Cunningham: Public and Private
by Donald Michael Kraig
The landlord of the house that I shared
in Encinitas, north of San Diego, had the roof of the house resurfaced.
A month later, during torrential rains, the terrible job that was done
turned the house into a waterfall. The people who lived there decided
we had to move.
I knew the owners of a small occult
store, Ye Olde Enchantment Shoppe, and happened to go there a few days
later. On the store’s bulletin board there was a 3 x 5 card from a
person offering a room for rent. I asked the owner, Judith, what she
knew about him. “Oh, he’s a nice young man and a writer. I think you’ll
like him.” I called, saw the second bedroom that he was subletting, and
ended up spending the next six years as the roommate of Scott
When people find out that Scott and I
were friends, the most common question I get is “What was he like?”
That’s difficult to answer because different people experienced Scott
in different ways. So I asked some people who knew him what Scott meant
to them personally and to the community.
person who quickly offered a response to my request was Carl Llewellyn
Weschcke, Chairman of Llewellyn. He wrote:
Scott was a good author who became a good friend. More
than merely a good friend, he was one of those friends I truly loved
We exchanged a lot of mail and we talked a
lot when he visited, and I was honored that he chose to spend a last
Christmas/Yule with us as his ‘goodbye’ to the many people at Llewellyn
who also loved and respected him.
Scott was the most understated,
charismatic person I’ve ever known. Everyone gravitated to him—and I am
speaking here of the large Wiccan and Pagan Community who met him and
delighted in his talks and conversation. Yet, unlike many others who
are described as charismatic, that is not the first word most people
would use to describe Scott Cunningham. Those who knew him in person
and those who knew him through his books would all, I believe, speak of
his sincere honesty and devotion to the Craft, and to the craft of
Scott was always concerned that someone could mistake
an ingredient in his recipes and be hurt, or that someone could
misunderstand any of the rituals or statement in his books. As a
result, he would write draft after draft of his books before he was
satisfied they could “harm none.” At the same time, Scott never saw
himself as an ‘elder’ or other authority, and he was very much
concerned that Wicca not become any kind of official religion with a
ruling hierarchy and an approved theology.
Scott wrote for individuals who would study and grow
through practice and experience rather than degrees and badges. He
believed in experimentation and self-discovery. He would study and
practice, ask opinions, but still it was his own counsel that guided
his interpretations of magic and ritual.
The world knows him as a prolific author, but as his
publisher impatiently awaiting the next manuscript I know of the
careful and factual writer who sought accuracy and perfection in his
style. Just as much as Gerald Gardner, Ray Buckland, Lady Sheba, and
those other great ones, Scott Cunningham is responsible for the best in
modern Wicca and Paganism.
Wherever you are Scott, your friends and readers still
remember you, honor you, and love you.
I think Mr. Weschcke put his finger on an
Scott that was quite unique. He wasn’t flamboyant or trying to attract
attention, but he just naturally drew people to him. When I give
workshops I stand, move around, gesture, and use my body language to
amplify what I’m saying. When Scott gave a workshop he would sit in one
place and amaze me (and the audience) with the depth of information at
his fingertips and his ease at expressing it so it would be
Scott’s books never talked down to the
reader. They were honest and direct, presenting Scott just as he was.
As a result, some people have mistaken Scott’s simplicity and clean
writing for “fluffiness.” I think this is an absolute mistake. Being
simple can also mean being clear. That’s exactly what Scott was. For
proof of his depth, just look at his Encyclopedia of
Magical Herbs and Encyclopedia of
Crystal, Gem & Metal Magic, both of which are standard
resources in the field.
The next person who was kind enough to
respond was Raven Grimassi, author of books including Spirit of the Witch
and Hereditary Witchcraft.
Like Scott and myself, Raven lived in San Diego. Scott and I first met
Raven by taking a workshop he was giving. Raven writes:
first met Scott Cunningham in 1979 when he attended a series of classes
I presented on Wicca. The class took place in San Diego at a store
called Ye Olde Enchantment Shoppe. Scott sat in the back of the room,
and caught my attention because he kept shrugging his shoulders and
taking furious notes. After class, Scott would often come up and ask
questions or make comments. Before long we became friends.
was a very funny man who loved to insert puns at every opportunity. He
wrote for a magazine I created, called The Shadow’s Edge. Scott was a
columnist for the magazine with two features sections: “The Green Man,”
and “Coven Crack-Ups.” The former contained his writings on herbs and
plant lore. The latter was a collection of jokes and musings that
occurred in circle after the completion of the ritual and the
administering of much celebratory wine.
was initiated into my Aridian Tradition of Witchcraft in 1980 as a
first degree, but left the system almost two years later in favor of a
self-styled form of Wicca. Scott became a very popular and successful
author writing about his personal vision of Wicca. His books opened the
way for many people that felt disenfranchised from organized religion,
and who were seeking a different path.
my opinion, Scott’s books brought Wicca to a crossroads where tradition
and personal vision divided into separate roads. His writings changed
the way Wicca was viewed in the days of Gerald Gardner and Doreen
Valiente, and were responsible for a new definition and practice of
Wicca. This bold move has placed his name forever in the history of key
people associated with the movement.
Indeed, it was
during the late 1970s and early 1980s that Wicca reached a tipping
point. Its growing popularity had thousands of people wanting to become
members. At the time, though, the way to become a member was limited to
initiation within a coven structure. If you didn’t have access to a
coven, you couldn’t really be Wiccan. This troubled Scott. Why did you
need to be initiated into Wicca just to worship the Goddess? If you had
to be initiated to be a Witch, who initiated the first Witch? His
personal experiences with covens and his personal revelations resulted
in one of his most popular books, Wicca: A Guide for
the Solitary Practitioner. While other books on this subject
have been published, this was the first one to catch the public’s
attention and, as Raven pointed out, literally revolutionized the
practice of Wicca. Unlike thirty years ago, today “Solitary Wicca” is
the most practiced style of Wicca.
And yes, Scott
was very funny and a great punster. I don’t know if it’s a good thing,
but Scott and I would frequently have punning contests as well as what
at the time were called “chop out” contests, where we would jibe each
other with insults. We could get away with this because we both
respected each other and knew that they were just jokes and did not
have real emotion behind them. One day, Scott said to me, “You always
want to be the center of attention!”
Later that night, at a party, Scott had a crowd around him. I went up
and said, “Oh, so I’m the center of attention, huh?” We both laughed
for some time. Occasionally we would meet someone who would obviously
take any sort of remark personally and we wouldn’t play with him or her
in this way.
from that period in San Diego was Marilee Bigelow. Scott and I, as well
as some other people, used to hang around her house and kitchen table,
having discussions late into the night. Her Hallows celebrations were
legendary. She now lives in the San Francisco Bay area and was recently
voted the best Tarot reader in the city. She writes:
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