Scott Cunningham, best-selling author on Witchcraft and Wiccan spirituality, was born in Royal Oak, Michigan, on June 27, 1956. He was the son of prolific author Chester (“Chet”) Cunningham and his wife Rose. The Cunningham family moved to San Diego when Scott was four years old and he grew up there with his brother Greg and sister Christine. Cunningham’s interest in witchcraft and Wiccan spirituality started young due to an interest in the folk magic of his grandmother and her practices of using herbs as cures and charms. In his high school years, Cunningham further developed his interest in witchcraft by joining a practicing Wiccan friend of study of the craft.
Cunningham enrolled at San Diego State University in the fall of 1974 and studied creative writing but within the first two years of this starting degree program, Scott became a prolific technical writer, writing for trade magazines and mechanical journals. His first book Magical Herbalism was published by Llewellyn Publications in 1982. Cunningham would go on to publish 22 books relating to herbalism, Wicca, and magical spirituality.
Cunningham's seminal work, Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner, was first published in 1988. This text flipped the script on the Wiccan spiritual tradition as up until this point it was a closed religion that required initiation by a group or another to participate. This was in contrast to the self-empowering messages of Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner as it focused on the individual's practices and opened a window to new practitioners across the world. To this day Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner is the best-selling book about Witchcraft and Wiccan spirituality in the United States, selling nearly 1,000,000 copies since its original publishing in 1988. Cunningham's interest in solitary practice within the Wiccan faith was spurned on by his search for a queer-affirming tradition within the Wiccan faith. As much of the focus with the traditions during the ’70s and '80s was on the sacred marriage between The Goddess and the God, Cunningham often wrote that a sense of being excluded pervaded these traditions because of his sexuality. The creation of solitary practice, and removing the need to be initiated by a tradition with it, opened up the Wiccan movement to queer people and would be the basis for many queer-focused movements in the coming years.
In early 1990, while on a lecture tour, Cunningham was rushed to a hospital and diagnosed with cryptococcal meningitis, a severe complication of HIV/AIDS. He never fully recovered, and although he returned home and went back to writing, his health steadily deteriorated. He died surrounded by his family on March 28, 1993.
(This biographical statement was written by Brandon Luepkes with information from Whispers of the Moon: The Life and Work of Scott Cunningham by David Harrington and The Magical life of Scott Cunningham by Donald Michael Kraig.)
Biography Date: October 2020
WICCAN | Author/editor