Raymond Buckland (1934-2017)

Heather Greene —  September 29, 2017 — 1 Comment

OHIO – Raymond Buckland, author and founder of Seax-Wica, died Wednesday after being hospitalized for chest pain. Ray, as he was called by his close friends and family, is largely considered responsible for introducing the U.S. to Gardnerian Wicca.

Raymond Buckland was born August 31, 1934 in London to Stanley and Eileen. By 1939, as World War II loomed, the family moved to Nottingham where Buckland spent his childhood. During his school years, he became interested in the theater and acting, a passion that would follow him through life.

It was also during these early years that Buckland was introduced to spiritualism and the occult. His uncle was a practicing spiritualist, and shared the concepts with his then-12-year-old nephew. In a 2008 interview, Buckland said, “I read everything I could on that subject then expanded my interest to other related subjects: ghosts, ESP, magic, witchcraft, etc.” Like theater, it was a passion that would follow him into adulthood.

Buckland attended King’s College in London starting in 1951, and eventually earned a doctorate in anthropology from Brantridge Forest College. It was also during this time that he married his first wife, Rosemary, and became a father.

During his earlier career, Buckland held several different positions and also spent two years with the Royal Air Force (1957-59), a service for which he was honored in 2014 during Circle Sanctuary’s Veterans Day presentation of the Pagan Military Service Ribbon.

It was in 1962 that his life would change, and he would begin the path that would lead him to notoriety. Buckland and his family moved from the U.K. to Long Island, New York. At this time, he worked for British Overseas Airway Corporation (BOAC), and began to studying Wicca through Gerald Gardner’s books; he eventually developing a long-distance friendship with the renowned author.

Buckland and his wife flew to the U.K. in 1963, where they were initiated by Monique Wilson and Gardner himself, after which they brought the tradition back to the U.S.

As Buckland said in a 2016 interview with TWH: “Gerald was very keen to get the Craft established here in America and did rather push that. His greeting was never, ‘How are you?’ but rather right into, ‘We have got to get you going over there.’ ”

During the 1960s, as the occult was became more popular, Buckland established a Long Island coven, which according to him did not have a name, and he also opened a museum called the First Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in the U.S.

At the same time, Buckland began writing his first book, A Pocket Guide to the Supernatural (1969). This was quickly followed by a number of other books on magic, the occult, and Wicca. Through the success of his writings, Buckland was able to quit his job at BOAC, devoting his complete attention to the coven, his writing, and his teachings.

Buckland always said that he didn’t specifically seek out publicity, but it just fell into his lap:

For the longest time I would do interviews and write articles to straighten the misconceptions that existed (this I felt to be my task), but withheld my name and picture. Then a columnist for the New York Sunday News, who assured me she would honor my confidentiality, boldly published my name and address and all hell broke loose

In the 1970s, Buckland’s life began to shift again. He and Rosemary divorced, and both of them left the Long Island coven. In 1974, Ray remarried and moved first to New Hampshire and then Virginia, where he would begin a new spiritual journey. There he established Seax-Wica and launched a correspondence course that over time attracted more than 1,000 followers worldwide.

It was at this time Weiser published his popular book, The Tree: Complete Book of Saxon Witchcraft. Former student and Wiccan priest Gavin Bone recalls:

I was initiated into my first coven in 1986. It was based on Ray’s The Tree: The Complete Book of Anglo-Saxon Witchcraft … [The] story I heard among the U.K. Wiccan community was that Ray was drunk when he wrote the book. This always seemed a bit strange to me, but I generally ignored comments like that. In 2000, Janet and I were invited to the original WitchFest in New Orleans, where I finally got to meet Ray … One evening after the festival, [Ray, Ed Fitch, and I] went down to Bourbon street hopping from bar to bar … We finally ended up at Old Absinthe House.

It was there, with both of us a bit worst for wear and me emboldened by several margaritas I asked [Buckland] if he had indeed written The Tree drunk; he was a bit perplexed by the question at first, but said that he had heard this stateside. ‘No’, he said ‘I was very pissed, very upset about the way the Craft had gone in the U.S’. The penny dropped between the two of us, and both of us started to laugh! Of course, people had heard in the U.K. that Ray was ‘pissed’ and for them that meant ‘drunk’, and of course this spread back the other way. From this conversation I got the long history of Long Island, why he wrote the book etc. I learnt more about the true history of the U.S. craft in one evening drunk with Ray Buckland, than at any other time since.

Over the next decade, Buckland continued to write and to teach Wicca to those that sought out him out. He interacted with the growing Pagan community, attending festivals, and speaking publicly to the media about Wicca. Rev. Selena Fox remembers appearing on the Sally Jessy Raphael television talk show with both Buckland and Scott Cunningham. She says, “It was a dynamic show and we worked well together talking about Witchcraft, Wicca, and contemporary Paganism.”

Buckland said, “I had always hoped that we would reach the point where Wicca was generally accepted as ‘just another religion, and in many respects that has been achieved.”

By the mid-1980s, Ray had divorced his second wife, and had met and married Tara, who would become the love of his life going forward. It was also during this time that Llewellyn published what would become arguably his most famous book: Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft, or what is often called “Big Blue,” or “the Big Blue Book.”

As time rolled on, Buckland became increasingly disconnected with the growing Pagan community for a variety of reasons. He shut down the correspondence course and, in 1992, he and Tara moved to a farm in Ohio. Buckland retired from his public Pagan life, only interacting with the community on occasion.

Pagan Spirit Gathering 2005 [courtesy].

As he expressed in 2016: “Seax-Wica is definitely still part of my spiritual identity. I don’t care much for labels -– though some do seem necessary –- so will not label myself. I am very much a solitary practitioner these days and draw on a variety of beliefs and practices.”

Over the next several decades, Buckland slowly reconnected with his spiritualist roots, attending events at New York’s Lily Dale, a camp for spiritualists and freethinkers. He also returned to his love of theater, including performing stand-up comedy at a hotel in Millersburg, Ohio.

His museum was recently reestablished in Ohio as the Buckland Gallery of Witchcraft and Magick, and he also said that his library of books would eventually be donated to a group in Kentucky, where a Raymond Buckland Memorial Reference Library would be established.

Toni Rotonda, the Buckland Gallery owner, says, “Raymond had a story behind each and every artifact, and if you’ve ever had the privilege of hearing any of his stories, you knew the ending was going to have you crying with laughter. We are honored to be able to continue and share his passion in the preservation of our history and share it with generations to come.”

As for his writing, Buckland moved increasingly into fiction, producing only a few nonfiction or occult-related works over the past decade, one of which was his popular Romani tarot. In his fiction writing, Buckland wrote within several genres, including mysteries that capture his love of the Victorian age (e.g. The Bram Stoker’s Mysteries), as well as high fantasy (e.g. The Chronicles of Kurnow), and science fiction (e.g. The Committee Against Evil).

Buckland did say that he was also working on an autobiography.

In 2015, Buckland’s health began to decline. At that time, he was battling pneumonia and, in July of that year, he had a heart attack. However, as Buckland told us in 2016, he was in fact feeling much better and keeping active.

“I am now walking two miles every morning and spending an hour on exercises every afternoon,” he said. “I no longer will travel any great distances, don’t do public appearances, and keep pretty low key with my writing (all fiction these days).”

Early this past week, Buckland was reportedly having some breathing problems, and doctors found that his lungs were filling with fluid. After treatments, Buckland rallied and was reportedly his cheerful self by Wednesday. Then, when doctors asked him to get up and walk around, he experienced chest pain.

Buckland passed peacefully with no pain Wednesday evening, in the company of his loved ones.

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What others are saying…

“He was the father of Wicca in the U.S., a legacy whether people wish admit it or not continues. He was a gentleman, progressive in attitude before his time with the ability to inspire others, but he had an indomitable spirit.  Perhaps when he arrives there he can finally give those flowers to Doreen Valiente and she’ll let him watch soccer with her.  Travel well my first teacher.” — Gavin Bone

“Ray Buckland was a wonderful, wise, creative, and loving soul who blessed this world with his magical knowledge, writings,  joy and love. I am thankful for his friendship over the years, his teachings, and his leadership in the many endeavors that helped the Craft and Paganism grow and develop in the US, UK and around the world … I, like many, am saddened that he has died, but am glad that he continues to be in this world through his books, works, and many lives he has blessed. Hail and Farewell, Ray. Blessings in your journeys in the otherworld.” — Rev. Selena Fox

“While Ray never professed to be Druidic, to us he was all we admire in a Druidic leader and elder. He understood Summerland and our Druidic beliefs in ‘life before life, life after life’ as well as any Druid. We look forward to seeing him in our astral travels soon. Our blessings to all that loved him.” — the Druid King / George King

“Having been a proud owner of Ray’s ‘Big Blue Book’ well before my own career as a Pagan author took hold, I was nervous about meeting him the first time we were booked at the same event. After all, this was the Raymond Buckland. The man I met and befriended, however, surpassed his ‘legend’ status in spades by eschewing the part. Instead of embracing a label, he was simply himself. A warm, genuine, intelligent, funny, and delightful human being. I will always cherish the chats we had, the laughs, and the honest exchange of ideas. He will be sorely missed.” — M. R. Sellars, author

“I am simply in shock at Ray Buckland’s passing. I was just looking at pictures yesterday and remembering a few of the truly bad jokes he told 30 years ago when we were young and not so innocent. Today my old friend is gone. Life happens in a blink of an eye. Until we meet again, may your journey be interesting. ” — Janice King

“He was a true original in every sense of the word. I find myself immersed in his legacy, and both Jillian and I are proud to carry on the museum which bares his name. We feel blessed to have spent time with him, and would like to express our deepest sympathies to his wife, family and all of the people he has touched as an author, lecturer, and a Pagan elder. As I always tell people on our tours, you were a one in a century type of guy, Buck. Blessed Be.” — Steven Intermill, curator of the Buckland Gallery.

“Ray was a true gentleman. He always took the time to be personable to everyone he addressed. He had a way of looking into a person to  see where they were in life and always encouraged them to be their best. He was very patient and faced many uneasy people, but also treated them respectfully. There are gentleman, and then there are true gentleman. Ray was a true gentleman.”— Sandpiper, close family friend.

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The family is keeping his memorial service private. His wife Tara has since publicly thanked the Pagan community and others for the outpouring of love for Buckland and support for her family in social media.

Pagans Tonight Radio Network will be airing two podcasts honoring Raymond Buckland’s life and work. First, the Correllians will be hosting a tribute podcast Sept. 29. Then, Rev. Selena Fox will host a two-hour special podcast: “Circle Sanctuary’s Remembering Ray Buckland” Oct. 3.

In 2008, Buckland was asked what advice he’d like to offer to every Witch. He said, “Be true to yourself … and always remember that Witchcraft/Wicca is a religion of love.”

When asked in 2016 what he’d like to be remembered for, Buckland said,”I guess I’d like to be remembered as someone who did his best to expand Gardnerian from the U.K. to the U.S., who tried to write truthfully about the Craft (without ever breaking his original oath of secrecy) and as someone who very much enjoyed working with others in many different fields.”

He mentioned his legacy: the museum, his library of books, and his own writing, much of which is still in print.

Raymond Buckland was many things: a writer, an actor, a teacher, a visionary, a spiritualist, and a priest. He was a friend, a husband, a father and grandfather, and an inspiration to generations of Pagans. Weaving throughout all the recently-expressed memories and tributes on social media and beyond, one thing stands out and is repeated over and over again: Raymond Buckland was a gentleman, and one who was clearly loved and cherished by both those closest to him and the many more who he touched through his work.

What is remembered, lives. 

Raymond Buckland at museum opening [courtesy].

Heather Greene

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Heather is a freelance writer and journalist, living in the Deep South. Professionally, she has worked for Grey Advertising Global, Coca Cola Company and GCI. She has collaborated with Lady Liberty League and has formerly served as Public Information Officer for Dogwood Local Council and Covenant of the Goddess. She has a masters degree in Film Theory, Criticism and History from Emory University with a background in the performing and visual arts.