Some Historical Context for the Several Traditions Who Use the Term “Dianic”
By Kerry Noonan, PhD
In the mid-twentieth century, there were various books and ideas circulating (some accepted by scholars of the time and others not) that formed a matrix of ideas that strongly influenced the people who became the founders of various traditions of Modern Witchcraft. Among these were the 1899 book Aradia: Gospel of the Witches by Charles Leland, and the books and encyclopedia articles by Margaret Murray (1920s – 1960s), on what she called the “witch cult” of Europe. From Leland we get the idea that the goddess Diana was “queen of all the witches” and that she was the creator of the universe, and that these beliefs had persisted, underground, up till the time of Leland’s writing. From Murray we get the idea that the witch trials in the 16th – 18th centuries did indeed target practitioners of a surviving pagan religion that predated Christianity. The writings of both Leland and Murray have been criticized in the late 20th to early 21st centuries, and most of what they wrote is no longer accepted as factual. However, these ideas, as well as the 19th century James Frazer’s The Golden Bough and the 20th century Robert Graves’ The White Goddess, along with other influences, were the elements that Gerald Gardner, Alex Sanders, Doreen Valiente, Dion Fortune, Raymond Buckland, and others drew upon as they created strands of what we now call Modern Witchcraft. In the 1970s and 1980s, there were also feminist authors attempting to take a new look at history and archaeology through a feminist lens, such as art historian Merlin Stone and archaeologist Maria Gimbutas, along with the “rediscovery” of 19th century works by classicist Jane Ellen Harrison and activist Matilda Joseyln Gage, to create new narratives about the position of goddesses and women in antiquity, influencing practitioners of many types of modern witchcraft as well as the broader Goddess Spirituality movement. From this creative “stew,” three separate traditions arose that were each called “Dianic Witchcraft.”
Why “Diana?” Partly because some of the 16th – 17th century witch hunt inquisitors drew upon folk traditions and their own classical learning about Diana, and so emphasized Diana in their writings about witches and those accused in the witch trials. In addition, Leland had claimed Diana was the goddess of the witches in his influential book. Also, young girls had grown up learning Roman myths in their education and saw Diana as a role model for independent women. Plus, 20th centry writers basing their ideas on the works of Murray, Leland, and other such authors had popularized the centrality of Diana to witches.
In 1971 in Los Angeles, CA, Z Budapest and a circle of women formed the Susan B Anthony Coven #1, beginning a separatist tradition centered on women, adopting and adapting some techniques and formats from Gardner and other witchcraft traditions around at the time, as well as techniques used by feminist creative protest movements, and incorporating some other feminist practices. Their practice notably differed from other traditions of Modern Witchcraft in honoring only the Goddess, as part of a feminist reclaiming of religion by and for women.
Also in 1971, in TX, Morgan McFarland (1941 – 2015), who had been a solitary practitioner, met Mark Roberts, who had been involved in the occult and Modern Witchcraft scenes, and he introduced her to the ideas of Murray and other writers. They formed what they called Dianic Witchcraft (sometimes also called Dianic Faerie Faith Tradition), infused with McFarland’s feminism and centered on the honoring of Diana, in co-gendered covens of women and men, in an oath-bound format led by a high priestess. Their original organization, “The Covenstead of Morrigana” had three groups: one was women-only, one was mixed-gender, and one was for families with children. Z Budapest met Morgan McFarland in Texas, sometime in the mid 1970s and was impressed by the feminist-influenced witchcraft practice she had created, finding that McFarland’s ideas had much in common with Z’s own. According to McFarland, it was after this that Z began calling her own tradition “Dianic Witchcraft,” as well, recognizing the similarities in a feminist focus on the Goddess. In that pre-internet age, there was not at first a problem with these two different traditions both being called “Dianic.” However, Z’s tradition had spread like wildfire through women’s festivals, and the workshops and rituals she held at feminist and pagan events, and so in 1999, the tradition created in Texas by McFarland became known as “McFarland Dianic Witchcraft,” to differentiate it from the woman-only tradition being taught by Z Budapest and the women she had trained and ordained.
Meanwhile, in the late 1960s, a solo practitioner in New York named Marion Weinstein (1939 – 2009) created what she called “Earth Magic Dianic Tradition,” honoring her lifelong dedication to the goddess Diana; she became well-known as the host of a New York radio show “Marion’s Cauldron.” In 1978 she published Positive Magic, and in 1979 Earth Magic: A Dianic Book of Shadows. Interestingly, 1979 was the same year that Z published her first Feminist Book of Light and Shadows (later revised as The Holy Book of Women’s Mysteries), and Starhawk (creator of another form of co-gendered feminist witchcraft now called Reclaiming) published The Spiral Dance, and Margot Adler published the first ethnographic account of the growing Pagan movement, Drawing Down the Moon. Influenced by the same matrix of influences from the 19th to the mid 20th century listed above, Weinstein created a tradition that honored 5 deities: three goddesses (Diana, Selene, Hecate) and two gods (Pan, Kernunnos); she wrote several more books and performed on stage as well as hosting another radio show on Voice of America. Again, due to the growing public awareness of Z’s Dianic Tradition, she changed her book title in 2008, removing the word “Dianic,” retitling it Earth Magic: A Book of Shadows for Positive Witches.
Of these three well-known traditions who all claim the title “Dianic,” Z’s female-only/Goddess-only version has become the most widely known, and for most people this is the form they think of when they encounter the term “Dianic Witchcraft.” Those who practice other forms of modern witchcraft called “Dianic” have, for decades now, worked to make it clear that they are not in Z’s lineage or practicing/teaching Z’s feminist, separatist, Goddess-only form of witchcraft – which is the form most people today think is being referred to when they hear/read “Dianic Witchcraft.”
Since the early 1980s, after Z Budapest ordained Ruth Barret and passed the original Los Angeles coven on to her, Ruth has incorporated practices from her own earlier study with Shekinah Mountainwater (such as Shekhinah’s focus on women’s blood mysteries) into the Dianic Witchcraft she practices and teaches, along with her own innovations and those of women with whom she has practiced over the years; unlike many other forms of modern witchcraft (like Gardnerian, etc.), Dianic Witchcraft in Z’s lineage has always included a central role for improvisation and innovation, to meet women’s needs, as well as some practices that have become “traditional” over time, so the practices of covens and groves of Z’s Dianic Witchcraft can be quite different from each other, while holding to some key core ideas, which include holding rituals and classes for women-born women only, in Dianic ritual and practice honoring the Goddess only (in Her many forms), sacralizing women’s life experiences, a commitment to feminism, etc. Many Dianics also practice other forms of Modern Witchcraft or Paganism in addition to their Dianic practice; while those other paths might inform their own Dianic rituals, and their Dianic work might inform how they practice in those other paths, in their Dianic practice they adhere to the core ideas listed above.