August 19, 2012 (last Sunday), will be long-remembered in the history of New York City Witchcraft. The occasion being the Big Apple book-launch of Michael Lloyd’s Bull of Heaven: the Mythic Life of Eddie Buczynski and the Rise of the New York Pagan, it was an opportunity for a Magickal Gathering and Reunion of such magnitude, NYC Pagans will have to wait another forty years to pull it off, and even then, it won’t be as unique.
There are so many elements interwoven here. First some disclosures: I and my Pagan Bros are all very good friends with Mr. Lloyd (Michael), who asked us, the New York Open Gay Men’s Pagan Circle, to perform a Ritual of Remembrance for Eddie Buczynski during the evening; hence our presence at the gala. As to everyone else’s: In the course of writing Bull of Heaven, Michael reached out to many, many Old Scene NYC Witches for info about Eddie; consequently, much excitement has been building in New York as Michael’s work has grown closer and closer to completion (which work is as much a history of Magickal Witchcraft in NYC in the ’60s-’70s, as it is a biography of Mr. Buczynski).
All of which erupted into spirited jubilation Sunday night, when a notable collection of “Old Timers,” from “Back in the Day”- the original Generation of NYC Witches- assembled for Michael’s book-party.
The choice of location was inspired: the site of Magickal Childe itself (the Witch store opened by Eddie and Herman Slater in the early ’70s). Now, kind of curiously, it is a very nice Spanish restaurant called Sala One Nine, with a very, very nice, professional staff (they couldn’t have been nicer to us, or more professional). They serve seriously excellent food (they passed around several rounds of delicious tapas, and served some paella that was “to die”). Truly- it is a very nice place, and if you are ever in New York City, please treat yourself both to a wonderful dinner, and the unique experience of dining in one of New York’s former premier Witch stores.
Cause here’s the thing: it was originally The Magickal Childe, and as such, was not only the original occult supply store in NYC, it maintained a Ritual Space as well, resulting in the consequence that many Witches, Pagans, and Occultists from those early days have powerful memories of practicing Magick there. (The “before” and “after” effect of moving from “Occult Emporium” to “very nice Spanish restaurant” may be seen in the photos on this blog, “Magickal Childe: Then and Now”). Everyone agreed that it was a vaguely surreal experience to be back in Magickal Childe again (people felt compelled to visit the ghosts of the past: here stood the tall shelves of herb- and incense-filled jars; here was the fountain, that served as entrance-altar)- but all agreed that it was invigorating, to see Witch-candles burning there again, and to feel the energies of the place again, and to contemplate the pleasures of Power-Raising there once more.
(Incidentally: according to Michael, the management of Sala One Nine will share stories about strange, mysterious, sort-of supernatural events that have- for real- made them wonder if the premises are not haunted. It may be that, for all that Mr. Slater passed from this mortal coil some years ago, he has not yet quite left “his” store.)
To recap: here is a very nice restaurant in midtown Manhattan- which just happens also to be the place where tons of “Back in the Day” New York Witchcraft went on. Here is the launch-party for Michael Lloyd’s Bull of Heaven (the biography of early Scenester Eddie Buczynski, whom practically everyone in attendance had known). Here to celebrate this book and to commemorate Mr. Buczynski’s life- an impressive array of the First Wave of NYC Witches assembled, some seeing one another for the first time in thirty years. A few of the 80 guests included: representatives of all three Witchcraft Traditions founded by Eddie, including both Elders and newer Initiates; both co-founders of the Minoan Sisterhood, and the proprietresses of another notable NYC Witch-store, the original Enchantments; the co-founder and Witch-Queen of the Traditionalist Gwyddoniaid; two of the original Minoan Brothers from the Knossos Grove; Khem Caigan, a student of Ceremonial Magician Harry Smith, and the illustrator of the Necronomicon; Gardnerian Elders Michael Thorn (co-founder and first President of Covenant of the Goddess), Roger Pratt (proprietor of Altar Egos), and Rich Wandel (a former facilitator for the Gay Activist’s Alliance, and the founder of the NYC Gay and Lesbian Archives); Margot Adler, author of Drawing Down the Moon; and Welsh Elder Sally Eaton (who was also in the original Broadway cast of Hair). Speaking with Michael before the Memorial Ritual were Margot Adler; Lady Vivienne (Eddie’s Initiating High Priestess); Lady Rhea (of the Minoan Sisterhood); and Bennie Geraci (Eddie’s lover, and an early Initiate into the Minoan Brotherhood). Recording the evening was a reporter from The New York Times.
I want to say what an extraordinary opportunity it was, to have had the honor of visiting with, and listening to, this “First Generation” of Witches. The stories that they shared were were those of the Founding of the Craft in NYC, setting the stage for subsequent Neo-Paganism. These are the stories collected by Michael Lloyd in Bull of Heaven (with facts verified, of course), establishing for the first time the beginning of modern Witchcraft in New York. As Lady Rhea said in her remarks, these were the shoulders upon which we stand today; these were the people who gave birth to the lives that we lead.
A few specific memories: I recall Sally Eaton (an important Elder in the NYC Pagan community through New Moon, New York, when I hit the scene in the early ’90s) sweeping through the room, holding aloft in triumph her copy of Bull of Heaven; I remember Margot Adler, her eyes closed, swaying to the music, getting INTO a rendition of “They Will Remain”: “When we are gone, they will remain- the Wind and Rock, Fire and Rain.” I want to point out how totally Smoking-Hot FIERCE Lady Rhea and her Witch-Wife Lady Zoradia looked, proving that you can be a NYC Witch-Queen for 35 years and still knock ‘em dead at a Witches’ Gathering. More than one person told me stories about Herman Slater “hooking up” with hot young men at Magickal Childe (it was the Swinging Seventies, you know). The highlight of the evening, however, the moment that everyone remembered with the most happiness and sense of satisfaction, was when Matthew Sawicki (part of the “New Generation” of NYC Traditionalist Witches) produced Eddie’s own wand, gifted to him that night, to use in the Ritual (the crowd was suitably impressed).
What was really interesting to me were the number of people who described how- even though they all started out basically practicing Gardnerian Witchcraft- “everyone immediately began to do this or that to it,” to adapt it, in other words. To hear these people from “The Day” tell it, even at its inception in New York, what we call “Wicca” today was a fluid thing. (“Proto-Eclectic Gardnerianism” is how I believe I recall one High Priestess describing her coven’s practice.)
I was a participant in what the Times’ reporter described as a “ritual out of Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut,” performed to “apocalyptic choral music.” I’m not quite sure why it reminded him of Mr. Kubrick’s work (we were deliberately trying to be very dignified, and didn’t really do anything too crazy). It must have been the drama of our beginning to which he reacted: six of us entered from one side of the room, while seven of us entered from the other. We were all carrying candles, and formed a Circle, walking around the altar. Our choice of music was attention-getting; we played the Carmina Burana O Fortuna- which does sound very much like “apocalyptic choral music,” but which was a favorite piece of Eddie’s, who used to play it during initiations (Mr. Buczynski favored dramatic initiations, I suppose). As soon as the music started, appreciative whoops erupted from the crowd, many of whom (I assume) associated the piece with Eddie. I was initially a little confused, as people began to call out “Lord Gwyddion! Lord Gwyddion!” I was puzzled as to who Lord Gwyddion was- until I realized that it was Eddie to whom they were calling, using the Magickal Name by which the majority of the audience knew him. I reflected upon the fact that Eddie founded the Minoan Brotherhood specifically in order to create a Magickal Tradition for Gay Men- because he had encountered so much homophobia in those early Craft-days. And here we were, the New York City Open Gay Men’s Pagan Circle, performing a Remembrance Ritual in his honor- as Lady Rhea said, once again standing upon his shoulders, following in his footsteps. He was one of the ones who created the Life that we lead.
Gary Suto, the founder of the NYCOGMPC and the director/ High Priest of the rite, published a fuller account on his Live Journal. My thanks to Matthew Sawicki and Lucky for sharing their photos with me; monster-huge thanks to Michael Lloyd for planning a magnificent evening, and for writing a wonderful book.
Most of all: thanks to Eddie Buczynski, for helping to create the Magick World of ours today.