Bull of Heaven – a review

In the past few years, modern pagans have started to reclaim their history. As Ronald Hutton points out, pagans have always had a strong sense of “history” (an interest in past events), but not always in “historicity” (understanding what actually happened, as opposed to what you wish had happened).

Hutton’s Triumph of the Moon traces the factors that led to the founding of the modern Neopagan Witchcraft movement. Philip Heselton’s Witchfather focused on the life of one important individual: Gerald Gardner. In other words, Hutton told us about the times, Heselton told us about a life.

Michael Lloyd’s Bull of Heaven: The Mythic Life of Eddie Buczynski and the Rise of the New York Pagan does both. It does it a way that’s engaging to read. I’d never heard of Buczynski before Margot Adler recommended this book to me; now I understand his impact on the Craft.

Reading Bull of Heaven, I was taken on a journey through the events and developments in and around New York in the 70s and 80s. Many of the stories I’d heard from my Pagan elders make sense now that I understand their context. Among the highlights:

* The origins of and conflicts within Gardnerian Witchcraft in America [1].

* The story of Herman Slater, the controversial owner of the Warlock Shop, later to become the Magical Childe, possibly the foremost magic shop and center of occult activities in New York at the time. [2]

* How Buczynski founded three different Craft traditions, all of which still exist today, including the Minoan Brotherhood.

* The origins of at least three other traditions: Welsh Tradition Wicca, Saex-Wicca, and the Church of the Eternal Source.

* The pagan/occult scene in New York in the 70s, the gay/lesbian scene in New York in the 70s, and (to complete the Venn diagram) the gay/lesbian/pagan/occult scene in New York in the 70s.

* The controversies surrounding the participation of gays and lesbian in Craft circles in the 70s.

* The history and traditions of Bryn Mawr, part of Buczynski’s own transition from history to historicity.

Special mention must be made of Lloyd’s work on gay and lesbian issues in the pagan community; I think this is the first history book to explore this topic. The depth of his research is frankly astonishing, including a brand-new eyewitness account of the Stonewall riot. This book should be seriously considered as part of the required reading for a Gay Studies course. [3]

Bull of Heaven joins the Triumph of the Moon and Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon as an essential book for understanding the history of the Neopagan movement. I’ve added it to my Wiccan group’s reading list.

[1] This part may irritate some of my more traditional Gardnerian colleagues. Lloyd does not hesitate to name names, both real-world and magical. My own take on this: As far as I know, Lloyd is not a Gard; whatever he learned, he had sworn no oaths against revealing it. Given that, we might as well know what’s been said, even though we may not choose to repeat it. My own reaction was that was I amused and delighted that some of things I’d been taught as “gospel” were either distortions or the result of an arbitrary decision made by one person, as opposed to having their origins in Paleopagan times.

[2] The original Warlock Shop was within walking distance of where I grew up in Brooklyn. I never knew about it; at this time my interest in the occult was still nascent, having just been awakened by Isaac’s Real Magic. It’s probably just as well; if I’d met Herman Slater as a straight male teenager, I might have been so shocked that I’d have dropped magic out of my life entirely.

[3] I have no idea whether Lloyd’s narrative is generally accepted by historians. To pick one example out of dozens, Lloyd traces a path from Anita Bryant’s anti-gay activism in Florida to the founding of the Moral Majority. It seems reasonable to me, and Lloyd’s research and reasoning are compelling, but I am not a historian.

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