I am experiencing a reaction to Michael Lloyd’s Bull of Heaven: the Mythic Life of Eddie Buczynski and the Rise of the New York Pagan that I suspect may be widespread: I am enjoying it so much that I want to read it very slowly, so as to savor each page and to extend the pleasure of this unique and exceptional work for as long as possible. (My friend Delphi reports that he is doing the same, deliberately lingering over each paragraph, whereas my friend Cory consumed the 700-page book in three days, then turned it over and started again. Michael, by the way, is a good friend to all of us, causing Bull of Heaven to sweep the local literary Pagan circles kind of like The Da Vinci Code: I find it is fun to read a book written by someone I know, as I “hear” their voice in my head, “narrating” the volume out loud as I read along.)
Mr. Lloyd’s dedicated efforts in producing this exhaustive and groundbreaking work are many; in addition to being the biography of early-on-the-Witch-scene Eddie Buczynski, Bull of Heaven is as well a history of the early days of the Craft in New York City (indeed, in America), and is therefore a vital and important contribution to the history of our movement. Sharp, perceptive, and humorous, the book is well-written and extremely thorough: the Chapter Notes alone run to just-less than 100 pages, with each chapter containing somewhere between 20-50 end-notes, although some chapters have notes running into the 100s. The Acknowledgements form a battalion of print, and the Bibliography covers a dozen pages. In the depth and vigor of its research, and in its commitment to an important story (the development of modern Witchcraft in New York and the United States in the late ’6s-early ’70s), a story that was not as-well understood before this publication- Bull of Heaven represents a major accomplishment in Pagan publishing.
One thing that makes me love Bull of Heaven is the realization that, even though “Paganism” is as new as it can be to the people in the book (who are trying to understand this “Pagan” thing, and their role as Witches within it)- in some ways, Witches and Pagans have not changed in forty years. Take one single chapter, for instance: Chapter 16, “The Wars of the Witches.” The time is 1974; Eddie Buczynski and his lover Herman Slater have set up the Warlock Shop in Brooklyn. Witches are reacting to lurid media-portrayals, and beginning to go on television, to educate the public. They have begun to publish news-letters such as Earth Religion News and Green Egg, and to debate what Witchcraft is, and is not. They get into Witch-Wars with each other (who has ever heard of such a thing? Such a thing as two Witches in a War?) At the same time, the Pagan desire to organize and gather, is seen in the first Witchmeets- where (this is what I love) Pagan vendors would set up tables to exhibit their Pagan wares. (Right from the start, Pagan vendors have been there, building community and setting up Pagans with Pagan stuff.)
The more things change, the more they stay the same, right? An immense amount of information is covered by Michael Lloyd in this single chapter alone, involving both American popular culture of the early ’70s as well as the most detailed account of the early Witch scene (soon to expand into the “Pagan” scene) since Drawing Down the Moon. What’s more remarkable than Michael’s incredibly meticulous research is the entertaining way that he pulls all this material into a story. He is frequently amusing and carries the reader along with his narrative to the extent that you can imagine that you are there at this Witchmeet in 1974, with Eddie Buczynski and Herman Slater; if you weren’t on the scene in 1974, Bull of Heaven makes you feel like you were.
One of the things that makes me want to read this book slowly, in addition to the fact that I am enjoying it so much, is I know it will be a long while before another book this excellent comes along. So I want to make this one last for as long as I can.