1971: Witches in Bellbottoms, Talking Heads

Here is a 1971 documentary from the BBC that is supposed to be about witches. But at the time it was made, no one was making much effort to sort out the new Pagan Witches, anthropological and folkloric witches, and Satanic witches of the Church of Satan variety. So what you get is all of them! Plus talking heads — academics, clergy, exorcists . . .

Like so many of the paperback “I go among the witches” books of the time, the filmmakers interview a few of the most public Pagans, such as Doreen Valiente (who should get equal billing with Gerald Gardner in creating Wicca), Alex and Maxine Sanders, and others. But they quickly run out of interview subjects — there were not too many in Britain back then — so they start skipping around: a famous murder case with a possible (folk) witchcraft connection, desecration of graveyards, the evil grip of Satanism, and so forth, to fill up their 49 minutes.

I write about this period in Chapter 4 of Her Hidden Children: “The Playboy and the Witch: Wicca and Popular Culture.” Looking at a number of paperback books on the American scene, I created a rough spreadsheet of places visited and people interviewed. It was interesting how much overlap there was. There seemed to be a “witchcraft trail” that the writers followed — you could imagine it starting at the Warlock Shop/Magical Child store in New York City and ending at Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey’s house in San Francisco.

What is missing at this moment from the outsiders’ view is an overall sense of the new Paganism, at least until Hans Holzer’s 1972 book, The New Pagans. Even the participants themselves were just coming to the view that Wiccans, for instance, might share a Pagan outlook with Druids — the new Druids, that is. We often forget how deliberately isolated those covens were (“We can’t circle with Coven XYZ because it would mean sharing our secrets!” Really, I heard stuff like that in the 1970s.)

Serious academic study of the new Paganism(s) would not really get rolling until the 1980s. For instance, during the 1970s Robert Ellwood, Jr. at the University of Southern California was writing Alternative Altars: Unconventional and Eastern Spirituality in America (1979), which would offer some theoretical models applicable to the new Paganism, but he did not incorporate it into his discussion in that book.

Welcome, visitors from The Wild Hunt. Look around a bit.

(Thanks to Renna in Denver for the link.)

Ghost Girls: Witchcrap or Pop Occulture Fun?

My old friend Oberon Zell of the Church of All Worlds is backing this show because he designed some jewelry for the characters.

A Facebook commenter calls the show “the kind of CRAP our spiritual community has had to put up with for decades!”

According to the projected TV series’ website,

Janet, Crystle, and Tawnya are three attractive girls that share a close-knit sisterhood with a decidedly macabre twist. The girls were drawn together by their penchant for the unusual, supernatural – all having supernatural abilities themselves, which set them apart from the rest of the ordinary world. The “Ghost Girls” enclave is based at a haunted old Victorian house in Southern California.

And the editor in me is screaming, “How do you base an enclave?” The “girls” themselves might be based in a haunted et cetera.  Hello, dictionary please. But with all the hours of cable programming to fill, someone will probably pick it up.

Consider it another link in the evolution of the “Hollywood Witch.”


PLTV — New Pagan Video Podcasting

Todd Berntson’s Pagan Living TV video podcast has launched with a news-magazine format.

Production values are a lot higher than in some Pagan video podcasts I have seen, although it’s still just talking heads in the studio at this point. At least there is a studio, not a sheet tacked to the wall. Visit the website.

Two Items Involving Ronald Hutton

First, an interview by Ethan Doyle White with British scholar of esotericism Dave Evans, who did his doctorate with Hutton at Bristol and speaks well of him:

Having a conversation with Ronald is a delight, and I had him to myself every 3 weeks or so, for a precious half an hour, for almost 3 years. I am a very lucky person. He is indeed a very friendly man, but no pushover when you work for him- he is a superb adviser on academic work; firm but fair, and he will not allow crap work to get through the filters- he steered, cajoled, encouraged and generally supported some very difficult stuff I was doing, at the same time as managing his perpetually massive workload in other areas.

Second, news that Professor Hutton will be hosting a program for the Yesterday Channel (half-owned by the BBC, I am told) called Professor Hutton’s Curiosities, about little-known museums in the London area. I think that one of these is the Horniman Museum. Let me know if it is any good, since I do not have satellite or cable TV.


“Season of the Witch”

On Peg Aloi’s recommendation, I recently watched Season of the Witch, also known as Hungry Wives.  As Peg mentioned, part of it is witchcraft-meets-Second Wave feminism, and part of it acknowledges the whole “occult explosion” of the late 1960s-early 1970s.

Maybe it it is what the old Bewitched series would have been if that show had any sort of edge to it.

Or Mad Men with a coven, bumped up to the early 1970s. (Hey, Mom had that couch!)

Enjoyable, and with enough twists that it rates three pentacles.


The Wizard and the “Reality” Ghosthunters

Oberon Zell, co-founder of the Church of All Worlds and headmaster of the Grey School of Wizardry, looks to have a bit part in a reality TV series, Ghost Girls. Its Facebook page calls it “an off-beat Supernatural/Reality Based TV show pilot about three ‘Real’ claravoyant [sic], beautiful women, who also happen to be divas of the supernatural. They and thier [sic] unusual friends commune with ghosts, and seek the unusual and unexplained mysteries.”

“Uncle Oberon” hopes to see some product placement for some of his Mythic Images Collection as well. And why not? They might as well decorate the set with real Pagan art, instead of something just “faked up” (to use Gerald Gardner’s phrase) for the filming.

More on Pop Witchcraft in Movies and TV

At The Juggler, Zan continues the series on witches in pop culture with a look at the 1990s.

No, I did not know that Charmed wins the category of “longest-running hour-long series that features a trio of women.” But then it started after M. and I had moved up into the hills where, not being committed enough to TV to get a satellite dish, we get by with one or two channels.

Dr. Taverner and the Dreamer’s World

Not Sherlock Holmes, it's Dr. Taverner

Robert Moss, novelist and noted writing on dreaming, has a series of posts on his blog about Dion Fortune’s Secrets of Dr. Taverner.  Supposedly, the occultist/psychiatrist Dr. Taverner is based on a real doctor whom Fortune knew in the early twentieth century, and the “secrets” are retellings of actual cases.

 In my opinion, she succeeded beyond her ambition. The Taverner stories are both gripping and entertaining, and a valuable source of practical guidance on psychic protection and spiritual cleansing and many other facets of psychic well-being that are missed in our standard approach to healthcare and therapy. In its fictional wrapping, The Secrets of Dr Taverner is a practitioner’s casebook, of the greatest value to subsequent practitioners. It is perhaps the most accessible of all Dion Fortune’s works for the contemporary reader.

I once suggested to Stewart Farrar that he adapt them for television—how perfect for PBS’ Mystery seriesand he agreed that they would work well on “the box.”

Only, he said, the current leadership of her Society of the Inner Light was very protective of the copyrights. Too bad. Stewart would have brought both his writing talent—which had included dramatic scriptwriting—and a Witch’s experience to the job.

Wicca Work?

M. drew my attention today to the fact that Rocky Mountain PBS (Motto: “All Antiques Roadshow all the time.”) was offering another BBC-produced copy show, Wicca Work. Typical of RMPBS, they seem to be starting with the third season.

CORRECTION: The series is New Tricks, the episode is “Wicca Work.” (Thanks, first commenter.)

The description of the series says,

They may have handed in their badges and started collecting their pensions years ago, but Lane, Standing and Halford are back for a third and fourth series, still working at the London Metropolitan Police as civilians investigating unsolved crimes as part of boss Pullman’s team, Unsolved Crime and Open Case Squad (UCOS). Led by Pullman, who spends half her time trying to rein them in, the three men investigate an array of challenging and disturbing crimes.

What, if anything, is the significance of the title? Is this just another case of Wicca being the new black?

UPDATE: They may have used the word “Wicca” a few time, but this was more Dennis Wheatley than Gerald Gardner. The “white whitches” are really “black witches,” they sacrifice people, and the solitary witch who lives in a tipi (!?) gives the detectives teas that (a) make them incredibly horny or (b) are psychotropic and mind-bending.