DALLAS, Texas –Last month we reported that Morgan McFarland, founder of what eventually came to be called the McFarland Dianic tradition, had died. As she chose a solitary practice for herself nearly 40 years ago, few people today are familiar with her contributions to Wicca. In fact, McFarland helped shape a debate over the nature of the Dianic path which continues today. The Wild Hunt sought out those who knew her well, to better understand how her influence continues to be felt in the 21st century.Also known as Johnnie Lee Myrick-Haynes, McFarland was born in Mobile, Alabama in 1941. While it’s unclear what first put her on that path, she was already performing rituals on her own thirty years later when, in 1971, she met Mark Roberts, a man who had been initiated into a British family tradition by his former wife. The two began a partnership that was to last for several years, combining Roberts’ contacts in the nascent Pagan movement with McFarland’s willingness to be the public face for their covenstead to build the new tradition.
According to a chronology provided by Monica Granath, a member of the tradition, it was Roberts who discovered the term “Dianic cults” in Margaret Murray’s The Witch Cult in Western Europe, and McFarland chose to adopt it because “it spoke to her beliefs and practices.”
Both McFarland and Z. Budapest have claimed to be the first to use Dianic to describe their work, but no matter who deserves that credit, the two traditions have clear differences. As it is said in the McFarland tradition chronology:
Although McFarland Dianic covens espouse feminism as an all-important concept, the exclusion of men from any coven is solely the choice of its individual High Priestess.People of all genders have always been welcome initiates to Old Dianics, a designation used by some to separate the two Dianic philosophies.
Shari Tripp was one of the earliest people initiated into the tradition. After having been introduced to McFarland by her sister Renda, she joined the mixed-gender coven. “Renda was Morgan’s ‘first born,'” she said. “I was living in Houston working with a gentleman with Craft connections and Renda told me about Morgan and her tradition and covenstead. I met her and began training in early 1973. At that time I traveled from Houston to Dallas once a month and trained directly with Morgan and sometimes Mark. I was initiated in December of 1973 and started passage to become a High Priestess in January of 1975. Renda went through passage earlier than me and was Morgan’s first High Priestess. I was Morgan’s 2nd High Priestess.”
Granath, who knew McFarland well, said that she “was an amazing woman, my dearest friend, my Craft Mother and mentor. I miss her every day, but I know she was welcomed into the Summerland with open arms and her memory will always be in my heart.”
Tripp observed that the gender dynamics definitely changed how the 13 moons were celebrated. “I can say that the energy between the covensteads was quite different. Neither was ‘better’ but as you can understand, women create a different energy than adding the masculine aspect to a circle. When I hived off and started my own circle, it was a mixed one as I had men that wanted in and those men were definitely an asset to the group. Later, I ended up with only women but would have been open to a man coming in if all was right [with] the man and the timing.”
Part of how her presence is felt is in the rituals and mysteries which she handed down to all the high priestesses of the tradition she founded. That information is copied by hand from one book of shadows to the next, preserving and oral tradition that McFarland kept until she decided to write it down when she began working with Roberts in 1971. They created the tradition with just one other person joining their original covenstead, called Morrigana, but it soon grew into three groups: one was exclusively female, a second was mixed gender, and the third catered to families with children.
Roberts opted to take a different path in 1977, but the Morrigana covenstead continued until 1979. McFarland had always expected its existence to be limited to training high priestesses for descendant covens, and there were six of those in existence when Morrigana finally did dissolve. That was also the year that McFarland opted to retire as leader of the tradition. In her honor, tradition members decided to dub themselves McFarland Dianics to distinguish themselves from other Dianic paths. Even after retiring, McFarland continued to serve as an advisor on the McFarland Dianic Council.
While she took a back seat in the tradition in her later years — largely interacting only through Granath and by monitoring emails, according to Tripp — McFarland did continue to care about tradition members. Tripp shared an anecdote, from when the Bastrop wildfires destroyed her own home in 2011. ” I only had 30 minutes to leave my home which only allowed me to take some of my animals. All my Craft/Wiccan things were lost along with everything else in the house. Morgan took on the task of organizing the members of the tradition to help me with the things I needed. Specifically, to replace and restock my Craft things which meant a lot to me. Morgan called in energy and love for me subordinating her own needs and situation. A selfless, pure action. She wrote me letters which I still cherish. She also sent me a blank book and copies of the rituals so I could re construct my Book of Shadows. Morgan had a talent in writing of conveying emotions and transferring love and energy; her writings touched anyone deeply.”
What is remembered, lives.