A History of the Craft in America: California and Councils, Part V, 1974-1975

A History of the Craft in America: California and Councils, Part V, 1974-1975 March 7, 2013

Here begins what will become Volume IB or II of the finished book. As I mentioned, many important changes took place in 1973 within at least half a dozen different Traditions. As a result, the period 1974 to 1979, which I will now begin covering for the whole of the USA and parts of Canada, requires a new chapter. I’m starting with events in California in the mid-1970s, not because they were the only developments at that time, but they turned out to have national implications.

Focusing first on southern California, this story benefits hugely from Ann Finnin’s candid and chatty “History of the Roebuck,” the Tradition of the Ancient Keltic Church that she and her husband, Dave, began in 1976. It can be found in its entirety at http://www.arcane-archive.org/religion/neo-paganism/wicca/history-of-the-roebuck-1.php

Ann met Dave in January 1974 via a gathering in Costa Mesa of the Society for Creative Anachronism, which had been founded by Diana Paxson in Oakland in the late 1960s. The SCA has since functioned as one social arm of the Craft movement, even though Witches are not a majority of its members. In February 1974 Dave brought Ann to a meeting in Redlands of Ed Fitch’s Craft training group, where she met Joe Wilson, Mara Schaeffer, Bill and Helen Mohs (all of whom I introduced weeks ago), as well as other future friends, such as Alison and Forrest Lowe, and Ann and Van Tipton. She began attending the training group regularly. She commented that “this little training group turned out several people who are now well-known Craft leaders.”

Ed, who was elevated to the Gardnerian Third Degree by Lady Theos in 1973, had been transferred that year to Norton Air Force Base near San Bernardino. Lacking a Third-Degree High Priestess, he could not found a valid Gardnerian coven; so instead he formed an “Outer Court” coven based on the Outer Court Book of Shadows and the Outer Court Grimoire that he had written while stationed in Southeast Asia in about 1970.

Ann and Dave received their Outer Court First Degree initiation from Ed in about June 1974, then were sent over to LaVerne to work in Bill and Helen Mohs’ American Tradition coven, whose origins I described in the early entries on Joe Wilson in this series. Ann Finnin described Bill as “a gaunt man in his mid to late forties. He had a cataract over one eye which he refused to have removed because it made him look sinister” (although he was wearing a raffish eyepatch when I met him in February 1974). In the Mohs’ coven they met Fred and Martha Adler, as well as Bill and Elizabeth (later Lady Delthea), received their Inner Court First Degree initiation around Lammas, and were handfasted at Samhain 1974.

Ann and Van Tipton had begun working with Ed in 1973, as well as with Bill and Helen Mohs, receiving their American Tradition initiations in late 1973. Lady Theos, wanting to create a valid Gardnerian coven in Los Angeles, felt that the Tiptons were suitable candidates; so she brought them to Long Island to complete their training and elevated them to the Gardnerian Third Degree in 1974. Returning to Diamond Bar, the Tiptons, now as Lady Athena and the Dagda, founded the California Gardnerian coven, later renamed Our Lady of the Hills.

At this time Lady Athena asked Ed to discontinue his Gardnerian training group, and he dutifully did so. Nan Poss, who had originally studied with Mary Mesa, an old friend of Bill Mohs, had also been working with Ed. Nan had a Third Degree American Tradition initiation, and she and DeeDee Dluhosh had been attending Ed’s circles regularly. They decided to form their own group, which was called the Sea Coven and flourished for many years in the mid-1970s.

About this time, Ann and Dave also met Dale and Diane Brooks (Bran and Moria), former students of Bill and Helen, who now had their own coven at their Corax Covenstead in LaVerne. One important member of their coven was Dana Corby, who relates, in her account of the American (later called Mohsian) Tradition on Witchvox, that she first met them via Sara Cunningham’s Temple of Tiphareth. Dana worked with Ed Fitch on editing The Crystal Well, then one of the most important Craft journals, and in 1974, with Bud Chase (Brother Radamus Ragweed of the NROOGD), helped Gwydion Pendderwen record his first album, Songs for the Old Religion, which was the first recording in what would become the subgenre of Pagan Music and to which she contributed her powerful “Hymn to the Sun God.”

In January 1975, Ann and Dave moved to Pasadena, where they began meeting other people in the Pagan and “southern California alternative religions scene,” such as Poke Runyon of the OTA and his associate Nelson White. Soon thereafter Bill and Helen Mohs separated and their coven disintegrated; so Ann and Dave began working with Dale and Diane, then, with help by Fred and Martha, formed the Pasadena Training Coven, modeled after Ed Fitch’s training groups. Having been elevated to the American Tradition Second Degree by  Bill Mohs, they were able to sign the charter of the Covenant of the Goddess in June 1975 as representing their new coven.

During the following 18 months, Ann and Dave worked extensively with others in the Pagan scene, including Mara Schaefffer, Phil and Jo Wayne, Sandy Pinney, Jim and Bonnie Crowley, Dan and Laura Campbell, and Jill Johns, who had been very active in George Patterson’s Church of Wicca in Bakersfield. There will be more to tell about them later, but for now I need to backtrack to the beginning of 1974, since the Finnin’s history provides a backdrop for the series of Pagan Councils in 1974 and 1975. Although I was a ringleader in that series of events, I was not the only one; so I will be indulging in various circumlocutions (not to be confused with circumambulation) to avoid overuse of the first-person singular pronoun, often by using the under-appreciated passive voice.

 Despite the demise of the Council of Themis, the Council of Earth Religions, and the American Council of Witches by the end of 1973, Gwydion Pendderwen continued to agitate for negotiations toward the establishing of an umbrella organization that might be able to provide Pagans with the benefits of a legal church. As a result, on February 23, 1974, a Pagan Ecumenical Council convened at the home of Harold Moss and Jim Kemble of the Church of the Eternal Source in Burbank. The concept for this meeting was that only Pagan religions would be represented, not the metaphysical or other kinds of religions that had been included in the previous councils. I, Bud Chase, Geoff Baldwin, and Glenn Turner from the NROOGD, and Gwydion, Alison Harlow, and Dan Norman from Nemeton, flew down to southern California for the weekend to attend it. Some of the 45 people in attendance were so worried about their anonymity that they refused to allow any record of their attendance to be made. The rest included:

Representing the American Tradition, Bill and Helen Mohs, plus many in their coven, Temple City, and Dale and Diane Brooks (Bran and Moria) of Corax Covenstead, La Verne.

Representing the Gardnerians, Ed Fitch, who was appointed as the Scribe for the occasion, and Lady Athena and the Dagda, Our Lady of the Hills, Diamond Bar.

Representing Feraferia, Fred Adams and Svetlana Butyrin, Pasadena.

Representing the Church of the Eternal Source, Don Harrison, Harold Moss, and Jim Kemble.

Representing the 1734 Tradition, Joe Wilson and Mara Schaefffer, Tujunga.

Reprenting the New England Coven of Traditionalist Witches: Mary Le Vesque, Lawndale (Mary did not reveal who she was, but Owen Rowley, who had been Lady Gwen Thompson’s High Priest until 1973, informed me recently that Mary had been one of Lady Gwen’s earliest initiates).

Representing the Church of Aphrodite, W. Holman Keith, Los Angeles.

In addition, Steve Bell, who had been the Coordinator of the Coucil of Earth Religions, was present representing the Twiceborn Wicca Coven and Order of Thelema, El Cajon.

Another three people signed under the Craft names of Joe Bloggs, Yarlen Stickles, and Aphrodia.

I had met almost none of the people at this meeting before and therefore had very little idea about who was who, but I think it very likely that some of those present who declined to sign in were among the people known to the Finnins or were active in the process of creating the Covenant of the Goddess during the following year and a half.  It was a friendly and positive meeting, and was most useful in providing the occasion for a party during which we all got to know one another. However, our goal of creating an umbrella organization seemed distant and elusive, since we found it hard to define exactly what it was we had in common, even though we all considered ourselves to be Pagans.


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