It is easily one of the ten most important books ever written about the Craft as a religion. For that matter, it is high on my list of the most important books ever written about religion in general. And it is one of the very few books on the Craft that present a serious theology.
Sam argues that the Craft movement consists of two different, although interwoven, versions of Witchcraft that in practice are distinct religions. One is the Outer Court, public religion, for which he uses the term “Witchcraft” and which he thinks should be classified as Pagan rather than Wiccan. The other is the Inner Court, more or less as practiced within covens by British Traditional Witches (i.e., those who stay close to the Gardnerian paradigm); he argues that it alone should be called “Wicca.”
As usual, terminology about the Craft is problematic. “Wicca,” logically or not, is now generally used as an umbrella term for everything in the Craft movement, but the Inner Court has far more in common with pre-Gardnerian Witchcraft. Aside from that confusion, Sam’s distinction is accurate and extremely useful.
Outer Court Witchcraft manifests as public Sabbats and festivals and as family-based covens that can include children. It continues to grow rapidly in providing a new spiritual path for now millions. It promises to become the world-class religion envisioned by Gerald Gardner. It can be portrayed to oblivious news reporters and the unsophisticated public as respectable and harmless. But the engine that drives the movement is far different.
Many, perhaps even most, Outer Court groups are the outlying gardens of an Inner Court coven, whose practices Sam describes with rare accuracy and insight, setting forth, among much else, the details of the training needed to accomplish the central sacramental experience, the Mystery of Wicca: working the Great Rite in Truth in full aspect.
Any adequately trained Third-Degree (or, in some Traditions, Second-Degree) Witch will know exactly what that means and should, I hope, be able to do it, or at least be working toward it. For almost all others, that statement will be as opaque as an equation in the tensor calculus. I knew about it, but, given Sam’s insight into its importance, the last cornerstone for my novel fell into place.
The Mystery, done right, is glorious, ecstatic, empowering, a revelation of the nature of our true selves. Beyond that, it can sometimes catalyze a full Awakening, as the Gnostics called it, into knowing that we are already divine, which is the actual goal of all genuine spiritual disciplines.
I am quite aware that many reading this will have no clue what I am talking about, and that fact is the tragedy of our crippled civilization.
At age fourteen, in 1955, after a spontaneous, salvific intervention, I knew that the toxic pathology I had been fed about sex in catechism classes had almost killed me. I began wondering what healthy beliefs about sex might be—and I’m still working on that. Almost immediately I happened (but there are no accidents) to find the myth of Aradia. Her message of sexual rebellion against a corrupt establishment spoke to my needs. Her command, “You shall be naked in your rites until the last of your oppressors has been destroyed,” gave me a goal to seek. When I found Gardner’s Witchcraft Today four years later, I knew he too described the religion I wanted.
In 1963 I discovered Wilhelm Reich’s concept of the Emotional Plague as an endemic social mental illness that almost all people suffer from and therefore think is normal. A while back I coined a somewhat more accurate name for this illness: Aphrodiphobia, meaning specifically “fear of having sex.” It is this fear and hatred of sex that underlies or aggravates every problem that Western society has suffered from, as have many others.
As a teenager I thought this pathology was inherent in Christian beliefs. From Alan Watts I later learned that it is not, and later yet deduced that the belief that “sex is evil” (derived from the Greeks, not from Judaism) was a heresy that corrupted the original teachings of Jesus the Nazarene almost as soon as the first missionaries went out into the Gentile world. We can now reconstruct those original teachings, at least in broad outline, from the new information in the Nag Hammadi documents, combined with the fragments of information one can glean from the writings collected in the ten volumes of The Ante-Nicene Fathers. (I have carried out that reconstruction in my new novel, Aradia and the Books of the Sacred Marriage; the story is much easier to understand when not larded with footnotes.) It seems clear that the “Gnostics” and the Nazarenes (his original followers who remained observant Jews) were the ones who tried to remain loyal to those teachings. They evolved their own myths, of Jesus and Mary called Magdalene as avatars of the Divine Lovers who are the source of all life.In contrast, the Gentile Christians evolved a Dark Twin myth of their own, portraying Jesus as sexless and Mary as a prostitute, so quickly that its rudiments are woven into the gospels. Thus Aphrodiphobia and misogyny infected their version of Christianity from almost its inception, and still infect almost all versions of Christianity now.
An important insight in Bill Wilson’s Alcoholics Anonymous is that alcoholism and all addictive syndromes behave like “evil spirits”: they seem to have a mind of their own; they fight back. It takes tenacious discipline to overcome and neutralize them. The same is true of Aphrodiphobia; the illness is defended passionately by those who suffer the most from it. Hence a war against it must also be passionate, unflinching, confrontational. The situation is well symbolized as a naked, radiant Aradia confronting the dark menace of the Grand Inquisitor (and only 30 years ago Starhawk was attacked by Cardinal Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI).
So I think we Witches must not be polite, let alone apologetic, about the fact that we worship sex, that sex is our true form of worship. Not only is Wicca a sexual religion, we believe that sex IS religion. The first creation myth in Genesis says the Gods created us to be just like them and commanded us to be fertile and multiply. I think it was intended to teach that our being sexual is how we are most divine. The myths of many religions say that the Gods have physical bodies, that they have physical sex just as we do, that when we have sex as worship, the Gods are having sex along with us; Raphael Patai says, in The Hebrew Goddess, that was the central belief in even Kabalistic Hasidism down into the nineteenth century.
The Carpocratian Gnostics of Alexandria (who I think were descended from the Nazarene community founded there by Mary called Magdalene) taught that having sex is our pathway to salvation (we have that in writing from Clement of that town). If so, as we Witches also believe, then in opposing sex, in teaching that sex is evil, the Christian church served the “forces of evil.” In the Witches Hammer, one sees immediately that the Inquisitors were pathologically obsessed with sex; most of the interrogation was about, “Did you have sex with the Devil? Or with each other?” and so on. As Walter Niggs wrote in The Heretics, “Yes, the Devil was in it. The Devil was in the hearts of the Inquisitors.”
So when the Aphrodiphobes say, “OMG, you Witches have orgies!” we must reply, “That is as blasphemous as saying that the Eucharist of the Mass is ritual cannibalism.” Our right to have sex is guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights spearheaded by Eleanor Roosevelt. Our right to sexual worship is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution. The Puritans who call themselves Christians do not get it that the First Amendment was intended to prevent them from imposing their brand of Aphrodiphobia on everyone else.
The training and experience in a genuine Wiccan coven aims to heal as much of the damage caused by Aphrodiphobia as possible. Sexual freedom is essential for a healthy life and a healthy society. This is what Wicca offers.
By the way, Sam’s autobiography, I Know Where the Bodies Are Buried, is delightful, full of info about Canadian witchery and leftist politics. The passage about the birth of his son Gwydion showed me how good a person Sam is.