In the early morning hours Sunday, Wiccan priest, teacher, and author Gavin Frost died after enduring significant pain from numerous internal physical problems. Gavin had surgery scheduled for late September, but his physical condition worsened making the operation impossible. As early as July, he told his daughter Jo that “he was ready — if he got really sick again to let him go.”
“Blessed Be those who seek” – Gavin Frost
Gavin Frost was born in Aldridge, Staffordshire, England, Nov. 20, 1930. According to Raymond Buckland, Gavin was “raised in a tight-knit family group ruled by his hard-working, hard-drinking Welshman grandfather.” But in 1936 after his grandfather died, Gavin’s family moved way from the area to the southwestern coast of England. His daughter Jo said that, as a little boy, he was fond of watching the busy planes and trains moving about the region.
Earlier than most, Gavin was enrolled in boarding school and, after completion, he began his studies at the University of London, King’s College. There, Gavin developed an interest in math and physics, graduating in 1952 with a Bachelor’s of Science in math. He eventually went on to earn a doctorate in physics and mathematics, finishing his dissertation work with the Department of Atomic Energy in Cumbria, England.
In the meantime, Gavin also was developing an interest in the occult. Along with the sciences, Gavin studied the history and mythology of the U.K. and the people that had lived there. In 1948, he was initiated into the coven of Boskednan, based in Cornwall. In a blog post, he wrote, “At that time the young people in college and returning from World War II were all into new lifestyles and religions.” Just as he was finishing college himself, the Witchcraft Act of 1735 was repealed and Gardner and other occult figures were becoming more public in the country.
During the following decade, Gavin pursued a successful career with the aerospace industry, married his first wife Dorothy and moved and traveled around the world. He lived in Canada, England, the U.S. and Germany, eventually settling in Southern California. In 1966, he met Yvonne Wilson, who was also working in the aerospace industry. She would eventually become his second wife and partner in religious work.
In 1968, Gavin and Yvonne moved to St. Louis, Missouri, and formed their first coven using the correspondence course method. This became the Church and School of Wicca, which still exists today. The couple married in 1970, and obtained tax-exempt status for their church in 1972, making it the second U.S. Pagan church, behind the Church of All Worlds, to receive that coveted status. Additionally, Gavin and Yvonne were members of the first American Council of Witches, which met in 1974 at Witchmoot in Minneapolis.
At the same time, Gavin and Yvonne began writing books and attending events. Their very first book proved to be their most controversial: The Witch’s Bible: How to Practice the Oldest Religion was published in 1972. It was followed by The Magic Power of Witchcraft in 1976 and many more over the next forty years.
In addition, their work, specifically their writing, was instrumental in helping the Craft increase public legal recognition in the 1980s. Their teachings were cited in the Dettmer v. Landon case in Virginia, in which the judge eventually ruled that Wicca was indeed a true religion. This was one of the many such cases being heard over that decade.
In May 2016, Gavin told The Wild Hunt*, “To be clear on that topic: The prisoners in Virginia who started the case which got the ruling should be credited with having a great intestinal fortitude and causing the judge to rule in our favor. Yes, we wrote the letters; yes, we published a book. But we did not actually bring the case before the court.”
Through the 1990s and 2000s, Gavin, along with Yvonne, continued to teach on the festival circuit, to write, and to act as clergy through their church. They took a vow of poverty, and eventually moved from Missouri to New Bern, North Carolina and then to Charleston, West Virginia. They also appeared on radio and television and, despite their disinterest in using email, they eventually began hosting a blog called “The Dancing Wiccans.”
Jo recalls, “[Gavin] was a loving, if not always present parent, putting the Church of Wicca as his first priority — a journey he and Yvonne shared […] Part of the joy of the Church of Wicca for him was challenging people to see if they lived up to their aspirations for themselves, something he also struggled to do. He searched his whole life for wisdom, sharing what he knew along the way.”
But Gavin’s life was not without controversy. Speaking on a personal level, Jo said, “Most of what people do not like about Gavin had to do with how he challenged them […] They would leave a conversation angry and then try to make that fit their paradigm, but he challenged himself as much as, or more than, he challenged others around him. I think that is an inherent part of who he was — are you facing your demons? What do you see there? […] He was not an easy person to know.”
Beyond the personal, Gavin, along with Yvonne, were continually at the center of public controversy surrounding their 1972 book The Witch’s Bible: How to Practice the Oldest religion. It was considered highly controversial from the day it was released, as noted by Gavin himself, and has been openly rejected by many ever since. According to several accounts, the book allegedly almost led to a court case in 1974, only two years after its publication. By Gavin’s account, the problem was over its title, not its content. However, others remember differently.
Regardless, as time went by, it was not the title that continued to ignite outrage; it was, in fact, the book’s contents, specifically those pages describing the sexual initiation of children. Protests over that content have erupted as recently as this past spring. When the book was re-released in 1993, it reportedly was altered, including a note that addresses the offending sections. It was also renamed the Good Witch’s Bible. Gavin said that the book was edited again for a 2014 reissue. He said that this later edit was done in the wake of that year’s protests and at the “urging of other Wiccans.”Over the past several years, Gavin began making fewer and fewer appearances at festivals. Part of that was directly due to the enduring controversy with fewer venues wanting the couple to present. When asked about his decreased attendance, Gavin told The Wild Hunt that, in addition to the community backlash, “We’re not sure that we have anything new to say to festival attendees.”
He also added, “We are getting older; travel is becoming more and more stressful.” Jo agreed, saying that her father had been slowing down over the past four years. During the 2016 FPG event, Gavin had to be taken to the hospital.
Doctors eventually discovered a tear in Gavin’s intestine, which was causing significant discomfort. Surgery was scheduled for late September. However the tear worsened, causing more damage, internal infection, and severe pain. He was rushed to the hospital Sept. 5, and admitted to the ICU. Jo said, “There are no words for his experience. His nurses would cry because they felt so sorry for him and there was so little they could do besides manage his pain and try to rebuild his strength. His body released him early [Sunday] morning allowing him to cross over and to be free of the pain.”
Gavin Frost was one and will remain one of the most controversial figures in the modern American Witchcraft movement. With that said, there are still many people who continue to be devoted to the Frosts, the Church and School of Wicca, and its teachings. There are also just as many who will continue to speak out against that work and writings.
A memorial is being held Sept. 25, at 2 p.m. at the New River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Beckley, West Virginia. During the service, there will be an opportunity for those that wish to speak in remembrance. Jo said, “We wish for this to be a celebration. We are all so very grateful for everyone’s kind words and thoughts.”
What is remembered, lives.
* * *
[Editor’s Note: After the most recent controversy, The Wild Hunt reached out to the Frosts for an interview on the book and the issues. Due to Gavin’s illness and their use of snail mail, the response was not immediate. However, they did eventually respond, answering all the questions. The quoted conversations made to the Wild Hunt in this article are taken from that letter.]
UPDATE 9-15-16: This article was updated to correct the year of the Frosts marriage from 1968 to 1970.