The Village Witch
Martello's Weird Ways of Witchcraft--a review of the new edition
Weird Ways of Witchcraft by Dr. Leo Louis Martello; reprint of the 1969 original, with Foreword by Rev. Lori Bruno; Weiser Books, 2011
cover of the new edition
I had forgotten how beautiful Leo Martello was. I never knew him, but remember the photos of him with flowing raven locks and a beard to match, dressed in a Renaissance tunic, a cape thrown carelessly across his shoulders.
He wrote “The Witch Manifesto” (which is included in this volume), staged a Witch-In in Central Park in the early 70s, was at Stonewall. He was one of the founders of WADL-- the Witches Anti-Defamation League--and was a media darling in his time. Yet when he died in 2000, his contribution to the modern Pagan movement was already dimming in our collective memory. How smart of Weiser to republish this book to remind those who need reminding and to educate those who need that.
What heady days the 70s were! Everyone was looking for freedom—gender, ethnicity and culture all came into glorious play. There were angry and righteous movements throughout the land, some having regained their footing from the 1960s. AIM, the Panthers Black and Gray, Women’s Lib—the list is long and now sad to see. So many groups fought for basic rights—rights that would ultimately have to be fought for again and again. It takes only a cursory look to see that today’s political landscape contains the same needs, the same furies.
It is sometimes hard to see how far we’ve come as a community and as a family of spiritual movements, when there is still so much work to be done. The book is filled with ideas that have long been accepted parts of the modern Pagan movements—reincarnation, karma, astrology—but they were fresh on the American scene then and intriguing to many.
cover of the original edition
Martello interviews three witches in Chapter 7 and their stories are fascinating and somehow familiar. No, it’s not anyone you’ve heard of today—in fact, two of the interviewees don’t give their names at all. These are three people who are sharing their lives with a charismatic and curious young man. There is a refreshing lack of judgment about what they do or don’t do—Martello is having a conversation with people who believe as he does and there is a sense of sharing ideas and techniques.
There is a section on Christmas as a Pagan holiday and the chapter which gives the book its title is filled with tidbits-- the Black Mass and Satanism, the Satanic Oath and a smattering of spells. Martello touches on both African magic and Voodoo and devotes a section to “Sex, Sorcery and Sadism”—subjects long a part of Paganism but not often discussed, even now.
Aside from his Sicilian good looks, I remember Martello as the man who called out the Catholic Church over the repressions and state-sanctioned executions of the Renaissance. The chapter “The Curse on the Catholic Church” was bold at the time and would be difficult to articulate even today.
Chapter Two—Witchcraft in the News—is worth the price of the book. These stories include an NBC-TV story from 1969 that wondered about “kids’ current interest in the occult. What’s behind it? One opinion: established religion is letting them down.” Martello clipped articles from all over the world at a time when “white witchcraft” was becoming a phenomenon. He was on the rising edge of a big wave and our study of our own recent history is made richer for his dedication to the work.
I am not implying that this was a Golden Age—far from it. More often than not our heroes had feet of clay. We’ve heard too many fabricated tales of a childhood initiation by a doting grandmother into the “family tradition”. Many of us still bear scars from the toxic and pervasive Witch Wars that burned throughout these formative years. But I found it amusing, even now, that one can buy a seven-day candle of Martello, to help you with your problems.
There is something so sweet—and so akin to real power—in knowing the complicated history of our people. This book is a good place to start that process.
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