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The Author's Corner

 

Chas Clifton

July 1999

Visit Chas' website

 

 

Phoenix Publishing Quality Books on Wicca

 


Aradia: The Expanded Edtion

 


Etruscan Roman Remains

 


Witchcraft Today: Book One The Modern Craft Movement

 


Sacred Mask, Sacred Dance

 


Witchcraft Today: Book Three Witchcraft and Shamanism

 


Witchcraft Today: Book Two Modern Rites of Passage

 

Living Between Two Worlds:
TWPT Talks to Chas Clifton
2000-2006TWPT

 

TWPT : On the back cover to Aradia the Expanded edition it says that you have spent 25 years studying Witchcraft and the Occult. Does this mean that you are a follower of the Craft or simply a researcher of it?

Chas: My discovery of the Pagan path consciously dates to my reading of Robert Graves's THE WHITE GODDESS in 1972. I realized that here, in Graves's description of the poet and the Muse-Goddess, was something I had been groping towards. I had no idea back then if there was anyone else in the world who felt the same way. This solitary Paganism lasted me for about three years, until I joined my first Wiccan coven.

TWPT: What do you see as one of the biggest differences between the Craft today and the Craft back in the 70's?

Chas: A large difference between the 1970s Craft and today's was the scarcity of written material. (That was even truer in the 1960s, according to those I have talked with about it, such as Raymond Buckland.) There were very few "how-to" books on the market. Gerald Gardner's Witchcraft Today was still in print, and Llewellyn had published Lady Sheba's Book of Shadows. Stewart Farrar's first book, What Witches Do, was available, as were Sybil Leek's, but Starhawk, Adler, Scott Cunningham, and the rest were all in the future. People relied more on privately circulated material, such as the Cochrane-Wilson letters, which were widely circulated. And of course there was no Internet, which made the few publications of the time, such as Green Egg or Herman Slater's Earth Religion News or the NROOGD Witches' Trine all the more precious.

TWPT: Can a solitary Witch be as well rounded as a Witch that has had the coven experience?

Chas: Are witches supposed to be "well-rounded"? <g> I think formal training always benefits us, plus you can't learn to move energy as well on your own.

TWPT: Do you find that today's written material is of an equal calibre as that of material written when the Craft was younger? Is there evidence of mass marketing finding its way into what gets published and by whom?

Chas: I think that today's Pagans are less familiar with original sources. A lot of people have encountered a form of Druidism, for example. Some of them have read Stuart Piggott's THE DRUIDS, which lists all the existing written sources about the original Druids. And how many of them have read the references in Julius Caesar's GALLIC WAR, or Tacitus or Strabo the geographer or Pliny the elder? Today, we have the opportunity to get a lot more "processed Paganism" from books. That's not a bad thing; the study of Wiccan history is not essential to practice. But sometimes it leads to people making silly statements about where this all came from or indulging in a lot of 19th-century romantic nationalism about "The Celts" or something. "Celtic" really only describes a group of languages.

TWPT: Do you believe that Wiccans spend enough time researching their beliefs and where it is that certain beliefs originated?

Chas: I think we would be better off if we stopped looking at the past to justify what we are doing today. In North America, we are "mutts" spiritually and often genetically too. It is silly to make too big a deal about your heritage, be it Norse or Yoruba or Lithuanian.

Yes, you should know where you came from, but after that, you have to figure out how to live your Pagan spirituality *here,* on Turtle Island.

Furthermore, the United States in particular is a nation founded on abstractions such as "freedom" rather than "heritage," which is why discussions of heritage always end up sounding like they exclude somewhere, whether that is intended or not.

TWPT: What is the purpose of trying to find evidence that shows Witchcraft to be the remnants of an ancient Goddess religion? Would Witchcraft be any less of a valid faith system if it were to be proved that it was created in the 40's and 50's by Gerald Gardner?

Chas: Ancient people cannot help us, and we just look silly relying on outdated scholarship (Sir James Frazer, or Mellaart's writings about Catalhuyuk).

Religious people always look for a Golden Age. Some of the classical Greeks (such as Strabo the geographer) were interested in Druids because they thought that they--rather than the Greeks--preserved elements of humanity's Golden Age. The idea that there was a Golden Age of matriarchy came along in the 19th century. Karl Marx espoused it, but he saw History (capital H) as moving away from it in its inevitable progress towards communism. But the desire for a sort of spiritual precedent seems to be a built-in human urge: The ancestors did it this way, and so do we.

We can be interested in the past, but we have to be flexible and adaptable too. If you get dogmatic about interpreting the past, you run the risk of having your dogma overturned by new archaeological finds or something. If you concentrate on what nature teaches, on plants, the seasons, on all the cycles, you are better off than making unsupportable historical claims.

TWPT : Have you always been open with students and faculty as to your interests and did it cause you any problems?

Chas: When I began graduate school in 1984, I was up front with the religious studies faculty at the University of Colorado that I was a Witch. Since this was *not* a theology program and since CU is a public, secular university, I had no problems to speak of.

TWPT: What do you teach at the University of Southern Colorado?

Chas: I began teaching at the University of Southern Colorado in 1992. USC has no religion department, so I teach in the English department. I have always listed my Pagan-related publications, such as the Llewellyn Pubs. WITCHCRAFT TODAY series, on my curriculum vitae (academic resume). When the new ARADIA was published and the library held its annual reception for faculty members who had new publications to announce, it was displayed with the rest.

When it comes to teaching such classes as "Religion in America" or "Nature Writing in the West," however, my emphasis is on helping students to explore issues, to think, and to write. Like the professors whom I had in undergraduate and graduate classes, I do not wear my faith on my sleeve. I have, however, been willing to discuss Paganism and witchcraft with students whom I no longer have in class, but I do not want the classroom relationship to be complicated by a student's fascination with or horror at my own practices. students to explore the complexity of religion in America

TWPT: Tell me how you became involved in the expanded edition of Aradia the Gospel of the Witches by Charles Leland? Why is this an important book to the Craft movement?

Chas: I was invited to contribute a chapter by Doug Brown, the head of Phoenix Publishing. Phoenix is a small publishing house that produces a short but carefully selected list of books on Witchcraft. They have also reprinted Leland's ETRUSCAN ROMAN REMAINS, which he wrote before ARADIA, and which goes along with it.

In both books, Leland asserted that he had found remnants of Roman, and even earlier Etruscan, Pagan religion among northern Italians. He was clear on the notion that this "stregheria" or witchcraft was not to be equated with Satanism. And whereas the Roman Catholic Church normally lined up with the government and the upper classes, Leland thought that this "Old Religion" was inherently democratic and even feminist, in a nineteenth-century sense of the term. (He was somewhat influenced by the French writer Jules Michelet, a fun writer but a poor historian, who saw the "witches" of the Burning Times as female rebels against patriarchal values.)

So Leland was talking about an "Old Religion" even before Margaret Murray, the English anthropologist who so influenced the Gardnerians, thought she had stumbled across its traces in the witch-trial documents. Perhaps both found what they hoped they would find-- Murray was somewhat selective about her evidence. But my chapter in the book deals with ARADIA's influence on contemporary Witches, not with its historical accuracy.

And in the 1950s and 1960s, when what we call Wicca or revived Neopagan Witchcraft was taking shape, ARADIA was one of the few source books that offered a picture of Witchcraft as something other than Satanism, as a genuine, non-Christian religion. So it would have been influential even if Gerald Gardner's student Doreen Valiente had not done her famous bit of borrowing, finding inspiration in one of its incantations for her version of "The Charge of the Goddess."

TWPT: What is it that Aradia offers to the modern Witch? Is it just a sense of the history of Witchcraft or some practical ideas on practicing the Craft?

Chas: If Leland is right and his books do record some Pagan remnants, then they are historically important. We cannot say, however, that they show pre-Christian practice, since they reflect 1,600 years of Italian Catholicism.

TWPT: Are there other out-of-print titles that would benefit the modern Wiccan as they seek to understand where it is their beliefs came from?

Chas: Actually, many of the older books, such as Gerald Gardner's WITCHCRAFT TODAY, remain in print or are coming out in new editions. One which I strongly recommend to anyone is THE FORGOTTEN MAGE, edited by Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki. It's a collection of essays by Charles Seymour, who was the model for the "Moon Priest" in Dion Fortune's classic occult novel THE SEA PRIESTESS. Seymour was Fortune's magickal partner back in the 1930s, and in his writings you can see a Paganized ceremonial magic slowing moving towards "Neopaganism."

TWPT: What are your feelings about the folks like Bob Barr and the crusade that he is on?

Chas: I think the whole Bob Barr/witches at Fort Hood incident was a gift to the Craft. Rep. Barr comes off looking small and silly. The Army comes off looking progressive, and the witches just seem sort of exotic. It's perfect for a summertime slow news day.

TWPT: You have edited many volumes, contributed chapters to others, do you have plans to publish a book of your own in the future? And if so what kind of topic would you be writing about?

Chas: I am working with Evan John Jones on a companion to our SACRED MASK, SACRED DANCE. Its working title is THE CASTLE AND THE CAVE: FURTHER STEPS IN TRADITIONAL WITCHCRAFT, and it continues to lay out the tradition developed in the 1960s by Robert Cochrane, known variously as The Clan of Tubal Cain/The Regency/1734.

I started out in a coven with loose ties to the "1734" tradition, so in an odd way it's like a homecoming for me to be writing about it.

I would like to attempt a history of the Craft in North America after that -- I have about three filing cabinets full of material dating back forty years. And maybe a sort of "Wicca for backpackers" book!

TWPT: We would like to thank you for taking the time to talk with us here at the Wiccan/Pagan Times and we wish you the very best of luck with your writing and teaching.