The American Council of Witches: 13 Principles of Witchcraft and Witchfest '74

    This is more of an essay and review than a blog entry, but I think it’s worth the read.

    After many years of trying to track down what actually happened at WitchFest 1974, and who was there and who was actually responsible for the 13 Principles of Witchcraft, I was given a lead by a dear friend who said, well, didn't you read the Playboy article on the 74 Witchfest?

    Playboy??? Who knew???  Well, I hurried up to eBay, that source of all things old, ancient or just not wanted, and found a copy from July 1974. With shipping, it came to about $6.00. Yes, I bought Playboy for the article. Deal with it...

    So, I got the issue about a week later and sat down that evening with my cuppa coffee in front of the fire, and proceeded to dig into the article. It is written by Mordecai Rickler, who comes equipped with lots of skepticism and tongue in cheek remarks. Note a spew alert!  He really makes this funny!

    The event takes place at Hyatt Lodge, Minneapolis, and is listed as the Third Annual Gnostic Aquarian Festival of Astrology, Mind Power, Occult Sciences & Witchcraft in the New Age.  Needless to say, after reading that article, it is obvious why these folks choose not to be known as the witches who were at that gathering. After all, 73 witches on the council and no where on the web does it mention the entire cast of players. Nor does Llewellyn, who put on the party bash, speak of it on their website. You would think they would be proud to have their name associated with the Witches Council of 1974 and the 13 Principles of Witchcraft?

    Mr. Rickler makes a valid point in his article. We are looking at players. We are looking at folks who are after the $$$, the book contract and the Crown of Queen of the Witches. We are looking at Gavin and Yvonne Frost giving classes to harness sex energy by not having an orgasm. We see a very young Isaac Bonewits, only 22 at the time, discussing his ability to cure blood diseases and control the weather. Tim Zell, not to be outdone, also tries to make it rain. Actually, many of the players try to make it rain.  We have all sorts of people discussing themselves in the past and present, former lifetimes, current lifetimes, and astral lifetimes. We have way too many kings and queens reincarnated, you know that.

    The best was a glimpse of (the now late) Lady Sheba. At a private meeting, we have her declaring that she IS the queen of the witches, she always HAS BEEN the queen of the witches (since Camelot), that she WILL publish the Temple books, and "If you won't follow me, there are thousands who will." Mr. Rickler makes note of her Kentucky accent and the following temper tantrum where George Lincoln (he is noted as a lecturer and consultant on witchcraft and there is a complete fashion statement that follows) challenges Lady Sheba "In the name of the Great White Brotherhood, do you stand in the light?" She replies with a challenge for him to meet her in the "astral".  Go for it!  Gavin Frost is referenced as Gavin of Boskednan. Hmmmm...   We have Crescent Dragonwagon, Officer J. P. Little, Carl Weschcke and his wife Sandra. We have Lady Circe, Lady Cybele, Charles Leach, Morning Glory, Russ Michael, even Jehovah... wow.

    The story is well worth the price of the magazine for the entertainment value, the historical rendering of a point in time, and a look at where some of today’s authors came from, and what some of our authors were like back then. It is too precious not to acquire if you are into the craft history in the US.

    The American Council of Witches in 1974 presented the world with the "new witchcraft" and made Wicca do a left turn from the traditional British Witchcraft that we had up to that time. It was a marker for the US to take off on its own and explore spirituality in a new light.  Or so I am told.  That the messengers were just a little bit "off" is probably inconsequential, but the message that came out of that was we were different, we were liberated and we are going to plow forward and create something new.  Oh, yea, right.

    There were a few bucks to be made here, and you know that was the focus of most of the parties present. We are looking at publishing deals, books to sell to the occult starved American public, TV contracts, talk shows. Well, if you look at it that way... not much has changed, has it? We still have authors fighting for publicity any way they can get it, book contracts being a key element to a free ride, witch schools looking to jump in bed with the media.  And since I have written this article, about 7 years ago, the next generation of witch  authors seem to be following the same path.

    For all things have changed, some things have not.

    Least we become jaded with the history, remember; the practice has become individualistic. We each come to our path in our own way. While the books help, they are not the only source, nor should they be the main source of our practices. We are practicing for our own reasons, not someone else's.  And we follow our own paths.  They just sometimes point us in the right direction.

    But it is interesting to see where this all started. And it is an amusing read.

    Further research brings into play that some folks claim to have written Carl Weschcke about this whole affair.  The supposed replies vary.  I can not really place any stock in the material as it does not seem to be consistent.  Some supposed correspondences with Carl say that Carl could not remember who was at the Council.  He claimed it was long ago and he did not remember.  Other correspondences suggest that Carl drafted the 13 Principles himself, possibly with the help of Scott Cunningham. and then presented it to the group for approval.  The name of the council was drafted up, discussed, the principles were adopted and that was the end of that.

    The Principles are interesting.  While some folks find them words to live by, others do not feel the material is pagan enough.  The lack of substantiation does not seem to affect anyone’s trust in the material, as most take it that this was approved by a body of learned pagans.  Even The Army’s material regarding “Religious Requirements” seems to mention the Council as “many witches have affiliated with the American Council of Witches, formed in 1974, to provide a structure for cooperation and mutual sharing.”  Interesting when it was supposedly disbanded later in 1974.  (From Army Pamphlet #165-13)  You can find excerpts of this all over the web nowadays.  The US Military links do not work anymore.  This is the only site I found that seems to have most of the pamphlet.

    So where does this all leave us?  I believe if you really want to follow something that offers guidance to the Craft, this could be a baseline from which to work.  I personally find it a bit too, shall we say, leaning towards appeasing and appealing to other faiths so as not to offend their “delicate” natures.

    However, I also feel that this probably is not something we should place a lot of reliance on as it appears not to have any substance other than to those at a particular time, in a particular place working on a particular means of publicity.  While “nice”, it does not satisfy any other needs of the community today.  The material is now dated, does not reflect the practices of today’s pagan community nor does it offer any real insight into who we are.  As individuals, it seems to classify us as all the same.  It also has offered itself as a universal statement on witchcraft, hinting at a central body of authority, which we also know does not reflect the pagan community today.

    So, read through the material available.  Also, actually read those principles.  See if they make a statement on your particular path, and then decide for yourself if this is how you want the rest of the world to look at you.  And get a hold of the Playboy article.  I think it says volumes on who did what, when, and why.

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