Texas Witchcraft Murder Archive Finds a Home

I have diversity right here in the trunk of my rental car, officer.

The first problem on any university campus finding a parking spot. I pulled in behind the Panhandle Plains Historical Museum, which is part of West Texas A &M University, and all the faculty spaces were full.

There was an empty place for the president’s office. Hmmm.

Ah, there! “Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer.” I reckon that by being on their campus, I am bringing types of diversity that this edu-crat never thought of.1)Put me in charge, and I would fire his/her ass and give all that bloated salary money as pay raises to adjunct professors in the English Department. I call the museum’s research center director, a soft-spoken archivist named Warren Stricker, and tell him that M. and I have arrived. He promises to be right down.

A campus cop drives up, but he is talking to someone else. I am unloading cartons out of the trunk, like I have a perfect right to do so. A timid squirrel sneaks up on a spilled cup of Sonic french fries. The campus cop looks at M. and me, but stays in his vehicle.

Three months ago, I completed an article for the Journal of Religion and Violence on what happened when one of the higher-up figures in the Church of Wicca was tried for murder back in 1980.

The defendant, Loy Stone, and his wife, Louise, were both alumni of West Texas State University in Canyon, Texas — now known as West Texas A & M. 2)The university still plays up the fact that that a young Georgia O’Keefe taught there from 1916–1918. I had approached Texas State University about taking my archive of documents about the case, but Texas is so big that the university archivists (except maybe at UT in Austin) think regionally. TSU’s response was, “We’re all about south Texas. You should talk to the Panhandle Museum.”

And so I did. Warren Stricker was immediately interested.

Dimmitt, Hereford, Plainview — these locales are all right in their front yard, so to speak.

I came away with a Temporary Custody Agreement, but Stricker assured me that his committee had already talked over the donation and wanted it all — the psychic impressions, the private investigator’s reports, the correspondence, the legal depositions, the evidence tags, all of it. Hurray! I am not in the archive business, but I could not bear to just toss all of that in the trash, not after the Stones’ two daughters had saved it all for forty-plus years.

And I like the idea of seeding America’s university libraries with witchcraft materials.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Put me in charge, and I would fire his/her ass and give all that bloated salary money as pay raises to adjunct professors in the English Department.
2. The university still plays up the fact that that a young Georgia O’Keefe taught there from 1916–1918.

“Solitary Pagans,” a New Academic Study

Back in the mid-1990s, Nancy Mostad, then the acquisitions editor at Llewellyn, told me that they estimated that 70 percent of purchasers of books on Paganism were solitaries.Hence the immense success — by their standards — of Scott Cunningham’s Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner.

Meanwhile, sociologist of religion Helen Berger has been studying American Pagans for decades herself. Her earlier works are A Community of Witches: Contemporary Neo-Paganism and Witchcraft in the United States and (as co-author) Voices from the Pagan Census: A National Survey of Witches and Neo-Pagans in the United States and Teenage Witches: Magical Youth and the Search for the Self.

Her new book, Solitary Pagans: Contemporary Witches, Wiccans, and Others Who Practice Alone is available for pre-order. It will be released at Lammas. Since I probably will not read it until next fall, here is what the publisher (U. of South Carolina Press) is saying:

Solitary Pagans is the first book to explore the growing phenomenon of contemporary Pagans who practice alone. Although the majority of Pagans in the United States have abandoned the tradition of practicing in groups, little is known about these individuals or their way of practice. Helen A. Berger fills that gap by building on a massive survey of contemporary practitioners. By examining the data, Berger describes solitary practitioners demographically and explores their spiritual practices, level of social engagement, and political activities. Contrasting the solitary Pagans with those who practice in groups and more generally with other non-Pagan Americans, she also compares contemporary U.S. Pagans with those in the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada.

Berger brings to light the new face of contemporary paganism by analyzing those who learn about the religion from books or the Internet and conduct rituals alone in their gardens, the woods, or their homes. Some observers believe this social isolation and political withdrawal has resulted in an increase in narcissism and a decline in morality, while others argue to the contrary that it has produced a new form of social integration and political activity. Berger posits the implications of her findings to reveal a better understanding of other metaphysical religions and those who shun traditional religious organizations.

“A Texas Witch on Trial” Now Published

Former home of Loy and Louise Stone near Hereford, Texas

A lonely farmstead in the cotton fields of the Texas Panhandle became the site of Halloween harassment and possible murder.

In August 2016, I mused about having a Contemporary Pagan Studies on “Paganism and Violence” at the American Academy of Religion annual meeting, inspired by a recent gift of multiple cartons of archival material related to the murder trial of a prominent Wiccan figure in 1980.

The universe was listening, but gave my thought a different spin. As I wrote last fall in a post called “Feeding My Little Archives to Bigger Ones,” instead of a conference panel session, I was asked by Massimo Introvigne, a leading scholar of new religious movements (NRMs) to contribute to a special issue of the Journal of Religion and Violence with the theme of NRMs and violence.

Finally, there was the venue for an article that I had messed around with since the mid-2000s.

“A Texas Witch on Trail has now been published in the Journal of Religion and Violence and is available to subscribers — or to people who know how to make an interlibrary loan request.

I have also uploaded the paper to Academia.edu for those who use that site — the journal permits uploading a ms. in Word format, but not the final PDF.

Yes, there is one obvious question that I will not answer in print. And now to deal with those archives.

Feeding My Little Archive to Bigger Ones

Brilliant idea of the day: clean my desk. No, I don’t mean just shove things to the edges and sweep up the crumbs, I mean uncover some mahogany!

I spent the last two weeks of August crashing to meet a deadline for a special issue of the Journal of Religion and Violence devoted to violence and new religious movements. Wicca is, of course, a new religious movement, but it is an outlier in many ways, as I discuss (no charismatic leader, no millennarian prophecy, etc.)

Two years ago, in a post titled “Kicked Back in Time,” I wrote about receiving cartons of material relating to the murder trial of a Texas Wiccan leader: witnesses’ depositions, correspondence, legal paperwork, psychic impressions of what really happened and where, dozens of yellowed newspaper clippings, not to mention a tape cassette of one witness’s statements after he had been hypnotized by the sheriff of Deaf Smith County.1)The incident occurred in a neighboring county. The sheriff had a reputation as a hypnotist, apparently, and the 17-year-old witness’s parents requested the session.

Then Massimo Introvigne2)Founder of CESNUR [Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni] announced that he was guest-editing this issue of the journal, and I submitted a proposal, which was accepted — and then I procrastinated until, oh no, it’s due at the end of the month. And I wrote it. Chores went un-done, the dog got minimal walks, but I generated my 8,000 words. And damn, that felt good.

The journal is published three times a year, online only, and apparently costs $45/year with access to the archives. I do not know when this special issue will appear.

So let’s not lose the momentum. Let’s get back to Project X.

Problem: There is a low, two-drawer file cabinet next to my desk whose top is stacked with books I need. And there was a substantial pile of files, printouts, partial rough drafts of book sections, and who-knows-what on the desk itself. Plus more in a desk drawer.

In the filing cabinet were . . . files, organized by subject (“New Wiccan Church,” “polytheism,” “sacred prostitution,” “Victor Anderson”) that had built up over the last thirty years. Some was material used when writing Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America or various articles; some I never got around to using — and I probably never will.

Solution: it goes into one or more cartons and goes to the New Age Movements, Occultism, and Spiritualism Research Library at Valdosta State University in Georgia. (The source materials for the murder-trial article belong in Texas, however.)

Many of the Pagan magazines I used for book research already went to the American Religions Collection at the University of California, Santa Barbara. It even has its own name! (Scroll down at the link.) Got to spread the wealth.

Now if I can get all the material from the desk top and drawer sorted into a fresh set of file folders, I might actually be ready to make use of it. (Never fear, there is plenty of digital material too!)

For today, the writing life is the filing life.

Notes   [ + ]

1. The incident occurred in a neighboring county. The sheriff had a reputation as a hypnotist, apparently, and the 17-year-old witness’s parents requested the session.
2. Founder of CESNUR [Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni]

Gentrifying the Mansion of Decrees

First & Broadmoor

Photo: Colorado Springs Gazette

Back in the 1980s, heyday of The Menance of Cults, the Church Universal and Triumphant (formerly Summit Lighthouse, grandchild of the “I Am” movement, great-great grandchild of Theosophy—one of many), was in the second tier, behind the Moonies, Scientology, and the Hare Krishnas (ISKCON).

Its leader, Elizabeth Clare Prophet (1939–2009) took control after the death of her husband, Mark Prophet (1918–1973). To the church, he did not die but became an Ascended Master. It always amused me that they claimed a previous incarnation for him as Sir Launcelot, whom I had thought was a fictional character. For the full list, see link.

Around the time of Mark’s . . . passing . . . Summit Lighthouse, as it was then known, acquired this 1930s mansion in a ritzy part of Colorado Springs near the Broadmoor Hotel.1)British readers are permitted a brief titter at that name, but in Colorado Springs it has been a luxury resort since the 1880s.

I remember stopping by in about 1975 with a New-Agey friend from college who had heard about Summit Lighthouse—we chatted with some members, looked at some of the public rooms, picked up some brochures.

Not long after our visit, the group changed its name and moved to property north of Yellowstone National Park,2)They bought 12,000 acres and named it the Royal Teton Ranch. where they started stockpiling weapons and supplies and preparing for the apocalypse. Yeah, that again.

They spent hours chanting magical affirmations — “decrees” in CUT-speak — with a strong flavor of American nationalism.3)If Dion Fortune could organized magical workings against Nazi Germany, why couldn’t CUT support the Reagan Administration? Who says occultists cannot be political? They probably took credit for President Reagan surviving John Hinckley’s attempt to kill him — or maybe they gave all credit to the Ascended Master St. Germain, who was Their Guy.

In about 1981, when I was a young newspaper reporter, I was contacted by a woman who had been Elizabeth Clare Prophet’s personal secretary until she quit and/or was forced out. She unburdened herself, and I built a news feature around that. I found writing about “cults” to be quite absorbing — there were some others also — and eventually I made the decision to go to graduate school and study new religious movements.

Meanwhile, the big house at First and Broadmoor apparently went downhill. It backs onto the hotel’s tennis courts, near its carriage-and-vintage car museum, and now the hotel wants to buy it and turn it into guest suites.

Planning a big wedding? For only a projected $8,500 a night, you can put the whole family there.

(The other weird thing was that in some photos, ECP looked a bit like my mother. If my mother had been an alternative-religion leader, she definitely would have been working positive magic for President Reagan. But in her cosmos, the 1928 Book of Common Prayer already covered that, with its standard prayer for “The PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES and all others in authority.)

Notes   [ + ]

1. British readers are permitted a brief titter at that name, but in Colorado Springs it has been a luxury resort since the 1880s.
2. They bought 12,000 acres and named it the Royal Teton Ranch.
3. If Dion Fortune could organized magical workings against Nazi Germany, why couldn’t CUT support the Reagan Administration? Who says occultists cannot be political?