The Selling of the Old Religion
by Gwydion Pendderwen
from Nemeton, Volume One, Number Two Lady Day/Beltane, 1973 Common Era
It wasn’t too very long ago that my existence as a Witch was a guarded secret. “It isn’t wise to advertise,” ran the doggerel of my people. Once in a while, we’d invite an outsider to hear the words of the elders or the Grand Master, but never did we allow people from the outside to witness our rites. Our memories down to the 19th century are long and painful, and we were just coming out of the fear of official persecution.
It happened that, with time, we broke total silence, and we corresponded with some of our kinsmen and women scattered around the globe. Much had been forgotten by all; much was irreparably damaged by isolation and wanton destruction. We learned a few basic facts of anthropology, however: No matter how carefully a tradition is preserved, it changes; and no matter how strict and conservative the elders, the coven and the Craft were influenced by the larger society about us. Between traditions long separated, grave differences appeared, thus proving that the Craft was a living, growing, changing entity, rather than a mummified corpse from antiquity.
I greeted the growing publicity of the Craft, and the interest in membership therefrom, with mixed feelings. It was good that the truth be known, even if some would sensationalize it, but the Craft, I felt, was never meant for everyone, nor for many at all. The Old Religion, the old ways, yes; but the Craft was for the very, very few.
In the first few years of the ‘revival’ of the Craft, I was pleased to learn of the honest concern and interest of so many individuals. It was rather disconcerting to me, on the other hand, that a multitude of ‘traditions’ were springing up (Gardnerian, Alexandrian, Traditionalist, etc.), but wherever people were genuinely touched by the Goddess as Muse, a feeling of inspiration arose and spread like a rumor. The Old Religion was right, it was good for people, it was non-sexist, and whomever it touched in turn became good people.
And, like Topsy, it just grew and grew! But somewhere along the line, the magic failed to reach into a number of persons, who saw the potential of the Old Religion as a gold mine, and the prophets of profit entered the scene. Someone said, “Hey! There’s a mint to be made here!” and the race was on. Cosmic eyes, blessed oils, holy scriptures, anything that could be printed, molded, stamped or sewn was sold. Even the secret writings belonging to the Gardnerians were prostituted by the truly heretical act (if ever there be such in the Craft) of publishing The Book of Shadows. The fundamentalist crusades of the 1930’s paled in comparison to the occult revolution of the 1960’s and 1970’s.
Now some people are making the current interest in the occult pay off without damaging their personal integrity, or exposing the Craft to vapid commercialism. But others are making a disgusting mockery of the Old Religion in their blatant disregard for the principles of the Craft, the very personal feelings that must be invoked in the individual, and the very terms Witch, Wicca and Witchcraft.
I received a short while ago a newsprint publication which deals with every conceivable aspect of occultism and spiritualism. It’s published in Houston, Texas, and the mimeo cover letter proudly announces that this publication is “centered towards Parapsychology, Metaphysics, Esoterics, Occult, Astrology and Natural Foods… ” I think the only fad left out was Scented Toilet Paper. The letter goes on to explain how inexpensive are their advertising rates, and that the newspaper is “.. . presently distributed to over 450 U-Totem and 7-11 convenience stores.” Whoopie.
I was not surprised by the appearance of this publication. A little ill perhaps, but not surprised. Hucksters seek the dollar wherever it may hide, and since there’s a sucker born every minute, this newspaper can claim a circulation of over 7500 copies per month. I remember when the Haight-Ashbury was a big tourist attraction and ‘hippie’ underground newspapers were being hawked for 50¢ each; neither written nor produced by hippies, they contained absolutely nothing ‘hip’ or underground, but they made some enterprising entrepreneur very well off.
The inside of this occult publication offered an article on “esoteric astrology”, describing Aries as “the mystery of God the Father”, Taurus as “God the Sun” and Capricorn as the Holy Ghost. Other articles (all five of them) were written with the same semi-literacy as Jesus-freak tracts.
Numerous ads dotted the twelve pages, from Sister Paula’s appeal to those with problems and evil spells to contact her (send $5.00 donation), to the amazing classified ad which read:
WITCHCRAFT COURSES. Be the center of attraction. People will flock to you. Become a certified witch. Learn how to raise and use your dormant powers. See into the future and live a full spiritual and sexual life. Intro book $1.00 (Name and address of school.)
Wow! What more could you want! And for only a dollar!
L. Ron Hubbard, revered by his followers as if he were a dead prophet, learned long ago that there were only two ways to get rich easily in this country: invent a new religion or invent a new form of psychotherapy. He did both, and he’s made a fortune with the Church of Scientology. It is apparent that he has become the idol and the model of hundreds of would-be millionaires with silvery tongues and suede shoes who want to cash in on the current interest in whatever-the-fad-is.
The shame of it all is that there is a genuine Craft to be explored by a multitude who will be turned off by the hucksterism of the profit-seekers. And unfortunately, it is the most sincere people, the serious adept and the sensitive Pagan, who will be hurt.
The Craft will endure, as it always has, a little tarnished and discredited perhaps, but with dignity. But we have no trademark rights to the terms Witch and Wicca (and maybe some clever P.R. man will ensure that for all times), nor do we have the right to tell someone he is not a Witch because he did not do such-and-such. Mail order initiations, like mail-order doctorates in divinity, are already available to the gullible person willing to part with the requisite tuition fees, and the day of the franchise coven appears not too distant.
I can look upon this wholesale pandering for only so long without anger welling up within me. Thus far, only esoteric bull-shit has been pushed as ‘witchcraft’ by the occult peddlers. I don’t doubt that they are capable of peddling even nude orgies and bestiality under the banner of ‘witch sabbats’, but I become livid when I think of the possibility, the very great possibility, of the discovery and disclosure of the secret names and writings of varying traditions, and their sale in U-Totems and 7-11’s. Lady Sheba, who swore an oath of secrecy, published the Gardnerian rites; if an initiate might be so base, what might a non-initiate be capable of? Not that the secrets need be understood, mind you. All that is necessary is that they carry a tidy profit.
Perhaps we should go back to those days of utter secrecy, before what secrets remain are exposed in Playboy opposite the centerfold: the Goddess in a bunny costume. Or perhaps we should make a more concerted effort to let the public, and especially those attracted to the Old Religion, know that there are places to go and people to contact in order to learn more about the true Craft. As of this writing, several of our sister covens, organizations and individuals are making very concerted efforts to expose the occult-pimps. But this is only a start, and the profiteers have more money into promotion than may be imagined.
I could not bring myself to title this editorial, as originally planned, “The Selling of the Goddess.” The idea sickened me so that I could not write. But somehow, I can’t help seeing in my crystal, a pack of smooth-talking, misogynous promoters plotting rape. And I don’t like it. How about you?
Copyright © 1973 by Nemeton. Nemeton is published quarterly. All rights reserved. No portion of this magazine may be reprinted without the express permission of the publishers. Published at Oakland, California, P.O. Box 13037, Oakland, California 94661.