Sometimes, we are fortunate enough to meet someone who changes the world. Scott Cunningham was such a person, and I was fortunate enough to have shared an apartment with him for half of a decade.
It’s now been more than twelve years since the Goddess called him to the Summerland. Many writers have tried to fill his shoes. But no matter how good they are (and many are excellent), they can only continue on the path that he first forged ahead of so many thousands of people. This is due in part to his innate gentleness and natural skill as an author, but it is also due to the milieu in which he wrote and his deep and undeniable love of the Goddess.
I still remember the clackity-clack sound as Scott’s fingers flew over the keyboard of his red Selectric typewriter. This was before personal computers were widely available. In fact, dedicated word processorssmall computers that were only used for word processingwere still quite expensive and out of reach for most people. Paganism as it was practiced at that time was quite different than it is today. “Wicca” was simply a less objectionable name for Witchcraft (many people consider them different today) and both were synonyms for Paganism (most people today would consider them a branch of Paganism). To become a Witch, one had to become a member of a coven, and that most often meant a long period of study (traditionally a year and a day, but that was just the minimum) followed by an initiationmaybeinto that group. The word “Witch” was still popular as a catchword for mainstream publishers, and the amount of garbage that was produced by those publishers was absolutely appalling. I still have books from that time with lurid titles and silly content. One insisted that Witchcraft consisted of summoning an odd assortment of entities such as a spirit who talked like a New York taxi driver and another who looked and talked like a beautician! For most Wiccans at that time, more than a quarter of a century ago, staying in the broom closet was a necessity.
Magic Is for Everyone
Scott’s first book for Llewellyn, Magical Herbalism, was like a breath of fresh air. It had a message that would be one of the major themes in all of Scott’s writings: magic (he never liked any other spelling of the word) is something anyone can do. His style, never pompous or superior, was caring and open. It was as if he was inviting you to do magic with him and he was actually encouraging you.
But there is another important aspect to this book. Every technique in it was something that he had either researched in multiple books (this was pre-World Wide Web) or was something he had actually successfully tried himself. This experiential validity was something that infused all of Scott’s magical writings. In no case did he ever simply invent something and put it in print. Any magic he wrote about was well-researched, personally tested, or both.
His frequent trips to libraries and used bookstores only increased his voluminous knowledge. I remember watching him give a lecture where, with nothing but a bare-boned outline, information just flowed from him more easily than juice from a ripe orange. He simply knew an incredible amount of information and actively sought to share it. Scott finally collected much of his knowledge in two books, Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Crystal, Gem & Metal Magic and Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs. These two books are classics and should be in the collections of anyone who does magic.
Scott’s other books on natural magic reinforced his belief that anyone who wanted to should be able to do magic. He even extended this to books using common objects found around the home.
Search for the Goddess
One thing that disappointed Scott was the result of his search for the Goddess. It was believed at that time that finding Her required being part of a group, and virtually every coven was claiming to be hundreds, if not thousands, of years old. Scott really wanted to find a group he could believe in. But his search for truth consistently revealed that although these groups were wonderful, they were attempting a re-creation and were not as old as they asserted.
As Scott continued to search for the Goddess outside of groups, he found Her everywhere. He found Her in the stones of the earth and in both wild and cultivated herbs. Discovering Her presence all around him ultimately led him to two questions: If the Goddess is everywhere, why do we need to be initiated into a coven or group to worship Her? Furthermore (and perhaps more importantly to him), if Witchcraft is an initiatory religion, who initiated the first Witch? His conclusion became the second major theme of his writings: anyone could worship the Goddess; you didn’t need to be initiated, and you didn’t need to be part of a coven. His first book on this theme, Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner, literally sparked a spiritual revolution. This book not only became his most popular, but showed people that they didn’t have to be initiated by someone else. They could practice by themselves.
Since that book was published (as well as a follow-up, Living Wicca: A Further Guide for the Solitary Practitioner), being a solitary Wiccan has become a major Wiccan path, perhaps the most practiced of all Wiccan systems. Dozens of books from numerous publishers have followed. In my opinion it is doubtful that any of them would have been published if Scott had not paved the way.
See Scott Yourself
One of the items many people don’t look for is the video Scott made, Herb Magic. If you would like to see what he was like, this video is an absolute necessity. It also clearly illustrates how to use herbs for magic. It’s a wonderful and instructive video. I composed and played some of the background music on it. Much of it was taped at a huge herb farm about an hour away from where we lived. Like Scott, that farm is no longer here.
During the years we shared the apartment we would go to each other’s lectures and genially heckle each other. We would frequently make jokes about each other that were silly, but never offensive or cruel. I have always had a great deal of respect for my friend, and I believe he felt the same about me. I eventually moved away for a new job and Scott took in other roommates, but we continued our friendship.
Scott left us on March 28, 1993. I like to think that his choice of that date was his last joke on me. March 28 is my birthday, so I can’t celebrate the day without thinking of him. Scott’s legacy, however, is not in my memories of him. Nor is it only in the books he’s left us. Rather, it’s in the appreciation of his hundreds of thousands of fans. Every time a solitary Witch honors the God and Goddess, they are also honoring him.