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Jessie Wicker Bell

(Lady Sheba)

 

 

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 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.

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 

(ISBN 0-87542-075-3) 

Book Contents include:

Secret initiation rites
Laws of the Craft (162 total)
Eight ceremonies for the Sabbats
Consecration rituals
Invocations
Actual chants and dances for calling on the gods

 

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. 

The 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

(ISBN 0-87542-076-1)

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

The 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 “Gnosticonfestivals sponsored by Weschcke in Minneapolis.

On 13th August 1971, Lady Sheba registered the American Order of the Brotherhood of the Wiccain 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 theKing 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.

 

Doreen Valiente

 

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 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.

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.

 

End.

 

Sources:

 

Books

The Encyclopedia of Witches &Witchcraft  - By Rosemary Ellen Guiley

The Encyclopedia of Modern Witchcraft and Neo-paganism - By Shelley Rabinovitch

 

Websites

http://www.tylwythteg.com/obituary.html

http://www.paganwiki.org/index.php?title=Lady_Sheba

http://www.llewellyn.com/bookstore/article.php?id=236

 

 

Written and compiled on the 29th February 2008  ©  George Knowles 

 

Best wishes and Blessed Be

 

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Correspondence Tables:

 

IncenseCandlesColoursMagickal DaysStones and GemsElements and Elementals

 

Traditions:

 

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 MoonsLinks to Personal Friends & ResourcesWicca/Witchcraft ResourcesWhat's a spell?Circle Casting and Sacred Space /  Pentagram - PentacleMarks of a WitchThe Witches PowerThe Witches HatAn esoteric guide to visiting LondonSatanismPow-wowThe Unitarian Universalist Association /  Numerology:  Part 1  /  Part 2 Part 3A 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 Sun DanceShielding (Occult and Psychic Protection) /  The History of ThanksgivingI have a Dream, the 1963 speach by civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King /  Auras by Graham Furnell - Part 1 and Part 2 /

 

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)

 

Rituals contributed by Crone:  Samhain / YuleImbolcOstara /  BeltaneLithaLammasMabon

 

Tools:

 

Tools of a Witch  /  The Besom (Broom) /  Poppets and DollsPendulums / Cauldron MagickMirror Gazing

 

Animals:

 

Animals in Witchcraft (The Witches Familiar) /  AntelopeBatsCrowFoxFrog and ToadsGoat / HoneybeeKangarooLionOwlPhoenixRabbits and HaresRavenRobin RedbreastSheep SpiderSquirrelSwansWild Boar /  Wolf /  Serpent /  Pig /  Stag /  Horse /  Mouse /  Cat

 

Trees:

 

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 /  ElderAlso see:  The Willow Tree (Folk Music)

 

Sacred Sites:

 

Mystical Sacred Sites  -  Stonehenge /  Glastonbury Tor /  Malta - The Hypogeum of Hal Saflieni /  Avebury /  Cerne Abbas - The Chalk Giant /  Ireland - Newgrange /

 

Rocks and Stones:

 

Stones - History, Myths and Lore

 

 Articles contributed by Patricia Jean Martin:   / Apophyllite  / Amber AmethystAquamarineAragoniteAventurineBlack TourmalineBloodstoneCalciteCarnelianCelestiteCitrineChrysanthemum StoneDiamond  /  Emerald / FluoriteGarnet /  Hematite Herkimer DiamondLabradoriteLapis LazuliMalachiteMoonstoneObsidianOpalPyriteQuartz (Rock Crystal)Rose QuartzRubySeleniteSeraphinite  /  Silver and GoldSmoky QuartzSodaliteSunstoneThundereggTree AgateZebra Marble

 

Wisdom:

 

Knowledge vs Wisdom by Ardriana Cahill I Talk to the TreesAwakeningThe Witch in YouA Tale of the Woods

 

Articles and Stories about Witchcraft:

 

Murder by WitchcraftThe Fairy Witch of ClonmelA Battleship, U-boat, and a WitchThe Troll-Tear (A story for Children)Goody Hawkins - The Wise Goodwife /  The Story of Jack-O-LanternThe Murder of the Hammersmith Ghost Josephine Gray (The Infamous Black Widow) /  The Two Brothers - Light and Dark

 

Old Masters of Academia:

 

Pliny the ElderHesiodPythagoras

 

Biographies

 

Witches, Pagans and other associated People

(Ancient, Past and Present)

 

Remembered at Samhain

(Departed Pagan Pioneers, Founders, Elders and Others)

 

Abramelin the MageAgrippaAidan A. KellyAlbertus Magnus “Albert the Great”Aleister Crowley “The Great Beast” Alex Sanders "the King of the Witches” Alison HarlowAmber KAnna Franklin /  Anodea JudithAnton Szandor LaVey  / Arnold CrowtherArthur Edward Waite Austin Osman SpareBiddy EarlyBridget ClearyCarl Llewellyn WeschckeCecil Hugh WilliamsonCharles Godfrey LelandCharles Walton /  Christina Oakley Harrington /  Damh the Bard (Dave Smith) /   Dion FortuneDolores Aschroft-NowickiDorothy MorrisonDoreen ValienteEdward FitchEleanor Ray Bone “Matriarch of British Witchcraft” /  Dr. John Dee and Edward KellyDr. Leo Louis Martello /  Eliphas LeviErnest Thompson Seton /  Ernest Westlake and the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry /  Fiona Horne /  Friedrich von SpeeFrancis Barrett /  Gerald B. GardnerGavin and Yvonne Frost and the School and Church of Wicca /  Gwydion PendderwenHans Holzer /  Helen DuncanHerman Slater "Horrible Herman" /  Israel RegardieJames "Cunning" MurrellJanet Farrar & Gavin BoneJessie Wicker Bell “Lady Sheba” / John Belham-Payne John George Hohman /  John GerardJohn Gordon Hargrave (the White Fox) /  John Michael Greer /  John ScoreJohannes Junius the Burgomaster of Bamberg /  Joseph John Campbell /  Karl von EckartshausenLaurie Cabot "the Official Witch of Salem" /  Lewis Spence /  Margaret Alice MurrayMargot AdlerMarie Laveau the " Voodoo Queen of New Orleans" /  Marion WeinsteinMatthew Hopkins “The Witch-Finder General”Max Ehrmann and the Desiderata /  Monique Wilson the “Queen of the WitchesMontague SummersNicholas CulpeperNicholas RemyM. R. SellersMrs. Grieve "A Modern Herbal" /  Oberon and Morning Glory Zell-RavenheartOld Dorothy ClutterbuckOld George Pickingill /   Paddy SladePamela Colman-SmithParacelsusPatricia CrowtherPatricia Monaghan /  Patricia “Trish” TelescoPhilip Emmons Isaac Bonewits Philip HeseltonRaymond BucklandReginald ScotRobert CochraneRobert ‘von Ranke’ Graves and "The White Goddess" /  Rudolf Steiner /  Rosaleen Norton “The Witch of Kings Cross” /  Ross Nichols and The Order of Bards, Ovates & DruidsSabrina - The Ink WitchScott CunninghamSelena FoxSilver Ravenwolf /  Sir Francis DashwoodSir James George FrazerS.L. MacGregor Mathers and the “Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn” /  StarhawkStewart FarrarSybil LeekTed AndrewsThe Mather Family - includes: Richard Mather, Increase Mather, Cotton Mather /  Thomas AdyVera Chapman /  Victor Henry AndersonVivianne CrowleyWalter Brown GibsonWilliam Butler YeatsZsuzsanna 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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