Popular Witchcraft:
Straight from the Witch's Mouth

Jack Fritscher

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Copyright Jack Fritscher, Ph.D. & Mark Hemry - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

“You have bent up the Pentagram, young man!”

–Maria Ouspenskaya, The Wolf Man

How Witchcraft Saves Civilization

How I Bent Up the Pentagram. Twice.

Preface: Take One, 1972

          I began this book as an unbeliever in the occult. I leave it, if not believing, then not disbelieving.

          What is here is not everything you need to know about witchcraft, nor everything you need to know about the selling of God, Sex, and the Age of Aquarius. What is here is not the sociology or anthropology of witchcraft, nor a taxitive compendium of horror movies, sex cults, pornography, and American law. What is here is not anti-Christian or anti-God. What is here, simply, is the popular culture of American sorcery.

          What is here, is.

          The first manuscript pages of this book appeared in 1968, only a few days after British vicar's widow, Maisie Pearson, confirmed an I Ching reading. She predicted for me a long occult adventure. “You must do it,” she said.

          Months later, meeting at midnight with Anton LaVey who is the High Priest of the Church of Satan, interviewing white witches, attending Black Masses, and declining an offer to be crucified, I asked myself, “Is this any way for an exorcist to behave?” I had been ordained an exorcist in the Catholic Church in 1963, but my exorcising days, like my Catholicism, were gone with the winds of spiritual upheaval that blew with Vatican II. Hot knees bewitched mine beneath ouija boards from New York to San Francisco. Witches invited me into their confidence. Reportage became adventure. This was New Journalism at its gonzo best. The reporter, like Alice through the Looking Glass, participated in the experience.

          Now, three years later, astrology, magic, tarot, yin-yang macrobiotics, as well as occult psychedelia, gender magic, and phallic worship are no more exotic than the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas, the theology of John Calvin, and the erotica of the Inquisition. I now understand why inside the table top of every altar in every Catholic church rests an altar stone containing human bones.

          In the poker game of American spirituality, the witchcraft card trumps traditional religion. No longer a silent minority, witchcraft is part of the liberation movements of sex, race, and gender that are transforming American popular culture. Witchcraft labels Christianity, Judaism, and Islam as cults far less ancient than witchcraft. Most importantly, the U. S. Supreme Court constitutionally guarantees witchcraft is a valid religion whose rituals are now part of the U. S. Chaplains’ Manual for military bases.

          Three hundred years after the Salem Witch Trials, witchcraft has saved civilization by leveling the playing field of spirituality.

          No longer can Christianity, Judaism, and Islam control American spirituality.

          The occult offers ancient answers to human needs repressed by these dogmatic religions that came along thousands of years after witchcraft ruled the earth.

          I mean this book to sound no more anti-Christian than I intend it to sound pro-occult.

          Arthur Miller titled his Salem witch play, The Crucible (1953). This book chronicles how American popular culture is shifting from crucifix to crucible. The crucifix nails dogma down to the four corners of a cross. A crucible is a vessel for melting materials at high temperatures to see what they are made of. The counter-culture revolution is testing declarative faith, fundamentalism, and government. The liberation fronts are opening the interrogative possibilities of intellect and diversity. America works best as an experimental society when it is a crucible for progress.

          In these times of fast change, necromancy seems better suited to match the continued questing of the American character, colonial to astronautical. For in the evolution of the world, obviously enough, old maps ill serve a new Columbus who walks on the moon, taking steps to the stars. The space program changes everything about earthbound religions, science, and customs. Old totems fall as fast as old taboos. We look in the last generation of this century for a spirituality progressive enough to match the frontiers of outer and inner space. We re-sensitize. We re-conceptualize.

          Technology demythologizes the moon. The Mushroom and the Cross, a best-selling book written by John Allegro, one of the original Dead Sea Scroll scholars, rethinks Jesus into an acid hallucination. Erich von Daniken’s Chariot of the Gods makes the Bible a documentation of UFO's with Christ as an extraterrestrial cosmonaut.

          American astronauts, covering both sides of providence, carry both scriptural passages and occult amulets to the lunar surface. Apollo 13, launched at 13:13 Houston time on Date 13, 1970, defied numerologists and barely escaped destruction. Time magazine asks on its cover Is God Dead? The National Enquirer knows Satan is alive and well.

          Ralph Waldo Emerson was the revolutionary pioneer who gave America soul, and the Over-Soul. Emerson raised the consciousness for alternative spirituality, including witchcraft. He dared tell the Harvard Divinity School graduates that they were as divine as any Jesus. He wanted the American intellectual to be free of European dogma. He wanted American spirituality to be free of the kinds of Puritan theology that hated the body. He wanted personal rights unfettered by race, sex, and gender.     His Transcendentalist group changed American society. They began the women’s movement with Margaret Fuller, the children’s education reforms of the Peabody sisters of Salem, the commune movement at Brook Farm, and the abolition movement set afire by Uncle Tom’s Cabin written by Harriet Beecher Stowe who, Abraham Lincoln said, was the woman who started the Civil War

          Emerson led the way for Henry David Thoreau, the conservationist author of Walden: Or, Life in the Woods, and Civil Disobedience, as much as for the very Wiccan Walt Whitman and his magic epic Leaves of Grass which, like witchcraft, is centered around nature, persona, and sexual energy. Emerson changed American intellect and spirituality by introducing the eastern mysticism of the Bhagavad Gita, the German idealism of Immanuel Kant, and the environmental British Romanticism of Wordsworth, Byron, Shelly, and Keats into the New World Magical Mystery Tour long before the Beatles repeated his act.

          Linear western thought debates to-be-or-not-to-be. Spiraling in circles, Eastern mysticism challenges global humans beyond to-be into to-become or-not-to-become. Something in mankind's spiritual psyche refuses to buy our beginning with birth and our ending in a lazy eternal Elysium. Something in the way we move tells us we intersect romantically with the circles of nature, of the spheres, and of the expanding universe where no line is straight and no answer absolute. Witchcraft, like an ancient Druid umbrella, covers the human existential situation.

          Emerson's was the American mind who invented the self-help genre of the “power of positive thinking.” He told men and women that “all that Adam had and all that Caesar could,” they as New World potentialities had and could do. Experience may have jerked Emerson and company up short, but as pop-culture scholar Marshall Fishwick says of the pre-electronic likes of Adam and Emerson: “Where Hannibal, Caesar, and Napoleon failed, Edison succeeded.”

          In short, electrical media make people real. Had Emerson guested on the TV talk shows, he could have transcended himself and become a pop star. Thoreau in Walden waxed skeptical about media as a vast wasteland: “The devil goes on exacting compound interest to the last for...our inventions.....We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas...may...have nothing important to communicate.” Marshall McLuhan says that media make everything from the trivial to the important global in–his new term–the Global Village. If television interviews a witch, the next morning that witch's book climbs the lists, giving astrologer Jeane Dixon a following, making British witch Sybil Leek a millionaire, and fixing Anton LaVey as the veritable face of the New Satan. No totem is so, but the media make it so.


American Zen Buddhism: eastern postures of meditation; still popular in large urban areas, the movement achieved peak popularity in the late 50s with the Beatnik craze: Jack Kerouac, Ken Kesey, Allan Ginsberg who wrote like William Blake on peyote.


Scientology: a western mode of spiritual renewal founded by L. Ron Hubbard; a kind of Dale Carnegie approach to psychoanalysis through computer programming. Popular in Hollywood.


Bahai: founded in 1864, its architecturally stunning temple stands on Chicago's North Shore; the chairs of this supremely ecumenical religion face toward Persia.


Gurdjieff: the Dervish Cult became highly visible in the streets of New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco in the early 70s. Saffron-robed members shave their heads leaving a ponytail at back of crown. Meditative ritual of dance and music. Ecstatic. Founder George Gurdjieff (1874-1949) wrote his incomprehensible All and Everything, and supported himself by dyeing sparrows yellow and selling them as canaries.


American Theosophical Society, Rosicrucians, Spiritualist Churches: Ethel Romm's Penthouse (July, 1970) investigation of America's multiple sects says: “The Theosophical Society studies comparative religions, ancient and modern, alchemy, Cabala, etc. Started in 1875....Others of this type go in for various occult practices like spirit card reading, seances, scrying (reading images in crystal balls, crystal rocks, mirrors, glass, ink, etc.). Some feature mentalists (who read minds), clairvoyants (who see things out of sight), mediums (who speak with the dead). Many of these grew rapidly with the rise of the once-popular Flying Saucer Cult.”


Church of Satan: founded in 1966 by Anton LaVey, author of The Satanic Bible; San Francisco-based, former carnival man LaVey has re-instituted a non-orgiastic Black Mass as well as Satanic baptisms, weddings, and funerals for his nearly 10,000 world membership.


Black Magic or Demonology: worship of the Devil as the polar opposite of the Christian God; orgiastic celebration of the body; nudity, sex, drugs, sado-masochism, sexual inversion. Purpose: to effect curses, celebrate evil; very little prescribed ritual, mostly ad-lib (and sometimes dangerous) innovations to the historic ritual of the Black Mass.


White Witchcraft or Wicca: according to anthropologist Margaret Murray, this is the world's oldest spiritual discipline. Many sects currently in schism over ritual, nudity, and drugs. Purpose: to undo evil curses and effect good. The late Gerald Gardner revived the term Wicca and promoted witchcraft as “the Old Religion” in post-WWII Britain; he attempted to restore white witchcraft to its pre-historic purity. London’s Alex Sanders succeeded Gerald Gardner with the white magic of the Alexandrian tradition. New York’s Raymond Buckland is America’s chief Gardnerian witch. In Chicago, bi-sexual Pontifex Maximus Frederick De Arechaga is the chief American practitioner of the Sabaenist system of the Old Religion. White witchcraft covens number into the thousands in the United States.

          Popular culture is by essence neophiliac: in love with what’s new. Witchcraft is old enough to be new, attractive enough to be commercial. It has style, sensibility, and appeal to body and mind. It opens, in this last generation of the twentieth century, the closet door of American sex.

          However, ancient witchcraft sometimes seems snagged by modern religion. Witches might their hereditary origins in Wicca, the Old Religion. Yet some are still caught in a kind of Inquisition. They let Christianity define them. Many witches forget their purity of source. Instead of “acting,” they “react” to Christianity. Real systems of witchcraft gain little power or altitude when white witches try to be “co-Christian” or black magicians are petulantly “anti-Christian.” Actual witchcraft has its own identity. Witchcraft pre-dates all known religions. Witchcraft is based on instinct, intuition, and nature. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are revealed religions, subject to change, subject to cultures, and subject to geography.

          Witchcraft has always been liberal, natural, and global. No liberation movement should let spirituality, race, sex, and gender be anything less. Witchcraft is a seeing eye into the American spirit which is about personal freedom.

          Through phenomena like witchcraft, popular culture analyzes the American character. Witchcraft has always bubbled just below the radar of America’s revealed religions. The Founding Fathers winked when they designed Masonic symbols into the seal of the thirteen (count ’em!) states, as well as the one-dollar bill: the pyramid with the All-Seeing Eye of the God Horus, the son of Osiris, the God of the Underworld. American Revolutionary patriot, Ben Franklin, was a member of the stylish London Hellfire Club, and designed coins with thirteen circles. Currently, rich and powerful government figures meet secretly and ritually at the Bohemian Club.

          American culture is a crystal. It is the “Labrador spar” Emerson mentioned in his essay “Experience.”

           “A man is like a bit of Labrador spar, which has no lustre as you turn it in your hand, until you come to a particular angle; then it shows deep and beautiful colors.”

          That spar is the philosopher’s stone. It makes us know ourselves.

          As we dare scry such a crystal proof-rock, we see hidden facets.

          The occult is one such face of the American experience.

          We observe witchcraft because it is there.

          –Jack Fritscher, San Francisco, 1971

Preface: Take Two, 2004

          In the thirty years since I first bent up the Pentagram and wrote this book, witchcraft has become an even more popular template of American culture which sees Satan everywhere. Various liberation movements that were then new now drive culture. The revolution in sex, race, and gender has actually enhanced the content of this book, as has my education in Silva Mind Control, for which I have been a post-graduate guest lecturer. In fact, thirty years’ passage has revealed one principle: how a country treats its women, children, and homosexual people is how a culture truly shows its character. Interestingly, when I wrote this book, Anne Rice and I lived unknown to each other in the same neighborhood, the Castro, in San Francisco, where we knew some of the same witches and vampires. That involvement-rich 1970s zeitgeist drove my non-fiction interviews–begun in 1969 and published in 1972–as much as her fictional Interview with the Vampire in 1976.

          Witchcraft remains a perfect measure of human rights, persona, diversity, and acceptance. The principles of analysis, scholarship, and interview, as well as most of the examples cited remain valid, because most of the citations which were new pop culture in 1970 have, like Rosemary’s Baby, survived as classic benchmarks in witchcraft. The teenage-witch Sabrina has migrated from the pages of an Archie Comic Book to the television screen. Occult personalities who were popular, like Anton LaVey and Gerald Gardner, or notorious like Aleister Crowley and Charles Manson, have become legendary. In fact, of all the priests I’ve known of any faith, Anton LaVey was one of the greatest.

          The text connects the dots for the analytical modern reader. The government persecution and martyrdom of the cross-dressing Joan of Arc for sorcery in 1431 is archetype for the government persecution of the gay photographer Robert Mapplethorpe for Satanism in 1990.

          A new American Inquisition, begun by fundamentalist religionists, reveals how deeply the personal freedoms inherent in witchcraft threaten those who refuse to separate church and state. Satan is spied behind every aspect of popular culture including high-school shootings, rap and heavy metal, goth fashions, Harry Potter novels, new-age lifestyles, the war on drugs, hypno-therapy, and government-funded art.

          Nevertheless, the fair-minded cannot indict Christianity for the excesses of some fundamentalists or some popes anymore than one can indict witchcraft itself for the excesses of its practitioners from Gilles de Rais to some who call themselves Satanists.

          For this thirtieth anniversary edition, I have gently opened up my text without breaking the historicity of the original period piece.

          Facts that were censored in 1970 are restored.

          Facts that were secret at first publication are inserted where they would have appeared in the first edition if the people involved had been able to speak freely thirty years ago.

          Brief thumbnails and dates are added, between commas, to names, titles, and places, to allow modern readers instant access to information that was common knowledge thirty years ago.

          Within these edits, I have tried to keep the book’s original voice, and increase its accuracy for the casual reader, the research student, and practicing witches who encouraged me to prepare this edition.

          This was the first book on popular American witchcraft.

          This was the first book to touch upon the women’s movement and witchcraft.

          This was the very first to deal with gay witchcraft, and, in that, gay men’s emerging spirituality.

          Thirty years have proven that Ray Browne, Marshall Fishwick, and Russell Nye were absolute visionaries when they founded the American Popular Culture Association in 1969 for the purpose of shedding the immediate light of analysis and scholarship on American culture. Early on, as a twenty-something assistant Professor at Western Michigan University, I had written articles for their Journal of Popular Culture on “Hair: The Tribal Love-Rock Musical,” and “Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Sleep and a Forgetting” in 1968. I thank Ray Browne particularly for daring at a 1969 cocktail party to say yes to my proposal to write this book, which was first published by his Popular Culture Press at Bowling Green State University.

          Actually, 1969 lit the fuse on an endless litany of change that included sex, witchcraft, women’s lib, gay lib, race, space, and the peace movement. By 1969, 70 million baby boomers had become teenagers and young adults. Richard Nixon was inaugurated. Shirley Chisholm became the first black woman to sit in the House of Representatives. Gloria Steinem wrote her first feminist article, “After Black Power, Women’s Liberation.” The world grew smaller when the first jumbo jet, a 747, took off, as did the Concorde. Midnight Cowboy was the first and only X-rated movie to win as Academy Award as Best Picture. Life magazine published every seven days the faces of the young American soldiers killed that week in Vietnam. Easy Rider changed Hollywood. Woodstock delivered up live sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll. Anton LaVey, who had played the Devil the year before in Rosemary’s Baby, published The Satanic Bible. On June 27, 1969, the Stonewall Rebellion against the NYPD kick-started gay liberation. On July 20, two American astronauts stepped out onto the face of the moon. On August 9, the Manson Family murders immediately changed the public idea of cult, coven, and evil. Suddenly, America believed in witchcraft. When I had begun this book in April,1969, people had thought witches existed only on Halloween cards.

          By April, 1974, American culture had to deal with the newly founded Council of American Witches who published The Principles of Wiccan Belief.

          In 1970, I wrote an introduction saying, “I began this book as an unbeliever in the occult. I leave it, if not believing, then not disbelieving.” The truth is, I never left it, nor did it leave me. For thirty years, parts of this book, long out of print, have been quoted and reprinted in other books, articles, and websites. For as many years, in the month before Halloween, universities, church groups, and radio stations have invited me to tell them the secrets of witchcraft, magic, and religion. As if I could. Or would.

          Actually, time has revealed only one bit of wisdom.

          Because of all the supernatural action that swirls around us, there is a distinct human worth to blessing water, burning candles, invoking guardian angels, conjuring sex, achieving ecstasy, and worshiping something.

          –Jack Fritscher, San Francisco, 2004, 2023

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Copyright Jack Fritscher, Ph.D. & Mark Hemry - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED