Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Descent into Madness - the Chronology of the Coven’s Fall - Part 3A

This is part three - the first half - 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. This is the third part, which details the implosion of Bill’s covens and the descent of his followers into a kind of temporary madness. The covens had become a cult and what followed is typical of the failure of a cult.

The chronology of the two covens and their social events can be easily broken into three periods, the idyllic period of progressive works and self discovery, then a period of stasis and excesses, and finally the period of decline and corruption. As stated previously, the idyllic period lasted from the time that I was initiated to first degree until the time when I was initiated to third degree. Perhaps I would have noticed that there were problems already evident in the group had I been looking carefully, but I was too happy and gleefully studied and practiced all that was set before me. At that time, problems in the group were few, the dissidence was rare, and we all got along, more or less. But as I think about it in a deeper context, the seeds of the future troubles were sown before I ever got into the coven of Sophia.

Bill liked to hold court in his home, sitting in his favorite chair with one leg missing and supported  by a cinder block. He would be fed and given drink by his loving spouse, and pontificated from his precarious throne on many erudite points of occult lore. Truly, though, Bill’s knowledge of the occult was astonishing and it seemed as if he had an encyclopedia for a brain. I learned a great deal sitting on the floor before that over stuffed chair, and I also did a lot of growing, learning and mastering of the occult arts myself. We studied the Golden Dawn, the essential folklore and philosophies of earth based religions, both past and present, the Qabbalah, Astrology, Alchemy, Yoga, the Hermetic techniques of Franz Bardon, ancient Egypt, the Arthurian sagas, the Mabinogion, classical and world mythology, religious history, and beginning, intermediate and advanced magick. There was nothing phony about Bill when it came to his understanding of these obscure studies and he loved to expound upon them, inspiring us with his zeal for these subjects. He was patient and careful in his teachings, this made them very authentic and caused all of us to respect his knowledge and point of view.

He seemed to know everything, but in fact, he really didn’t know everything. We just sort of assumed that he did and Bill did not dissuade us in that error. The whole domain of positive occultism was available to one and all to study and learn, and I was ecstatic at both the content of the classes as well as the experience gained through the various magickal workings. I couldn’t seem to absorb enough of it or fast enough to satisfy my craving. I had become something of an addict for magickal powers and abilities. I discovered far more than I had ever imagined. If this had been the sum total of my experiences and if Bill had been as humble and open, loving and giving as he pretended to be, then perhaps these covens would have been the greatest crucible for the entire tradition of Alexandrian Witchcraft; but in fact, it was a false modesty and a great power trip for him.

Bill would often say, when pursuing some perk of his office, that “rank doth have its privileges”; but he never really seemed to understand that spiritual authority is a kind of emotional opiate that ruins most occult groups. However, during this period of training and learning, we were all brothers and sisters of an elite inner court, presided over by its King and Queen. As the leader and lightening rod for the spiritual group, Bill would often enter into trance and consult with his highest guides, Ambrosius or Parlemanon, and these entities would always bolster Bill’s decisions and judgements.

Sharon was more humble in her manners, but she also had  delusions about herself and Bill, and we all became a part of that delusion as time went on. She secretly thought herself as Mary, the mother of Christ reborn, and Bill was Jesus Christ, reborn this time as her beloved spouse.

I experienced the first year of the annual cycle of Sabbats as a succession of revelations, and each full moon Esbat during that period was performed with magick that profoundly impressed me with its power. This is because each new rite was more intense than the previous one. I had entered a whole new world of magickal powers and entities unlike at any time in my previous studies or workings. I also grew very close to Bill and Sharon and they encouraged my interest in them. I was sort of the trouble maker and bad boy of the group, but actually, I was very loyal to Bill and to the members of my coven; but that did not stop me from competing and trying to out-do everyone in the group. I, of course, could not out-do Bill or Sharon, for to even think of that would be to cross the line of proper decorum.

The group was very intimate, since we practiced our craft in ritual nudity, or sky-clad, as we called it. I saw others engaged in a kind of casual sexual intimacy with each other and I felt alone and aloof. Perhaps Sharon sensed my alone-ness in the group, we started a brief affair and that only drew me deeper into the core of the group’s soul. However, before things could go too far between Sharon and myself, another man came into the group, fresh from a disastrous divorce, who fell deeply in love with Sharon and became her lover and companion. That man was Rick, who I variously loved, hated, envied and pitied. He was a remarkable man, a romantic poet and an Irish nationalist, as well as a gifted passionate warrior. Where Bill was awkward, Rick was lithe, strong, dashing and athletic. Rick believed in the principles of free love that were an integral part of our group, so he also became romantically involved with other women in the group. I continued to be a bit of an outsider and was jokingly compared to Loki or Judas, but I didn’t mind too much. I was gaining an enormous amount of lore and adding it to my burgeoning collection. However, Bill did not particularly like being eclipsed by Rick; yet at first he graciously invited Rick to live with him and his wife. They even shared the same bed and all this was done perhaps to control Rick and keep an eye on him.

I had joined the group as a solitary practitioner who had been self-dedicated a few years earlier. I had been studying for five years before I met Bill and Sharon, so I was already established on my magickal and spiritual path. I used the information provided to me to build up my own personal magickal system. This preoccupation with my own system was perceived as a kind of joke amongst the other members, who chose to work their magick through the coven; but Bill and Sharon encouraged me. To this day, I don’t know why they did that. I even went so far as to write my own version of the Golden Dawn rituals and performed them for Sharon in the autumn of my first year, at Hallows, to convince her that I was worthy to receive third degree. I had gotten second degree in around six months, but I was told that third degree would take longer to achieve, even though I did achieve it two months after my first anniversary in the group.

The first year was so magickal and beautiful that I could hardly imagine that anything could possibly go wrong. But there were indications that things weren’t going too well in the group. Bill was having a torrid sexual affair with a odd but shapely redhead who was a member of Astreas, named Candice. She had the strange habit of never locking eyes with anyone who talked to her. This was a sad defect, due to her being beat senselessly by her father when she was a child, her eyes could never focus directly on anything. But despite these handicaps, and the accompanied low self-esteem, Candice compensated by affecting a huge ego, and stealthily sought to replace Sharon as High Priestess. Bill, of course, encouraged her at first, but then would side with Sharon and they would both find a way to humble and punish Candice. Apparently, she later went crazy, and this is briefly spoken of in Bill’s book about some unnamed misfortunate woman; yet he didn’t mention that his mind games and power trips were probably the root cause of that madness.

Candice believed that everyone should respect and obey her, being a senior member of Astreas (and Bill’s lover), and this of course caused the two of us to cross swords, since I was not about to respect anyone unless they proved to me their worthiness. I had my own power trip to feed as well. It was easy for me to torment Candice, to mock and challenge her false claims of greatness. When Bill and Sharon tried to get her and I into some kind of romantic liaison, it was a terrible disaster. She even worked black magick on me when we ran afoul of each other, although it was not done very effectively. My complaints about this to Bill and Sharon went on deaf ears, since they indulged all of our ego trips, so long as we continued to indulged theirs. After a while Bill and Sharon gave up on trying to hitch me up with someone in the group, and that was probably a good thing.

In the spring of 1976, Bill asked if he could meet my father and seek entry into the Masons. I agreed and introduced him. Of course, Bill did not talk about any of the other things that he was involved in. He presented himself as an earnest candidate. I, myself, had thought about joining this organization, but I felt that it would be too confusing to belong to the Masons and also practice Witchcraft. Bill had no problem with this, being supposedly wiser and more intellectually gifted than I. The local blue lodge had a dwindling membership to deal with, so he was eagerly brought into the Masons. Throughout that year Bill went to meetings and went through the three degrees of Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft and Master Mason. Bill was also  given a role as junior deacon, but after attending some meetings, he opted out of this responsibility, saying that the blue lodge work was boring and not very constructive. My father was not pleased with this sudden decision and abdication, since he had sponsored Bill to be a member in the first place. I had nothing to say about this event, of course, since that would reveal things about Bill to my father. None of the members of the lodge ever knew what Bill did in his spare time nor did they realize that he was simultaneously treading many other spiritual paths.

In the summer and autumn of 1976, the group began to explore a new direction, and that was the gothic domain of the vampire. Bill was a crack pulp fiction writer, although unpublished for some reason, part of the time that we spent in studying the coven lore was also spent reading his stories. Then he began to write his grand opus whose characters were actually members of his two covens. The story took place in Europe, in a period of the recent past. We were painted as characters associated with a romantic and gothic notion of the vampire, and this was before Anne Rice wrote her fictional works on the subject. So the occult concepts of vampirism began to play within the group, although in a rather gothic and romantic manner, and not, at least yet, in a negative one. Of course like puppets on strings, we danced to this new strain of strange music without protest or even a thought to question it.

Later that year, Bill began to put together his vestments and ceremonial regalia for an even stranger event. He was to be ordained an Old Catholic Priest. Previously, I had met a man who was an initiated witch, but lived out of town, and he joined the group from time to time for Sabbats (he usually worked with Astreas). This man was named Ed (Edward M. Stehlik), and he was also a priest in the Old Catholic Church. We thought it quite a coup at the time having a priest in our group, not knowing what was about to happen, that he was to be subsequently elevated to the Bishopric of the Midwest diocese of the Old Catholic Church.

So in January of the next year (1977), I was asked to play my flute for the ordination ceremony that took place in central Illinois, where Bill was elevated to the priesthood by his friend, Ed, and the retiring Bishop of that diocese. It was a very strange time indeed, since I was not fond of Christianity and I found the Catholic liturgy to be quite foreign. Everyone greeted the new priest who was smiling in his satiny new vestments, tailor made by Sharon who was something of an amateur seamstress, not knowing that he was also a witch and an occultist. It was one of the strangest experiences that I had in the group up to that point, but it was only the beginning of even stranger deviations. However, I was able to appreciate the rituals and some of the very pagan theology of Catholicism. This became another avenue that I studied, as did everyone else. Then, by that spring, we were wearing our cassocks and habits like good little acolytes and nuns, and learning to decipher the breviary and say the holy office.

Of course, not to be outdone, Bill also started at this time an association with the Church of Satan, and paid his money to be elevated in that organization. I remember actually liking the writings that were produced in the monthly news letter, called the Cloven Hoof, and the books that Anton published were also interesting, but the rest of it seemed to be a kind of silly carnival act. Bill was easily able to rationalize it all, of course, but we lesser souls began to find a lot of lapses of credibility in what he was doing and saying. But I didn’t mind too much, because as a Witch, Satanism seemed more my kind of religious style than being a fake Christian, even though the two religions were really very similar in some strange way. I was receiving all of this from my most admired and beloved teacher and friend, so it must all mean something, and it would be wise and prudent to follow suit. I just hadn’t grown enough to figure it all out as Bill had. So, as you can see, I was still a loyal member of the group and a true believer.

To be continued....

Frater Barrabbas

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