Minoan Brotherhood

Ethan Doyle White

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MINOAN BROTHERHOOD TIMELINE

1947:  Edmund ‘Eddie’ Buczynski was born in Brooklyn, New York.

1954:  Gerald Gardner’s Witchcraft Today was published in Britain, bringing Wicca to public attention.

1963:  Raymond Buckland and his wife Rosemary Buckland established a Gardnerian Wiccan coven in Brentwood, Long Island, the first known Gardnerian group in the United States.

1971:  Buczynski read Gardner’s Witchcraft Today.

1972:  Buczynski and his partner Herman Slater opened The Warlock Shop, an esoteric store in Brooklyn Heights.

1972 (Spring):  Edmund Buczynski was initiated into the New England Covens of Traditionalist Witches.

1972:  Buczynski founded a Wiccan tradition that became known as Welsh Traditional Witchcraft. He first initiated another into the tradition in October.

1973:  Buczynski was initiated into Gardnerian Wicca.

1974:  Buczynski joined the Church of the Eternal Source, a Kemetic Pagan group.

1977 (January 1):  Buczynski founded the Minoan Brotherhood through the formation of his Knossos Grove group.

1981:  Devoting increasing time to his academic studies, Buczynski stepped down as leader of the Knossos Grove.

1989 (March 16):  Buczynski died of AIDS-related complications on March 16.

2012:  Michael G. Lloyd’s Bull of Heaven was published, a major biography of Buczynski that brought the movement to wider attention. The launch party was reported on in The New York Times.

FOUNDER/GROUP HISTORY

The modern Pagan religion of Wicca emerged in England between 1921 and 1954. Its foremost figure was Gerald Gardner (1884–1964), a retired civil servant who claimed to have been initiated into a group of practitioners in the New Forest area in 1939. [Image at right] While debates continue as to whether Gardner’s claims were truthful or not, it is apparent that he played a central role in promoting the religion during the 1950s, both through interviews with press and his books Witchcraft Today (1954) and The Meaning of Witchcraft (1959). Like many other early Wiccans, Gardner claimed that his religion was the survival of an ancient pre-Christian tradition whose practitioners were persecuted as “witches” during the early modern period. That such a religion had existed had been proposed by several historians in the nineteenth century but only gained its foremost exponent in the early twentieth, when the Egyptologist Margaret Murray (1863–1963) published a string of books promoting the idea. Gardner and other early Wiccans took the blueprint set forth by Murray and these historians and turned their hypothetical historical religion into a lived reality (Hutton 1999).

Gardner’s variant of this religion (now known as Gardnerian Wicca) drew heavily upon older forms of Western esotericism, including ceremonial magic and Freemasonry. Like these predecessors, it was organized along an initiatory system, with members meeting together in small groups called covens. As propounded by Gardner, his Wicca was a “fertility religion” that emphasized polarity between male and female, reflected in his duotheistic veneration of both a God and a Goddess and the inclusion of both a high priest and high priestess in each coven. This had a sexual element, as reflected in a sex magical act known as the Great Rite that was included in the Gardnerian ritual system.

Gardner was homophobic and refused initiation to anyone whom he thought was homosexual (Bourne 1997:38–39). Not all Wiccans shared this view. An English Gardnerian initiate named Alex Sanders (1926–1988) established his own tradition, based on the Gardnerian model, which came to be known as Alexandrian Wicca. Sanders was bisexual and initiated a range of gay men into the tradition (Di Fiosa 2010). Another Gardnerian initiate, Doreen Valiente (1922–1999), who was Gardner’s own high priestess for several years in the mid-1950s, also rejected this idea of exclusion based on sexual orientation (Valiente 1989:183).

Gardnerian Wicca was brought to the United States by Raymond and Rosemary Buckland in 1963. Having been initiated into a coven in Scotland, the couple opened their own in Long Island, New York. Gardnerianism soon spread across the country, inspiring and influencing a range of other traditions that often used the Gardnerian model as a basis for their own forms of Wicca (Clifton 2006). One such group was the New England Covens of Traditionalist Witches (NECTW), established by Gwen Thomson (1928–1986) in the early 1970s (Mathiesen and Theitic 2005).

Another of those Americans to involve himself in Wicca was Edmund “Eddie” Buczynski (1947–1989), [Image at right] a working-class New Yorker of Polish and Italian descent. Buczynski had a childhood interest in the pre-Christian belief systems of Egypt, and devised his own rituals dedicated to their gods (Lloyd 2012:6). In 1971, he read Gardner’s Witchcraft Today, fueling his growing interest in Wicca (Lloyd 2012:62). Buczynski was gay, and with his then-partner Herman Slater (1935–1992) established an esoteric store, The Warlock Shop, in 1972 in Brooklyn Heights (Lloyd 2012:108–21). Pursuing initiation into an established Wiccan tradition, he met Thompson and joined her NECTW tradition in 1972. Buczynski and Thompson were close, and he soon became the high priest of her North Haven coven. Before long, their working partnership broke down as she pushed for a sexual relationship, something Buczynski was unwilling to accede to (Lloyd 2012:94–100, 123–25).

The following years reflected an element of seekership in Buczynski’s personality. On leaving the NECTW, he took its basic structure and blended it with imagery drawn from medieval Welsh mythology to create the Welsh Traditionalist Witchcraft tradition in 1972. Several esotericists joined him in the endeavor, and multiple covens were soon in operation (Lloyd 2012:122–34, 145–48). In 1973, he was initiated into Gardnerian Wicca, and despite concerns raised within the New York Gardnerian community that his initiation was invalid due to the improper credentials of his initiator, he soon formed his own short-lived Gardnerian coven (Lloyd 2012:168–80, 212–20, 283–84). In July 1974, he was ordained as a priest in the Church of the Eternal Source, a Kemetic Pagan group that venerated the deities of ancient Egypt, although he resigned from this position a year later (Lloyd 2012:295–304, 314–20). He returned briefly to Gardnerianism, becoming high priest of a coven in Huntingdon, Long Island (Lloyd 2012:327–39, 378–82).

Buczynski was generally frustrated by what he regarded as the endemic homophobia and systemic hetero-dominance of the Gardnerian tradition. He devised a Wiccan tradition that followed the basic Gardnerian structure but which was explicitly designed for gay men. The result was the Minoan Brotherhood, formally created on January 1, 1977 through the formation of his Knossos Grove group, which met at his flat in New York City’s Middle Village. It drew heavily upon the iconography and imagery of Minoan Crete, [Image at right] a society which Buczynski believed had been not just far more tolerant of male homosexuality but one which had a homosexual male priesthood (Lloyd 2012:383–88, 403). He subsequently helped to compose rituals for an all-female counterpart, the Minoan Sisterhood, established by his lesbian friends, Ria Farnham and Carol Bulzone, and operational by the spring of 1978. He also devised a series of rites for what he called the Cult of Rhea, a space in which members of the Brotherhood and Sisterhood could meet for mixed-gender ritual activities; such meetings, however, rarely occurred (Lloyd 2012:418–19). Despite Buczynski’s seminal role in getting the Minoan tradition off the ground, by late 1978 the Knossos Grove was rarely meeting, and in 1981 he turned over its leadership to Tony Fiara (Lloyd 2012:460, 482).

In place of Wicca, Buczynski was increasingly interested in academic archaeology, visiting the Mediterranean region on various occasions and pursuing studies at the City University of New York’s Hunter College and then Bryn Mawr College (Lloyd 2012:469, 486–95, 504–05). Buczynski had contracted the HIV virus and died of AIDS-related complications on March 16, 1989. Shortly before his death, he formally re-joined Roman Catholicism, the religion into which he had been raised (Lloyd 2012:531–41).

The Minoan Brotherhood survived the loss of its founder, but its numbers dwindled over the coming decade. By 2000, it had only one Minos (third-degree member) active in teaching. To change this state of affairs, some Minoan Brothers began promotion of the tradition at Pagan festivals such as Starwood, the Pagan Spirit Gathering, and the Between the World’s Men’s Gathering, while other members promoted it online. The result was a period of renewed growth for the tradition (Lloyd, personal communication) In 2004, Lloyd began research for a definitive biography of Buczynski’s life, published in 2012. The book further spurred interest in the tradition; its launch party even gained coverage in The New York Times (Kilgannon 2012).

DOCTRINES/BELIEFS

As an initiatory order, the Minoan Brotherhood keeps many of its teachings and practices secret from non-initiates (Burns 2017:157). The Wiccan journalist Margot Adler (2006:130) quoted one senior member as being of the view that “as a mystery tradition we value our privacy and secrecy to preserve the sacredness and wonder of the spiritual quest.” Comparatively little is therefore publicly known of the group’s beliefs.

Like other modern Pagan religions, the Minoan Brotherhood places great emphasis on drawing inspiration from the pre-Christian societies of Europe and its neighboring regions. More specifically, the Brotherhood places emphasis on the Bronze Age society of Minoan Crete. On its website, it characterizes itself as a “a men’s initiatory tradition of the Craft celebrating Life, Men Loving Men, and Magic in a primarily Cretan context”. The Brotherhood’s perception of ancient Minoan religion draws heavily on the interpretation of it put forward by the English archaeologist Arthur Evans (1851–1941) in the early twentieth century (Burns 2017:163).

As presented by Gardner, Wicca held to a duotheistic structure involving both a Goddess and a Horned God. This basic theology has been retained within the Minoan Brotherhood, but with alterations to reflect its Minoan focus. The theology of the Minoan Brotherhood includes a Great Mother Goddess known as Rhea [Image at right] who is characterized by five “emanations”: earth, sea, sky, underworld, and the Snake Goddess. Each of these emanations is also associated with a goddess from the classical Greek pantheon: the earth with Gaia, the sea with Aphrodite, the sky with Artemis, the underworld with Persephone, and the Snake Goddess with Athena. Initiates typically identify in particular with one of these five emanations (Burns 2017:163–64). Alongside the Mother Goddess is the Horned God, who in the Brotherhood’s symbolism appears as the Minotaur and is named Asterion (Burns 2017:164); this was the name given to the creature in the Bibliotheca of (Pseudo-)Apollodorus, a text from the first or second century CE.

Male homosexuality plays an important role in the Brotherhood’s self-conception. As part of its mythos, it teaches that the god Asterion became the patron of male homosexuality because the goddess Rhea, jealous of other women, prevented him from consorting with any other females (Burns 2017: 164). While primarily being geared toward gay and bisexual men, the tradition’s website notes that the Brotherhood also welcomes heterosexual men willing to work within a homoerotically charged environment, although it is unclear how many heterosexual men are actually members; one Minoan elder noted that he was not aware of any (Lloyd, personal communication)

One of the most common ethical tenets within the Wiccan movement is known as the “Wiccan Rede” and (as first promoted by Doreen Valiente in the 1960s) held that “An’ it harm none, do what ye will.” (Doyle White 2015:157). Unlike in some other Wiccan denominations, the Rede is not presented as an absolute for all Brotherhood members to follow, but nevertheless is regarded as good advice by many of the tradition’s elders (Alder 2006:131). In its place, an alternate tenet, “Love Unto All Beings,” takes precedence in the Brotherhood’s doctrines (Adler 2006:130).

RITUALS/PRACTICES

While most Wiccan traditions refer to their groups as “covens,” in the Minoan tradition the preferred term is “groves,” which is also the term commonly employed by Druidic groups. More unusually, the spaces that Minoan groups use for their ritual practices are known as “temenos” (Burns 2017:158), a term drawn from ancient Greek. As with other Wiccan traditions, said spaces are usually located inside members’ homes rather than in purpose-built structures (McShee 2018). The Minoan tradition’s website stipulates that ritualized activities in the Minoan tradition are performed naked, or “skyclad,” a practice reflecting its origins in Gardnerian Wicca.

As with other Wiccan traditions, the Minoan Brotherhood emphasizes what its practitioners call “magic,” a belief in an etheric force that can be manipulated to cause physical changes in the universe through the concentrated power of the human will, usually focused through ritualized acts. Various tools are utilized during these practices. According to the tradition’s website, these are not dissimilar from the tools used in other Wiccan traditions (and thus probably include a ritual knife, wand, and a chalice) but also reflect unique features. Burns (2017:163) noted that cult objects used by Minoan Wiccans featured iconography drawn from Minoan art, such as the bull and the labrys, or double-headed axe. Buczynski had originally included the latter in Minoan Brotherhood rituals, but later decided that it should instead be a tool reserved for the Minoan Sisterhood (Lloyd 2012:418). The labrys nevertheless remains a common feature of Brotherhood altars, where it represents the Goddess’ power of life and death (Lloyd, personal communication)

Drawing upon wider traditions of sex magic (Urban 2006), Gardner’s Wiccan tradition incorporated (hetero)sexual symbolism into its ritual structure, most notably in the form of the Great Rite. Sexuality similarly features in the Minoan tradition, albeit taking on a homoerotic character. The tradition’s website notes that “sexual mysticism is a key element in Minoan magic” and that said rituals “can be sexually charged, and are decidedly homoerotic.” It also clarifies that any sexual acts carried out in the context of the ritual space are consensual. As with other forms of Wicca, the place accorded sexual acts varies among groups, with some engaging in ritualized sex and others keeping sexual symbolism at the solely symbolic level. Based in South Florida since 2012, the Sons of the Minotaur grove for instance decided that it would not engage in ritualized sex as part of the group’s rituals, although it does discuss the subject and encourages members to independently pursue such practices (McShee 2018).

A recurring feature of Wicca is the celebration of festival dates marking different points in the changing seasons, often collectively termed the Wheel of the Year. [Image at right] This was a system that developed within the Gardnerian tradition during the 1950s (Hutton 2008). Buczynski took this system although modified the Sabbats so that they aligned more closely with the traditions of pre-Christian Greek society (Lloyd 2012:399). While occurring on the same eight days commonly used in other Wiccan traditions, the Minoan Sabbats are given their own unique names and associations (Lloyd, personal communication).

ORGANIZATION/LEADERSHIP

In the Minoan tradition, each grove is autonomous and there is no overarching institution or centralized leadership controlling the entire movement. In this it mirrors the structure of its Gardnerian forebear. As of 2006, there were Minoan Brotherhood groups reportedly active in California, Florida, Louisiana, Indiana, Michigan, and Washington, as well as over the border in Canada (Adler 2006:130). By 2018, the Minoan tradition’s website also listed groves active in a number of other U.S. states and in Germany, Italy, and France. This suggests that in the twenty-first century, the Minoan Brotherhood has experienced a period of growth, facilitated in large part by the Internet but also by the networking opportunities provided at Pagan festivals (Lloyd personal communication).

As is common among modern Pagan religions, the Minoan Brotherhood characterizes itself as a non-proselytizing movement, in that it does not go out of its way to evangelize. At the same time, it is not closed to new recruits, and since 2002 has had a Yahoo! Group through which prospective members can express an interest and connect to their nearest grove. There is no guarantee that interested persons will gain initiation, which is reliant on whether there is a teacher or grove willing to take the newcomer on. In this, it mirrors most other initiatory-based Wiccan orders.

Like Gardnerianism before it, the Minoan Brotherhood organizes itself around a three-degree system (Adler 2006:130), a structure ultimately borrowed from Freemasonry. Proceeding through each degree requires accruing greater experience and learning, while permitting greater rights and responsibilities. Those who reach the third degree are termed a “Minos” (Burns 2017:158) and are permitted to establish their own groves.

ISSUES/CHALLENGES

In keeping with other forms of modern Paganism, the Minoan Brotherhood legitimates itself through reference to the ancient pre-Christian past, an approach that inevitably brings with it various questions regarding authenticity. When crafting the tradition, Buczynski drew heavily upon archaeological and historical material associated with Crete but used this “inspirationally” to inform his creation, rather than seeking to specifically revive Bronze Age Cretan religion per se (Lloyd personal communication). Practitioners seem to be largely aware that theirs is a new religion created in the 1970s, as opposed to a literal survival from Bronze Age Crete, but issues regarding interpretation and contemporary relationships with the past can still surface.

Like many other Pagan groups, members of the Minoan Brotherhood express interest in developments within archaeology, particularly that of the Aegean region, although their readings on the subject tend to be those of the early-to-mid twentieth century (Burns 2017:158). Accordingly, Caroline Tully (2018:76) suggested that the Brotherhood “interprets Minoan religion in an idealistic and romantic manner which, while suiting their religious purposes, is historically inaccurate.” For instance, the place of the Snake Goddess is based upon only two sculptures known to archaeologists, both found in a fragmented state and neither potentially involving any snakes at all (Tully 2018:90-93). Supplementing their scholarly readings, members have also expressed an interest in fictional depictions of Minoan Crete, in particular the work of Mary Renault, author of The King Must Die (Burns 2017:162).

Practitioners may therefore face a conundrum in how to relate with the ancient past; as new archaeological discoveries are made and old interpretations rejected, should the Brotherhood alter its own beliefs and symbolism to catch up? The secrecy with which the group operates, coupled with the comparative lack of academic attention that it has received, means that we cannot be sure precisely how members of the Brotherhood deal with these issues, either privately or at the group level. If other modern Pagan groups are anything to go by, however, we might expect a diversity of perspectives to be in play. Lloyd (personal communication) notes that some Minoan Brothers are keenly interested in developments within current scholarship on Minoan Crete, that others are content to rely on the earlier work of academics like Evans, while some use information gleaned from dreams and meditations to inform their understanding of this Bronze Age society.

Another issue facing the Minoan Brotherhood is how it relates to transgender men as well as intersex and/or non-binary individuals. This is a situation facing many forms of modern Paganism which operate on a sex and/or gender specific basis and has been brought to the forefront of public debates as a result of growing discussions regarding transgender issues in the 2010s. In the case of the Minoan Brotherhood, there is symbolism and elements of practice strictly pertaining to biological males which may pose barriers to the participation of transmen (Lloyd personal communication). Given its decentralized and cellular nature, the Minoan Brotherhood does not appear to have a single stance on these issues, and each grove may have the freedom to decide whether it wishes to permit individuals other than cisgender men entry. When interviewed on a popular Pagan website, a Minoan Wiccan known as Ceos (who is involved with the Sons of the Minotaur Grove) noted that “If a transman who loves men were to ask for consideration, I would be open to talking with them” (McShee 2018). How widespread this viewpoint is remains unclear. What is apparent is that debates regarding transgender inclusion or exclusion have become some of the most rancorous within the modern Pagan community in recent years, particularly within Dianic Wicca and forms of the Goddess movement (Greene 2016), and that this is a controversy that the Minoan Brotherhood is unlikely to avoid altogether.

IMAGES
Image #1: Gerald Gardner, widely recognized as the “Father of Wicca.”
Image #2: Edmund “Eddie” Buczynski, founder on the Minoan Brotherhood.
Image #3: Archaic Greek statue of a young man, Kouros.
Image #4: The Great Mother Goddess known as Rhea.
Image #5: Wheel of the year.

REFERENCES

Adler, Margot. 2006. Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers and Other Pagans in America, revised edition. London: Penguin.

Bourne, L., 1998. Dancing with Witches. London: Robert Hale.

Burns, Bryan E. 2017. “Cretomania and Neo-Paganism; The Great Mother Goddess and Gay Male Identity in the Minoan Brotherhood.” PP. 157–72 in Cretomania: Modern Desires for the Minoan Past, edited by Nicoletta Momigliano and Alexandre Farnoux. London and New York: Routledge.

Clifton, Chas S. 2006. Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America. Lanham: AltaMira.

Di Fiosa, Jimahl. 2010. A Coin for the Ferryman: The Death and Life of Alex Sanders. United States: Logos.

Doyle White, E. 2016. Wicca: History, Belief, and Community in Modern Pagan Witchcraft. Brighton and Portland: Sussex Academic Press.

Doyle White, E. 2015. ““An’ it Harm None, Do What Ye Will”: A Historical Analysis of the Wiccan Rede.” Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft 10:142–71.

Greene, Heather. 2016. “Transgender Inclusion Debates Re-Ignite in Pagan Community.” The Wild Hunt. Accessed from https://wildhunt.org/2016/06/transgender-inclusion-debates-re-ignite-in-pagan-community.html on 1 October 2018.

Hutton, Ronald. 2008. “Modern Pagan Festivals: A Study in the Nature of Tradition.” Folklore 119: 251–73.

Hutton, Ronald. 1999. The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kilgannon, Corey. 2012. “At a Book Party, Witches and a Wiccan Prayer Circle.” The New York Times, August 21. Accessed from https://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/21/at-a-book-party-witches-warlocks-and-a-wiccan-prayer-circle/ on 1 October 2018.

Lloyd, Michael G. 2012. Bull of Heaven: The Mythic Life of Eddie Buczynski and the Rise of the New York Pagan. Hubbardston: Asphodel Press.

Mathiesen, Robert and Theitic. 2005. The Rede of the Wiccae: Adrian Porter, Gwen Thompson and the Birth of a Tradition of Witchcraft. Providence: Olympian Press.

McShee, Sean. 2018. “A Look at the Minoan Brotherhood and the Men who ‘Walk among Worlds’. The Wild Hunt. Accessed from https://wildhunt.org/2018/09/a-look-at-the-minoan-brotherhood-and-the-men-who-walk-among-worlds.html on 1 October 2018.

Minoan Brotherhood website. n.d. “Frequently Asked Questions About the Minoan Brotherhood.” Accessed from http://www.minoan-brotherhood.org/ on 1 October 2018.

Tully, Caroline J. 2018. “The Artifice of Daedalus: Modern Minoica as Religious Focus in Contemporary Paganism.” Pp. 76–102 in New Antiquities: Transformations of Ancient Religion in the New Age and Beyond, edited by Dylan Burns and Almut Barbara-Renger. Sheffield: Equinox.

Urban, Hugh. 2006. Magia Sexualis: Sex, Magic, and Liberation in Modern Western Esotericism. Oakland: University of California Press.

Valiente, Doreen. 1989. The Rebirth of Witchcraft. London: Robert Hale.

Post Date:
2 October 2018

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