I did appreciate Jason Mankey listing me yesterday as one of the most influential living Pagans. There have been several such lists promulgated in recent years, and I did feel annoyed about being left off them. I am far from superhuman. I do need to feel appreciated once in a while, just as most people do. So this has set off some thinking.
I know that most people are uninterested in history and therefore very ignorant about it. I did all that stuff 40 or 50 years ago. It is not surprising to run into an attitude of, “So what have you done for us lately?” It is rather like hoe I felt when my mother would tell me about life in the 1920s; for me, that was ancient history.
Jason mentioned that I am a historian of the Craft. True, and my own life has been very much a part of that history. The first installment of my autobiography, The Road of Excess, covers what in my life led up to the creating of the New Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn. Hippie Commie Beatnik Witches covers the history of about the first decade of NROOGD’s life. And A Tapestry of Witches covers the history of the Craft in America up to the mid-1970s. All of those are available on Amazon. Getting Vol. II of Tapestry, which would the history up to the mid-1980s keeps getting put off, mainly because of the need to earn a living, which I am currently doing by editing research papers that have been translated from Korean.
I am glad the NROOGD is doing well. It celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, just about now, because the first spectacularly successful public Sabbat happened in August 1968. The Covenant of The Goddess is now in its 44th year and has made a significant mark on not only the Craft in America, but also on religion in general. COG, along with the Lady Liberty League and others, is one reason that there are pentacles on the tombstones in many national cemeteries. The ritual priestessed by Phyllis Curott, COG’s First Officer in 1993, at the Second World Parliament or Religions, in a circle made of representatives from most of the world’s religions (except for the Greek Orthodox, who stormed out in protest of the presence of Witches), made national headlines. But COG has not flourished in the way that I hoped it might when we created it.
I haven’t carried on about this very much, but the historical facts are that: Gwydion and I came up with the idea of having a “church” just for Witches, instead of keeping on trying to include all kinds of other groups; I discovered the trick of having covens as a whole, not individuals, be its members; starting from that trick, in March 1975 I persuaded the several dozen people from a lot of different covens and traditions, meeting at Caerdderwyn, Gwydion and Alison’s home in Oakland, to agree to have the “church” be created (at that meeting, we chose its name) ; based on that trick, I wrote the first draft of the charter and by-laws for it; and after several months of meetings and revisions, representatives of more than a dozen covens of various persuasions signed the charter at Coeden Brith on the solstice in June 1975. Alison asked me if I would be the first First Officer. I said No, for reasons I need not explain here; so we elected Alison as the interim First Officer .
After a year of satisfying all the requirements we had agreed on in the charter and by-laws, we held the first fully empowered Grand Council in mid-1976, electing Starhawk as the first official First Officer. COG was thus one of the first churches in America to have a woman as CEO. It was also absolutely the first to have an openly gay CEO and then an openly transgender CEO.
When COG was founded there were only about 100 covens in America. Statistically, there have been as many as 200, but that is unlikely; covens simply were not secretive about their existence at that time. COG when it began represented about 10-20% of all the covens in America, and by the late 80s had about 100 covens as members. But then its growth began to slow, and now, as far as I know, in order of magnitude, represents only about 1% of all the existing covens. What had happened?
The original way covens joined COG was by applying to the Credentials Committee. We could not, and didn’t pretend to, decide who was or was not a Witch, but deciding if a group was a coven was fairly simple. The requirements were minimal: at least three members, in existence for at least six months, agreeing to the rules of the game, especially the Code of Ethics, in the by-laws—and practicing some recognizable version of the Craft. What? Recognized by whom? The original concept was that the small credentials committee would have a closed, confidential, informal meeting to discuss with applicants what they did and believed, how they functioned in practice, and so on. The committee was forbidden to discuss anything about that meeting with anyone else, so that coveners would feel safe about sharing such information. The committee was also supposed to be as liberal as possible about what looked like a version of the Craft, deciding on that holistically. Sociologists know they people in general do know in a holistic way whether other people belong to their religion or not. The basic concept was that any coven that met these simple requirements had a right to join the Covenant and thus to enjoy the benefits of being a legal church, having legal ministerial credentials, and so on.
But sometime in the late 70s or early 80s, COG’s members decided that the original membership procedure was just too cumbersome, and instead established that an applicant coven had to have recommendations from two High priestesses, who were supposed to say only that they knew personally that the group in question really was a coven. This opened the door to problems, especially blackballing. Applications began to be challenged for reasons that had more to do with personal grudges, the fallout from “Witch wars,” and other issues that had nothing to do with whether a group was in fact a coven. The concept that any real coven had a right to join COG was lost. I know first-hand of several covens who were denied membership in this way. As a result, covens have often decided that the pollical problems with joining COG outweighed the rather meager legal benefits that COG membership offered. And by the 90s, alternatives were available. For example, Pete Davis; Aquarian Tabernacle Church, which has had, in order of magnitude, about a dozen affiliated groups, offered the same legal benefits as COG did, with much less politics and harassment.
I do not know whether this problem can now be solved. The COG membership would need to decide to use a membership procedure much more like the original one, and I have no idea whether they might ever do that. I also do not have any current numbers about membership; I have been out of the loop for years. I do know that COG tends to keep secret the kind of information they are legally required to provide to the state of California in order to keep their corporate status alive. If anyone might feel free to share some of those real numbers with me, I would appreciate being able to ensconce them in the histories I am still working on.
Aside from all that, let me talk a little about what life has been like during the past 30 years. I did become active in the Craft again in1988 and still am, although on a far smaller scale. I have also faced many health and other life problems. Much of my thinking for the past 15 or 20 years has been on some of the perennial philosophical problems, such as epistemology, the nature of consciousness, and how to communicate at all about the kind of experience the Gnostics called an Awakening. I have also spent much time and energy on writing prose, both fiction and nonfiction; I have produced about 150,000 words in my Patheos blog posts, though they do not constitute a book.
. In addition, on May 7, 1917, the Muse decided that I should start writing poems again. Since then, I have produced enough for another decent-sized book, and have gone to read at poetry open mikes about once a month. All in all, my thinking has in many ways gone far outside the universe of discourse that is usual in the Craft. I have sometimes toyed with the notion of getting back on the Pagan borscht circuit, but I find it unappealing. Doing so would radically interfere with some major life concerns, such as earning a living. In addition, I have no idea what I might teach or speak about at a festival. Reading my poetry might be feasible, but would anyone (aside from a few like Steve Posch) be interested?
Aside from dealing with life, I am working realistically on the possibility of getting some of my books accepted by a “real” publisher. May not happen, but, for once, not from lack of trying. And I am glad to have a bit of a social life. Yesterday, I and my family got to visit Gordon Cooper and his High Priestess, Helen Honeycutt-Adams. Gordon, who is vastly erudite and vastly underappreciated, and I spent about six hours discussing a wide range of facts, theories, and data about the Craft and a plethora of other topics. It was welcome break from editing Korean papers on oncology, flexible electronics, and surgery case reports.