The Gardnerians, 1963-1972

The Gardnerians, 1963-1972 November 10, 2012

Raymond Buckland was one of the very first people to foresee how important the Gardnerian Witchcraft movement would be and who therefore imported it into the US. I am personally very grateful to Ray, not only for the nice things he said about me in his Witchcraft from the Inside, but also because it was his strong recommendation that persuaded Carl Weschcke to publish my Crafting the Art of Magick: A History of Witchcraft in England, 1939-1964. That was the popularized version of my doctoral research on how the Gardnerian Book of Shadows was composed. A second edition of the latter, reintroducing much more of the minutia of textual analysis, has been published by Thoth Publications in Leicestershire, UK, with the title Inventing Witchcraft: A Case Study in the Creation of a New Religion.

I last saw Ray in New Orleans at Velvet West’s Yule party in 2009; he had come down to deal with problems about his museum exhibits. I had asked him at some point to look over the material I am presenting here. He just said, “Look at my autobiography.” I recommend your doing that. It provides many details that I am not including. What I do present is publicly available information—if you know where to look for it,

 Raymond Buckland was born in London on August 31, 1934. He was educated at King’s College School in London and served in the Royal Air Force from 1957 to 1959. He had married his first wife, Rosemary, in 1955. Ray had been studying the occult for many years. When he read Gardner’s Witchcraft Today in the late 1950s, he knew that Witchcraft was the religion he had been searching for.  He wrote to Gardner, who was living on the Isle of Man, and struck up a mail and telephone relationship. He and Rosemary emigrated to the United States in 1962 and settled in Brentwood, Long Island, where he worked for British Airways (then BOAC). He then became Gardner’s spokesperson in the United States; whenever Gardner received a query from an American, he forwarded the letter to Buckland.

Buckland finally met Gardner in 1963, when he and Rosemary journeyed to Perth, Scotland, where, as Gerald had arranged, they underwent intense training by Lady Olwen and were initiated on November 30, 1963. They then brought the Gardnerian Book of Shadows and secret names back toNew York, where they founded the New York Coven in Bay Shore, Long Island. That coven became the center of the Gardnerian movement in Americafor the next twenty years. Almost all the “official” Gardnerians in America descend from it.

The Bucklands did their best to screen people carefully and train them thoroughly according to the principles and procedures in the Gardnerian Book. Over the years, however, more and more people came banging on the door, demanding to learn the Craft, and threatening to start an imitation based on Rosemary’s Baby if they weren’t let in. In order to prevent such a tendency from growing wild, the Bucklands gradually relented: letting people in sooner, training them less rigorously, elevating them to the higher degrees sooner. Still, as far as Ray remembers, fewer than 20 women were raised to the Third Degree during the nine years of their “administration” of the New York Coven.

Two of their earliest initiates were Theo and Thane (Gerald and Fran Fischer), who opened their Covenstead Museum in Louisville, Kentucky, in the 1960s. They in turn trained and initiated Deirdre, who, with her partner Modred, at about the time she was taking up her position as a professor of mathematics at a nearby university, founded the Coven of the Silver Trine, also in Louisville. They began publishing Nemesis as their coven newsletter. Later renamed The Hidden Path, it became the internal communication channel for the official Gardnerians in America; subscriptions were available only to documented initiates of the Tradition. The covens that descend from the Silver Trine are known collectively as the Kentucky Lineage. The earliest ones included Adrienne and Zeus’sCandlelight Circle, which was founded by two members of the Silver Trine Coven in 1973; and later Artemis and Dagda’s Adena Coven in Lexington, which had hived from the Coven of the Silver Trine by 1975.

Another early initiate was Lady Cara, who with her partner Edwyon began the Path of the Pentacle Coven on Long Island in 1975, then relocated it to Hollywood, Florida, in about 1978, thus becoming the progenitor of the family of Gardnerian covens in the South. Another was Lady Cerwin, who has been leading her Rowyntree Coven in Long Branch, NJ, for about the last 35 years, also publishing the coven’s journal, Dark Cypress, and in the 1970s also leading a Pagan Way grove.

I will, of course, go on to tell about Lady Theos and Phoenix( Judy and Tom Kneitel), who became the High Priestess and High Priest of the coven when the Bucklands retired in 1972, but first I need to describe Ed Fitch, who, as I said in previous blogs, was the third of the triumvirate that created the Pagan Way movement, thus opening up Gardnerian-style Wicca to many more people than the strictly Gardnerian covens could handle even now.

 Ed Fitch

Ed Fitch, a career Air Force officer working in intelligence, discovered Gardnerian Witchcraft by meeting Margaret St. Clair, who had taken Gardnerian terms and symbols from Gardner’s books and woven them into her novel Sign of the Labrys. The novel brought her to the attention of the Bucklands, who subsequently initiated her and her husband—she already knew too much. (You should look up Chas Clifton’s excellent article about her.) When they met, the St. Clairs referred Ed to the Bucklands, with whom he became good friends. However, their friendship was interrupted in 1964, when Ed was recalled by the Air Force and sent first to Vietnam and then on to Thailand.

 While sitting in an intelligence outpost in Thailand, and no doubt quite bored, Fitch apparently thought carefully about the future of the Gardnerian movement. It must have seemed obvious to him that this religion, lately called “Wicca,” had the potential to appeal to a great many people, but that its growth would be limited, perhaps even strangled, by the strict rules of the Long Island coven about how long it must take for a person to be fully trained and initiated. Ed thought he might be able to create a version of the religion that left out all the specific details that a Gardnerian coven would believe to be oathbound. Such a version could be taught openly and practiced by a great many more people than a Gardnerian coven as such could handle. With this goal in mind, Fitch rewrote the Book of Shadows, keeping the general outline of the rituals, but creating entirely new wording for them. He also created a “magic manual,” based on Franz Bardon’s Initiation into Hermetics, that would enable seekers to develop usable psychic and magical talents. He brought these manuscripts with him upon his return in 1967 to the States, where they circulated freely around the Pagan community and soon became underground classics. During the next 30 years, material from these books often surfaced in new traditions and rituals, sometimes being labeled as an “ancient Celtic tradition from Ireland and Scotland,” much to Ed’s amusement and/or annoyance. The books were finally published by Llewellyn in the early 1990s.

After Thailand Fitch was stationed first in North Dakota, where he worked on the redesign of the Minuteman rockets, then at Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts. During this time, whenever he had a weekend free from his duties, he was able to visit the Bucklands, who in 1967 initiated him into the Gardnerian Tradition and then elevated him to the Third Degree in the early 1970s. During this period, as already described, Fitch was instrumental in the creation of the Pagan Way and, as will be seen, was also central in further developments in the Pagan Movement.

 Donna Cole

Coming along a different trajectory, another important Gardnerian initiate was Donna Cole Schultz (Lady Morda, 1937-2004) in Chicago, who discovered the existence of the Craft in the late 1960s. I knew Donna from her photograph that appeared in the issue of Look in 1971that also featured members of the NROOGD and as a penpal, but did not meet her until 1992, when she did  an informal interview at the COG Merrymeet with me and Judy Harrow. Donna said that she and her husband had discovered the Craft by meeting some teenagers who were attempting to form their own coven using Gardner’s books—which was essentially what the NROOGD was doing out in California. She and her husband traveled to England in 1969 specifically to receive Gardnerian initiation, spent a year working with Madge Worthington and Arthur Edmonds, two of Eleanor Bone’s initiates, and were raised to Second Degree by them. She was also close friends with Lois Bourne, who had succeeded Doreen Valiente as High Priestess of the original London coven, to which Fred Lamond also belonged. Donna then brought the Gardnerian Craft to Chicago, establishing the Coven of the Sacred Stones, one of the first officially Gardnerian covens in America after the Long Island coven. She also teamed up with Herman Enderle and Ginnie Brubaker, adapted Ed Fitch’s new Pagan Waymaterials, and thus helped create the Templeof the Pagan Way as an eclectic Tradition with a Gardnerian core. The Temple was later renamed the Covenant of Gaia under the leadership of Christa Heiden Landon.

Donna also told me that, as soon as Ed had received his Third Degree, he came to Chicago and elevated her as well. Donna said that she believed it was this incident that inspired Lady Theos to institute a new rule: that a Gardnerian initiation was valid only if the circle for it had been cast by a valid Third Degree High Priestess. Lady Theos later solved this institutional problem by bringing Donna to Long Island to be initiated and elevated according toNew York procedures, thus grafting the two lines together. Covens that descend from Lady Morda are thus Gardnerian by several different definitions.

(To be continued)

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