Bradley, Marion Zimmer (1930–1999)

PaganGreen Paganism and Witchcraft

Best-selling
science fiction and fantasy author and mentor of women
in Wicca. Marion Zimmer Bradley’s novels carry such
Wiccan themes as the power of women and worship of
the Earth Goddess.
Bradley was sometimes called a witch or Wiccan
priestess, which she publicly disavowed. She described
herself as an occultist and student of ceremonial magic,
but not a witch. “That is not my path in this life,” stated
Bradley, who was an ordained priest in the New Catholic
Church. “I myself am unalterably Christian.”
Bradley was interested and involved with the occult
most of her life. She was born on June 3, 1930, in Albany,
New York, to a Lutheran family. She had an early interest
in poetry and writing and dictated poetry to her mother
before she could write. At age 11, she started an alternative
school newspaper, The Columbia Journal, because
she did not like the official school paper. She also had
an early and intense interest in classical history, classical
ceremonial magic, the mystery religions and the Arthurian
legends.
Bradley spent three years at New York State Teachers
College in Albany (now part of the State University
of New York) but did not graduate. In October 1949, she
married Robert A. Bradley, a railroad man, and had a
son. The Bradleys moved to Texas, living in what Bradley
termed “a succession of small towns and smaller towns,”
including Levelland and Rochester. For a period in the
early 1950s, Bradley joined the Rosicrucians, which put
structure into her interest in the occult.
Bradley started her writing career in the 1950s by
writing short stories for the pulp and confession maga36
Bovet, Richard
zines and then original paperback novels, most of them
science fiction. Her first novel was Seven from the Stars,
published in 1955.
In 1959, Bradley left her husband and went to Abilene,
where she finished college at Hardin Simmons University,
majoring in education, psychology and Spanish and
earning a teaching certificate. She financed her tuition by
writing confession and romance novels and was selling so
well by the time she finished that she never had to use the
teaching certificate.
In 1963, Bradley moved to Berkeley, where she remained
for the rest of her life. She undertook graduate work in psychology
at the University of California at Berkeley from
1965 to 1967, but did not complete it for a degree.
In February 1964, she married Walter Breen, a leading
authority on rare coins. Breen became the first member of
an occult order Bradley had conceived while still in Texas,
the Aquarian Order of the Restoration. The purpose
of the order was to restore worship of the Goddess, long
before it became fashionable to do so. At its height, the
order had about 18 members. The order eventually dissolved,
feeling that its purpose had been accomplished.
The last meeting took place in 1982.
Between 1965 and 1969, Bradley occasionally took
LSD as a religious experience. She had read about the
uses of LSD in psychology. Typically, she would spend a
day or two preparing for the experience, a day immersed
in the experience and then a day or two integrating the
insights from it. She stopped taking the drug in 1978, because
it lowered her blood sugar.
Of Bradley’s novels, the one that identified her most
closely with witchcraft is The Mists of Avalon, published
in 1983. Bradley had long been interested in creating a
novel for Morgan Le Fay, the sorceress/fairy said to be the
sister of King Arthur. The opportunity came in 1977, when
Bradley’s editors, Lester and Judy Del Rey, suggested that
she write The Acts of Sir Lancelot, which would be a companion
to The Acts of King Arthur by John Steinbeck. Bradley
said she would rather write about Morgan Le Fay. The
Del Reys agreed to the idea and offered her a contract.
Bradley began work on the book in 1978. She took
what was to be her last LSD experience, which provided
her with a flood of ideas that coalesced into the central vision
of the book. The Mists of Avalon tells the story of Arthur
through the viewpoints of the women around him.
The central narrator is Morgan (Morgaine), priestess of
the Goddess and the Mysteries, schooled for seven years
in the magical arts by Viviane, the Lady of the Lake. The
other key women are Viviane, Igraine, Arthur’s mother,
and Guinevere (Gwenhwyfar), his wife and queen. As
part of her research, Bradley took a flat in London and
traveled around to various Arthurian sites in Britain.
Mists, which portrays the ancient ways of the Goddess,
the mysterious world of Faerie, and the conflict between
paganism and Christianity, gained a wide following in
the Wiccan and pagan communities.
Bradley herself became involved with Wiccans in the
late 1970s. She joined a women’s group (Starhawk was
one of the leaders). Bradley, Diana L. Paxson and other
women formed the Dark Moon Circle, of which Bradley
was a member for about four to five years. The group was
described as “part coven, part women’s consciousnessraising
and part sewing circle.” Bradley dropped out
shortly after The Mists of Avalon was published in 1983.
She found herself besieged by people who wanted her to
speak on female consciousness, crystals and how much
of the book had been “channeled” (none, she said). Also,
some of the members of the Dark Moon Circle wanted
to open it to men. Bradley had joined in the interest of
learning how to relate better to women.
Bradley took exception to some of the values and aspects
of the Craft that she felt were “intellectually dishonest.”
For example, she said, modern witchcraft is a
fertility religion, yet many feminist witches lobbied for
abortion rights. Bradley said that “witchcraft is too tied
up in people’s minds with medieval witchcraft, which is
a form of satanism. Witches do not even believe in, let
alone worship, satan.” Also, she said, trying to return to
the old Earth religions in a society that is intertwined
with technology does not make sense.
Bradley followed Christianity all her life, occasionally
attending Episcopal services (an aunt was Episcopalian)
and singing in the Unitarian Church. She became
involved in the New Catholic Church through Breen, an
archbishop, and a friend, also an archbishop. After taking
classes, Bradley was ordained in 1980. For about five
years, she worked with a gay counseling service in Berkeley,
California.
In addition to her son by Robert Bradley, she had a son
and a daughter by Breen and a foster daughter and a foster
son. Robert Bradley died of lung cancer in 1966. Bradley
separated from Breen in 1979, but they remained married
and best friends.
Bradley died on September 25, 1999. Bradley was a
believer in reincarnation and had her first spontaneous
past-life recall as a teenager. She said she had past lives
with her two husbands. She recalled lives as a Spanish
soldier, a male cowherd of the 13th or 14th century, an official
in the Roman Empire under Tiberius and a schoolboy
in Belgium during World War I who died in a bombing.
She also thought she might have been the writer and
poet Charlotte Brontë.