Pre-1990 Paganism and Magick

For those of you new to any pagan or magickal tradition (i.e. you started your path after 1990) I’d like to share some of my observations about how paganism and magick have changed drastically over the last 60-70 years.

Each generation seems to have its own unique take on both magick and religion and I think this younger generation of pagans/magicians (the post-1990 crowd) doesn’t really understand how easy they have it nowadays.

I, admittedly, started down my path in 1984 – almost on the cusp of the most recent change in the pagan/magick scene. But I know a good number of people who started in the 60’s, 70’s and one lady who was practicing back in the 40’s. It’s amazing the differences each decade brings.

See – it used to be that the occult itself weeded out the dabblers by default. Well – mostly.

Why? Because pre-1985 (before there were thousands of books printed about the subject) books about the occult were not as popular or as easily acquired. Especially in heavily Judeo-Christian areas. This means that unless you lived in a major California city or New York City – you likely had no contact with groups and had little access to books.

Many of us who started out before the information age had to get our information from library books or whatever we could find on the Waldenbooks (one of the big booksellers at the time) bookshelves. This means that we actually had to work harder to find the information we got. Getting your hands on The Witches Bible in 1985 (which was one of the most popular witchcraft texts at the time) was like finding treasured manna. Finding more obscure titles was like hitting a Vegas jackpot. I remember the first time I got my hands on a copy of Goetia. It was one of the best intellectual orgasms of my adolescence.

In many instances — you couldn’t get certain books unless you were a member of a certain organization or group. Most organizations/groups wouldn’t let you in unless you took classes beforehand. And, sadly, depending where you lived — groups were almost impossible to find. You had to scan advertisements in underground scene newspapers, or hang out at the most prominent local occult shops that could have been 30-100 miles from where you lived. Or you had to know people. A lot of occult stores were mail order only accessible to most. They weren’t high quality catalogues either. They were often roughly printed lists of items available – stapled together.

My point being that being an occultist/pagan/magician about 20 + years ago – actually meant you had to actually do some work to get your supplies, educational materials, and find other like-minded individuals. It wasn’t as simple as going to an online social networking site for pagans/magicians – or searching for information in a web browser.

See – nowadays anyone can call themselves an occultist based on “interest” alone. If you post to an occult networking site or have read a few articles — that seems to be enough for one to label themselves a pagan/magician/or occultist these days. Many groups no longer require a person take classes or study before joining a group or taking on a personal label suggesting involvement with a certain tradition.

Back in the day — if you called yourself a pagan/magician/or occultist it often didn’t mean you just read about it and socialized with others who read about it. You were often actually doing it. This means you actually stoked a Beltane fire, made a Yule Log, or practiced offering rituals. It also means that you actually practiced magick.

Now – yes, there are exceptions to every rule. Not all old-school magicians were practicing just as not all new school magicians are sitting around “pretending” to be something they’re not (though the number of dabblers has increased, I’ve noticed). I’m also saying that today’s magician may not really appreciate that it was the pre-1990 occultists who made it so that all of the post 1990 occultists had easy access to information about occult and magick topics they may not have otherwise had.

It was even worse back in the first part of the 20th century. My friend E told me how back in the 40’s you didn’t breathe a word about your alternative practices or beliefs to anyone. An open – public journal like this one would have been unheard of. “To keep silent” was one of the most sacred tenants. Getting materials (i.e. books or supplies) was not easy. She also said that she still went to Church on Sundays just to keep everyone from knowing what she really believed or practiced. What a vast difference from today’s “My life is an open webpage” philosophy. It’s no wonder some of our elders look at the younger generation horrified when they’re willing to discuss their beliefs so openly. It’s a different world now.

In the 60’s – the occult took off in the underground. This, of course, is when Witchcraft came out of the closet and onto the public scene even though the Alexandrian and Gardnerian sects started up at least a decade before. It was also the 60’s that birthed LaVeyan Satanism and the Atheist movement he helped mobilize. The 70’s seemed to keep what started in the 60’s going steady. It was the late 80’s before magick, paganism, and the occult experienced another resurgence and growth. That’s when all the Llewelyn books started coming out and Weiser titles became more popular. By the time the early 90’s rolled around – most bookstores had a healthy smattering of readily available occult reading material. And, of course, once the internet really took off and started invading our homes by 1995 – it wasn’t long before there was a thriving online occult cornucopia of reading material and social networking sites. I know this because I was there. I watched this last resurgence in the occult take hold and balloon. I ran the first site on the web for Daemonolaters, which was also popular with the Theistic Satanists — who had no idea there were so many others out there like them.

It also used to be that those of us brought into traditions had real flesh and blood teachers and we respected our elder’s experience and what they had to teach us (this doesn’t mean we worshiped them or agreed with everything they said — just respected their experience).

Nowadays — everyone who’s read one or two books or a smattering of web articles considers him/herself an expert who knows better than those who have been practicing for 20+ years. I’m amazed at the sheer number of folks who think they alone have discovered something no one else in the magickal community has figured out yet.

Nobody can be so amusingly arrogant as a young man who has just discovered an old idea and thinks it is his own.Sydney J. Harris

Another marked difference I noticed was in Wicca. Before 1985 — Wicca was very much a religion about being in harmony with nature, and there were rules that allowed for cursing someone else in self-defense. It wasn’t until the late 80’s when it began morphing into a feminist (with little emphasis on both the male and female – but rather Goddess only), vegetarian only, love, light, and harm none religion. Basically – Christianity with a Goddess at the helm.

Pre-1990 was also back when Witchcraft itself worked in harmony with traditional Satanism (the belief in Satan as a deity), or with Daemonolatry (the worship of Daemons) or any other religion for that matter. And while it still does – this older version of Witchcraft is now referred to as “traditional” witchcraft whereas it’s modern counterpart is often considered synonymous with the more modern Goddess only light and love Wicca to the under-educated.

I’m kind of sad that things have changed. While I think it’s awesome that information is so readily available, I still meet few actual working magicians (i.e. people who actually go beyond arm chair theorism and who actually practice) and few practicing Pagans (people who actually abide their pagan religion more than at the solstices and equinoxes and actually apply the principles their religions teach in everyday life). Most seem to be just playing dress up when it suits them or hanging out with a certain social clique. Being a magician, pagan, or occultist is part of their “image” and social identity rather than a spiritual identity that they take seriously.

Of course I hope I’m wrong and I’m just missing the vast numbers of serious occultists out there.

Steph is an award winning and bestselling author of thrilling steamy and paranormal romances, dark urban fantasy, occult horror-thrillers, cozy mysteries, contemporary romance, sword and sorcery fantasy, and books about the esoteric and Daemonolatry. A Daemonolatress and forever a resident of Smelt Isle, she is happily married and cat-mom to three pampered house cats. Her muse is a demanding sadistic Dom who often keeps her up into the wee hours of the morning. You can contact her at


  • VC

    You won't hate me if I disagree with you, will you? I think the Internet has created MORE serious occultists and I think they're more educated when they come into the fold now. I also agree that there are more dabblers.

  • Steph

    Disagree away! 🙂 I don't mind. I'm just making an observation based on my personal experience.

    I know of only a handful of magicians and pagans I met online in the late 90's (not including OFS or DB people) who are still practicing to this day 10-12 years later. That's out of the hundreds of occultists/dabblers/pagans I've met online since 1997. There are 4. Then there are some sketchy ones that probably still practice, but I'm not sure since we no longer keep in touch for various reasons. Those are the only ones who come to mind at the moment. That's 4 people (non-OFS or GD) in 12 years. Not very good odds.

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