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.