Charles Arnold (1947-2015 ) Wiccan priest and author, and a key figure in legal battles for the decriminalization of Wicca as a religion in Canada and for the right of Wiccan priests to perform legal marriages in the province of Ontario.
Born in Washington, D.C., in 1947, Charles Arnold served in the Vietnam War with the U.S. Army Security Agency. He moved to Canada after his discharge. He began practising Witchcraft as a solitary in the late 1970s, intuiting rituals and sensing innately that he had always been a Witch. He later was initiated in several traditions.
In Canada, Arnold became involved in the Wiccan Church of Canada for about two and a half years, serving on its board of directors and as secretary-treasurer. He left that organization in 1984 to found the Spendweik Coven, of which he later was named Elder. He resigned from that to help found and serve as executive director of Wicca Communitas, an onprofit support and network organization for Wiccans and Pagans in southern Ontario. Wicca Communitas oversees the Temple of the Elder Faiths, a public organization of which Arnold was high priest until 1988. The Temple of the Elder Faiths was founded in 1986 as a non-initiatory public temple whose rituals and services are based largely on the Pagan Way. Its priesthood come from diverse traditions, including the well-established Gardnerian and Alexandrian traditions.
In 1986, Arnold undertook legal measures to have Wicca decriminalized by the Canadian government. The issue revolved around the granting of paid leave for two religious holidays, Beltane (April 30) and Samhain (October 31). Arnold had been denied paid leave by his employer, Humber College of Applied Arts and Technology in Toronto, where he worked as a secretary in the Equine Center. The college’s contract with the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, of which Arnold was a member and officer, stated that time off with pay could be granted for religious reasons and could not be unduly withheld.
The process was long, contentious and stressful. The case went to the Ministry of Labor for arbitration. Arnold was backed by his union, and also received support from a Christian minister, Rev. Donald Evans of the United Church of Canada. Arnold was called upon to refute commonly held misconceptions about Satanism, Devil-worship and animal or human sacrifice. He testified about the Goddess, the Horned God, the fundamentals of Wicca and its holidays, and his own involvement in the religion. His pastoral responsibilities, he told the arbitrators, were similar to those of a pastor or priest in any other religion, including planning and conducting worship services, teaching and counselling.
Evans testified that Wicca met his definition of a religion, as “a set of beliefs and practices of a community pertaining to a spiritual dimension in the cosmos and the practice of rituals designed to enable the participants to live their daily lives in relation to that spiritual dimension.”
On December 9, 1987, the arbitrators found in favour of Arnold, awarding him two religious holidays each year with paid leave. They issued a 21-page statement that declared, “Wicca is obviously a religion. We are of the view that it would be unreasonable for the employer to continue its refusal to grant religious leave.” The ruling noted that Wicca is “the modern survival of the ancient pagan religions of Western Europe which were suppressed following the conversion, in Roman times, to Christianity.” It is secret and misunderstood, “which is not surprising,” the ruling said, given “the well-known persecution to which its adherents were subjected by Christianity.”
The ruling further said that “had the parties [to the college’s collective bargaining agreement] intended to restrict this provision to leave for the purposes of majority or well-established religions, it is our view that they should have said so in much clearer language.” That, however, probably would have violated human rights laws, the ruling observed.
At the same time, Arnold pursued another legal quest in applying to the Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations for a license to perform marriages. That was turned down on March 15, 1988, on the grounds that the application did not satisfy criteria of the Marriage Act: the denomination or tradition of the applicant must have been in existence for at least 25 years. Though Arnold provided information on his tradition and initiation as a high priest, the ministry said it did not sufficiently Demonstrate “that his denomination had been permanently established both as to the continuity of its existence as well as its rites and ceremonies.”
Arnold filed complaints about the application procedures with the Ontario Human Rights Commission and the Office of the Ontario Ombudsman. Years later, the province revised its rules for obtaining the license to marry, and Wiccans and Pagans may now qualify.
The legal issues took a heavy toll on Arnold, who had to contend with criticism from inside his own spiritual community that he had taken on these battles for personal publicity. By 1988, he had resigned from all offices and positions he held in various organizations across North America and withdrew to a more private life. In 1993, he and his second wife, Vykki, moved back to the United States, settling in Vykki’s home state of Vermont.
By the late 1990s, Arnold resumed public speaking and activism work within the Wiccan-Pagan community. He was involved in the founding of The New Temple of Astarte, becoming high priest, and helped to organize other groups, among them The Temple of Our Lady of the Green Mountains (a branch of The Temple of Astarte) and the Temple Star Cloak — A Pagan Congregation.
Arnold moved to Perth Amboy, New Jersey. He has served as national coordinator of the Pagan Veterans Headstone Campaign, to gain the right of Wiccans and Pagans in the military to have symbols of their faiths on their tombstones, and as chairman of the United Pagan Temples of America.
Arnold is the author of articles and books, including Goddessborn (1987); Ritual Art— Drawing the Body (1997); and Ritual Art — Drawing the Spirit (2001).
- Bradley, Jeff. “Canada’s Most Visible Witch.” Available online. URL: https://www.holysmoke.org/wb/wb0037.htm. Downloaded September 14, 2007.
- “Charles Arnold.” Witchvox.com. Available online. URL: https://www.witchvox.com/vn/vn_detail/dt_pa.html’a= usnj&id=65436. Downloaded October 1, 2007.
This Article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
We added his date of Death: August 14th. 2015