Rave reviews and admiring feedback continue to come, regarding Michael Lloyd’s Bull of Heaven: The Mythic Life of Eddie Buczynski and the Rise of the New York Pagan. I ran into a good friend at NYC Pagan Pride last weekend, who remarked how much she was enjoying the book; “It’s MY history,” she said. “I’ve never been able to read my own Pagan history before.” An attitude shared by many, including my friend Gary Suto (Minos in the Minoan Brotherhood), who posted this review to his Live Journal:
A few websites stated that Eddie was a Gardnerian Elder, and that the Brotherhood is based on the Gardnerian Tradition. This is also not entirely accurate. “Bull of Heaven” explains how Eddie was elevated to 3rd degree in the Gardnerian Tradition, but afterwards his High Priestess was told her elevation was invalid. She was re-initiated, but did not re-intiate Eddie, effectively removing him as a High Priest from the Gardnerian Tradition. While he still had the Gardnerian Book of Shadows, the Minoan Brotherhood is clearly not a ‘Gay’ Gardnerian tradition. There was a Gay Gardnerian coven, Kathexis Anthropos, run by Michael Thorn a few years after the Brotherhood started, but this did not interest Eddie, who tried to get Michael to join the Minoan Brotherhood (in the end Thorn declined). While not Gardnerian, there was also another Gay Pagan Group around that same period, The Hermetic Order of the Silver Sword, based on the practices of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. This was based in Toronto, and was not pursued by Eddie.
Over and over again, people commented on what a voracious reader Eddie was. With almost every Tradition Witchcraft, there are required reading lists. Many of these have to do with the history of the Tradition, sometimes about the history of the Ancestry, and on occasion about divination. An added surprise in this book is Eddie’s first reading list for the Minoan Brotherhood. While most of these were on my own Minoan Brotherhood reading list, there were a couple that were not. As a Minos (High Priest) of the Minoan Brotherhood, I have included a number of these books on my own list for seekers to my grove, Temenos Ophiuchus.
While this book satisfied my curiosity about Eddie Buczynski, it opened a world of information about so many people that I had little knowledge about, as well as the formation and trials of various traditions. One of the most notable for me is Leo Martello (interwoven through out the book). I knew he was a Pagan author, but had a very skewed version of him as a man. He was a Gay activist, a Pagan activist, a community leader, and a speaker at a variety of the ongoing Pagan lectures held through out New York City. His famous ‘Witch-in’ held at Sheep Meadow in Central Park, on October 31, 1970, inspires me to have an anniversary ‘Witch-in’ in the coming years.
[**Zan's Editorial interjection: I think this is a FAB idea; awesome if NYC could pull off an anniversary Central Park "Witch-In" by next Samhain!**]
Michael’s book is filled with many quotes; one of my favorites is from Leo, when he revealed in GAY magazine, the curse that never fails: “I wish you upon yourself!” ["Bull of Heaven" pg 78]. Of course, there’s many other quotes from many of the contributors to this book, some of whom include (but are not limited to): Tommy Kneitel (Phoenix); Margot Adler; Roger Pratt; Lady Rhea; Harold Moss; Kaye Flagg; and many more.
Another notable person in this book is Herman Slater. While he and Eddie were owners of the Warlock Shop in Brooklyn Heights, he was the sole owner of The Magickal Childe, and is continually mentioned through out the book. He was initiated into Eddie’s NY Welsh tradition, the Gardnerian Tradition, the O.T.O, and others. You get the impression that he was very pivotal in NY Pagan history at various times, and that the Pagan community would not be what it is today without his contributions.
There are 3 chapters regarding Tradition Paganism that I found fascinating. The first is about Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O). Michael Lloyd explains how this tradition was almost lost, and the struggles it went through. This chapter includes how Aleister Crowley and Grady McMurtry met; the effects of World War II; the power struggles of initiates; and the eventual growth of the Tradition (including how Herman Slater was a big part of growing it in NYC).
Chapter 16 is about Witch Wars. Just as there are Witch Wars today (Feri Tradition, Minoan Brotherhood, Dianic Witchcraft, etc), there were Witch Wars back in the 70′s and Eddie was a significant part of it. While Eddie was less vocal, his lover at the time, Herman Slater, used various forms of Pagan publications to fuel the flames. “Bull of Heaven” explains exactly what happened and why.
Third is PsyVen, the Psychedelic Venus Church, founded by Jefferson Poland. While there was controversy around the sex and drugs related to the group, Poland was an activist. There is a saying, “preaching to the choir”, meaning that the people you are talking to already know/agree with what you are saying. Poland did not seem to be this type of person. An example of this is Poland registering Black voters in Alabama in 1963.
I could go on and on about the notable people mentioned in “Bull of Heaven”, and what they did, but that would be like trying to list all the people mentioned in “Drawing down the Moon”. I do feel it is appropriate to mention that one of the many topics discussed in this book is how much Gays and Lesbians had to deal with socially and spiritually during this time. This is very important in understanding where we came from. It’s important to note that while the Stonewall riots happened in 1969, the American Psychiatric Association did not remove ‘homosexuality’ from their mental illness list until 1973. As we well know today with Gay Marriage, it takes years for people to move their opinions from where they were. This is what was going on in the 70′s and “Bull of Heaven” gives a multitude of examples of how the Pagan community was not immune to homophobia or homophobic actions.
This played over and over in the fertility based Paganism that was available at the time. Many first attempts at accepting homosexuality seemed to be, ‘we don’t care what you do when you’re not here, but when we’re in circle, you should have a heterosexist attitude’. This is one of the main problems Eddie seemed to have with the Celtic Tradition. Eddie was gay and Gwen Thompson was pressuring Eddie to do the ‘Great Rite’. Eddie’s refusal led to a blow up and eventually got him banished. (You really need to read this entire chapter to understand the dynamics.) In addition we are reminded of bigoted people and actions from the past- Anita Bryant being notable, as well as book burnings of Pagan content by various churches.
The last impression on Paganism that I’d like to share, is how secretive Traditional Witchcraft is today, and how it was not like that in the 70′s. I got the impression that almost every Tradition had an outer court training (training for non initiated). Among the High Priests and Priestesses, it appears that knowledge was shared. An example of this was that Theos and Phoenix, heads of the American line of Gardnerians, had Eddie’s Traditionalist Gwyddoniaid Book of Shadows. While there are other examples in the book, one quote by Aubrey Wyatt, a Minoan Brotherhood elder, is very succinct: ”I think [the Minoans] are too secretive. I understand the reasons for the Brotherhood’s secrecy. But frankly, I think [their] desire for secrecy has become a sickness. In the beginning, this tradition was playful and open. Eddie would talk to anyone who would listen. And, for a tradition that was intended to reach out to gay men and has been riddled with losses from AIDS, I’m a bit perturbed by the brothers’ unwillingness to open to people. …” “…This secrecy thing is tied to the ‘Burning Times’ in Europe. So, keep people’s identities secret, but not the tradition. It’s historically incorrect [to do so].” [pg. 570]
I think I’ve given the reader enough information about the Paganism discussed in this book. The last part of the book talks about how Eddie, who was a High School dropout, got his GED and then went onto get his BA at Hunter College and MA at Bryn Mawr. This struck me on a personal note. First because I also started College at a later age, and secondly, because Eddie and I were going to college at the same time less than 10 miles from each other (the entire time he was at Bryn Mawr). While I never met Eddie, this information made me think of how many times we probably crossed paths as we were on similar trains, went to the same gay bookstore and probably went to the same bars (if he even had time in a Masters program). I was also struck by the Pagan-like ceremonies that Bryn Mawr had for their undergraduates. One such ceremony was for their Sophomores, a running of the lanterns with a song sung to Athena.
In conclusion, Michael Lloyd had unfettered access to Llewellen’s Wescheke library and Circle Sanctuary’s archives of Earth Religion News. He interviewed over 100 Pagan Elders and Academics, and has noted hundreds of references from books and magazines. This is arguably one of the best Pagan history books in recent publication. As with ‘Drawing Down the Moon’ and other books of that caliber, you need to read this and have it on your bookshelf for future reference. Well done Michael Lloyd, well done.
(Gary Suto’s Live Journal review of Bull of Heaven)