Sex, Kids, and the Witch’s Bible

In mid-20th-century America, the public face of anthropology was Margaret Mead (1901–1978). As her Wikipedia biography states, “Her reports detailing the attitudes towards sex in South Pacific and Southeast Asian traditional cultures influenced the 1960s sexual revolution.”

Her distinctive cape and long walking stick became part of her public persona, which as we now crassly say, “helped to build her brand.”

Her best-known book was Coming of Age in Samoa, published in 1928. Forty years later, paperback copies of it were everywhere, in every literate household, it seemed. Even my mother had a copy, although she would have rejected Mead’s approving description of teenaged Samoans happily slipping onto each other’s sleeping mats in the middle of the night. When I tried to read it as a teenager (having no background in anthropology then), my reaction not surprisingly was, “I wish I lived in Samoa.”

After Mead’s death, some anthropologists stated that she had been conned, that teenaged Samoan girls had filled their twenty-something American visitor’s notebooks with their fantasies, and that their society was by no means as free and easy about premarital sex as Mead reported. The arguments continue.

What popular culture (except my mother) took away from the book was simpler: It is more healthy for teens to have sex than not.

Utopian sexual ideas were in the air, as they have been at other times. Many other times. Consider the 19th century, for example: the Oneida Community with its doctrine of “complex marriage” or Joseph Smith’s re-invention of polygamy for himself and his inner circle of LDS followers.

In Complex Marriage, every man was married to every woman and vice versa. This practice was to stay only within the community and had to stay within two main guidelines. The first was that before the man and woman could cohabit, they had to obtain each other’s consent through a third person or persons. Secondly, no two people could have exclusive attachment with each other because it would be selfish and idolatrous.

Similar and new ideas both popped up in the 20th century. Your high school reading assignments might have included Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1931),  but I doubt that they would have included his utopian sex-and-spirituality-and-entheogens novel, Island (1962). It was popular on college campuses nevertheless, published the same year as another popular novel about sexuality, The Harrad Experiment.1)Harvard + Radcliffe, get it? I could go on and on with examples, but this is just a blog post.

Colleges and universities were dropping the old rules about curfews for women’s dorms, etc. — even the whole idea of gender-separate dorms. As a student in the 1970s, I saw the walls falling faster than I ever would have imagined.2)Now we see colleges become “parents” once more, keeping students safe from “scary” ideas and separating them into race and gender categories all over again.

Not just marriage needed redesigning — see Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1966) and Stranger in a Strange Land(1961)3)Heinlein was surprised and amused by the Church of All World’s attempt to recreate the novel’s “nests,” complete with polyamory in some cases. — but young people did not have to wait for marriage to have sex —not that all of them ever had.

In very few years, we went from trying to constrain teen sex to trying to find ways to make it better — up until about 1969, unmarried women and girls of any age found it hard to get birth control pills or IUDs,  but the pendulum swung quickly.

Intellectuals kept a drumbeat in favor of youthful sexuality: consider Jerry Farber’s The Student as Nigger (1970) or  anarchist philosopher/psychotherapist Paul Goodman’s Growing Up Absurd: Problems of Youth in the Organized Society (1960), both of which touched on “sexual repression.”

All this is prelude to some thoughts about the reaction to Gavin Frost’s death at the beginning of the week. His and Yvonne’s Facebook page — and their daughter’s — were filled with condolences and fond memories.

At The Wild Hunt, however,  the trolls came crawling out from under the furniture.4)There was one whom I had not seen for a while, and I had hoped she was banned. Nope.

Someone whose soul must still be in middle school starts out, “From what I’ve heard the guy was a creep.”  Yes, it’s the Great Dildo Controversy that refuses to die, even though some of the most outraged virtue warriors probably were not yet born when it occurred, let alone they have never met the Frosts.

People who do know them are likely to respond as did Peg Aloi on Patheos: “I’ve known Gavin and Yvonne for many years, and have always enjoyed their joie de vivre, intelligent conversation and gentle good will toward others. ”

In one version of the humorously named Witch’s Bible —probably a dig both at the Christian version and Anton LaVey’s The Satanic Bible (1969) they suggested that to ease a girl’s first experience of penetrative sex, the parents beforehand should, if necessary, help her to stretch the hymen artificially.

This was another “what if?” idea, like Heinlein’s “line marriage.” Their daughter, Jo, who was a young girl at the time, has insisted vociferously that it was never proposed for her.

Part of their whole approach to teaching was to toss out ideas and say, “Try this and tell us how it goes.” If it was a good one, it would go into later lessons. If not, no.

Unfortunately for their timing, the so-called Sexual Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s was followed by a pendulum swing the other way, so that we are now a point where it is considered “dangerous” if kids walk to school, or ride in the front seat of the family car before they reach age 16, or are exposed to controversial ideas in college.5)But at least today’s kids are being given something to rebel against, I suppose.

So now we get Pagan mob mentality, all based on “I knew someone who talked to someone who said she knew someone who was molested by someone who had read one of the Frosts’ books.” With evidence like that, how could a lynch mob go wrong?

To quote Jo Frost on her Facebook page,

Yes, my father wrote and said controversial things that challenged you and your beliefs. . . . Armchair histrionics does not equal “warrior”– what does it say for your legacy that you stood on the shoulders of giants only to tear at them? Go get your own legacy and get the h up and do actual good works.

And, the horror, they were accused of running a “monotheistic sex cult” by one of these faceless social-media critics, which merely goes to show that (a) the writer does not know the difference between monotheism and Neoplatonic monism and should stay out of theological discussions,6)No, the Frosts were not “hard polytheists” but considered all deities to be shaped by human imagination while  (b) “sex cult” is a meaningless term, unless you do not wish to think that sex and spirituality can overlap, in which case you have ruled out much of contemporary Paganism. Pedophilia was never part of the picture.

At the very least, some critics are guilty of “presentism,” using today’s standards to condemn something that was less outrageous in the past,7)At least in the countercultural circles where most Pagans dwelt at the time. And granted, although he was a gentleman in person, Gavin was a stubborn Scorpio who would never apologize to anonymous critics and bullies on social media.

Jo Frost was right, you don’t make yourself a better Pagan by passing on malicious gossip about the dead. It’s ill-mannered, and sometimes it can even be bad magic. If you cannot be bothered to read the original texts — and to read them in the context of their era — then your argument is built on sand.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Harvard + Radcliffe, get it?
2. Now we see colleges become “parents” once more, keeping students safe from “scary” ideas and separating them into race and gender categories all over again.
3. Heinlein was surprised and amused by the Church of All World’s attempt to recreate the novel’s “nests,” complete with polyamory in some cases.
4. There was one whom I had not seen for a while, and I had hoped she was banned. Nope.
5. But at least today’s kids are being given something to rebel against, I suppose.
6. No, the Frosts were not “hard polytheists” but considered all deities to be shaped by human imagination
7. At least in the countercultural circles where most Pagans dwelt at the time.

Passing of Gavin Frost


I called this photo “the lone magus” — Gavin Frost overlooking the New River, West Virginia, New Year’s Day, 1995.

I learned this morning that S. Gavin Frost, co-founder of the Church (and School) of Wicca and someone whom I counted as a friend, died early this morning. He was born in 1930 in Staffordshire.

Jo, his daughter, posted on Facebook:

In our family, we do not believe in grieving too much, so today, raise a glass, a brandy alexander, a glass of mead, but a spirited glass, have a good conversation with a friend, be a little risqué (or a lot), dance a tango, tell someone you love them that you might not have said this to lately. That was the true spirit of my father – living his life the best way he knew how. He shared a lot of information with the world and opened doorways for many. Celebrate Gavin’s passing as he begins his next adventure, never fear, this is just another doorway, another state of being. He left a legacy, in many respects, that cannot be equaled. In his final hours, consumed by pain, he felt concern for his wife, for him, his soulmate of nearly 50 years, for her safety and her future, as much as for his freedom from pain. He does not wish for flowers, and deeply abhors wreaths, so do not send these things as tokens of your appreciation. Instead, send your tokens of appreciation by way of donations to his favorite charities and educational institutions. If you have a raptor or rescue center nearby, send a donation to them for he loved hawks. Send a donation to an educational institution, high among the list, King’s College in London, St Andrews Presbyterian University in Laurinburg, NC, the Osteopathic School in Lewisburg, WV, and NCSSM in Durham, NC. And finally, if so inclined, send a donation to the Church of Wicca, PO Box 297, Hinton, WV, his late life passion. There is not a funeral, as he has donated his body for medical research, but you are welcome to plant a hardwood tree in his honor as this was also a passion of his – regrowing our forests.

Since M. and I, as volunteer wildlife transporters for Colorado Parks & Wildife, interact with the Raptor Center down in Pueblo a lot, I think a donation is in order.

I took the photo above after M. and I had stopped for an overnight visit while passing through West Virginia, heading west. Gavin, Yvonne, and we went out for dinner at some restaurant high on a ridge over the New River, and talked for hours about almost everything except the Pagan scene. We were not avoiding that topic, but rather unlike some people in it whom we knew, the Frosts had many other interests besides just that one.

To some, he was a “controversial” figure, even scary, but I think his impish sense of humor plus British accent caused too many young Americans to miss the twinkle in his eye.

UPDATE: Twenty minutes after posting this— on a Sunday—the director of the raptor center and asked if I could pick up an injured hawk. Forty minutes later I was on my way to the Wet Mountain Valley to pick up a red-tailed hawk that had been found flapping weakly in a hayfield. It’s at the center now.

Pentagram Pizza at the Mongolian Grill

pentagrampizzaSome links worth exploring:

• In post-Soviet Mongolia, shamanism is a “growth industry,” says an MIT anthropologist. In Manuduhai Buyandelger’s Tragic Spirits: Shamanism, Memory, and Gender in Contemporary Mongolia, she writes how, “shamanism is a historical memory for people who lost parts of their ancestral homeland, and who had been marginalized and politically oppressed.”

• Photographer Rik Garrett (formerly of the Occult Chicago blog, now relocating back to the Pacific Northwest), is interviewed at beautiful.bizarre.

Rik harnesses old, analog photography techniques and a deep sensibility that is both educated and magical. I dare to believe he is opening doors to the past, recreating a cross-section of witchcraft and the earliest technologies in photography, and to the spirit realm—illuminating phenomenon and sparking the imagination beyond the typical scope of artistry.

• Is this the first baby step toward recording your dreams?Scientists Figure Out What You See While You’re Dreaming.” I am imaging YouTube full of Inception-style videos. Yikes!

• Should you be hung as a witch? Take the test and see if you are guilty of witchcraft. (Link fixed.)

Kicked Back in Time

I was contacted a couple of months ago by family members of  the two defendants in a Wicca-related murder case. It was big news in the American Craft network1)I prefer that word to “community”—especially for that era. circa 1977–80. If you remember it, fine. If not, I am not going to summarize it now because I am thinking in other directions. Maybe later.

A few days ago, two medium-size cartons arrived in the mail, full of newspaper clippings, notes, correspondence, annotated copies of jury lists, itemized bills from lawyers and investigators, sworn statements and affidavits, investigators’ reports  — pretty much the entire paper trail except for the actual trial transcripts and some of the law-enforcement paperwork.

The old Court TV channel (now TruTV) would have loved this case, but it came a decade too soon.

And too early for the Internet, thank the gods. The hypothetical comments on a hypothetical post on The Wild Hunt would have blown up the server, I am sure.

One thing you don’t find in every criminal case is a thick file of psychics’ impressions of what “really happened,” complete with maps and diagrams, not to mention psychic readings of a couple dozen potential witnesses. (The investigator checked out some of this info as best he could.)

Yes, it was just the opposite of the Salem witch trials of 1692–93. In this case, it was the defense using “spectral evidence.” And while there was no bill from Dr. Buzzard for “chewing the root” in court, you can bet some magic-workers were involved.2)For more on the doctor, read High Sheriff of the Low Country.

I don’t feel like writing a “true crime” book, but I want to write something.  I had drafted a chapter on the trial for Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca And Paganism in America, but I deleted it because it did not mesh with the other themes of the book. (Now where is the file, on the old iMac in the basement?)

Maybe we need a Contemporary Pagan Studies Group session on “Paganism and Violence,” and since I won’t be co-chair after this year, I can submit something.  It’s a story that needs to be told, from the perspective of folklore studies or perthaps the study of new religious movements. To me, now, almost forty years after the events, it’s not so much the “who done it” that interests me as it is the context in which these events were imbedded.

Meanwhile, I have rough-sorted all the papers and condensed two cartons down to one, having set aside lots of old Pagan zines and unrelated materials of various sorts that were tossed in with the trial documents. Among these was the “Pagan Occult New Age Directory Supplement, Autumn 1978,” from the Pagan Grove Press of Atlanta. I looked up “Colorado” and there I was, with my old Manitou Springs telephone number. Kicked back in time.

Notes   [ + ]

1. I prefer that word to “community”—especially for that era.
2. For more on the doctor, read High Sheriff of the Low Country.

Demons! Swastikas!! Witches in Ireland!!!

¶ The Washington Post runs a non-snarky article about a psychiatrist who thinks that demons are real.

So began an unlikely partnership. For the past two-and-a-half decades and over several hundred consultations, I’ve helped clergy from multiple denominations and faiths to filter episodes of mental illness — which represent the overwhelming majority of cases — from, literally, the devil’s work.

Bonus: a satanic witch priestess.

¶ How did the swastika go from worldwide good luck symbol to a symbol of evil. Richard Smoley explains:

And yet not so long ago it was a symbol of blessings and good fortune. Even its name is derived from Sanskrit roots meaning “it is good.” (Other names given to it include the cross patteé, the gammadion, the hakenkreuz or hooked cross, and the fylfot.) Today, in a somewhat truncated form, it still occupies a place in the official symbol of the Theosophical Society.

The peculiar fate of the swastika has a great deal to teach about the nature and meaning of symbols — and about the uses to which they can be put.

A lightweight article from Ireland on Witchcraft. Something to read before you apply more sunscreen. “Janet” is, of course, Janet Farrar.

Still Enchanted After All These Years

Enchantments’ owner, Stacy Rapp. (The Guardian).

The Guardian, a British newspaper, profiles Enchantments in Manhattan,  which “after 34 years in business in the East Village, with the recession and the rising rents of gentrification claiming so many small businesses . . . might make anyone believe in magic.”

Read the whole thing. (Thanks to Mama Fauna.)

“It’s Only a Tree. It Can’t Hurt You!”

Plus “You’ve been watching too much television” and other undying lines from a “teens in peril” screenplay.

So who is  the writer? That well-known Wiccan author Stewart Farrar (1916–2000), slipping a little bit of a Craft-y message into this 1975 episode of a British show called Shadows. (A tip of the pointy hat to Veles at Adventures in Witchery for leading me to it.)

From the 1950s to the late 1970s, when he turned more toward writing purely Wiccan books in collaboration with his wife Janet, Stewart Farrar put his hand to everything: occult thrillers, magazine journalism, television screenplays — even a pseudononymous bodice-ripper romance, just to see if he could do it. His novel The Sword of Orley remains one of my favorite examples of how reincarnational memories ought to be, if only life were more like books.

I got to know Stewart around 1977, and at some point suggested to him that Dion Fortune’s book of short stores about an English magus, The Secrets of Doctor Taverner, ought to transfer well to “the box,” as he called it.

He went so far as to investigate who held the copyright — which was her esoteric order, The Fraternity of the Inner Light, and its directors apparently had no interest in licensing a television adaptation.

A pity — they would have made a perfect 1970s TV show, when occult topics were in vogue.

A Top Nazi’s Library, “Violent” Heathens, and a Middle Eastern “Old Religion”

himmler and hitler

Heinrich Himmler (front, leather coat) chats with der Führer.

According to the Daily Mail (dial skepticism appropriately) a collection of occult books1)Hans Thomas Hakl probably has more than Himmer did—but no castle. owned by Nazi SS chief Heinrich Himmler has been found in the Czech Republic.

The bulk of the collection was called the ‘Witches Library’ and concentrated on witches and their persecution in medieval Germany.

One of Himmler’s quack theories was that the Roman Catholic Church tried to destroy the German race through witch hunts.

UPDATE, March 31, 2016: The Wild Hunt reports that the news story quoted above resulted from a misunderstanding, and that there were no “occult books,” just some Masonic books.

• At Religion Dispatches, thoughts on how the History Channel series The Vikings both “subverts and supports the violent heathen trope” (my italics).

In one scene, the Christian Prince Aethelwulf, who earlier in the series said that “it is just not possible to imagine a world in which there is both one god and several,” unleashed genocidal fury on a settlement of unarmed, pagan [sic], Viking2)“Viking” is a job description, not an ethnicity. “Norse” would be a better choice. farmers who had been promised protection by the king. Yet,3)No comma needed after an introductory conjunction. So stop it! the show includes vestiges of the violent heathen trope that’s been a staple of how dominant religious groups have portrayed minority religious groups throughout history.

• According to this article, some Kurds, who are various in conflict with Sunni and Shiite Arabs and Iranians, are going back to the Old Religion, that of Zoroaster. (It has hung in some places all these centuries since the Arab Muslims rolled over Persia in the 8th century.)

The small, ancient religion of Zoroastrianism is being revived in northern Iraq. Followers say locals should join because it’s a truly Kurdish belief. Others say the revival is a reaction to extremist Islam.

One of the smallest and oldest religions in the world is experiencing a revival in the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan. The religion has deep Kurdish roots – it was founded by Zoroaster, also known as Zarathustra, who was born in the Kurdish part of Iran and the religion’s sacred book, the Avesta, was written in an ancient language from which the Kurdish language derives. However this century it is estimated that there are only around 190,000 believers in the world – as Islam became the dominant religion in the region during the 7th century, Zoroastrianism more or less disappeared.

So does this count as a “Native Faith” movement, like Rodnoverie, etc., but not polytheistic?

Notes   [ + ]

1. Hans Thomas Hakl probably has more than Himmer did—but no castle.
2. “Viking” is a job description, not an ethnicity. “Norse” would be a better choice.
3. No comma needed after an introductory conjunction. So stop it!

Massive 2015 Year-End Link Dump! Something for Everyone!

This is a Druid knife. It says so.

Some of the links that I saved that never turned into blog posts . . .

• The Internet loves quizes, so “What Kind of Witch Would You Be?” (answer: hearth witch). I always suspect that the answer is based on just one question, while the others are there just for fluff and decoration.

• I saved this link from the Forest Door blog because I liked this thought:

This is, indeed, one of the roots of many problems in modern polytheism – people being unwilling to wait and let things naturally evolve. My biggest concern here isn’t the specific examples of mis-assignment (though they do exist, and are indicative of a serious lack of understanding in some cases). It is the fact that these folks are sitting around trying to artificially assign gods to places and things as if it’s just a game, or at best an intellectual exercise.

Local cultus is the new kale.

Is a knife named for Druids meant for Druids? (Echoes of allegations of human sacrifice?) Just what does “Druid” mean here?

• I did like John Halstead’s post on “the tyranny of structurelessness.” See also “Reclaiming.” See also “The Theology of Consensus.”

• Turn off the computer and play a 1,600-year-old Viking war game.

• From last July, a Washington Post story on Asatruar in the Army.

A photography book of modern British folklore. Not an oxymoron.

• More photography: “Earth Magic – Photographer Rik Garrett Talks About Witchcraft.”

What if witches hadn’t changed that much since medieval times and were still fairly close to the popular imagery conveyed by their early enemies during the classical witchhunts?

• So you’re a Pagan? Here are ten ways to show respect for your elders. It’s the Pagan way.

• Philosophy should teach you how to live. “Why I Teach Plato to Plumbers.” Also, it’s Pagan.

• Reviewing a book on Greek and Roman animal sacrifice, which was, after all, the chief ritual back in the days when Paganism was the religion of the community.

• Was it the bells? Morris dancers attacked by dogs.

• Camille Paglia’s definition of “Pagan” is not mine, but she still kicks ass. Also, “Everything’s Awesome, and Camille Paglia Is Unhappy!”

• Embiggen thy word-hoard! Visit the Historical Thesaurus of Engish.

• But if you really want to go down the 15th-century rabbit hole, follow The Great Vowel Shift.

The New Yorker covers psychedelic therapy. To learn more, follow and donate to the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. Also: “How Psychedelics Are Helping Cancer Patients Fend Off Despair.”

Looking good for an academic interview.

A review from last year of Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll.

• From the Chronicle of Higher Education: “How to Be Intoxicated.” Not surprisingly, Dionyus figures in more than does binge-drinking.

• Apparently the Yakuza, the Nipponese Mob, planned to call off Halloween due to a gang war. So how did that work out?

The Passing of Carl Weschcke


Carl Llewellyn Weschcke

First, the official announcement from Llewellyn, then my comments.

It is with profound sadness we share the news of Carl Llewellyn Weschcke’s passing. He passed peacefully on Saturday, November 7 surrounded by family. He was 85.

Carl Llewellyn Weschcke was Chairman and the driving force behind Llewellyn Worldwide, Ltd., the oldest and largest publishers of New Age, Metaphysical, Self-Help, and Spirituality books in the world.

Weschcke was a life-long student of a broad range of Metaphysical, Spiritual and Occult subjects which led him to the purchase of the Llewellyn publishing company in 1961. He relocated the company to his home on Summit Avenue in St. Paul. The mansion was said to be haunted and became the subject of many investigations and news stories through the 1960s and 1970s and remains well-known to this day.

Authors and booksellers referred to Weschcke as “the Father of the New Age” because of his early and aggressive public sponsorship of Astrology, Magic, Metaphysics, Paganism, Parapsychology, Tantra, Wicca and Yoga. Weschcke and Llewellyn contributed to the burgeoning New Age movement in the 1960s and 1970s, sponsoring Gnosticon Festivals, opening an occult school and bookstore, and publishing the occult newspaper Gnostica. He is a former Wiccan High Priest and played a leading role in the rise of Wicca and Paganism during the 1960s and 1970s. In the fall of 1973 Weschcke helped organize the Council of American Witches and became its chairperson.

He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from Babson College, studied Law at LaSalle University, and advanced study toward a doctorate in Philosophy at the University of Minnesota. In 1959 he was elected president of the NAACP’s Minnesota branch and elected Vice President of the ACLU’s Minnesota branch. In addition to book publishing he has worked in the pharmaceutical industry, furniture manufacture, and real estate management. With Llewellyn, he has worked in all aspects of the business and has co-authored ten books with Dr. Joe Slate of Athens, Alabama.

Carl is survived by wife Sandra and son Gabe. Sandra is President and Treasurer of Llewellyn Worldwide and Gabe serves as Vice President. They plan to carry on Carl’s legacy championing of alternative approaches to mind, spirit and body.

Arrangements for a memorial will be forthcoming.

I had the privilege of staying with the Weschckes at their home in Marine-on-St. Croix for a few days in the early 1990s. (Although no formal offer was made, I think that Carl was hoping that I would come on board as an editor.) That four-book “Witchcraft Today” series that I edited for them in the 1990s was his idea.

It’s true that he came from a line of German doctors and pharmacists, and originally he worked in the family pharmaceutical firm that made over-the-counter medicines—cough drops and the like. He told me he used to look from his office window at a former soft-drink bottling plant—the building that later become the Llewellyn headquarters in St. Paul.

He did not start the company, but he and Sandra grew it from a small publisher of astrological almanacs and the like into its present form. He even added “Llewellyn” as his middle name.

Another memory: having just a few hours to examine his private library, which filled a three-car garage (or was it a four-car?). It was like the whole history of esotericism in America, but I think that astrology was perhaps always his first love. Although their son, Gabe, was groomed to take over the business, at that time—twenty years ago—I did not feel that he shared the love of the astrology, Pagan, New Age, etc., product line. That does not mean that he cannot be an effective manager though.