Mohsian Tradition of Wicca
Article ID: 13319
Age Group: Adult
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Author: Dana Corby
Posted: May 17th. 2009
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Traditions and Paths: Mohsian
By Dana Corby, Senior HPS
(Written Yule, 2001, updated 2008)
The Mohsian Tradition of Wicca was founded in the early 1960’s by Bill and Helen Mohs.
In about 1960, Bill and Helen were experimenting with a Oija board and began getting messages from an entity calling itself Pan, who told them that they were to find and bring together “my people.” Completely ignorant of mythology, they went to the library and were astonished to learn that they had been contacted by one of the Old Gods. They began searching for people who could teach them, a search that took them throughout the Midwest and eventually to California. They made friends and acquired information wherever they went – Crafters shared freely in those days.
It was not customary at that time for Craft groups to have names or consider themselves a “tradition, ” but when it became necessary to call themselves something, they used American Eclectic Traditional Wicca. (Not related to the American Traditional Wicca based in Hawaii and best known as the home of Scott Cunningham) . Within a few years of its inception, members and friends of Bill and Helen’s group were jokingly calling it “Mohsian” and this is the name that stuck. Their home coven, Pan’s Garden, is known to have existed by 1964.
Mohsian is comprised of many threads from British Traditional and other sources. Much of our ritual is derived from early (pre-U.S.) Gardnerian and Alexandrian, with some of the loveliest passages from a British Celtic (Pagan, not Wiccan) tradition called Y Plant Bran. Many of the spells and rituals we ‘own’ were given to Bill and Helen by Joe Wilson, founder of the 1734 Tradition. Another interesting source is the Boread Tradition as transmitted by Thomas Giles, and there’s even a snippet from NROOGD, used with the permission of one of its founders. As with all older Books of Shadows, quite a lot of unattributed material, both published and unpublished, found its way in; we have done considerable research to find the sources of as much as possible and attribute it correctly. Mohsian is recognized as British Traditional by the New Wiccan Church International and is listed as such on the Beaufort House web site (see below) though the site is incorrect as to some dates and details.
At Yule of 1971, Pan’s Garden was invited to Circle with Lady Sara Cunningham’s (also no relation to Scott) First Church of Tiphareth, of which I was a neophyte member, in Pasadena, California. There I met Brad and Marla*, later to become my initiators. Through me, some of Lady Sara’s teachings also found their way into the Mohsian Tradition as it is now practiced, specifically some of the Quarter symbols and the way we use the athamé.
(* Following the Traditional custom of not revealing others’ names, these and all following names except my own and my HP are disguised.)
Brad and Marla were initiates into both Mohsian and Gardnerian. They hived to form their own coven, Corax, shortly after I met them. We reconnected through third parties in the Bay area about 18 months later and before long I and my then-partner were initiated into Corax. They taught that living the Witch’s life was much more than just knowing and practicing a set of rituals, it was a matter of turning all you do into an expression of your Craft. They believed that it was important to know your local native plant and animal species, and nature hikes were a big part of coven life; Marla knew all the plant names and what they were for. Both of them loved all animals and glimpsing a shy native creature like the local Yellow Weasel could be cause for celebration. Writing, art, music, gardening, even knowing how to make your own home repairs, all were seen as part of being a Witch. These teachings have become part of Mohsian lore and would later serve me well.
About a year later the coven abruptly dissolved: Brad and Marla’s neighbors learned they were Witches and mounted a year-long harassment campaign that culminated in a barrage of rocks through the front window as a gang of teens stormed their back door. Thank the Gods no one was hurt, but they didn’t have to be told twice. The For Sale sign went up, they gave us our 2nd degree initiations, handed us the rest of the core BoS, and took off to live their dream in a cabin in the woods. They’re still there, and while no longer very active in the Tradition, do host the occasional “family reunion.”
What follows next seems like a lot of personal stuff about me, but it’s important to the evolution of the Tradition.
Through the usual Pagan relationship permutations I wound up married and by 1979 was living in Boise, Idaho, where my husband John and I formed Hy Breasal Coven. Also through the usual Pagan relationship permutations, we broke up and he remarried, to our Coven Maiden Christy. They moved to Phoenix Arizona. I remained behind, and practiced for a while with our talented 1stº male, Aaron, acting as Priest. While today it would be taken for granted that a priest of his caliber would be elevated, in 1981 it was not.
Until this time, I had believed what I was taught, what we ALL had been taught, that Gays had something wrong with them, that they really didn’t belong in a fertility religion, and that the highest degree they could aspire to was first. After months of working with Aaron, I came to the conclusion that this was the finest Priest I’d ever worked with, that what I’d been taught was obviously wrong, and that if I didn’t give him his well-deserved elevation I was a hypocrite. After a year or so, he moved to Madison, Wisconsin, to attend the university. As 2ndºs are empowered to form their own covens and initiate, he formed a Mohsian coven there.
During all this time, I had little or no contact with anyone outside Boise. The Internet was still restricted to the military and anyway, the new ‘small’ computers were the size of a dishwasher. We wrote letters, we subscribed to the Pagan press, and now and then when we could afford it we made a long distance phone call. Be glad things have changed, because those tales of fundamentalists in the Post Office ‘losing’ Pagan mail were true. I was a victim of it. My letters didn’t get answered. I’d subscribe to a Pagan magazine, get one issue and never another. Eventually my mail was completely cut off (even bills!) and the Postmaster refused to restore it until I complained to my Congressman.
I was completely cut off from the Wiccan world and thought for a long time that I’d been ostracized. I was lonely, frightened, utterly miserable.
Best thing that ever happened to me or to the Mohsian Tradition.
Because of my ‘exile’ years, the Mohsian tradition still exists in essentially the same form as it did nearly forty years ago. Self-reliance, creativity, study and independent thinking are hallmarks of the Tradition. Mohsians find being called “Lady” or “Lord” a bit too grand, and just go by our Craft names sans title. Though all existing Mohsian covens derive from me, I style myself only Senior HPS, not “Queen.” I encourage whoever succeeds me to do likewise.
Meanwhile, in Phoenix, John and a lady called Eilidh, a 3rd in both Myjestic and Gwyddonic, cross-initiated and formed their own Mohsian coven, Coven of Danu. Their take on Mohsian is different from the version I’ve passed on personally, reflecting its founders’ different interests. While in recent years its teachings have begun to diverge more and more from the Mohsian norm, this is the oldest continuously-existing Mohsian coven, no small feat!
Later the coven split, with John and Christy forming Oaks of Danu Coven and Eilidh staying with Coven of Danu and taking a new HP. When the leaders of Oaks of Danu later moved, the Coven passed to new leadership, and later dissolved. Eilidh moved with her consort back to California, and the California Mohsian covens descend through them.
In 1985 I came to the Pacific Northwest and back into a radically changed Wiccan world. Starhawk had hit the Pagan scene like a bomb not long before I’d left for Boise; she and others had written books saying you didn’t need covens or teachers and now there were all these people running around “reclaiming” this and that and calling themselves Wiccan despite the fact they were not initiated as I understood it. This took some getting used to. So did the new exclusivity from Trad to Trad. Yet among the changes were some that transformed the Craft for the better: a Pagan anti-defamation movement that was making real strides in the courts, more accountability for unethical “leaders, ” and best of all, the Internet. Being a Witch could still be a struggle, but nobody had to struggle alone any more.
In 1988, Aaron left Madison and came to join me. We began working together again, and in time developed a radical and more ceremonious offshoot from Mohsian we called the Wiccan Order of the Northern Lights. Envisioned as an order of chivalry as well as a priesthood, it honors both the Tuatha De Dannaan and the Vanir. It subscribes to the belief, based on linguistic and other evidence, that the two pantheons are essentially the same, and in particular that Vana and Dana are the same, primal Goddess.
Pagan relationships permuted again, and we both simultaneously found our True Love. Aaron and his love are living in the Cascade foothills and running their Tradition. My husband Finn and I opted to return to our roots and began a Mohsian coven; by now we have two local daughter covens and a ‘spin-off’ in the Puget Sound region, each with its own daughter coven (s) .
In 1992 I made contact with the California Mohsians and we continue to share ideas, information, and fellowship, and to ‘perfect the rites.’ The Coven of Danu for the most part prefers to keep to themselves, but some of their initiates and a daughter coven are active in the Tradition as a whole.
Bill Mohs passed over, apparently from a brain tumor, in 1981. Helen was last believed to be living in Southern California but we have been unable to establish contact with her. Bill’s second wife has been in contact with us and has provided missing pieces of the BoS, as has Marla. Others have provided precious historical material not part of the BOS. We see ourselves at this point as reaching both backwards and forwards to retrieve what has been lost and bring it with us into the future.
As a British tradition, Mohsian subscribes to belief in the Triple Goddess and the Dual God; most of us independently came to worship Them under the same Names, which we do not reveal to outsiders. In common with other British Traditional Witches, we hold our Book of Shadows to be oathbound. We honor both ancestral and local spirits under many names and in many guises. We follow the Wheel of the Year. We possess the Ordains, cherish the Rede and follow the Law of Three-Fold Return. As an older Trad, however, we also say that, “No one keeps a Witch’s conscience.” If an initiate comes to believe that the Greater Good is best served by personal violation of the Rede or Law, they are free to do so and take whatever karmic lumps they deserve.
The connection to the local natural environment remains at the core of Mohsian. Most of us have a special closeness for our local tree species. Some of us are also drawn to the local stones, many are into wildcrafting and herbalism, and a few are actively involved in tracing forgotten Ley lines.
Role of clergy:
Not all Wiccans are comfortable with the term ‘clergy’ or agree that it applies to us. We are an initiatory priesthood that may or may not function as clergy. The role each initiate chooses to take up is their decision. Teaching and sharing of knowledge is mandated, as is working to improve the ritual and strengthen the Tradition. Beyond that, very little is either required or forbidden. Some initiates prefer to remain in the shadows, unknown to the outside world as a Witch. Some, like your extroverted servant here, are quite public, and are involved not only in Coven and Trad, but in serving the Pagan Community and sometimes the broader community in the capacities of educator, organizer, healer, hospital chaplain, or interfaith contact. Ethics are of the highest importance in our dealings with each other and with others outside the Tradition.
The Priestess “rules” the coven, though we prefer to lead by exemplar rather than to rule as such. Again, this varies according to the personality of each priestess.
The priest’s primary duties are to support the priestess and protect the Tradition. There are some significant differences between the functions and regalia of most Brit-Trad priests and that of a Mohsian. Research seems to point to Alfred Watkins’ The Old Straight Track as a likely source.
Organization of groups:
The Mohsian Tradition is comprised of autonomous covens, each led by a High Priestess and High Priest. While we network among ourselves, there is no mechanism to enforce “orthodoxy” and no requirement for coven leaders to report upline. Practice and policy varies from coven to coven, but most, members love the Tradition deeply and make an effort to preserve it.
As a British Tradition, Mohsian is a three-degree system but under certain circumstances it is permissible to hive off at 2ndº under the supervision of the HPS and/or Elders of the mother coven. I’m in the minority in this, but I believe that the best way to attain 3rdº is to live the role for a while by running a coven.
Sabbats and Esbats:
The Mohsian Tradition celebrates the Full Moon and some Mohsian covens also gather at the Dark or New Moon. I can’t speak for other Mohsian covens in this regard, but in my covens we’ve always chosen to “go by the book” on the Cross Quarters and create our own rituals on the Quarter Sabbats, the Solstices and Equinoxes. We consider this having the best of both worlds as we alternate reaffirming our traditions with the freedom to create and explore.
Ways of worship:
Because of the traditional coven autonomy, Mohsians worship in many different ways. Speaking for my coven and its daughters, we
· Initiate cross-gender, observing at least the traditional year and a day from Dedication to Initiation unless the postulant has prior experience in a related tradition;
· Invoke for possession at the Full Moons and other occasions;
· Position the altar in the center and orient the North for Sabbats and to the East, the place of the rising Moon, for Esbats;
· Move deosil almost exclusively;
· Go robed or skyclad depending on the climate;
· Extemporize most invocations.
Mohsians also laugh a lot, hug a lot, and make a lot of truly dreadful puns. Some of our most successful spells and rituals over the years have been based on puns or jokes – whatever liberates the energy.
A Mohsian ritual will be recognizable as British Traditional in origin, yet will have its own unique energy and rhythm, a poetry all its own.
May the Gods preserve the Craft, and may the Craft preserve the Gods!
Reading and other references:
· Beaufort House Index of British Traditions: http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/5756/tradlist.html
Mohsian definition written by HPS Season
· New Wiccan Church International : http://www.newwiccanchurch.com/
· Drawing Down the Moon
Margot Adler (1st Edition, 1979) Viking Press -- Photo section between pages 170 and 171
³ Seventh Page, bottom, first row of audience from left: Mohsians Hugin, Brad, myself, and Marla with son Aengus.
· Keepers of the Flame, Interviews with Elders of Traditional Witchcraft in America
Morgana Davies and Aradia Lynch, Olympian Press, 2001, Pages 45 – 51 and throughout Part II.
· Articles by or about Dana Corby:
· "Harry Potter and the Cuckoo's Egg"
· Article: "Who Was Mabon?"
· Article: "In the Big Rock Candy Coven"
· Interview by Amanda Silvers: "Stepping Into the Darkness"
Copyright: Copyright 2008 Dana Corby
Location: Anderson Island, Washington
Author's Profile: To learn more about Dana Corby - Click HERE
Bio: C.V.: Dana Corby, Senior HPS, Mohsian Tradition
Memberships & Positions:
* High Priestess, Moon Tree Coven
* Senior High Priestess, Mohsian Tradition of Wicca
* Founding Priestess, Wiccan Order of the Northern Lights
* Co-Founder & former Director, Tacoma Earth Religions
* Bard, Reformed Druids of North America
* Companion, Ancient Order of Druids in America
Dana is known to many in the Pagan world as the female vocalist and dulcimer player on Gwydion Pendderwen's 1975 'Songs for the Old Religion.' She the senior-most practicing High Priestess of the Mohsian Tradition, with all its existing covens descending from her.
With her husband & High Priest, Darrell Robyn, Dana helped found the Tacoma Earth Religions Revival Association, a Wiccan/Pagan community-building organization in Pierce County, Washington. In September of 2003, members of TERRA nominated her for Puget Sound Inspirational Woman of the Year. While retired from public life, Dana and Darrell remain vitally interested in the progress and well-being of the Tacoma Pagan Community, and continue to practice the Mohsian Tradition.
In her mundane life, Dana is a copy editor living on an island in Puget Sound and trying desperately to keep the deer from eating her herb garden.
You can reach Dana at email@example.com
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