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The Roebuck





The Roebuck Tradition

by Ann Finnin and Dave Finnin

In this essay, we have taken on the rather formidable task of briefly outlining the elements of our tradition, how it came  about and how it relates to  both the Ancient Keltic Church and the Roebuck daughter covens. Much of it we have kept under wraps for much of our past years for reasons which we will outline in a moment. Throughout history,  there have been good reasons why mystery  traditions were kept secret from outsiders. However, it is also necessary at some point to elucidate these mysteries to those who wish to become involved with them so that they know  precisely what they are letting themselves in for.

The  main elements of mystery traditions are that they promote the personal magical and spiritual growth of the individual, regardless of gender. They are geared for those  men and women who wish to transcend the herd mentality, and the gender roles  that go with it, and develop as individual souls. And while men and women will take a different approach to this process, the process itself, the  overcoming of fate and individual empowerment, remains the same for both.

When we founded the  Roebuck in 1976, our express purpose was to rediscover and, hopefully, reconstruct such a mystery tradition that would fit  within the context of modern Wicca. This turned out to be a very daunting task. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, there  was literally nothing written on paganism other than lurid books on "Witchcraft" which  included little more than spell-casting and scripts for festival rituals. While this fit in to the reconstruction of Wicca as a  "pre-Christian fertility religion," it did us little good in our quest for the pagan  mysteries. Other books on mysticism, even Celtic and so-called "Druidic" mysticism, were either Christian or heavily Theosophical in  nature. Ceremonial Magical systems were also Judeo-Christian and overtly  monotheistic. Books on the mystery traditions of the Greeks and Romans were more helpful, but lacking in cultural definition.

Then we discovered the Bowers material.  In brief, Roy Bowers (also known as Robert Cochrane) was  a self-described witch, blacksmith, mystic and poet who lived in England during the 1960s. He published no books like Gerald Gardner but, up until his tragic and untimely death in 1966,  he wrote voluminous letters and  magazine articles which described a mystery tradition which went beyond the "eye-of-newt" form of the Craft described by Gardner. The purpose of this mystery tradition was to find the secret name of,  and thereby  commune with, the dark or wisdom aspect of the Goddess and thereby transcend one's own fate. Using the imagery in The White Goddessby Robert Graves, Roy hinted that this secret name was contained in a glyph made up of  four  numbers: 1, 7, 3 and 4. By solving the riddle of "1734," one could discover the nature of this Dark Goddess and enlisting Her aid in mastering one's own spiritual destiny. This, and not dancing naked around a  tree, was the Craft of  the Wise.

Bowers' writings, limited as they were to newsletters and personal correspondence, would have stayed in England save for one happy circumstance. In 1965, an American named Joe Wilson put an  ad in one of the newsletters that Bowers  wrote for asking for correspondence about the craft. For some reason, Bowers decided to answer the ad and he and Joe corresponded until his death. Joe Wilson later went to England in  1972 and tried to find the people who had known Roy, but met  with limited success. Upon his return, he began to circulate the material now known as the Bowers Letters(consisting of the original letters Roy wrote to him  along with some letters to a man named Norman and some other bits and pieces  of lore) among his own students in an attempt to work the magic that Roy had taught. The Bowers Letters eventually became the secret text of a mysterious "pseudo-tradition" that became known as "1734" which presented itself as a mystical alternative to standard Gardnerian Wicca.

We happened to be two of the  people who  worked with Joe Wilson during those years. We received a copy of the Bowers material in 1975 and armed with that and The White Goddess, began our own reconstruction -- an effort which culminated in the  Roebuck tradition. Since  "1734" was based on visions and personal experiences with the gods, we first had to learn the various methods of trance state induction. Since I was in graduate school studying experimental  psychology at the time, I employed some of  the methods I was learning in my classes, such as autohypnosis and guided imagery, in our circle work. However, there was one key element that continued to elude us. In the Bowers Letters, Roy refers to a ritual called "approaching  the altar." He waxes very eloquent about the benefits and uses of this ritual but fails to tell precisely how it is performed. About ten years of effort  went into trying out varying ways of performing this ritual. All efforts failed.  There was only one thing to do -- go to England ourselves and make our own attempt to find the people who had worked with Roy.

To make a long  story very short, we took a shot in the dark and wrote to a man named Bill Gray who had been  famous for his books on Cabala and Ceremonial Magic. It was a long shot. In his books, Bill had been very critical of the Craft,  particularly the Gardnerian variety. However one of his books called The Rollright Ritual (now reprinted under the name By Standing Stone and Elder Tree) seemed more like what we were seeking. It turned out that Bill  had not only known Roy but had worked with and corresponded extensively with him on numerous occasions. He  gave us copies of letters Roy had written to him and, most important, the name and address of the man who had been in  Roy's group in the 1960s. One thing led to another and we began our apprenticeship with Evan John Jones (author of Witchcraft, a Tradition Renewed). We finally learned the proper ritual technique and were adopted into the  Clan of Tubal Cain, which was the name of Roy's old group.

For the next several years, we experimented with this ritual,  eventually bringing in selected members of the Roebuck into what became the American branch of the  Clan of Tubal Cain. Eventually, the Clan became the core of the Roebuck and its members dedicated to preserving this ritual, and the lore  surrounding it, in the form in which we originally learned it. This ritual constitutes  the plug into the wall socket which carries the power of the Otherworld to the entire Roebuck, and those who are oathbound to guard it do not take their  task lightly. And while not everyone in the Roebuck, the various  daughter groups or the Ancient Keltic Church, is called to this task, it might be useful to everyone who works with us to know the source of the immense power that they often  feel in our circles.

The Ancient Keltic Church,  which came into being in December of 1989, is the result of an attempt to incorporate the Roebuck into a form that could possibly fit the Internal Revenue Service's criteria of a  "church." Gradually, it is taking on  the form that many mystery schools of the post-Roman era had. It has a group of people who attend its open festivals, it has a smaller group of devotees who choose to receive instruction in order  to learn more about the  mysteries, it has an Initiate priesthood that serves those who come to the rites by running rituals, teaching classes and giving oracles, and it has a core group of people who have dedicated their entire spiritual lives  to  guarding the rites against those who would dilute or corrupt them.

That, in a nutshell, is who and what we are. We seek to serve the greater pagan community by showing them that there is more to paganism than fertility rites  even though,  as it was in times past, most people are more interested in attending the rituals which will enhance their everyday lives (the "sabbat-go-to-meeting" pagans) rather than dedicating themselves to the  discipline of personal  enlightenment and transformation. That path has always been and will continue to be a path trod by the few rather than the many. However, providing it for those few is our reason for being.

written by Ann Finnin and David Finnin
updated: December 1, 1997
document ROEBTRAD © 1997 Ann Finnin and David Finnin

 Here are some other things to look at:

A brief history of the Ancient Keltic Church and the Roebuck Tradition.
Common misconceptions and our responses concerning the Roebuck Tradition
Contact information, for Ancient Keltic Church and Roebuck study groups, covens  and newsletters in North America.

You may return to:

The index of English Traditions of the Craft.
The Beaufort House home page.