I’m sure most of you out there have heard of the “American Council of Witches 2015.” If you haven’t then good for you, and I wish I was currently in your shoes. I have no doubt that many of the people involved in this group have the best of intentions (this is important so I’m going to write it a second time “I have no doubt that many of the people involved in this group have the best of intentions“) but since the announcement of the “council” a few weeks ago it’s been mostly met with negativity.
As the title above implies today’s “council” is certainly not my council. I recognize several elders in and outside of my tradition, I recognize several other Witches and Pagans I respect and actively learn from, but I don’t recognize any councils. No one can define my beliefs except for me (and possibly my wife). There’s nothing wrong with wanting to discuss Paganism and/or Witchcraft but why does anyone need a fancy name to do so? What’s the point of a council? There are plenty of groups out there already doing good work on behalf of Pagans across the world. I certainly don’t need another one that seems to have rather dubious origins.
I don’t like to be negative (really, I don’t!), but sometimes it can’t be helped. Besides, don’t think of this so much as criticism but as what “not to do” when starting a group that seeks to represent a large cross-section of Modern Paganism. We can always learn from our mistakes and the mistakes of others and today’s council is a great example of that.
Apparently the Council is no more. Their webpage is no longer active and it sounds like their Facebook page will be taken down soon too. I don’t want to take credit for this, but twenty four hours after I posted this . . . . wait, I’m kidding, really.
Update April 4 2016: Perhaps “the Council is back?” There’s a new Facebook group using the name and it seems to include at least a few of the shadowy organizers from the last council. They are also erroneously claiming a link to the original council in 1974 when no such link exists. (Judging by the poor grammar and awful spelling the folks who did this in 2015 aren’t affiliated? At least they could spell.)
Not surprisingly they’ve got an ambitious agenda with very little in the way of details. From their page: “My fellow witches pagans neo pagans and wiccans To everyone wishing to know yes a Santuary is going to be built.” (All of the typos such as “Santuary” are from the original message.) Of course there are no details about this sanctuary including when and where it will be built.
Even creepier than their “santuary” are their new “laws”, especially numbers 15-17:
15) we bow before no authority not even govermental. (sic)
16) Before the council you are judged.
17) traitors of the council shall be turned away and denied by the old ones thou shall be exiled from the council and its use of magic.
Looks like someone has some serious delusions of grandeur, and my browser has a spell-checker so I can spell words like grandeur and even sanctuary properly.
Proceed with caution, or just the laughs.
Witches Don’t Like Authority Witchcraft is mainly an autonomous thing. It’s designed to be practiced in small groups run by a High Priestess in some cases, or consensus in others. It’s not designed with overlords in mind. Who are these people implying that they represent me? There are some lovely Witches and Pagans out there I’m completely happy to have represent me in public arenas (We love you Selena Fox!), but they’ve earned that right over the years. Simply announcing yourself as a “council member” doesn’t work, and I’m sure some of these council folks are lovely, but this is not the best way to make an introduction.
Witches are not sheep, most are generally shepherds. They are strong individuals with exceptional wills and they don’t want to hear about “councils” formed out of thin air. The only result to that is going to be backlash, which is what we are experiencing right now.
How About a Smaller Name? A name says a lot. If your name is too pretentious people are going to ridicule you. If your name implies a hierarchy that doesn’t exist people are going to reject it. If this group is dedicated to “fostering discussions of various topics over the course of time” why not name your group Americans for the Discussion of Paganism or something along those lines? “Council” implies something that many Witches actively fight against: institutional control. If this group is just about discussing what Paganism is in 2015 why does it even need to exist? Why not form a Facebook group called “Discussing Paganism?” The Pagan world was small enough forty years ago that seventy people could sit in a room and come close to agreeing on a few things. In 2015? Not going to happen.
Using Witch and Pagans as Synonyms is so 1994 I’m amazed that anyone would seek to form a “Pagan umbrella group” in 2015 and begin by using “Pagan” and “Witch” as synonyms. Yes, most people who self identify as Witches are Pagans, but a great many Pagans don’t like being called Witches or Wiccans. It’s right there on their masthead too: “The Common Principles of the Craft,” not all Pagans practice the Craft. We should be moving away from that in 2015.
A History They Didn’t Earn The original American Council of Witches actually did some good stuff before breaking up about a year after its formation. What that council succeeded at doing was creating the Thirteen Principles of Belief that they believed defined Modern Paganism. Those thirteen principles ended up in the US Army’s Religious Requirements and Practices of Certain Selected Groups: A Handbook for Chaplains in the book’s section on Wicca. Not too shabby!
The thirteen principles have had a long history in Modern Paganism since being created nearly forty years ago (the original council was started in 1974). They’ve been used by all sorts of covens, groves, and circles and are often still quoted in various books and periodicals. That original council also had over seventy members, today’s secret cabal has about five public ones.
Perhaps this is my biggest problem with today’s current “council.” It’s attempting to piggbyback on the past glories of a group that actually did something. I could call my coven the “Crotona Fellowship” and pretend that we were the heirs to Gardner’s initiators but that would be dishonest. This current group referring to its self as “The American Council of Witches” is equally dishonest. There was a council, it existed in the early 1970’s, this is not that council. To co-opt that name is fraudulent and an attempt to attach past triumphs to a group that did not earn them.
Cloak and Dagger If you want to represent a large group of people you need to be transparent, the current council is not. Hinting at secret agendas if fun if you are twelve, but the people this group seeks to represent aren’t twelve. Take this bit from their website: “Council Elections scheduled to take place in coming days.” Fair enough, how did those go? How does one get nominated for this council? If elections have not yet taken place why are people being added (and removed) from the council? There’s someone pulling the strings behind the scenes of this thing, where are they? Why are they skulking in the shadows?
Not Ready For Prime Time If you are going to announce your intentions to represent all of Paganism then your materials should be up to snuff. Sadly the ACoW homepage is riddled with bad grammar and very little information. Since this group announced its existence several weeks before their webpage went live you’d think their internet home would be ready for visitors. Sadly, that’s not the case.
But what do I know? Perhaps this will end up turning into the most important Pagan group of the last fifty years . . . . . but I doubt it.