sometimes led dramatic lives.

      • http://ianphanes.livejournal.com/ Ian Phanes

        Lady Sintana was dramatic?  I would never have guessed that about her.  *flutters eyelashes*

        I’m guessing, then, that he is the businessman who is mentioned in passing?

  • Brighidpdg-Brighid Ragan

    I find it very sad that a writer who considers themselves part of a witchcraft tradition such as Ravenwood would be so admittedly ill-informed about their own history and brazenly commenting on a man about whom so little is known to the author.

    Lord Merlin was my initiator in 1983 and Lady Sintana was my High Priestess. I stood beside them when they were married. I lived in The House of Ravenwood at that time. Their relationship was a bond of love that was never broken. It was so much deeper and more complex than any here have  illustrated but, as with any oath-bound tradition it was not given up as fodder for speculative writing or public discourse.

    Our Dear Lord Merlin was a voice for the Craft, a teacher, a mentor, a friend, a lover, a leader, a communicator, an arbitrator, a dashingly handsome man, and countless more descriptive titles among them, homosexual. His powerful charisma was not “obviously” any single thing but a prism of strikingly harmonious colors that both blended with his momentary circumstances and enhanced all those who encountered him. To single out his personal sexual preferences and relationships as “defining” is to belittle both the man and the priest.

    Today, those who are his family gather to celebrate his life. Those who are not part of that family will speculate.

    • http://www.patheos.com Star Foster

      1. I don’t consider myself part of the tradition, I am part of the tradition. Six 3rd degree initiates were present at my initiation and can attest to that.

      2. If you don’t think trad Craft belongs on the internet, get off the internet.

      3. As no one cared to provide info for Lord Merlin, just as no one cared to provide info for Lady Sintana before him, I wrote something nice with the information I knew. Perhaps because of this a great deal more information about him is now available and people are more aware of what a unique man he was and celebrating his memory.

      4. No one would need to define him as a homosexual if there wasn’t already a tradition of painting him as heterosexual.

      5. I was actually planning to join the memorial festival today, but then I remembered there would be people with attitudes like yours there, and chose not to attend, even though I’ll be missing friends who are attending. I don’t know who you are, but I do know you choose your Craft family and I can tell from this arrogant and rude post that I would certainly never choose you.

    • http://www.patheos.com Star Foster

      I will likely regret saying this, but instead of getting snotty with me you should perhaps be getting angry at the person responsible for writing his obit, who shoved that duty off onto others and can’t seem to get out a timely obit for nationally influential Witches who deserve to be remembered. At the very least the obits that have been written about him have been rather nicely focused on him, and not used as an advertisement for any particular branch of the tradition.

      This is why I no longer write obits. Perhaps it’s fitting my last one for Lord Merlin, because trying to say a few nice words for a dead man has resulted in as much drama and commotion as I’d guess he experienced in his colorful life.

  • Brighidpdg-Brighid Ragan

    I find it very sad that a writer who considers themselves part of a witchcraft tradition such as Ravenwood would be so admittedly ill-informed about their own history and brazenly commenting on a man about whom so little is known to the author.

    Lord Merlin was my initiator in 1983 and Lady Sintana was my High Priestess. I stood beside them when they were married. I lived in The House of Ravenwood at that time. Their relationship was a bond of love that was never broken. It was so much deeper and more complex than any here have  illustrated but, as with any oath-bound tradition it was not given up as fodder for speculative writing or public discourse.

    Our Dear Lord Merlin was a voice for the Craft, a teacher, a mentor, a friend, a lover, a leader, a communicator, an arbitrator, a dashingly handsome man, and countless more descriptive titles among them, homosexual. His powerful charisma was not “obviously” any single thing but a prism of strikingly harmonious colors that both blended with his momentary circumstances and enhanced all those who encountered him. To single out his personal sexual preferences and relationships as “defining” is to belittle both the man and the priest.

    Today, those who are his family gather to celebrate his life. Those who are not part of that family will speculate.

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

      1. I don’t consider myself part of the tradition, I am part of the tradition. Six 3rd degree initiates were present at my initiation and can attest to that.

      2. If you don’t think trad Craft belongs on the internet, get off the internet.

      3. As no one cared to provide info for Lord Merlin, just as no one cared to provide info for Lady Sintana before him, I wrote something nice with the information I knew. Perhaps because of this a great deal more information about him is now available and people are more aware of what a unique man he was and celebrating his memory.

      4. No one would need to define him as a homosexual if there wasn’t already a tradition of painting him as heterosexual.

      5. I was actually planning to join the memorial festival today, but then I remembered there would be people with attitudes like yours there, and chose not to attend, even though I’ll be missing friends who are attending. I don’t know who you are, but I do know you choose your Craft family and I can tell from this arrogant and rude post that I would certainly never choose you.

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

      I will likely regret saying this, but instead of getting snotty with me you should perhaps be getting angry at the person responsible for writing his obit, who shoved that duty off onto others and can’t seem to get out a timely obit for nationally influential Witches who deserve to be remembered. At the very least the obits that have been written about him have been rather nicely focused on him, and not used as an advertisement for any particular branch of the tradition.

      This is why I no longer write obits. Perhaps it’s fitting my last one for Lord Merlin, because trying to say a few nice words for a dead man has resulted in as much drama and commotion as I’d guess he experienced in his colorful life.

  • Lord Peregrine

    An accurate obit was submitted to the AJC on 10/21.  Please feel free to refer to that for complete information on the Life of Lord Merlin….also, as an example of good journalism.  Good luck.

    • http://www.patheos.com Star Foster

      Not entirely accurate as one of the names are wrong, but I’ll be happy to link to it here.

  • Lord Peregrine

    An accurate obit was submitted to the AJC on 10/21.  Please feel free to refer to that for complete information on the Life of Lord Merlin….also, as an example of good journalism.  Good luck.

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

      Not entirely accurate as one of the names are wrong, but I’ll be happy to link to it here.


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