I began to see the news of it last night before I went to bed. By the time I woke up this morning, it had been confirmed: Raymond Buckland has died.
I never met Buckland in person, but he’s had a life-long influence one me.
My family is Roman Catholic. In 1983, I was baptised. I was five years old. I wasn’t baptised when I was a baby as is tradition because, in Cuba, religion was seen as incompatible with the government’s Marxist philosophy. So, I was baptised later in the US. Some years later, I attended catechesis, religious education for children.
Every Saturday, my father dropped my mom and me off at the church. We visited my aunty Carlina, who lived a couple of blocks away. She was a terrific cook and always made us lunch. She died some years ago. She took her recipes and a lot of family history with her. She was a generous person who had an interesting and hard life. She is much missed.
The Saturday routine also included a visit to a thrift store across the street from the church. I loved going there and browsing its small selection of second-hand books. One day, I came across a big blue book titled, Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft. I asked my mom to buy it for me and she did.
I always say I was a teenager when I began identifying as Pagan and that’s true, but I searched my photo album for the year of my First Communion (the reason you go to catechesis). It was 1987 and I was five months shy of 10.
I remember reading through Raymond Buckland’s book. I felt like I had stumbled upon an important historical artefact – something true and real and tangible. I wondered how many other people knew this. There were other gods and people who worshipped them? There were priestesses? I was surprised and excited and I felt like I was learning something I wasn’t supposed to. I remember being frightened at the illustrations of the Witches’ Cradle, a sensory deprivation device, and wondering if I would have to do that. There didn’t seem to be a question in my mind about whether Witchcraft was for me.
Buckland’s blue book contains questions and spaces for you to write your answers in. My copy was full of scribbles. I was anal-retentive even then and I used correction fluid to white it all out so I could write my own answers. I don’t know why I didn’t use a separate sheet of paper; I was a kid, but I do wish I hadn’t done that. I also wish I hadn’t gotten rid of that copy. I wish I could look back on it and see the answers of its original owner and of my nine-year-old self.
Years later, in high school, I saw a girl carrying Buckland’s blue book around and calling herself a Wiccan. She liked the attention, being different, being spooky. We disliked each other so I didn’t say anything to her about it. It was a phase for her.
As I said above, I never got to meet Raymond Buckland. In the late 1990s or early 2000s, I was a member of MysticWicks, an online Pagan community. Buckland was a member too and this led to a little bit of private correspondence. I don’t remember what I asked him. Whatever email I used is long gone and I didn’t preserve the messages. I only remember that he always replied and answered my questions and was friendly. I remember feeling a little star-struck. In retrospect, I am honoured and grateful for that little bit of contact.
Raymond Buckland wasn’t just a guy who wrote one book. Born in London, he and his wife Rosemary emigrated to the United States in 1962. They travelled to Scotland and were initiated into Gardnerian Wicca. Back in the US, the Bucklands founded the Long Island Coven, introducing Gardnerian Wicca into the US. In 1968, Buckland created the First Museum of Witchcraft and Magick in the United States. In the 1970s, Buckland formed his own Wiccan tradition, Seax-Wica.
Buckland published over 50 books on Witchcraft, magick, and divination (as well as fiction). His work has been translated into 17 different languages. His big blue book, published in 1986, is in its 13th printing. It has been one of the most influential books on Witchcraft. It’s the book that put me on the path.
I extend my condolences to Buckland’s family and friends and to his many unofficial students who were touched by work and magick. May he rest in peace. What is remembered lives.