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The Roebuck Tradition

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Article Specs

Article ID: 3380

VoxAcct: 17677

Section: trads

Age Group: Adult

Days Up: 5,835

Times Read: 38,405

The Roebuck Tradition

Author: David Finnin
Posted: April 7th. 2001
Times Viewed: 38,405


The Roebuck tradition, as practiced by the Ancient Keltic Church, is a religious organization dedicated to the rediscovery and revival of the Pagan mystery faith of the ancient Celtic peoples, and the incorporation of this ancient faith into modern 20th century America. It was founded in 1976 by Ann and David Finnin as an experimental group called The Roebuck, which was made up of members of many different magical systems devoted to the exploration of a British mystery tradition made public in Britain during the 1950's and introduced into the United States during the years 1964-1966 through the writings of Robert Cochrane. Cochrane died in 1966. However, with the aid of the Cochrane writings and material contributed by other British traditionalists, the members of the Roebuck attempted to recreate this tradition and, through trial and error, forged a mystery school designed to teach its students the various methods of personal magical development.

In 1982, William G. Gray, a friend of Robert Cochrane, put us in touch with Evan John Jones, another member of the Clan of Tubal Cain—the British hereditary tradition of which Cochrane was the leader. After an apprenticeship which lasted nearly two years, Ann and David were adopted into the Clan by Jones and empowered to carry the tradition back to the States. Thus, a link between the old tradition and the new was formally established. In 1989, The Roebuck incorporated and became the Ancient Keltic Church, with all the rights and responsibilities pertaining to our legal status. Since then, we have worked to establish the Ancient Keltic Church as a modern day Celtic mystery school of the sort that might have come down to us from ancient times had nearly 2, 000 years of Christianity not intervened.


We carry on a tradition that practices magic and taps into ancient and primal sources for the power to do so. We invoke the aid of unseen forces and use natural materials like stones, herbs, animals, etc. to channel our will in order to make things happen. But we are, above all, a Pagan religion with a complex theology and strict code of behavior. We believe that spiritual development comes first and that magic is secondary, coming once a certain level of attainment has been achieved. 'Our belief, ' as Cochrane wrote in 1966, 'is concerned with wisdom; our true name, then, is the Wise people and wisdom is our aim.'

One of the ways in which this is accomplished is through contact with the inner plane guardians of the circle. These guardians, called gods and goddesses or "shining ones" are described in Irish, Welsh and Gaelic folklore and are associated with the four elements of fire, earth, air and water. These guardians, along with a Father God and Mother Goddess, make up the pantheon of deities that are called upon to aid in any magical work that is done by the group to which a member is introduced, first through guided meditations and then through personal contacts. They are:

  • Gentle Bride, who speaks to poets and healers;
  • Shining Lugh, master of all crafts;
  • Beautiful Niahm, who inspires desire and creativity;
  • Laughing Cernnunos, the lord of the woodlands;
  • Wise Cerridwen, stirring her cauldron of inspiration;
  • Sad Nodens, leaning heavily upon his staff;
  • Dour Tautes, guarding ancient knowledge and lore;
  • Fierce Morrigan, with her hounds and ravens.
  • Goda, mother of gods and mortals, lady of light and darkness,
  • Father Tubal Cain, the coal black smith who tempers us in his forge until we are as shining steel.
  • And the Nameless, Faceless One we call the Black Goddess.

Personal development and magical power comes primarily through understanding all these natural forces, dark as well as light, and transforming that understanding into control over their aspects in the individual psyche. However, once achieved, this personal development must then be laid upon the altar of service, for power is only a means to an end, not an end in itself. As tribal healers, seers and shamans of old knew well, the final result of the attainment of personal magical power is to go forth and serve the people of the tribe. By running rituals, teaching classes and ministering to the needs of the people by providing healing, counseling, and rites of passage for them and their children, we hope to continue this tradition of service and commitment to our community.

Coven structure

A Roebuck coven is organized like a Celtic clan with the male leader (called the Magister) and the female leader (called the Maid or Mistress) serving as the clan chieftains while the initiates are the related kinfolk. The Summoner serves the Magister and Mistress by calling the people to the rite, leading them in and out of the circle and guarding against any who would disrupt the proceedings.

The Ancient Keltic Church has an initiate priesthood which teaches students and runs circles. Membership in this priesthood requires a great deal of time, effort and dedication and is not for everyone. Candidates are chosen with considerable care and many factors, particularly their sincerity and desire to work and study, are taken into account. The training can take as much as two years and requires a great deal of time and effort on the part of both student and teacher. First, a general course of study is undertaken to fully acquaint the student with the tradition. After that is completed, the student may ask to continue on to initiation. Initiate training is designed to teach the kind of magical skills necessary for working within a circle involves a very personal relationship between student and teacher and is individually tailored to each student's needs and personal history.

Once initiated, the member is considered adopted into the tribe or family and is considered to be kin even if he or she ceases active participation or leaves the group entirely. Each initiate is considered a full priest or priestess in their own right and many initiates bring with them years of experience in other magical traditions. All initiates in the coven are treated as equals and all have the right to an equal voice in coven business. Any Roebuck initiate may hive off and start another Roebuck coven, provided the core training material is used and certain basic elements of the tradition are kept.

Since there is only one initiation, the only hierarchy within a Roebuck coven is that of seniority. While the Magister and Mistress have the final say in all coven business, each initiate has an equal voice in matters concerning the coven and can even call an initiates' council on the Magister and Mistress if their behavior warrants it. Consequently, even though the Magister and Mistress run the coven, they rule with the consent of their kin. Once that consent is withdrawn, the mantle of Magister and/or Mistress may pass to someone else within the coven provided all are agreed.

Initiation into the Roebuck Tradition, provided it is administered under the auspices of the Ancient Keltic Church, constitutes official ordination. The initiate priest or priestess has the legal right to perform marriages, funerals and other rites of passages in the community as well as have access to hospitals, prisons and other government offices as much as a member of any official clergy. Roebuck initiates are also expected to be self supporting members of the community and to abide by all local, state and federal laws. Since the Roebuck is also a legal church, its members need to be mindful that their behavior can have a serious impact on the entire organization as a whole.

The Ancient Keltic Church also sponsors a number of Roebuck daughter covens, each led by initiates from the original mother coven. Each daughter coven, although completely autonomous and self-governing, is a part of the Roebuck tradition. Initiates of the daughter covens are considered Roebuck initiates with all the rights and responsibilities of the Roebuck priesthood. Provided the various covens are agreeable, Roebuck initiates of one coven may visit other covens and even participate in their initiations. This interchange insures that all Roebuck initiates know each other and can cultivate a genuine feeling of kinship within the tradition.

The Ancient Keltic Church also sponsors the American branch of the Clan of Tubal Cain which is dedicated to the preservation of the old ways of working traditional Craft.

Standards of Conduct

The key to the ethical code of the Roebuck Tradition is self-responsibility for all thoughts, words and deeds, both in this world and in the magical realm. Personal honor, integrity, honesty, loyalty and devotion to the gods, ancestors and clan are ideals to be constantly pursued. We acknowledge that whatever we do to others - whether prompted by love or malice -- rebounds back upon ourselves eventually as the Dark Goddess constantly grinds the mill of fate and we reap what we have sown. However, with self-responsibility comes the necessity of making choices in the world. If we made no choices for ourselves, others would make choices for us, leading to passivity and victimhood - the direct antithesis to magical empowerment. We realize that choices are never cut and dried, and that often trade-offs have to be made. We must make the best choice we can in a given situation and then accept the consequences—both good and bad—of that choice.

In 1966, Robert Cochrane outlined a code of ethics for a 'witch.' He said:
  • Do not do what you desire -- do what is necessary.
  • Take all you are given -- give all of yourself.
  • "What I have -- I hold!"
  • When all is lost, and not until then, prepare with die with dignity ..."
  • ... and return to the womb of the Dark Goddess to give life another try "until the wheel of rebirth is finally broken."

Ways of worship

A Roebuck circle is designed to allow as much group participation as possible. The Magister, Summoner or presiding priest casts the circle and opens the gates to Caer Sidi, the World Between Worlds where gods and mortals meet. The participants are then led into the circle by the Summoner over the crossed broom and sword. Four quarter callers greet the ancestral deities at each quarter and the Master and Mistress of the Rites call upon Mother Goda and Father Tubal Cain to witness the rite. Once the work is finished, cakes and ale are consecrated by the presiding priest and priestess and passed around the circle. Finally, Mother Goda and Father Tubal, then the guardians are bid farewell, the circle is cut and the Summoner leads the group out of the circle.

The actual working will depend entirely on the purpose of the rite, whether it is a festival or a moon, if guests and students are present or if it is an initiates-only ritual. Every candidate for initiation must design and perform one ritual as part of his or her training. Consequently, the people running a Roebuck circle will vary, depending on the ritual to be performed. The standard ritual form is extremely simple and flexible and there is no standardized script. This encourages all participants to improvise and try new things in order to help the tradition grow and develop.

The Roebuck tradition shares most of the same Pagan holidays and festivals celebrated by most Neo-pagan groups. These include the Celtic Fire Festivals of Samhain, Imbolc, Beltaine and Lughnasadh and, to a lesser extent, the solstices and equinoxes. We also celebrate the full moons and the dark moons. Often, a major festival is a time when all the daughter covens can circle together, reserving full and dark moons for individual coven work.

Reading and other references

The Ancient Keltic Church/Clan of Tubal Cain websites.
The Robert Cochrane letters to Joe Wilson, Norman and our own contribution in fond memory of Bill Gray.

Ann Finnin, The Forge of Tubal Cain (Pendraig Publishing, 2008) .

Ronald Hutton, The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft (Oxford University Press, 1999) .

William G. Gray, Western Inner Workings. (Samuel Weiser, 1983) .

Doreen Valiente, The Rebirth of Witchcraft (Robert Hale, 1989) . The late Doreen Valiente played an important part in the development both of the Gardnerian tradition and the Clan of Tubal Cain.

Doreen Valiente and Evan John Jones, Witchcraft: A Tradition Renewed (Phoenix Publishing, 1990) .

Gwyn, Lights from the Shadows, (Capall Bann Publishing, 1999) the first book which reveals many of the inner workings of the family traditions.


David Finnin

Location: Tujunga, California

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