Archives For US American Council of Witches

Back in October I reported on the formation/reformation of the American Council of Witches (aka the Council of American Witches), a body initially founded in 1973 by Carl Llewellyn Weschcke, owner and chairman of Llewellyn Worldwide, shortly after his initiation into the American Celtic tradition of Witchcraft by Lady Sheba. This new council, according to a press release, would update the Thirteen Principles of Belief (aka Principles of Wiccan Belief) for military and prison chaplains, and “engage in an interfaith dialogue to identify and address the legal and social needs of members of our religions”. However, almost from the beginning questions and concerns were raised about the goals, structure, and purpose of this renewed US American Council of Witches. The main Pagan media outlet investigating and reporting on the issues raised was The Modern Witch Podcast, hosted by Devin Hunter and Rowan Pendragon, who questioned the new council’s founder, Kaye Berry, about concerns raised by the wider Pagan community.

“As the council does not have a website with the appropriate information, the community has been directed to e-mail the organization, or to visit the Facebook page for the council. As community members began to ask questions on the page via posts or comments, these questions were deleted and members banned without their questions being addressed. Screening comments for profanities and ill-will is one thing, but why ban and delete the posts of pagan community members, press, and leaders who are asking for clarification?”

Now it seems like the US American Council of Witches has truly collapsed under scrutiny. The Facebook presence for the council has disappeared, as noted by a watchdog group formed by those with questions and concerns, and two of the most high-profile names associated with the council, Oberon Zell and Kenny Klein, have issued a joint statement cutting ties with the group, and recommending that all work on it be abandoned.

“Considering the controversies and ill-will that this project has engendered within the Pagan community, it is our joint opinion that the US American Council of Witches can no longer be regarded as a viable enterprise, and we strongly recommend that the entire project be abandoned at this time and the USACW be dissolved.”

You can read the entire statement here, or here. Rowan Pendragon, who was one of the more visable Pagan media members asking questions, and who signed on with the public statement put out by Zell and Klein, had this to add.

“Also, understand this, because this is something that I have been slammed for in all of this.  I am not at all against the vision of an interfaith Pagan organization to help foster positive and productive interactions between Pagans and the greater community.  In fact I have always embraced such endeavors and have been involved in a few myself.  The problem with USACW was how it was handled, how it attempted to get off the ground, and how its leader chose to interact with the very community she was claiming to help.

There is no ego or power trip here on my part, as has been suggested.  I don’t want to head anything like this myself (been there, done that, and I know how hard it is).  And again, I have no personal vendetta against anyone involved in the Council or the Council itself.  I am all for furthering our community with positive and sincere organizations and actions.  This, unfortunately, was not that.  I do think it’s unfortunate to see the whole thing become lost, but that’s just how this has panned out for now.  The project and its vision are certainly worth saving and considering under the right type of leadership.  One day that may happen, but that day is certainly not today and that lead is certainly not Kaye Berry.”

As a somewhat distant observer to the rise and fall of the US American Council of Witches, I think it provides an object lesson in how much our community of interconnected faith traditions has changed since the 1970s. Simply put, there’s a far greater expectation of transparency, ongoing communication, and engagement than in the past. The days of semi-obscured leadership councils is over, if indeed they were ever sustainable to begin with. I think it is telling that one “council” that has weathered the years is the Covenant of The Goddess, which operates by consensus process, has clearly defined goals, and is transparent about its workings (indeed, reporters have been welcomed to observe their last two Grand Councils). The resistance to openness by this new council may have doomed it from the start. What was once an initiative to restart a part of Pagan community history has instead become a cautionary tale of how not to start a pan-Pagan (or pan-Wiccan) organization.

Pagan Community Notes is a companion to my usual Pagan News of Note series, more focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. I want to reinforce 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!

Peter Dybing at Occupy Fort Lauderdale: Pagan activist, leader, and first responder Peter Dybing was with Occupy Fort Lauderdale in Florida on Wednesday, giving training in non-violent resistance as those gathered prepared for a forced eviction. Dybing, current president of Officers of Avalon, and former First Officer of the Covenant of the Goddess, has been a vocal supporter of the right of people to peaceably assemble, and was prepared to be arrested for that principle. Here’s a short excerpt from a statement Dybing sent to members of the Pagan media.

Peter Dybing at Occupy Fort Lauderdale

Peter Dybing at Occupy Fort Lauderdale

“Arrived about 2 p.m. and discussed the city having posted a “New” set of rules that would ban tents ( safety issue, direct sun no shade) and ban protesters in the late night hours. Engaged organizers in discussions about the consensus process. Identified a need for training in non violent resistance civil vs. criminal resistance, Ethical considerations and strategy considerations. Conducted training. My self and one other protester invited to “negotiate” with City manager. Did this while another organizer was working on a court order with a  attorney. Word came at about 6 p.m. that the court had ordered the city to take no action until Dec 2 or the next court hearing […] I was ready to go to jail tonight, glad I did not have to.”

As Dybing mentioned, a judge granted a temporary injunction on the new rules until a court hearing can happen on the issue. Dybing is just the most recent high-profile Pagan leader to engage and participate in the Occupy movement, joining figures like Starhawk and T. Thorn Coyle. In addition, Officers of Avalon, the Pagan police and first responders organization that Dybing currently serves as president, recently spoke out on police violence in regards to the Occupy movement. Religion scholar Lee Gilmore recently noted that the Occupy movement contains “an invitation to mindfulness and participation in ways that are simultaneously spiritual and earthly: Occupy the Earth, Occupy your Life, Occupy Everything.” With that mixture of the spiritual and the earthly, it seems natural that modern Pagans are drawn to become a part of it. We’ll keep you updated on the intersections of modern Paganism and the Occupy movement as things progress.

Solar Cross Raises Money for Native Elders This Winter: Bay Area religious organization Solar Cross Temple has started a new initiative to raise money for Native American elders at Pine Ridge, Rosebud, and other reservations who have a hard time keeping their homes heated in the winter due to a lack of money for heating fuel. Solar Cross Temple co-founder T. Thorn Coyle says that “gratitude is the seed of great magic, I want to use this Thanksgiving holiday to pass on some good fortune.”

Solar Cross Temple founders: Jonathan Korman, T. Thorn Coyle, and Robert Russell

Solar Cross Temple founders: Jonathan Korman, T. Thorn Coyle, and Robert Russell

“Each year, the elders at Pine Ridge, Rosebud, and other reservations have trouble heating their homes. 61% of the population lives below the poverty line. I won’t detail the years of injustice and neglect that have contributed to this situation, and right now, I don’t have the time, energy, and funds to rebuild every inadequate home on the reservation. What I do have the time and energy for is to collect money to help these families  – particularly the elders, some number of whom freeze to death each year – heat their homes. There is great injustice reflected in the way these people are living, and we can tip the balance slightly toward the good.

Solar Cross Temple is collecting donations and will send money directly to the heating companies who maintain a list of families who need propane fuel. 100% of the money after the paypal fees will go to this cause. The more money we collect, the longer into winter these families will have heat. We suggest donations of anywhere between $10-100 (or more for those of you who are truly blessed). Please put “Donation for Winter Fuel Drive” in the subject line so we know where to send the donation. And please pass this information along via any networks you are part of. There is a “donate” button in the left hand column of this page, if you scroll down.”

Solar Cross is a temple, so all donations are tax deductible. Send donations via paypal to solarcrosstemple@gmail.com, please note: “Donation for Winter Fuel Drive” with your contribution. There is also a Facebook event page for this initiative if you want to spread the word there. We will check back with Solar Cross Temple in the weeks to come to keep track on the progress of this initiative.

New Alexandrian Library (Really) Ready to Break Ground: Back in March of this year I reported that the New Alexandrian Library in Delaware, a project that hopes to create “a library worthy of its namesake” focused on esoteric knowledge, mystical and the spiritual writings from many traditions, and the history of our magickal communities,” was ready to break ground on their physical structure. However, that impending ground-breaking ended up being delayed for months due to what NAL call a “sea of red tape.” Now, that sea has been traversed and the necessary permits are now in hand for construction to begin.

Plans for the New Alexandrian Library

Plans for the New Alexandrian Library

“After working through unexpected delays, the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel (ASW) has obtained the building permit to begin construction of the New Alexandrian Library (NAL) and the contractor is preparing to lay the foundation. “We are very excited to finally be able to break ground,” said Jim Dickinson, the NAL Project Manager, “It is ‘a dream whose time has come’!”“This project is about preserving our past and building our future. It is a dream becoming manifest that will inspire scholarship and a deepening of magickal culture. It is proof that our community is maturing,” said Ivo Dominguez, Jr., founding member of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel and one of the driving forces behind the NAL.

The New Alexandrian Library will be primarily a research and reference library. It will provide onsite workstations and other facilities, and is examining housing options for people engaging in long-term research. The NAL resources will act as a magnet that will draw together teachers, authors, and scholars from many paths. Like the original Great Library of Alexandria, the schools of Qabala in medieval Spain, and the flourishing of magick that occurred in renaissance Italy, the diverse confluence of minds and resources would result in great leaps forward in theory and practice. The NAL will be one of the cornerstones of a new magickal renaissance. The benefits for future generations are incalculable.”

Assembly of the Sacred Wheel Elder Helena Domenic notes that much will be needed in the way of donations to make this project successful, NAL needs to raise $125,000 dollars more in the next six months to complete the construction phase. A Ground Breaking Ceremony will be held on Saturday, December 17th, 2011, and will include a brief presentation and speakers, and a ritual for the laying of the foundation (more info here). While the construction project is underway NAL is already in the process of building its collection, including the recent acquisition of rare Dion Fortune paintings gifted by Dolores Ashcroft Nowicki. We will be sure to bring coverage of the ground breaking ceremony in December, congratulations to NAL and ASW!

Other Community Notes:

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

In 1973 Carl Llewellyn Weschcke, owner and chairman of Llewellyn Worldwide, shortly after his initiation into the American Celtic tradition of Witchcraft by Lady Sheba, helped organize the American Council of Witches (aka the Council of American Witches). The group would convene and disband in 1974, partially due to internal divisions and debates, but before it did they published the Thirteen Principles of Belief (aka Principles of Wiccan Belief). Meant as a general set of principles that all groups participating at the time could agree with, that material was subsequently incorporated into the 1978 edition of the Army’s military chaplain’s handbook thanks to Dr. J. Gordon Melton (the material was revised in the 1980s and 1990s, with input from groups like COG and Lady Liberty League). Now this group is attempting to rise from the ashes as the US American Council of Witches.

“We are an independent group of members who each follow a Natural Earth Religion or Tradition. Who shall gather together in interfaith dialog, to redraft a set of Common Principles, Mission Statement, Purpose, Revision of the Army’s Manual and a possible revision of the The Thirteen Principles Of Belief.”

The nascent council has already issued a press release outlining its goals and mission.

Newly Formed Group Defends Witchcraft Rights And Beliefs

The United States is a nation whose very foundation, the Bill of Rights, guarantees its citizens freedom of religious beliefs. Yet those citizens with beliefs that fall well outside of Christianity are often misunderstood and persecuted. There seems to be a rising voice in American politics that non-Christian beliefs are somehow less valid than Christian beliefs. One arena where we have seen this is the attack on our President by those claiming he is Muslim, which they appear to believe invalidates his ability to lead our nation. Another arena is such outspoken organizations as David Barton’s Wallbuilders, who advocate a Federal acceptance that the Unites States is a Christian nation.

In light of these attacks upon our basic religious freedoms, members of the community of Pagans, Wiccans, Witches, and other polytheists have united to re-form the American Council of Witches. First formed in 1973, the Council was a group of over seventy Witches and Pagans who drafted a set of principles outlining the common practices of Neopagan religions in North America. This statement was adopted by the Unites States Army for inclusion in their Religious Requirements and Practices of Certain Selected Groups: A Handbook for Chaplains in 1978.

Though the Council was disbanded in 1974, individuals who each follow a Pagan, Neopagan or Witchcraft Tradition feel it is time to reform the organization in order to achieve certain goals that were not addressed by the original council in the early Seventies. Among these goals are: to revise the original council’s Thirteen Principles of Belief Common Among NeoPagans; to re-submit revisions to the United States Army Handbook for Chaplains; to provide government and law enforcement on Federal, State and County levels with information on NeoPagan beliefs and practices to be used in creating and upholding laws, allowing NeoPagans their Constitutional rights, and ministering to the beliefs of Pagan inmates.

The revised American Council Of Witches will be composed of Pagans,Wiccans, Witches and other NeoPagan practitioners from each of the fifty United States. We will engage in an interfaith dialogue to identify and address the legal and social needs of members of our religions, and we will create policy and documents as deemed necessary. And we hope to dialogue with members of other faiths to foster a basic understanding of our beliefs.

For information, interviews and membership, please contact: usamericancouncilofwitches@yahoo.com

Wanting more information, I contacted them, and spoke with Wiccan author and musician Kenny Klein, a member of the new Council.

Kenny Klein

Kenny Klein

Are there any links between this new ACW and the original body?

The new Council was organized primarily at a request from the U.S. Army to update the Army Chaplains Handbook, whose Wiccan/Pagan statement was written by the original council. Oberon Zell served on the original body, and will be involved with the current body. Isaac’s widow, Phaedra, has also had input. Other members of the original body may be contacted as well.

Who is organizing this effort? Who’s driving it? Have any Pagan organizations/religious institutions endorsed your plans?

The original effort was organized by Chicago area Witch Kaye Berry, who was handed the request from the U.S. Army (I believe from Oberon). Kaye began contacting Witches and Pagans whom she believed would make valuable contributions to the effort. I was contacted early on, and felt this was a worthy project. I have been helping to identify Witches who are leaders in the Pagan/Witch community who might be assets to the project. Our current goal is to bring thirteen core members in as a board. Ultimately we will bring in a representative for each state in the U. S. Of this number, it is my own personal goal to see representation of the major traditions of Wicca and other Pagan practices, and also voices of less structured practices.

You mention Pagans and polytheists in addition to Witches and WIccans, does that mean the group is open to non-Witches?

That is correct. The word Witch may have served the mission statement of the original 1973 board, but the Pagan community has diversified greatly since then. While we continue to use a variant of the original name, we feel that the service and input of members representing the entire Pagan community is of the utmost value to our efforts.

Do you have any specific outreach/interfaith initiatives planned at this time?

At this time our goal is to identify the thirteen core members, and to begin organizing committees to work on our three primary objectives (see below). We do have a Facebook page, which has been receiving a good number of hits. We feel this will generate an interest in the organization. We will begin to plan outreach once our initial goals have been met, which will include the creation of a website, and representation at major and regional Pagan events.

Please note our three initial objectives for the council:

  • Revision of the original statement in the Army Handbook for Chaplains
  • Redrafting a set of Common Principles, updating the set of principles drafted by the original Council
  • Revision of the The Thirteen Principles Of Belief drafted by the original Council

For those wanting to get involved, or follow their progress, you can do so at their Facebook page. No doubt they’ll be in touch with present day active Pagan organizations like COG, Circle Sanctuary, the ADF, the Troth, and others, as things move along. I will be following their progress with interest.