In 1973 Carl Llewellyn Weschcke, owner and chairman of Llewellyn Worldwide, shortly after his initiation into the American Celtic tradition of Witchcraft by Lady Sheba, helped organize the American Council of Witches (aka the Council of American Witches). The group would convene and disband in 1974, partially due to internal divisions and debates, but before it did they published the Thirteen Principles of Belief (aka Principles of Wiccan Belief). Meant as a general set of principles that all groups participating at the time could agree with, that material was subsequently incorporated into the 1978 edition of the Army’s military chaplain’s handbook thanks to Dr. J. Gordon Melton (the material was revised in the 1980s and 1990s, with input from groups like COG and Lady Liberty League). Now this group is attempting to rise from the ashes as the US American Council of Witches.
“We are an independent group of members who each follow a Natural Earth Religion or Tradition. Who shall gather together in interfaith dialog, to redraft a set of Common Principles, Mission Statement, Purpose, Revision of the Army’s Manual and a possible revision of the The Thirteen Principles Of Belief.”
Newly Formed Group Defends Witchcraft Rights And Beliefs
The United States is a nation whose very foundation, the Bill of Rights, guarantees its citizens freedom of religious beliefs. Yet those citizens with beliefs that fall well outside of Christianity are often misunderstood and persecuted. There seems to be a rising voice in American politics that non-Christian beliefs are somehow less valid than Christian beliefs. One arena where we have seen this is the attack on our President by those claiming he is Muslim, which they appear to believe invalidates his ability to lead our nation. Another arena is such outspoken organizations as David Barton’s Wallbuilders, who advocate a Federal acceptance that the Unites States is a Christian nation.
In light of these attacks upon our basic religious freedoms, members of the community of Pagans, Wiccans, Witches, and other polytheists have united to re-form the American Council of Witches. First formed in 1973, the Council was a group of over seventy Witches and Pagans who drafted a set of principles outlining the common practices of Neopagan religions in North America. This statement was adopted by the Unites States Army for inclusion in their Religious Requirements and Practices of Certain Selected Groups: A Handbook for Chaplains in 1978.
Though the Council was disbanded in 1974, individuals who each follow a Pagan, Neopagan or Witchcraft Tradition feel it is time to reform the organization in order to achieve certain goals that were not addressed by the original council in the early Seventies. Among these goals are: to revise the original council’s Thirteen Principles of Belief Common Among NeoPagans; to re-submit revisions to the United States Army Handbook for Chaplains; to provide government and law enforcement on Federal, State and County levels with information on NeoPagan beliefs and practices to be used in creating and upholding laws, allowing NeoPagans their Constitutional rights, and ministering to the beliefs of Pagan inmates.
The revised American Council Of Witches will be composed of Pagans,Wiccans, Witches and other NeoPagan practitioners from each of the fifty United States. We will engage in an interfaith dialogue to identify and address the legal and social needs of members of our religions, and we will create policy and documents as deemed necessary. And we hope to dialogue with members of other faiths to foster a basic understanding of our beliefs.
For information, interviews and membership, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Wanting more information, I contacted them, and spoke with Wiccan author and musician Kenny Klein, a member of the new Council.
Are there any links between this new ACW and the original body?
The new Council was organized primarily at a request from the U.S. Army to update the Army Chaplains Handbook, whose Wiccan/Pagan statement was written by the original council. Oberon Zell served on the original body, and will be involved with the current body. Isaac’s widow, Phaedra, has also had input. Other members of the original body may be contacted as well.
Who is organizing this effort? Who’s driving it? Have any Pagan organizations/religious institutions endorsed your plans?
The original effort was organized by Chicago area Witch Kaye Berry, who was handed the request from the U.S. Army (I believe from Oberon). Kaye began contacting Witches and Pagans whom she believed would make valuable contributions to the effort. I was contacted early on, and felt this was a worthy project. I have been helping to identify Witches who are leaders in the Pagan/Witch community who might be assets to the project. Our current goal is to bring thirteen core members in as a board. Ultimately we will bring in a representative for each state in the U. S. Of this number, it is my own personal goal to see representation of the major traditions of Wicca and other Pagan practices, and also voices of less structured practices.
You mention Pagans and polytheists in addition to Witches and WIccans, does that mean the group is open to non-Witches?
That is correct. The word Witch may have served the mission statement of the original 1973 board, but the Pagan community has diversified greatly since then. While we continue to use a variant of the original name, we feel that the service and input of members representing the entire Pagan community is of the utmost value to our efforts.
Do you have any specific outreach/interfaith initiatives planned at this time?
At this time our goal is to identify the thirteen core members, and to begin organizing committees to work on our three primary objectives (see below). We do have a Facebook page, which has been receiving a good number of hits. We feel this will generate an interest in the organization. We will begin to plan outreach once our initial goals have been met, which will include the creation of a website, and representation at major and regional Pagan events.
Please note our three initial objectives for the council:
- Revision of the original statement in the Army Handbook for Chaplains
- Redrafting a set of Common Principles, updating the set of principles drafted by the original Council
- Revision of the The Thirteen Principles Of Belief drafted by the original Council
For those wanting to get involved, or follow their progress, you can do so at their Facebook page. No doubt they’ll be in touch with present day active Pagan organizations like COG, Circle Sanctuary, the ADF, the Troth, and others, as things move along. I will be following their progress with interest.