Oberon Zell and Kenny Klein Cut Ties With Revived American Council of Witches

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  December 7, 2011 — 22 Comments

Back in October I reported on the formation/reformation of the American Council of Witches (aka the Council of American Witches), a body initially founded in 1973 by Carl Llewellyn Weschcke, owner and chairman of Llewellyn Worldwide, shortly after his initiation into the American Celtic tradition of Witchcraft by Lady Sheba. This new council, according to a press release, would update the Thirteen Principles of Belief (aka Principles of Wiccan Belief) for military and prison chaplains, and “engage in an interfaith dialogue to identify and address the legal and social needs of members of our religions”. However, almost from the beginning questions and concerns were raised about the goals, structure, and purpose of this renewed US American Council of Witches. The main Pagan media outlet investigating and reporting on the issues raised was The Modern Witch Podcast, hosted by Devin Hunter and Rowan Pendragon, who questioned the new council’s founder, Kaye Berry, about concerns raised by the wider Pagan community.

“As the council does not have a website with the appropriate information, the community has been directed to e-mail the organization, or to visit the Facebook page for the council. As community members began to ask questions on the page via posts or comments, these questions were deleted and members banned without their questions being addressed. Screening comments for profanities and ill-will is one thing, but why ban and delete the posts of pagan community members, press, and leaders who are asking for clarification?”

Now it seems like the US American Council of Witches has truly collapsed under scrutiny. The Facebook presence for the council has disappeared, as noted by a watchdog group formed by those with questions and concerns, and two of the most high-profile names associated with the council, Oberon Zell and Kenny Klein, have issued a joint statement cutting ties with the group, and recommending that all work on it be abandoned.

“Considering the controversies and ill-will that this project has engendered within the Pagan community, it is our joint opinion that the US American Council of Witches can no longer be regarded as a viable enterprise, and we strongly recommend that the entire project be abandoned at this time and the USACW be dissolved.”

You can read the entire statement here, or here. Rowan Pendragon, who was one of the more visable Pagan media members asking questions, and who signed on with the public statement put out by Zell and Klein, had this to add.

“Also, understand this, because this is something that I have been slammed for in all of this.  I am not at all against the vision of an interfaith Pagan organization to help foster positive and productive interactions between Pagans and the greater community.  In fact I have always embraced such endeavors and have been involved in a few myself.  The problem with USACW was how it was handled, how it attempted to get off the ground, and how its leader chose to interact with the very community she was claiming to help.

There is no ego or power trip here on my part, as has been suggested.  I don’t want to head anything like this myself (been there, done that, and I know how hard it is).  And again, I have no personal vendetta against anyone involved in the Council or the Council itself.  I am all for furthering our community with positive and sincere organizations and actions.  This, unfortunately, was not that.  I do think it’s unfortunate to see the whole thing become lost, but that’s just how this has panned out for now.  The project and its vision are certainly worth saving and considering under the right type of leadership.  One day that may happen, but that day is certainly not today and that lead is certainly not Kaye Berry.”

As a somewhat distant observer to the rise and fall of the US American Council of Witches, I think it provides an object lesson in how much our community of interconnected faith traditions has changed since the 1970s. Simply put, there’s a far greater expectation of transparency, ongoing communication, and engagement than in the past. The days of semi-obscured leadership councils is over, if indeed they were ever sustainable to begin with. I think it is telling that one “council” that has weathered the years is the Covenant of The Goddess, which operates by consensus process, has clearly defined goals, and is transparent about its workings (indeed, reporters have been welcomed to observe their last two Grand Councils). The resistance to openness by this new council may have doomed it from the start. What was once an initiative to restart a part of Pagan community history has instead become a cautionary tale of how not to start a pan-Pagan (or pan-Wiccan) organization.

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • Sounds like the same sort of stuff Christianity went through before it finally got properly organized.

    • Alex Pendragon


      • Organized?

        Considering that they experience asexual reproduction and double the population of churches in some areas every five years…

        • Codified and regulated with dogma and ritual, societal standards and elitist/seperationist ideologies. Its just the course of history I think.

      • “proper” “orthodox” perhaps?

    • Anonymous

      Christianity is not “properly” organized. Organized religion is a gigantic stain on society. As much as I “want” to be for something like this, fundamentally, I just can’t help but be against it. This was just one more scare from where I sit. You can not organize a council of people to represent a large group of truly diverse religions. You just can’t do it. Too many different paths, too many different traditions for everyone to be properly represented without favoritism or bias. I actually hope nothing like this is ever tried again. It just divides us further.

  • I ponder how much of the uproar was caused by poeple biting heads off on the slightest mispoken phrase. I know I’ve had instances where I was speaking to groups and the second I used the wrong term that made me sound like I was stepping on toes, was jumped on for it. Even after admitting right up front that the term was not what I meant and that I only used it for lack of a better term, the other party just wouldn’t let it go.

    • The cause of the uproar was misrepresentation to the community, lack of response and the serious lack for organization and secrecy. That is what the uproar was.

  • I was among the first to be contacted by “K.Berry”…when we asked them direct questions, they put us off…when we asked the same questions on their facebook page, they blocked us…when we investigated them, we found they were NOT a “tax-exempt” group as they claimed, that their list of “supporters” was phony, and that the “council members” listed, had NO knowledge of the group. It was a scam for money.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    It shows honor for Oberon and Kenny to openly walk away for public reasons rather than just slip out the back door.

    Kudos to the watchdogs in the trenches who kept the spotlight running!

  • As long as stuff like this continues to happen groups, or councils, such as this will continue to encounter resistance. I thank the whistle-blowers for pointing the inaccuracies, and failings, out. Only the gods know how far this could have gone before a lot of people would have become screwed or simply disenchanted.

    Your last statement is what really caught my eye:

    What was once an initiative to restart a part of Pagan community history has instead become a cautionary tale of how not to start a pan-Pagan (or pan-Wiccan)

    A lot of these attempts at Pagan faith organizations are merely Pan-Wiccan in nature. They seek money and time from Non-Wiccans but have no willingness ,or desire, to actually listen to the concerns or viewpoints of those who don’t fall into their religious purview. I experienced this recently and am glad I pulled my money out ahead of time. To watch, yet another, group that was supposed to be “pagan”, morph into “witch”, and then finally “Wiccan” is all too common, disheartening, and basically false advertisement.

    Good riddance to bad rubbish. Either come correct or don’t come at all.

  • kenneth

    The most charitable thing that could be said of it is that it was a solution in search of a problem.

  • Kilmrnock

    Aye, leadership of such a group needs to be transparent and open and available to answer any questions . I wholely agree with Jason , closed , clandestine control of such groups is a thing of the past.If it ever was a good idea.It does sound like this endevor was destined to fail from the get go. Kilm

  • IMO, Mrs. Barry isn’t scamming, trying to take anyone’s money, or being sneaky. However, this concept is very disorganized, proper consultations didn’t take place, and it wasn’t well thought through. The idea is a good one, but the execution needs some serious work.

  • sky

    I opposed her inclusion of Native Americans from the beginning when such an inclusion simply was not necessary. When I contacted Ms Berry she initially tried to throw others under the bus for her bad behavior and lack of honesty. Those who she attempted to place blame on were included in all communications on my part but left out when she responded. She lied, twisted and placed blame repeatedly. There was zero accountability on her part, even when I pointed out to her that It was her words, posted by her, that I was questioning.

  • Oberon Zell will talk live on his show at 9 pm Central. It is a live call in show. http://paganstonight.com

  • Crick

    Ever since Gardner created Wicca out of elements such as the Golden Dawn and the Book of Solomon, there has been infighting. Such as when he dumped Doreen Valiente, his former HPS, for a younger version. And so it continues through today. The Council of Witches represents no genuine witches, only remnants of the old guard Wiccans. Wiccans are NOT witches, as a witch would never bend their knee to any organized religion. Such misnomers are what creates such a atmosphere for contention…

  • The true Craft is not about organisation, it is about survival and yet from what I see today, to many are coming in and wanting to make it about rules, guidelines and what one can and cannot do, we adhere to a Greater Code of Ethics that is the Greater Work and when we forget about others, stick our noses up to all other religions, point our fingers, we do the same to our own Craft. Our Religion is the only religion that has never spilt blood in the name of our God and Goddess and this too is something in which my “True Mother” always speaks out about, respect yourself, respect everyone no matter who they are and what they believe.

  • Aaatkins37

    I actually have met and know Kaye Berry. She lives in Peoria, and I went to Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, which is about 30 minutes away. My club, the Pagan Student Alliance, invited her group to investigate the paranormal on our campus. Not only did they not bring ANY kind of equipment, but she didn’t even bring such basic tools as a notepad. Her “group” was more interested in getting unfettered access to our buildings, coming up with wild explanations, and then (without our knowledge) filming a segment on the Underground Railroad in our Old Jail. They said that their videos of the “paranormal” (a few orbs here and there) would be aired on some station like ABC, but of course that never happened. She was very strange and unprofessional and even though she is the only Pagan organizer in that area of Illinois, we never contacted her again.

  • It does not mean everybody can not be friends.

  • Anna Korn

    I’m not sure why anyone would found an allegedly Pan-=pagan organization and then call it a “Council of Witches.” Seemed kinda shady from the start–
    Good thing that Oberon and Kenny left with a public statement, and that Devina nd Rowan and others kept up the pressure for transparency.
    History shows that Pan-Pagan groups have a great deal of trouble organizing. Most that do (Circle , CAW) tend to have a small group of leaders running things.
    [Re Crick’s comments below: You need to learn a lot more about Craft history. Nearly everything you said in your post was incorrect.]

  • copperstorm

    i am a pagan who lives in central illinois where kaye berry resides(peoria area, NOT chicago area as stated in original article regarding the new council of witches). it is common knowledge in this area that she is a scam artist. when i read the original article regarding this new council of witches and saw her name in the article i was absolutely shocked that such seemingly responsible,intelligent, well known pagans were involved in this project with her……..seems it’s ending as most of her endeavors do with the exception of one thing-she is finally being publicly called out by those she has scammed. in these here parts, no one speaks out against her publicly because they are afraid of magickal reprisals,avoiding a ‘witch war’, or are too apathetic to take action(i am in the avoiding witch war and apathetic categories). it is refreshing to see a public statement regarding her actions.