Jessie Wicker Bell
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 atempted 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 practised 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 devided her time between practicing withcraft 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.
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.
The Book of Shadows
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 practising 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
The Power: Description of the rules and requirements for correct, effective use of witchcraft
Tools: How to make, consecrate and use magickal instruments
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
Dances: Traditional Square dances as well as magickal "Witches Rounds"
Book of Shadows: The Holy Book of Witchcraft
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.
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 Priestessess 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.
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
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 practise 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.
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
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
esoteric guide to visiting London / Satanism
Unitarian Universalist Association / Numerology: Part 1
/ Part 2 / Part
3 / A
history of the Malleus Maleficarum: includes: Pope
Innocent VIII /
papal Bull /
Malleus Maleficarum /
An extract from the Malleus Maleficarum
/ The letter of approbation
Nider’s Formicarius /
Heinrich Kramer /
/ Montague Summers /
/ The Albigenses
The Hussites / The
/ Shielding (Occult
and Psychic Protection) /
Sabbats and Rituals:
Sabbats in History and Mythology / Samhain (October 31st) / Yule (December 21st) / Imbolc (February 2nd) / Ostara (March 21st) / Beltane (April 30th) / Litha (June 21st) / Lughnasadh (August 1st) / Mabon (September 21st)
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. Also see: The Willow Tree (Folk Music)
Rocks and Stones:
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
Articles and Stories about Witchcraft:
Murder 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 and Elders)
Abramelin the Mage / Agrippa / Aidan A. Kelly / Albertus Magnus “Albert the Great” / Aleister Crowley “The Great Beast” / Alex Sanders "the 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 / Carl Llewellyn Weschcke / Cecil Hugh Williamson / Charles Godfrey Leland / Charles Walton / Christina Oakley Harrington / Damh the Bard (Dave Smith) / Dion Fortune / Dolores Aschroft-Nowicki / Dorothy Morrison / Doreen Valiente / Edward Fitch / Eleanor Ray Bone “Matriarch of British Witchcraft” / Dr. John Dee and Edward Kelly / Dr. Leo Louis Martello / Eliphas Levi / Ernest Thompson Seton / Ernest Westlake and the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry / Fiona Horne / Friedrich von Spee / Francis Barrett / Gerald B. Gardner / Gavin and Yvonne Frost and the School and Church of Wicca / Gwydion Pendderwen / Hans Holzer / Helen Duncan / Herman Slater "Horrible Herman" / Israel Regardie / James "Cunning" Murrell / Janet Farrar & Gavin Bone / Jessie Wicker Bell “Lady Sheba” / John Belham-Payne / John George Hohman / John Gerard / John Gordon Hargrave (the White Fox) / John Michael Greer / John Score / Johannes Junius the Burgomaster of Bamberg / 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 the “Queen of the Witches” / Montague Summers / Nicholas Culpeper / Nicholas Remy / M. R. Sellers / Mrs. Grieve "A Modern Herbal" / Oberon and Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart / Old Dorothy Clutterbuck / Old George Pickingill / Paddy Slade / Pamela Colman-Smith / Paracelsus / Patricia Crowther / Patricia Monaghan / Patricia “Trish” Telesco / Philip Emmons Isaac Bonewits / Philip Heselton / Raymond Buckland / Reginald Scot / Robert Cochrane / Robert ‘von Ranke’ Graves and "The White Goddess" /Rudolf Steiner / Rosaleen Norton “The Witch of Kings Cross” / Ross Nichols and The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids / Sabrina - The Ink Witch / Scott Cunningham / Selena Fox / Silver Ravenwolf / Sir Francis Dashwood / Sir James George Frazer / 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, Cotton Mather / Thomas Ady / Vera Chapman / Victor Henry Anderson / Vivianne Crowley / Walter Brown Gibson / William Butler Yeats / Zsuzsanna Budapest
Many of the above biographies are brief and far from complete. If you know about any of these individuals and can help with aditional information, please cantact me privately at my email address below. Many thanks for reading :-)
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