Thursday, March 28, 2013

History of Wicca in Canada

I realised recently that since WynterGreene is no longer in existence and its website no longer exists, that this series of articles that I wrote in 2008 are no longer available anywhere except in print. I think that they are worth re-publishing here to make them accessible. Please note that this work is copyrighted. I earn my living as a writer. I'm happy if you post a link to the article, or quote from it with credit. But please do not reblog it or republish it in its entirity without getting in touch with me first.

A Web in the Weaving: A Brief History of Wicca in Canada

It is fairly easy for us to learn about the history of the Wicca and contemporary Paganism in the United Kingdom and the United States through books like Triumph of the Moon (Ronald Hutton), Drawing Down the Moon (Margot Adler) and, most recently, Her Hidden Children (Chas Clifton). It requires a bit more digging to discover the history in Canada. Only one book, Witches and Pagans and Magic in the New Age, written by a non-Pagan journalist (Kevin Marron) really exists; and it is out of print. This article, to be published in two parts, aims to trace some of the roots of Wicca in Canada, as well as its history and growth. It relies primarily on interviews and newspaper clippings. The first part of this article looks at some of the early figures of Wicca in Canada.

In the late sixties and during the seventies, a series of ‘Wicca seeds’ were planted across the country from various sources—including initiates of Gerald Gardner, Maxine Sanders and the Farrars who emigrated to Canada, bringing their Craft with them, as well as influences and initiates from the United States. In some cases these seeds grew into practicing groups and covens, who later came into contact with each other through similar interests, early Pagan magazines or occult shops; and eventually some of these groups or individuals became more public. These are some of the seeds.

Part I - The Early Years

Gardnerian Wicca arrived in Canada quite early, possibly even prior to its arrival in the U.S via Raymond Buckland.

Originally from the Isle of Man, Jim Davies was initiated into the Craft by Gerald Gardner and his High Priestess, D.P., in 1960.[i] He later emigrated to Canada settled in Toronto. A talented custom machinist by training, Davies was known for his ability to create some fine Craft tools.[ii] Reports of his impact on the early Craft scene in Toronto are varied. By some accounts, it is through Davies that many seekers were introduced to Gardnerian practice;[iii] others describe him as a bit of a “lone wolf” with few initiates.[iv] In the early 1980s, Davies initiated an Italian woman, Raven, and for a short while in 1983 they ran an occult shop called “The Witchy Shop” on Harbord Street.[v] He remained visible on the scene for some time after the store closed. Davies died in the early 1990s.

Another initiate of Gardnerian Wicca who emigrated to Canada was Roy Blunden. His first encounter with Wica was in 1954 when he picked up a copy of Gardner’s Witchcraft Today. It was another five years before Blunden was able to find a coven practicing in London, England, through a chance encounter in an occult bookstore. In the 1960s, Blunden brought his style of Wicca to the west coast, where he led a quiet life practicing as a solitary as well as belonging to various covens. A geoscientist, Blunden describes his approach to Wicca as pragmatic. He is also fascinated by “the complex symbolism used to express Wicca as a transcendental religious faith,”[vi] and has spent close to 50 years exploring this in depth. Along with his wife, an American initiate, he taught and initiated many students.[vii]

If Gardnerian witches in Canada remained true to the epithet ‘her hidden children,’ Alexandrian Craft was much less hidden. Public Alexandrian witches and covens were well known in Vancouver, Toronto, and possibly Halifax.

Sion Davies was a very public witch in British Columbia who claimed Alexandrian initiation by the Farrars in Ireland. He was a merchant seaman with a broad Irish accent and a penchant for the “spooky side of things.”[viii] Davies ran a public coven in the early 1970s in Victoria, and was in the news a few times during that period. He also held public rituals: A bit of publicity in The Georgia Straight, a well-known Vancouver weekly newspaper, (date unknown) invited the Vancouver public to join “witches and warlocks from the Vancouver area” to “celebrate a Black Mass at midnight” in Stanley Park in honour of Hallowe’en. Other bits of publicity included discharging lingering spirits from haunted houses.[ix] By 1981 his approach to publicity had softened somewhat. In an interview with The Ubyssey,[x] he described as being “bothered by the lack of distinction between witches and satanists, [sic]” and cautioning that many symbols used by stereotypical Satanists actually come from the Wiccan faith. He is also quoted as saying  in 1981 that “All environmentalists are actually Wiccans who aren’t initiated, because anybody who cares about mother nature is a witch.” These days Sion Davies maintains a low profile, but he still runs a coven near Mission, B.C., where he has lived for the past 20 years.[xi]

Meanwhile, in the Toronto area, Roy Diamond, also known as “Cock Robin” or “Rob Roy” was the early Canadian face of Alexandrian Wicca.[xii] Originally an initiate of the Long Island (Buckland) Gardnerian line,[xiii] he later took an Alexandrian initiation and is better known as the ‘grand-daddy’ of most of the early Alexandrian initiates in the area.[xiv] It is believed that he took this third degree with Maxine Sanders herself.[xv] Dymond was not media shy and an article about him is said to have appeared in MacLean’s magazine in the 1960s. [xvi] He also had very strong traditional beliefs, one of which was chronicled quite well in a ‘Witch War’ that took place in the Green Egg magazine in 1973. A traditionalist, Dymond believed that homosexuality had no place in a fertility-based religion,[xvii] which was not an uncommon stance at the time.  Many traditionalists perceived Wicca as a fertility religion requiring polarity and not necessarily a nature religion.[xviii]  Dymond remained well-known and active on the Toronto Pagan scene until his death in 1983 or 1984.[xix]

Other traditions of witchcraft also play a key role in the history of Wicca in Canada. Jean Kozocari was a hereditary witch living in British Columbia who claims that she can trace her family’s witchcraft roots back to 1443. She was initiated by her grandfather at age 16, and sent her to study with a “teacher who had been a stockbroker with a seat on the Toronto Stock Exchange.”[xx] Witchcraft, she says, remained quite underground until the 1960s and 1970s when “more liberal thinking allowed her to come out of the broom closet.”[xxi] Kozocari, no stranger to being interviewed about witchcraft, was called as an expert witness during a B.C. Supreme Court libel hearing brought against the evangelical television show 100 Huntley Street by Wiccan and Gnostic priest Lion-Serpent Sun in 1988.[xxii] Four years earlier the show aired a segment where Pentecostal minister Len Olsen told how he had found Jesus after attending a ritual in 1972 where Sun (then Mark Fedoruk) tried to kill him as a sacrifice to Satan. Sun sued 100 Huntley Street for libel.[xxiii] During the trial Kozacari testified that witches must come ‘out of the closet and say that we don’t worship Satan,” and that there is a lot of “garbage about witches” in the popular culture and media. [xxiv] "We are the only people still judged by Mother Goose and Walt Disney fairy tale standards," she said.[xxv] She spoke of the Wiccan Rede, expressed as "And it harm none - do what thou will," and said that Wiccans believe that “all gods are one - we just have a different view about him, her or it. It doesn't matter what name we use. We could call it Ralph." [xxvi] Kozacari currently lives a quiet life in Victoria.[xxvii]

One of Kozacari’s initiates was well-known Canadian poet Robin Skelton. Also known as “Canada’s Merlin,” Skelton was a very public witch and the founder of the creative writing program at the University of Victoria. He was also a professor within the department. Skelton was initiated by Kozacari in 1981,[xxviii] and at the time of his death in 1997 was generally considered an elder of BC neo-Paganism.[xxix] He was also known as a local ‘ghost-buster’ and regularly performed ritual cleansing of houses, ridding them of spiritual disturbances. Together with Kozacari, he authoured a book on the topic called A Gathering of Ghosts. A prolific writer, Skelton published several books on magic and witchcraft as well as over 70 volumes on other topics, ranging from “poetry to criticism, from short stories to Greek translations,” during his lifetime.[xxx] He was described in the media as “peering out at the world from the midst of a majestic and unruly mane of grey hair and beard,”[xxxi] and by his daughter following his death as “dramatic, […] often wearing a black turtleneck and sometimes a black hat.”[xxxii] He was certainly one of the most recognizable faces of contemporary Paganism in Canada.

In 1979, Richard and Tamarra James moved to Toronto from New York. They quickly opened the “Occult Shop” and became quite active on the Toronto Pagan scene. Shortly afterwards, they incorporated the Wiccan Church of Canada (WCC) to be a public face of Wicca as opposed to the less open coven structure that was prevalent at the time. It was also hoped that a bit of public structure would give Wicca a legitimacy in the eyes of the public and give Wiccans ‘rights’ afforded other religions.[xxxiii], [xxxiv] Richard James now says that the name was a mistake, but at the time it seemed appropriate.[xxxv] In addition to the classes offered by the WCC, the James’ maintained a small coven. As the coven grew and hived off into smaller groups, a completely home-grown Canadian Wiccan tradition, the Odyssean tradition, was born. The name Odyssean is in recognition of the individual spiritual journal or odyssey, which is different for every initiate. Also, through the James, Toronto is also the official home for many of the artefacts from Gardner’s museum of witchcraft, including his original Books of Shadow, which they purchased from Ripley’s museum in 1987.[xxxvi] The documents are available to initiates and scholars to view.

These are not the only people who were practicing or teaching the Craft during the early years of Wicca in Canada. There were covens in Halifax, Montreal and Ottawa; and probably in other cities and communities across the country. This is only a small slice of our national Wiccan, and NeoPagan, story. I regret that I did not have the space in this article to touch on more of the individuals and groups that have played a part in our history. I hope to be able to explore their contributions in later articles. In the meanwhile, stay tuned for part II of this article: Rights.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: I am also enormously grateful to everyone who took the time to answer my questions and share their stories. I am especially indebted to Castalia, Hawk, Richard James, Shelley Rabinovitch, and Sam Wagar for their help with this article. This article would not have been possible without their patience and time spent with me in person or online, or the valuable resources and contacts they provided.

[i] Accessed April, 2007.
[ii] Richard James, interview at Gaia Gathering, May 21, 2007.
[iii] Rabinovitch, personal correspondence.
[iv] Richard James, interview at Gaia Gathering, May 21, 2007.
[v] Richard James, interview at Gaia Gathering, May 21, 2007.
[vi] Accessed April 2007.
[vii] Paragraph adapted from Accessed April 2007.
[viii] Sam Wagar, personal correspondence, May 11, 2007.
[ix] Georgia Straight, date unknown; received from Sam Wagar.
[x] The Ubyssey, Friday October 30, 1981.
[xi] Sam Wagar, personal correspondence.
[xii] Shelley Rabinovitch, personal communication.
[xiii] Castalia, interview at Gaia Gathering on May 20, 2007.
[xiv] This changed in the late 1990s, when another line of Alexandrians came to South Western Ontario via the United States, and started initiating students in their own line, and hiving off covens. (Castalia, interview at Gaia Gathering on May 20, 2007)
[xv] Castalia, interview at Gaia Gathering on May 20, 2007.
[xvi] Rabinovitch, MA thesis and  personal correspondence.
[xvii] Green Egg, 1973.
[xviii] For Wicca as a fertility religion versus nature religion, see Chas Clifton. Her Hidden Children.
[xix] Richard James, interview at Gaia Gathering, May 21, 2007; Castalia, interview at Gaia Gathering, May 20, 2007.
[xx] History of witchcraft told by expert witness. The Vancouver Sun, June 15, 1988. pg A10.
[xxi] Rabinovitch and Lewis, p141.
[xxii] History of witchcraft told by expert witness. The Vancouver Sun, June 15, 1988. pg A10.
[xxiii] See part II of this article for more on this trial.
[xxiv] History of witchcraft told by expert witness. The Vancouver Sun, June 15, 1988. pg A10.
[xxv] Witches not devilish, trial told. The Vancouver Sun, June 16, 1988. pg E15.
[xxvi] Witches not devilish, trial told. The Vancouver Sun, June 16, 1988. pg E15.
[xxvii] Rabinovitch and Lewis, p141.
[xxviii] TV preacher names 3 more as Satanists. The Vancouver Sun. June 30, 1988. pg. A17.
[xxix] Rabinovitch and Lewis, p251.
[xxx] The problem with ghosts? -- they think they're alive; Witches give advice. The Vancouver Sun. September 8, 1989. pg. G4.
[xxxi] The problem with ghosts? -- they think they're alive; Witches give advice. The Vancouver Sun. September 8, 1989. pg. G4.
[xxxii] Remembering poet Robin Skelton as only a daughter can. The Vancouver Sun. Vancouver, B.C.: Aug 30, 1997. pg. B3.
[xxxiii] Richard James, interview at Gaia Gathering, May 21, 2007.
[xxxiv] Note, in Canada, religion is a freedom not a right. All religions are ‘legitimate’ in Canada. The practices of a religion, however, must conform to Canadian law.
[xxxv] Richard James, comment made during a panel of church models for NeoPagans at Gaia Gathering 2007.
[xxxvi] Accessed May 22, 2007.

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