Famed ghost-hunter, paranormal investigator, and popularizer of Pagan faiths Hans Holzer passed away on Sunday at the age of 89. While most will remember him for his ghost-hunting and investigations into the Amityville house (the subject of several films), he also played a key role in the spread of Witchcraft/Wicca and other Pagan faiths in America during the 1970s. With books like “The New Pagans”, “The Truth About Witchcraft”, and “Confessions of a Witch”, Holzer responded to a need that the still nascent Pagan publishing industry couldn’t fill.
“For all their inadequacies, books such as Holzer’s … offer a snapshot of Pagan history circa 1970. It may be a blurry snapshot, but it is one of very few from the period. In addition, Holzer was correct when he suggested that his books would serve people seeking Pagan groups and teachers. Even today, in the age of e-mail and the World Wide Web, with the explosive growth of American Paganism from the low thousands in the early 1970s to estimates of close to a million in 2000 and growing rapidly, the majority are still solitary practitioners. More than one contemporary Pagan has described how important a book such as ‘The New Pagans’ could be when there was nothing else to go by.” – Chas Clifton, Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America (2006)
Though he participated in many Pagan groups over the years, and was made a Wiccan high priest according to the New York Times obituary, Holzer never really abandoned his Protestant Christian roots. Though his view of religion and Christianity ended up being a bit too heretical for his local pastor.
“He considers himself an Evangelical Protestant and used to attend St. Bartholomew in Manhattan twice a year – on Christmas and Easter. But he has since stopped going – he’s been at odds with the minister. “My minister at St. Bart’s, I don’t like,” he said. “And it’s mutual.” He laughed. “Why is that?” I asked. “They were running a seminar on world religions – they had a rabbi there, they had an Imam there – it was a discussion group,” he said. “Since I’m a professional lecturer, I offered to add the view of parapsychology. And he [the minister] turned it down with a note saying, ‘How can you compare that with what we’re doing?’ And I didn’t think that was very nice. You have to understand, where I’m coming from, if it weren’t for parapsychology, religion wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.”
While many modern Pagans barely know Holzer outside of his books on paranormal phenomena, he played a key role in making Wicca/Witchcraft the world religion it is today. As a writer Holzer certainly veered into sensationalist flights of fancy over the years, but he also connected hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people with Pagan teachers. Holzer also cleared a path in the publishing world that eventually allowed Pagan authors like Margot Adler to write serious examinations of what we now call the “Pagan community”. We owe him recognition and thanks for the work he did on our behalf. May his spirit enjoy his journeys on the other side.