A Tapestry of Witches II: Circle and the Midwest Pagan Council

A Tapestry of Witches II: Circle and the Midwest Pagan Council April 28, 2017

This is an excerpt from A Tapestry of Witches: A History of the Craft in America, Volume II, from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s. Please note that the book will contain many footnotes.

Circle Magazine covers over the years.  Courtesy of our friends at the Wild Hunt.
Circle Magazine covers over the years. Courtesy of our friends at the Wild Hunt.


Circle was founded by Selena Fox and Jim Alan in 1974. In 1975 they moved to a farm, soon known as Circle Farm, near Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. The Church of Circle Wicca was incorporated in 1978. Fox began publishing the Circle Guide to Pagan Groups in 1979 and issued a new edition of it approximately every two years.. Circle was one of the first Midwestern groups to join the Covenant of the Goddess, in 1979.

In November 1979, Fox was evicted from Circle Farm because of neighbors’ complaints about her religion and began a search for a more permanent site for the church. In 1983 they purchased a parcel of land near Barneveld, WI; the corporation named the land, and renamed itself, Circle Sanctuary.

After a five-year battle with neighbors and local government, Fox won rezoning of the Sanctuary as a church. Fox’s successful fight to gain recognition of Circle Sanctuary as a legal church gained her national notice, and her Circle Network News, which had reached a circulation of some 15,000 by 1986, became a major communication channel for both the Pagan and the New Age movements. Fox defines her ministry as one of interfaith outreach, designed to raise public consciousness of Nature spirituality; this emphasis made her one of the most vocal spokespersons nationally for Paganism in general. Circle’s School for Priestesses, headed by Fox, was intended to evolve into one of the first seminaries for Witches in North America.

Fox and Jim Alan separated in 1984, and she married Dennis Carpenter, in 1986. Carpenter received his Ph.D. in psychology from the Saybrook Institute in 1994, and founded the Pagan Academic Network, whose first meeting took place at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion, in Chicago in November 1994.


Somewhat inspired by the creation of the Covenant of the Goddess in California in 1975, the Midwest Pagan Council was formed in the Chicago area in 1976, with ten groups as members; these included:

Calumet Pagan Temple, Hammond, IN;

Circle, Madison, WI;

Coven of the Sacred Stones (Gardnerian), led by Donna Cole;

Epiphanes, led by Ginny Brubaker;

First Temple of the Craft of W.I.C.A., led by Stan Modrzyk, Chicago Heights,

Parthenon West Pagan Temple, led by Christa Heiden; Richton Park, IL

Temple of the Pagan Way;

Woods Park Pagan Temple and Group, Gary, IN

Calumet Pagan Temple was an offshoot of the Temple of the Pagan Way. Its founder, Richard Clarke, wrote to Pagana in 1981 that “Calumet Pagan Temple has been incorporated since 1973.” Clarke passed over on July 9, 1983.

The Council sponsored the first Pan Pagan Festival at Lake Holiday, IN, July 14-16, 1977; 80 people attended. This was one of the very first genuinely national open festivals to be established.

The Second Pan Pagan Festival was on July 14-16, 1978, in the same location; 150 attended.

The Third Pan Pagan Festival was held on July 12-15, 1979, in Indiana, with 350 adults in attendance. Rosemary Edgehill reported that there were attendees from 26 states and Canada, including New York and California; they included Circle (represented by De-Anna Alba), Parthenon West Pagan Temple, Lady Cerwin and members of the Jersey Shore Pagan Way, the Society for Creative Anachronism, and Oakrune Circle. Time magazine reported on it in an article entitled “Preaching Pan, Isis, and ‘Om.’”

The Calumet Pagan Temple, the Woods Park Pagan Temple, and the First Temple of the Craft of W.I.C.A. of Chicago Heights were allied as Covens One in 1980. All were members of the Midwest Pagan Council, which sponsored Summer Solstice 1980 at Lake Holiday, Indiana.

The fourth Pan Pagan Festival, held Aug. 21-24, 1980, in Wisconsin, was co-sponsored by the Covenant of the Goddess and the Midwest Pagan Council; there were 600 attendees, making it the largest Pagan festival to that time in the United States. This was the occasion at which the Covenant of the Goddess became a truly national church for Witches.

At this festival, Z. Budapest for the first time made men an essential part of a women’s ritual: she enlisted a cadre of gay men to patrol the perimeter of her circle area, since the grounds were not very private. At one point the gay men found themselves in the position of having to keep one of the festival’s organizers out of the women’s ritual, since he wanted to physically pull his wife and daughter out of the women’s circle. The uproar over this incident, plus other differences in lifestyle, fractured the Council into three separate factions—and three different festivals—by the following year. The growth pattern of the Pan Pagan Festival changed drastically at this point.

The Temple of the Pagan Way, now headed by Ginnie Brubaker and Dave Norman, announced that the Pan Pagan Festival for 1981 would be held on June 11-14 at the Circle Pines Coop in Delton, MI. It was being planned by the Council of the Sacred Earth, consisting of present or former members of the MPC; registration was being handled by Epiphanes.

After the Midwest Pagan Council had split up, the Pagan Spirit Alliance was founded as a larger network for Circle, which sponsored its first Pagan Spirit Gathering in 1981. Circle continued to sponsor many Sabbats and festivals in Wisconsin, beginning with the Lammas Campout, the Mother Nature Healing Festival, the Pagan Spirit Gathering (which began in 1981, has remained one of the largest of all festivals, and always falls near the Summer solstice), and the Pagan Unity festival (near the Fall equinox). They began holding an annual Hallowe’en Festival in Madison in 1982.

There was also a Pan Pagan Festival in Michigan in August, sponsored by the remnant still calling itself the Midwest Pagan Council. Richard Clarke wrote,

The sixth annual Pan Pagan Festival … on August 5-8, 1982 . . . was attended by 90 registrants plus 20 or 30[children] . . . Most of the groups in the MPC are led by folks who have one or more children, and most of us want a festival the kids can come to. That doesn’t mean it is for family types only. . . . ten years ago there were no festivals of this type. We [the MPC] were overwhelmed when 75 people showed up for the first Pan Pagan festival in 1977. . . . Now you can pick up any Pagan newsletter and find a dozen or more such festivals listed, all over the country. . . . There may never again be a gathering that attracts over 500 registrants, as the Pan Pagan Festival IV did in 1980, but given . . . growing interest in the Earth Religions, we may see many that attract 100 to 300.

Some other local cvens that may have been members of the Midwest Pagan Council or the Chicago Local Council of COG Included:

Aquarius Spiritus Templum, Bristol, IN;

Eleusis of Chicago; Lyseum of Isis, Star of the Sea, led by Ray and Deena Butta,  Chicago;

Order of the Living Circle, led Rhiannon Marshall, Milwaukee;

The Society of Janus;

Spiral Traditions of Ancient Religions (STAR) Temple, under Beatrice Mahlum, Dennis Rangel, and Glenn Alan Fischer, Chicago;

Temple of Ma’at, IN;

Temple of the Star Keepers, Chicago.

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