"Reflections on Scott Cunningham" republished with permission.
It was March 28th, 1993, when Scott Cunningham passed over into Summerland. Yet it seems it hasn't put a dent in the work he had taken upon himself. If you mention Solitary Wicca to any pagan/witch/Wiccan, the name Scott Cunningham comes up immediately.
Seems everyone who walks the path of Wicca has something to say about Scott. Though many praise him for pointing out that Wicca isn't just for those who are coven bound or traditionally initiated, there are many who point out just as quickly that Scott turned the Wiccan Community on its ear. From Scott's discussion of initiation to the spells and rituals that he published, Scott's books have been discussed, analyzed and lovingly dog-eared.
What is it, though, that made Scott one of the most read, best loved and so widely followed writers within the Wiccan Community? Why do most of the Neo-Wiccan community love Scott Cunningham while many of the Old Time Wicca practitioners rip him apart at every opportunity?
Scott Cunningham died way before his time. But there is the saying that those who burn twice as bright burn half as long. Scott truly burned brightly.
I would like to take a look at this luminescence called Scott Cunningham, the person and his achievements. I will leave the discussion of dogma and philosophy to those who feel it necessary. Because if there was one thing Scott Cunningham focused on, it was that the Way of Wicca was not dogma and philosophy as much as it was simplicity and a spiritual way of life.
Scott Cunningham was born June 27th, 1956. That would have made him a few years younger than myself. I didn't learn about Scott till after he had passed over. My teachers were witches and Wicca was the "new" thing on the block. I knew of Wicca but it was Gerald Gardner who was always associated with the term.
I have read most of Scott's books and have come to embrace the simplicity of his spiritual vision. He had it all worked out, from his thoughts on "Who initiated the first Wiccan" to specific rituals to help you fulfill any need to be embraced by the Goddess/God. Scott was as practical as he was thorough. He did not give elaborate answers when he wrote about his beliefs on magic. "Call upon the Goddess and God to protect you and teach you the secrets of magic. Ask stones and plants to reveal their powers—and listen. Read as much as you can, discarding negative or disturbing information. Learn by doing, and the Goddess and God will bless you with all that you truly need." (pg. 24, Wicca A Guide For The Solitary Practitioner)
"Wicca understands that what we perceive to be the difference between the physical and the non-physical is due to our limitations as materially-based beings." (pg. 37, Wicca A Guide For The Solitary Practitioner)
"In Wicca, rituals are ceremonies which celebrate and strengthen our relationships with the Goddess, the God and the Earth." (pg. 47, Wicca: A Guide For The Solitary Practitioner)
It is not difficult to understand what Scott was teaching here, and it is just as easy to see why he is so well read within the community. Simple, easily understood and practical. He spoke in everyday language and always seemed to get his idea across.
Scott also never seemed to accept or acknowledge his popularity. In the biography, Whispers of the Moon: The Life and Work of Scott Cunningham by David Harrington and deTraci Regula, there is a paragraph written by Scott from his autobiographical material, which seems to sum up how he felt about fame. "One of the first things my readers ask me when we meet is "What is it like being famous?" I usually make a joke, but sometimes I tell them that I'm not famous and never will be, for I'll never have that star presence that separates we mortals from the Immortals."
Scott covered a good deal of ground in the years he published. Besides his books on Solitary Wicca, he wrote books on Folk Magic. Earth Power: Techniques of Natural Magic and Earth, Air, Fire and Water: More Techniques of Natural Magic were his contribution to working magic for the common man. Scott had a special, personal relationship with nature and the elements that made up nature. His books on this magic again had that simple approach. Every magician has a formula for making magic. Crowley had his Magick in Theory and Practice. Scott Cunningham had a very simple statement. "To perform effective magic three necessities must be present: the need, the emotion and the knowledge." Though he felt the need to further simplify his equation, it was simple enough to understand as it was.
This was the secret of Scott Cunningham, and if we look deeper, the secret to Wicca that has eluded many practitioners. Wicca is a very simple belief system. There are no secrets.
"Wicca has been, up until the past decade or so, a closed religion, but no more. The inner components of Wicca are available to anyone who can read and has the proper wit to understand the material. Wicca's only secrets are its individual ritual forms, spells, names of deities and so on.
This needn't bother you. For every secret Wiccan ritual or Goddess name there are dozens (if not hundreds) of others that have been published and readily available."
There are many who have elaborated on Wicca. It's origins were shrouded in mysteries and cloaked in shadows and smoke filled rituals. It was kept secret, made to seem complex and necessitated years of teaching and learning.
But Scott cut all the smoke and draperies away and presented us with a very beautiful spiritual path that could be followed by all. One of the most moving and impressive of his rituals, to me at least, was his "Ritual of Gestures" in his Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner. No tools, no robes, no word to break the silence. A very wonderful ritual that I think we should all experience at least once.
Scott examined all the tools of the trade, explaining their use, and their symbology. Scott collected and compiled information on aromatherapy, crystals, herbs, incense and oils. He even gave us a book on how to make your home a place of security and a haven for our inner selves. The Magical Household, written with David Harrington, is probably one of his often overlooked books, but reflected an interest we all have. Today, we find ourselves seeking this same harmony with Feng Shui.
Scott dabbled in video creating a tape on Herbs. But it is his written word most of us are familiar with.
I never had the opportunity to meet Scott Cunningham. Over the years, I have gotten to know him only through his books. I am not Wiccan, I am a witch. But some aspects of Wicca, its simple spirituality, has touched me. As a witch, I am not prone to be overly spiritual, but I have known some very special Wiccans in my time and admire them for their spirituality, just as I admire Mr. Cunningham for his spirituality in his writings.
I also protest when I hear someone say you can not be Wiccan unless you are part of a Trad and initiated into it. Scott had a whole chapter dedicated to this subject. I may not agree with his terminology, but he hit the nail on the head "Who initiated the first Wiccan?". I have known many Solitary Wiccans who are not trad initiated, and whom I feel are genuinely touched by the Goddess. Who are we to tell those touched by the Goddess and/or God "no, sorry, you can't dedicate your life to the principals and ideas of Wicca"?
I think Scott summed it up early, at the end of his introduction to Wicca: A Guide For The Solitary Practitioner:
"Wicca is a joyous religion springing from our kinship with nature. It is a merging with the Goddesses and Gods, the universal energies which create all in existence. It is a personal, positive celebration of life.
And now it is available to all."
Scott Cunningham is truly missed. But he left us his legacy in his books. He will come around again and again to remind us when we need to find the path we may lose over time. May he always remind us of how simple life, religion and spirituality really are. Blessings, Boudica