Monday, February 22, 2010

Bill Schnoebelen and the Coven from Hell - Part 1

This is part one of a four part series taken from my long article, “Are Witches Dupes of Satan”, which I wrote as a response to a book published by my ex-high priest, Bill Schnoebelen. The book was entitled “Wicca; Satan’s Little White Lie,” and it has bedeviled the witchcraft community ever since it was first published by Chick publications. Since Bill was my teacher and mentor, I felt that I should respond to his accusations, and also give a very lively picture of his life so others may know what kind of hypocrite he really was. Bill is stilling shilling his baloney to various Christian organizations, so it is prudent that I publish this rebuttal for all to see -even including Bill himself. There are others out there who know a lot of personal information about this clown, and to make public pronouncements and be in the public face as he has done opens one up to fact checking and revelations such as this one. Enjoy!

I have finally decided after two decades of silence to write about my experiences being a student and friend to the now notorious reverend Bill Schnoebelen, the pastor of the With One Accord Ministry. A man who was once a Wiccan High Priest and now has become the arch-antagonist of the Neopagan and Wiccan communities throughout the land. I will attempt to assist my brothers and sisters of the Craft in trying to understand how a person who had reached such a high level of spiritual achievement in our tradition would suddenly quit and join the squelching ranks of the converted and rehabilitated Christian fundamentalist movement. It is my role as lineage holder of this most troubling branch of Alexandrian Witchcraft to write about my personal experiences with this man, illuminating and finally explaining the mechanisms of his disturbing apostasy.

Much of what Bill relates in his writings has an element of truth mixed in with the mytho-poetry of personal and religious drama, which is distilled from outright fabrications, delusions and distortions. The mixture of fact and fiction is probably the most disturbing aspect of his writings, but only to those of us who felt compelled to read his ranting pronouncements against the practices of Witchcraft and Neopaganism. Of course, we who have found authenticity and legitimacy within the practice of nature religions and eco-spirituality are not the only enemies of Bill Schnoebelen and his assembly of sanctimonious clowns. The Masons, the Mormons, the Catholics, biblical scholars, religious historians and philologists, the liberal press, and occultists in general, as well as fans of Harry Potter and Dungeons and Dragons have been equally smeared and slandered with the accusation of Satanism. Bill is obviously playing to his elected audience, but his book, “Wicca, Satan’s Little White Lie”, was also written in an attempt to convert adherents of modern witchcraft and paganism.

The intellectual caliber of this tome sets a low bar for the reader to cross, and Bill makes many supposedly salient points that are easily dismissed, since they are based either on Christian superstitions or are obvious fabrications. However, there are also arguments in the book that are based upon a very intimate knowledge of our tradition and a few are difficult to dismiss. Bill deceives through the art of crafting clever arguments, spouting a panoply of toxic propaganda that only the most virulent arch-conservative would love and gleefully approve. The fact that fundamentalist religionists are using the social conservative wing of the American Republican party to promote their agenda is both sobering and very troubling to those who are not so religiously disposed. (But that is another matter altogether.)

However, since I was fortunate, or unfortunate, to know the author of this media pogrom very intimately, I believe that I can shed a great deal of light on his inner workings. I can not only show the nature of the lies that he has woven tightly together with the facts, but also attempt to understand his flaws and explain why he left our tradition to find sanctuary within the most conservative branch of Christianity, which is Evangelical Protestantism. Such a transformation, being so illogical, boggles the mind and must be explained. Otherwise we might have to admit that we are also wrong, that once a person becomes a Christian (is baptised), he is always a Christian, regardless of whether or not he has converted to a new spiritual path. So the question is whether we are modern witches and pagans or simply apostate Christians who will be judged harshly by the one true God when we die, and therein cast into the abyss of fire and brimstone, to be tortured for all eternity by Satan and his fallen angels.

Yet since I knew Bill very well and walked with him on his spiritual path for four years, I was able to realize the fatal flaws in his character. I can actually understand why he opted to change his religion in a dramatic and annoying fashion. I believe that Bill saw himself as a “man for all seasons”, and sought to know intimately all of the paths of spirituality available to a modern seeker. Such a spiritual career could only be forged by a megalomaniacal personality. Indeed this is the primary flaw that obsessed and possessed Bill throughout his whole life, and it is most pronounced in his various arch-conservative statements today.

A problem arises when one engages with so many spiritual paths at one time, in that there is little time to deeply plumb the depths of each path thoroughly, so one is left with only a superficial sense of the inner workings of these various systems. We who are engaged in the many earth based spiritual  traditions can at least find some satisfaction in the fact that Bill was not involved in his tradition of witchcraft and magick long enough to really spiritually mature within it, and that his rant against witchcraft is really based on a shallow understanding.

Since I was there during the climactic period of his study and practices, I can act as a witness to what really happened. I can help the members of my tradition peel away the lies from the facts and reveal the real person, warts and all. I can also reveal the real events that actually took place, however delusional and foolish. Instead of seeming to be a virtuoso in the area of the study of alternative and occult systems of spirituality, we can  see Bill as he truly was, a haunted seeker who never found what he was looking for, and a man who required adulation from his followers as well as respect, power and money.

Bill talks as if he was the primary source of all the witchcraft lineages in the Midwest, and that he personally initiated hundreds of individuals into his branch of the craft. He talks of traveling from town to town, with over 200 witches in tow, proselyting the so-called Gospel of Witchcraft throughout the five State areas of Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, and Minnesota. Of course, none of this even remotely resembles the truth. It also does a great disservice to other groups and individuals who were forging their own paths either before or contemporaneous with Bill’s groups, and who have continued their studies and practices in a faithful manner to this day.

He actually founded only two covens, these were named Astreas, and Sophia, and both were located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. There were probably only around 35 to 40 individuals who were initiated by Bill and his wife, Sharon, and many of these never made it beyond the first degree. There were probably only around a dozen individuals who were initiated into the third degree, representing a small and isolated group of practitioners, not the venerable institution of hundreds of followers and many covens that Bill claims to have spawned. Bill’s foray into witchcraft and paganism was a modest accomplishment at best, but his Wiccan organization had completely collapsed by the time he became a Mormon, sometime in 1982, and most assuredly was gone by 1984, when he converted to evangelical Christianity.

Bill’s occult spiritual path ended as did his pursuit of personal power and ultimate authority, in spiritual, material and moral bankruptcy. We can consider his conversion a great favor in disguise; for Bill was far more troubling as a witch and magician than he ever will be as a fundamentalist preacher. He can make a living off of the most intellectually challenged  group of people in our nation and tell his stories and spread his lies with the full approbation of his publishers and public supporters. I, for one, would not want to be considered a political and intellectual bed partner of Jack Chick. This is quite a come-down for Bill, to be associated with the most radical of anti-intellectual sects, since he always regarded himself as one of the intellectual elite. Yet it can be easily seen that Bill has found his niche, a place where he is respected, empowered and paid, and can achieve all this without having to really work for it. He has also wiped clean his conscience and can function happily without any of the haunting guilt that normally accompanies hurting, deceiving and shamelessly manipulating and exploiting one’s friends and followers. I can verify that no one who was ever taught and initiated by Bill and his wife, Sharon, would ever recommend them or consider them in a positive light, such was the negative fallout from their tenure as Wiccan High Priest and High Priestess.

How ironic it seems today that the coven that I entered into on February, 1976 (Sophia), was guided by a man and a woman who seemed the paragon of spiritual teachers, sacrificing their own time and resources to teach, morally guide, initiate and practice the new faith of witchcraft with their brothers and sisters. The first year that I belonged to this group seemed like the most idyllic and empowering period of my life. By the time I had been elevated to third degree, I had matured considerably in regards to my knowledge and practice of magick; since this was the time when I was building the foundation of the current magickal methods and practices that I use today. Yet by the fourth year, the group had become so negative, corrupted, self-absorbed, and egotistical, that one would barely recognize it as the same group of people. We were drunk on our own power trips, thinking of ourselves as the elite of the traditions of Witchcraft and magick, and no one was more intoxicated and corrupted than Bill and his wife, who continued to run their covens as if they were specially elected by the Goddess and God to do so. The ideal coven had become the coven from hell, and it was shocking that in such a short time, we all experienced a profound fall from grace.

I have asked myself this question many times, “What caused this decline and corruption, and how did it occur?” Bill relates in his book that he succumbed to ever greater excesses of darkness and evil, but he points out that it was the intrinsic nature of this spiritual path that was to blame. Yet we didn’t do anything that was not part of the mainstream of the youth culture of the early 70's. We took drugs, we experimented with sexuality, and we explored all of the forbidden knowledge of occultism and its practices, but so did many people who were neither witches nor pagans.

Bill proceeded to involve the whole coven in his personal magick and his personal pathos, seeing himself as the ultimate authority in all situations, and perhaps this is where things went wrong. However, we did not indulge in child pornography, rape, murder, larceny, kidnaping, torture, animal sacrifice, blood drinking, and shooting up strange evil drugs. Bill claims that this is what witches do, that he whole-heartedly participated in them, and it’s possible that he did indulge in some of the milder of these practices. Yet the more outrageous were realized exclusively within the confines of his imagination.

In the end, I had to leave this group to escape the delusion and madness. I wandered for a few years as a spiritual exile to find solace and redemption for the guilt that I felt by being a party of this terrible fall. I needed to be released from the bondage of this group if I was going to continue to evolve and spiritually mature, and I believe that many former members came to this exact conclusion as well, and then they subsequently left. There were a few tortured souls who remained with Bill until the end, and they received the final insult and abuse when he converted to Christianity and condemned all of his former teachers, co-religionists, and students as either “card carrying” Satanists or naive followers of a Satanic conspiracy.

To trace this unhappy spiritual passage, we have to examine Bill’s unbelievable trail of  multitudes of initiations in numerous organizations and traditions, and find the place where it all began. Since I did not meet Bill until late1974 (briefly), and then again in the winter of 1975, I was not there when Bill decided to become a witch and follow the occult path of earth based spirituality. But I did get to spend a lot of time with him, and even a couple of days at his parent’s home in Jesup, Iowa, and heard all the tales of his youth and how he got into the craft. But what I was never privy to were the specific dates of his initiations, these were kept secret. The most amazing thing that I discovered when examining those dates was that Bill received his first degree in the Alexandrian tradition a mere three years before I did, even though he acted as if I were the eternal chela to his many years of spiritual mastery and magickal ascendency.

From the tales, lies, half-truths, and very probable occurrences, we can state the story of Bill’s life with some credibility. We begin this narrative by making some guesses at Bill’s early life. I am assuming that my guesswork would at least be more accurate than those made by someone who had never associated with him, but only Bill knows what really happened. Perhaps if we speculate in this manner, using my memories and Bill’s own words from his various public statements, we can build a pretty good character profile of this man, and determine what went wrong with Bill in his pursuit of wisdom and enlightenment. This will serve us well, so we can avoid all of the terrible mistakes and pitfalls that he and his wife made, causing an idyllic coven to become the coven from hell.

To be continued...

Frater Barrabbas

5 comments:

  1. OMFG! You've got a connection to Jack Chic! I've been a huge fan of Chic's ever since I first read his trac on the dangers of dungeons and dragons over ten years ago. If you're still on speaking terms with Bill, and you could get me an autographed copy of that Chic trac, that would be totally awesome. I'm thinking have it inscribed with something like, "To Rob- Keep on truckin' for Jesus, Your pal Jack."

    What you describe about Bill is one of the problems with degree and grade systems. They try to confer a status based on something that can't be measured objectionably, power and magical skill. It's assumed by many that these degrees and grades actually mean something, and it ends up granting authority to people. Of course this type of system gets horribly abused, and its main proponents and abusers end up being the people who can not gain authority, respect, or position based on their own abilities through legitimate means. I have about 100 degrees and grades, almost all of which are the highest granted in a given system or very close to the highest grade, and almost all of them were obtained in a single year because it amused me to do so at the time. I figured out ways to cheat and get those things with very little work at all.

    Lineage falls into a lot of the same problems. Unlike degrees though, a lineage isn't an imaginary construction, it's something that exists, and it is meaningful. However it's meaningful on a very private and personal level to the practitioner and the practitioner only. Lineage shouldn't grant status and prestige, and the people who boast about their lineage or try to use it to gain status are the same people that aren't capable of standing on their own.

    I don't think there's an issue with being eclectic and going from system to system exploring them as you develop your own path. Historically just about every notable magician has done that. I don't think that was what Bill was doing though. It sounds like he was just hunting for lineages as a way of justifying his position. I've noticed that this is a common practice in the community.

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  2. Sorry to disappoint you, Rob, but I don't have any communication lines open with either Bill or Jack Chick. However, if you contact one or the other, I am sure that you can get one of the screeds autographed. As for the rest, I agree with what you have said. Thanks for your comment.

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  3. was there any overlap between Bills mormonism and Wicca practice?
    -sfias

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  4. I was Mormon about when Bill was. At that time, a Mormon defender of the faith published a book, From Clergy to Convert, and a chapter of that was devoted to Bill and his wife. Let's just say that the story they told the Mormons was a bit abbreviated. Sandra Tanner (Utah Lighthouse Ministry) has some excellent commentary on him too.

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  5. well frater barrabas can you give me a link to what she has to say about bill?sandra tanner i mean?thanks

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