The Author's Corner
Finding New Goddesses:
Talks to Barbara Ardinger
TWPT: Tell me about your earliest recollections of spirituality in your life and how was it that Witchcraft became part of this spirituality?
BA: I don’t think there was
any spirituality in my childhood. I was born and raised in
not precisely sure when Witchcraft came into my life. I didn’t know I was
psychic until I was in my late twenties, and a friend started automatic writing
in my apartment and I saw the ghost of my first cat, Fred, and had additional
psychic experiences. After I moved to
TWPT: Was it immediately evident as to how important Witchcraft was to become in your life?
BA: I’d been a fairly ferocious feminist during the 1970s—I earned my Ph.D. in an English department afflicted with terminal macho, was one of two women who earned their degrees with straight A’s (none of the boys did), and wrote my dissertation on the persona of Cleopatra in the plays in English (1592-1898) (she was very much a Machiavellian Prince). Witchcraft seemed to fit right in with my feminism. At first, like lots of women at the time, I saw the Goddess as “Jehovah in a skirt.” This was a fairly militant Goddess religion, and it became central to my life—restoring the Goddess to Her rightful place in the world. I have since recognized that our religion has as many foundational myths as any other religion and I quit trying to convert anyone to anything 25 years ago.
TWPT: Do you view the Goddess movement and Witchcraft as to be almost identical disciplines or are they two separate movements that share similar ideas as to deity and spiritual practice but remain quite distinct from one another?
BA: You must know that nearly every Wiccan/Witch/Pagan has pretty much their own definitions and distinctions. Here’s my take on it. “Pagan” is the generic term, though “pagan” as it is used today does not mean the same thing that it did 20 or 200 or 2000 years ago. Today “pagan” is pretty much any version of the nature religion invented primarily by Gerald Gardner after WWII but based on Romantic writing (Michelet and others) and the 19th century European Occult Revival (Golden Dawn, etc.). Pagan does not include the Eastern faiths, does not include Native American faiths, does not include African faiths (none of these people like to be called pagans), and is only vaguely related to ancient and/or classical Greek, Roman, Norse, Etruscan, etc., etc., etc., faiths.
As I see it, Wicca is any of the Gardnerian (English) off-shoots, whereas Witchcraft tends to be more U.S.-based. I know any number of Wiccans who do not agree with me. I tend not to argue with them about their religion because they know more about Wicca than I do.
Goddess religion includes Witchcraft but does not necessarily include Wicca. I
say this because
In my heart, the Goddess religion is everything and subsumes all the other varieties. I suspect I may be a panentheist.
TWPT: People know you now as an author/freelance writer but when did this love affair with language begin for you?
BA: My love affair with language? Well, I was being read to before I could talk (and did the same for my son), though I didn't learn to read till first grade. (That’s how it was done back then.) I’m told that I wrote a story and gave it to my father when I was about 7 years old. I clearly remember that in high school I not only got A’s in my English classes but also was the only member of the Creative Writing Club who had a new piece for every meeting. In college and graduate school, I took not only the required literature courses but also every composition and grammar class I could get. I love English grammar! I think it’s sexy and fun and fascinating, and I teach it that way. (The difference between an active verb and a passive verb, for example, is who’s on top.) I enjoyed diagramming sentences. I took Latin and French in high school and still make bilingual puns. (I also now have a good friend, Miriam Robbins Dexter, who is my “classical consultant” and makes sure I spell Latin words right.) In high school, I also started sending stories to magazines (and collected a million rejections), and I remember my sophomore English teacher driving me downtown to meet with a vanity press publisher. The deal did not materialize, thank Goddess! I have in fact read the dictionary (and when I was a kid I read the entire 20-volume Book of Knowledge) and one of my fondest wishes is to own my very own OED, but not the little one with the magnifying glass, the real, big one. (Meanwhile, I have made a friend at the Oxford University Press, and she gives me occasional access to the OED on-line.) I also love puns, figurative language, and wordplay of all kinds. When I was earning my M.A., I worked as a secretary for five psychologists. Every morning, they’d come into the office and find that I’d written a new pun on the blackboard. My forthcoming book, Finding New Goddess, is full of puns and dreadful verse.
TWPT: Who are some of your major influences when it comes to your writing style?
BA: Influences on my style--probably everything I’ve ever read. Here’s one no one will guess: I have read all of the Durants’ History of Civilization, not only because I love history (it puts the literature into a proper context) but also because they write so clearly. E.B. White is another influence: again, plain, simple, clear communication. I can write very fancy stuff, but I don’t. Having also written user-hostile computer manuals in my time, I value clarity and a user-friendly style. I cannot, alas, think of any women who influenced my writing style. My thinking, yes, but not my writing style.
TWPT: What were some of the first books to be added to your personal library concerning Goddess spirituality and Witchcraft? Anything that would still be considered classic and must reading even now?
BA: First books: Drawing Down the Moon, Spiral Dance, Holy Book of Women’s Mysteries, Lady
of the Beasts, Great Cosmic Mother,
Once and Future Goddess, The White Goddess, all of Dion Fortune’s
books (I once declined to return to Z. Budapest’s shop in
TWPT: Tell me about your book A Woman's Book of Rituals and Celebrations.
BA: R&C came out of that first Goddess
I was interested to read on the back of your book that you have a Ph.D. in
English Renaissance literature. How does
this kind of a background help you to create books that will not only be
BA: What does my Ph.D. do for
me? It lets me have fun with my writing. I get to toss in allusions to
Shakespeare and Milton and Spenser and Donne. Because I di
believe that my readers take what I say seriously, so if I’m discussing
thealogy (as in Goddess Meditations
or Practicing the Presence of the Goddess),
I pay close attention to what I’m telling them. I don’t want to be responsible
for someone’s trying a spell that I suggested and it blows up in their face. I
don’t want to perpetuate myths (like the so-called Nine Million) that we now
know are not true.
TWPT: Do you think that we will gradually see more books that begin to delve into the history and theology of the various Paganistic religions instead of simply more books for beginners and how to manuals?
BA: Yes, I'm sure we'll be seeing more "grown-up" pagan books. I belong to three or four e-groups and also meet quite a few people face-to-face, and what I'm reading and hearing is that readers are tired of Wicca 101 and Goddess 101 books. Readers want something more sophisticated than spell cookbooks. Many readers want to know what's behind our foundational myths, where they came from, who made them up (and why). People are questioning, for example, the mythology of the Witch Craze and the Nine Million Burned Witches. The work of some of our favorite scholars is also being examined, not to discount it, necessarily, but to find out what's behind or beneath the work. It's time for neo-paganism to get over being a rebellious teenage religion and grow up.
TWPT: You mention in your answer that neo-paganism needs to get over being a rebellious teenage religion and grow up. In your opinion, exactly what does this entail and is there a danger of neo-paganism "growing up" into an organized, structured religion?
BA: I think it's pretty self-evident that nearly everyone in the Pagan/Goddess/Witch/Wicca/Druid/Eco-Feminist movement is rebelling against something, usually their parents' religion. Some teenagers grow up. Others never quite make it. This is as true for pagans as it is for people in our American culture.
Movements show the same general dynamics in growth as people do. A number of serious, creative thinkers are getting weary of being merely rebellious, of trashing other religions, and being anti-everyone else, especially being anti-standard-brand religions. My friend, Carl McColman, for example, has written a thoughtful book called Embracing Jesus and the Goddess, which says that if Jesus came back today he’d probably be a witch. It’s a good book.
If we're to grow up, we need to realize that not everyone will want to find the Goddess or the old Gods. Many people will remain where they are, spiritually or religiously, and be happy. (Of course, I believe that these same people may be leading unexamined lives, but that's their choice.) Growing up often means learning to compromise, to tolerate differences, to let people be who they are. Becoming mature means, among other things, being responsible for one's actions and living with the consequences. I believe that religions can mature, but it's the energy and creativity of the Goddess religion, of Wicca and paganism in general, that makes us more interesting than the standard-brand religions.
Would neo-paganism turn into "an organized, structured religion"? I think a bit more organization might be useful! Maybe public rituals would be less chaotic and people might arrive on time. (Everyone knows about "pagan time," right? You leave home at the time the event is scheduled to begin.) And we already have quite a lot of structure, though we're often purposefully blind to it. We have elders, teachers, high priests and high priestesses, leaders of various kinds. Many groups try valiantly to run themselves by consensus, but it seldom works that way in reality. In reality, leaders arise. My opinion is that we need to recognize our leaders and cherish them. But we also need to be sure we remain rebellious enough to keep things perking.
TWPT: What kind of relationship between a writer and a publisher is best for achieving the goals of both of them? Have you had the freedom that you need as a writer to publish (without major changes) the material that you felt drawn to write?
BA: Relationships between writers and publishers are chancy at best. Remember, what a publisher wants is to sell books. A publisher is not interested in getting a message out there, a publisher isn't interested in fine writing, a publisher isn't interested in philosophy or thealogy. A publisher wants to make money.
I've generally had good luck with publishers because I'm willing to compromise on small things (like minor edits), but I also raise mighty hell about things I care about. I try to remain courteous, but sometimes it is sooooo necessary for me to stand up for myself to a publisher. One time I sent a publisher such a strong series of e-mails that one of my friends said the energy had done unfortunate things to her computer via the cc's. An issue I have had to deal with a couple of time is that some of my books don't have regular, recognizable chapters. For PPG, we worked that out and New World Library did a splendid job with the book. A proposal I have at another publisher is going to have the same issue. I'm confident we'll work through it.
TWPT: Tell me about your next 2 books: Goddess Meditations and Practicing the Presence of the Goddess.
BA: Goddess Meditations (GM)
was published by Llewellyn in 1998. I wrote it between 1996 and 1997, right
after I moved to
Practicing the Presence of the
Goddess (PPG) grew out of Rituals & Celebrations. When New World Library hired a new
acquisitions editor, Georgia Hughes, they handed R&C to her an
TWPT: What kind of satisfaction do you get as a writer when you see your books being read, discussed and enjoyed by those who find that your words reverberate the truths that they themselves are feeling inside? Does this in any way motivate you onward towards your next book?
BA: I totally love it when I
learn that people are reading and using my books. I am always happy to hear
from readers, too. Readers sometimes go to my web site. Send me an e-mail. I always reply, and
sometimes our “conversations” lead to friendship. There's a scene in one
of Erica Jong's books, where she and her daughter are walking down the street
TWPT: Beyond the books that we have already mentioned you have something new and unique coming out very soon and I wanted you to ask you to give our readers a sneak peek at what they might expect from Finding New Goddesses. Perhaps you could share one or two these "new Goddesses" with us as a way to illustrate what readers can expect when they pick up the book.
BA: Finding New Goddesses will be coming out from ECW Press in spring, 2003. This is a book of parody and puns. To start with, it's a parody of those A-Z encyclopedias that take themselves so seriously. My Found Goddesses go from Acme and Aphasia to Zinfandella and Zombonie.
A Found Goddess, by the way, is a new one that someone makes us. I got the idea from a terrific book called Found Goddesses by Morgan Grey and Julia Penelope (written in 1988, it is, alas, out of print). I started Finding Goddesses while I was working on a Y2K project and learned way too much about computers. So I Found several computer Goddesses: Nerdix (Mother of All Motherboards), Compuquia, Pimpernella (scarlet warrior against viruses), Whizziwig and the Silicon Man, Pornie (Goddess of way too many web sites), Cyberia (Goddess of the download), etc., etc. Then I branched out to Goddesses like Fandango (air conditioning), Fixorrhea (duct tape), Rentessa (renting apartments), Scissorella (the good hair cut). There are about a hundred of them, including the Goddesses of Ecstasy, Chocolata and Vibrata, and the consorts, Mr. Goodbar and Mr. Buzz-All-Night.
The book is full of puns, wordplay, allusions to and parodies of the Charge of the Goddess, the Hail Mary, a couple Psalms, Gardnerian ritual. It's kind of an equal-opportunity parody. As I said before, nothing is safe from a writer. I wrote wretched verse for invocations, songs ("Sing hey, sing, ho, for Zinfandella,/ She's better than a horny fella"), stories (Mouse and the Hapless Writer). I parody feng shui (Chi-Chi and her evil twin, Sha-Na-Na), interior decoration (Zinfandella), taxes, Wall Street, well....; you get the idea. Nothing is safe from a writer. Nothing is too sacred for parody.
of my favorites is Enthusiamma, the Goddess of Gods. You need to know, of
course, that the word "enthusiasm" means "filled with God"
and "amma" means "mother."
Enthusiamma Goddess of Gods
Scene: The Void. Thunder and lightning. Tossing and heaving and crunching where the seas and mountains would be if there were any seas or mountains, which there aren't any. Yet.
Voice: Let there be light!
Flickers of light. Sparks. Fade to that grungy dim you get in late November when the sun is skulking behind the clouds and seriously thinking about going on vacation back to, say, mid-July.
Let There Be Light!
Flickers and sparks. The light is trying. It really is.
I said, Let There Be . . . uh, Mother, may I?
Yes, dear. But be sure to clean up after yourself, there's Nana's good boy.
And there is Light.
As far as history cares to tell us, the first man to walk and talk with a God was Abraham, who lived about 1,900 B.C.E. We have Goddess figures that date to 25,000 years before Abraham and his God. Enthusiamma is the Gods' grandmother. She is also their mum, auntie, nurse, and governess.
is a little known fact, but true, that there are only thirteen Gods-the
son/lover, the time-measuring God, the sun God, the wisdom God, the vegetation God,
the war God, the craftsman God, the horned God, the sacrificed God, the
underworld God, the monopolist God, the anti-God, and Om the Great, God of
everything else. What seems to be a vast multitude of
worldwide Gods is done with nifty disguises like beards and armor an
Scene: The summer camp on top of the famous mountain.
. . . and then, and then, well I just put on the swan suit and she-
That stupid old swan disguise again? Man, you gotta be kidding. Go for the showeragold. Works for me every damn time.
And then you know what I did? I climbed up that old tree and hung around, spyin' on 'em, y'know, till I found-no, till I, y'know, invented the alphabet. I think I'll call it roons. Yeah, that sounds good, don't it.
Sisters are such a royal pain! So I just kept throwing stuff in her, like, bewdwar, and she, like, finally took her stupid mirror and hid in a cave. Why'd we ever invent sisters, anyway? Like, what've they got that we don't got?
An' I, an' I-dudes, check this out! I found this board, y'know, and I stood on the pointy end, and held my arms out, and, like, hung ten, and, dudes! I WAS EFFIN' FLYIN'!
Yeah. Right. 'N' maybe next time you'll actually get in the water. Dude.
Don't bother me, man. I'm eating. You got any more ketchup in there?
. . . an' I went down to my temple the other day and, man, was I stoked! They got tweeters 'n' woofers to kill for in there. Tunes that'll knock you out!
I told 'em and told 'em. Don' worship any body before me, and you know what she said? You know what she said?
She don't know how to love you?
Shazam! Hey, fellas, look! It finally wfflhnh-
Oh, yeah? Oh, yeah? Well. . . well. . . well, Mom always liked you best!
Now I told you boys to settle down. You boys settle down before I have to come in there. You don't want to make me come in there.
Some days, Enthusiamma is full up to here with Gods.
TWPT: Many times religion is portrayed as overly serious and without a sense of humor when it comes to poking fun at itself. Your new book does not mind taking a wry look at the Goddess and I was wondering if you would share with us your thoughts on why it is important for us to have a sense of humor about our spirituality.
If we look at
the history of the
any book about religion, meditation, Gods, Goddesses, devas, angels, theology
or thealogy, philosophy---how funny is it? Not funny at all. Because I write
book reviews, I read a
I know a lot of really nice pagan people, and I know they have a sense of humor. I've been to funny rituals. I've received funny e-mail forwards (there's another Found Goddess, Annoya). But none of this humor appears in the books.
So I wrote Finding New Goddesses to show that while we may take our religion seriously, we don't have to be solemn about it all the time. We can have fun with our religion. We can find joy in it, delight, humor, parody, puns, nonsense.
Here's the invocation to the Blessed Bees:
Twinkle, twinkle, Blessed Bees,
As I ask You, grant it please-
Wisdom, wealth, abundancies.
As I will't, so mote it, Bees.
TWPT: What is it about Goddess spirituality that continues to draw those who are dissatisfied with the "mainstream" religions to its path?
BA: In addition to not being spontaneous or funny, the mainstream, or standard-brand, religions are focused on sin and punishment. They're generally misogynistic. They're highly hierarchical. Two examples presently in the news are Al Quaeda (biophobic in the extreme) and the pedophile scandal in the Roman Catholic church. The standard-brand religions run according to a vertical paradigm: God and man on top of the mountain, woman and mud down at the bottom (and doing much of the work for those on top). All the standard-brand religions worship the same God, although with different names, but what they really worship is their holy books written by men who may or may not have been as interested in theology as they were in politics.
According to the standard-brand religions, the first man to speak with God was Abraham, who lived about 1900 B.C.E. Although the Willendorf figure (which we accept to be a Goddess) wasn't found until 1909, she was created 35,000 years ago, and she has many sisters equally old. That makes the Goddess the Grandmother of God.
What people are looking for-and finding in the Goddess religion, in Wicca, in Witchcraft, in neo-paganism is a religion that operates on a horizontal paradigm. We worship in a circle, we cycle through our lives, we endeavor not to harm others. I have read that there are more of us (pagans, Wiccans, Witches, etc.) today than there are Unitarians or members of several other smaller denominations. I have also read that it's not Wicca that’s going mainstream, but the mainstream that’s going pagan.. People care about the environment, they care about mothers and children getting enough to eat, about people living with some sort of dignity, about whether or not the earth will even survive mankind. I'm surprised that everybody isn't Wiccan by now. (Well, yes, I'm very much aware of the fundamentalist backlash, and it makes me very sad..)
TWPT: Tell me about what you do as a teacher and how this integrates into your career as a writer. Are all writers teachers in one way or another?
BA: I'm an old English teacher, and a tough one, though I haven't been an official teacher (in the public schools) in many years. During the 80's and early 90's, I taught at several community colleges. I have also taught Wiccan/Pagan classes from time to time in various settings. For several years, for example, I taught a class called “Practicing the Presence of the Goddess” in my own living room. (The class covered much more material than the book does.) In general terms, I try to teach what I live and live what I teach: kindness in the world, adoration of the Goddess, understanding people of various faiths. It seems to me that anything anyone writes is a teaching tool. When I write, I speak directly to my reader, and I'm teaching that reader what I'm writing about.
TWPT: Like most people in this country you have been exposed to the Internet in quite a number of ways, as an author and as a pagan, how has this helped you to connect with your audience and those who follow a similar path as yours? Is there a down side to the Internet and if so what impact has it had on the pagan movement in general?
BA: The Internet and the World
Wide Web connect us with people around the
Z. Budapest told me several years ago that "readers are cool." She's correct. I always reply to emails I receive from people who take the time and trouble to get in touch with me.
addition, I belong to three e-groups composed of pagan authors an
It's well known that pagans are generally more computer literate than the population as a whole. We have some wonderful web sites, the best and largest being The Witches Voice.
Is there a down side? I suspect that some people are Net-addicted. I know there are frauds who advertise or chat to mislead or misinform. There are charlatans who fool some of the people some of the time. There are pests and cyberstalkers. These things are as true of the pagan community as they are of the population as a whole.
Mostly, however, the Net and the Web are a blessing because they echo the Net and Web that the Goddess wove when She created all things. The Net and the Web are real, and we dance upon their links. An excellent book on this topic is Macha Nightmare's Witchcraft on the Web, in which most of the footnotes begin with www.
TWPT: A word that is thrown out a lot in reference to the pagan movement is community. Tell me about your feelings in regard to what has happened over the last ten years or so with pagan community and what might we be looking for in the coming years?
BA: Community is important to us, even as individualistic as we generally are. Even nonconformists need something to conform to. So we build our community via the books and magazines we read and respond to. We connect in public rituals. We connect on the Net and the Web. The community has grown a great deal in the past 10 years as more books have been published, more web sites have been built, more public rituals are facilitated. At the same time, however, it's a small community in that everyone knows everyone else, or at least how to get to everyone else through two or three or half a dozen emails or phone calls. The pagan community is large and wide-spread at the same time that it's a big family. Understand that I'm a writer, not a prophet, so I will say, carefully, that community-building is a trend that is likely to continue. We will add more and more links, both in our personal lives and on the Net and the Web. Like the TV show, it's good to have somewhere to go where everyone knows your name.
TWPT: Do you feel that the social climate of our country in relationship to the pagan community has opened up over the last few years? Why or why not?
BA: In general terms, yes, the social climate has opened up to paganism. I think it happens more often on TV and movies that Witches and other pagans are characterized as people who belong to a nature religion, not as Satanists. There are so many books now by pagan authors in the chain stores that anyone can read them.
the same time, however, the backlash is real. People like Pat Robertson and
Jerry Falwell and Lou Shelton (who lives in
But, except for the extremists (on both sides), we are learning to talk to each other, at least from time to time. Pagans and witches were included at the 1993 Parliament of World's Religions, and when they did a ritual, only the most conservative walked out. We've also learned to defend ourselves. At a solstice fair a few years ago, some very conservative men came with placards. I remember watching a very large woman round up a group of witches. They made a circle around the men with placards, held hands, and intoned the MA chant at them. That's all they did. "Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa." After about five minutes, the men with placards went away, and they never came back. That fair has been in business, twice a year, for about 12 years, and "regular" people come and buy candles and incense.
TWPT: Tell me about some of the feedback that you have gotten from your books and how does your writing touch the lives of those who read your books?
BA: I get cool feedback from readers. They ask questions. They make comments. My readers make me write more clearly. From time to time, I'm present at a ritual or other event where someone reads from my work, and I often run into people who tell me they liked a certain Goddess meditation or the idea of "unencumbered ritual" or something else I've written. I even get feedback from people who read my reviews in SageWoman and PanGaia. Sometimes they agree with me, sometimes they tell me I'm all wet.
TWPT: You've told us about Finding New Goddesses, are you working on something beyond that right now that you might hint at to our readers?
BA: One of my current projects
is Quicksilver Moon, a novel to be
published by DrakNet Digital. It's about a Goddess-worshipping vampire, a
far-right extremist, and a coven of ordinary women who live in
Another current project is a nonfiction book whose working title is Let There Be Beauty. I started this book about 10 years ago after I had an asthma attack that nearly killed me. It's about finding the beauty in every-day life. It contains essays on finding beauty at work, at home, in people, etc. It contains poetry, fairy tales (my own versions of variations of Beauty and the Beast), definitions of the word "beauty" from two dictionaries, and journal entries. I think the best part of the book is the numerous opportunities I offer the reader to write along with me, either writing right in the book (we'll see what the publisher says about that!) or keeping a beauty journal. There's also a list of Goddesses of beauty and a sampling of beauty sites that I found one day during a Yahoo search.
I'm also starting to plan a book to be called, perhaps, City Witch. Most pagans are nature worshippers, and I myself appreciate the outdoors. I just don't like to get it on me. I see with my own eyes that many, many pagans live in cities. If we live in cities, why should we slavishly follow an agrarian calendar? Why not create an urban Craft? Find beauty in our neighborhoods? Appreciate architecture as much as we appreciate trees? These are simply random thoughts. I welcome feedback..
TWPT: Who do you write for, yourself or for your readers? I have heard it said from many musicians that I talk to that they would do what they do whether anyone heard their music at all, does that idea hold true for authors as well or is this an inherently different discipline?
BA: Who do I write for? I write for the Goddess. Also, to be honest, I write to be read. I work hard to write well, but I don't want to write in a vacuum. When I'm writing well, Someone is writing through me. (We have this agreement. She provides the ideas, but I’m in charge of syntax and punctuation and I do all the editing.) In my career as a freelance writer and editor I have written a dogfood label, a shampoo bottle label, numerous user-hostile computer manuals (and a few user-friendly ones), and numerous columns for business magazines. I have edited aerospace proposals and the memoirs of a retired police chief. Whatever I do, I do it as well as I can, and when I'm editing, I try to help people not embarrass themselves in public.
TWPT: Any final thoughts that you would like to share with our readers about any aspect of being an author, a pagan or fellow traveler along this path?
BA: Final words? I hope people will continue to buy my books and read them and perhaps find a bit of the Goddess and a bit of themselves in what I write.
 All but the last are described in
Janet and Stewart Farrar's The Witches' God (Phoenix Publishing Co., 1989). For