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It is with sadness that The Witches' Almanac pays tribute to Raymond (Ray) Buckland the prominent author, High Priest, father and husband, passing into the Land of the Mighty Dead after suffering a heart attack on September 27, 2017. Ray was a prolific author and Witch who was responsible for bringing Gardnerian Witchcraft to the United States in 1964. Additionally, Ray was the founder of Seax-Wica, an egalitarian tradition of Witchcraft. Because of his tenure and breadth of knowledge, Ray was a leading spokesman for Wicca in the United States for more than five decades. He will be sorely missed.
An Englishman by birth, Buckland was born in London on August 31, 1934, being the youngest of two sons born to Stanley Thomas Buckland and Eileen Lizzie Wells. Ray’s father was of Romany Gypsy heritage and a highly regarded Executive Officer in the British Ministry of Health.
After Ray completed his studies at King’s College, he took employment as a draftsman at an engineering firm. It was in London that he would meet his first wife and magical working partner, Rosemary. After marrying Rosemary (and having two sons), Ray served a short stint of two years in the Royal Air Force, moving on to become a retail manager in a London publishing firm. By this point, Ray had a more than passing interest in the occult, reading with great interest many books, amongst which were two that would inform his participation in the occult. In the late 1950s Ray read Margaret Murray’s The Witch-Cult in Western Europe and Gerald Gardner’s Witchcraft Today.
Following up on his interest, Ray began to correspond with Gardner, the “father” of the modern Wicca movement who was living on the Isle of Man. Ray continued his correspondence with Gardner even as he moved his family to the United States in February of 1962, settling in Brentwood, Long Island, New York, in order to take a job at British Overseas Airways Corporation (the predecessor of British Airways). Ray’s friendship with Gardner continued via mail and with occasional conversations on the phone. While not being formally initiated, Gardner made Ray the contact for Wicca in the United States.
Ray began his study of Witchcraft in earnest when he flew back to the United Kingdom in 1963 to receive initiation into Wicca by Gardner’s last High Priestess, Monique Wilson (Olwen). Gardner was present at the initiation, however, he did not act in the official capacity of High Priest of the ceremony, leaving that to Olwen’s working partner Scottie. This would be the first and last time Ray would be given a chance to meet with Gardner face-to-face.
Ray’s time with Olwen, Scottie and Gardner was a short but intense time. Ray would copy the ritual book known as the Book of Shadows and be schooled on how it was to be used. This training time lasted a mere two weeks, but it would not be his only opportunity to interact and learn from the Wilsons. On his return to the United States, Ray initiated his wife Rosemary. They would in short order begin the first known Wicca coven in the US. As magical working partners, Ray and Rosemary returned one more time to the United Kingdom to finish their training with the Wilsons.
Unlike his Wicca Elders, Ray would go about his new life as a High Priest in a private manner. The Coven that he and Rosemary founded (known as the New York Coven) began to attract interest and would grow at a steady pace. In some manner, the existence of the New York Coven caught the eye of a journalist. Lisa Hoffman of the New York Sunday News wrote a feature about him and the coven. While this did bring some benefit to the coven, it also served to focus negative attention on Rosemary and their two children for a while.
Eventually Ray and Rosemary’s marriage would wane. In the wake of their divorce, the Coven they had headed for a number of years would receive new leadership in 1974 under Lady Theos and Phoenix. Due to conflicts and the need to blaze new trails, Ray left the Gardnerian community shortly after handing the Coven over. He went on to found a new tradition called Seax-Wica. Based on a Saxon theme, it has an egalitarian structure and lacks the oath of secrecy so integral to Gardnerian Witchcraft.
Ray went on to be married twice more, all while continuing his prolific writing career. In 1992, a good 38 years after he brought Gardnerian Witchcraft to the United States, Ray decided to retire from public participation in a coven, instead choosing to be very private about his practice.
All hail the traveler, Ray Buckland!