The Author's Corner
The Witch Book
TWPT: Tell me about your first encounter with Witchcraft and how it changed your perceptions of what it was really all about?
RB: My first encounters with witchcraft were typical: reading of Satanism and devil worship, etc. But eventually I came across Margaret Murray's books ("The Witch Cult in Western Europe" and "God of the Witches") and suddenly that made far more sense. It was some years later that I came to Gerald Gardner's books ("Witchcraft Today" and "The Meaning of Witchcraft"), which explained what Witchcraft was really all about! This now made sense. About that time I also happened upon Murray's books again and reading all of them at about the same time I came to realize that this was the very thing I had (unconsciously) been looking for. I then went on to contact Gerald Gardner.
TWPT: Considering the times, what kinds of resources did you have available to you to persue your studies of this new spiritual path?
RB: There were very few resources at that time. In fact there were only the ones mentioned. But once I contacted Gardner, then I had someone to question. He later passed me on to his High Priestess, the Lady Olwen.
TWPT: Upon your first encounter with flesh and blood Witches what was your reaction to those you met? Were they what you thought they would be?
RB: They were all I thought they would be, from what I had read in Gardner's books. Warm, loving, and welcoming.
TWPT: Tell me about your relationship with Gerald Gardner and how that influenced what came after along your spiritual path?
RB: Gerald was a "character"! He had a very dry sense of humor (though this is a typical British trait). He also had a "devil may care" attitude, if you'll excuse the expression! He was determined to do what he believed was correct and never mind what others thought of it. He encouraged me to follow my heart and my feelings and to believe in them.
TWPT: Why the move to the United States and how receptive was the U.S. to the spiritual path that you were bringing with you?
RB: The move to the U.S. was the result of a visit, in England, of an uncle who had been living here since the 1930s. In discussing and comparing standards of living, etc., it quickly became clear to me that I would be much better off over here. I came here fully determined that this would be my future home. The climate - in the early 1960s - was not one receptive to Witchcraft, however. I had no intention of being any sort of a pioneer but was determined to do all in my power to try to straighten the misconceptions about Witchcraft. It wasn't till Gerald's death, and with his books going out of print, that I thought of writing on the subject, purely to ensure that the correct picture would continue to be presented.
TWPT: Were there many active groups or covens when you first arrived in the U.S.?
RB: No, there were none at all -- or none in any way visible. Which was why I had to start from scratch. Gerald received correspondence from all around the world, some from existing covens around Europe. None came from the U.S.; only from individuals who were interested and wanted to become active. Gerald started forwarding any U.S. mail to me to deal with and I went on to establish the first U.S. coven, in New York.
TWPT: What kinds of attacks were leveled against you in the beginning and how did you go about combating them with the truth? What kinds of forums did you have to express the truth of Witchcraft?
RB: I wrote articles for newspapers and magazines, and did interviews, to try to give the true picture. Around Hallowe'en was, of course, the prime time for this sort of thing. Initially I had no interest in self publicity so kept my name, address and photo out of it. But then a newspaper reporter went back on her word and, in her article, gave out my name and address, so I was then a prime target for all the nuts! I had rocks thrown through my windows, my car set on fire, my front door kicked in, etc., etc.. But, since I had now been forced into going public it did mean that I could do a lot more --which I did!
TWPT: After Gerald's death and since this reporter you mentioned had put you in the public spotlight, did you feel that it had fallen to you to continue Gerald's work of showing the reality of Wicca to the public and to those who were seeking this path for themselves?
RB: Right from the start (after being initiated) I felt it was part of my job to try to straighten misconceptions. That was why I agreed to give interviews. I was then especially inspired to continue Gerald's work when his books went out of print. I felt very strongly that there should be something available for anyone seeking the Craft. I therefore wrote "Witchcraft From the Inside." I did think that books would be the best way to go, reaching thousands of people who otherwise could not find any reliable information.
TWPT: How did you connect with Llewellyn publishing?
RB: I looked to see who was publishing the sort of books - then referred to as "occult" - and might be amenable to doing something on modern Witchcraft. There were very few publishers suitable at that time.
TWPT: Tell me about when it was you decided to write what has since become one of the classics of Witchcraft literature, Buckland's Complete Book of Witchcraft.
RB: I had run a very successful correspondence course on Wicca (specifically Seax-Wica, since there were no oaths of secrecy involved) for some years. When I got to the point of having over a thousand students worldwide I realized I could not continue if I wanted to write as well . . . there just weren't enough hours in the day! But I did want to make the material available to someone who might live, for example, out in the wilds of North Dakota, and be unable to get in touch with any existing groups. Why should these people be excluded from the opportunity to join the Craft, I thought? So I took most of the material I had assembled for my course and re-wrote it in a non-denominational form; with all new rituals. From the years of having it as a correspondence course, and getting all the feedback, I had a good idea of what was needed, the best arrangement of the lessons, and so on.
TWPT: Were there those within the community who criticized you for publishing what might be considered "secret material"?
RB: In actual fact I have NEVER broken my Gardnerian oath of secrecy, and although I have not been a practicing Gradnerian for many, many years now, I never will. Even though others have published the Gardnerian Book of Shadows without regard for the oath, I would never do so. All that I have published, in the way of rituals, etc., has been my own composition. I understand that some have criticized me for publishing what they consider "secret" material, but other than actual rituals, all that I have published has been available elsewhere - for anyone willing to search for it.
TWPT: How do you feel about the ongoing controversy between the concepts of coven training and initiation and the solitary who takes care of those things alone?
RB: I guess there will always be that controversy. In my early (Wiccan) days I was as guilty as anyone of believing that you HAD to be a member of a coven to function as a Witch. Happily I saw the light and came to realize that, back in the "old days," there were many who lived out in the country, far away from any organized covens, who still believed in and worshipped the gods. They were just as much Witches as their city neighbors who had covens. As a Solitary, the training is more difficult and can take much longer but, in many ways, becomes more ingrained. Today, with so much information available, from books and the Internet, there is no reason why the Solitary's training should not be equally as intense as the covener's. As to initiation, this is simply a formal announcement of dedicating oneself to the old gods. This, then, can be done just as well by a solitary as by someone in a coven situation. Both are equally valid.
TWPT: Tell me about the Gypsy influences that I see in many of your books? Where does that come from?
RB: The Gypsy influences come from my family background. My father was a full blood Romani, so I am a half-blood. I had never really taken much interest in my background until about the early 1980s, when I had the idea of doing a book on various forms of divination and remembered my grandmother's preoccupation with cards. This prompted me to start researching my family roots. Happily my mother has a good memory - even today, when she's approaching her 101st birthday! - so she helped fill in lots of gaps for me.
TWPT: I notice that you have a new Tarot deck, Buckland Romani Tarot Kit, coming out in January 2001, tell me how that came about and what you hope to accomplish with this new kit.
RB: I have always wanted to do a full tarot deck. I did one similar to my grandmother's one - the Gypsy Tarot Fortune Telling Deck - but that had a Major Arcana peculiar to the Buckland Gypsies and used a regular poker-type deck for the Minor Arcana. I wanted to do a full tarot deck. I finally found Lissanne Lake, who did the cover for my book "Secrets of Gypsy Love Magic." I loved her artwork and asked her if she would do the cards for me. She agreed. I gave her lots of photos and illustrations and told her what I wanted and she produced it (much like A.E. Waite working with Pamela Colman Smith). I also wrote a 264 page book giving my own method of reading the cards. I am VERY pleased with the results
TWPT: What are your feelings about where Wicca is today and where it might be headed in the years to come? Do you feel that we have gained ground in the struggle to be accepted by society in general?
RB: We have very obviously gained ground in acceptance. I think the presence of so many open Wiccan and pagan communities and churches attests to that. A good example of the acceptance was shown in a recent NBC-TV newscast when Tom Brokaw was speaking about the release of the latest Harry Potter book. As part of the story NBC switched to a Witch, to get her perspective on the books, then went right back to the rest of the story; all very matter-of-fact and just as they might go to any other expert on a particular subject. I thought that was a wonderful comment on our acceptance. We have also made a lot of legal headway.
In cases of religious discrimination and abuse, the ACLU in many areas has been quick to step in and work on our behalf. (The current case in Louisiana is a good example.) I think Wicca can only go on from here, gaining in strength and acceptance.
TWPT: What do you think about those who would push Wicca into the mold of organized religion? Is this something that needs to be one or not?
RB: To an extent it does need to be pressed into that mold, but only to gain the acceptance we have spoken of. It should not be forced to compromise its values in any way.
TWPT: What correlation do you see between the internet and the growth of Wicca in the last decade or so?
RB: I think the Internet has done a lot for the advancement and acceptance of Wicca and I think it will continue to do so. The Internet - whether we like it or not - is going to be a very large part of all our lives in the future. Regrettably, however, there is no control over the content, which means that anyone can claim to be a Witch and to speak for the Craft.
TWPT: In your contacts with others along the Wiccan path do you find an acceptable level of knowledge about Wicca among those who are calling this path their own?
RB: For many years there has been a pretty obvious level of knowledge among those coming onto the path. Those without that knowledge usually fell by the wayside. More and more, however, I find that enthusiasm and desire are replacing that knowledge, with many relative newcomers being totally ignorant of the past history - and struggles - of the Craft. It will remain to be seen how this will effect our future development.
The trend I see that most worries me, however, is the trend to accept anything and everything as Wicca, without criticism. It is obviously extremely difficult to try to delineate exactly what is and what is not Wicca. Thirty or forty years ago we had a very small selection of traditions but today "eclectic" is the keyword and new denominations are springing up overnight, many with practices that would never be recognized by most of the older traditions. Yet who is to say what is "correct" is what is not? I have for a long time been delighted that there is now a selection from which one may choose, and so find that path that is exactly right for the individual. But I am terribly afraid that we may eventually dilute ourselves to the point where the label Wicca is totally meaningless.
This is where the knowledge is important. To have knowledge of the basic elements of this religion -- and to remember that it IS a religion -- is to have a good foundation on which to build.
TWPT: As many of the original founders of this movement disappear from the stage of life do you see the next generation of leaders coming forth to pick up where they leave off or is there such a thing as leaders within the Wicca movement?
RB: In the past there was a need for leaders, in the sense of those willing to stick their necks out and work for the acceptance of the Craft. As those past pioneers die out there are not the new ones to take their place mainly because the need has declined.
TWPT: I hear that you are a very busy man these days, what can we look for from Raymond Buckland in the coming years?
RB: I seem to be busier in recent years than I have ever been - generally working on a number of books at the same time! I am delighted that my new Romani Tarot deck - with Lissanne Lake's incredible artwork - is finally available. I am working on another totally new, non-Tarot, divination deck and book (doing the artwork myself). I am also working on a massive reference volume on Witchcraft, that will run to over 1,000 pages. I'd like the time (and will somehow find it!) to do more fiction. The trouble is, there are not enough hours in the day or days in the week to do all that I would like to do.
TWPT: Any last thoughts or advice that you would like to share with our readers in closing?
RB: I guess I should say something like, stop the squabbling and accept one another for what you are, but we are all human and there will always be petty conflicts within the Craft just as there are in all other walks of life. A regrettable fact but a fact none the less. I am happy in the knowledge that, with people like yourselves, and your readers/followers, the Craft is in secure hands and will surely continue for many years to come. I cannot stress enough the importance of knowing the Craft's past in order to be able to shape its future. I have always been an avid reader (which may be one of the reasons I've become something of a prolific author!) and have always tried to inspire my students to be like me in that respect, if no other. I appreciate this opportunity to "speak" out and can only end by saying, May the Lord and the Lady Walk Beside You Always. In love and light - Ray Buckland.
TWPT: Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us here at TWPT and share your thoughts with us. We wish you much success in the years to come with all the projects that you decide to devote yourself to.