Merry we meet - Merry we meet - Merry we meet
Jessie Wicker Bell
Written and compiled by George Knowles
Jessie Wicker Bell or “Lady Sheba” as she is better known, was the founder of the “American Celtic Wicca Tradition” and the “American Order of the Brotherhood of the Wicca”, through which she attempted to bring differing covens, groups and traditions together working for the same aims, to bring back the respectability and acceptance of the Craft and a renewed belief in the Old Religions. Controversially she was also the first person to publish a complete “Book of Shadows” and make it available to the general public.
Born on the 18th July 1920 in the mountains of Knott County, Kentucky, Jessie came from an Irish background on her maternal side, and a Native American background on her paternal side; her great grandfather was a Cherokee Indian. She claimed that her family had practiced witchcraft for 7 generations, and that she had led many previous lives. Her own grandmother introduced her to craft when she was just 6 years old and taught her the lore of the Irish Fairy Folk and the Spirit Guides of the Cherokee. She also claimed to have inherited psychic abilities and been granted the “Hand of Power”, which enabled her to protect others.
In the late 1930’s Jessie was initiated into a local witches coven and took the name Lady Sheba. The name she claimed came from an inner awareness of a name she had once been called in former life. After getting married in the early 1940’s she divided her time between practicing witchcraft and raising four sons and four daughters. The family moved to the Twin Cities (Saginaw and Bay City) area of Michigan sometime around 1950, and there she founded her own coven, which evolved into the “American Celtic Wicca Tradition” and was based on the practices of her own Celtic family heritage.
As the tradition evolved and coven hived off coven spreading across the United States, and indeed overseas, individual covens began to take on influences and practices gained from other traditions such as Gardnerian, Alexandrian and British Traditional Witchcraft. As the number of her covens grew, each taking on its own individual form and working practices, Lady Sheba founded another tradition under which they could all work together for unified ends, the “American Order of the Brotherhood of the Wicca”.
In 1970 Lady Sheba claimed she was directed by the Goddess to have her personal “Book of Shadows” published, and to make it available to the public for the benefit of the people. Following her instincts she contacted Carl “Llewellyn” Weschcke in St Paul, Minnesota, who by that time had established his “Llewellyn Publishing Co.” as the leading publisher of Occult and New Age books. Weschcke invited Lady Sheba to visit him in St. Paul, where after seeing the manuscript and signing a contract, he published her first book as the “Book of Shadows” in 1971.
Carl "Llewellyn" Weschcke - The Book of Shadows
Book Contents include:
Lady Sheba always claimed it was the will of the Goddess that directed her to have the Book of Shadows published, in that it would “benefit of the people”. That it did, for it was the first Wiccan Book of Shadows ever published in the United States. At a time when there was very few book about witchcraft available, and due to the secrecy surrounding the craft in those days, the only way anyone seeking information about the craft was by word of mouth or by joining a coven (if one could find one). The publication of Lady Sheba’s Book of Shadows for the first time revealed the secret ritual workings of a traditional witch.
amount of press publicity generated throughout the late 1950’s and 60’s had
created a genuine resurgence of interest in Witchcraft and the Occult, but by
the early 1970’s in America, there were still far more people interested in
the Craft than there was people practicing it, or experienced covens willing and
able to teach it. As such Lady
Sheba’s Book of Shadows became the template upon which many new covens and
traditions were formed, and quickly became a classic best seller in its own
time. Later in 1972
the “Book of Shadows” was republished and included in her second book
as “The Grimoire of Lady Sheba”.
The Grimoire of Lady Sheba
Book Contents include:
The Power: Description of the rules and requirements for correct, effective use of witchcraft
The Tools: How to make, consecrate and use magickal instruments
The Language: Includes diagrams of the lost Theban script and Runic alphabet
The Rituals: Complete instructions for performing rituals for every purpose
Recipes: The famous secret herbal lore of witchcraft, including ointments, teas,
incense, perfumes and oils
The Dances: Traditional Square dances as well as magickal "Witches Rounds"
The Book of Shadows: The Holy Book of Witchcraft
The Eightfold Path: Describes the steps to magickal attainment
In 1971 Lady Sheba initiated Carl “Llewellyn” Weschcke into her coven of the “American Celtic Wicca Tradition”, he soon rose to become a High Priest working with his own coven at his Mansion House home on Summit Avenue in St Paul. That same year he met Sandra Heggum a High Priestess in the same tradition, and later they married in a heavily publicized handfasting ceremony. Following the first publication of her Book of Shadows, Lady Sheba visited with Weschcke and his wife regularly, and even participated as a guest speaker in the annual “Gnosticon” festivals sponsored by Weschcke in Minneapolis.
On 13th August 1971, Lady Sheba registered the “American Order of the Brotherhood of the Wicca” in Michigan as a legally recognised religion, marking an important step towards the legal recognition of Wicca as a religion. She also played an active part in the organization of the “Council of American Witches” led by Weschcke in 1973. As the elected chairman of the council, Weschcke drafted the now famous “Thirteen Principals of Wiccan Belief”. These were a general set of principles and definitions loosely found to be acceptable across the many different traditions operating at that time in America. The statement was later incorporated into the U.S. Army’s handbook for chaplains, further helping to establish Wicca as a recognized religion.
During the early 1970’s Wicca and Witchcraft in America was still evolving, it was a time when many new covens, groups and traditions were just starting up, and in order to gain credibility, many of them tried to claim lineage to this or that “founder” or “hereditary tradition”. For whatever reason, the ethos of the day seemed to be “My tradition or way is better than yours!!” As a result, this started off a spate of name-calling and bitter recriminations. The 1970’s are today commonly referred to as the “Witch War” years, during which Lady Sheba attracted a great deal of criticism.
As the founder and figurehead of two growing traditions the “American Celtic Wicca Tradition” and the “American Order of the Brotherhood of the Wicca”, Lady Sheba took on a self-proclaimed title and referred to herself as the “American Witch Queen”. As happened to Alex Sanders as the “King of the Witches” earlier in the 1960’s, her use of such a grandiose title brought with it the scorn, ridicule and criticism of many in the community. Such titles as “King or Queen” hold connotations of the dogmatic hierarchical structures of other mainline religions, the very thing most witches and pagans avoid, and why they prefer a non-institutional Nature-based religion. Leaders of the Craft are respected as Elders, no more and no less, regardless of their personal accomplishments.
However, perhaps the most serious criticism directed against Lady Sheba concerns the publication of her “Book of Shadows”. Many in the community felt she had violated some kind of “sacred oath” by breaking the traditional vows commonly attached to a tradition’s Book of Shadows. While some defended her, many others vilified her, and even Doreen Valiente one of Gerald Gardner’s early High Priestesses stepped into the foray, claiming it contained material taken from the original Gardnerian “Book of Shadows”, secret material that should never have been made public. Other allegations followed that she had deliberately stolen the Gardnerian material simply to embellish her own.
Such allegations and criticisms directed toward Lady Sheba continued for a number of years, so much so and to her bitter disappointment by the end of the 1970’s she had withdrawn from public life altogether. Her “Book of Shadows” on the other hand was reprinted in a modified paperback form for the mass market, and for a time was readily available in most major bookstores before finally going out of print in the early 1980’s. Nothing more was heard from Lady Sheba until Carl “Llewellyn” Weschcke decided to re-issue her book as a new millennium tribute. After extensive enquires to her where a bouts, he eventually located her living with a daughter back in their old home county of Kentucky. Having gained permission “The Grimoire of Lady Sheba” was re-issued in its original hardback form in June 2001.
Despite all the ridicule and criticism she had suffered over it, Lady Sheba always defended the publication of her “Book of Shadows”, and was proud of the way it had helped to change the secretive and selective attitudes of the Craft in the 1950’s and 60’s, to make the Craft more open and available to all in the 1970’s. During the late 1930’s when Lady Sheba joined her first coven, she had hand-copied their Book of Shadows for her own use, as was the traditional practice in those times. After which and over the following 30 years to 1970, she continued to add rituals, spells, recipes and other working practices gleaned from whatever sources freely came her way, ending up with an eclectic mix of knowledge gleaned first and foremost from her own family tradition, as well as knowledge gained from other mainline traditions such as the Gardnerian and Alexandrian traditions.
The book today should not be taken too seriously, as much of its content is dated by today’s standards i.e. some of the old laws, rituals, recipes and practices such as the use of the scourge, may even seem archaic, but the book should never-the-less hold pride of place in the history section of a modern Pagan’s library, as a snap shot reminder of just how much the practice of contemporary witchcraft has evolved since those early days. Lady Sheba died on the 20th March 2002, and as was her final wishes, she was cremated along with a copy of her “Book of Shadows” and the ashes scattered about the graveyard of the Wicker Family Cemetery in Knott County, Kentucky.
Those who knew Lady Sheba personally in the early pagan communities still speak highly of her as a powerful and magical person, and one who will be remembered for her many contributions toward the advancement of the Craft and the Old Religion. Ultimately her two books the “Book of Shadows” and “The Grimoire of Lady Sheba” were responsible for the growth of Wicca in America, and are a fitting legacy to her belief in the Goddess.
The Encyclopedia of Witches &Witchcraft - By Rosemary Ellen Guiley
The Encyclopedia of Modern Witchcraft and Neo-paganism - By Shelley Rabinovitch
Written and compiled on the 29th February 2008 © George Knowles
Best wishes and Blessed Be
Site Contents - Links to all Pages
A Universal Message:
Let there be peace in the world - Where have all the flowers gone?
Wicca & Witchcraft
The Wiccan Rede / Charge of the Goddess / Charge of the God / The Three-Fold Law (includes The Law of Power and The Four Powers of the Magus) / The Witches Chant / The Witches Creed / Descent of the Goddess / Drawing Down the Moon / The Great Rite Invocation / Invocation of the Horned God / The 13 Principles of Wiccan Belief / The Witches Rede of Chivalry / A Pledge to Pagan Spirituality
Traditions Part 1 - Alexandrian Wicca / Aquarian Tabernacle Church (ATC) / Ár Ndraíocht Féin (ADF) / Blue Star Wicca / British Traditional (Druidic Witchcraft) / Celtic Wicca / Ceremonial Magic / Chaos Magic / Church and School of Wicca / Circle Sanctuary / Covenant of the Goddess (COG) / Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) / Cyber Wicca / Dianic Wicca / Eclectic Wicca / Feri Wicca /
Traditions Part 2 - Gardnerian Wicca / Georgian Tradition / Henge of Keltria / Hereditary Witchcraft / Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (H.O.G.D.) / Kitchen Witch (Hedge Witch) / Minoan Brotherhood and Minoan Sisterhood Tradition / Nordic Paganism / Pagan Federation / Pectic-Wita / Seax-Wica / Shamanism / Solitary / Strega / Sylvan Tradition / Vodoun or Voodoo / Witches League of Public Awareness (WLPA) /
Other things of interest:
Gods and Goddesses (Greek Mythology) / Esbats & Full Moons / Links to Personal Friends & Resources / Wicca/Witchcraft Resources / What's a spell? / Circle Casting and Sacred Space / Pentagram - Pentacle / Marks of a Witch / The Witches Power / The Witches Hat / An esoteric guide to visiting London / Satanism / Pow-wow / The Unitarian Universalist Association / Numerology: Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / A history of the Malleus Maleficarum: includes: Pope Innocent VIII / The papal Bull / The Malleus Maleficarum / An extract from the Malleus Maleficarum / The letter of approbation / Johann Nider’s Formicarius / Jacob Sprenger / Heinrich Kramer / Stefano Infessura / Montague Summers / The Waldenses / The Albigenses / The Hussites / The Native American Sun Dance / Shielding (Occult and Psychic Protection) /
Sabbats and Festivals:
The Sabbats in History and Mythology / Samhain (October 31st) / Yule (December 21st) / Imbolc (February 2nd) / Ostara (March 21st) / Beltane (April 30th) / Litha (June 21st) / Lammas/Lughnasadh (August 1st) / Mabon (September 21st)
Rituals contributed by Crone:
Animals in Witchcraft (The Witches Familiar) / Antelope / Bats / Crow / Fox / Frog and Toads / Goat / Honeybee / Kangaroo / Lion / Owl / Phoenix / Rabbits and Hares / Raven / Robin Redbreast / Sheep / Spider / Squirrel / Swans / Wild Boar / Wolf / Serpent / Pig / Stag / Horse / Mouse / Cat
In Worship of Trees - Myths, Lore and the Celtic Tree Calendar. For descriptions and correspondences of the thirteen sacred trees of Wicca/Witchcraft see the following: Birch / Rowan / Ash / Alder / Willow / Hawthorn / Oak / Holly / Hazel / Vine / Ivy / Reed / Elder
Rocks and Stones:
Stones - History, Myths and Lore
Articles contributed by Patricia Jean Martin:
Apophyllite / Amber / Amethyst / Aquamarine / Aragonite / Aventurine / Black Tourmaline / Bloodstone / Calcite / Carnelian / Celestite / Citrine / Chrysanthemum Stone / Diamond / Emerald / Fluorite / Garnet / Hematite / Herkimer Diamond / Labradorite / Lapis Lazuli / Malachite / Moonstone / Obsidian / Opal / Pyrite / Quartz (Rock Crystal) / Rose Quartz / Ruby / Selenite / Seraphinite / Silver and Gold / Smoky Quartz / Sodalite / Sunstone / Thunderegg / Tree Agate / Zebra Marble
Wisdom and Inspiration:
Articles and Stories about Witchcraft:
Murdered by Witchcraft / The Fairy Witch of Clonmel / A Battleship, U-boat, and a Witch / The Troll-Tear (A story for Children) / Goody Hawkins - The Wise Goodwife / The Story of Jack-O-Lantern / The Murder of the Hammersmith Ghost / Josephine Gray (The Infamous Black Widow) / The Two Brothers - Light and Dark
Old Masters of Academia:
(Ancient, Past and Present)
(Departed Pagan Pioneers, Founders, Elders and Others)
Abramelin the Mage / Agrippa / Aidan A Kelly / Albertus Magnus - “Albert the Great” / Aleister Crowley - “The Great Beast” / Alex Sanders - “King of the Witches” / Alison Harlow / Amber K / Anna Franklin / Anodea Judith / Anton Szandor LaVey / Arnold Crowther / Arthur Edward Waite / Austin Osman Spare / Biddy Early / Bridget Cleary - The Fairy Witch of Clonmel / Carl " Llewellyn" Weschcke / Cecil Hugh Williamson / Charles Godfrey Leland / Charles Walton / Christina Oakley Harrington / Damh the Bard - "Dave Smith" / Dion Fortune / Dolores Aschroft-Nowicki / Doreen Valiente / Dorothy Morrison / Dr. John Dee & Edward Kelly / Dr. Leo Louis Martello / Edward Fitch / Eleanor Ray Bone - “Matriarch of British Witchcraft” / Eliphas Levi / Ernest Thompson Seton / Ernest Westlake / Fiona Horne / Friedrich von Spee / Francis Barrett / Gavin and Yvonne Frost and the School and Church of Wicca / Gerald B. Gardner - The father of contemporary Witchcraft / Gwydion Pendderwen / Hans Holzer / Helen Duncan / Herman Slater - Horrible Herman / Isaac Bonewits / Israel Regardie / James "Cunning" Murrell - The Master of Witches / Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone / Jessie Wicker Bell - “Lady Sheba” / Johannes Junius - "The Burgomaster of Bamberg" / John Belham-Payne / John George Hohman - "Pow-wow" / John Gerard / John Gordon Hargrave and the Kibbo Kith Kindred / John Michael Greer / John Score / Joseph John Campbell / Karl von Eckartshausen / Laurie Cabot - "the Official Witch of Salem" / Lewis Spence / Margaret Alice Murray / Margot Adler / Marie Laveau - " the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans" / Marion Weinstein / Matthew Hopkins - “The Witch-Finder General” / Max Ehrmann and the "Desiderata" / Monique Wilson / Montague Summers / Nicholas Culpeper / Nicholas Remy / M. R. Sellars / Mrs. Maud Grieve - "A Modern Herbal" / Oberon Zell-Ravenheart and Morning Glory / Old Dorothy Clutterbuck / Old George Pickingill / Paddy Slade / Pamela Colman-Smith / Paracelsus / Patricia Crowther / Patricia Monaghan / Patricia “Trish” Telesco / Philip Heselton / Raymond Buckland / Reginald Scot / Robert Cochrane / Robert ‘von Ranke’ Graves and the "The White Goddess" / Rosaleen Norton - “The Witch of Kings Cross” / Ross Nichols and the " Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids" (OBOD) / Rudolf Steiner / Sabrina Underwood - "The Ink Witch" / Scott Cunningham / Selena Fox - founder of "Circle Sanctuary" / Silver Ravenwolf / Sir Francis Dashwood / Sir James George Frazer and the " The Golden Bough" / S.L. MacGregor Mathers and the “Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn” / Starhawk / Stewart Farrar / Sybil Leek / Ted Andrews / The Mather Family - (includes: Richard Mather, Increase Mather and Cotton Mather ) / Thomas Ady / T. Thorn Coyle / Vera Chapman / Victor & Cora Anderson and the " Feri Tradition" / Vivianne Crowley / Walter Brown Gibson / William Butler Yeats / Zsuzsanna Budapest /
Many of the above biographies are briefs and far from complete. If you know about any of these individuals and can help with additional information, please contact me privately at my email address below. Many thanks for reading :-)
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