The following is an excerpt from my new book Witchcraft in Illinois: A Cultural History. Part of the chapter on contemporary Illinois, the Witch School in Vermillion County had very interesting origins. Order it today on Amazon.com or Barnesandnoble.com
In 1990, a group of Wiccans created the Church of Gaia in Chicago, Illinois, which for many years was home to an Internet-based school called the “Witch School.” Over the next two decades, the Witch School would be influential in the Illinois Wiccan and neo-Pagan community, even after it moved to rural Vermillion County.
Donald Lewis, a cofounder, considers himself to be the inheritor and spiritual leader of the Correllian Nativist Tradition, a neo-pagan sect allegedly founded in the Danville, Illinois area in 1879 by his great grandmother, Caroline High Correll.
“Caroline was a woman of mixed racial heritage who practiced various forms of magic, herbalism, and spiritualism,” he explained. “With her husband John Correll, Caroline ran a circus during summer months and focused on exhibitions during the winter—described as ‘art lectures’ these exhibitions actually showcased many of the new visual and audio technologies that were emerging at the time.”
She was involved with both the Spiritualist and Universalist movements and was associated with Henry and Lydia Beckett of Galveston, Indiana. Henry C. Beckett, who died in 1953 at the age of 83, was pastor of the Galveston Universalist Church for 15 years. His wife, Lydia, was a painter who, according to her obituary, “was also widely known for her antique collection.”
They were married on August 26, 1888 and moved to Galveston in 1905. According to the Logansport Pharos-Tribune, Lydia Beckett “along with being a leading expert in Druidie amulets, read the Tarot, and prepared herbal cures…”
In 1937, Henry and Lydia Beckett established a collection of items related to magic and witchcraft they housed in a small log cabin. Lydia Beckett, whose exact relationship to Caroline High Correll is unclear, allegedly practiced a form of witchcraft based on the works of American folklorist Charles Godfrey Leland.
Henry and Lydia Beckett’s daughter, Atsie, married Glen C. Lawrence, the Galveston town marshal. The two had a son named Reginald Lawrence. Reginald was a stage magician who in turn had a son named Lawrence E. Lawrence. Like Donald Lewis, Lawrence was greatly influenced by his grandparents’ work.
He gained stewardship over their collection, which became known as the Lawrence Museum of Magic & Witchcraft. Indiana Governor Edgar D. Whitcomb, who was in office from 1968 to 1972, once issued Lawrence a certificate proclaiming him to be Indiana’s “official witch.”
In Illinois, Donald Lewis was carrying on his family traditions as well. His mother, LaVeda, headed the Correllian Nativist Tradition from 1966 until 1979 and initiated Donald in 1976. In 1979, the group appointed Krystel High-Correll as the new Head of the Correllian Tradition, with Donald as co-Head. Donald considers this tradition distinct from the Wiccan tradition as conceived by Gerald Gardner.
“Like many other American Wiccan groups, we are not related to Gardnerian Witchcraft except in as much as we are both part of a larger movement and we share a number of practices, some of which arise because of common ancestry or inspiration and others as a result of assimilation with the Eclectic Wiccan community,” he explained.
Order Witchcraft in Illinois to learn more!