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THE INTERVIEW :
successful attorney and renowned author of a best-selling spiritual
book talks about Wicca, now the fastest growing spiritual practice
in the United States. This European Old Religion, an earth religion
similar to Native American spirituality and Taoism, helps people
(not just women) to discover the divine within themselves and in
the world around them in a spiritual perspective that understands
there is a feminine aspect of the divine, not just a masculine.
your book, The
Book of Shadows,
last fall just before All
had me thinking about what most of us were told about Halloween
in general and witchcraft in particular. Could you please explain
what Halloween really is?
is actually the old Celtic New Year. In the old language itís called
Samhain and it was the beginning of the year. It was also
a holy day, a very spiritual moment in time. It was the time of
year when the Celtic people could commune with the spirits of their
ancestors. For us it is a time when we say the veil between the
worlds is finished."
I see, so it really has nothing to do with "goblins" and all the
other things weíve been told.
I think the folk remnants of ghosts and skeletons and goblins and
fairies and the other things traditionally associated with Halloween
is that idea of the spirits of those who have passed over."
So it was always "other worldly," but not in any frightening, negative
in a negative way at all. It was simply a remembrance of those we
love who have passed over. What we do is make use of these very
ancient shamanic practices and, in essence, visit with our ancestors,
to learn from them, to honor them. Interestingly enough, the date
corresponds with the time when many Native American tribes celebrate
the ghost dance. One of the things you will find is that earth religions
all over the globe, because they are earth religions, have similar
experiences of the divine in the world. So a lot of their practices
are similar and their holy days frequently correspond."
Before your book, I had never heard of the 500-year-old bestseller
of its time, the Hammer of Witches. I was appalled
to read of this bookís existence. Surely the Vatican that once sanctioned
its printing and use has now rescinded such a book.
would think that they would have and it is certainly overdue that
they should. In fact, I hope that during my trip to Italy I will
be able to meet with a representative of the Vatican and discuss
this with them. If I canít, I will be sending a letter. The Pope
has just apologized to the Jewish community and it is certainly
overdue that the papal edict that authorized torture to get confessions
from alleged witches "and real witches" has never been rescinded.
while people may not be aware of it, the failure to rescind it is
certainly part of the reason why people continue to have these terribly
mistaken and negative stereotypes about witches and witchcraft.
People believe it is Satanism, because 500 years ago the Church
accused practitioners of the Old Religion of worshiping Satan. About
a hundred years prior, they had accused other Christian groups,
such as the Cathars, of being Satanists and wiped them out. Then
they accused Jews, and then they had the Inquisition.
is no Satan in the indigenous, European Old Religion. It is an earth
religion, very much like Native American spirituality. Very much
like Taoism. Satan is a biblical figure belonging to Judaism, Christianity
and Islam. He has nothing to do with the Goddess. However, that
accusation led to hundreds of thousands of people being killed,
90 percent of them women. Yes, women raped, tortured and sodomized
by Dominican priests into confessing to witchcraft. Such sexual
perversions perpetrated by a clergy claiming abject holiness, all
in the name of God!"
Can one still purchase a copy of this Hammer of Witches?
one can. Not only can one, but also it is beginning to surface on
the internet. We have found it being referred to on various neo-Nazi
websites as a justification for reinstating the persecution of Old
Religion practitioners. And of course, we are very concerned about
that, particularly in light of recent violence that has occurred.
This is the kind of thing, that if it is not addressed in the culture,
people donít have an opportunity to learn the truth. These kinds
of things fester and become the source of future abuses.
the reason I wrote The Book of Shadows, to explain to mainstream
America and to the New Age community, to those who have not had
an opportunity to go exploring as I had, to find out what it really
is all about. And that is particularly important, because Wicca
is now the fastest growing spiritual practice in the United States."
Yes, I read that, and it is so timely now that youíre going to Italy
and will get a chance to go to the Vatican. This needs to be talked
about and if the Vatican will rescind this book, perhaps that will
certainly would. My expectation is that I will be rebuffed and this
will be the initiation of a long campaign to try to open a dialogue.
But Iíve been participating in various interfaith forums for quite
some time now and was met with a range of reactions.
was a keynote speaker at the Parliament of World Religions. That
was a very important opportunity to explain what this is really
all about. And then we unfortunately have people like the Greek
Orthodox, who didnít even want to listen and left. Then last week,
I went to this interfaith gathering of about two dozen very important
leaders from the worldís faith traditions in the United States.
They were concerned about discrimination. There were Muslims, Orthodox
Christians and evangelical fundamentalists. We all sat around the
table and talked and no one got up and walked out. I was treated
with a lot of respect as I explained the Old Religion of the Goddess.
So maybe weíre making some progress."
So when did you become a member of Wicca, this "clandestine religion
of the goddess"?
and itís no longer so clandestine Iím happy to say! About 20 years
ago. My journey began during my last year in law school. I started
having all manner of spontaneous spiritual experiences that I really
didnít have a framework for. I began to explore what they were,
where they might be coming from. I couldnít really find much in
the way of explanation, though, because it was 20 years ago. And
you didnít have New Age learning centers. You had Esalen, but that
was way out in California. I was kind of young at the tail end of
the í60s, but I hadnít done any drugs or read Carlos Casteneda,
so I really didnít have any framework. What happened was a kind
of spontaneous "opening of the door" between the worlds -- between
the mundane world and sacred world."
So it was kind of a synchronicity, perhaps?
many synchronicities. And images of the Goddess that came to me
in dreams and in coincidences. I began to feel that the universe
was alive! I had been a practitioner of yoga for quite a number
of years before that, so I had a framework of some spiritual practice.
But my experiences were now going far beyond what Iíd ever experienced
in yoga, particularly with the appearance of goddess figures in
my dreams and in my waking life. So I began to follow this pattern
of coincidences and they led me to the last place Iíd expect to
be, and that was with a coven of witches in New York.
couldnít possibly, in a million years, have anticipated or intended
it. Yet when I got there, nothing there coincided with the stereotype
-- nothing. There were these fabulous women."
Iím such a woman energy person and the descriptions of the love
and joy you women felt as you performed these rituals -- the singing,
the deep breathing, the bowl passed around -- evoked shivers of
recognition in me, as well. Can you speak a little
as to why these rituals are so powerful to women?
there are a number of reasons. I think one the most powerful reasons
is because our spiritual perspective understands that there is a
feminine aspect of the divine -- not just a masculine. And so we
have images of a goddess. When a woman looks into the face of a
goddess, sheís looking into a mirror and sees self as wise, powerful
and beautiful, capable of creating music and art and culture. She
sees in her reflection spiritual truth."
Oh, that makes so much sense.
is a validation, itís empowering, deeply, profoundly liberating.
The rituals open a womanís life to the experience of the divine
that the culture has long denied us."
can these rituals be as powerful to men or to children?
In fact, in the last five years, more men have been coming into
the practice of the shamanism of the Old Religion. I would say now
between 30 to 40 percent of the shaman practitioners are men! And
itís wonderful, for these are feminist men, men who honor women,
who respect women as priestesses.""
And then in turn, men are honoring self.
and they are honoring the divine feminine wisdom in themselves.
We are witnessing a tremendous healing as men recover their lost
emotional lives and their sexuality. Again, it is very empowering
for women to be in the presence of men who honor and respect them
and donít need to oppress or deny them. Everything in nature is
female and male. We look to nature as our spiritual teacher. For
us, everything in nature is an embodiment of the divine. It is very
much in keeping with quantum physics, in that everything is energy
and everything is interconnected. As awakened human beings, we have
a capacity to interact with each other and with the rest of the
living world at a deep level of spiritual consciousness."
Do you think this is the reason people are drawn to Wicca?
and another reason it is so popular, not just with women but with
men, is that people are so much more educated today. We are less
willing to accept somebody elseís interpretation of anything as
important as the divine."
Especially an interpretation that is thousands of years old, in
a world now that is totally different from that world.
incredibly modern with modern problems. People are looking, I think,
for tools and techniques that work, for tools they can use to make
their own spiritual journey -- to discover the divine within themselves
and in the world around them. The great gift of the shamanism of
Europe is that it works. These are practices that anyone can master.
When you learn to work with them, you take off the blindfold and
experience the world weíre living in as sacred. And when you see
it and taste it and touch it and hear it and know it as divine --
in both masculine and feminine ways, as well as in ways that are
neither -- you see it as all part of the web of life."
You are a practicing attorney and have been for 20 years. What messages,
if any, are you getting about your priestess work from the general
delighted to say that there are increasing numbers of attorneys
who are Wiccan, or Pagan or Neo-Pagan, as some people prefer to
call themselves. A pagan is simply someone who lives in the country,
lives close to the earth and follows the nature cycle. When I started
with Wicca, I seemed to be the only attorney. Now there are Wiccan
lawyers all over the country. Thatís very important, because we
are in the midst of forming groups to battle the discrimination
that exists for us.
in the midst of setting up a network of attorneys that can be called
upon to give advice and take cases. And we are finding a tremendous
acceptance and assistance from attorneys who are not Wiccan, but
who understand that this is a very ancient, beautiful, peaceful
religion and how important it is to women and to all of us. But
of course I find that some of my older, stodgy, male clients are
not calling, particularly since my book has become more public.
But Iím also acquiring more women clients."
So the book promotion has been going well. What doors has it opened
find that I truly enjoy writing. The response to the book has been
incredibly moving. When I wrote the book, I wanted to write it as
though it was a novel, using that ancient craft style of storytelling.
I think the book is unique in the literature about Wicca, in that
it speaks to what these practices feel like and how they transform
us. Itís kind of like a Castaneda for the í90s. Itís doing incredibly
well. We are in our fifth printing, and itís been released all over
Europe. And yes, I feel Iím doing my lifeís work, what I came here
to do. Iím doing a lot of lecturing, workshops, traveling all over
the country. People want to know and learn. But there arenít enough
teachers of the Old Religion."
Youíve had much media exposure in recent months. Iím told you appeared
on Roseanne, and The View. You conducted Wiccan rituals invoking
the goddess. How did it go? Iíd love to have seen the reaction of
ďBW,Ē as Star Jones calls Barbara Walters.
went beautifully. Roseanne gave us quite a bit of time and did the
ritual with us. She has a background in goddess spirituality from
many years ago. We did a very simple and clear ritual on The View.
The tragedy was that after weíd finished and left the sound stage,
Star Jones came on and began the next segment by saying that what
we had done reminded her of the anti-Christ."
Well, speaking of Star Jones, from my experience as an African-American
woman, Iím aware that many African Americans are still steeped in
Christianityís rejection of paganism. I am very curious about whatever
feedback you are getting from my folks.
of the tragedy for us, I think, is that though Star Jones clearly
identifies herself as a born-again Christian, because she is a black
woman, in one sense, one would have hoped she would have been more
judicious in saying something that is essentially a kind of bigotry.
And though it may have come from ignorance, when you make an effort
to educate people, when you take a great risk in confronting these
negative stereotypes, you sort of hope people will temper this stereotypical
behavior. You hope that they wonít rush to judgment, that they will
look deeper into the origin of those stereotypes, particularly when
a person has himself or herself been a victim of bigotry.
is true that Christianity has been a powerful force in the African
American community. A prominent method of cohesion, a place for
joy. But I am seeing more and more black women of all ages, not
so many black men, but many black women coming to this religion.
I think it is because the goddess is not just white, but Afro-Caribbean,
Hindu and Chinese. One of the women in my original circle was a
black woman from Jamaica, and we frequently worked a ritual invoking
the Afro-Caribbean goddess of justice. I remember that as an extremely
understand that when we are working with a particular divinity,
that it is a metaphor for a quality of divine energy. So we are
very open, appreciative to the vast array of cultural perceptions
that humanity has conceived of and envisioned the divine."
I have found, in myself, that my spirituality has to change as I
change, evolve as I evolve through my life, from day to day.
I think thatís an incredibly wise insight. In the Old Religion,
the phases of the moon literally correspond to the stages of a womanís
life. In this is the understanding that as you grow and change,
your spirituality automatically changes and grows. It matures and
transforms. Older women especially hold all of these moon phases
within them. Patriarchal religions banished this wisdom, and that
is such a shame. Fortunately, itís coming back now. It has to. Iím
hearing many so-called "baby boomer" women who are coming into menopause
saying how wise and centered they feel now, in a way theyíve never
felt before. Awesome power in this collective."
The goddess has returned.
she has, Gail. Indeed she has.
© 1999 Gail Roddy
Curott is an attorney. She wrote the acclaimed Book
of Shadows, and was honored by Jane magazine as one
of 1998's Ten Gutsiest Women. President emerita of the
Covenant of the Goddess, the oldest and largest international
religious organization in the Wiccan tradition, she founded the
Circle of Ara and the Temple of the Sacred Earth.
writes in her book: "Most people know intuitively that when
you fall in love, the world is full of magic. What they don't
know is that when you discover the universe is full of magic,
you fall in love with the world."
Book of Shadows : A Modern Woman's Journey into the Wisdom
of Witchcraft and the Magic of the Goddess (20% off the
price!) now through Amazon.com by just clicking here
you want to ask questions to the author of this article?
You can do it, sending an e-mail to email@example.com
let's introduce her. She is
is the author of the book Belly of the Beast. She is also
co-founder with her husband, Bill, of Osiris Organization,
a life-skills counseling service for youth.
article was first published on the magazine The Edge - Exploring
the Evolution of Consciousness. You can find it at http://www.edgenews.com