A youth movement with significant pagan elements, Woodcraft was founded by Canadian-American nature writer ErnestThompson Seton (1860-1946) in 1902, at his home in Cos Cob in suburban Connecticut. Concerned about the impact of industrialization and urban life on youth, Seton launched the movement as an attempt to bring young people into contact with nature and to teach values of self-discipline and cooperation. Seton was an early supporter of Native American rights, and drew on Native American traditions in launching his movement.
The movement started out as a single ‘tribe’ of 42 boys in Cos Cob, but expanded dramatically over the following years, reaching a membership of 200,000 by 1010. After a brief and unsuccessful alliance with the Boy Scouts of America, Seton set up the Woodcraft League, an international organization, in 1915. Woodcraft tribes had groups for different age levels and a detailed program of activities and honors. A especial inner circle for adults, the Red Lodge, had three degrees of initiation and a spiritual dimension focused on what Seton called the Red God, the spirit of wild nature and the “Buffalo Wind” that called too-civilized humanity back to its roots in living nature.
The Woodcraft League gained its first overseas members in the year of its founding, when a group of English Quakers, dissatisfied with the militaristic elements of Lord Baden-Powell’s Boy Scouts, turned to Woodcraft instead and launched the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry, the first British Woodcraft group. In 1919 there was another addition to Woodcraft ranks as John Hargrave, a charismatic Scout leader, broke with the Boy Scouts and founded a Woodcraft group called the Kindred of the Kibbo Kift (“kibbo kift” being an old Kentish dialect phrase for “proof of strength”). Another Woodcraft group, the Woodcraft Folk, broke away from Hargrave’s group in 1924. All three of the British Woodcraft groups set aside Seton’s Native-American symbolism in favor of a mixture of Celtic and Anglo-Saxon imagery more appropriate to British youth. In the process, they helped to lay the foundations of modern Wicca. See Wicca.
The Woodcraft movement reached the peak of its popularity in the 1920s and 1930s, with groups active in some 20 countries around the world. The Second World War and the period of massive industrialization and Cold War militarism that followed it, however, brought a steep decline in the movement. After Seton’s death in 1946 the Woodcraft League went out of existence, and the few surviving Woodcraft groups in the second half of the twentieth century continued in isolation. Woodcraft today remains an active but very small movement, with a variety of local groups linked mostly by the Internet. Whether it will survive or flicker out in the twenty-first century remains to be seen.
Further reading: Hargrave 1927, Seton, 1920, Seton 1926.
[GREER, 2013: 541-542]
Order of Woodcraft Chivalry (1930)
KKK on an Easter Hike (c.1931)
(…) Gardner had close connections to the English branch of woodcraft, a youth movement founded around the beginning of the twentieth century by Canadian-American nature writer Ernest Thompson Seton (1860-1846). Starting in 1915, when Quaker groups opposed to the militarism of Lord Baden-Powell’s Boy Scouts imported Woodcraft as an alternative, two Woodcraft organizations – the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry and the Kindred of the Kibbo Kift – had an active presence in the New Forest area where Gardner claimed to have worshipped with surviving witches’ covens. Similarities between Wicca and English Woodcraft ceremonies from the 1920s even include references to the earth as a goddess and to a horned god of nature, and Seton’s Woodcraft included an inner, initiatory branch for adults, the Red Lodge, with three degrees of initiation.
[GREER, 2013: 536]
Cernunnos on the Gundestrup Cauldron (II-I BC)
Gerald Gardner (1884-1964)
GREER, John Michael. The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Societies. London: Harper Element, 2013, pp. 568. ISBN 978-0-00-793145-3
HARGRAVE, John (1927). The Confession of the Kibbo Kift (London: Duckworth)
SETON, Ernest Thompson (1920). Two Little Savages (Garden City, NY: Doubleday)
SETON, Ernest Thompson (1926). The Book of Woodcraft and Indian Lore (Garden City, NY: Doubleday)