top of page

Elders of the Craft – Scott Cunningham

If you’ve dabbled in magic and Wicca/witchcraft at all, you’ve most likely heard of Scott Cunningham. He was a Pagan author, one of the most prolific one’s ever. He wrote 22 bools on magic, wicca, New-Age practices and herbalism. His work “Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner,” is one of the most successful books on Wicca ever published, having sold nearly 1,000,000 copies and remains one of the authorities on the subject today.

Early Life

Scott Cunningham was born at the William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan, USA, the second son of Chester Grant Cunningham and Rose Marie Wilhoit Cunningham. Cunningham had one older brother, Greg, and a younger sister, Christine. The family moved to San Diego, California in the fall of 1959 due to Rose Marie's health problems. The doctors in Royal Oak declared the mild climate in San Diego ideal for her. Scott lived in San Diego for the rest of his life. Scott was openly gay for much of his life.

Cunningham’s interest in witchcraft and Wiccan spirituality started young due to an interest in the folk magic of his grandmother and her practices of using herbs as cures and charms. In his high school years, Cunningham further developed his interest in witchcraft by joining a practicing Wiccan friend in their study of the craft.

School and Beyond

He studied creative writing at San Diego State University, where he enrolled in 1978. After two years in the program, however, he had more published works than several of his professors and dropped out of the university to write full-time. During this period he had as a roommate, magical author Donald Michael Kraig and often socialized with witchcraft author Raymond Buckland, who was also living in San Diego at the time. In the early 1980s, he spent some time in a group led by author Raven Grimassi. It was from these experiences that Scott drew much of the information which was passed along in his books.

I met Scott several times in the middle 1980’s when he would come up to Long Beach, where I lived and was studying and training in witchcraft, to do seminars and talk to some of the people in the local occult scene who came from San Diego. He spent a good deal of time discussing herbalism and magic with the lady who ran the local occult shop. He was friendly, knowledgeable, a good teacher and a genuinely good guy. You’d be glad to have met him. I am.

To the best of my knowledge, Scott was never fully trained in a traditional or hereditary school of witchcraft. Today, this doesn’t seem to mean much but back then, witchcraft was a mostly closed religion. You had to be accepted by a coven or born into a witch family to receive training as a witch. Everything was secret and kept that way, blood oaths and all. I remember huge arguments over lineage and who trained who, who’s tradition was better or more authentic. These were often full-blown witch wars with serious curses thrown and damage done. If you were accepted into a coven for training, you might be getting into more than you’d bargained for.

That’s mostly over now although I expect it still goes on in places. What took the edge off? In many ways, Scott did. Cunningham's seminal work, Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner, was first published in 1988. This text flipped the script on the Wiccan spiritual tradition of being a closed religion that required initiation by a group or another to participate. It focused on the individual's practices and opened a window to new practitioners across the world.

Scott Cunningham's interest in solitary practice within the Wiccan faith was spurred on by his search for a queer-affirming tradition within the Wiccan faith. As much of the focus with the traditions during the ’70s and '80s was on the sacred marriage between The Goddess and the God, Scott often wrote that a sense of being excluded pervaded these traditions because of his sexuality. The creation of solitary practice, and removing the need to be initiated by a tradition with it, opened up the Wiccan movement to queer people and would be the basis for many queer-focused movements in the coming years.

While Scott often came under fire from lineaged Wiccans, who point out that his books are in fact about Neo-Wicca, rather than traditional Witchcraft, his works typically offer a lot of good advice for people who practice as solitaries. Scott frequently pointed out in his writings that religion is a deeply personal thing, and it's not up to other people to tell you if you're doing it right or wrong. He also argued that it was time for Wicca to stop being a secretive, mystery religion and that Wiccans should welcome interested newcomers with open arms.

Interestingly, Scott was able to take his knowledge of natural magic and translate it into language that beginners to Wicca could easily understand. He shared his belief of the Divine, and of symbolism, and although he never dumbed it down, he managed to take complex information and explain it in a way that someone who had no prior understanding of Wicca could still absorb. It was this skill, perhaps, that made him one of modern Paganism's most popular writers. Even thirty years after his death, Scott Cunningham's books continue to sell in bookstores around the world.

Scott loved Hawaii and traveled there often. He was also drawn to Huna, the magical tradition of Hawaii, and a range of new age movements and concepts that influenced and colored his spirituality.

In 1983, Scott was diagnosed with lymphoma, which he successfully overcame. In 1990, while on a speaking tour in Massachusetts, he suddenly fell ill and was diagnosed with AIDS-related cryptococcal meningitis. He suffered from several infections and died in March 1993. He was 36.

Magical Books by Scott Cunningham

1982 – Magical Herbalism: The Secret Craft of the Wise

1983 – Earth Power: Techniques of Natural Magic

1985 – Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs

1987 – The Magical Household: Spells and Rituals for the Home (with David Harrington)

1987 – Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Crystal, Gem, and Metal Magic

1988 – The Truth About Witchcraft Today

1988 – Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner

1989 – The Complete Book of Incense, Oils & Brews

1989 – Magical Aromatherapy: The Power of Scent

1991 – Earth, Air, Fire, and Water: More Techniques of Natural Magic

1991 – The Magic in Food

1993 – Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Wicca in the Kitchen

1993 – Divination For Beginners

1993 – Living Wicca: A Further Guide for the Solitary Practitioner

1993 – Spell Crafts: Creating Magical Objects (with David Harrington)

1993 – The Truth About Herb Magic

1994 – The Truth About Witchcraft

1995 – Hawaiian Magic and Spirituality

1997 – Pocket Guide to Fortune Telling

1999 – Dreaming the Divine: Techniques for Sacred Sleep

2009 – Cunningham's Book of Shadows: The Path of An American Traditionalist – A rediscovered manuscript written by Cunningham in the late 1970s or early 1980s.

Thanks for reading this blog. I hope you enjoyed it. Please leave your comments, ideas, suggestions for future posts in the Comments below. Did you ever meet Scott? Let us know!

Subscribe below to be notified of future posts, upcoming events and anything else that's going on. Our monthly Newsletter, too!

Blessed Be

Sterling Knight


Obtuvo 0 de 5 estrellas.
Aún no hay calificaciones

Agrega una calificación
bottom of page