Archives For Scott Cunningham

When Wicca first emerged into the public eye in the 1950s, it was strictly a initiatory mystery religion. If you wanted to be a Witch, you needed to be initiated by Gerald Gardner himself, or by someone who had been given an initiation by him. When other traditions emerged, Alexandrian, 1734, the ethos of initiation by an already initiated High Priest or Priestess remained intact. In those early years many “traditional” Witches took a dim view of “bootstrap” attempts to start new traditions, and the notion of self-initiation. Author and Gardnerian elder Raymond Buckland was initially scornful of such groups, which he felt were harming the Craft, as documented in Chas Clifton’s “Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America.”

“It says much for the success of Gerald Gardner in obtaining recognition for the Craft as a religion, for its imitators are those who, unable to gain access to a coven, have decided to start their own. These do-it-yourself “witches” would, on the face of it, seem harmless but on closer scrutiny are not so. They are causing considerable confusion to others who, seeking the true, get caught up in the false… These “covens” [in both Britain and the United States] spreading like chicken-pox have no association with “the Craft.” Why do people start such “covens”? Why not wait and search? For some it is just that they have no patience. They feel so strongly for the Craft that they must participate in some way. By the time they eventually do come in contact with the true Craft it is too late. They are by then so set in their own rites and, unfortunately, have other whom they have led along, they they cannot back down. Some, however, are merely in search of fame and fortune.”

Buckland’s view, written circa 1970 and shared by many other Elders, would change dramatically by 1974 when he introduced his own tradition of Seax-Wicca, one that included the assertion that self-initiation could be valid (a growing consensus among many prominent modern Pagans and Wiccans). Between the introduction of feminist Goddess-traditions, the emergence of eclectic Wiccan traditions like the New Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn, and the shifting attitudes of Traditional elders like Buckland and Doreen Valiente, the ground on the issue of self-initiation and solitary practice had moved considerably. That said, Witchcraft traditions, and the coven structure, whether old or newly created, was still the primary vehicle for growing Wicca despite a rising number of self-initiated solitary Wiccans. Then, in the late 1980s, something, someone, happened.

That something was the 1989 publication of Scott Cunningham’s “Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner,” a book that literally introduced a new generation to Wicca, and helped change the face of modern Paganism.

Cover art by Robin Wood.

Cover art by Robin Wood.

To say the response to this book was immense is to do it a disservice. It has sold over 400,000 copies (by the year 2000), and is still in print today (by contrast, Starhawk’s “The Spiral Dance,” published ten years earlier, sold around 350,000 copies by 2000). That scale is important to note in a publishing industry that usually sees sales in the low thousands for many titles. Cunningham’s book tapped into a growing need within the Wiccan/Witchcraft community, one for a simple guide for those who couldn’t find a coven, or couldn’t find a one that they felt comfortable with. While the ethos of self-initiation had become normalized by the 1980s, most books were still aimed at groups, and many felt frustrated in learning to piece together a practice that worked for them. Cunningham’s books happened at just the right place and time, and helped fuel the coming boom of Wicca (and modern Paganism) in the 1990s.

Now, author and magician Donald Michael Kraig has published a short ebook on the life of Scott Cunningham, whom he lived with for six years, and counted as a close friend. Entitled “The Magical Life of Scott Cunningham,” it promises to give us a glimpse into the man who changed the face of religious Witchcraft.

Scott Cunningham

Scott Cunningham

“Before Scott, Wicca was primarily passed on within the coven structure. In order to become a Wiccan you had to find a coven and study with them. If you couldn’t find a coven, or there was no coven near you, well, you were just out of luck. Scott’s book, Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner, gave instructions on how any individual could come to love the Goddess and become a Wiccan. In the years that followed, Solitary Wicca became the primary way most people entered the Craft. Scott didn’t denigrate the coven structure, he simply gave an alternate approach to Wicca and made it available to all. It’s rare that the actions of one person change the world, and even more rare that such changes can be seen. Scott Cunningham was such a person. […] In the book I also share some of our experiences together so you will learn not just where he was born and what he did, but what he was like. I hope you get an idea of who Scott Cunningham was. Many of the anecdotes and stories have never been published before. The stories and his magical methods pepper chapters on his theories and methods of performing natural magic, his approach to The Goddess and Wicca, and his love for the land, people and magic of Hawaii.”

Cunningham tragically died in 1993 from an AIDS-related illness, a mere four years after his breakthrough success, but long enough to start to see how much his work impacted the community of which he was a part. Too little has been published about Cunningham, and Kraig’s short work, available for only $1.99 on Amazon, is a needed corrective. One that will no doubt be cited by authors and scholars for years to come. I’ve already purchased my copy, and look forward to reading it.

Cunningham’s work has changed us, and grown us, into what we are today. He not only changed Wicca, but also changed the larger ethos of the Pagan community itself. Today a vast majority of Pagans are solitary in their practice, and a slim majority describe themselves as eclectic. Books like “Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner” provided an affirmation that this was acceptable, healthy, and normal. In an era of social networking on the Internet, the utility of Cunningham’s work is ever-more apparent. Many of us are connected with hundreds, even thousands, of our fellow Pagans, but we are still solitary practitioners when it comes time to light the candles and honor the gods.

Happy May Day everyone! Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So lets get started!

Sacred Paths Center Announces Closure: Sacred Paths Center, a Pagan community center serving the Minneapolis/St. Paul area (aka “Paganistan”), sent out an email today announcing their imminent closure. Executive Director Teisha Magee cited a lack of money, resources, and volunteers as reasons for this decision.

“After much heartache, soul-searching and tears, it has become clear that Sacred Paths Center cannot continue. Our expenses are too high in this location and we are just not getting enough money coming through the door. All of our resources are tapped, and our volunteers are worn out.”

This decision comes in the wake of a rocky 2011, one that featured an emergency fundraising campaign, and being temporarily closed  pending internal and external financial audits. It seems that Sacred Paths Center wasn’t able to overcome the many obstacles towards long-term sustainability, and it raises serious questions for other communities looking to follow in their footsteps. Stay tuned to PNC-Minnesota for further follow-ups on this story.

Maetreum of Cybele Denied Tax Exemption for 2012: The Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater, in an ongoing tax battle with the Town of Catskill, New York, has been denied religious property tax exemption yet again, even though they meet all federal and state qualifications. In a public statement, Rev Cathryn Platine of the Maetreum of Cybele noted that the town has spent an estimated quarter of a million dollars to deny their exemptions.

The Maetreum of Cybele's building.

The Maetreum of Cybele's building.

“Despite the fact that the Town of Catskill offered no credible theory in court for their continued denial of exemption, I was just informed that the Maetreum of Cybele has been denied property tax exemption for 2012 meaning another entire round in this ongoing drama. The wheels of justice turn very slowly in Greene County, New York. The actual trial was split between two days last November and December but the final arguments in our court case still have not been submitted at this time. They are supposed to be due in about two weeks and then we will have to await the Judge’s actual decision after that. In the meantime we will once again have to go to the Board of Review hearing later in May and almost certainly be denied again and have to file yet another lawsuit against Catskill. Despite claims to the press for several years that Catskill did not question our legitimacy as a religion, the entirety of their case was exactly that we were not a legitimate religion under the IRS guidelines. Again despite the IRS recognition we are. We proved in court we met every one of the IRS “fourteen points” for determining what is or isn’t a church.”

As I’ve mentioned before, the law in this case seems pretty clearly on the side of the Maetreum of Cybele, but Catskill is going to wage a scorched earth legal campaign in hopes the Pagans run out of money and energy first. Acting Catskill Town Supervisor Patrick Walsh stated in 2011 that the town was already too deep into the case to give up and that significant dollars could be saved by preventing exemptions for illegitimate religions.” We’ll keep you updated on further developments. For those wanting to an make a tax-deductible donation to their $10,000+ legal bill, you can do so directly via paypal to: centralhouse@gallae.com. Or you can contact them through their website.

SAPRA’s Annual Advocacy Against Witch-Hunts Comes to a Close: With the issue of witch-hunts, witch-killings, and dangerous exorcisms very much in the news lately, I thought it appropriate to mention the work of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA), under the banner of ‘Touchstone Advocacy,’ has been doing since 2008 to raise awareness with their “30 Days of Advocacy Against Witch-Hunts” campaign, this year held from March 29th – April 27th. In 2011, the campaign won support from a government commission, and they continue to work to protect victims of witch-hunts while combating laws that seek to criminalize “witchcraft” as a solution.

“Since 2008 the South African Pagan Rights Alliance has repeatedly appealed to all Commissions for Human Rights internationally to encourage all governments to: a. halt the persecution of suspected or accused witches, b. uphold and strengthen a culture of human rights for all equally, c. respond appropriately and humanely to incidences of accusations of witchcraft, d. make the eradication of violence against suspected witches an international priority, e. train local police to manage witchcraft accusations and violent witch-hunts in a way that affirms the dignity and humanity of those accused of practising witchcraft, f. create victim support units to facilitate reintegration and conciliation of those accused, g. adopt comprehensive public education and awareness programmes aimed at eradicating the real causes of witchcraft accusations, and h. reform legislation that currently seeks to suppress witchcraft or criminalize accused witches.”

You can receive year-round updates on their campaign at their Facebook group page.

In other community news:

- At Lewelllyn, author and magician Donald Michael Kraig (“Modern Magick”“The Resurrection Murders”) has announced that he’s writing a book about his long friendship with Scott Cunningham, the seminal Wiccan writer who authored the paradigm-shifting “Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner.” Quote: “I hope you get an idea of who Scott Cunningham was. Many of the anecdotes and stories have never been published before. The stories and his magical methods pepper chapters on his theories and methods of performing natural magic, his approach to The Goddess and Wicca, and his love for the land, people and magic of Hawaii.”

- San Jose State University will be running a Pagan Studies conference semi-concurrently with the 2013 PantheaCon. Organized by Lee Gilmore (SJSU), author “Theater in a Crowded Fire: Ritual and Spirituality at Burning Man,” and Amy Hale (St. Petersburg College), “Pagans in Dialogue with the Wider World: A Pagan Studies Symposium” seeks to, quote, “focus on Paganism’s contributions to and engagements with broader cultural and religious dialogues in an increasingly pluralist world.” You can read the full announcement and call for papers at Chas Clifton’s blog.

- PNC-Washington DC covers the recently held 2012 Ecumenicon, an interfaith conference that was founded in 1987, and features significant Pagan and esoteric involvement. Quote: “The group that would ultimately found Ecumenicon realized that there was a hunger for actual religious education as it applied across all religions and particularly to alternative religions.  Ecumenicon comprises an ecumenical conference and ecumenical ministry, for those who seek such a path.”

- Is Pagan Spirit Gathering’s current home in Illinois in danger? PNC-Minnesota reports that a group of local citizens are petitioning to have Stonehouse Park rezoned back to agricultural use only (more on this here), complaining of noise and drug-use (none of the complaints are about PSG, but to other, non-Pagan events). PSG/Circle organizer Sharon Stewart is working with local officials, and hopes to obtain a special permit if the worst should happen. We’ll keep you posted on this as news develops.

- PNC culture blog The Juggler has an interview up with Pagan author Christopher Penczak (“The Inner Temple of Witchcraft”“The Outer Temple of Witchcraft”), talking to him about his career and teachings. Quote: “I think if you focus on your intention in the ritual, and then think which of these paths support that overall vision, you’ll be doing great. Avoid the “Everything but the kitchen sink mentality.” Every ritual doesn’t need every path. I think determining if it is inhibitory or exhibitory is the first step, then which paths will help in that method?”

That’s all I have for now, have a happy May Day!