Coven Celeste

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Coven Celeste was the first "official" Gardnerian Wiccan coven in Canada, founded in the late 1960s by Gary Botting, the grandson of Gerald Gardner (Wiccan)'s London-based High Priestess Lysbeth Turner, and Botting's wife Heather. Since Heather Botting's initiation by Turner in 1966, the coven has remained matrilineal, with the Bottings' granddaughters Phaydra and Ariadne Gagnon inheriting the athame as high priestesses.[1]

History

Origin

The seed of Coven Celeste was planted in the summer of 1966 when Heather Botting met her prospective husband's maternal grandmother, Lysbeth Turner (née Rendle) (1896-1968), the younger sister of Thomas Edward Rendle VC, the first British infantryman to receive the Victoria Cross in the First World War. Originally from Bristol, Lysbeth Turner had become Gerald Gardner (Wiccan)'s High Priestess in London following World War II. She had introduced her grandson Gary Botting to Gardner in Bloomsbury in 1953. Realizing that most of her Canadian family (including Gary) had become committed Jehovah's Witnesses, during her 1966 visit to Canada Lady Lysbeth lamented to Heather that her tradition of the "Old Religion" (i.e. Wicca) would be lost forever unless someone "fresh" took up the athame. Despite her being raised a Jehovah's Witness, Heather knew something about suppressed cultural values since in Ontario she had been forced to deny her Assiniboine-Sioux heritage. Now, she rose to the challenge, abandoned the faith of her youth and was initiated into Witchcraft, soon afterwards naming her new sacred circle "Coven Celeste"—the first Wiccan coven in Canada.[2] Heather and Gary eloped later that year, but kept both their marriage and their new religion a secret from their Jehovah's Witness parents—and especially from the elders in their respective JW congregations.

Gary Botting's interest in the occult was fueled by his research as an English major into the life and death of Christopher Marlowe, especially Marlowe's best-known play, Doctor Faustus. Botting himself later wrote two plays about The School of Night, a clandestine Elizabethan club dedicated to delving into the occult, membership in which included Marlowe and such notables as Sir Walter Raleigh, Baron Cobham, the Earl of Northumberland, Thomas Kyd, and Thomas Harriott.[3] Because of the severe social strictures placed upon them by Jehovah's Witnesses, including fear of being disfellowshipped,[4] the Bottings stayed in the "broom closet," discussing their new faith only with fellow practicing pagans. Gary Botting later depicted the early formation of the coven and its principals in his play The Succubus, produced as a major project by the University of Alberta Department of Drama in 1982. When after Lysbeth Turner's death in 1968 Botting's JW mother discovered the extent of her mother's Wiccan proclivities, she burned most of the pagan artifacts and images that Turner had left behind in a bid to purge her house of "Satan's" influence.[5]

Development and growth

Coven Celeste remained in the "gestation" phase for four years, and came to full development, with a public profile, after the Bottings moved to Alberta in 1970. Heather Botting taught "Witchcraft and the Occult" at Red Deer College. By 1974, Coven Celeste was drawing witches from all over the west of Canada to its central "covenstead" in Sylvan Lake, Alberta. True to the Gardnerian tradition, rituals, especially sabbats, were performed in the nude. The Bottings purchased properties in Sylvan Lake, Burnt Lake, Alix and Bentley, Alberta with heavy woods either on or adjacent to their land, and made paths through the woods to hidden altars and sacred circles. As the coven expanded, nudity became optional and it was recognized that all witches were "naked under their gowns." Before long, floor-length gowns had become the norm. Major rituals were conducted outdoors in the nearby woods except in the dead of winter. The original rituals were created by Heather Botting ("Lady Aurora") and Gary Botting ("Lord Pan") using eclectic sources, including adaptations of the rituals of Jessie Wicker Bell (better known as "Lady Sheba")[6] and Starhawk.[7]

The coven soon "hived," with different members of the coven moving away, taking Coven Celeste's traditional brand of Gardnerian witchcraft with them. Pagan-oriented visitors who had heard of Coven Celeste were made welcome either as observers or participants, and Coven Celeste's influence spread. Michele Favarger of Cobble Hill, BC attended Coven Celeste rituals in Alberta in 1982 and subsequently returned to BC to form the Canadian Aquarian Tabernacle Church ("ATC") on Vancouver Island, basing it on some of the precepts of Coven Celeste. After the Bottings moved to British Columbia in 1990, they, Favarger, and Favarger's partner and high priest Erik Lindblad successfully campaigned the Province of British Columbia to recognize Wiccan weddings.[8] By 1995 Coven Celeste had become one of the mainstay covens of Temple of the Lady in Victoria, BC.

Coven Celeste today

The Bottings were divorced in 1999, and the following year Heather married Denis O'Brien, the Mohawk-Irish high priest of Circle of the Moonsong; whereupon she transferred Coven Celeste to her granddaughters Phaydra and Ariadne Gagnon, along with the secrets of its sacred tools, the athame, white handled knife, pentacle, scourge, cauldron, candle holders, candles, censor, Book of Shadows, and wands cut and manufactured by them under the supervision of their grandfather, Gary Botting ("Lord Pan"). In 2010, Lady Aurora was still conducting a prison ministry and as High Priestess of ATC was officially recognized by the Province as an officiator of pagan weddings.[9] Still a professor of anthropology at the University of Victoria, Heather Botting has been an officially recognized Wiccan chaplain there for more than a decade, continuing the tradition she started as high priestess of Coven Celeste.[10]

References

  1. Heather Botting
  2. Douglas Todd, "University of Victoria chaplain marks solstice with pagan rituals," Vancouver Sun, 16 December 2010
  3. Gary Botting, Harriott! (Edmonton: Harden House, 1972); The School of Night, first produced at Crestwood Theatre, Peterborough, Ontario, 1969
  4. Heather and Gary Botting, The Orwellian World of Jehovah's Witnesses (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1984), pp. 48, 50, 63, 66-70, 90-92, 97, 127-128, 133-135, 144, 146, 149, 159, 161-165, 188-189, 192, 196
  5. T. Gagnon, "Introduction" to T. Gagnon, ed. Streaking! The Collected Poems of Gary Botting (Miami: Strategic, 2013)
  6. The Grimoire of Lady Sheba (St. Paul's, Minnesota: Llewellyn, 1972
  7. The Spiral Dance, 1979
  8. Douglas Todd, "University of Victoria chaplain marks solstice with pagan rituals," Vancouver Sun, 16 December 2010
  9. http://blogs.vancouversun.com/2010/12/16/pagans-celebrate-solstice-with-yule-rituals/
  10. Todd; http://theroadtoemmaus.org/RdLb/21PbAr/Apl/NeoPgn.htm