Magickal Pride 1970

Out of the Broomcloset photo by Leon Calafiore
Out of the Broomcloset photo by Leon Calafiore

Out of the Broomcloset

“I am what I am, I am my own special creation” – Jerry Herman, lyrics.

“I’ll initiate them, with this sausage” — Dr. Leo Lewis Martello.

Striving against the status quo and achieving social change is the work of multitudes, but always ends up with a few individuals being its public face. Circumstances require a certain basket of personality traits, not all of them necessarily acceptable in the daily social concourse, but vital when contending against opposing forces (the “saints” who have worked among us being the exception).

Sometimes, there’s a bit of self-promotion or hucksterism incorporated in the mix, when setting out into uncharted territory: self-confidence, certainly. You can’t make everyone happy during a revolution, and sometimes, you have to fake it until you make it and become the person you are.

For some of the younger readers, it may come as a bit of a surprise that at least in the tri-state area, the flowering of the Pride movement and the visibility of witches, magical practitioners, magical folk, and pagans of every sort had a shared cast of characters, smashing through the concerns of straight society. One of the curmudgeons-in-chief was Dr. Leo Louis Martello, who passed into the Summerlands Pride Week 2000. He was, indeed, his own special creation, as we all are to varying degrees, but not necessarily a friend to all.

Like so many others, he came from elsewhere (Massachusetts) to the magic land of New York City. He worked as a handwriting analyst, settling into a new life as a gay man and aspiring occultist.

While claiming, at first, initiation into an Italian witchcraft tradition, he did, years after a 1973 initiation into a Gardnerian Coven in England, pretty much acknowledge that perhaps he had embellished his early history, though he did still develop a viable “Strega” Italian magickal tradition.

Then came the Stonewall riots and involvement in the Gay Liberation Front.

When they proved not quite aggressive enough, he went and helped to found the Gay Activist Alliance, writing a “Gay Witch” column for their paper.

All of which were prologue to Halloween 1970 and the “Witch-in” Dr. Martello organized to occur in Central Park. It’s difficult to appreciate how radical a concept this was. Of course, the “occult revival” had been percolating through popular — and sensationalist — media for a number of years. But this took things to a new level, a public, group ritual saying, “here we are, deal with it.”

Except the Parks Department wasn’t having it. However, the techniques of media engagement developed after Stonewall, following the 1st Gay Pride Parade earlier that year, and the suit filed by the ACLU made short work of the opposition. The Samhain ritual was filmed and shown in various outlets.

And he never stopped fighting the good fight, kicking open closet doors of every variety.

Let’s all be inspired to continue blasting them open. Happy Pride!