Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Wica! Wicca! (And Wicca in New Orleans)

I posted this sometime last year (2015), so adding it back:

(no, I didn’t misspell the first word, and, yes, feel free to envision the dude from Little Ceaser’s)

So, my first post-intro blog entry should really be about Wic(c)a, since I have 20 years under my belt of reading about it, studying it, practicing it in one form or another, as well as criticizing it and giving it the stank eye from across the room. Keep in mind that this entry is about Wicca, not witchcraft, which I’ll be writing about later.

Let’s start with a bit of history. Thankfully, many people have already done the hard work for me, so I’ll just write a brief summary and provide a few links to some websites that go into detail.

Long ago and far away…that is, 1951 in England…a book was published by a man named Gerald B. Gardner, claiming that witches, or rather members of a pre-Christian pagan religion from Europe, who has been hiding in secret for an awful long time, had decided to tell the world they were still around. Yay! In Witchcraft Today Gardner explained how these seriously misunderstood folks had survived Christian domination, the Inquisition, and the witch hunts (good for them!) and what they believed and did. And he knew this for reals ‘cause he was one of them, having been initiated into a coven in the New Forest area in 1939. What he described greatly resembled what the Egyptologist and folklorist, Margaret Murray talked about in her 1921 book The Witch-Cult in Western Europe. Murray’s “Witch-Cult Hypothesis” was all the rage until it began being shot down by other academics, which happened almost immediately. No matter, said Gardner and the witches…

This got the ball rolling and Wicca was now public. Although originally spelled ‘Wica’ with one ‘c’ the second ‘c’ wasn’t far behind. Some folks who descend directly from Gardner (called Gardnerians, but only a few of them do this) prefer to use the original spelling so other people don’t confuse them with tweens shopping at Hot Topic. Two great websites that talk about Gardner and all the early members of the witchcult can be found here (http://www.thewica.co.uk/index.html) and here (http://www.geraldgardner.com/).

Of course the media in England went crazy with articles, tabloids, tv shows and the like. This, of course, attracted the attention of folks who became extremely jealous and wanted to be famous for being spooky witches….I mean, other witches who wanted to share with the world their own brand of ancient magic (magic? magic…k? Do we put the ‘k’ in now or not? Oh, Crowley’s already been here? So it’s with the ‘k’ now. Splendid.)…magick. Folks like Robert Cochrane, Sybil Leek, and Alex Sanders came out of the woodwork (I wonder if those trees that wood was made from came from the New Forest…hmm) and got themselves some attention with grandmother stories and other Gardnerian-independent claims of ancient witchiness.

But hang on a minute, Britian! The United States will NOT be left out of this! Ok, said the U.K., so in the 1960s they sent over a man and wife, Raymond and Rosemary Buckland, so America could also capitalize on…I mean…share in this new-found old faith, guaranteed to boost antique store sales. Gardnerian Wicca settled in Long Island, New York, and much like Lillith, began to beget hidden children of the night, destined to bicker and argue amongst themselves and with outsiders for decades to come.

In the 1970s there was an occult explosion, with New York City as the epicenter. This article, The Doom That Came to Chelsea (http://www.nypress.com/the-doom-that-came-to-chelsea/) serves as one small window into this dramatic wave of witchcraft. The Warlock Shop, later known as the Magickal Childe, served as one of the home bases, while Long Island saw the Gardnerian coven pass from the Bucklands to Lady Theos and Phoenix, who produced a ton of new initiates that later migrated to other large cities and places across the country. Although Buckland was basically booted from the Gardnerian family due to the nasty divorce from Rosemary, he began to publish books and promote the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft (this makes a cameo appearance later in this entry.)

Much like a virus, Wicca began to spread and mutate thanks, in part, to several outsiders getting hold of non-initiate material (and maybe a tiny bit of actual initiate material) and assuming it was the Holy Wiccan Chalice, then writing books (printed on paper made from trees that were decidedly NOT from the New Forest) based on stuff they couldn’t possibly understand correctly without the oral lore that was meant to go with it. But before this, in1979, two books came out that plowed the fertile (and bored) middle class, sowing the seeds that would produce these anemic offspring. Spiral Dance by Starhawk and Drawing Down the Moon by Margot Adler were published. Housewives from shore to shore shouted “Blessed Be!”

If the 1970s and 80s saw the spread of the American mutation of Wicca, then what happened next can be seen as the rise of the intelligence-resistant strain. Enter: Llewellyn Publications, now known as Llewellyn Worldwide. Yes, that publishing house with the little crescent moon as its symbol began to shit out diarrhetic reams of the literary equivalent to branchless family trees, each of the dozens of authors cannibalizing one another’s scurvy-ridden pages to create a tapestry destined to become the next Hollywood backdrop.

And with the 1996 release of The Craft, every Books-a-Million and Barnes and Noble then had a Neo-Pagan group chillin with all their very powerful magickal selves near the coffee shop section. It was around this same time that Yours Truly was browsing his local mall bookstore and found two books: The Truth About Witchcraft Today and Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner, both by Scott Cunningham (and published by Llewellyn.) Yes, folks, that’s right. I gobbled up every book my Wal-Mart paycheck allowed me to afford, and I was infected with that same virus as the pentacle-wearing 17 year old chick with purple hair who attended the newly-established Wiccan Church, that held public ceremonies, calling in every goddess known to mankind to come and Merry Meet them.

And after three solid years of holding my own solitary esbats in the woods behind my parents’ house and community college dorm, wearing my (not-at-all-natural) white robe with hooded cloak (that flowed so well since it was made from that material which was 50% off at the Wal-Mart I worked at, which explains the not-natural part), I was ready to provide the university I transferred into with some well-seasoned Wicca by establishing the Mississippi State University Wiccan/Pagan Student Alliance. Those couple of years with the WPSA was my first exposure to other (eclectic) Wiccans and Neo-Pagans and made my heart soar, and much like Icarus my time riding that broomstick of na├»ve eclecticism took a tumble after I graduated and moved to New Orleans to discover the putrid pit of pagan politics (which is most likely going to be a story for another day.)

By this time, academics had begun taking note of the popularity of Wicca (both traditional and eclectic) and the various modern witchcraft and neo-pagan groups forming and fighting for equal rights. In 1999 historian Ronald Hutton’s book Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft was published, which essentially nailed shut the coffin that contained the moldering cadaver of Margaret Murray’s “witch-cult hypothesis” and the main party line of the older, traditional Wiccans. (Much wailing and gnashing of teeth was barely heard over the clacking of renaissance faire armor.) However, if there were still some cracks in the coffin, they would pretty much be sealed up with Philip Heselton’s 2001 Wiccan Roots: Gerald Gardner and the Modern Witchcraft Revival and his 2003 Cauldron of Inspiration: An Investigation into the Sources of Gardnerian Witchcraft.

Despite all of this, I was still a bit intrigued and a lot curious, so when the opportunity presented itself in 2005 in the form of my High Priest (now ex-) partner to initiate into Gardnerian (and other traditions of) Wicca I jumped on it. I became a 3rd Degree High Priest in Long Island Line Gardnerian and Farrar Line Alexandrian, as well as a 3rd Degree High Priest two traditions descending from New York City’s 1970s-era Eddie Buczynski: New York Welsh and the Minoan Brotherhood. It was a very busy four years, and my hand still hasn’t recovered from copying all those Books of Shadows…by candlelight…in the dead of night…to the baying of wolves.

Well, enough about me, let’s talk about what I think of Wicca.

First and foremost, everyone associated with Wicca, if they’re still doing this, has really got to drop the Witch Party Line, a phrase I recently stole…I mean borrowed…from Jim Baker in his 2014 book The Cunning Man’s Handbook: The Practice of English Folk Magic 1550-1900. “The Witch Party Line” is pathetically holding on for dear life and priesthood to that Murray witch-cult hypothesis origin of the Wica (WICA…Wicca…wic(c)a. It’s an echo, you’re supposed to be hearing this in your mind like an echo.) Rather than basing your religion on a pseudo history, which has been 99% disproven so many times now, why not acknowledge its actual origins in Freemasonry, the OTO, the Golden Dawn, Dion Fortune’s work, and a ton of other cool sources. And Freemasonry? (Yes, Gardner was a Freemason and like a hundred other things, seriously, you need to read the Heselton books) Freemasons are said to descend from the Knights Templar. The *Knights Templar*! If that’s not metal enough for you, I don’t know what is. (I don’t know how true that is, I’m just trying to get some folks excited. Probably didn’t work.)

Ok, wait, look! Put down your athames and swords and hear me out. I know. I really know. I’ve been there. Wanting with all my heart and soul that I was somehow a recipient of some romantic Mists of Avalon, Druid, Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, pre-Christian Goddess religion that somehow survived the Inquisitional fires despite all the evidence to the contrary. But come on. Let’s face it. Yes, we feel things in circle. There’s energy and spirits and stuff, but that doesn’t really mean that it’s an ancient practice. Espiritismo in the Caribbean is relatively new (compared to the older religions) and their shit works just fine. Their spirits come through with no problem. So, just get over it. Our stuff, well Gardnerians anyway, has been in existence since the 1950s and it’s managed to attract plenty of spiritual guides (now if most Wiccans could just get better training in spirit work, never mind, future post!) and we have our own list of ancestors at this point. It doesn’t need to be old to work. Elsa, what was that? Yeah! Let it go!

This one is for the eclectic Wiccans out there. Please know that currently published ideas like the “Wiccan Rede,” the “Three-fold Law,” and concepts like Karma and Reincarnation are horribly distorted. Remember earlier when I mentioned the publication of non-initiate material mistaken for initiate material? Yeah, that right there. I’m not going to go into them, but here’s a blog that does a fantastic job at it. And the Gardnerian who wrote this is my Brother and friend. It’s awesome. Go here. (https://gardnerians.wordpress.com/2014/01/20/our-three-fold-response/)

This is getting really long, so I’m gonna wrap it up by relating it all to New Orleans and the Wicca scene here.

I’m not an expert on the history of Wicca in New Orleans, but I have been an observer and participant starting in 2001. As far as I can tell the first organization to jump on the witchcraft bandwagon was The Religious Order of Witchcraft, established in 1972 by a woman named Mary Onieda Toups. Yes, the same one mentioned VERY BRIEFLY on an episode of American Horror Story: Coven. Although, from what I can tell, this was not originally a Wiccan thing. It was more of a home-grown, self-taught occult/witchcraft group, however, I understand it may have later adopted more Wiccan concepts. 

Not sure what all went on between the 70s/80s, but in the 90s a group emerged led by a woman named Velvet Reith. At first a coven called something like Swamp Witches, it eventually morphed into Covenant of the Pentacle Wiccan Church and became an affiliate of Aquarian Tabernacle Church. I encountered this group in 2001 and at the time they had classes, open rituals, and clergy training. All their internet listings are gone now, so I’m going to assume it’s closed. However, a group of people from the CPWC has recently formed their own group called Bee Hive Coven. Here’s their website. (http://beehivecoven.org/)

Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wicca has had a presence in New Orleans since around the late 90s. My ex and his (now) ex moved from Salem, MA to New Orleans in 1999 and established a Gardnerian coven that lasted until 2005 with Hurricane Katrina (that bitch) blowing most of the members up to New England (myself included, although I wasn’t initiated by the New Orleans HPS, but later by the New Jersey HPS my ex works with.) It wasn’t until last year in 2014 that New Orleans saw the founding of another Gardnerian coven. There was allegedly an Alexandrian coven in New Orleans pre-Katrina. I met the HPS once right before the storm and I know of at least one of her initiates who is still here, although I have no idea if the HPS and rest of the coven stuck around. Not to worry, though, because my working partner and the HPS of our Gardnerian coven, the Crescent City Coven, (go here to inquire http://www.witchvox.com/vn/vn_detail/dt_gr.html?a=usla&id=40425) are both Gardnerian and Alexandrian. 

As for the boys who'd like to work within an all-male setting, there's also the Minoan Brotherhood here. My grove, Temenos ta Theia, is open and accepting new students. Go here to inquire: http://www.witchvox.com/vn/vn_detail/dt_gr.html?a=usla&id=42155

As a curious little side note, there was a very brief period of time when the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft was housed and on display in the French Quarter. But it was mis-managed by folks who eventually lost the museum in a court battle and aren’t really worth me mentioning here. The Museum, I believe, has been set up as a trust with the most likely now defunct CPWC, mentioned above. 2016 Update: Looks like the museum is going to open again in OHIO! Yay. I'll be sure to book my trip early so to beat the crowds. http://wildhunt.org/2016/07/buckland-museum-poised-to-reopen-in-midwest.html#disqus_thread

There used to be a group of Blue Star Wicca folks around, but since their HP, Kenny Klein, got arrested on child porn charges last year, they’ve all understandably gone quiet. 2016 update: looks like the HPS still has a witchvox listing for the coven: http://www.witchvox.com/vn/vn_detail/dt_gr.html?a=usla&id=41430

However, if your tastes lie in more eclectic flavors, contact the New Orleans Lamplight Circle here (http://www.witchvox.com/vn/vn_detail/dt_gr.html?a=usla&id=31356)

You’d think that all the mystery and magic New Orleans is known for that there’d be more options, but no. It’s mainly tourists looking for voodoo dolls and ghost tours. And women who try to sell off their Catholic family histories as “secret New Orleans witch families.” But most of them are just first-generation eclectic witches. 




3 comments:

  1. I need more informative and tea-soaked posts like this! My teacup is almost empty, but the cup is still deliciously warm.

    Tell us more about your experiences with eclectic Wicca politics. How are Wiccans slacking in the areas of spirit work, and what suggestions can you offer to help us improve? What are some more of your thoughts about the current state of the (ecletic) Wiccan community being largely founded on misunderstood non-initiate material? Finally, as someone that has been on both sides of the eclectic/traditional fence, what are your feelings about the differences of the two? How has your personal practice developed and changed since being initated. What invaluable aspect(s) does your practice have now that it didn't (or couldn't) have as an eclectic practitioner?

    I'm like Britney Spears, baby. GIMME MORE!! Lol!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Giving things the stank-eye from across the room myself now.

    ReplyDelete