Witchcraft and Gay Liberation

Witchcraft and Gay Liberation


2 volumes by Leo Louis Martello.

Weird Ways of Witchcraft. 

Seacaucus, NJ: Castle Books, 1972. 

First edition thus. 224 pp. Hardback—the 1969 first edition by HC Publisher’s Inc. is a paperback with different cover art. Dust jacket unclipped and in very good condition. Black and white illustrations throughout.

Witchcraft: The Old Religion.

Seacaucus, NJ: University Books Inc., [1973].

First edition. 287 pp. Dust jackets unclipped, lightly worn around the edges, sticker added to back but otherwise in very good condition.

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These two volumes attest to a fascinating—and under-celebrated—intersection in the history of witchcraft and gay activism. By taking a public stance to promote his beliefs and describing his spirituality in a positive light, Leo Martello applied his experience as a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) to his spiritual vocation. While a highly charged political move, it was not without its campiness: Lori Bruno writes that Martello coined the phrase "Out of your broom closets and on to your brooms!”—a perfect combination of witchcraft and gay liberation. The period spanning the publication of both books charts their author’s own rise to a place of prominence as an activist, both as a public Witch who sought recognition for his religion, and as an out homosexual involved in the Gay Liberation Front. Dr. Leo Louis Martello (1930-2000) had written books on handwriting analysis, tarot cards, astrology, and hypnotism before he was approached to write about witchcraft for the first time in The Weird Ways of Witchcraft. Martello had never intended to write this book—although witchcraft was a subject he had read about as a teenager—and describes in the book the series of coincidences that lead to its creation. The research accumulated in Weird Ways summarises New Age interest in the occult, its media coverage over the course of the 1960s, different magical practices spanning the Pennsylvania Dutch to African traditions, as well as its chapters on historical topics like Alessandro Cagliostro (whom Martello claims as an ancestor). It doubles as both an introductory guide to the subject and a biography of the author’s own coming to terms with his spiritual path. 

Everything that Weird Ways of Witchcraft describes and advocates for is consistent with Martello’s personal life: especially “The Witch Manifesto,” which morally condemns the Catholic Church “for the torture and murder of witches and those accused of such” and asks for millions of dollars in damages for descendants of witches and survivors of the Salem Witch Trials in particular, and demands “Enforcement of the Civil Rights Act” as “Witches are America’s (and the world’s) most persecuted religious minority.” At first, these impassioned statements are printed without comment—it is unclear in the text whether the manifesto is by Martello himself or by the anonymous author of “A Brief Outline of White Witchcraft” printed just before it. However, in the years between the publication of The Weird Ways of Witchcraft and Witchcraft: The Old Religion (1973), much had changed, as in the preface of Witchcraft Martello states boldly and bravely what was lacking from Weird Ways: “I am a Witch. That’s capitalized the same as Catholic or Jew or Moslem.” By that time, Martello had followed his manifesto very actively, founded the Witches International Craft Associates (WICA), appeared in a television interview as a witch, and won what he called “the first class-action civil-rights suit for Witches in history,” when he was awarded a permit by the New York City Parks Department to hold a “Witch-In” in Central Park on 31 October 1970. Witchcraft: The Old Religion, describes in greater detail these events, and continues the work of Weird Ways of Witchcraft with further analysis and description of key figures in the mythological, archeological, and anthropological study of witchcraft, ending with a recommended reading list and a “Questions and Answers” section based from Martello’s own experience and his interviews with other witches.

Unlike W.I.T.C.H. (an acronym for, among other things, The Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell), a political rather than a spiritual group that drew upon the aesthetics of witchcraft for protest, Martello’s “Witch-In” was political, spiritual, and from surviving documentary footage, looked like a lot of fun. The “Witch-In” gathering was based upon his activities with a precursor to the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement whose members included trans activists like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. The GLF was a short-lived organization (1969-1972) with far reaching consequences: it was initially founded in reaction to the highly conservative Mattachine Society and sought to channel the energy of the Stonewall Riots into direct action supporting not only LGBT rights, but also in solidarity with anti-capitalist and anti-racist organisations. Chapters of the GLF were started in both Canada and the United Kingdom. Martello was at one point chairman of the GLF, and contributed to the inaugural issue of ComeOut! on 14 November 1969 articles condemning The Village Voice for discriminating against “Gay Power” and another article titled “A Positive Image for the Homosexual,” claiming “The greatest battle of the homosexual in an oppressive society is with himself, more precisely the image of himself as forced on him by non-homosexuals…” He lists “steps to a positive self image, and concludes that self-hatred is “the brainwashed role that all minorities have been forced into: the blacks, Chicanos, poor whites, homosexuals, etc. In order not to be alone join the GAY LIBERATION FRONT.” He also wrote columns about being a “Gay Witch.” Martello’s dear friend and high priestess Lori Bruno remembers the importance of his work—both in his life and as it survives in his publications and contributions to both GLF and Wiccan periodicals—when she writes that Martello was “A man who gave tirelessly of himself for the fight for human rights, animal rights, gay and lesbian rights, and for Witches worldwide to worship in complete freedom…an amazingly compassionate man.”


Lori Bruno, “A Biography of Dr. Leo Louis Martello,” (First published in Llewellyn’s 2002 Magical Almanac) http://trinacrianrose.weebly.com/dr-leo-louis-martello.html

John Lauritsen has digitized the first issue of ComeOut! here: http://paganpressbooks.com/jpl/COMEOUT.HTM 

Michael G. Lloyd, Bull of Heaven: The Mythic Life of Eddie Buczynski and the Rise of the New York Pagan (Hubbarstone, MA: Asphodel Press, 2012).