Shelley TSivia Rabinovitch
Ye Harm None
Ye Harm None
TWPT: For those of our readers who may not be familiar with you or your writings could you give us some background on yourself and how you came to write Pagan books?
SR: My first awareness of "pagans" was while my family was living in Arizona. In 1971 I had a Wiccan and a neo-Satanist in my creative writing class, and boy, was I ever confused! "A witch and a Satanist...what sort of weird city have we MOVED TO?" thought I!
That's where I came in contact with my first coven - a sort of Gardnerian/Alexandrian mix, which met in a local park. I studied with them for about a year but didn't ask for initiation at that time. Like many others, I went on a search for a spirituality which fit me personally, since I was having more and more problems with the religion of my ancestors (Judaism).
When I was 16, I had a death experience which profoundly changed my world. Without going into too many specifics, I can attest to the fact that the Presence which was waiting for me on the other side was FEMALE, and not the God of my ancestors. I'd have to say that's when my Path shifted away from the monotheism of Judaism.
I did my M.A. in Ontario, Canada, at Carleton University, on witches and neo-Pagans in Canada: who they are, what they mean when they say "I'm a witch", or "I'm a Wiccan", etc. It was hailed as a ground-breaking piece of religious ethnography by my examiners, studying in particular the fact that nearly all my respondents had experienced either a major trauma, or systematic abuse, since their childhood days. Wicca attracts many wounded souls because it is one of the few spiritualities which recognizes the Divine in each of us ("Thou art God/dess").
I sort of fell into writing books on Paganism in part because of my academic penchant (writing and researching) and also as a colleague (Jim Lewis) was up against a short deadline for a contract. This lead to "The Encyclopedia of Modern Witchcraft and Neo-Paganism", a book I'm quite proud of (Citadel Press, 2002, 2004). We did away with a million rehashings of witch hunts in the reformation, and instead filled the book with engaging articles such as the growth of Paganism in the former Soviet Union, comparing and contrasting neo-Paganism and neo-Satanism, etc.
TWPT: Your latest book is called An Ye Harm None and subtitled Magical Morality and Modern Ethics. This book sounds like it digs under the surface of what Wicca is about. When you were considering this topic as a book length treatise what was your starting point for considering the morality and the ethics of Wicca?
SR: One of my colleagues at the University of Ottawa (where I currently teach), Lucie DuFresne, was discussing the fact that after about the age of 30, most pagans buy very few books. The fact is that most of the books out there are basic texts, and how many of them does one REALLY NEED to own?
So Meredith Macdonald, my co-author, and I discussed what sort of book would we as pagan ADULTS, like to see on the shelves? Well that's how we wrote about Pagan Ethics and Morals. Grown-up stuff, as it were.
TWPT: Another question that comes to mind when dealing with a community of such diversity is, is there enough common ground for there to be an effective foundation for morality and ethics that will be work between traditions and belief structures?
SR: What we did was pretty textbook anthropology actually: take the comments the community itself makes about its world, and then look for the imbedded world-view this expresses. So, we took standard statements such as "An ye harm none, do what ye will", "Magic is Alive, Goddess is Afoot", or "Thou art God/dess". We looked at what the witch says this means to him/her, and then we looked at what sort of universe would contain these aphorisms.
There is a myriad of statements imbedded in pagan statements: a world where magic is a real force; where the environment is important as it is "our mother"; where spirit is imbedded in all living things; where all life in the world is equal and not on some hierarchical pyramid structure. Most pagans I've met, and who Meredith have met, do stick to the six or eight statements which we used to construct our book.
TWPT: In your book you touch on a variety of ethical/moral topics including how we as Wiccans relate to the environment, our relationships, our children, money and community to name a few. Do you see a good foundation already in place within the Wiccan/Pagan community in regards to ethics and morality or is there a void that currently exists between idea and practice?
SR: I find personally that many Wiccan/Pagans default to decisions which are "easy" or "familiar", and do not challenge their choices. We live in what is still primarily a Christian world, with a Christian worldview espoused, and what is a good or correct choice of action for a Christian may not necessarily be correct for a Pagan or Wiccan. Because we have no dogma or creed, it is harder to teach a young Witch how to assess their lifestyle in a Pagan manner. This is one reason why we wrote this book: not as a scripture, not as a rulebook, but as guidelines to challenge our decisions.
TWPT: Is there an experience level in the reader (beginner, intermediate, advanced) that you had in mind for understanding the ideas and concepts of this book?
SR: I'd say we were thinking for intermediate readers to embrace the ideas, and advanced readers to perhaps use the book as a backbone for their classes on living an ethical pagan lifestyle. Ideally the book is to challenge the reader to think deeply about all the choices we make.
TWPT: You actually co-wrote this book with Meredith Macdonald. How did the two of you work together and share your ideas and concepts as to the direction this book should take? Do you find this more of a challenge than if you were working on your own and directing the project yourself?
SR: Actually Meredith and I have known each other for some years, and it was an easy pairing for us. She's got more knowledge than I do about money issues and children, and I have a stronger background in community and culture. We brainstormed about what we thought should be in the book, and then divvied up the writing based on our personal specializations and interests.
TWPT: It seems like there are almost an unlimited amount of choices that we have to make each and every day in regards to how we should live ethically in our world how is a Wiccan supposed to put these ideas and concepts into a framework that will be practical in their day to day experience in the world?
SR: I think it will become second nature as we start to consciously embrace the subconscious worldview we embrace when we self-identify as Pagans and Wiccans. The first time it might be hard to look at a shirt and decide if it is "paganly" ethical to buy it (material, sweat shop, cost to value, etc. etc.), but as people recognize WHY they choose some of the things they choose, I believe it will become a much easier task to live an ethical Pagan lifestyle.
TWPT: How much research goes into making a book like this happen and how is it that you know that you have enough understanding of an issue to be able to communicate it effectively?
SR: Some if it was definitely harder to write than others. Meredith is very financially savvy and I had to keep stopping her while she wrote and say "OK: I don't know what that MEANS. Explain it to me as you would explain it to your kid." So we had to spell things out which might have been "clear" to us. Between us we've been involved in the Craft for about 50 years, so we have a lot of experience to draw on as well. And then there was a lot of research to back up what we would say: I learnt a LOT about fabric fabrication and construction by working on this book, let me tell you!
TWPT: As an author does each successive book that you write become easier because of the experience that you gained from the previous books?
SR: Only slightly. I have the huge advantage of having been a professional journalist for about 15 years of my life before returning to university for graduate work, so I write quickly and in a very conversational tone of "voice". (It causes me trouble as an academic, because I don't use enough "high falutin' words" when I write.) Ideally I'd like to be writing books on enough diverse topics related to paganism that it won't become too easy.
TWPT: Did the writing of An Ye Harm None give you pause to reevaluate any of your own ideas as to the practical application of ethics and morality in your own life?
SR: Not really, thankfully. I make the decisions I do about my life based on what I can financially afford, what I can ethically afford, and what I feel I must do. I have chosen to work my volunteer time with the Red Cross as I find this a very nurturing organization with many values in keeping with my own, for example.
TWPT: The proof of the pudding is in the tasting as they say so what kind of feedback have you been receiving from readers and reviewers about An Ye Harm None?
SR: It's only been on the shelves since just before Yule, but we're receiving magnificent feedback so far. The reviews on amazon.com have been positive, and I've even received emails from total strangers who may be on the same e-list as I am, telling me how much they're enjoying the book. It's been selling like hotcakes at every book signing I've done as well, so I think we really did find a niche which needed to be filled with this book.
TWPT: At the very least is there a main point that you would like a reader to walk away from An Ye Harm None with? How would you like to see readers use your book in creating their own ethical and moral response to the Wiccan path?
SR: I guess if I had to highlight one main point, it would be "THINK!". For those who are poor pagans, they need to respect the fact that their choices might not be the best for the environment but they are the best ones FOR THEM at this time. Some folks can make small changes in how they live, such as buying their coffee from fair trade vendors, or buy one pound out of four from a fair trade vendor at least.
Ideally I'd like to see readers use our book as a springboard to their own ethical framework. It doesn't have to agree with what Meredith and I have to say, as long as it's well thought out and agrees with what that individual feels is their pagan path. That's why we pose questions at the end of the chapters, rather than giving rules.
TWPT: Are you going to be out on the road promoting this book during 2005? Where might readers meet you or attend a conference that you will be teaching at during the coming year?
SR: At the moment I haven't been contacted except by the Toronto Pagan Conference (which will be held early in February of 06) as a guest author. I believe there will also be some sort of pagan gathering around November of this year in Ottawa which I will be at, and I'll be at Gaia Gathering (Edmonton, Alberta) this mid-May giving a paper on paganism from the academic angle as well as selling and signing copies of the books. I'm certainly open to any additional festivals or conferences which might want to bring me in as a guest. I've traditionally not been much into the pagan festival/conference circuit.
TWPT: Most interviewers usually miss something that the author would like to talk about so I like to throw in a catch all question at the end like this. Is there anything else about the creation of or hopes for your new book that you would like to bring out to our readers?
SR: Not too much actually. I'm an academic, a writer, a poet and musician (I've performed my pagan works only once, at a Starwood forever and a day ago, in Ohio). I have a pretty good idea for a new book and I've been doing the research on it for about the last six months: it'll have to do with a very simple spell system which I've never seen anyone write about so far. But I don't want to let the cat too far out of that bag, so let us say that I have more ideas still to come.
TWPT: Well thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions about your new book An Ye Harm None and I wish you a lot of success with this title.