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Article ID: 14615

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Section: words

Age Group: Adult

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Working with Cunningham

Author: Heather Belt
Posted: June 26th. 2011
Times Viewed: 3,353

I was introduced to the works of Scott Cunningham when I was fourteen years old. It would be my guess that the majority of Pagans know or have read his books, especially the book, Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner. This is the first book my mother brought home when she first learned about a religion called Wicca. Flipping through the pages felt like a huge responsibility… a responsibility I didn’t quite know whether or not I was ready to accept. To a fourteen year old the information was disorienting. I remember thinking to myself that this was a book meant for intelligent people. Little did I know I was right because all pagans are very intelligent people indeed!

The spells and chants towards the end of the book were what first caught my interest. Ones I would come to remember and rely on until the present. My mother and father were very liberal and I watched as my mother grew in leaps and bounds from Cunningham’s guidance. Daily rituals became a normal part of her routine and everything seemed to get better. My mother struggled for years with depression and addiction until her death four years ago. Discovering Scott’s book brought peace and balance that hadn’t been felt in a long time in my often-turbulent home life. But as things often do, Scott’s works got mired down in everyday happenings, and even though his lessons were ones we held on to in day-to-day life, actively practicing the religion slowly faded into the background. I would flip through his book from time to time and even expressed to my friends my new interests, but I was still quite lost as what to do with all of this information or what it meant for my life. All I knew was that when I gazed up at the moon on clear dark nights I felt that something bigger than everything I had come to know existed and was waiting for me in the distance.

In my late teens, living out on my own, I discovered Scott again. I ran across the exact book my mother had brought home at a local bookstore and purchased it for myself. This time the information became a bit clearer, but not crystal. My focus shifted from the spells and chant to the runes. I was very drawn to the power these symbols possessed and felt that I had come across an invaluable tool that I could use to help make my life better. I went through an identity crisis a year later and begin to reject everything I was learning partly due to pressure of certain people in my life who thought what I was learning was dangerous. In a moment of haste I threw away everything that had to do with Wicca or paganism, including Scott’s book. Looking back at that time in my life I guess I was confused as to what I was learning on my own and the beliefs of my friends and family. I thought something was wrong with me for my inability to belief that you live, you die and then you are either welcomed into the arms of a loving and merciful God or you perish in the pits of a fiery hell for your defiance and betrayal. At the same time, however, I always felt as if I were different. Different in ways that were hard to comprehend, let alone, explain to intolerant ears.

A few more years passed by. I continued forward into my adult hood. In 2005 I moved into an apartment and for reasons still unknown to me something pulled me towards the lessons for my childhood and teenage years. I was getting ready to graduate college and was discovering independence that I had never had before. I felt an urge to walk towards my previously followed path and began to practice what I call low magic. I started collecting herbs and candles. Without any instruction or guidance I would use them, chanting what I remembered from Scott’s book. I met a new friend that same year who was as interested in the Occult as I was. That meeting would prove life changing. And from that moment one I begin to piece together, through various sources and chance meetings, the lessons I once found so elusive and intimidating. A new age store opened in our small town and I began to frequent it. I was finally able obtain the tangibility of the tools I had once read about in the pages of Scott’s book. This, I believe, is what finally brought everything full circle. Then one day, while drudging through a bin of used books, there it was, Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner. I felt like I had found a lost friend and my heart opened in abundance and love. I smiled and quickly gathered the book up for purchase.

This time, again flipping through the pages, I felt a wave of energy and spirituality that I had never known. This energy still lingers with me today whenever I think back to that time in my life. This time the material was finally beginning to make sense. And even though I was learning and growing on my path as a pagan, as many of us experience, an overload of information became so consuming at times, I couldn’t tell which direction I belonged. I delved in to every nook and cranny of paganism you can imagine. I studied all of the religions under paganism until I was as exhausted and confused as when I first began my journey. During this time Scott kept me on track. I would always come back to that first book for guidance and comfort.

During the winter of 2007 I lost my mother to her addictions. Right before she left us I visited with her and explained how I was changing. As always she was open and accepting. We have even batted around the idea of opening a new age store later in the year. I was riding high in the clouds right before her death and was in a good place spiritually. My mother’s death threw me down a dark spiral of loneliness, decay and addictions of my own that continued for a few years. Sometime later, while picking through the remains of my mother’s life, what should I discover, but Scott Cunningham’s second book, Living Wicca: A Further Guide for the Solitary Practitioner. I don’t know how long she had possessed the book, but I felt like I had just found a hidden treasure. I never knew there as a second book or more books, for that matter. I realized that I had no idea who Scott Cunningham was.

I began to reach out and try to gather as much information as I could about his life. I began collecting each of his books. At the time, not having ready access to a computer, my knowledge was limited to his books and what pieces I could glean from them. I knew he had died at a fairly young age after a long illness, as it is always written, but I could discover nothing more. I didn’t understand why, at the time, I was so drawn to Scott, not only as an author, but also as a person. Taking in all the information like a sponge, I clung to Scott and his books during my darkest hours, finding hope and promise for my life in the pages. I learned lessons from Scott about the type of person and witch I wanted to be. Scott stood by me when the world was dark and I had no other place to turn to. He kept telling me to be strong and wise.

I began to unravel the mysteries of Scott’s life and how he had lived it. And during that same time, only a few years later, my best friend of over twenty years was diagnosed with the same illness the helped take Scott’s life. Initially, a panic washed over me. And it was in this time that Scott again came to my rescue. I began to commune with Scott Cunningham’s spirit. He told me that it was too early to start mourning the death of my friend, but it was instead a time to begin really living life with him. Right after my friend was diagnosed I made the long 1, 000 mile journey to see him and be by his side. During the visit, while at a bookstore, again appeared my faithful and constant companion, Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner. Only this time I purchased it not for myself, but for my friend. And within the pages of Scott’s book my friend began his spiritual journey. He too found the solace and comfort I had come to know from Scott’s works.

At times it would saddened me that Scott would never be able to contribute more than he already had. One auspicious day out in town my eye caught something curious upon the shelves. What should I happen to stumble across but a new book called, Cunningham's Book of Shadows: The Path of An American Traditionalist. This warm glow of excitement washed over me as I snatched up the book and ran home to begin reading it. What touched me most of all was the epilogue and story contributed by Scott’s sister. I remember upon first reading it, I began to cry. It was so touching and full of warmth. I felt really connected to Scott’s spirit and who he was as a person and witch. I admit I have probably now read it over a hundred times total. I feel privileged and honored to be privy to such personal work and words, not only from Scott, but also from the people who knew him best and loved him so fiercely.

It is because of Scott’s books and how he lived his life that I am proud to call myself a witch. I find no shame or stigma in the term. It is with deep confidence and great strength that I tell people what my religion is and who I am. A lot of my attitude today is derived from the security and self-esteem I gained from being a pupil of Scott. Without Scott’s guiding hand I’m not sure where I would have ended up, spiritually or in life. He is an American Traditionalist in every sense of the word as it correlates to his religious teachings and personal path. While some are skeptical about calling him this, I believe he is truly the father of modern day American Wicca and I believe that as time goes more people will agree that he not only deserves this title, but has earned it. I’m sure my mother would agree!

And even though I will never know Scott, personally, I feel his energy and know that it continues on today in the lives of all who revere him.

Copyright: This article and its contents are the sole property of Heather S. Douglas 2011


Heather Belt

Location: Charlotte, North Carolina

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