Joseph Wilson was born in 1942, and spent his early years wandering in the woodland near his house, with periodic influences of his grandmother's church meetings in the summer. Joseph's interest in the occult revealed itself in his pre-teen years, where he began collecting lore in a notebook. To say his mother wasn't pleased to find this notebook and its contents would be understating the case; in fact Joseph quickly learned that his own writings were not secure. Through the course of high school, he participated in various forms of mischief, one of which landed him in probation. This probation improbably led to his participation in the Baptist church, where his spiritual bent re-blossomed and he was groomed to go to seminary. Joseph however was not immune to the sensual explorations of teenage years, and at age 18 found himself the husband of a pregnant wife. The year was 1961, and an economic recession was in place; to provide for his family, Joseph enlisted in the Air Force.
In the Air Force, Joseph participated in a play called "Bell Book, and Candle" where he met a young man who would have a profound influence on his life. This young man, called Sean, began to teach Joseph to listen to nature. Sean taught by asking not what lore was appropriate to a particular item, but by asking what the item said to Joseph. Under Sean's influence, Joseph participated in several nature-based activities that gave him direct experience with spirit, but like many folks to whom these things are new, Joseph also turned to reading.
In 1963, Joseph found and became an avid reader of Fate magazine, which led him to Pentagram, a witchcraft publication then in existence in London. Ignoring Sean's apparent disdain for such things, Joseph avidly read the publication, and was inspired to start his own, which he titled "The Waxing Moon." An ad in Pentagram for The Waxing Moon put Joseph in contact with Robert Cochrane (Roy Bowers), with whom Joseph corresponded and learned from during the last six months of Robert's life. Many other contacts were made as well, several of whom would have a significant impact on Joseph's life.
The Vietnam War effort was growing around this time, however, and Joseph was an enlisted man in the Air Force. His wife's pregnancies kept him out of Vietnam itself, but when in 1966 the orders came for Joseph to be sent to Thailand, he could no longer avoid it. There he took a novel approach for an American GI, and attempted to take the culture on its own terms. He met Som there, who was a prostitute at a GI bar, and finally moved in with her. Despite the language barrier, she taught him to follow along with her in her religious practices, which got Joe in the habit of meditating nightly. She also introduced him to Marijuana for the first time. Following in the customs of the culture, Joe arranged for one of his R&Rs to be spent in the Buddhist monastery as a monk, something that each male in Thailand did at least once, for as little as a day or as much as the rest of his life. Joe lived as one of them for the period, and noted, "I feel like I became a better person for that experience. Although I have maintained a love and respect for Buddhism I never felt appropriate practicing it outside of its home continent." While he was there he also observed a Thai "Medicine Man" casting the evil spirits from a woman who appeared to be having an epileptic fit, among other activities.
As Joe was returning from Thailand, he stopped to visit with Bill and Helen Mohs, who had been handling the Waxing Moon for him. While there he participated in some sex magic practices, ranging from book-learned (and misunderstood, he notes) practices to marijuana-enhanced attempts (which he cannot remember the result of directly). When he returned to Topeka, Kansas, he traded the remainder of his marijuana for LSD in an experiment on noted effects of the drug on out-of-body experiences; "the experiment was a disappointment."
After Joe got settled in Topeka, Bill and Helen moved there to join him, where the three of them and Joe's reluctant wife continued to experiment in a melding of their two styles. With the possible exception of the conjuring of a fire elemental, their results were somewhat successful, "but not spectacular." Unfortunately the living arrangements made for Bill and Helen were somewhat less than satisfactory, causing the foursome to break back apart. They did not get back in contact with one another until 1973.
The month after their leaving, Joseph managed to acquire some amphetamine tablets, which he used to supplement visionary seeking that turned out similar to shamanic journeying. Unfortunately when he ran out, he was hooked on the drug and went through depression and detoxification. He was contacted in three separate writers doing books; of them the first (Brad Steiger) was discarded as it was from a secretary with poor grammar and spelling, the second (Hanz Holzer) sparked a correspondence with the author yielding mentions in certain books, and for the third (Susan Roberts) he provided introductions to Ed Fitch and John and Jay Hanson, among others. "By then I had something of a national reputation and was asked to give local radio, television, and newspaper interviews, which I did."
In mid 1968 Joseph applied and was accepted for military journalism training, so by January 1969 he began work in his new field, to be disappointed with the ethics demonstrated there. When he received orders to move to England, he accepted eagerly. On the way there, he stopped in New York to visit with Susan Roberts and view the proofs of her book, along with Ed Fitch, Ray Buckland, John Hanson, and Joe Luchak. Ed, John, and Joe determined that there would be a problem caused by the book, namely the interest of many readers in the Old Religion, with so few teachers. Ed had a partial solution to this, in a pair of manuscripts he was giving (and allowed Joe to use) to promising individuals. Joe wasn't comfortable with the writing style, but approved of the concept, "and we made plans to expand the idea when Witches USA was released."
When Joe arrived in England, he almost immediately contacted Ruth Wynn-Owens of Plant Bran, a woman he met "indirectly through The Waxing Moon. She was introduced to [him] by Martha Adler who was a subscriber to The Waxing Moon, right after [he] got back from Thailand," and was to become the third major influence on his practice. He met several members of her circle of friends, and participated in certain of her Plant Bran rites.
Joe's first several months in England were a whirlwind of activity. His national reputation in the world of the Old Religion had caught up with him in his military record, and he was first questioned by the base's Staff Judge Advocate, then sent to a psychiatrist when Joe pointed out that the line of questioning was an unconstitutional form of religious persecution. The psychiatrist for his part not only agreed with Joseph, but also asked to be added to The Waxing Moon's mailing list. He participated in Ruth's Samhan ritual at her husband's estate in Yorkshire. He also was introduced through another of Ruth's friends to a Gardnerian HPS he calls "Lady Alice," who granted Joseph his first degree, then his second and third at later dates. He also participated in full moon rituals with Colin and Marged (who he also met through Ruth), which were modifications of Gardnerian rituals to balance the burden between the sexes. Ruth also introduced Joseph to Normal Giles, who had known Robert Cochran and "was with him when he ritually drank the potion of poisonous herbs that took his life." Norman taught Joe more about those things Robert had been teaching him, among others, and also explained to Joe about Robert's tendency to mix "truth with falsehood, and showed [him] how certain things he had furnished [Joe] were obviously forgeries." Joe also was put in contact with Tony Kelly in Wales, who urged Joseph away from occult emphasis and more into natural themes.
In December of 1969 Joseph began work as wing historian, where he discovered firsthand the problems of attempting to produce an honest history about current events - nobody wants to look bad. When Witches USA hit the bookstands in 1970, Joseph received another visit from the Staff Judge Advocate's office, from which he was released, but was ever aware that he was being watched. The expected flood of mail came on schedule, and among the contacts received then was Gwydion Penderwin (Tom DeLong). Gwydion was included in the correspondence between Tony Kelly, John Hansen, Ed Fitch, and Joseph. Since much of the letters received from the book were requests for more information, the five of them collaborated on a collection of pagan practices to publish, provided to anyone who asked at cost. It wasn't copyrighted, and was published anonymously, so it could be freely shared among all interested parties. Unfortunately that lead to numerous plagiarisms. Differences in opinion about the operations of the group led to the creation of three sister groups: "Nemeton" on the west coast of the USA (Gwydion), "Pagan Way" on the east coast of the USA (John and Ed), and the "Pagan Movement In Britain and Ireland" in England (Joe and Tony). With postage costs for The Waxing Moon getting rather expensive from England to the USA, the American readership (who received their own edition anyway) was transferred to John and Ed and became "The Crystal Well," the official voice of the Pagan Way. The English readership remained with Pagan Movement and Joe. As events progressed, Joe became intimately familiar with the political maneuvering Sean had warned him of so long ago.
In early 1970, Joe started having open meetings in his home. Frustrated with the suspicion of the OSI, he invited the base commander, chaplain, and wing commander to the monthly meetings. "They always declined the invitation." His problems with the base continued, as he helped a friend beat a possession of marijuana charge, and was held for questioning by base authorities until he got a lawyer who made the case moot. When Joe discovered more than he was comfortable knowing, he requested and was granted removal from the historian's position, along with being stripped of status and moved to a position where he could be removed. At this point, the OSI walked back into his life and offered him everything back if he could help them with the case of a particular anti-war group suspected of activities that today would be considered terrorist, and being funded by the Soviet embassy.
Meanwhile the Pagan Movement was growing and changing into its own tradition, with circle meetings, and seasonal festivals. The Spring seasonal festival included the Great Rite as some would call it, which eventually caused problems for the group as jealousy issues arose. Since people were traveling long distances, "crash space" was made available for them.
Joe's work for OSI sent him to a protest at Speaker's Corner, a place where tradition holds anyone can say anything without fear of reprisal. He was ordered to take pictures. Daisy decided to join him, and brought their 5 children. A newspaper tried to interview Joseph as he was entering, but Joseph "gave some non-committal answer" and continued on. Joe took several pictures, including shots of Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave. The newspaper published a photo of Joseph and his family on the front page as "a model of American Youth." When OSI developed the pictures, they confirmed the film with Joseph, then pointed out the shot of a Captain Culver, who they suspected of collaboration with the Viet Cong. Joseph was asked to testify at a court martial; he agreed a few days later with the stipulation that he be moved. At the court martial his truthfulness was called into question based on his religion, but the question was deemed invalid. Joseph was then sent off to Athens, after learning that his testimony had made front-page news across Europe and the USA. When he arrived in Athens he discovered that he was not expected, nor was his position the clean slate new beginning he had hoped for. Two weeks after he arrived in Greece, the hate mail followed. At this point Joseph's drinking, which was becoming a problem, became serious. It didn't help that he was denounced on all sides, and even his contribution to the Pagan Movement was taken from him when Tony Kelly claimed to have done it all himself. When invited to write a rebuttal, Joseph did so, only to discover it was under false circumstances and was quoted out of context.
The situation in the Air Force improved however, as Joseph got moved back into a Base Historian position, and received further training in the work. While in Greece, Joseph came to the discovery that the names of the Greek gods and goddesses were nothing less than the Greek words for their aspects of nature, just as American Indians use "Eagle" "Fire" and "Wind." This revelation shaped Joseph's practice during this time. Once again he reached out to others, with an advertisement in Fate magazine leading to a mailing of materials to interested parties, including suggested reading and circle structures.
In the summer of 1972 Joseph began feeling increasingly paranoid, and went to the hospital for a prescription for his nerves. In August, another incident occurred where Joseph was whisked away to a base psychiatrist due to apparent accusations of "Satanic ceremonies" performed. After the same explanation given in England, Joseph was released. Shortly thereafter a seeming intrusion occurred into Joseph's protected documents on base due to an apparently unlocked door, resulting in Joseph's access to classified material being removed. Despite this, he was still ordered to write the history, "under the supervision of the administrative officer." This was an extremely precarious situation, and thus Joseph returned to the hospital for a stronger prescription. Shortly after, Joseph suffered a complete breakdown, and was transported to a psychiatric ward in Turkey. While in the hospital (and heavily medicated), Joseph agreed to help a nurse contact a deceased relative, and with much foolery and flourishing included, proceeded to conduct a circle, complete with readings after. "Actually for something I thought I was doing mostly as a joke, it turned out rather well," he commented later. The psychiatrist Joseph saw in Turkey apparently had his own axe to grind with the Air Force, and suggested to Joseph a manner in which they might be able to get him discharged with a "service connected disability retirement," involving a stay in a hospital for a couple of months during which he was to refuse all medication. On Joseph's return to Greece, he was escorted back to the OSI office, this time on charges of smuggling hashish from Turkey to Greece. Joseph demanded and received a lawyer, who insisted on being allowed to accompany the officers on the search of Joseph's home. "Naturally, with the agents being watched, the search of [his] home turned up nothing." Shortly after, Joseph was sent back to Dallas, Texas for the official proceedings. Several months later, he decided to find out why he was still in the facility, and was informed that his discharge had been approved, but the OSI had him on hold under investigation. Given Joseph's own description of the events of the next few hours, I suspect his words of "I lost my temper" were a bit of an understatement; at the end he had an attorney, a hangover, a smashed 2 inch oak door, destroyed restraining straps and was allowed to "go to my own bed, upon my promise that I wouldn't hurt them." On February 2, 1973 Joseph officially retired from the Air Force.
Release from the discipline in the Air Force led to chaos and a deterioration of Joseph's and Daisy's marriage. Joseph continued his correspondence work, and his explorations. A misunderstanding with Ruth Wynn-Owen over the sharing of certain lore led to a complete breakdown of his relationship with his remaining mentor. During one of Joe's visits to Marja and Bill Bahr, Daisy found and burned Joe's letters from Ruth and Robert Cochrane. The latter he had copies of, but the former were forever gone. Finally, Joseph left Daisy and moved in temporarily with his mother in Michigan, but circumstances surrounding his brother kept the stay short.
At some point that summer, Joe came back into contact with Bill and Helen Mohs, and he went to stay with them on October 1, 1973. There he became acquainted with the advancement of their work in invoking Pan through sex magic. Joseph contributed to their work, and met several other individuals through their circles, including Mara Schaeffer (his second wife), with whom he shared "a very stormy relationship" that lasted until winter solstice of 1975. During that period Joseph participated in several activities, including discussions with Gwydion that sowed the seeds for the formation of COG, an initiation into "Ordo Templi Astartes, a Qabalistic lodge which performs ceremonial magic based upon the Goetia," and reciprocal-attendance arrangements with Bill and Helen Mohs, Sea Coven, and "Outer Court" circles held by Dave and Ann Finnan under the guidance of Ed Fitch. During this period, he cobbled together the beginnings of the 1734 tradition, which he describes as "failed attempt on my part to integrate the philosophy I had absorbed from Sean, Ruth, Roy, and Norman into a coherent dogmatic ritualized format." He created an initiation format using a stone he had brought with him from England, chipping a piece off of this "True Stone of Scone" (as he jokingly called it) for each initiate. He developed this system through 1974 and 1975. He also continued participation in the formation of the Covenant of the Goddess until their insistence on the acceptance of the Wiccan Rede forced him out. Joe became a contributor to Gnostic News until Isaac Bonewits, then an editor of that publication, rejected an article essentially containing the information on the masculine and feminine mysteries that Joe received from Robert Cochrane, as "not politically correct." Joe declined an interview with Margot Adler for Drawing Down The Moon because he did not approve of the evident preconceptions and slant of the questionnaire.
In 1976, Joseph lived with the Joanna, who would eventually become his third wife, and taught her 1734 among other things. Joe and Joanna became close with Dave and Ann Finnan. They had a friendly rivalry for their respective circles, but due to certain circumstances surrounding a friend of Dave and Ann, they stopped working together in circles. In late 1978 or early 1979, Dave and Ann requested the use of Joseph's initiation stone for one of their own; Joseph said they could have it if they wanted it since he wasn't using it anymore. This led to the misunderstanding that he had turned 1734 over to them. After that point the two couples drifted apart, a circumstance compounded by the birth of Joe and Joanna's daughter Tara. After a situation surrounding a missing paycheck and lost tempers, the relationship deteriorated further to an apparent enmity.
In 1977 Joseph met Ernie (Longwalker) Peters, a Lakota medicine man who worked with natives coming to Los Angeles. He shared these words with Joseph: "You know, Joe, if you or other white folks are really serious about our spirituality, you won't go asking me, or us, or anyone else about what we believe, our ceremonies, our regalia, and stuff. Instead you will go out into the woods and talk to the sky, the earth, the rocks, the rivers, and the streams. And LISTEN to the answers, and listen to your ancestors. Only then will you start the long path to healing." Suddenly Joseph saw that Sean, Ruth, and Robert had all tried to tell him the exact same thing. The immediate result was the changing of his circle to the Temple Of The Elder Gods (TOTEG). Culturally specific references (such as deities and their names) were dropped, and an attempt was made to "connect directly with our ancestors and the Gods and to discover ways that were appropriate to them based on where we lived." Membership went from 20 regulars to 4. In order to have some framework to start from, he went back to his old paperwork from the Pagan Movement and Tony Kelly, and modified one of those rituals to suit the new TOTEG. He started using guided meditations, deliberately leaving descriptors out so that people would see what they saw, as opposed to what was planted. The result was exciting - the seasons of their area clearly influenced the result, and the different journeys seemed to fit together into a pattern. Slowly, TOTEG grew.
Joe's interest in shamanism came to the fore at this point. In the 1970's he had read Mircea Eliade's "SHAMANISM: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy," and in the early 1980's Joanna came home with a copy of Michael Harner's "The Way of the Shaman." Joseph saw the commonality between Harner's attempt to create a culturally neutral system, and his own work with TOTEG. Joseph attempted several of the suggestions from Harner's book and was rather impressed. He took the work to his TOTEG circle, where it was embraced as well. This work, with the hearty application of Occam's Razor and a separation from the neopagan community, continued through the early 80's. All interpretations had to go, which included mythology and complex concepts such as immortality and reincarnation, in favor of working directly with nature. In 1984 TOTEG was incorporated as a California Non-profit Religious Corporation.
In 1985, Joseph encountered "Medicine Wheel: Earth Astrology" by Sun Bear and Wabun Wind and was temporarily taken in by the book. After working with the material for a while, and encountering difficulties on the idea of becoming a Sun Bear Apprentice, Joseph recognized that the majority of the book covered "traditional Babylonian astrology and Western Philosophy with Indian sounding names substituting for the familiar planets, signs, elements, and so forth," and was not related to the vision of Sun Bear. In early December of 1985, Joseph met Sun Bear and participated in a ceremony. He was left with a deep respect for the man, and does not comment on the controversy surrounding his works.
Here ends the material presented by Joseph in Warts and All as of this date, July 7, 2004. From my own experience of Joseph I know that around 1988, Joseph and Joanna separated; Joseph left TOTEG with Joanna, and it slowly died. Joseph stepped away from the Neopagan community for several years. What he did until 1994 I have no idea. From a correspondence from Joseph on the Mestista list dated January 25, 2003, some clarity of his activities between 1994 and 1996 is available. In 1994 he was living in Michigan, and he subscribed to AOL under the handle "Bearwalker" and began participating in Usenet group soc.religion.shamanism. He got a free web page, "Bearwalker's Shamanic Teachings And Techniques," where he posted some of his writings from Los Angeles. From his page he was put in contact with a gentleman who introduced him to the IRC channel #cyberwitch on DalNet, which he reluctantly joined on March 22nd, 1996. There he met Starrhawke, who became his last apprentice, and cofounder for Metista. Around this time he was diagnosed with COPD, and decided to leave his teachings for those of us who came after.
In July of 1996 the Declaration of Metista was written. Once again specific information from the source is missing, though I participated in some of it. Joseph remained active in alt.religion.shamanism through the current date. In 1999 he and Starrhawke formed a mailing list for Metista, which flourished until 2003. They also maintained a Metista website, which contained articles and information relating to this path of Metista - a uniquely American, primarily shamanic evolution of the original TOTEG, focused on the prevention of theft from other cultures. In 2003 Joseph and Starrhawke went their separate ways, and Joseph continued along his path of promoting and teaching natural spirituality through the newly formed Toteg Tribe (www.toteg.com).
At the time of this writing, Joseph's current tagline seems to best summarize his views on spirituality:
'Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the men of old; seek what they sought.'
Matsuo Basho (1644-1694)