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Leo Louis Martello was an author, graphologist, hypnotist and Witch of note who came to prominence during the Pagan/Witchcraft Renaissance of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Leo was born in Dudley, Massachusetts on September 26, 1930. His father Rocco Luigi Martello emigrated from Sicily to the United States, settling in New England to farm a small parcel of land. It was during the severe worldwide economic depression of the 1930s that Leo came into this world, and his childhood would be shaped by these conditions.
Rocco Martello succumbed to economic pressures not long after Leo’s birth. Unable to provide for his family, he left behind the life of a farmer. He moved with his wife and infant son first to Worcester and then on to Southbridge, Massachusetts in search of work. It would be in Southbridge that Leo would receive a traditional Roman Catholic baptism. Many families, both past and present, can be tested harshly when subjected to economic pressures, and the Martello family was not an exception. Shortly after arriving in Southbridge, Leo’s father and mother divorced. Leo remained with his father until he reached schooling age, after which he was sent off to be educated at Catholic boarding schools.
Leo Martello’s interests in occult matters were informed by psychic experiences he had as a child. Early on in Leo’s teenage years, he studied tarot, palmistry, graphology and hypnotism. In fact, his study of graphology would eventually lead to the path of notoriety that marked the rest of his life. Leo’s abilities made him a sought after expert at the young age of 16. He guested on radio programs, analyzing handwriting for his hosts, and wrote related articles for a sundry of publications.
Leo began his higher education at Assumption College in Worcester, eventually moving to New York City at 18 to continue his education at Hunter College and the Institute for Psychotherapy. He did this without the assistance of his father, instead taking several jobs to support himself. He continued to hone his writing skills, becoming a gold medalist for best fiction story by a teenage author in New York City.
At a very young age, Leo was told that he carried the physical traits of this maternal grandmother, Maria Concetta of Enna, Sicily. According to Leo, he was also told that he carried the same psychic abilities of his Grandmother. He would retell this story in his 1973 book, Witchcraft: The Old Religion. Maria was renowned in her area as a cunning woman, using folk magic to heal (and curse), as well as being an able tarot card reader. She was apparently so well known that local Catholic priests held her both in awe and disdain.
Martello relates that when he was 16 years old, his father informed him that he had cousins in New York interested in his special talents. On meeting these cousins, he was made aware that his grandmother was a Strega Maga (Great Witch) practicing La Vecchia Religione (the Old Religion) of the Siculi (ancient Sicilians). His relatives watched him over the years and once they were sure that he indeed had the talents of his grandmother, initiated him on his 21st birthday. He claims the oaths of secrecy he swore as an initiate were so fierce that they precluded him from sharing details outside the initiated family. Those he did provide relate that his initiators were robed, hooded and masked, and that the rite itself involved a time in the cemetery.
As time wore on, Leo became an activist for the communities to which he belonged. In 1970, Leo founded Witches International Craft Associates (WICA), which was to be the first modern organization of Pagans to hold a public ritual, as well as being among the first Pagan groups to publish a newsletter. Leo petitioned the Parks Department of New York City to hold a “festival” or as he was billing it, a “Witch In” to occur on October 31 in Central Park. The Parks Department initially approved the permit, subsequently revoking it on learning the focus of the celebration. Leo successfully sued and won the right to continue with his festival. His Witch In was immensely successful with over 1000 attendees. It was because of these victories that Leo would go on to found the Witches Anti-Defamation League, an advocacy group for Pagans and Witches.
As well as being very public regarding his Witchcraft, Leo was also very much “out of the closet.” He was a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF), acting as its first moderator. Leo would help GLF beyond being an officer, as he also created an editorial arm, being among the first to publish a newsletter by and for gay people called Come Out! He remained active in GLF until he had a falling out with other members over political opinions. He would move on to become a champion for the gay community within the modern Pagan world.
Leo remained at the forefront of the Pagan community for decades, retiring to an “elder statesman” role as he entered his golden years. Leo Luis Martello passed beyond the veil June 29, 2000, leaving behind a strong legacy of activism, several influential books and certainly many who held him close in their heart.
Features contributed to The Witches' Almanac:
Stregerie, Italian Witchcraft, The Witches’ Almanac 1972, p. 80
A Re-discovery of SATOR, The Witches’ Almanac 1973, p. 82
Blessed Be, The Witches’ Almanac 1975, p. 18
Cornucopia, The Witches’ Almanac 1978, p. 24
Your Pen Personality 1961
It's In The Cards: The Atomic-Age Approach to Card Reading Using Psychological and Parapsychological Principles, 1964
It's in the Stars: A Sensible Approach to and a Psychological Evaluation of Astrology in this "Age of Enlightenment, 1966
How to Prevent Psychic Blackmail: The Philosophy of Psychoselfism, 1966
Hidden World of Hypnotism: How to Hypnotize, 1969
Weird Ways of Witchcraft, 1969
Black Magic, Satanism, Voodoo, 1972
Leo's Wikipedia entry can be found here