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Aidan A. Kelly - Written and compiled by George Knowles

Aidan Anthony Kelly is an American academic, poet and prolific writer. He is a co-founder of the New Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn (NROOGD) an eclectic form of Gardnerian Witchcraft founded in San Francisco in 1969, and in the mid 1970’s helped to found the Covenant of the Goddess. He is perhaps best known as the author of a controversial book: Crafting the Art of Magic - Book 1 - A History of Modern Witchcraft, 1939-1964 published in 1991, in which he reveals his early studies of Gerald Gardner and the origins of Wicca as a new and contemporary religion.

Aidan Kelly, the oldest of four children, was born on the 22nd October 1940 in Colon, Panama, where his mother Marie Cecile Kelly was married to his father John Patrick Kelly, a Lieutenant in the US military. At the time of his birth, his father was on his first assignment in Panama after graduating from West Point (the famous US Military Academy established in 1802). Unknown to Kelly until the 1990’s, throughout the second World War and for the rest of his service, his father had worked as a high-ranking covert operative in military intelligence.

During his service John Patrick had led the family around the world before retiring from the military and settling in Mill Valley, California in 1955. Here and to finish his basic education, Kelly attended the Tamalpais High School graduating in 1957. Incidentally, a search through the schools records shows that this was the same school that Anton Szandor LaVey (Howard Stanton Levey), founder of Church of Satan, graduated from in 1947, although the two were never associated.

Anton LaVey - Tamalpais High School circ. 1950’s (Pics)

During his father’s military service Kelly was brought up a Roman Catholic, and as the son of an officer, military protocol dictated he join the family and attend Mass each week. However, after moving to Mill Valley in 1955, Kelly had what he describes as: "a spontaneous enlightenment experience, which ended my belief in Catholicism". As a result, soon after Kelly declared himself agnostic and began exploring alternative religions. Among the intellectuals who influenced him at that time was the mystic visionary poet William Blake (1757-1827), and the pacifist philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell (1872-1970).

William Blake - Bertrand Russell (Pics)

"If life is to be fully human it must serve some end which seems, in some sense, outside human life, some end which is impersonal and above mankind, such as God or truth or beauty – Bertrand Russell"

After leaving High School in 1957, Kelly began studying at the University of California in Berkeley, but then transferred to San Francisco State College from where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1964. While there in 1958 Kelly married his first wife Anne Devere Ralph, and from 1964-1966 worked as an editor for Stanford University Press. He later returned to San Francisco State University, and in 1968 received a master’s degree in creative writing. After leaving University he joined the staff of W. H. Freeman & Co with whom he worked until 1973.

While studying at University in 1967, Kelly helped a friend called Sarah T. who had been asked to write a ritual for a Witches’ Sabbat as part of her graduate art seminar. The object of the exercise was to determine if through an act of group ritual, any sort of power or energy could be raised. This was familiar territory for Kelly, who during his researches into alternative religions had already found various resources that he now put to good use. These included the folklore of Charles Leland, the theories of Margaret Murray, The Golden Bough by Sir James George Frazer, The White Goddess by Robert Graves, the early rituals of Gerald Gardner detailed in his book Witchcraft Today, and the more contemporary books of T. C. Lethbridge.

Charles Laland - Margaret Murray - James Frazer - Robert Graves (Pics)

Gerald B. Gardner - T. C. Lethbridge (Pics)

The ritual they devised contained dancing and chanting, a circle casting and the invocation of the Goddess, but their initial circles failed to raise any of the anticipated energy in rehearsals. During the midsummer of 1968, they decided to try the ritual again but as part of a genuine wedding celebration; this time all the participants agreed that some kind of group energy was raised. Later they tried it again on the actual date of a Sabbat (Lammas 01st August 196 and according to Kelly: "the energy they raised was almost psychedelic". As a result the group began to meet regularly, particularly on the Esbats (the monthly full moon celebrations) to re-enact the same ritual with variances.

Gradually from these meetings an eclectic form of Gardnerian Witchcraft evolved, and eventually in 1969 they formed a mother coven into which they all took initiation as Witches. The coven called itself: The New Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn (NROOGD), named after the famous occult magical Order of the same name, founded during the late 1800’s. While they had no association to that group, according Kelly: "the name was chosen as a way to screen out would-be members lacking in a sense of humour, and in recognition of William Butler Yeats".

William Butler Yeats (Pic)

Yeats one of the original members of the Golden Dawn wrote in 1901:

"I believe in the practise and philosophy of what we have agreed to call magic, in what I must call the evocation of spirits, though I do not know what they are, in the power of creating illusions, in the visions of truth in the depths of the mind when the eyes are closed; and I believe in three doctrines, which have, as I think, been handed down from early times, and been the foundations of nearly all magical practices. These doctrines are:

(1) That the borders of our mind are ever shifting, and that many minds can flow into one another, as it were, and create or reveal a single mind, a single energy.

(2) That the borders of our memories are shifting, and that our memories are part of one great memory, the memory of Nature herself.

(3) That this great mind and great memory can be evoked by symbols".

As the group developed Kelly wrote most of their rituals based on his earlier researches of Gerald Gardner; he also created their Book of Shadows. Today the NROOGD tradition is one of the oldest continuing Craft traditions in North America, and has active covens operating throughout the United States. Since their inception in 1969, members in the San Francisco Bay area have frequently hosted large public and semi-public rituals and festivals during the Sabbats.

In 1970 Kelly divorced his first wife Anne Devere Ralph, and a year later married his second wife Alta Picchi. Together they had a daughter Maeve Adair Kelly on the 12th January 1973. At the end of 1973 he resigned from his staff position at W. H. Freeman and Co, and started work freelance in order to fund his Ph.D. program at the Graduate Theological Union (GTU) in Berkeley. Another year later in 1974, he and his wife Alta were initiated into the Feri Tradition of Witchcraft founded by Victor Anderson, Gwydion Pendderwen and Alison Harlow.

Victor Anderson - Gwydion Pendderwen - Alison Harlow (Pics)

In 1975 Kelly also helped to found and organise the Covenant of the Goddess (CoG). Throughout the late 1960’s and early 1970s there had been a steady rise of interest in contemporary Witchcraft and Paganism, and more and more people were becoming aware of feminist issues and global concerns for the environment, many of which causes were championed by Craft members. In the spring of 1975, elders from a number of diverse traditions and covens met together in Oakland, California. Their idea was to form a covenant of consenting member covens and traditions, and bring them together under one umbrella organization that could benefit all practitioners of the Craft (similar to the abortive ‘Council of American Witches’ spearheaded by Carl Llewellyn Weschcke in 1973–74). Kelly for his part drafted the organizations first Charter and bylaws.

Carl Llewellyn Weschcke - Philip Emmons Isaac Bonewits (Pics)

At the Summer Solstice that same year, the Charter and bylaws were ratified by thirteen member covens, and later on the 31st October (Samhain) 1975, the Covenant of the Goddess was incorporated as a non-profit religious organization. Initially it was set up to foster cooperation and mutual support among Craft members, and secure for them the legal protections enjoyed by other religions. Governed by consensus in a non-hierarchical structure, two-thirds of its clergy were women. Kelly also served on its first National Board of Directors from its inception to 1977.

While studying for his Ph.D. during 1974 – 1975 Kelly received copies of material taken from one of Gerald Gardner’s early Book of Shadows. It was owned by Carl Llewellyn Weschcke and sent on to him by his then editor Isaac Bonewits. Kelly believed he could reconstruct from them a history of how Gardner founded modern Wicca. He later followed up his research with a trip to the "Ripley’s Believe It or Not" museum in Toronto. It was here that Monique Wilson, Gardner’s last High Priestess had sold the contents of his Museum of Witchcraft in 1973. While there Kelly found a manuscript entitled: Ye Bok of ye Art Magical, which he believed to be the original Book of Shadows used by Gardner before Doreen Valiente began to change it in 1953- 1954.

Doreen Valiente - Monique Wilson with Gerald Gardner (Pics)

Kelly wrote a book based on his initial researches under contract with Llewellyn, but the finished manuscript was turned down as being too intellectual for the general mass market they were aiming at. Instead, Kelly used the book to satisfy his doctoral exam on the Sociology of Religion at the GTU in Berkeley. However before he could complete his studies, in 1976 Kelly reached a crisis in his life when he admitted to having a drink problem. As a result of this he started a twelve-step sobriety recovery program with Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). As Kelly states it: "The Craft as he understood it at that time could not help him to maintain his sobriety, and a year later he became a practising Roman Catholic again in order to have an adequate spiritual path".

In 1980 Kelly received his Ph.D. in Theology from the GTU in Berkeley and for the next eight years taught at various schools in the Bay area of San Francisco, including the University of San Francisco and the Holy Family College in Fremont, CA. In 1988 he divorced his second wife Alta Picchi, and having reconciled his beliefs in witchcraft, became an active member of the Craft again working with a number of Feri and eclectic circles in the Palo Alto area of San Francisco.

After marrying his third wife Julie O’Ryan, they both took initiation into a Protean coven, a branch of Gardnerian Wicca founded in 1980 by Judy Harrow in New York. In 1989 they relocated to Santa Barbara in Southern California, and there on the 21st March 1990 Julie gave birth to their son Aidan Edward O’Ryan-Kelly. After the birth of their son, they moved again this time to Los Angeles, where Kelly took employment working on the staff of publisher Jeremy Tarcher. He also worked as a freelance editor and set about founding his own publishing company. From 1990 to 1992 both he and Julie served as local officers for the Southern California Council of the Covenant of the Goddess, and at the same time in 1991 Kelly founded the Aradianic Faerie tradition, a path of sexual shamanism.

Also in 1991, Kelly’s long awaited History of Modern Witchcraft was finally published by Llewellyn publications entitled: Crafting the Art of Magic - Book 1 - A History of Modern Witchcraft, 1939-1964. The thesis of his book is that modern day Wicca was entirely the making of Gerald Gardner, who he credits with the inventive creative genius and ability to form a new religion in the twentieth century. Kelly’s book was one of the first serious academic studies into the origins of modern Wicca, and in it he challenged Gardner’s historical claims that Wicca was a surviving ancient religion, as such his book came under heavy criticism from hardcore Gardnerians.

While Kelly was criticised for this early edition of his book when it was published, over time it has effectively inspired new academic interest and research into the history of Modern Witchcraft. As Professor Ronald Hutton the UK’s leading historian on Witchcraft summarises in his own book: The Triumph of the Moon (1999): "The overall effect was to defend the notion of Wicca as a viable new religion while discrediting Gardner himself, by casting doubt both upon his historical claims and his personal tastes. In this, perhaps, he did another service to scholarship, by presenting Wiccan revisionism in such an intemperate and provocative guise that any subsequent scholar who tackled the matter was bound to appear moderate by comparison, and therefore to be the more welcome to Wiccans."

Crafting the Art of Magic (Pic)

In 1992 Kelly and Julie joined the Church of all Worlds (CAW, co-founded by Oberon Zell-Ravenheart and Richard Lance Christie on the 07th April 1962), and in the following year 1993 they became resident members of the Star City Nest. Shortly after they relocated to Santa Rosa, where in June of 1994 Kelly and Julie separated. Kelly next moved to Los Angeles where he continued teaching while concentrating on his writing. It was here that he met his fourth wife Melinda Taylor, who on the 21st April 1995, gave birth to his second son Evan Michael Kelly.

Oberon Zell-Ravenheart - Richard Lance Christie (Pics)

While living in Los Angeles from 1994 to 1997, Kelly and Melinda worked mainly with the Coven Ashesh-Hekat of the 1734 tradition, in which Melinda was trained by Doug and Sandy Kopf. The 1734 tradition is based on the expanded teaching of Robert Cochrane (Roy Bowers, 1931-1966). Cochrane had founded a coven in the UK called the "Clan of Tubal Cain"; roughly about the same time Gerald Gardner started his covens in the late 1950’s. It was through his correspondence with Joseph "Bearwalker" Wilson, one of the founders of the Pagan Way in America, that his teachings eventually evolved into the 1734 Tradition.

Robert Cochrane - Joe Wilson (Pics)

In 1997 they relocated to Seattle, where Kelly worked mainly for Microsoft related companies. In 1999 Melinda gave birth to a daughter Chloe Isidora Kelly. After the turn of the century in 2000 they formed the Witch Grass Coven of the NROOGD tradition. Into this they mixed NROOGD influences with that of the 1734 tradition, as well as adding influences from Melinda’s family background as a Cherokee medicine woman. In 2001 Kelly began teaching again and took a position at the Berkeley Learning Center in Lakewood, Washington, in addition to teaching for Central Texas College at Fort Lewis during 2002. Later that same year Melinda gave birth to another daughter, Isibella Liberty Americus Kelly.

Aidan Kelly and Daughters c.2008 (Pic)

Since then Kelly has continued teaching and writing, and has produced a number of novels and non-fiction books on Pagan theology and religion. His latest book: Inventing Witchcraft: A Case Study in the Creation of a New Religion (2007) is the long awaited revised and updated edition of his earlier book: Crafting the Art of Magic. According to his publisher: "This extensively revised edition contains new research which was unavailable at the time, as well as detailed textual comparisons of Gerald Gardner’s own manuscripts, magical books, and rituals that could not be included in the earlier edition. It includes contributions from people who helped Gardner create modern Witchcraft and looks at the sources of his inspiration".

Today in 2008 Kelly with his wife and family are located in an area of New Orleans, Louisiana, where he continues teaching while writing about witchcraft, adding to the growing store of academic knowledge as slowly more and more secrets about contemporary Witchcraft are revealed. He and Melinda continue to work with and develop their Witch Grass Coven, about which more information can be found here: http://members.tripod.com/witch_gras...tchgrasscoven/ Kelly is also the host of an online email forum called Gardnerians All, and this can be found at: http://gardneriansallkelly.bravehost.com/


A partial Bibliography:

History and other explorations: Selected poems, 1966-1974 - By Aidan A Kelly (Hierophant Wordsmiths, 1974) - ASIN: B00072WLGW

Hippie Commie Beatnik Witches: A History of the Craft in California, 1967-77 - By Aidan Kelly (Self-published, 1978???)

Moving Into Space (The Myths & Realities of Extra Terrestrial Life) - By Aidan Kelly (Harper & Row Publishers, 1980) - ISBN-13: 978-0060804992

The New Healers: Healing the Whole Person - By Larry Geis, Aidan Kelly, Alta Picchi Kelly - (Ronin Pub (New Dimensions New York) August 1980) - ISBN-13: 978-0915904495

The Evangelical Christian Anti-Cult Movement: Christian Counter-Cult Literature (Cults & new religions) - By Aidan A. Kelly (Garland Publishing Inc., 14 Mar 1990) - ISBN-13: 978-0824043742

Theosophy: I (Cults & New Religions) - By James R. Lewis, Aidan A. Kelly (Garland Publishing Inc., 20 Mar 1990) - ISBN-13: 978-0824043674

Theosophy: II (Cults & New Religions) - By James R. Lewis, Aidan A. Kelly (Garland Publishing Inc., 22 Mar 1990) - ISBN-13: 978-0824043681

Neo-Pagan Witchcraft I (Cults and New Religions) - By Aidan A. Kelly (Taylor & Francis, May 1990) - ISBN-13: 9780824044961

Neo-Pagan Witchcraft II (Cults and New Religions) - By Aidan A. Kelly, J. Gordon Melton (Publisher: Taylor & Francis, June 1990) - ISBN-13: 9780824044978

Cults and the Jewish Community: Representative Works of Anti-Cult Literature - By Aidan A. Kelly (Taylor & Francis; Reprint edition, August 1990) - ISBN-13: 978-0824044879

Crafting the Art of Magic, Book I: A History of Modern Witchcraft, 1939-1964 - By Aidan A. Kelly (Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd, June 1991) - ISBN: 9780875423708

New Age Almanac - By Aidan A. Kelly; J. Gordon Melton; Jerome Clark (Visible Ink Press, 1991) - ISBN: 9780810394025

Religious Holidays and Calendars: An Encyclopaedic Handbook - By Aidan Kelly, Peter Dresser, Linda M. Ross (Omnigraphics, March 1993) - ISBN-13: 978-1558883482

Thinking on the Edge: Essays by Members of the International Society for Philosophical Enquiry - By Richard A. Kapnick, Aidan A. Kelly (Agamemnon Press, June 1993) - ISBN-13: 978-1883322007

New Age Encyclopedia - By Aidan A. Kelly; J. Gordon Melton; Jerome Clark (Gale Group, 2005) - ISBN: 9780810376106

Inventing Witchcraft : A Case Study in the Creation of a New Religion - By Aidan A. Kelly (Thoth Publications (SCB Distributors) 2007) - ISBN: 9781870450584

My grateful thanks to Aidan Kelly for all his help in compiling this brief biography.

The Triumph of the Moon - Ronald Hutton

The Encyclopedia of Modern Witchcraft and Neo-paganism - By Shelley Rabinovitch

Drawing down the Moon - by Margot Adler

Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2006. © 1993-2005 Microsoft Corporation.

Penguin Hutchinson Reference Library Copyright (c) 1996 Helicon Publishing and Penguin Books Ltd

Look Back in Controversy: A Samhain Interview with Aidan Kelly (2006) http://www.widdershins.org/vol8iss5/01.htm

Paganism and Polemic: The Debate over the Origins of Modern Pagan Witchcraft: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/m...g=artBody;col1

Plus more websites, too many to mention.
Written and compiled on the 31st October 2008 © George Knowles

Best Wishes.

Merry we part.

George Knowles (Man in Black).
E-mail - George@controverscial.com
or - themaninblackuk2001@yahoo.com
Website - http://www.controverscial.com

Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall not be disappointed.