Monday, May 23, 2022

Witchcraft Today

Witchcraft Today, edited by Martin Ebon
April, 1971  Signet Books

This slim paperback is a nice encapsulation of the Occult Revival that took place in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, that post-Aquarian moment when suburban housewives decided they were witches and started wearing pentagrams. The book was also published just as the Manson cult had cast a pall on the scene, as some of the pieces here elucidate. For Witchcraft Today is really an anthology of pieces on witchcraft and occultism in general, taken from a variety of mainstream and occult publications. Martin Ebon, with whom I’m unfamiliar, has assembled articles that present witchcraft from the perspectives of insiders, the curious, and the concerned. 

“It is lack of personal power that usually spurs one on the road to witchcraft,” Ebon notes in his introduction. In addition to his intro, which provides a general overview of the occult revival and wonders “why now?,” Ebon serves up pithy intros for each of the pieces he’s chosen for the anthology. Here’s a quick rundown of each: 

“Witchcraft Today – A Survey,” is by Raymond Van Over and sort of continues the vibe of Ebon’s intro, delivering a concise history of witchcraft with a focus on the ‘60s revival. The piece is pretty ‘60s, too, with tidbits on turned-on modern witches like Louise Huebner (who appears later) and mentions of the suddenly-trendy Carl Jung. 

“Britain’s Witchcraft Scene” is by John Kobler and seems to be from earlier in the ‘60s.  “Britain’s witches are not very sinister,” Kobler sums up in his recounting of various witchy movements in England through the centuries, culminating in covens like the one housewife Mrs. Jenkins participates in…“in the buff.” 

“America’s Leading Witches: Sybil Leek vs Louise Huebner” is by Joy Miller and takes on more of the vibe of mainstream journalism. It’s a character piece, comparing elderly British witch Sybil Leek, who moved to the US and considers herself “the number one witch in America,” and “sexy” Louise Huebner, “a shapely woman in her late 30s with long dark hair.” Years ago I downloaded a vinyl rip of Huebner’s 1969 LP Seduction Through Witchcraft, now a hotly traded collectible, in which she recounts spells overtop avante-garde proto-electronica. Cool stuff! She definitely comes off as the more memorable of the two; whereas Leek is stodgy and arrogant, certain she’ll be the only witch remembered when one looks back on the 20th Century, Huebner dismisses most witch lore and likes to do spells for city officials in Los Angeles – and indeed became the “Official Witch of Los Angeles.” According to Wikipedia, though, soon after the publication of Witchcraft Today Louise Huebner moved out of the public eye, which is surprising given how publicity conscious she comes off as in this piece. 

“New York’s Witch Explosion” is by Mary Bringle and is another mainstream journalism piece that also gives a nice view of the era. Most of it is dimissive, the “real witches” Bringle interviews mocking that “You can’t walk into a party anymore without meeting a half-dozen girls who think they’re witches.” We learn how some of these girls are just latching onto the latest trend and use witchcraft to snare a boyfriend or other mundane things. But the story really picks up with the too-brief appearance of Pietro, a warlock who has gotten into the black magic scene and who states that the first Black Mass he attended was “Bad! On the level of a Forty-Second Street skin flick.” 

“The Witchcraft Boom In Canada” by Bill Trent is a short puff piece trying to fathom the “explosion” of occult interest in Canada. 

“I Was Born A Witch” is by Helen McCarthy and is a character piece focused on Lavora, a Creole witch who now lives in New York. It’s mostly Lavora’s colorful history and how she moved to the big city, with such memorable details as the abortion she had to get when she was 15 – and the witch charm she used to gain her revenge on the guy who knocked her up. 

“Black Magic Against White” is by Gordon Fleming and about Brazil’s macumba witchcraft. I wasn’t interested in the topic so skipped it. 

“The Original Black Mass” by Stephen A. Hoeller presents an historical overview of the Black Mass, with the details that when first practiced in 1600s France it might have entailed the sacrifice of children. Hoeller, as Ebon notes in the piece’s intro, is a reverend, and it’s to his credit that the article doesn’t come off like some proto-Satanic Panic. Indeed, Hoeller notes that the so-called Black Mass of notorious Aleister Crowley is mostly just “poetry.” 

“Meet A Practicing Sorcerer!” by Peter Bloxham is one of the more fun pieces in the collection, totally giving a glimpse of the groovy age of horror. Once again we’re back in England, where we meet “modern Merlin” Cecil Williamson, proprietor of Witches House Museum; a tour will cost you 18 cents! Williamson, who drives a station wagon(!), sneers at the “playgirl witches” of the day who have “suburban orgies” in their “comic covens.” He also makes vague mentions of a “big business Occult Mafia.” 

“Anton LaVey: San Francisco Satanist” is by Jean Molina and is a character piece on LaVey, who comes off as a guy with a pretty sharp sense of humor. “To LaVey black is beautiful, but it refers to his brand of magic, not his skin color,” notes Molina – and Ebon also informs us that “Molina” is a pseudonym. LaVey shares stories about starting up his Church of Satanism, also noting how Jayne Mansfield would’ve lived if she’d listened to LaVey and stayed away from her boyfriend, whom LaVey put a hex on. 

“The Devil And Sharon Tate” is by Michael Ballantine and gets into the darker aspects of the movement. This is a piece of mainstream journalism that captures the weird vibe of the late ‘60s, and works into the overall theme of the anthology in that Manson’s girls considered themselves to be “witches,” something I hadn’t been aware of. Ballantine however mostly quotes other sources; in particular he keeps noting “Rolling Stones Magazine”[sic] and its interview with Manson. If anything this article made me decide to finally get around to reading Ed Sanders’s study of the Manson scene, The Family. Two years ago I got a copy of the first edition, which has material that’s been cut from every other edition of the book, and I’ve been meaning to read it. 

“The Innocents Of Salem” by Eleanor Early is, as you’d expect, a history of the Salem Witch Trials. All I need to know about this particular subject I leaned from that two-part episode of Bewitched where Sam went back in time to confront the judges, so I skipped this one. 

“Twentieth-Century Victim” by Paul Langdon is “lurid,” per Ebon’s intro…and it certainly is. This is the sad story of a teen girl in Zurich named Bernadette Hasber who, in 1966, was beaten to death by the members of a Christian cult that was trying to “save” Bernadette from demonic possession. And her parents are the ones who turned her over to the cult! 

“The Warning Witch: An African Adventure” is by WJ Ousby and seems to come out of a men’s mag, only without any of the fun. It’s about a guy meeting witches in the jungle. I skimmed it. 

“Healing Witches” by Frank Osgood follows the previous article, and given my lack of interest I skipped it as well. 

“It Worked For Me” by Max Gunther closes out Witchcraft Today. This is another pithy piece that captures the vibe of the era, with the topics including a witchcraft supply store some young witch opens in New York. Gunther relates the story of how he employed a spell to get something, and it came true, which may be an indication that it’s all for real…or that the current occult thing is just “a fascinating hobby.” 

Overall Witchcraft Today is pretty enjoyable if you’re into that late ‘60s/early ‘70s “dark side of the Aquarian Age” scene like I am, with the caveat that most of the articles here are along the lines of puff pieces, as if the editors at Life had decided to do a special issue on witchcraft.


Teutonic Terror said...

I don't think there was ever an "explosion" of Satanism in Canada ... in fact, all it took was a Victoria, BC therapist and one of his patients to co-write "Michelle Remembers", which became the template for "false memory" claims about Satanic abuse in daycares and in custody battles across North America. My cousin went to prison because of one such claim ... and when his son turned 18, the son admitted that the social worker and the estranged mother had coerced him into telling lies about his father.

Joe Kenney said...

Wow, that's a crazy story. I hope the mother faced some sort of legal penalty for ruining your poor cousin's life! Never heard of "Michelle Remembers." I did read Maury Terry's awesome "Ultimate Evil," though, a late '80s book which conjectures this underworld satanic crime ring, complete with figures like "Manson II." I meant to review it here on the blog back when I read it several years ago, but never got around to it. It certainly inspired at least a few men's adventure novels, though, from Mike Newton's Night Kill to the obscure Psycho Squad series. Anyway, thanks for the comment!

Teutonic Terror said...

Yes, last I heard his ex-wife was getting treatment for something or other, but I have no idea if the social worker ever paid for his professional negligence. Here's a link to how that single crazy book touched off the Satanic Panic around the world, as well as influencing a bunch of horror novels: