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Who's Who in Paganism and Witchcraft

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Meet some of Founders of the Modern Pagan Religions

At the beginning of the 20th Century in Europe and America people began an exploration into their own spiritual beliefs that led to the beginnings of the spiritualist movements of pre-World War II. Explorations did not stop there though.

From these beginnings sprung the Modern Pagan religions.

These are the people who have led Modern Wicca and other Neo-Pagan religions to where they are today.

Gerald Gardner

Gerald Gardner

Gerald Gardner

The Father of Modern Wicca

Gerald Gardner was born in 1884 and died in 1964. He lived most of his live in Borneo and Malaysia where he worked as a civil servant and plantation manager before returning to live in England around 1936.

By this time, Gardner was an accomplished writer on the areas of magic and witchcraft as he had spent a considerable amount of time studying the local native beliefs while living in SE Asia.

Gardner initially moved to London with his wife then moved to the New Forest area of Hampshire in 1938, prior to the outbreak of war in 1939. It was this move that led to Gardner finding and subsequently being initiated into witchcraft.

According to Gardner:

“I realised that I had stumbled upon something interesting; but I was half-initiated before the word ,'Wica' which they used hit me like a thunderbolt, and I knew where I was, and that the Old Religion still existed. And so I found myself in the Circle, and there too the usual oath of secrecy, which bound me not to reveal certain things.” (Gerald Gardner, The Meaning of Witchcraft, 1959)

The validity of Gardner's tale has been questioned many times, while some aspects are true others have been proven false over time. All that can be certain is that the means by which Gardner came to found Modern Wicca are very much a combination of myth interspersed with fact.

Gardner was influenced greatly by the Secret Societies which were popular at the time. One can find elements of the traditions of Freemasonry and ceremonial magic within the Wiccan rituals which he created.

Doreen Valiente with Stewart and Janet Farrar

Doreen Valiente with Stewart and Janet Farrar

Doreen Valiente

The Mother of Modern Wicca

If Gerald Gardner was the Father of Modern Wicca then Doreen Valiente was the Mother.

She was born in South London in 1922 and initiated in witchcraft in 1953 by Gerald Gardner. Soon after she became High Priestess to Gardner as High Priest. As High Priestess Valiente wrote and reworked much of the rituals found in Gardner's Book of Shadows, creating the poetic flow which they hold today.

Gardner and Valiente later parted due to disagreements and their coven was split. While they reconciled later in life, they never worked together again.

Doreen Valiente continued to be a well respected member of the Wiccan and witchcraft community the remainder of her life. Her passing in 1999 was mourned by Wiccans, witches, and other Pagans around the world.

Image @Janet Farrar and used with permission

The Charge of the Goddess

by Doreen Valiente

Listen to the words of the Great Mother, who of old was called Isis, Artemis, Astarte, Demeter, Aphrodite, Diana, Brigit, and many other names.

Whenever you have need of anything, once in the month and better it be when the Moon is Full or Dark, then shall ye gather in a private place and worship the Goddess. There shall ye assemble to partake in the Rites of Nature and Magic. To you shall I teach what is still unknown. You shall be free from all slavery and as a sign that you are free you shall be unbound in your Rites. You shall sing, feast, make music and love all in my presence for I am Ecstasy of Spirit, I am Joy in your life. My Law is Love unto all things. Love is the Law. Mine is the Secret that opens upon the door of youth. Mine is the Cup that holds the Wine of Life, the Cauldron of Wisdom, the Holy Grail of Immortality. I am the Gracious Goddess who gives the Gift of Youth unto the Heart of Mankind. I give Knowledge of the Spirit Eternal. Beyond death, I give Peace and Freedom, and Reunion with those who have gone before. I do not demand or want sacrifice, for behold, I am the Mother of all things and My Love is poured out upon the Earth.

Hear ye the words of the Star Goddess, She, in the dust of whose feet are the host of the heavens, whose body encircles the Universe.

I am the beauty of the Green Earth, and the White Moon among the Stars and I am the mystery of the Waters. I call unto thy soul to arise and come with me. For I am the Soul of Nature who gives Life to the Universe. From Me all things proceed and unto me all things return. Beloved of the Gods and men, let My worship be in your Heart. Rejoice, for all acts of love and pleasure are My Rituals. Therefore, let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you. And for you who are seekers, know that your yearning and seeking will avail you not unless you know this mystery. If that which you seek you find not within yourself, you will never find it without. For behold, I have been with you from the beginning, and I am that which is attained at the end of desire.

An ABC of Witchcraft Past and Present - by Doreen Valiente

Alex Sanders

Alex Sanders

Alex and Maxine Sanders

Founds of Alexandrian Wicca

Sanders, born 6 June 1926, originally claimed to have been initiated into witchcraft by his grandmother around age 7. Sanders did have some natural psychic abilities and did learn some skills from his grandmother while staying with her in Wales. Later in life, though, he admitted to having been initiated into a Gardnerian coven in the early 1960s by Pat Kopanski, who in turn had been initiated by Patricia and Arnold Crowther.

Followers of Alex Sanders at one time called him “The King of the Witches”. The title was not passed down after his death in 1988.

In 1964, Sanders initiated Maxine Morris into witchcraft. They were handfasted in 1965 and legally married in 1967. This same year they moved to London where they ran their own coven and taught people in witchcraft.

Sanders took elements of Gardnerian Wicca, added his own, and together with Maxine Sanders created a new tradition named after the ancient city of Alexandria, Alexandrian Wicca.

Alex and Maxine divorced in 1971. She now lived in Wales and has retired from formal teaching.

Image copyright @Janet Farrar and used with permission

Cecil Williamson

Cecil Williamson

Cecil Williamson

Witch spy

Cecil Williamson (1909 – 1999) first encountered witchcraft in 1916. While visiting his uncle, a vicar in North Bovey, Devon he saw a woman being publicly beaten and accused of being a witch. Williamson defended the woman and so a friendship was born.

Later, while at school, Williamson suffered cruelties from a school bully and was given aid from another witch. The bully never bothered him again.

Williamson was hired by MI6 in 1938 to investigate the Nazi's occult interests and founded the Witchcraft Research Center. After the start of World War II in 1939 Williamson placed false prophecies in a book supposedly written by Nostradamus. This book was taken to France and placed where it could be found by Nazi Rudolph Hess. Hess found the book and following its prophecies flew to Scotland where he was captured.

In 1947 Williamson tried to open a museum about witchcraft in Stratford-upon-Avon. He forced to change his plans though after local opposition to the idea. He bought a very run-down Witch's Mill at Castletown on the Isle of Man in 1948 and turned it into the Folklore Center of Superstition and Witchcraft, opening its doors in 1949.

Gerald Gardner, whom Williamson had met in 1947 in London was asked to oversee the museum.

The Museum of Witchcraft was later moved to Boscastle, Cornwall and continues there today.

Image copyright @Museum of Witchcraft and used with permission

Ray Buckland

Ray Buckland

Raymond Buckland

Father of American Wicca

Ray Buckland was born in London on 31 August 1934. He developed an interest in Spiritualism and the occult at an early age as a Romany after being introduced to it by his Spiritualist uncle. In 1963, Ray Buckland moved to the United States.

On one of his travels back to England in 1963 Ray Buckland was initiated in Gardnerian Wicca by Monique Wilson. It was this line of Gardnerian Wicca that Buckland brought back to the United States.

Buckland later formed his own tradition, Seax-Wica which is based upon the symbolism of Anglo-Saxon Paganism. He is a High Priest in both Gardnerian and Seax Traditions.

In 1968 Buckland formed the first Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in the United States. The museum was never able to find a permanent home and in 2008 the artefacts were entrusted to the care of The Covenant of the Pentacle Wiccan Church in New Orleans. They are now raising funds to display the artefacts either in New Orleans or as a travelling exhibit in select US cities.

Ray Buckland continues to write and now lives in Ohio where he builds cars and air planes.

Image copyright Ray Buckland and used with permission

Buckland's Book of Witchcraft - by Ray Buckland

Stewart Farrar

Stewart Farrar

Stewart and Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone

Stewart Farrar was born 28 June 1916. His was an exciting and varied life. He graduated from university with a degree in journalism. He served in the British Army as an instructor in anti-aircraft gunnery during World War II, then continued to work for the Army as a civilian public relations and press officer in Germany. He was one of the first British officers to enter Auschwitz, an event that had a great impact on his personal and political beliefs.

After returning to England, Stewart began working as a photojournalist. Between 1953 and 1954 he worked in the London branch of Reuters. He also worked as a scriptwriter for several major television programs of the time, notably Emergency Ward 10 and Dr Finlay's Casebook.

At age 53, while interviewing Alex and Maxine Sanders for Revielle, Stewart discovered the world of witchcraft and magic. He was initiated into Alexandrian Wicca on 21 February 1970.Around 1974 Farrar quit his job as a photojournalist, and devoted the remainder of his life to writing about witchcraft.

Janet Owens was born 24 June 1950. At a young age she worked as a model and after being initiated into witchcraft by Alex and Maxine Sanders became one of the most public faces in Wicca. She has appeared as a model for book covers and illustrations in several of the best known books on the subject.

Stewart Farrar met Janet Owens within the coven. They were handfasted in 1972 then legally married in 1975. Together, they have become two of the best known and most prolific writers on the subject of Wicca and Witchcraft in the world.

Gavin Bone, born 1964, trained as a nurse and has studied complementary healing methods. He met Janet and Stewart Farrar in 1989 at a Pagan Camp in Groby, near Leicestershire. In 1992, Gavin accompanied Stewart and Janet Farrar on a tour of the United States and upon their return to Ireland, joined them there.

The three entered into a polyfidelitous relationship in 1993 and after Stewart's death in 2000 he and Janet Farrar legally married in 2001.

Gavin Bone and Janet Farrar continue to write on the subject of witchcraft. They are active members of The Aquarian Tabernacle Church of Ireland as well as having links to several covens in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and across Europe.

This image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. taken by Bev Richardson in 2000

The Books of Stewart and Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone

Isaac Bonewits

Isaac Bonewits

Isaac Bonewits

Modern Druid

Isaac Bonewits attended the University of California at Berkeley in 1967. While there his roommate introduced him to Druidism. He became ordained as a Druid priest in 1969. From there, he went on to establish the New Reformed Druids of North American (NRDNA).

Bonewits was able to create his own course of study while at Berkeley and in 1970 graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in magic [and thaumaturgy]. The first, and last, person to do so as UCB changed the rules regarding self-study after that.

Bonewits founded the Aquarian Anti-Defamation League (AADL), a civil liberties and public relations organisation for members of minority belief systems. The AADL has since shut down.

In 1986 in New York City, Bonewits founded Ar nDraiocht Fein ("Our Own Druidism" in Irish gaelic) as a religious organisation with no ties to the NRDNA. He served as ArchDruid until 1996 when he assumed the title of Archdruid Emeritis after a prolonged illness.

Isaac Bonewits lives with his wife, Phaedra, in upstate New York.

Added 12 August 2010:

On this day, Isaac passed into the Summerlands after a prolonged illness.

image copyright @Isaac Bonewits and used with permission

Real Magic: An Introductory Treatise on the Basic Principles of Yellow Magic - by Isaac Bonewits

Oberon Zell

Oberon Zell

Oberon Zell-Ravenheart

The Church of All Worlds

Oberon Zell, born Tim Zell on 30 November 1942, was co-founder of the Church of All Worlds along with R. Lance Christie. The Church of All Worlds was based strongly upon Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land and took its name from a spiritual organisation described in the novel.

Zell served as High Priest and "Primate" of the church from the early 1960s through the late 1990s.

The Church of All Worlds received 501(c)(3) status from the IRS on 18 June 1970, the first Pagan church to do so. Today, branches of CAW called Nests can be found all over the world.

The Green Egg, official journal for CAW, has been in near continual publication since 1968, making it the longest running Pagan magazine. The Green Egg ceased to be in 2001 due to financial difficulties, but has since been revived as an e-zine and can now be found on-line.

In 1977 Zell co-founded the Ecosophical Research Association, dedicated to exploring the truth behind myths. They are best known for the creation of the "living unicorn" which toured with Ringling Brothers Circus briefly.

Most recently, Zell has founded The Grey School of Wizardry (GSW) specialising in occult magic. It operated mainly on-line and has been registered as a non-profit 501(c)(3) institution in California.

Image from Oberon Zell-Ravenheart and used with permission

Grimoire for the Apprentice Wizard - by Oberon Zell-Ravenheart

Oberon Zell-Ravenheart is an elder in the worldwide magickal community, and has worked as a grade school teacher and a family and youth counselor. Through his publication of Green Egg magazine over a period of 30 years, Oberon was instrumental in the founding of the modern Pagan movement, which he so named. In 1970, he had a profound Vision of the Living Earth that he published as an early version of "The Gaia Thesis." Oberon is an initiate in several magickal traditions and has been involved in many interfaith projects. He is a theologian and ritualist, creating and conducting rites of passage, seasonal celebrations, Mystery Initiations, Earth-healings, and other large rituals. Oberon has traveled throughout the world, celebrated solar eclipses at ancient stone circles, raised unicorns, and swum with mermaids in the Coral Sea. He is author of the acclaimed Grimoire for the Apprentice Wizard, and Headmaster of the online Grey School of Wizardry. Living in Northern California! , Oberon also sculpts altar statues of gods and goddesses, and is lifemate to Morning Glory, his beloved Witchy wife of 32 years.

Resources and References

Have something to say?

DW Davis from Eastern NC on July 02, 2015:

I never realized the recent history of Wicca and Paganism was so varied and complex. Thank you for an interesting and informative Hub. I am always glad for a chance to learn something new about the old religions and their modern incarnations.

anonymous on February 06, 2012:

These are but the well know, the show boaters as I call them, there are many many others that never receive the recognition nor do they want or need it. There are those that ever wrote a book, but their knowledge could full volumes. I can remember as that fledgling many years ago, reading big blur etc and now many years later and as a HP Immeritus I know all that is written must come from with in, for with out that added energy it is for nought. Blessed Be Dalgast

Treasures By Brenda from Canada on May 01, 2010:

There is a lot of great information on this page.

grannysage on April 26, 2010:

This is excellent! The pictures are priceless. You provided a great reference.

Jennifer P Tanabe from Red Hook, NY on April 26, 2010:

Fascinating! Great introduction to these founders of Modern Wicca and other Modern Pagan Religions.

Missmerfaery444 on April 26, 2010:

Wonderful, wonderful! I knew about many of these but others I did not, so fascinating reading. I visited the Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle last July, what a wonderful place. Could have wandered around it for hours!

I knew a little of Oberon Zell, I particularly love his Millennial Gaia statue, but didn't know he shared my birthday of 30 November!

Really enjoyed this, 5 stars and thank you!