Pagan Way is a contemporary Pagan movement that emerged in America in 1970 in response to a rapidly rising interest in Paganism, Witchcraft and Magic. Existing Witchcraft covens, with traditional intensive screening programs and “year-and-a-day” probationary periods, were unable to accommodate the large number of inquiries and applicants. Pagan Way provided an alternative with an open, nature-oriented system that emphasized celebration of nature over magic and that had no formal Initiation or membership requirements.
One of the central figures in the development of Pagan Way was Joseph B. Wilson, an American witch who founded a popular journal, The Waxing Moon, in 1965. While stationed with the U.S. Air Force in England in 1969, Wilson began and coordinated correspondence among 15 to 20 groups and persons interested in establishing an esoteric form of Paganism. Among other key figures were Ed Fitch, an American and high priest in the Gardnerian tradition, at the time stationed with the U.S. Air Force in North Dakota; Fred and Martha Adler, American witches in California; John Score (also known as “M”) of England, who wielded considerable influence on both sides of the Atlantic through his newsletter, The Wiccan; the leaders of the regency and Plant Bran covens in Britain; Tony Kelly, British poet; and Susan Roberts, journalist and author of Witches U.S.A.
After four to five months of round-robin correspondence, the founders decided upon basic principles for the new movement and conceived ideas for rituals. Fitch and kelly began writing introductory materials. Fitch composed group and solitary rituals based on Celtic and European folk traditions, with some Gardnerian influence. In addition, he composed material for an Outer Court, an introduction to Witchcraft. The material first appeared in The Waxing Moon, the publication of which Wilson turned over to Fitch and Thomas Giles, of Philadelphia, in 1969.
Fitch and Giles set up mailing centers in Minot, North Dakota, and Philadelphia. The Pagan material was so enthusiastically received that Fitch and Giles approved the establishment of additional, independent mailing centers.
The rituals, lore and background material were never copyrighted but were placed in the public domain in order to gain the widest possible distribution. Over the years, they have been republished several times by various occult houses as The Rituals of the Pagan Way, A Book of Pagan Rituals and perhaps under other titles as well.
In the 1970s Pagan Way groves spread across the United States, primarily in major cities but also in some small communities. many followers were solitaries. Pagan Way appealed to two main audiences: those just getting started in Witchcraft, and those interested in attending Pagan ceremonies and structuring social and civic activities around them, much like mainstream churches. According to Fitch, the movement never was intended to address the esoteric audience of mystery seekers. Eventually, adaptations were made for those who wanted more esoteric aspects: initiation rites were added by Cole, Enderle and others, and secret, closed Outer Courts were formed which gave more emphasis to magic.
In 1971 Wilson resumed editorship of The Waxing Moon; Fitch and Giles renamed their journal The Crystal Well and published separately.
Pagan Way groves thrived during the 1970s. The founders and early organizers let the movement take its own course. No central organization was formed; the groves and mailing centers remained autonomous and loosely affiliated. By 1980 what little there was of the organization had fallen apart, and groves dwindled in size and number. An ever-changing scene of new groups emerged out of Pagan Way. The Pagan Way rituals, however, endured, and continue to be used and adapted by numerous succeeding Pagan groups.
In the United Kingdom, the movement evolved separately from the American movement with the founding in 1971 of the Pagan Front, which later changed its name to the Pagan Federation.
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