Chapter 20: Magick Family
Consult the "Contents" pages to locate the entries in Part III, the Directory Listings Sections, that comprise this family.
Magick, as its most prominent twentieth-century theoretician defined it, is "the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity to the will" (Aleister Crowley, Magic Without Tears[St. Paul, Minn: Llewellyn Publications, 1973], 27). Another described it as "an effect without an observable cause" and owing "nothing to the physical laws of our everyday world" (David Conway, Magick/An Occult Primer [New York: E. P. Dutton, 1972],19). Neither definition is, in fact, complete. The latter, for example, could apply as well apply to almost any incident of PK (psychokinesis) or mind over matter. Father Richard Woods supplements these definitions by describing magick as the "art of employing the mysterious supernatural forces believed to under-pin the universe in order to produce desired effects at will" (Richard Woods, The Occult Revolution/A Christian Meditation [New York: Herder and Herder, 1971], 30). Father Woods's definition is weakened by its use of the word supernatural, but does make the point that a particular view of the world is implicit in magick. That is, the world is made up of forces that impinge upon humanity; the object of magick is to come to terms with the world by coming to terms with these forces. Inherent in each of these definitions is the belief in a power of which most people are unaware and to which most of those who believe in it lack access. In spite of the alienation of the majority of people from the magical worldview, magick has become the life-orientation of a growing number of persons in contemporary America.
Inherent in the magical world-view is the notion of control and manipulation. These are forces that manipulate man, victimizing him until he becomes the controlling agent. One witch defines magick as "the art of producing a desired effect or result through the use of various techniques such as incantations and presumably assuring human control of supernatural agencies or the forces of nature" (Sybil Leek, Diary of a Witch [Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1968], 4). In its demonic aspect such control can lead to the manipulation of people by curses (i.e., black magick), but fortunately, such black magick is by no means a major practice among magicians.
Magicians vary widely in their beliefs and are intensely individualistic. Nevertheless, there are a few characteristics (beyond magick) common to the groups herein classified as members of the magick family. These characteristics include ritual, secret ancient wisdom, and a tradition that has its roots in the pre-Christian world.
Ritual, for magicians, is much more than the ordering principle in worship. It is seen as a very useful tool in focusing the power of the individual and in concentrating the thoughts of members of a group on a common object of concern. Beyond these functions, the ritual effects a merging of reality and the mysterious. The climax of the ritual is the evocation or invocation of a deity for some specific purpose. Well performed ritual affects a person on all levels, thus achieving the coordination of outside effects (color, music, meditative practices, chants, and words) with the inner dimensions of the self. The successful ritual brings about a change in the state of consciousness. To help produce this state, some groups even use various psychedelic drugs.
Those groups for which ritual is the apex of magical activity wear ritual garb and use elaborate facilities. Such facilities may be anything from the temple of a magical lodge to the circle of a witch's coven (a small group of witches). Garb ranges from full-length robes to nudity (Gardnerian witches). Implements of worship include various kinds of sacred objects: the athame (ritual knife) of the witch, the rod of hazelwood, the sword, and the incense burner. These objects are for ritual use only and are carefully protected from profane eyes. Most magicians also take a ritual name, to be used with other initiated brethren. This name may be that of a great magician of the past, like John Dee, or it may even be a motto. (William Butler Yeats's name was "Daemon est Deus Inversus," which in translation means "the Devil is the reverse side of God.")
Secrecy is a vital part of the magician's life style. It provides protection from a hostile world that does not understand magick and thrill seekers who are attracted to magick for shallow reasons, such as the chance to participate in an orgy. For most, however, secrecy is an element of the faith, which they believe is for the few. (The masses, being neither prepared nor intelligent enough, would misuse, degrade, and be unable to understand the teachings. Such vulgarization of the faith would destroy the power of the ritual.)
Secrecy is bolstered by a system of initiations and degrees. New members, after a probationary period, are given a basic initiation. Some groups have only one initiation, others may have three, ten, twenty-three, or even more. Initiation to each higher degree gives one access to a greater amount of secret material and presupposes an added proficiency in the magical arts.
The material that is kept secret is the magical knowledge of the group. This knowledge may consist of rituals, various incantations, metaphysical teachings, and the more powerful magical formulas. There are also the particular group's secrets, such as the magical names of members.
Most magical world views include a belief in reincarnation, alchemy, the Atlantis myth, and astrology and the other divining arts. Many groups would argue that their tenets constitute not a religion but a philosophy with possible religious overtones. Most groups adopt a specific calendar and practice their ceremonies according to an astrological or Egyptian year. Some have begun to articulate their practices in Jungian archetypical terms.
Possibly as important as any characteristic shared by the magical groups is their common history. The works of the ancient mystery schools, the Gnostics, and more recently, Francis Barrett, Eliphas Levi, Louis Claude de Saint-Martin, MacGregor Mathers, and Aleister Crowley appear in the histories of all the various magical subdivisions. This common history manifests not only a common effort, but also a consensus as to which issues are important enough to generate polemics, a consensus which is most important to the creation of a family group.
The differences between magical groups reflect those issues around which debate centers. Groups vary in particulars of ritual, in organization, in attitudes toward drugs, and in the specific calendar used. The major groups vary on the particular aspect of ancient wisdom with which they identify. Related to the particular ancient wisdom (Egyptian, Druidic, Hebrew, etc.) are varying ideas about deity. Some groups are close to Unitarian Christianity; others are unashamedly polytheistic.
A SHORT HISTORY OF MAGICK. Magick that was a common practice of the ancient and even prehistoric world is a truism today. The magical world of the shaman, the alchemist, the magi, the voodoo cult, and the medieval witchcraft trials have been given ample treatment in historical, archaeological, anthropological, and psychological literature. Most modern magical groups take much inspiration from two magical groups that developed in the Middle Ages–the Knights Templar and the Kabbalists.
KNIGHTS TEMPLAR. The Knights Templar was formed in 1118 by Hugh de Payens and Geoffrey de Saint-Omer. The group was sanctioned in its primal mission to protect Jerusalem for Christian pilgrims by the king of Jerusalem and by the pope. The order developed into a monastic and then a magical group, and much Gnostic-like theology was taught by Hugh and his followers. The group learned the "mysteries of true Christianity" from the Johannites, a magical sect operating in Jerusalem in the twelfth century. Caught in a power play with the king of France two hundred years after its founding, the wealthy and powerful organization was destroyed almost overnight, and Jacques de Molay, the leader, was burned at the stake. The charges of black magick leveled against them were never really proved, but that they were a magical fraternity is little doubted.
The role of the Templars in occult history received new life in the years immediately after the French revolution. Masonry arrived in France from Great Britain with a message that it was the product of knights who survived the fourteenth century holocaust by quietly settling in England. Out of the Masonic discussions of the templars there arose one Bernard-Raymond Fabré-Palaprat (1773–1838). In 1804 he announced that he had discovered documents proving that the old Templar Order had continued led by a succession of Grand Masters, the last of whom, Duke Louis Hercule Timoléon de Cross, was killed in 1792. Fabré-Palaprat thus was free to reconstitute the order and proclaim himself the new Grand Master. He also founded an associated esoteric Catholic "Johannine" church and consecrated its first bishop, Ferdinand-Francois Chatel (1795–1857).
The activity of Fabré-Palaprat and his successors infused Templar terminology into the European occult community and provided a foundation in both French and German-speaking lands upon which various "templar" organizations could be created. Among the groups that have roots in the neo-Templar worldview, if not direct organizational ties, are the German-based groups, the Ordo Templi Orientis (later made famous by Aleister Crowley) and the Ordo Nvi Templi founded by Jorg Länz von Liebenfels.
KABBALAH. Development of the Kabbalah from older Hebrew sources had begun in Babylon in the early Middle Ages. The most important book, the Book of Zolar, was a thirteenth century product of Moses de Leon (1250–1305). Kabbalists believe the world can be grasped through numbers and letters, and that their job is to discover the meaning hidden in the numbers and letters through traditional methods. The number "ten" is the basic organizing principle of the universe. Through the ten numbers (sephirot), the basic working principles of life are organized and are pictured in the Sephirotic tree. The Sephirot are emanations of God, who is at the top of the tree and man climbs the tree, by means of magick, to the divine.
Each Sephirot represents an aspect of life as well as a realm of attainment for the Kabbalistic student. Above the first Sephirot is the Ein Soph, the ineffable ground of all being, i.e., God. The Ein Soph emanates the ten Sephirot. Each Sephirot has a name and quality ascribed to it. They are as follows:1. Kether–being or existence;2. Chochmah–wisdom;3. Binah–intelligence or understanding;4. Chesed–mercy or love;5. Geburah–strength and/or severity;6. Tiphareth–beauty;7. Netzach–firmness;8. Hod–glory;9. Yesod–foundation;10. Malkuth–kingdom An eleventh Sephirot, not pictured, lies concealed behind and between Chochmah and Binah. It is Daath–knowledge (of the sexual kind, as spoken of in the opening chapters of Genesis). Daath often takes prominence in the systems of Kabbalistic groups that practice sex magick.
THE NINETEENTH CENTURY. Also developed in the Middle Ages (the fourteenth century) was the Tarot, though its present form is a nineteenth century refinement of the work of such men as éliphas Lévi, Aleister Crowley, and Arthur E. Waite. Each of the seventy-eight cards carries a complicated picture full of occult symbolism, much of it Kabbalistic. Today the Tarot is one of the most popular forms of divination.
The modern history of magick begins in the late eighteenth century when magical groups, no longer fearful of persecution, began to emerge into the public eye concurrently with the rise of a dilettante interest in occultism in Western Europe. In 1784, Ebenezer Sibley published his Celestial Sciences, which contained a lengthy section on magick and necromancy. That same year, Count de Gebelin published a book that connected the Tarot with the Egyptian Book of Thoth. At the turn of the century, Francis Barrett gathered a magical group around him, and in 1801 he published The Magus, which became that group's textbook on magicand alchemy.
The real impetus to the spread of magick came in the early 1800s when an ex-Catholic seminarian, Alphonse-Louis Constant, rediscovered the Kabbalah, the Tarot, and the whole magical tradition. He became familiar with Barrett's work and joined a group called the Saviours of Louis XVII. The group's leader, Ganneau, believed that he was the reincarnation of Louis XVII and preached a form of revolutionary royalism. Toward the mid-century, Constant left the group and in the 1850s published his Dogma and Ritual of High Magic followed by the History of Magic and Key of the Great Mysteries. In his writings, he claimed for magick both antiquity and potency and said it was the only universally valid religion. Constant, in publishing these books, took the Kabbalistic pen name éliphas Lévi. Lévi was to become over the next decades the teacher of the many magical traditions that began to flourish. Rosicrucians, ritual magicians, and witches all would look to Levi for direction, even as they formed highly differentiated groups.
RITUAL MAGICK. The rise of ritual magick is understandable only in light of the blending of several traditions that emerged forcefully in mid-nineteenth century England. On the one hand, Spiritualism and what was to become Theosophy were having a major cultural impact. (Spiritualists they received messages from the world of the spirits while Theosophist claimed contact with a groups of advanced occult Masters. By 1855, the Yorkshire Spiritual Telegraph, England's first Spiritualist newspaper, was founded.) This helped to stir popular interest in things supernatural. On the other hand, the magical writings of Lévi, the existence of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia (SRIA) and the continuing impact of speculative Freemasonry provided fertile soil in which new magical orders could grow. In the 1850s and 1860s, a group using Barrett's Magus gathered around the psychic Fred Hockley, trying to make use of magick formulas. In 1888, the two traditions merged to produce the Isis-Urania Temple of the Golden Dawn.
The founders of the temple and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn that it represented included the Rev. A. F. A. Woodford, Kenneth R. H. Mackenzie, Dr. Wynn Westcott, and S. L. MacGregor Mathers. All except Woodford had been members of the SRIA, but Woodford had been the one to inherit, in 1885, the magical manuscripts owned by Fred Hockley, upon which the ritual of OGD would be built. Westcott decoded the manuscripts, and Mathers systematized them into a useful form. The material also contained the Nuremberg mailing address of Anna Sprengel, who seemed to be a Rosicrucian of high degree. Mathers reportedly corresponded with her, receiving voluminous materials and the charter for the Isis-Urania Temple. Other temples were soon founded in Edinburgh, Weston-super-Mare, Bradford, and Paris.
In 1897, Westcott left the Order of the Golden Dawn, and Mathers took complete control. Mathers had already gained a wide reputation for his occult scholarship. He had reworked Barrett's texts and produced a grimore, or magical text, of superior quality. He also published a book on the Kabbalah. By 1892, he had moved to Paris. From there, he conducted the OGD.
Under Mathers' leadership the order developed a ritual and world view from which other groups would create variations. This system is generally termed Western magick. The basic idea was the Hermetic principle of the correspondence of the microcosm (the human being) and the macrocosm (the whole, the universe). Any principle that exists in the universe also exists in man. The trained occultist can become attuned to these cosmic forces. In the process, invocation and evocation become standard practices. Invocation is the "calling down" into the self of a cosmic force, with a purely psychological result. Evocation is the "calling up" of that same force from the depths of the self, and it may result in objective physical phenomena. The correspondences also include relationships between colors, shapes, Kabbalah, etc., and the universe. A second belief is in the will's power. The trained will can do anything. Central to magick is the will–its training and activity.
The ritual magician also looks to other planes of existence, usually referred to as astral planes. These planes are inhabited by entities other than human beings, to which names such as secret chiefs, Oliponthic forces, and the gods are given. Much magical work is in the astral. Finally, most ritual magicians have adopted a Kabbalistic initiation system wherein each grade is given a numerical symbol related to the Tree of Life. The numerical symbol uses two numbers, the number on the right being identical to the number of the Sephirot, and the number on the left being the opposite of that Sephirotic number. The names Zelator Adeptus Minor and Theoricus Adeptus Minor are simply two names for the same grade. The chart of the grades and their numerical symbols comes from Ritual Magic in England by Francis King.
|(The Link-Lord of the Paths of the Portal in the Vault of the Adepti.)|
|Neophyte||0° = 0°|
|Zelator||1° = 10°|
|Theoricus||2° = 9°|
|Practicus||3° = 8°|
|Philosophus||4° = 7°|
|Zelator Adeptus Minor||5° = 6°|
|Theoricus Adeptus Minor|
|Adeptus Major||6° = 5°|
|Adeptus Exemptus||7° = 4°|
(The Secret Chiefs)
|Magister Templi||8° = 3°|
|Magus||9° = 2°|
|Ipsissimus||10° = 1°|
All the founders of the OGD began as 7 degrees = 4 degrees, a degree conferred by Sprengel. (Mathers himself claimed to have contacted the secret chiefs in 1892.)
The most prominent member of the OGD was Aleister Crowley, whose magical thought has come to dominate modern magical practice. Reared in an Exclusive Plymouth Brethren home, Crowley had been introduced to magick in a book by Arthur E. Waite. His Kabbalistic studies led him in 1898 to the OGD. Crowley rose quickly in the order, but was refused initiation to Adeptus Minor because of his moral turpitude (in this case, homosexuality). However, Crowley went to Paris and was initiated (5° = 6°) by Mathers. His initiation led to a split in the order in London.
In 1904 Crowley received a communication in Cairo from the astral with instruction for the establishment of a new order, which he set up in 1907. It was called the Astrum Argentinum (silver star). In 1909, he began publishing the Equinox to spread his ideas.
Crucial to understanding Crowley and his followers is Crowley's Cairo revelation. At this time an entity called Aiwass communicated a prose poem entitled Liber al Vel Legis, i.e., The Book of Law. The Egyptian magick favored by Crowley is manifested in this cryptic work, which divides history into the aeon of Isis (or matriarchy) until 500 B.C.E., the aeon of Osiris (or patriarchy) until 1904, and the aeon of Horus beginning in 1904. The aeon of Horus, the son, is one of the dominance of Thelema or Will. From the book came Crowley's themes: "'Do what thou wilt' shall be the whole of the Law;" "Every man and every woman is a star," and "Love is the Law, Love under Will." These three phrases constantly reappear in Crowley's writing. By them, Crowley meant that each person is to move in his true course through the cosmos as marked out by the nature of his position, the law of his growth, and the impulse of his past. One's duty is to be determined to experience the suitable event at each moment. Love is an art of uniting with a part of Nuit, the total possibilities of every kind. Each act must be willed so as to fulfill, not thwart, one's true nature.
Around the turn of the century, Karl Keller founded the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO), a ritual magick group that taught sex magick. Crowley joined the OTO and was made the head of its British affiliate. OTO sexual magick seems to have arisen from the discussions of occult perspectives on sexuality that had been held in a number of different occult groups. Given the circulation of the oriental sex manuals discovered, translated and published by Sir Richard Burton, it is not surprising that in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century individuals began to explore the possibilities of sex magic. Aleister Crowley discovered sex magic in the process of working on some rituals and was aware of its potential prior to his encounter with the OTO.
Crowley immediate jumped into a leadership position in the OTO and led it during the last quarter century of his life. Upon his death in 1947, Karl Johannes Germer succeeded to the outer headship of the order. Germer had been with Crowley in England, but returned to Germany in the 1930s. He was arrested in Hitler's purges of occult groups and spent some time in a concentration camp.
He was deported in 1941 and came to the United States. He died in 1962 without designating a successor. In continental Europe, Karl Metzger, a Swiss disciple, assumed leadership; in England, Kenneth Grant filled the vacuum. No leader was present in America for several years until the end of the 1960s. Grady Mc-Murtry emerged claiming authority from several letters he had been sent by Crowley in the 1940s that authorized him to act in the event of a lack of leadership.
RITUAL MAGICK IN AMERICA. Ritual magick was brought to America from Britain by Americans who had joined the OGD. However, the real beginning stemmed from Crowley's several visits in 1905 and 1915. Shortly before World War I, Charles Stansfeld Jones (Frater Achad) opened OTO branches in Vancouver, Los Angeles, and (possibly) Washington, D.C. Jones was Crowley's magical child, but the two soon split. Crowley visited the Vancouver lodge in 1915. He met Winifred T. Smith (Frater 132) while there and gave permission to open an OTO lodge, which he did. Smith moved to Pasadena, California, and, upon Achad's fall from favor with Crowley, became head of the American OTO. Smith's move to Pasadena begins one of the most bizarre episodes in American religious history.
Once in Pasadena, Smith seduced Helen Parsons, the wife of Frater 210, known in public life as John W. (Jack) Parsons, an explosives expert and key man at the California Institute of Technology, who had joined Smith's OTO lodge in Pasadena. After Helen had a child by Smith, Parsons took Betty, Helen's younger sister, as his mistress and magical partner. At this point, probably in 1945, a new Frater in the person of L. Ron Hubbard appeared on the scene, and two distinct accounts exist as to what happened between Parsons and his new "assistant."
According to recent accounts published by the OTO, Parsons developed an immediate liking for Hubbard and took him into the OTO work, though Hubbard never formally became a member, nor was he properly initiated. The two worked together on several magical operations, including an attempt to produce a moonchild. In this process, while Parsons engaged in ritual intercourse, Hubbard acted as a seer to describe the concurrent events on the astral plane. The act was supposed to induce a spirit into the child produced by the intercourse.
Early in 1946, Parsons and Hubbard had a parting of the ways. Parsons claimed that Hubbard had persuaded him to sell the property of the Agape Lodge, after which Hubbard, along with Parsons' sister-in-law Betty, absconded with the money. Hubbard's wife filed for divorce. He reappeared on a newly purchased yacht off the Florida coast. Parsons pursued him, and on July 5, 1946, a confrontation occurred. Hubbard had sailed at 5 P.M. At 8 , Parsons performed a full invocation to "Bartzabel." At that same moment a squall struck the yacht and ripped the sails, thus forcing Hubbard to port. Parsons was able to recover only a small percentage of the money, however.
Hubbard's account (and that of the present day Church of Scientology that he founded), denies any attachment of Hubbard to the OTO. Rather, the church claims that Hubbard was sent to investigate Parsons because the Pasadena headquarters of the Lodge also housed a number of nuclear physicists who lived there while working at Cal Tech. These physicists were among 64 later dismissed from government service as insecure. Hubbard asserts that due to his efforts the headquarters were torn down, a girl rescued from the group, and the group ultimately destroyed.
Both stories stand and in fact may be genuine perceptions of the events since Hubbard obviously did not make his "investigative" function known until some years later. Hubbard's story is consistent with the observation that the present Church of Scientology shows no direct OTO influence.
Though weakened by Hubbard's actions, the Agape Lodge was not destroyed by him. Parsons did that himself. In 1949, he took the oath of AntiChrist and adopted the magical name "Belarion Armiluss Al Dajjal AntiChrist." Then in 1952, in a still unexplained occurrence, he was killed when his home laboratory exploded. According to the late Louis T. Culling, Parsons had been making bootleg nitroglycerine to sell to earn money to keep the work going after the loss of the Lodge's treasury.
Besides the Agape Lodge, several other lodges were formed in the years after World War I. One of these was the Choronzon Club, or Great Brotherhood of God (GBG), formed in Chicago in 1931. The head of the GBG was C. F. Russell, who had been with Crowley in Sicily; Russell later split with Crowley. Among the Choronzon Club's members was Louis T. Culling, who in 1969, published its ritual as the Complete Magical Curriculum of the GBG. Its three degrees were preceded by some basic occult training. The sexual magick began with Alphaism, a discipline of complete chastity in thought, word and deed; moved to Dianism, or Karezza, prolonged sexual congress without orgasm, and finished with Quodosch, similar to the completed heterosexual activity of the OTO ninth degree. Culling, head of the San Diego Lodge of the Great Brotherhood of God, left in 1938 to join the OTO.
Another derivative of the Order of the Golden Dawn was the Order of the Portal, a lodge headquartered in Boston in the late 1920s and early 1930s. It was headed by Aleta Baker and was the most overtly Christian of the various OGD offshoots, though it emphasized belief in the bisexuality of God and the equality of woman.
Little information is available on the present practices of ritual magick groups. They are secret material, given in written form to only a few leaders and carefully guarded by the members. However, rituals used by a number of defunct lodges have become available. The publication of the OGD rituals resulted in the dissolution of two groups that were using them. The published rituals show a remarkable similarity; present rituals are most certainly derivatives of these, with changes suitable to particular needs and uses. Also, in recent years, almost all of the rituals of the OTO have been published.
WITCHCRAFT. The current growth of witchcraft (the craft of the wicca or wise ones) can be dated to 1951, when the last of the British witchcraft laws was repealed, and to the subsequent publication in 1954 of Witchcraft Today by Gerald B. Gardner, a self-proclaimed witch from the Isle of Man in Britain. Gardner's book signaled to the world that witches still existed. His work was based upon the thesis of Margaret Murray that witchcraft had existed since pre-Christian times in small, scattered, occult groups practicing the old pagan religion and hidden in fear of persecution. Many contemporary witches accepted Murray's historical thesis, but the legitimacy of her conclusions is now a matter of intense debate in the occult community.
There can be little doubt that various, mostly agricultural religions existed in Europe at the time that the Christian Church was in the process of becoming the dominant religious form of Europe. There is also little doubt that in the 1500s, the church turned its inquisitional powers on something called witchcraft. What was described as witchcraft was a mixture of the local religions, a number of things the church wished to suppress, and many things that existed solely in the imaginations of the early inquisitors. It was during this era that various new images of witchcraft, particularly the one connecting it with Satan worship, were published.
Many men, women, and even children died in the witch scare that gripped Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In the face of the myth of satanic witchcraft, some genuine Satanists and even genuine witches arose. The most famous incident was the Black Mass scandal that rocked the court of Louis XIV and led to the arrest of more than 300 persons. In the 1670s, Madame LaVoisin, one of Louis XIV's mistresses, suspected she was losing Louis' affection and hired a priest to say Black Masses, hoping thereby to win back the king. Some of the masses included the killing of babies; some of the masses were offered on Madame LaVoisin's nude body. Louis imprisoned or banished the participants in the heinous affairs.
Contemporary witchcraft bears little resemblance to the witchcraft described in the literature of the witchcraft trials. Going beyond the medieval image, modern witches try to separate themselves from any connection with Satanism. Rather than reacting to Christianity (i.e., being anti-Christians), they see themselves as an alternative faith (like Buddhism or Islam). As magicians, they have selected the old faiths of Europe with which to identify.
Just what are the elements of wiccan faith? This question is not an easy one to answer, there being a wide variety of definitions in the literature. First, witchcraft is a religion. There is much more to the adherents' faith than just magick. Witchcraft offers a world-view, a relationship to deity, a community for worship, and an ethical code. Of course, magick and psychic development are a part of the religion; much of the ritual and energy of witches is spent in their practice. "Witchcraft is the raising and manipulation of psychic power," says one witch.
Wicca is polytheistic, finding its pantheon in various European pre-Christian nature religions. The prime deities are the Goddess and God, usually represented as the Triple Goddess and Horned God. The triple aspects of the Goddess are maiden, mother, and crone. There are different explanations of the origin of these gods, although most agree that the Goddess is ascendant in modern cultic expressions. Psychic development, besides being training for magick, is also for communion with the deity. (The Horned God was connected with Satan by medieval witch-hunters, and Satan has been pictured since with a goatee and cloven hoofs.)
The two essential books of the witch are the grimoire and the book of shadows. The grimoire is the book of spells and magical procedures. The best known grimoires are medieval: the Greater Key of Solomon the King and The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abra-Melin the Mage, both translated and published in the late 1800s. The book of shadows is the traditional book of rituals. According to custom, it is copied by hand by each individual witch, and thus no two copies are alike.
The basic organization of witches is the coven, though there is also an associational tie between covens of like belief and practice, especially where one coven has broken off from another and owes its initiation to the other. Such a relationship exists in the Gardnerian covens; they each consist of 13 people (an optimum number that may vary from four to 20) who meet regularly to practice witchcraft. The regular meeting of the coven is called an esbat; but eight times per year there are seasonal festivals, the sabbats. The most famous festival is October 31, Halloween or Samhaim. Others include Candlemas or Oimelc (February 2), May Eve or Beltane (April 30), August Eve or Lammas (August 1), and the lesser sabbats–the two solstices (June 22 and December 22) and the equinoxes (March 21 and September 21). The eight festivals are reflected in the common practice of publishing witch-oriented periodicals eight times per year.
Most covens have both a basic initiation and higher initiations that are reserved for potential and actual priests and priestesses, who are the coven leaders. There are usually three degrees that require a year and a day between each initiation. Work within the coven is done with a magick circle of nine feet in diameter drawn on the floor or ground. Magick is done within the circle, which functions both for protection and concentration. Within the circle are placed the various magical items. They include the athame (a ritual knife), the pentacle (a disc-shaped talisman), a chalice, and a sword. These items vary from coven to coven. The athame is most ubiquitous.
Many covens worship in the nude (i.e., skyclad); but in the majority, street clothes or ritual robes are worn. When the robe is worn it is bound with a cord, the color of which designates the degree of initiation. The work of the coven covers all religious practices (psychic healing and problem-solving playing a big part) and includes hand fasting (marriage).
Witches share with all magicians a belief in reincarnation and the manipulative world-view. They also place belief in the power of spells. They cast spells for the healing of themselves and others, for their own betterment (financially, sexually) and, on rare occasions, against someone else. For most witches, the magical world-view is tempered by a poetic-mystical appreciation of nature. In their writings are numerous references to ecology, to living naturally and, in a few cases, to vegetarianism. For most, acceptance of the gods is a poetic expression of attunement with the forces of life.
AFRICAN WITCHCRAFT. Voodoo, the major folk religion of Haiti, is an African form of magick and witchcraft mixed with New World elements, complete with the ruling mother goddess, a pantheon of lesser deities (correlated to specific human needs), a psychic ritual, and a manipulative world-view. Voodoo has a significant history in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, particularly in the Creole country. In the nineteenth century, Dr. John and, later, Marie Laveau, the voodoo queen of New Orleans, openly flaunted their magical powers in public. They were followed by Dr. Alexander and Lou Johnson.
For a number of reasons, modern witchcraft practice has had little input from voodooism, apart from the romantic aura of the word. This lack of intercourse can be traced to a number of elements, the same that have prevented many books on voodoo from appearing. Voodoo is not a literary religion; this source material must be gathered directly from practitioners. Practitioners are few in number and hard to find. They are mostly members of the black community or recent immigrants from the Caribbean. The latter often have a language barrier to overcome.
As the term "voodoo" is found in popular American usage, it refers to at least four distinct phenomena. The first, voodoo proper, is the magical religion brought from Haiti in the late 1700s. It is a mixture of French Catholicism and the religion of the Ibos, Magos and Dahomeans. Its leading god is Damballah, the serpent. The second, Santeria, is a mixture of Iberian Catholicism and Yoruba religion. Its main god is Chango, god of fire and stone. It is found throughout most of Latin America, and in Brazil is called Macumba. The third, the Conjure Man (or Root Doctor) in the Southern United States, is an adoption by blacks of European magick but is associated with voodoo because of the mystique of New Orleans. This phenomenon does not seem to produce groups, as such. The fourth, the Bruja (or Latin American witch), is often placed under the voodoo label, but is more closely related to the folk witchcraft traditions. Besides the widespread practice of voodoo and Santeria, as evidenced by the numerous botanicas (stores that sell magical ingredients) in most urban centers, there are at least three public voodoo-like groups.
Voodoo and its relatives exist in America today; its outward manifestations can be found in the black, Puerto Rican, and Cuban communities of major cities of the United States and in the occult supply shops that sell magical items. Such items include yerbabuena and perejil, herbs which, when used properly, are assumed to have powers to keep away evil. Other items, such as bat's blood and graveyard dust, are also available.
WITCHCRAFT IN AMERICA. The history of witchcraft in America begins with the first settlers. As early as 1636, New England colonists felt a need to pass a law against witchcraft. In 1648, the first execution under this law occurred. (Note: There is little similarity between witches as defined by seventeenth century Puritans and contemporary practitioners of the craft.) New England persecution of witches reached a climax at Salem in 1692. Spurred by confessions of occult practices by a Jamaican servant and the finding of voodoo dolls at the home of Goodwife Nurse, the community launched a massive witch-hunt that led to the deaths of a number of persons. In the wake of the killings, realization by the community of what it had done led to reaction against any belief whatsoever in the existence of witches. The history of American witchcraft then switches to Pennsylvania.
Among the Pennsylvania Dutch there is the survival of what seems to be a genuine "witchcraft-like" practice, locally termed powwowing. One must call it witchcraft-like because, while it involves magick and the psychic, it is theologically a Christian derivative with Kabbalistic elements. The practitioners are Bible believers, who feel themselves to be supernaturally endowed with their powers. The most obvious manifestations of the powwow power are the many colorful hex signs on the farmhouses in Eastern Pennsylvania. Each sign is a circle; within the circle are birds, hexagonal stars, etc.
Powwowers are, in essence, Christianized witches working in the agricultural society of the Pennsylvania Dutch. They have a grimoire (a book of spells and magical procedures), The Long Lost Friend, by John Hohman, and they are as feared for their ability to hex as they are liked and sought after for their ability to heal. The Long Lost Friend, first published in 1819, is an eclectic compilation from the Kabbalah, Albertus Magus (a magician), German folklore, folk medicine, etc.
No group of what could be called a powwow cult exists, but the power of powwow belief is demonstrated by the sporadic trials of people for murder and various lesser offenses because of "victims' beliefs that they were hexed."
The magical folklore that produced the powwow practices can be traced to medieval Germany and was brought to America by the Rosicrucians who settled in Germantown, Pennsylvania, in the 1690s. When their group, known as the Woman in the Wilderness, dissolved, its members passed its teaching on as a popular magical lore. The lore included a belief in astrology, amulets and charms, herbal medicine, and the psychic powers of gifted people.
Prior to the 1960s, there were only a few manifestations of witchcraft in America apart from the powwow men. There were isolated areas that had the equivalent of the powwower, but not in such strength or prominence. Such an area was the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia and Pennsylvania, where practitioners had a German heritage. Occasionally, there was a witchcraft trial such as the one that occurred in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1939. A woman accused a local "witch" of casting spells against her. The "witch" was found guilty and expelled from the community.
THE GARDNERIAN REVIVAL. Many contemporary witches claim associations with witches, covens, and/or a faith that they can trace backward for many generations. However, little evidence to substantiate those claims has been brought forward and several have proved to be without any basis in fact. Most witches are converts who have come into the movement since 1960. While a few can trace their ancestry to individuals accused of witchcraft in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, there is no evidence of any survival of the practice within the families during the intervening centuries.
During the 1970s, a few active covens with a history pre-dating 1960 were located, but overwhelmingly, modern witchcraft can be traced to the work of Gerald B. Gardner (1884–1964), a retired British civil servant. Gardner had only a minimal amount of education and in his teen years moved to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), where he worked on a plantation. During the next thirty-nine years he worked at various government and private jobs throughout India and Southeast Asia. He became an accomplished amateur anthropologist and authored the standard work on the kris, the Indonesian ceremonial weapon. In Palestine, he participated in the excavation of a site centered upon the worship of the goddess Astaroth.
Upon his return to England just before World War II, Gardner associated himself with the Corona Fellowship of Rosicrucians, founded by Mabel Besant-Scott, daughter of theosophist Annie Besant. Through the group, he met some witches who introduced him to one Dorothy Clutterbuck. According to Gardner, she initiated him into witchcraft. After the death of the priestess of the coven to which he belonged, he was allowed to describe some of the life of the group in a novel, High Magic's Aid (1949), published under his magical name, "Scire." Then in 1954, following the repeal of the Witchcraft Laws in England in 1951, he published Witchcraft Today, which gave a more detailed picture of what Gardner described as a dying religion. The book, however, initiated a revival of interest, and led to a new generation of witches who turned to Gardner for initiation.
Recent research has done much to discredit Gardner's account of the rise of modern witchcraft. Examination of his papers sold to "Ripley's Believe It or Not" by his daughter and the publication of several sets of rituals that he and his associates gave to various initiates, have disclosed a radically different account of the origin of Gardnerian witchcraft. Rather than being initiated into a preexisting Wiccan religion, it appears Gardner created the new religion out of bits and pieces of Eastern religions and Western occult and magical material.
Basic rituals were adapted from ritual magic texts such as the Greater Key of Solomon, the writings of Aleister Crowley, and Freemasonry (into which Gardner had been initiated in Ceylon). Beginning with the eight ancient Pagan Sabbats (agricultural festivals) as major holy days, he added regular biweekly gatherings at the esbats full and new moon. From the Malayan kris, he developed the athame, (the witch's ritual knife). Having become a practitioner of nudism as a result of sunbaths taken while recovering from an illness, he ordained that rituals were to be done in the nude, or skyclad (a term used to describe the nude sadhus of India). He also incorporated several Eastern religious practices (ritual scourging) and beliefs (karma and reincarnation). In 1948 he published a novel, A Goddess Arrives, which described a Goddess-worshipping faith.
By 1954 Gardner and the small group he had gathered around him had created Wicca (or Wica), a religion more accommodating to a popular audience than ritual magic could ever be. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, Wiccan initiates took Gardner's rituals and formed separate covens, and slowly the movement began to spread. One initiate, Alexander Sanders (d. 1988), revised the rituals slightly and began a new "Alexanderian" lineage of witchcraft. Though beginning entirely from Gardnerian rituals, Sanders created a fictionalized story of his having begun his career in witchcraft after being initiated as a child by his grandmother. Sybil Leek, another witch who began her practice with Gardnerian rituals, came to America in the late 1960's. Before becoming famous as a professional occultist, she formed several covens in different locations around the United States.
The Gardnerian origin of contemporary covens is often obscured by the adoption of designations such as "traditional" and "hereditary" to indicate their allegiance to a non-Gardnerian form of witchcraft and by implication their derivation from a pre-Gardnerian lineage of Witchcraft. However, while covens deviate at particular points, they all adhere to Gardner's original belief system, retain the unique elements of Gardnerian ritual, and perpetuate the overall pattern of practice that he originated. Certainly, numerous variations of his original rituals have been developed and a few entirely new sets of rituals composed, but all have proved to be products of the post-Gardnerian era, and follow the ritual pattern he established in the 1950s.
Witches may practice alone, but most are organized into covens, which meet biweekly at the new and full moon and eight times per year for the major holidays. Most covens have abandoned nudity and do their rituals in robes, though strict Gardnerians and Alexanderians retain the practice.
GARDNERIAN WICCA IN THE UNITED STATES. Gardnerian Wicca or Witchcraft was brought to the United States in the mid-1960s by Raymond and Rosemary Buckland. Longtime students of the occult, they heard of Gardner and traveled to the Isle of Man, where he operated a witchcraft and magic museum. There they went through a intensive program in Gardner's witchcraft and were initiated into both the first and second degrees (which is contrary to standard practice that requires a year and a day between initiations). Upon their return, they formed a coven on Long Island and became the center of a burgeoning movement. Much of the spread of the movement was due to the Bucklands' availability to the media whose interest was sparked both by the witchcraft museum they owned and their willingness to be interviewed and photographed as witches.
Soon after witchcraft spread across America, other people attracted to the Goddess faith began to create variations on it. One set of variations became known as neopaganism. Donna Cole, a Chicago witch who had received her initiation in England in the late 1960s, composed a set of rituals, similar to Gardner's but much more worshipful and celebrative and less focused upon magic. These rituals circulated through the witchcraft community in the United States and became the basis of a set of Pagan Way temples, several of which served as outer courts for the more secret and exclusive witchcraft groups. The term "neopaganism" was actually coined by Tim Zell (now known as Otter Zell), who also composed a set of alternative rituals and founded a new group, the Church of All Worlds.
Neopagan groups differ primarily from witchcraft groups by their rejection of the designation "witch." They will also occasionally vary by their use of a term other than "coven" to designate groups (nest, grove, etc.) or by their adoption of a particular pre-Christian tradition (Druidic, Norse, Egyptian) from which to draw the inspiration and symbology of their ritual life. For purposes of this encyclopedia, all witchcraft and neopagan groups will be treated as products of the Gardnerian revival, from which they are believed to have originated.
SATANISM. Often confused with witchcraft is the worship of Satan; witches, however, are quick to protest such identification and to assert the strong distinction between the two. The basic distinction is the relation to Christianity. Witchcraft logically (if not chronologically) pre-dates Christianity. That is, it exists in its own right, much as other non-Christian religions. (There is some doubt that any religion can grow up in Western culture without direct reaction to Christianity, but the witches are certainly articulating the possibility.) Witchcraft exists as an alternative to the Christian faith, much as do Buddhism and Hinduism.
Satanism, on the other hand, is logically subsequent to Christianity and draws on it in representing an overthrow of the Christian deity in favor of its adversary. It stands in polemical relation to Christianity and, in both belief and ritual, uses Christian elements, which are changed and given new meaning. The most famous element used by Satanists is the Black Mass, an obvious corruption of Christian liturgies.
Apart from their allegiance to Satan and resultant dislike for the Christian church, Satanists do share in common the magical world-view of witches. Many Satanists openly claim witchcraft as their own. Their most vocal exponent, Anton LaVey (1930–1997), has entitled one of his books The Compleat Witch. Satanists have as an unwitting ally the conservative Christian press, which would like to brand witches as Satanists (and lump all psychics in with them). They are also aided by a tradition stemming from the era of the great witch trials, when witchcraft was defined as the worship of Satan. One could easily make the case that contemporary Satanism is a product of Christian polemics. Paranoid perceptions of "the enemy" have led to irrational accusations concerning beliefs, obscenities, profanities, rituals and behavior patterns. These accusations merely gave people new ideas; the anti-witch books became the textbooks for Satanic practices.
Contemporary Satanism seems to have little connection organizationally with earlier Satanism. Books on black magick, Satanism, and the psychic in general seem to provide the source, and the contemporary psychic scene, the setting, from which Satanic practices could emerge. The magical writings of Aleister Crowley have been influential in many areas.
Satanists do share a number of symbols (and ritual practices) with all magical religions, but several are unique and distinctive. The inverted pentagram, the five-pointed star with the single point down, is the most frequently used. The Horned God in the form of the goat of Mendes is common. The pentagram is often stamped upon the goat's forehead. Not seen as often as some might think is the black inverted cross. With the decline in power of the Roman Catholic Church (since the days of the Holy Roman Empire), from which most Satanists come, the Black Mass is not practiced much.
As one studies the contemporary Satanist scene, two distinct realities emerge. On the one hand, there are those groups that are frequently termed the "sickies." These are disconnected groups of occultists who employ Satan worship to cover a variety of sexual, sado-masochistic, clandestine, psychopathic, and illegal activities. They typically engage in grave-robberies, sexual assaults and bloodletting (both animal and human), and are characterized by a lack of theology, an informality of gatherings, ephemeral life, and disconnectedness from other similar group. Usually they are discovered only in the incident that breaks up the group.
On the other hand, there are the public groups that take Satanism as a religion seriously and have developed articulate theologies that do not resemble in many ways what one might expect. Their systems closely resemble liberal Christian theologies with the addition of a powerful cultural symbol (Satan), radically redefined. There is a wide gulf between the second type of Satanist and its "sick" cousin. While, theologically, the Christian might find both reprehensible, their behavior is drastically different and the groups should not be confused.
During the mid-1970s, Satanism experienced a significant decline. Several new Satanist groups did appear, the most notable being the Temple of Set, which developed a rather unique Satanic theology based upon Egyptian motifs. By the mid-1980s, while Satanism itself showed little sign of a revival, a new wave of anti-Satanism began to emerge around charges that Satanist groups were actually present in large numbers and that proof of their existence was in process of coming forth. Some saw the emergence of Satanic symbols in the youth culture as a sign that a heavy recruitment of teenagers was occurring. Evidence cited for Satanic activity, though they were virtually invisible, included the overt Satanic themes that had begun to appear in rock music, the popular fantasy game Dungeons and Dragons, and the testimony of former Satanists converted to evangelical Christianity.
More sinister Satanist groups were reportedly centered upon the ritual abuse of children. Some law enforcement officials claimed to see an increase in ritually slaughtered animals. However, in spite of attempts to locate Satanist groups by law enforcement officials and widespread attention focused by anti-Satanist groups, direct evidence of any significant new growth of Satanism has yet to be produced and much counter evidence has surfaced. Many of the claims of ritual abuse of children and even the stories of some evangelical Christian converts have proved unfounded and/or based on a hoax. In the mid-1970s an extensive study of more than 12,000 reports of Satanic activity failed to produce a single Satanist or Satanic group.
Sources–The Magick Family
A large collection of materials on the revival of magical religion in the last half of the twentieth century can be found in the American Religions Collection at Davidson Library at the University of California-Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, California.
Bonewits, P. E. I. Real Magic. Berkeley, Calif.: Creative Arts Book Co., 1979.
Green, Marian. Magic for the Aquarian Age. Wellingborough, North-amptonshire, England: Aquarian Press, 1983.
Mauss, Marcel. A General Theory of Magic. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1972.
Melton, J. Gordon, and Isotta Poggi. Magic, Witchcraft and Paganism inAmerica, A Bibliography. New York: Garland Publishing, 1992.
History of Magic
Cavendish, Richard. A History of Magic. New York: Taplinger Publishing, 1977.
Gilbert, R. A. The Golden Dawn, Twilight of the Magicians. Wellingbo-rough: Aquarian Press, 1983.
Howe, Ellic. The Alchemist of the Golden Dawn. Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, England: Aquarian Press, 1985.
——. The Magicians of the Golden Dawn. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972.
King, Francis. Ritual Magic in England. London: Neville Spearman, 1970.
McIntosh, Christopher. Eliphas Levi and the French Occult Revival. New York: Samuel Weiser, 1974.
Thomas, Keith. Religion and the Decline of Magic. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1971.
Webb, James. The Occult Establishment. LaSalle, IL: Open Court Publishing, 1976.
——. The Occult Underground. LaSalle, IL: Open Court Publishing, 1974.
Ashcroft-Nowicki, Dolores. First Steps in Ritual. Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, England: Aquarian Press, 1982.
Conway, David. Magic, An Occult Primer. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1972.
Crowley, Aleister. Magick in Theory and Practice. New York: Castle Books, n.d.
Gilbert, R. A. The Golden Dawn, Twilight of the Magicians. Wellingbo-rough, Northamptonshire, England: Aquarian Press, 1983.
Greer, Mary K. Woman of the Golden Dawn. Rochester, VT: Park Street Press, 1995. 489 pp.
King, Francis. Techniques of High Magic. New York: Warner Destiny Books, 1976.
Levi, Eliphas. The History of Magic. London: W. Rider & Sons, 1913.
McIntosh, Christopher. The Devil's Book Bookshelf. Wellingborough, Northamptionshire, England: Aquarian Press 1985.
Regardie, Israel. Ceremonial Magic. Wellingborough, Northampton-shire, England: Aquarian Press, 1980.
Smith, Timothy D'arch. The Books of the Beast. Wellingborough, North-amptonshire, England: Crucible, 1987.
——. Transcendental Magic. London: G. Redway, 1896.
Baroja, Julio Caro. The World of the Witches. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965.
Berger, Helen A. A Community of Witches: Contemporary Neo-Paganism and Witchcraft in the United States. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1999. 148 pp.
Boyer, Paul, and Stephen Nissenbaum. Salem Possessed. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1974.
Clifton, Chas. S., ed. Witchcraft Today. Book One: The Modern Craft Movement. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 1992.
Hansen, Chadwick. Witchcraft at Salem. New York: New American Library, 1969.
Kieckhefer, Richard. European Witch Trials. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976.
Monter, E. William. European Witchcraft. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1969, Russell, Jeffery Burton. A History of Witchcraft. London: Thames and Hudson, 1980.
Gonzalez-Wippler, Migene. Santeria. New York: Julian Press, 1973. Haskins, James. Witchcraft, Mysticism and Magic in the Black World. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1974.
Langguth, A. J. Macumba. New York: Harper & Row, 1975.
Murphy, Joseph M. Santeria: African Spirits in America. Boston: Beacon Press, 1993.
Pelton, Robert W. The Complete Book of Voodoo. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1972.
Modern Witchcraft and Paganism
Adler, Margot. Drawing Down the Moon. New York: Penguin, 1997. 584 pp.
Berger, Helen A. A Community of Witches: Contemporary Neo-Paganism and Witchcraft in the United States. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1999. 148 pp.
A Book of Pagan Rituals. New York: Samuel Weiser, 1978.
Bracelin, J. L. Gerald Gardner: Witch. London: Octagon Press, 1960. Clifton, Chas. Witchcraft Today. 3 vols. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 1992, 1993, 1994.
Farrar, Janet, and Stewart Farrar. Eight Sabbats for Witches. London: Robert Hale, 1981.
——. The Witches' Way. London: Robert Hale, 1984.
Farrar, Stewart. What Witches Do. New York: Coward, McCann & Geohegan, 1971.
Gardner, Gerald. Witchcraft Today. London: Jarrolds, 1968.
Harvey, Graham. Contemporary Paganism: Listening People, Speaking Earth. New York: New York University Press, 1997. 250 pp.
Kelly, Aidan A. Crafting the Art of Magic. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 1991.
Luhrmann, T. M. Persuasions of the Witch's Craft: Ritual Magic in Contemporary England. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press,1991.
Miller, David L. The New Polytheism. New York: Harper & Row, 1974.
Starhawk. Dreaming in the Dark. Boston: Beacon Press, 1982.
——. The Spiral Dance. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1979.
Valiente, Doreen. An ABC of Witchcraft. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1973.
——. The Rebirth of Witchcraft. Custer, WA: Phoenix Publishing Inc., 1989.
Ashton, John. The Devil in Britain and America. Ann Arbor, MI: Gryphon Books, 1971.
Laver, James. The First Decadent. New York: Citadel Press, 1955.
Lyons, Arthur. Satan Wants You. New York: The Mysterious Press, 1988.
Richardson, James T., Joel Best, and David G. Bromley. The SatanismScare. New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 1991.
Wolfe, Burton H. The Devil's Avenger. New York: Pyramid Books, 1974.