Edward Fitch is a Wiccan High Priest of the Gardnerian tradition and was a leading figure in the rise of contemporary Wicca and Paganism in America. Fitch was an early initiate of Raymond and Rosemary Buckland (initiated by Gerald Gardner’s home coven) after they set up the first Gardnerian coven in America. Fitch also helped to organize and chaired two Pagan Ecumenical Councils to establish the Covenant of the Goddess (COG) as an international umbrella organization representing Pagans. Through the 1980s Fitch continued to perform as a Gardnerian High Priest, but his researches also led him to initiation in a number of other traditions and orders, including: Faerie faith, Mohsian, the Order of Osiris, the Order of the Temple of Astarte, Norse, and Ceremonial magick.
Fitch is the original author of “Magical Rituals from the Crystal Well”, the Pagan Way Rituals, and two classic underground books on American witchcraft: “The Grimoire of the Shadows” and “The Outer Court Book of Shadows” (later combined by Llewellyn Publications to be published as “A Grimoire of Shadows”) as well as the Norse volume, “The Rites of Odin”. He also wrote (uncredited) “A Book of Pagan Rituals” and is the author of the forthcoming “Revised and Updated Rituals of the Pagan Way”. (He created the original “Pagan Way” ritual system in 1972.)
I had the chance to chat with Ed before one of his workshops as guest at Heartland Pagan Festival, near Leavenworth, KS.
What was your introduction to the craft like?
I had been looking for the craft for a long time, and had been totally isolated from it. I was in Baltimore and was getting restless. I would go out to the airport, and go to their bookstore which featured science fiction. I was out there flipping through books and came upon “Sign of the Labrys” by Margaret St. Clair and words started jumping out at me; “moon power”, ‘priestess”, “coven”. I started some research on what was this “Wicca”. This was 1963 and there was nothing in the states that I knew about. I thought , ah ha, here is someone to contact, but how in the world do I do it? It took me a year to figure to contact the publisher. I did and got an invite to drop in and visit from Margaret and Eric St. Clair. I visited them in Richmond, Ca and thought nothing of the fact they had a ceremonial sword on the wall and the living room had a triple circle inscribed there in bronze. They were brilliant people and we had great conversations. I did not know but afterward they sent a letter about me to Ray and Rosemary Buckland in Long Island. I went back into the Air force and was assigned to Hanscom Air Force Base just outside of Boston. I began to visit Ray and Rosemary and very rapidly became part of the coven.
The very first time I was there we were chatting and it approached midnight. I was going to turn in and Ray said, “No, we will be doing a ritual. We will open the circle first and we will have you come in later on.” They prepared a consecrating bath for everyone and he flipped me a towel and in his finest English accent said, “Here, this should soak up the blood.” Everyone had their bath, and I had mine, and went then all down and they left me sitting in the living room dressed only in my goose bumps. I could hear chanting and a little bit of laughter. I wondered what is this all about? I had done research and knew these people did not take blood sacrifices, but … just suppose that I am wrong? After a while Ray came with his athame, in his devilish beard and mustache and said, “We are ready for you.” At the dark entrance to the stairs going down I said; “After you.” and Ray said, “No, no, after you!” I walked down the stairs into the complete darkness, being very conscious that someone was just behind be with a drawn blade. At the bottom a curtain was opened for me. There was the ceremonial room all lit in black light. Suddenly a beautiful naked woman leaped out at me with a dagger and said, “Yummy, fresh blood!” I nearly had heart failure. I later discovered they were very charming people with a great sense of humor.
Did you continue to work with them?
Well for a time but eventually the Air Force sent me to Vietnam, and on to Thailand. I had little contact over there, but began the writing (1967) of the “ The Outer Court Book of Shadows”, published by Llewellyn. Some of my writing from that time has a bit of an edge on it because, well, I was being shot at from time to time! I had been working with Ray and Rosemary for some time, and writing material for them.
Did you ever run a coven as priest, or do you prefer to work solitary?
I had an interest long before I was initiated. Initiations were done in pairs at that time, male and female, and I did have a small coven for a while. I was in the active military and was sent all over. My lady and myself ended up going separate ways. I have since sometimes worked as a coven and sometimes on my own. I find it is very good to work as a coven because you can exchange ideas, and do power workings with them. Solitary you get to study and meditate. People have personalities and there are sometimes conflicts. When that happens it is best to just ease away genially and then do your own research and study. I like both ways of working. I like working with my people over here on advanced work and like to bounce my ideas off my people. Of the people that I train that I think will be the best maybe one out of ten will be really spectacular. The others will be mediocre, and one or two will be toxic. I have never been able to judge human nature that well. There are advantages to the traditional Wiccan time of waiting a year and a day before an initiation. When I got started there was such a demand that people wanted it faster than that. My material was written so people could get into it a good deal faster.
Do you believe in magic?
Yes, and I believe in gravity, even green trees and beautiful women! A person doesn’t believe in it, one lives it. Like talking to a tree. I taught myself to link into a tree and get its life force, get its feelings. I go to the redwood forests in California and wow, this thing is three hundred feet tall, and I am tiny compared with it. I was on a ridge line outside Los Angeles hiking alone and came upon a snag that had been killed by lightning. I gave it an offering of water around the base, and put my hands over it and my head against it. I immediately got a splitting head ache, like I had been hit by lightning. I was communicating with something that was dead. There was a consciousness there that goes beyond death. I found that trees are all interlinked, but that is another matter.
Do you have a vision of what Wicca and magic is offering our society for the future?
Wicca and Paganism are going to be spreading more and more. We are probably going to be seeing some of the initial effects of it with the green movement and things like that. We are gaining more of an understanding of some of the deeper aspects of life. When I was working for Westinghouse some forty or fifty years ago we discovered by experiment that there is an understanding of reality beyond reality, the Multi-verse. Reality is flexible, you can effect it with your own mind. I have learned how to affect it with mine. You have to roll and live with what is out there, live with the natural world. I stay away from cities as much as I can, because they are toxic. I have a strong dislike for anything chaotic. It is interesting to experience life in as many ways as possible.
Do you consider yourself a traditional Gardnerian?
Gardnerianism is my home, and from there I expand outward. I really feel a person should get a start in one tradition or another, from there, go with your DNA. If you have Norse blood, great, if you have African, great, go with that. Some of my best friends are in the Roman traditions. After you have got the tradition down then you can branch out and try other ones.
Do you have a personal set of deities?
There are many, many manifestations of the Gods and Goddesses. The Garderians work with the God and Goddess, but when I am up in the mountains I may give an invocation to Thor. If I am near the ocean I may work with the Lady of the Seas, or Poseidon, or what the hell, even Davy Jones. There is only one deity force but he or she has ten thousand names and more. Just pick the ones you can relate to the best. I like the Goddess because she is pretty, and very, very magical. As Freya, she kicks butt!
How have your travels and the spirituality you found there influenced you?
The reason I did the Odinist book is because I spent several summers in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, and the British high country. The military sent me to the orient and I learned a bit of their view of things, and followed up on it with study. In Japan the oldest legend is that they were founded by the seven little Gods who sailed up from the south. I still have a sculpture of this with the seven gods on their ship. Each has one has one of the major aspects of civilization. In Sumerian legend, Inanna wanted to get civilization started but her father had the seventy-two “Me”, magical scrolls, I think. She sailed her boat up the river to the God, smoozed him and got him drunk, and then sweet talked him. She got all the Me loaded on her boat and sailed away before he knew what had happened. He was angry, but she had gotten the basis for civilization. I like Inanna, she was a sex goddess, a war-goddess, loved to go into taverns. She went down into hell, got killed and then came back again.
Where does your path lead you today?
I am going to continue writing because I want to get my ideas out. It helps people in their own paths and begins to change society in what little I can contribute to it. The royalties are trivial, but still good. Will I continue to work in a group? Yes, but I also continue to do researching and reading and trying out new things. I have not lost any students as of yet, though I push the edge sometimes. I will have my elders coven come over and say, “Lets step on out, I want to have you do face and shape changing.” I have a special technique that I have researched and written for this, and worked on for years with my ex-wife, Janine Renée . Through this you can change your appearance. You can actually feel the flesh and the bones moving and changing their appearance. This is a trick, but the deepest part is what happens in the mind. Or lighting a magical flame. You have a candle and everyone concentrates on breathing the element of fire in and putting it there on the candle. It will light and the blue glow spreads all over, and onto your hands. This is great for healing, but that is yet another matter.
There are many things that I do not understand, but I am fascinated by them all. It’s a big, complex and intriguing universe of magic!