Although I had corresponded with Raymond Buckland for almost a year before, the first time I met him was at a comedy night he was hosting in a hotel bar in rural Ohio. His best friend at the time, Bill, was the director for his local library and Ray took it upon himself to create a charity event to raise money for the local book mobile. “This is your problem now,” I remember him saying as he handed me his infamous “demon in the box,” and that was just the first real indication of just how funny this man really was.
I’d been aware of the legendary Raymond Buckland since the mid 1990s, but I wasn’t prepared for how kind and generous he would be. One of the things he was very generous with was his archives, and in those archives are interviews from the middle of what we love to call the six-six-sixties, the real birth of the occulture that still really exists today.
Ray’s gone now, but his words still exist. The kind people at The Witches’ Almanac asked me to compile the best of some of the interviews that we have transcribed from decaying reel to reels. In these interviews you’ll find a man very driven and confident, quick to correct misconceptions of the religion he had found giving him not just joy but meaning.
The interviews are not credited, but read the first batch and you’ll notice the interviewer and the questioners use a very confrontational tone. You will find Ray holds his own with dignity and respect for all involved. The questioners are in italics. The second batch is a much more respectful affair, but please read these not as you would now, but as a time capsule of when anything outside of the Abrahamic structure would be considered extremely exotic.
Director of the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft & Magick
There’s a possibility your blood may curdle, but if they if they are what they claim to be, you then have a full explanation for a reason to not accept your telephone calls. It’s because they may have done something to the lines... I’d like to present to you Mr. Raymond Buckland, the High Priest of the New York Coven of Witchcraft. This Warlock operates the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft & Magick in Brentwood, NY, and that may soon disappear.
Mr. Raymond Buckland, or may I call you Ray, or Raymond, or Warlock or Oo-ee-oo whatever?
Ray or Robat would be appropriate.
Robat? What’s a Robat?
Robat is my Witch name.
Like I said, which name?
My Craft name.
Your Craft name. You’re British?
How about that? Does the last syllable have anything to do with Witchcraft?
Nothing especially, no.
Because bats are often associated with eerie things, and you two are among the eeriest people I’ve ever seen, really.
You could spell it backwards and get Tabor, which is one of the musical instruments, traditional musical instruments used by Witches as dancing.
That’s one of the most fascinating facts I’ve ever received…There’s a gentleman at the podium that certainly must have something to say.
Gentleman, what is your name?
Bill. Sir, Mr. Buckland, have you ever heard of Sibyl Leek from England?
You I have indeed, yes.
I understand there is some kind of rift going on between your coven and hers, because your covens do not recognize each other.
I would but Sybil Leek isn’t here. Miss Leek was here some months back and I did speak with her then, and I feel we…
I recall the incident, and they cast spells against each other. By the way sir, are you a Warlock?
I am a member of a coven, and...
Is that American or National league?
The next interview is from much more of a seeker type, the questions much less condescending and much more exploratory.
It’s 16 minutes after 9:00 on WGLI, and we are talking to Raymond Buckland and we are talking about Witchcraft. We have a caller on the line with a question.
Yes, I have a question for Mr. Buckland, I feel like someone has put a spell on me, and how do you know for sure?
I guess my question would be is why do you think someone has put a spell on you?
Why? Well things that have been happening to me, weird things, and I knew someone that was involved in Witchcraft and that’s why I think it’s true.
Well first of all, Witches don’t go around casting spells on people.
They don’t, okay…
This would be magick. Magick in itself is a practice anyone can do it—Witch, Christian, Jew or atheist or whoever—it’s not part of Witchcraft per se. Without knowing specifics, not sure if I can advise you, so many ways to work magick and so many ways to counteract it.
Is there a pin or pendant I can wear to counter act it?
Well, you could wear what is called a talisman, which is essentially a lucky charm to counter act this.
Where can I get one?
At a risk of sounding commercial you could get one at my museum which is in Bay Shore. There’s a wide selection of talismans there, talisman for protection, some for love, for success in business—there are all sorts.
Our guest is Raymond Buckland, and our topic of conversation is Witchcraft. We’ve spoken about a lot of things but we haven’t had a chance to talk about the difference between a white Witch and black Witch, and those that fall in between, the grey Witches.
Well first of all they aren’t all Witches. A black Witch is actually a contradiction, the confusion is in magic—you can have black white, grey magicians. Magick is a practice in itself—anyone can do it, anyone can attempt to do it, let’s put it that way. If you do it for good there’s white magick, bad black magick. Of course this has nothing to do with race, these are labels from thousands of years ago, these are labels fixed thousands of years ago.
So if a person wants to work evil, a black magician, in Witchcraft there is a belief in a threefold return, a threefold retribution in this life—rather than wait until you die to get your rewards or punishment, you receive them in this life. If a person wants to work evil she will also get back three times as much evil. Due to this belief a Witch wouldn’t do evil. So there is no such thing as a black Witch, but there are black magicians. There are any number of shades of grey, many fields of magick, many magical rites that could be done that could not be labeled strictly good or bad, they would fall into the fields of grey.
There was a man who lived by himself who had a fine garden of which he was very proud, a number of fruit trees, and he had a new neighbor move in next door to him. The whole family moved in. They had moved out from Brooklyn. There were three or four teenage boys that ran riot throughout the neighborhood, they played havoc with this poor man’s gardens, ruined his apple trees. At one point he had to go out on family business, and was in terror of what would happen to his garden until he came back. He happened to know somebody who knew somebody that knew some Witches, and through these people he asked the Witches to do something to guard his garden while he was away. When he had returned two weeks later, for some unknown reason the family had decided to move back to Brooklyn. So they moved back and left his garden intact. This was magick that was done to make the move to protect the old man’s garden? You could not really say it was White or Black magick, but slightly white in so far as it helped the old man. Without knowing how the move would really affect the family you couldn’t say it was black or not, so I would put it in the shades of grey.
Are Witches in league with the devil?
There is no such thing as Witches in league with the devil. There is something called Satanism. Satanism is quite separate from Witchcraft. Satanism is something that sprang up in the early Middle Ages as a revolt against the harshness of the church at that time. The church was very much down on the common man, the serf, the farmer, and they had nothing to call his own. Finding he was getting nothing by praying to God, he found let’s try the other side and prayed to the devil instead. So this he did, finding he never got anything from this either, but at least he felt he was fighting the establishment. Satanism came into being as an anti-Christian thing, very much a parody, instead of the Catholic mass, a black mass, instead of good, do evil. This is separate from Witchcraft, which is simply a non-Christian religion. Witches don’t even believe in the devil.
Now does Witchcraft exist in places the devil doesn’t exist, like China let’s say.
I believe it does, and probably doesn’t carry the label Witchcraft. Let’s look from the derivation of the word Witch. Witch comes from an Anglo Saxon term, Wicca, which means the wise ones. This [is] simply because the leaders of the Old Religion would have to actually be wise. They were not only the priests, but would have been the doctor, veteran, lawyer. In such areas as China, you get beliefs, you get religions that are similar to the Craft as I know [it], but probably bears a different label. In Witchcraft we worship a God as well as Goddess. In China you have Guanyin which is similar to the Goddess we worship. So there are similarities, yes.
I would like to ask about Covens.
Coven, yes, well, let’s look at the format of Witchcraft, since Witchcraft is a religion and is a question of a people that get together for worship. It has leaders, a high priest and high priestess that get together. This represents the deities of Witchcraft, the God and Goddess. Let’s briefly review the deities of Witchcraft. It is a polytheistic religion, a belief in many Gods. And going way back to early man, the most important deities were the God of hunting and the Goddess of fertility. In those days in paleolithic times 25,000 years ago, hunting was most important to man’s existence. Fertility was of course also as important—more animals that live would bring more success to the hunt. So the God of hunting and the Goddess of fertility were the main ones, and come through today. No obviously we aren’t as concerned with success in the hunt today, so the God of the hunt became a God of nature generally. The Goddess of fertility [is] looked upon now as a Goddess of birth and rebirth. These are the two deities represented by a priest and priestess—they lead a coven.
A coven can consist of any number of people, it does not have to be 13 like you sometimes read. A coven can be any number, if you have a high priestess to lead them. You can have two people, you could have 200 people. What really governs the size is the physical size of your meeting place, Witches meet within a circle which is traditionally nine feet in diameter, with an altar in the center. You can find you can squeeze a dozen people in comfortably with elbow room. So a dozen with a high priestess gives you the traditional 13.
One of the things associated with Witchcraft is the nudity aspect and the orgy aspect and the power that is raised.
Right, well first of all the nudity aspect and the power. Witches believe everyone has power within them, the power comes from the power itself, it can be drawn off. Not all Witches, but most Witches work primarily naked, what they call skyclad, clad in the sky. They work naked so they can draw this power from any area of their body, not so they can have wild orgies or anything like that. They can draw off this power easily naked. If they are fully clothed they would have to draw off the hands or the face. They would have to work a lot harder and longer to get the same amount of power.
Now the idea of sex orgies, now sex has no part of the rituals as we know them today, but again going back four, five hundred years, sex was involved, because again man was very involved in fertility, the fertility of the crops especially. Unless he got good crops he would have a hard time. So you would have rituals where a farmer and wife would have intercourse in the first farrow of a field, the first they ploughed, insuring the field would be fertile. You got a good deal of this sort of thing going on in a religious sense. These days we don’t have to have sex to make sure there’s food in the supermarket. Unfortunately you get today pseudo covens or pseudo Witches. You get the sort that advertise in the Village Voice, come join our coven for $500 or something, you get groups forming together and calling themselves covens but use it as an excuse for wild orgies or drugs, or something like that, but these aren’t true Witches.
I know they’re going to hate [it], but let’s get to the phones.
I have a question about the tarot cards. Is there any reason why one shouldn’t use those that have writing on them to make them easier to decipher?
There’s no reason, but personally I would advise against it if you really want to get into tarot card reading. The reason being is if you start relying on the writing that is there you will find it difficult to break away. For anyone that wants to read the tarot cards I advise they pick up any of the worthwhile books on the subject, such as Paul Case’s book on the tarot, perhaps A.E. Waite’s book as well, Eden Gray which I believe is currently available in paperback which is very, very good. I suggest you read them through very, very carefully, than throw them away. Then go entirely by your own instinct. But having read the books you will get an idea of laying out the cards, you will get an idea on how to interpret it, but you will find it much more accurate to go by your own feelings than by going with what’s written on the cards or written in the book.
There is no such thing as being taught how to read the tarot?
Oh, you can be taught, of course. You can even take classes at the museum in various aspects of the occult. We hold classes in astrology, tarot, graphology, various aspects of the occult. I myself teach two classes, one in Witchcraft, Voodoo and magick, and one in psychic development.
Are these historical classes, or practical applications on how to be become a Witch, how to read tarot?
They are all practical except for the Witchcraft, Voodoo and magick course, which is more of the historical angle. You don’t sort of graduate from that course as a ready-made Witch, but you graduate with a good idea of what Witchcraft is, what Voodoo is, and you are able to practice a certain amount of magic, such as candle burning magic.
Good morning, my question is this. I’m wondering if one of the successful traits of the so-called Witch is to be outspoken?
I would say no, most Witches are fairly reticent, much more inclined to let the other guy do the speaking and then to have them open their own minds and draw their own conclusions. I think it comes to the old adage: empty vessels make the most noise.
Okay! I thought that I might be a Witch!
I of course have found myself there, because hahahahah.
Is there any test or anything? So you can see if you are a Witch or not?
Yes, whether you have gone through the ceremony which makes you one. How do you know, for example, you are a Catholic? You of course go through a baptism, perhaps a later confirmation, you’ve gone through a ceremony that makes you a member of that religion. For certain, in Witchcraft you go through a ceremony that makes you a member of the religion.