UNITED STATES – In recent weeks, an anonymous group claims to be reviving the American Council of Witches (ACW). In doing so, the group has raised questions from the wider Pagan community concerning their motives and secrecy. Someone has even created Facebook page, mimicking the American Council of Witches 2015’s page, adding the word “SRSLY” to the logo. Who is organizing this council? What is their purpose? The Wild Hunt looks closer at this group and its goals, interviews one of the council members in waiting, and finds out how other Pagans feel about its possible rebirth.
A Brief History of the American Council of Witches
In 1973, Carl Llewellyn Weschcke, owner and chairman of Llewellyn Worldwide, helped organize the American Council of Witches. The group convened in Minneapolis, Minnesota but disbanded shortly after, allegedly due to internal divisions. Before disbanding, the group managed to put together the Thirteen Principles of Belief, which was a general set of principles for Witches. That material was subsequently incorporated into the 1978 edition of the Army’s military chaplain’s handbook.
In 2011, a new group calling itself the U.S. American Council of Witches attempted to form. This new council said it was coming together after receiving a request from the U.S. military to update the Thirteen Principles of Belief. However, almost from the beginning, there were questions raised about the goals, structure, and secrecy surrounding the renewed council. The main Pagan media outlet investigating and reporting on the 2011 council was The Modern Witch Podcast, hosted by Devin Hunter and Rowan Pendragon. They questioned the new council’s founder, Kaye Berry, about concerns raised by the wider Pagan community. After intense scrutiny, several prominent members of the council resigned and it disbanded.
A New Council Forms
Now another attempt is being made at resurrecting the American Council of Witches and, similar to past years, questions are being raised about its goals, structure, and secrecy.
One of those persons raising questions is the very one who asked the tough questions in 2011. Devin Hunter said:
We do not know the voices behind this new attempt but we do know they are planning to do something with the principles according to their logo. There are a two definite similarities between this new attempt and the previous which immediately surface.
The first is that there is a deep lack of transparency from these organizers. From posts on their Facebook page they claim a council already exists and that they are investigating murders while waiting to convene on March 1st. All this but no website, no organization, no community outreach, just a Facebook page and a single webpage with a logo.
The second is that there appears to be from my perspective a lot of similar language being used, which got the previous organizer in a lot of hot water. The previous organizer did not like questions from the media nor the general community, even going as far as to delete inquiries so that no one could see them being challenged. Currently they are not taking questions because they are awaiting the completion of a website. Mind you, this meeting is suppose to take place in less than two weeks.
As Hunter notes, the available information about the group, its goals, and even who is organizing it, is scarce. On its Facebook fan page, the group has stated that no official council members have been selected and that all information will be released on March 1st.
However, as shown by their Facebook posts, organizers do claim there are already council members in-waiting, nominated by the group’s Chairwoman, a webmaster, a legal team, and a person designated to review future council members. They recently announced they are accepting an open call for people interested in applying to join the council.
In a response post, Cathy Fia Moritz said: “I’m not trying to be contentious. But, I would at least like to know who is posting these [Facebook] updates and who will be behind any press releases or any other actions, external or within our community.”
In a direct reply, Brandon Erickson said, “First I’m going to address the need to know “who” it is, you don’t know these people they are not famous, nor are they seeking any kind of notoriety, so “who” it is does not matter, What matters is that they are qualified for the job, and have the craft’s best interests at heart with people like you and myself and others in mind. … So please stop worrying about something that has no bearing on anything that is going on here. As for your concern about behind closed doors, it is up and coming things are being put together and worked on to be made public. I have never seen an organization bother other people with how it is being put together beyond those that are directly involved with putting it together, you have all been notified of the goings on’s and workings of this council and such by this page’s statements. Nothing is going on behind closed doors that is of any concern to anybody but those directly involved in the steps to get this running.”
According to the fan page, ACW2015 has reached out to “Authors, Musicians, Counselors, and even a Publisher or two.” Organizers said, “We have established that this council will not represent just Wicca, but all facets of Paganism that we can…” They added that, after March 1st, they will list the names and bios of each council person on their website. Additionally, the group has said that they plan to revise the Thirteen Principles of Belief and to write at least one book.
However, none of this has eased community concerns. There are too many unanswered questions. In one Facebook post, the group said that Carl Llewellyn Weschcke, chairman of the last council (1974), gave “his permission to relaunch the Council.”
However, Mr. Weschcke, through Llewellyn employee Elysia Gallo, disputes that claim. She said, “Carl Llewellyn Weschcke has obviously seen a lot of Wiccan and Pagan groups come and go in his time, and he receives requests for his personal involvement in different organizations all the time. At this point in his life, he is concentrating his energy on writing his own books, passing the torch to others as far as organizing and action goes. He was contacted by a person calling for the formation of a 2015 American Council of Witches, asking for his advice and his recollections of the instigating spirit and goals of the original 1974 Council. Carl, always the professional, always interested in furthering the “New Age,” gave a polite response to the effect of “good luck but I can’t take on anything else,” as he has a full plate. Such a response should not be construed as an endorsement of this association or its goals.”
Who is Behind the Council?
The Wild Hunt attempted to contact the ACW2015 and was directed to Elwin La Fae Herman and Heath Keeper. Heath Keeper said our questions would need to be answered by a Lady Rhiannon Martin, one of the founders of a Seax Wicca line called SerpentStone. Unfortunately, Lady Rhiannon was unavailable due to personal circumstances.
After repeated attempts to contact Ms. Herman, we were sent a message stating:
I regret to inform you that with such a short time we are unable to answer all of these to a satisfactory solution; however, all of this information will be on our Facebook page come March 1st. At which time we will have a chair person for public relations and gladly be able to address as many of your questions as we can if you would like to set up an interview then.
In addition, we were told to “refrain from contacting [the] council further.” Like 2011 Council, the organizers won’t talk to the media.
However, the Council has stated that Kaye Berry, who lead the 2011 revival, is not associated with this attempt. Beyond that, the group has not given out any membership information despite repeated questioning on their Facebook page by members of the community. For example, Don Wildgrube wrote:
I was in the original Council of American Witches in Minneapolis in 1973. It was open as far as membership and knowledge of each other was concerned. I am concerned because the only way that we know who is in this group is by occasional postings. Make the membership public to the rest of us. If necessary, make this a closed group, so we can see who is a part of this group, so we can contact each other. Also the web page only has the illustration that is on the upper left of this group and nothing more. If we are to cooperate, let us do so.
Other than Elwin La Fae Herman, Lady Rhiannon Martin, Brandon Chaffinch (web designer), and Donna Clifton (Council Member in Waiting) not much else is known and all details highly guarded. Another unnamed source wouldn’t release the name of the person spearheading this effort, presumed to be the Chairwoman, but did offer a few extra details. The council’s goals are to “update the 1974 tenets and release the discussions in a book form under a pen name.” The organizers do not appear to be affiliated with any larger organizations and meetings will be held over the internet to allow “witches from all over the country to participate.” The organizers have also allegedly said that the idea for the 2015 revival was discussed over social media and in podcasts, and that many people supported it happening.
Interview with Council Member in Waiting
Fortunately, The Wild Hunt was able to talk with one council member-in-waiting. Donna Clifton is an eclectic solitary Pagan who goes by the craft name of Lady Belladonna. She said that she first heard of the effort to resurrect the council back in January.
“I was conversing with someone who was aware that it was forming, and the person asked me if I would be interested in becoming a part of it.” Unfortunately, she declined to give the name of that person, saying that she didn’t have permission and would feel uncomfortable passing it along.
The Wild Hunt: Why do you want to be part of the council and about when did you hear of it?
Donna Clifton [courtesy photo]
:The reason I accepted the nomination was because I have experience, and I feel that I can represent the voice of the Solitary pagan. I feel that in this modern day time frame that many other kinds of Pagan faiths have surfaced, and there is much more diversity being expressed in today’s Pagan world than represented in the mainstream.
TWH: What do you know of the council’s goals?
DC: The goals are basically to address witchcraft in the present day and help to address modern day practitioners to help and guide those of future generations.
TWH: How do you see the council as helping guide future generations?
DC: It is not to re-define anything, but to address the issues of the modern day practitioner. This council has the vision of things taking place in the modern times, and the issues that we face in our own day and age, and we hope to be able to address those things and find solutions that our continued freedoms can go forward.
TWH: How do you think this council will be different from the effort in 1973 or the failed attempt in 2011?
DC: This time more planning and organization will have gone into the efforts.
TWH: What kind of planning and organization? Is there an example that illustrates that?
DC: Nothing that I can elaborate on at this present time.
TWH: When and how will you be confirmed as a council member? What’s the process?
DC: March will be the time frame that the council will be formed and, at the moment, I do not have the authority to go into that explanation, I will be happy to go to the people who are for you if you would like, and let them explain what can be explained right now.
TWH: Are you excited? Scared?
DC: I am. Wow, perhaps all of the above. Hoping that I can accurately represent the solitary practitioner this is a big responsibility.
TWH: I can understand that. The group is already getting quite a bit of attention by the greater Pagan community. And people have been asking why there’s so much secrecy around the council. How do you respond to that?
DC: Because nothing is set in stone at the moment. Answers given at this present time could possibly change.
TWH: But why keep the names of the organizers secret? Is there a purpose for that?
DC: When everything is in place all things will be revealed. It’s a matter of timing. Once more, that too is subject to change.
TWH: Is there anything you can say about the council? Or wish to say? Anything you’d be excited for our readers to know?
DC: I would say that those within it have pure intent and the highest hopes of coming together in a united purpose of representing modern Witchcraft at its best.
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Will this attempt pan out better than the failed 2011 attempt, as Clifton believes? Hunter gave this advice:
The last time an attempt was made it was so unorganized and immediate that there was no possible way for it to take off and be successful. It fell under scrutiny because it was unable to provide basic and important information, gain the favor of the community by actually courting it over a period of time, and because in the end it was the ego driven dream of someone with a keyboard.
I think that for something like this to ever happen it would need to be something new and gain it’s reputation by real work and ingenuity. It would need to start off with a small grassroots community that would grow over time and momentum. It would need to shed the term council and there would need to be an actual effort beyond a computer screen. The organization behind it would need to seek real legitimacy within the community before even attempting to convene such a group and there would need to be an actual need for it to begin with.
Time will tell. March 1 is less than two weeks away.
UPDATE: The Wild Hunt has learned that The United Pagan Radio has scheduled a live broadcast with council members at 4:30pm EST today Feb. 19. They will then replay bits of the afternoon show and more at 10:00pm EST tonight.