The '1734' Tradition in North America
Article ID: 3356
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 6,360
Times Read: 79,019
Author: Chas S. Clifton [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: March 18th. 2001
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Although he never crossed the Atlantic, a key figure in the British Craft of the 1960s had a broad effect on American Witchcraft in its formative years.
He was Robert Cochrane, magister of the Clan of Tubal Cain, described by one of his coveners as "perhaps the most powerful and gifted personality to have appeared in modern witchcraft." The writer was no newbie but the late Doreen Valiente, who joined Cochrane's coven after leaving Gerald Gardner's, and who knew most of the Craft community in Britain from the 1950s into the 1990s.
Another British witch and writer, Evan John Jones, also a member of Cochrane's coven in its final years, considered that he had been a shaman/witch before the word "shaman" gained its current popularity.
Ronald Hutton, author of The Triumph of the Moon, the best current history of British Paganism, noted that Cochrane's legacy had been both "considerable and complex," and I will describe here one of the three streams of modern Craft that flowed from the coven that existed before Cochrane's untimely death in 1966.
In Britain, Cochrane's form of the Craft was continued by groups including The Regency (which lasted until 1974) and the Clan of Tubal Cain. Articles in publications such as The Pentagram and The Cauldron helped to spread it. Ruth Wynn Owen, who taught the Welsh tradition known as Y Plant Br'n, was simultaneously working with The Regency shortly after Cochrane's death, but current members of Y Plant Br'n claim she took nothing from Cochrane's tradition. In North America, however, the connection was at first entirely postal, and Cochrane's letters feel like seed on prepared soil which, in the mid-1960s, was sprouting both new and transplanted forms of Witchcraft. Those few years also saw the arrival of the Gardnerian tradition, which insisted in a person-to-person initiatory succession. But to continue the gardening metaphor, a lot of cross-pollination occurred, mixing new strains with existing occultism and with entirely new Pagan creations.
During the 1960s students of the poet James Broughton at San Francisco State University started the playfully named New Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn, a seminal West Coast Craft group; the Church of All Worlds began in St. Louis, and the School of Wicca started in rural Missouri. A Druidic revival that began as a spoof turned serious at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. Others could be named as well, and despite their differences in nomenclature, whether they were "Druidic" or "Wiccan" or "Neopagan," they kept close eyes on each other, read each other's newsletters, and traded ideas.
In Wichita, Kansas, a small group studying folk magic and psychic development became a conduit for Cochrane's Witchcraft. Joe Wilson, one of the group, saw an advertisement in Fate magazine for The Pentagram, a short-lived but influential British Witchcraft publication of the mid-1960s . Wilson had already begun to publish his own Craft newsletter, The Waxing Moon, cranked out on a spirit duplicator. In 1965 he advertised it in Fate as a "FREE Witchcraft Newsletter" and also began sending copies to Pentagram publisher Gerald Noel.
Wilson placed an advertisement in The Pentagram's final issue seeking contacts, and Robert Cochrane responded, asking his own questions about the existence of "ley lines" in North America and if Wilson understood "the order of 1734." Wilson and Cochrane never were to meet, as Cochrane would die in 1966. In 1969, however, Wilson did travel to England courtesy of the United States Air Force, which transferred Staff Sergeant Joseph Wilson to RAF Upper Heyford, Oxfordshire. The role of the American military, particularly the Air Force, in the spread of the Craft, has never been fully acknowledged. In Wilson's case, as in a number of others, it was their military assignments that brought them closer to people with whom they needed to connect, whether in the United States or overseas. And in their off-duty hours they made those connections, which in Wilson's case meant meeting several of Cochrane's former coveners.
In the last six months of his life, Cochrane kept up a brisk correspondence with Wilson, for he had decided that the American had "a deep interest in the faith." He offered many insights into his view of the Craft, one that was more mystical than theological. Like many ancient philosophers, Cochrane saw that even the Gods themselves were subject to Fate, "the single name of all Gods." And unlike many modern Witches, Cochrane was not particularly hostile to Christianity but rather saw the story of the Divine Son and his Mother as a different version of his own Old Religion.
Cochrane described his own tradition as hereditary, more a clan or a people than a series of initiates, but one of his letters to Wilson gave his tradition the name it would carry in North America, the "1734 tradition," which was "not the date of an event, but a grouping of numerals that mean something to a 'witch.'"
You cannot trace the precise movement of Cochrane's teachings into the American Craft scene, but his letters to Joe Wilson flowed in underground pathways. Never published (although they are now on the Web at Wilson's www.metista.com site), they were retyped and re-photocopied and, no doubt, at some times their authorship was obscured and they became simply "traditional." They appealed to the creators of the new American Witchcraft because they spoke in hints and in riddles rather than laying down dogma. Sometimes these riddles inspired other riddles, or they became the challenge laid down before new students. Bit of what Cochrane had written were mixed with later material by his students and from other sources to produce a stew of "traditional British Witchcraft" that influenced many North American practitioners in the 1960s and 1970sas well as later. (In addition, attempts were made to contact Cochrane's spirit, an action perfectly in line with ancient magical practice.)
The history of "1734" in North America is complicated, therefore, because it was one of several intermingled threads. While Cochrane's letters to Joe Wilson conveyed a mystical Pagan teaching, they were short on details on physical ritual, coven organization, and the like. Consequently, the "1734" covens in North America tended to borrow from the larger collection of Craft methods"Gardnerian" in the loosest sensecasting circles deosil with invocations of the four quarters, drawing down the Moon, having a Book of Shadows, and so forth. Years later, Wilson himself would accuse some of them of trying to fit Cochrane's tradition in to an ill-fitting mold, but it was the only mold available for most.
Two coven leaders from Los Angeles, Dave and Ann Finnin, took the trouble to make three trips to Britain and meet with several of Cochrane's former coveners, including Evan John Jones, beginning in 1982. Some of their students later followed them. They had already formed their own 1734-inspired coven, The Roebuck, which they now brought into the Clan of Tubal Cain, combining several flavors of Witchcraft practice in the process. "No only were we Americans and a different generation," Ann Finnin said later, "we had advantages [that the former coven] didn't havean equal compliment of women, for one thing. But we did decide to keep to the core practices and philosophy of the Clan as much as we were able to, even when they violated American [Wiccan] principles."
The Roebuck incorporated as a legal church (The Ancient Keltic Church) for tax purposes in California in 1990, and it and its daughter covens make up one of the larger 1734 groups in the area. Others, however, are not organizationally with the Roebuck, but maintain elements of the 1734 tradition.
Covens in the 1734 share a sort of "family feeling" and a collection of predilections that characterize them, even though these practices are not unique in and of themselves. One is a preference for ritual working outdoors, in forests, caves, and on hilltops. One Arizona coven, while not calling themselves part of the 1734 lineage matches Cochrane's own fondness for caving: Aside from a couple of Wiccan mining engineers that I have encountered, they are the only Witches of whom I know who count hard hats, battery-operated head lamps, and such gear among their magical paraphernalia. True, their rituals require additional planning and preparation, some travel, and frequently an overnight campout. But they would tell you that the results are worth it. Taking some extra trouble to get the right location was one of Cochrane's hallmarks.
As this book explains further, this tradition is more of a mystery religion and less of a fertility religion than some varieties of Wicca. It has its celebratory aspects, but its purpose is to do more than mark the turning of the wheel. Making a spirit-connection with the Old Ones and finding the path to the Castle of Rebirth are its chief concerns. Doing so requires attention to trance work (using hypnosis, masking, and other methods) and to the kind of poetic reasoning embodied in Robert Graves's The White Goddess (a book that also fascinated Robert Cochrane although he quarreled with parts of itand who doesn't?)
In my own case, recognition of the "family flavor" came later, for although the first coven I entered in the mid-1970s had a strong 1734 flavor, I did not recognize it for what it was. My high priest and high priestess, like many of the time, were vague and mysterious about their origins as Witches. No doubt they frequently followed the old and honorable tradition of "do it yourself." The covenstead library, however, contained copies of almost all the earliest American Pagan publications: The Witches' Trine, Nemeton, New Broom, Green Egg and others. Perhaps if I had looked in the right place, I might have found photocopies of Cochrane's letters, for they were widely circulated. It was ten years or more later when, learning more of the 1734 tradition, that I saw the "family resemblance." Certain teachings (often contained in riddles), the teaching of Aspecting rather than "drawing down," a certain flavor to ritualthere it was. (Other distinctive bits of the tradition's symbolism, such as the stang and arrows, were missing, however.) That was typical of the way that Cochrane's first teachings had been disseminated and intermingled in the 1960s and 1970s.
Since you are reading this on a website, let me make it clear that there is no "authorized" 1734 tradition. You do not need to be initiated by someone who was initiated by someone who was . . . and so on all the way back. That kind of connection is important to some people, and so they have gone and gotten it, "1734" is larger than that. When Cochrane wrote to Joe Wilson and set the process in motion, he was hoping himself to recover a connection to people whom he viewed as descendents of Traditional Witches that had migrated to American and who might still be practicing a similar form of the Craft. He thought that he had clues as to their whereabouts, but he died without ever crossing the Atlantic to find out.
Now, however, the "1734" family has indeed grown and continues to grow. We never claim to be doing exactly what our ancestors did, and we assume that fifty years from now our practices may have changed again. It is the nature of the path, as Joe Wilson once observed, to be reinterpreted by each person and for its core concepts to be re-expressed: "It is an initiation granted by the Mysteries themselves, not by a human lineage." So there is no official Book of Shadows, no "stud book" showing who initiated whom. If you walk this path, you must first learn to trust yourself. Writers can guide you, but you cross the river alone.
Additional Books and Web Resources http://www.metista.comCo-authored by Joe Wilson, the man responsible for introducing the 1734 tradition to North America, and Tori McElroy, it includes a history of 1734 in America and copies of the Robert Cochrane letters, as well as information on Metista, a new shamanic tradition influenced by Cochrane's witchcraft, Native American/First Nations teachings, and others.
http://members.aol.com/akcroebuckHome page of the Ancient Keltic Church, the incorporated group of California covens prac-ticing their version of the Tubal Cain tradition.
http://www.cyberwitch.com/bowers/This site offers texts of articles written by Robert Cochrane for The Pentagram and New Dimensions in the 1960s, as well as some of his correspondence.
http://www.cyberwitch.com/wychwood/AsheshHekat/Home page to another California-based group of covens partially based on Robert Cochrane's teachings.
http://www.cog.org/wicca/trads/1734.htmlA short history of the "1734" tradition in North America, written by the late Sandy Kopf, high priestess of Coven AsheshHekat. This portion of the Covenant of the Goddess Web site offers summaries of various Witchcraft traditions.
Other books with material on Robert Cochrane, 1734, and Tubal Cain
Justine Glass, Witchcraft: The Sixth Sense (London: Neville Spearman, 1965). Robert Cochrane served as one of this British journalist's main sources. He appears to have deliberately "pulled her leg" on some occasions, such as his claim about the now infamous copper dish shown in one of the photos. He is the "magister" referred to in several chapters.
Ronald Hutton, The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999). "The Man in Black," chapter 16 of this excellent history of modern British Witchcraft provides a detailed description of Cochrane's place in it.
William G. Gray, Western Inner Workings. (York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser, 1983). The ceremonial magician William Gray and Cochrane were friends during the last part of Cochrane's life; we have quoted some of their letters in this book. Gray's approach to ritual was more driven by language whereas Cochrane at times preferred total silence, but they influenced one another none the less.
William G. Gray, Seasonal Occult Rituals (London: Aquarian Press, 1970).
Evan John Jones and Chas S. Clifton. Sacred Mask, Sacred Dance (St. Paul: Llewellyn, 1997). This book brings together a variety of shamanic practices based on the animal forms of the Western Tradition, including a complete coven-based ritual cycle and instructions for mask-making.
Doreen Valiente, The Rebirth of Witchcraft (London: Robert Hale, 1989). The late Doreen Valiente played an important part in the development both of the Gardnerian tradition and of Tubal Cain.
Doreen Valiente and Evan John Jones, Witchcraft: A Tradition Renewed (Custer, Washington: Phoenix Publishing, 1990). Two members of Cochrane's original coven describe some of their experi-ences and lay out a ritual sequence, based on twenty years of experience after Cochrane's death.
Chas S. Clifton
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