Nov 222012

Second in the Pagan Way Anniversary Lecture Series, at the First Unitarian Universalist Church, Brooklyn; photo by Brian Brewer

Again, the Chapel of the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Brooklyn was packed to the rafters by enthusiastic Pagans, eager for the second installment of the Pagan Way Anniversary Lecture Series. Inspired by Michael Lloyd’s descriptions in Bull of Heaven: the Mythic Life of Eddie Buczynski and the Rise of the New York Pagan, of the original Pagan Way Lecture Series sponsored by Herman Slater forty years ago, in November 1972, at the same First UU church: Pagan community leader Gary Suto conceived the idea of an anniversary event. He contacted Rev. Jude Geiger of the First Unitarian Universalist Brooklyn, and organized the series with the assistance of Brian Brewer and Matthew Sawicki (in some rare cases, showcasing Pagans actually present at the 1972 talks), in a collaboration between the First Unitarian Congregational Society of Brooklyn; the New York Pagan Alliance; and the NYC Pagan community. Very excited by this exercise in community-building, education, and outreach, NYC Pagans are making these lectures the rave of Pagan Town. Tuesday, November 20, 2012, saw Lady Rhea, Witch-Queen of New York and the co-founder of the Minoan Sisterhood, and Gary Suto, High Priest in the Minoan Brotherhood and the founder of the New York Open Gay Men’s Pagan Circle, deliver a talk entitled “Male/ Female Polarities in Paganism: Do We Need Them?”

Lady Rhea and Gary Suto; photo by Brian Brewer

Mr. Suto began by reading from Herman Slater’s Book of Pagan Rituals (Volume 1), written in 1978: “We give honor to many Gods in the Pagan Way. It must be immediately realized that these many Gods are the Many Forms of the One God, the great force that lies beyond all creation…The apparent form of the One that we may understand, is the Truth of polarity. Everything is dual; everything has two poles; everything has its pair of opposites. Opposites are identical in nature, but different in degree. The great truth we express in the form of the male/ female aspect of polarity, the God and Goddess. In terms of a creation theory, the One is both male and female, being all things. As creation comes about through the conjunction of the male and the female, the One immediately may be represented by a second level consisting of male and female figures, the God and Goddess. The God and Goddess are not mere symbols of the God, except as everything is symbolic. They are representatives in the physical universe of principles that are as near to the One that we may experience and still remain human.”

In short (as Mr. Suto pointed out), one of the initial great controversies in the early Craft and Paganism, with its intense emphasis on female/ male polarity, challenged by early-scene homosexuals like Herman Slater and Eddie Buczynski, and embraced by LGBT Pagans today: the fluidity and Magickal Power of gender-variant identity.

A couple of inadvertent, sometimes quite tragic, events coincided with this second lecture in the Anniversary Series: what no one quite realized at the time of the lecture’s scheduling (as Rev. Jude noted in his Introduction), was that Nov. 20th was also the date of the International Transgender Day of Remembrance, honored in vigils the world over in memory of the many Transgendered Individuals across the globe who have suffered injustice, brutality, and even murder for their gender-variant status. It was the consensus of the assembled that this coincidence in events, between the Transgender Day of Remembrance and this NYC Pagan lecture addressing a gender-fluid Pagan future was an interesting intercession of the universe. As well (as Rev. Jude noted), the Ali Forney Center of NYC, which provides emergency housing for homeless LGBTQ youth, had its in-take shelter decimated by Hurricane Sandy. In an assistance to the desperate efforts to get this vital program up-and-running again, a collection is being taken for the Ali Forney Center at each lecture presented; Rev. Jude will let us know at the end how much has been raised. Again, the coincidence of this tragedy and the timing of this Pagan Talk on the frequently Sacred nature of Homoerotic Spirituality struck many.

Lady Rhea and Gary Suto; photo by Brian Brewer

In her opening remarks, Lady Rhea first recalled growing up as a good Italian Catholic girl in the Bronx, in the ’50s and ’60s. She remembered a girl who was- – so gender-non-conforming in some deeply impossible-to-hide way, that she was ostracized throughout the neighborhood. Lady Rhea remembered the courage that she felt, the day that she gathered strength enough to say “hello” to this girl, in a humane and decent manner. According to Lady Rhea, this girl later killed herself, because she couldn’t handle the hatred, abuse, contempt, and violence directed against her for being “gender-different.”

After this sobering introduction, Lady Rhea went on to recall herself as a twenty-year-old, a nice Italian Catholic girl from the Bronx, who met Herman Slater when she wandered into The Warlock Shop one day. Herman explained to her the Pagan Way Meetings held at Lady Vivienne’s home each Sunday afternoon, to provide a place for Pagan Community. He invited her to attend. “Will there be Satanists there?” was 20 year-old Lady Rhea’s response. According to Lady Rhea, “No, toots,” was Herman Slater’s answer.

Well, Lady Rhea showed up at Lady Vivienne’s home (Lady Vivienne was, by the way, in attendance for the lecture), “scared to death,” as she put it (yet somehow, she showed up, didn’t she?) As Lady Rhea said, she walked in, and never walked out.

A Priest met her at the door with a flamboyant “Well, HELLLOOOO!!!” She remembers that she saw a Circle cast for the first time; and it transformed her life. She never looked back, she said: it was nothing but forward for her, after that- and now it’s 40 years later for her, a Witch-Queen of NYC. (She later attended the original Pagan Way lectures, where she saw Eddie Buczynski present on his Welsh Tradition of Witchcraft.)

She described that period (the early ’70s; the same period brought to life in Michael Lloyd’s Bull of Heaven) as one of the “most Magickal Times in NYC”; “there was literally Magick flying all over the place.” But what impressed her the most was that (at least in the bohemian Witch-Circles in which she fell), it was Gay and Straight hanging out together- a revolutionary thing, in the recent wake of Stonewall and the start of Gay Liberation. In learning about other Gods in this new and liberated environment, Lady Rhea learned new aspects of herself and new ways that it was possible to be. And yet- it is conceded, now- there was a resistance amongst “Traditional” Witches at the time to consider Gays as “equal” Witches, so heavy was the emphasis on “Female/ Male” polarity in the Craft. As Lady Rhea explained it, Traditional Gardnerian Circles at the time were very much “Man/ Woman/ Man/ Woman,” so the Homosexual or Bisexual Witch or Seeker who showed up was obliged to squeeze themselves into this alien paradigm (mirroring, ironically, the greater society’s demands that Gays surrender to gender-conformity).

For Out-and-Proud Homosexuals like Eddie Buczynski and Herman Slater, this Pagan marginalization was frequently too much to bear, and so Eddie began to strike off on his own, creating the Gay Magickal Traditions that did not exist for him. Lady Rhea recalled Eddie as the “most embracing and inspiring of teachers,” telling her that she must be a “Priest not just to Pagans, but to all People.” She noted that after Eddie formed the Minoan Brotherhood (a Mystery Tradition for Gay Men), he invited her and her lover Carol Bulzone to co-create the Minoan Sisterhood. Lady Rhea explained how the Sisterhood was open to all women, Lesbian or Straight or Transexual, and shared some delightful stories about the Brotherhood and the Sisterhood coming together for the Great Sabbats, with the Brothers performing plays for the Sisters. “For the first time in New York,” she said, “there was a Coven for Gay Men, and a Coven for Gay Women.”

A Buddhist as well as a Witch, Lady Rhea ended her initial remarks with the story of Tara, “She Who Saves.” An aspect of the Buddha contemplating earthly incarnation, Tara determined that She would be born on earth a woman as opposed to a man. The first incarnation of Buddha-as-a-Woman, Tara demonstrates the Buddhist wisdom, that “these ‘Female’ and ‘Male’ appellations are hollow,” they are “dressings” to the Sacred Divinity, and as such, a distraction from True Enlightenment.

Tara, “She Who Saves”

Gary Suto then began his remarks, noting that since the earliest times, and in cultures across the globe, gender-variant individuals had often been accorded special status for an innate incorporation of both the Female and the Male, and that Homoerotic relationships could be considered as Sacred as those of the Hetero-Normative variety. Mr. Suto referred to the works of Alain Danielou, a Frenchman who lived in India with his male lover. For two decades, he studied the culture and language of India, assisting in the translation of ancient texts and documenting ancient temples. (His book Gods of Love and Ecstasy examines the similarities between Hindu Shiva and Greek Dionysos.) With his lover, a professional photographer able to document this, Mr. Danielou discovered many Homoerotic statues and reliefs; tragically, however, according to his book Queer Myth, Symbol, and Spirit, a campaign was conducted throughout India from the ’20s to the ’40s, “to erase all positive references to transgenderism and same-sex desire in Indian, especially Hindu, culture.” Squads were sent “to destroy the erotic representations, particularly those depicting homoeroticism and lesbianism, carved into Hindu temples dating from the eleventh century, as part of a program to encourage both Indians and non-Indians to believe that such behaviors were the result of foreign, namely Euro-Western, influence.” A culture that (according to Mr. Danielou) could embrace the Homoerotic as well as the Heteroerotic,  had the Homoerotic vandalized beyond recognition.

Mr. Suto next addressed the well-known Homoerotic proclivities of the Greek Gods, inviting those in the audience to share what Homoerotic Hellenic relationships they could think of; “Apollo and Hyacinthus” was a quick response. Mr. Suto then introduced Blossom of Bone: Reclaiming the Connections Between Homoeroticism and the Sacred, by Randy P. Conner (generally considered by most LGBT Pagans to be the most excellent source on Sacred Homosexuality and Transgenderism currently available). Noting that “no matter how hard some people try, they can not eradicate centuries of spiritual practice,” Mr. Suto pointed out that, “Every continent has Gods in their ancient civilization, and every civilization has had worshippers that varied from being heterosexual.” Mr. Suto presented some of the more notable instances in Mr. Conner’s book, including his belief that at some point in the Paleolithic, “certain shamans came to be looked upon as individuals belonging to a third or alternative gender,” representing (to quote Joseph Campbell) a “sphere of spiritual power transcending the male-female polarity.”

Mr. Suto covered Mr. Conner’s account of the Galli, the worshippers of the Goddess Cybele and Her consort Attis, Whose cult extended from Anatolia to Rome. The Galli (some of them known to us by name) were noted for the gender-variation in their appearance and behavior, and appear to have engaged in same-sex eroticism. Citing Danielou and Conner, Suto considered “queer, bisexual, transgender, and cross-dressing Gods across all Pantheons.” In Egyptian and Hindu mythologies, “reproduction is not an activity limited to heterosexual couples, at least not in the realm of the Gods”: hence Set’s giving birth to Horus’ child, Set generally “depicted as a gender-variant male,” associated with the lettuce plant and the flint knife (also associated with eunuchs). In Welsh mythology, we see the story of Math, who transforms two men into animals of opposite gender, causing them to mate and reproduce. In the “very masculine religions of Santeria and the Norse pantheon,” we find cross-dressing stories featuring Chango and Thor.

Inanna’s Blessing to Him-Her: “I shall harbor you and your kind, you shall be my children, and I shall make you my priests- When you robe yourselves in my robes, I shall dance in your feet and sing in your throats.” One of the more charming gender-variant stories that Mr. Suto shared, was the Sumerian tale of Asushunamir, “Him-Her, a being that is both Male and Female, whose face is brilliant and is clothed in stars,” created by the God Enki to be a companion to the Goddess Inanna.

A lighthearted moment; photo by Brian Brewer

For those who have never had the pleasure of meeting either Lady Rhea or Gary Suto, not only are they both knowledgable and thoughtful, but they are also both very amusing. Once tragic stories of Gay teen suicides and the vandalization of Homoerotic temple statuary were over, their talk was frequently quite humorous and fun. Lady Rhea in particular has a wonderfully sly Italian wit, and brought the house down with some of her punch-lines. (“So she hates me now” was the killer-conclusion to one story involving a kind-of well-known Witch, who is apparently still a little “hung-up” on strict “Female/ Male” definitions.) As Lady Rhea and Gary have known each other for years (Lady Rhea initiated Gary into Eddie Buczynski’s Wica Tradition), watching them together was a bit like enjoying a Pagan “Say goodnight, Gracie” comedy-routine.

Happy NYC Pagans at the Lecture Series: Novices of the Old Ways High Priestess Courtney Weber and friend; photo by Brian Brewer

As the evening’s conclusion, Lady Rhea led a meditation for those who didn’t “fit in,” but whose struggles to make a space for themselves in which they did “fit in” made it easier for those who came after them. Lady Rhea made the interesting observation that, as a Lesbian in New York State, “I have more rights than as a Wiccan.” (Lady Rhea married her wife of twenty years as soon as Gay Marriage was legal in New York.) “Because we [meaning, Gay people] fought for equality, and fought for our rights, Gays and Lesbians now have more respect than Wiccans and Pagans.” Community Priestess Courtney Weber offered her opinion that Transgenderism will be the next Mystery confronted by, and incorporated into, modern Paganism; Lady Rhea pointed out that a Male/ Female dynamic was not necessary for Magickal Ritual, as we each have within ourselves the Divine Female and the Divine Male, indeed, the entire Universe. Gary discussed some of his work and experience in building Gay Male Magickal Community in NYC, as well as LGBT Magickal Pagan Community. Mr. Suto finished by asking the audience to consider what, if any, things they ever did to challenge other people’s gender expectations, such as wearing a bright, “feminine” color if one was a “man,” for instance. “Do you think it might make you freer, if you did,” he asked.

Organizers and Presenters: Brian Brewer; Lady Rhea; Gary Suto; and Rev. Jude Geiger

Thanks to Rev. Jude of the First UU Church, Brooklyn, and to Gary Suto, Brian Brewer, Matthew Sawicki, and the New York Pagan Alliance, for putting these wonderful events together, and to the presenters who turn out to share their stories and wisdom!

Oct 092012

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:

As a fashion designer, I am a very visual person. Therefore, my first reaction upon receiving Michael Lloyd’s “Bull of Heaven” was, ‘OMG, I forgot about all the pictures rarely seen except by a select few’.  Secondly was, ‘I can’t wait for the slideshow at the NY Book Release Party, to see them in color”. But enough about visuals: as I began reading, I found I had my left hand on the page I was reading and my right hand on the Chapter Notes, frequently flipping back and forth between the two. The note section in “Bull of Heaven” rivals the notes of ‘Drawing Down the Moon’, by Margot Adler, and I find my Amazon book wish list doubling if not tripling.
Many parts of this book make me think of conversations I’ve had throughout my life.  For example, have you ever had an older relative say, ‘What do you mean you don’t know where your parents met?, Well let me tell you…’, or a colleague or friend say, ‘You realize why it’s done that way?, it all started when…’.
These older relatives, friends, or colleagues can be amazing story tellers, remembering the smallest of details. Michael Lloyd found and interviewed many people of this caliber, and in the end, proves to be that very type of story teller.
“Bull of Heaven” is a true and factual story, written in a way that few historians can pull off. Lloyd’s writing makes you want to read more history. As this book is over 700 pages (almost 100 in notes), it is a bit daunting trying to figure out where to start to describe this book: as a gay man; as a resident in NYC; as a community leader; as a college graduate; or as a Pagan High Priest. My initial interest came because I am initiated in the Minoan Brotherhood, a Spiritual path of Traditional Witchcraft for gay/bisexual men founded by Eddie Buczynski. When I first started on this path, I could not find much information on Eddie, or the reasons for the Minoan Brotherhood’s founding. Some of the information was vague, and sometimes slightly inaccurate. One example: some websites said the Brotherhood was started in 1975, when the first ritual was January 1, 1977.

Eddie Buczynski

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.

Eddie was initiated into the Celtic Tradition, Gardnerian Tradition, Church of Eternal Source, and Stregga. He created the NY Welsh Tradition, a Gardnerian Tradtion (Hunnington Coven), and the Wica Tradition- all before creating the Minoan Brotherhood.  It is safe to say that the Minoan Brotherhood takes most of these into the mix, as well as any addition information he had from being the co-owner of an occult bookstore. Another mystery revealed is that when Eddie did research on the Minoan civilization, starting the Minoan Brotherhood, his first initiate, Joseph Cupolo, helped adapt ritual layout and created ritual framework to honor the Kouros. When Joey started his own grove, Eddie amended his vouch to name him the first initiate and Co-founder of the Minoan Brotherhood  ["Bull of Heaven" pg 399, 408].

Leo Martello

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.

Herman Slater

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.

Minoan Snake Goddess

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]

Minoan Bull

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)

Sep 052012

The following is a Guest-Post presented by my friend Cory Rochester (a member of my Gay Nabe Pagan Posse), who was so inspired by our mutual friend Michael Lloyd’s Bull of Heaven: the Mythic Life of Eddie Buczynski and the Rise of the New York Pagan that he prepared this excellent and well-written review. As Bull of Heaven is such an intensive immersion into Traditional Witchcraft, Cory’s twenty-five year position as a Minos (Third Degree High Priest), in the Minoan Brotherhood established by Eddie Buczynski, gives him a unique perspective on Michael’s work (Michael, like Cory, is also a Minos):

As a member of the Minoan Brotherhood, a gay men’s Wiccan tradition, it was with the greatest of anticipation that I had awaited the publication of The Bull of Heaven by Michael Lloyd, a biography of Edmund Buczynski. Eddie Buczynski is the founder of the Minoan Brotherhood as well as several other Wiccan traditions, whose activities during the 1970’s played a seminal role in the development of the Wiccan community in New York.
Consequently I can say with the utmost delight that the wait has indeed been well worth it. Michael Lloyd’s meticulous attention to fact and detail is surpassed only by his ability to tell a compelling story. Indeed the very few stories that I had heard about Eddie and his work always struck me as the elements of myth. However upon hearing the full story, or at least a great deal of it for the first time, I now know that Eddie’s life was indeed the stuff of which myths are made. For those fortunate enough to take the time and pleasure of reading Michael Lloyd’s book, they will discover that it is nothing less than the story of a hero’s spiritual quest for meaning in a wasteland that constantly tried to convince him that his life had no spiritual meaning. And when after many years of searching, working and experimenting; after finally coming to a place where all his experiences seem to be at last approaching a point of supreme focus promising a brand new spiritual synthesis, the hero’s life is suddenly and dramatically cut short, seemingly ending in a dead end of lost potentials and possibilities. Or does it?
For me, one of the most compelling aspects to Eddies story was his search for authenticity. It is probably a basic human need to know that one’s life or one’s search or whatever it is that a man pins his dreams upon is in fact authentic. And yet authenticity at least of the existential variety is almost as nebulous and difficult to pin down as mist upon a mountain. And as often as not when we do finally reach what we thought we were looking for, it turns out that it was not what we really thought it was or what we really wanted. But it is only by finally coming to that point and finding it, do we learn that most unpleasant lesson.

Eddie Buczynski Memorial Ritual, at Bull of Heaven book-launch

This phenomenon is well recorded in the history of Christianity which has had no small effect upon our own contemporary society. In a time when early Christianity was surrounded by any number of pagan mystery traditions, each one promising its devotees a personal experience of the Divine, early Christian leaders asked themselves, “How do we know that we are in fact the authentic path to the Divine?” They answered that question by declaring that while other mystery traditions were based upon mythical and therefore false deities found in mythical stories in mythical times, Christianity by contrast to all other traditions was not simply based on historical fact but was indeed historical fact. They defined as literal fact Christ’ existence as the literal Son of God whose literal sacrifice, death and resurrection thereby brought literal salvation, redemption and entry into Heaven after death and union with God. This notion which seems rather quaint to us today, in the early Church’s eyes, as indeed it is in the Church’s eyes today, made Christianity the one, true and only authentic path to the Divine. As the only true path, all other paths became false and therefore misleading and dangerous. From there it became the next logical step that for the protection of all human souls, all other paths except orthodox Christianity must be destroyed by any means necessary. And as a result, a path based on Love became a path of bloody intolerance to upon which no atrocity would be too horrific as long as it served to prove the authenticity and truth of Christianity.

In the early days of the modern Wiccan/Witchcraft movement a similar hunger, need, or (lust?) for authenticity seemed almost paramount. “How do we know that our tradition is an authentic one in contrast to other traditions?” The answer to that question became the pedigree of that tradition’s Book of Shadows. “Our Book of Shadows and the knowledge, rituals and history contained within it can be traced all the way back to the Sixteenth Century, the Twelfth Century, Ancient Greece, Ancient Egypt, Atlantis, etc. (Please take your pick.) Whereas all those other Traditions along with their Books of Shadows are merely cobbled together compilations of information gleaned from the local public library or made up completely. Therefore our Tradition is truly authentic while others are sadly not.” And so began the War of the Witches wherein Traditions bad mouthed, attacked and even hurled baneful spells of darkest dissolution against each other in the belief that they were attacking false and dangerous Traditions, while affirming the authenticity of their own and thereby protecting innocent and sincere seekers of the true Wiccan mysteries from getting sucked into false ones.
This sad state of affairs continued through the 1960’s and 70’s until during the 80’s the number of eclectic covens and traditions who proudly declared their eclecticism began to outnumber the more traditional Traditions. Also historic and scholarly research during that same period also began to show that the so-called Traditional Traditions were in fact just as eclectic in their formation as the newer Traditions that they were railing against.
And so, as related by Michael Lloyd in The Bull of Heaven, in 1970, Eddie first read Gerald Gardner’s Witchcraft Today and in so doing discovered the existence of a living tradition of witchcraft. Taking Gardner’s writing as a factual historical treatise instead of the totally brilliant exercise in creative mythology that it was, Eddie conceived the notion that Gardnerian Witchcraft was indeed the authentic Wiccan Tradition and therefore superior to any other. He then embarked upon a quest to seek initiation and therefore authenticity in the Gardnerian Tradition. And so for the next three years he constantly sought a Gardnerian initiation and was constantly thwarted in his quest. His open and flamboyant homosexuality, most likely cast many barriers in his way. But in spite of this and perhaps even because it, Eddie went on to create the Welsh Tradition and the Wica Tradition. In the Welsh Tradition, Eddie himself fell into the authenticity tar pit and gave out to his students that the Welsh tradition hearkened back to earlier ages, as indeed some of the materials which he incorporated into the tradition in fact may have done. Still it rose up to bite him in the posterior as those who read his biography will come to discover.

Altar at Bull of Heaven book-launch, taken by Lady Zoradia

Finally after several attempts and several setbacks, Eddie finally achieved initiation into the Gardnerian Tradition but not without controversy. Personality disputes along with the homophobia that ran rampant in the Witchcraft community during that period both conspired to perturb the waters and to darken and frustrate Eddie’s experience. All of this finally led to Eddie’s creation of the Minoan Brotherhood, a Wiccan based tradition for Gay Men, freed from a great deal of the nonsense that was inherent within the Wiccan community at that time. But it is only due to all of his experiences good and bad that Eddie possessed the knowledge and experience needed to create the Minoan Brotherhood. Nowhere in the Minoan Tradition did Eddie ever imply that it was in fact a tradition that had survived in secret down the millennia and passed down the long distant ages in an unbroken line of gay high priests and adepts. It seemed that Eddie had come to the realization that true authenticity comes from the love and sincerity in which it is created as well as the love and sincerity in which it is followed. Anything else is no more than the ragged remnants of a butterfly’s cocoon.

Eddie Buczynski

Sadly, Eddie only worked with the Brotherhood for a relatively short time before he effectively retired from the Wiccan community and went back to school. Eddie had dropped out of High School due to his homophobic experiences. Now, Eddie got his GED and then went on to receive his Bachelor’s Degree from Hunter College and his Master’s Degree from Bryn Mawr before he ultimately succumbed to AIDS.

But, as is revealed in Bull of Heaven, Eddie never truly left the Brotherhood. During his college years he kept a Minoan shrine in his apartment. Towards the end before he realized how sick he was, he even began to try and work the tradition with others. If Eddie had lived to earn his doctorate and go into teaching archeology as he both planned and desired, he would have brought everything he had learned and experienced into his Minoan practice. He would have brought new depths of understanding and new levels of complexity to the Minoan Tradition which would have enriched the Tradition and his followers immeasurably. He would have brought such changes to it that it could almost be reckoned a new tradition. This is somewhat ironic given that some of his followers today treat the Minoan Tradition as something that fell from the heavens, perfect and splendid and with only a minor detour through Eddie’s own genius and therefore should be enshrined and preserved untouched and unchanged till the stars themselves finally go out.
Eddie Buczynski’s life showed that all the Traditions he created were meant to be living organic paths to the Divine. Change and growth were not only expected but necessary to the future functioning of those Traditions. And so Buczynski’s true legacy is not only the traditions that he created which are followed still by many, but also the knowledge that the freedom to grow and evolve are indeed pivotal to all Wiccan Traditions. All those seeking to better understand the times and events that gathered to shape the Wiccan community, should definitely read Michael Lloyd’s Bull of Heaven, A book that is informative, illuminating and yes, even liberating.
- (Guest-Post provided by Cory Rochester)
Aug 252011

Up-Front Disclosures: all of the guys in this post are friends of mine- but please don’t hold that against them; they are also three really talented people, each making important contributions to modern Paganism. My good pal, Luckylicious, for instance, presents the Eat My Pagan Ass  podcast, with an always hilarious and highly irreverent take on Pagan issues, Pagan foibles, and Pagan stuff in general (I know a lot of folks do podcasts, but I don’t think anyone embraces the Pagan Irreverent with Lucky’s panache and flair).

Lucky’s project comes up because his most recent episode (podisode?: #0039), is titled “Gay! Gay! Gay!,” and (appropriately) features my other good friend, New York City fashion designer Gary Suto  (also known as Ocymvio, who introduced Jugglers to the 2011 Lagerfeld Mythology calendar and who was a media spokesman during the near-Stonewall riot  following the passage of New York State’s Marriage Equality bill). Gary is a very fitting candidate for the “Gay! Gay! Gay!” podisode of Eat My Pagan Ass, as he has been instrumental in building Gay male Magickal community in NYC for many years; he and Lucky discuss all sorts of things Queer-male-related, including the Minoan Brotherhood, a Magickal Tradition founded specifically for Gay men by early-on-the-scene NYC Magickal hipster Eddie Buczynski. Gary, in fact, has- since the interview- been elevated by his Minos (High Priest in the Minoan Tradition) to Third Degree (so now Gary is a Minos, or Minoan High Priest, in his own right), and is in the process of starting his own Minoan Grove here in the City (interested individuals can check out Gary’s Witchvox Profile above).

where spirits liveLastly there is my friend Omri Navot, the talented author of  Where Spirits Live, a really excellent and affecting book (which I reviewed for the Juggler earlier). Omri’s novel can appear a bit of a fake-out: it’s ostensibly a very sweet “early Tweener coming-of-age” story (quite well-written; I was impressed how easily Omri’s prose could transport me back to that terribly unique mindset of the eleven/twelve-year-old period). However, its true purpose is to to explore the Metaphysical Consciousness that results from the Spiritual Soul-Journeying of astral travel (it is Omri’s talents as a writer that pull off this kind of unlikely premise). Where Spirits Live works as both a spiritually oriented Young Adults book and as a marvelously Magickal consideration of the Astral Planes and the Worlds beyond the World; I urgently recommend it to folks looking for good, interesting, provocative (spiritually oriented) fiction- as apparently so did the good people at Eternal Haunted Summer,   an excellent online journal dedicated to original poetry and fiction, and offering reviews of literary works of interest to Pagans. Omri came to their perceptive attentions, hence their interview with him here.

My friends- they can be talented; please check out their stuff.