The Roebuck Tradition


Ann and Dave Finnin

In this essay, I have taken on the rather formidable task of briefly outlining the elements of our tradition, how it came about and how it relates to both the Ancient Keltic Church and the Roebuck daughter covens. Much of it we have kept under wraps for much of our past years for reasons which I will outline in a moment. Throughout history, there have been good reasons why mystery traditions were kept secret from outsiders. However, it is also necessary at some point to elucidate these mysteries to those who wish to become involved with them so that they know precisely what they are letting themselves in for.

The main elements of a mystery tradition is that it promotes the personal magical and spiritual growth of the individual, regardless of gender. They are geared for those men and women who wish to transcend the herd mentality, and the gender roles that go with it, and develop as individual souls. And while men and women will take a different approach to this process, the process itself, the overcoming of fate and individual empowerment, remains the same for both.

When we renamed our coven the Roebuck in 1976, our express purpose was to rediscover and, hopefully, reconstruct such a mystery tradition that would fit within the context of modern Wicca. This turned out to be a very daunting task. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, there was literally nothing written on paganism other than lurid books on "Witchcraft" which included little more than spellcasting and scripts for festival rituals. While this fit in to the reconstruction of Wicca as a "prechristian fertility religion," it did us little good in out quest for the pagan mysteries. Other books on mysticism, even Celtic and so-called "druidic" mysticism, were either Christian or heavily Theosophical in nature. Ceremonial Magical systems were also Judeo-Christian and overtly monotheistic. Books on the mystery traditions of the Greeks and Romans were more helpful, but lacking in cultural definition.

Then we discovered the Bowers material. In brief, Roy Bowers (aka Robert Cochrane) was a self-described witch, blacksmith, mystic and poet who lived in England during the 1960s. He published no books like Gerald Gardner but, up until his tragic and untimely death in 1966, he wrote voluminous letters and magazine articles which described a mystery tradition which went beyond the "eye-of-newt" form of the craft described by Gardner. The purpose of this mystery tradition was to find the secret name of, and thereby commune with, the dark or wisdom aspect of the Goddess and thereby transcend one's own fate. Using the imagery in the White Goddess by Robert Graves, Roy hinted that this secret name was contained in a glyph made up of four numbers: 1, 7, 3 and 4. By solving the riddle of "1734," one could discover the nature of this Dark Goddess and enlisting Her aid in mastering one's own spiritual destiny. This, and not dancing naked around a tree, was the Craft of the Wise.

Bower's writings, limited as they were to newsletters and personal correspondence, would have stayed in England save for one happy circumstance. In 1965, an American named Joe Wilson put an ad in one of the newsletters that Bowers wrote for asking for correspondence about the craft. For some reason, Bowers decided to answer the ad and he and Joe corresponded [5 letters] until his death [December 20 1965-Mid June 1966]. Joe Wilson later went to England in 1972 and tried to find the people who had known Roy, but met with limited success. Upon his return, he began to circulate the material now known as the Bowers Letters (consisting of the original letters Roy wrote to him along with some letters [3] to Norman and some other bits and pieces of lore) among his own students in an attempt to work the magic that Roy had taught. The Bowers Letters eventually became the secret text of a mysterious "pseudo-tradition" that became known as "1734" which presented itself as a mystical alternative to standard Gardnarian Wicca.

We happened to be two of the people who worked with Joe Wilson during those years. We received a copy of the Bowers material in 1975 and armed with that and the White Goddess, began our own reconstruction -- an effort which culminated in the Roebuck tradition. Since "1734" was based on visions and personal experiences with the gods, we first had to learn the various methods of trance state induction. Since I was in graduate school studying experimental psychology at the time, I employed some of the methods I was learning in my classes, such as autohypnosis and guided imagery, in our circle work. However, there was one key element that continued to elude us. In the Bowers Letters, Roy refers to a ritual called "approaching the altar." He waxes very eloquent about the benefits and uses of this ritual but fails to tell precisely how it is performed. About ten years of effort went into trying out varying ways of performing this ritual. All efforts failed. There was only one thing to do -- go to England ourselves and make our own attempt to find the people who had worked with Roy.

To make a long story very short, we took a shot in the dark and wrote to a man named Bill Gray who had been famous for his books on Cabala and Ceremonial Magic. It was a long shot. In his books, Bill had been very critical of the craft, particularly the Gardnarian variety. However one of his books called the Rollright Ritual (now reprinted under the name By Standing Stone and Elder Tree) seemed more like what we were seeking. It turned out that Bill had not only known Roy but had worked with and corresponded extensively with him on numerous occasions. He gave us copies of letters [14] Roy had written to him and, most important, the name and address of the man who had been in Roy's group in the 1960s. One thing led to another and we began our apprenticeship with Evan John Jones (author of Witchcraft, a Tradition Renewed). We finally learned the proper ritual technique and were adopted into, The Clan of Tubal Cain which was the name of Roy's old group.

For the next several years, we experimented with this ritual, eventually bringing in selected members of the Roebuck into what became the American branch of the Clan of Tubal Cain. Eventually, the Clan became the core of the Roebuck and its members dedicated to preserving this ritual, and the lore surrounding it, in the form in which we originally learned it. This ritual constitutes the plug into the wall socket which carries the power of the Otherworld to the entire Roebuck, and those who are oathbound to guard it do not take their task lightly. And while not everyone in the Roebuck, the various daughter groups or the Ancient Keltic Church, is called to this task, it might be useful to everyone who works with us to know the source of the emmense power that they often feel in our circles.

The Ancient Keltic Church, which came into being in December of 1989, is the result of an attempt to incorporate the Roebuck into a form that could possibly fit the IRS criteria of a "church." Gradually, it is taking on the form that many mystery schools of the post-Roman era had. It has a group of people who attend its open festivals, it has a smaller group of devotees who choose to receive instruction in order to learn more about the mysteries, it has an Initiate priesthood that serves those who come to the rites by running rituals, teaching classes and giving oracles, and it has a core group of people who have dedicated their entire spiritual lives to guarding the rites against those who would dilute or corrupt them.

That, in a nutshell, is who and what we are. We seek to serve the greater pagan community by showing them that there is more to paganism than fertility rites even though, as it was in times past, most people are more interested in attending the rituals which will enhance their everyday lives (the "sabbat-go-to-meeting" pagans) rather than dedicating themselves to the discipline of personal enlightenment and transformation. That path has always been and will continue to be a path trod by the few rather than the many. However, providing it for those few is our reason for being.