Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Hans Holzer visits The Sanders in 1968

Hans Holzer’s The Truth about Witchcraft was published in New York by Doubleday in 1969 (Amazon claims January 1969, Modern Wiccan claims December 1969). The exact date matters only because it would help confirm that Holzer, Bob Wiemer, Stephen Leek and an unnamed airline hostess from Houston, Texas, filmed for television the initiation of Nikki into Alex Sanders’ coven one chilly Saturday night in October of 1968. According to Holzer ‘no one had ever recorded’ such an initiation ‘on film before’ (13); that it ‘was the first time a camera’ was ‘present to record the proceedings’ (12). Alex allowed Holzer ‘to witness an actual initiation ceremony’ (1), granting him a ‘special dispensation’ to set up ‘artificial lights covered by red jells’ (13) in his basement apartment in Notting Hill Gate.

Although it often seems as if a photographer was present at almost all of the Sanders’ coven meetings it may well be true that ‘moving pictures’ had not been taken before. If so, Holzer certainly wasn’t the last to film an Alexandrian initiation, or to record sound of the same. Nevertheless, it would be very interesting to see Holzer’s documentary, to know that it had been shown, or even to know that this footage survived somewhere. As it happens, the name of the documentary is never mentioned, nor can it be easily traced. Perhaps Holzer, who is now 87, will stumble across this review and set the record straight.

Hans Holzer in 1969

Holzer has an engaging, chatty style and the mundane details he provides are intriguing to a 21st-century reader. We are told that Alex acts as the superintendent of the large apartment house in which his basement flat was located; the neighbourhood is middle-class and quiet (the building is in a cul-de-sac street) being neither very good nor dangerous (3); evergreen plants covering the stairway into the ‘modest three-room’ basement flat (2). Circles were held in the living room, people changed in a room that branched off from the corridor connecting the living room and the bedroom (8). For each circle the furniture is moved into the rear bedroom (7); the red carpet is cleaned; an altar, chalk circle, a black circle made of cloth, four red candles etc are all set up (8); the reliquary, even the candlesticks, are described in great detail.

The Sanders Coven in 1968*

The nine participants are also described. Though no last names are given for witches in Holzer’s book (80), we hear that Charles is 21 and works in a nearby antique shop; Carolyn is 18, looks like Elizabeth Taylor and has a voice like Hedy Lamarr; Francis is tall and works in an office; Linda is 21, pretty and a receptionist; Jacques is 23, a pop singer and composer with a French accent (5); Patrick, a dress designer, and his unnamed wife are in comfortable circumstances and live two hours north of London; two unnamed folk singers who are ‘pretty high up in the charts’ (7); Nikki, the neophyte, a shoe salesgirl in a local shop (14) and folk singer, is a rather large girl (20) who, though she only knew what she had read in a few books Alex had loaned her, and having never participated in a circle before, finds herself given a first, second and third degree initiation (22) on the evening described.

Holzer makes a point of stating that the ‘reason for nudity is not erotic or to provide vicarious thrills’ (152) and dismisses the notion that ‘witchcraft rites are a sexy as all get-out’ (185); there are ‘no orgies or wholesale sexual relations’ (36). He also quotes Gardner’s dismissal of underwear or bikinis as being far more suggestive and unnatural than the naked body (11). However, the subject does come up pretty frequently. At the outset we are told that ‘witches meet in the nude’ (2), when they enter the room we are reminded that they are ‘stark naked’ (11) and ‘parading’ around and ‘in no way hiding their sex organs’. This provides an opportunity for a little sermon of the American puritanical aversion to nakedness and the ‘decadence of the flesh Playboy magazine state of mind’ (11). Later, when a school teacher overcomes her hang-ups and throws off her robe this provides an opportunity to mention that Alex and Maxine ‘do not tolerate and lewdness’: in fact, we are told

Maxine has a stick which she uses when a new member of the male sex becomes excited at the sight of unclad females and cannot control his natural inclination: a tap with a stick does the trick and brings him back into line! (36)

While it is no-doubt true that witches ‘come in all sizes and shapes’, that some are overweight ‘or just sadly shaped’, and ‘this does not stimulate the average person’, if anything it ‘stifles the sexual appetite’ (37). However, the reader is told that, with the exception of Alex and three of the witches described above (Patrick and the folk singers?) ‘all participants were in their early twenties, and certainly good-looking’ (12). Caroline and Linda are particularly beautiful when naked (12) and looked great ‘even with robes on’ (28). When the witches enter the room Holzer could ‘almost hear Bob Wiemer swallow’ (12); the ‘broad-minded’ airline hostess is ‘glued to the scene, swallowing hard now and then’ (4) and even Holzer himself is temporarily distracted by the beauty of Caroline and Linda (though ‘such thoughts did not intrude very long’, 12).

The reader is told about three scenes from the unnamed documentary. The initiation, a scene at Stone Henge, and a vox-pop scene on Primrose Hill, London. Men, women and children were quizzed thus: ‘Pardon me, we’re close on Halloween now and I’m wondering what in your view does a witch look like?’ Two answers are given: ‘Oh, I suppose, some old crone on a broomstick, with a big wart on her nose. A black hat on her head. And, oh yes, ugly, quite ugly’. The scene ends with Holzer turning to ‘a young blonde, dressed in the latest mod fashion’. It is Maxine, and she coos ‘Well, as a matter of fact, sir, your looking at one. I am a witch’ (31).

[*illustration from J. J. Howard, 'Witchcraft 1968', Beau (June, 1968), p.9]

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Witches Speak (1965)

Patricia and Arnold Crowther, The Witches Speak (Douglas, Isle of Man: Athol Publications, 1965).


The Witches Speak is probably the earliest book about Wicca, not by Gardner. In 1969 there is a flood of publications and in 1970 the central Wiccan rituals became widely available. But the only other publications between 1959 (Gardner’s The Meaning of Witchcraft) and 1969 were two books published in America: Ray Buckland’s, Witchcraft…The Religion (New York: Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, 1966) and Sybil Leek, Diary of a Witch (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968). The first of these is no more than a pamphlet and the second some might exclude simply because Leek’s witchcraft differs so markedly from Gardner’s. The Witches Speak was reprinted by Samuel Weiser in New York in 1976.

Concerning the Authors

Arnold Crowther (6 Oct. 1909–1 May 1974) met Gerald Gardner in 1939. (Arnold had also met Aleister Crowley, whom he introduced to Gardner in 1946.) Arnold met Patricia Dawson (born 27 October 1927) in 1956. Gardner initiated Patricia on 6 June 1960 in Castletown. After the rite, Patricia initiated Arnold. On 8 November 1960, Arnold and Patricia were handfasted by Gerald Gardner, and married the following day. Both took their second-degree initiation on 11 October 1961, and on the 14 October, Patricia became high priestess. By December 1961 the Crowthers started to build their own coven in Sheffield; they were a popular couple and media exposure generated interviews and speaking engagements. Together they authored two books, The Witches Speak (1965) and The Secrets of Ancient Witchcraft (1974).

The book

Arnold seems to have been the author of this book; certainly it is written in his voice (30, 100, 103). It is not surprising, therefore, that Crowley is quoted (110, 131), along with Charles Leland (31), Sir George James Frazer (58) and Margaret Murray (54, 62). On the subject of reading Arnold says: “A great many of the witches spend their spare time reading and studying…and, to them, books are treasured possessions” (107). He dismisses ‘modern’ ways and gadget-filled houses bereft of books (107), but there are some stunning examples of his own ignorance here.

The book begins with a surprising (and not very convincing) explanation of the rise of the horned god: “Before the invention of the bow and arrow, the only way it was possible to hunt the beasts was for a man, dressed in skins and wearing a pair of antlers on his head, to run among the heard and stampede them, so that a certain number fell to death over the edge of the cliffs” (7). It is a short step from here to the deification of the heroic hunter. Similar, but slightly more plausible, accounts are also given of reincarnation, spiritualism, voodoo, etc.

Arnold often adopts the posture of the sceptic, warning his readers against believing the absurd accounts of witches in historical sources and in contemporary press reports. He explains that “the majority” of “so-called” witches “were not witches at all and had no connection with the old religion” (22). (And note, lexicographers, the idea that witches could “fly” arose because of a misunderstanding of the word ‘fly’, when used to mean going very fast, ‘I flew out of there as fast as I could”, 29–30).

Arnold is adamant that “Black Magic doesn’t exist. There is no such thing as Black Witches and never has been” (15), “it is quite impossible for them [witches] to work evil against anyone” (14). There are two reasons for this: firstly, it appears to be because witches need “their god’s help to direct” the energy they raise. For similar reasons selfish magic never works and “witches must not work magic for money or personal gain” (67). Secondly, because magic works as a kind-of “long distance hypnotism” (14), and a hypnotist cannot make a person do anything they would not do in a natural state, it follows that they can do themselves no harm. No curses, no wax dolls. Q.E.D. (Incidentally, Arnold is eloquent on the subject of greed. He condemns an unnamed pre-war guide on candle-magic that frequently calls for an large number of differently coloured candles available from the guide’s author, 132–34).

A very brief and circumspect account is given of a coven meetings (68–69) and a few other facts about Wicca emerge: the “Summerlands” are mentioned, but the name of the horned god is kept hidden (61), as are the names of the sabbats (93, only common names are used). We are told that witches are both male and female (27), that they do not evoke spirits or work with the elements (87), and that each coven is autonomous, so “there is no such thing as a King or Queen of the witches. There never has been and there never will be” (147). Ritual nudity is defended (88, 148). Arnold dismisses recent coverts who wear robes because they “are unable to throw off their puritanical upbringing”, saying that “this is completely out of keeping with the ancient craft” (148). The High Priestess must, however, be beautiful (92, “combine beauty with high ideals…only the really lovely, both in body and soul, are worthy”).

Gardner’s Witchcraft Museum at Castletown gets an incidental mention (20), and there is a photo of Patricia with Gardner (98), but he is not discussed. This is curious given his fame and importance and the fact that he had recently died but, perhaps, Arnold and Patricia were trying to establish there own credentials. Certainly, we are told of the Crowther’s many activities on radio, television and in print (100, 143–44) and the strongly-worded dismissal of a King or Queen of the witches may even have been directed at Elenor Bone (“I anticipate that I will take over Dr Gardner’s role”, ‘Britain’s Chief Witch Dies at Sea’, News of the World, 23 Feb., 1964) or Monique Wilson, who was later crowned as the “only Queen among Britains 2,500 witches” in the press (‘The Witches Ride Again’, The Observer, 1 December 1968).

I conclude with a lovely typo which appears in the midst of a discussion of ‘trial by water’: “If they sang [sic, for sank] they were innocent and if they floated they were guilty” (23).

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Occult Revival, June 1972

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Time Magazine published an article on 'The Occult Revival' in their Religion section on 19 June, 1972. The nine-page article contains a few interesting comments and pictures, though the section on Witchcraft is only about half of one page in length. Mentioned are Dr Margaret Murray, Sybil Leek and Aidan Kelly (see below). Far more space is given over to Satanism (especially La Vey) and spritualism. The rise of occult bookshops and publishing is mentioned; as is the rise in courses on the occult. Owen Rachleff, author of The Occult Conceit (1971), is quoted, approvingly, as saying "Most occultniks are either frauds of the intellectual and / or financial variety, or diturbed individuals who mistake psychosis for psychic phenomena".

A few quotes: "America's most famous witch, Sybil Leek, lives comfortably today in Florida, 'practically a millionaire', she says, from sales of her books." Owen Rachleff describes Gardnarian witchcraft as "'library witchcraft': it seems to have been largely concocted from books, perhaps combined with some rudimentary witchcraft practices of existing covens in the Hampshire hills".

A few pictures: the first is of an unnamed witchcraft coven in Californian; the second of a ritual of The Pagan Way in Chicago (HPS Donna Cole annoints HP Herman Enderle).

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Concerning Aiden Kelly

"Aiden Kelly's San Francisco Bay area coven seems more designed to celebrate life. Kelly, 31,…generally follows a variety of witchcraft called Gardnarian". "Kelly himself is one of the founders of a Gardnarian spin-off called the New Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn, and has rewritten many of Gardner's rituals and created new ones of his own. The main ritual is conducted every month when the moon is full. If the ceremony is indoors, it is conducted 'sky-clad'—in the nude. It begins with a dance" "Costume, obviously, is minimal: a white waist cord for first-degree witches, a red cord for second degree, and a magic knife called an othame [sic]. So far, not even Kelly has felt prepared to go for the highest degree, the green garter. Among other things, it involves a milder version of what Gardner called the 'Great Rite', an act of ritual sexual intercourse. 'Nobody in our coven', says Kelly, 'has felt ready to take it'.

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Friday, March 02, 2007

Legalize Witchcraft badges (pins)

The two badges below appear to have been issued in the late 60s or early 70s in the U.S.A.

The first of them (with cursive writing) has the following in small writing around the edge: "© 1967 A BIG-LITTLE STORE 1471 WASHINGTON ST. S.F.". The other is without any identifying marks.

Does anyone have any evidence for where and when these badges (pins or pinbacks in the U.S.A.) were available? Was there really any protest-era movement for the legalisation of Witchcraft?

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Gerald Brosseau Gardner

This is the first of what will be many posts on Gerald Brosseau Gardner (1884-1964), founder of the Wicca (or modern witchcraft) movement.

I will start with a few useful links. For a short history of the rise of Wicca and the role of Gardner, see the excellent paper (here) given by Julia Phillips at the Wiccan Conference in Canberra, 1991. For more information on Gardner, see the excellent, and recently revamped, GeraldGardner.com. It is worth looking, in particular, at the Gerald Gardner Archive (here) for press clippings, many from the collection of Melissa Seims of www.thewica.co.uk. I hope to add to these clippings in time. For the complete text of Witchcraft Today (1954) as a pdf click here.

Finally, here is a great, and an uncommon, photo of Gardner. It was published in Arthur Moore's Manx Scene in 1973.

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