The Author's Corner
TWPT: Tell our readers a little bit about who Gerina Dunwich is and how you came to be where you are now spiritually.
GD: By profession, Gerina Dunwich is a writer, an astrologer, and an occult historian. On a more personal level, I am a Witch, a Pagan, a cat-lover, a Capricorn, and an individual with varied interests - both metaphysical and mundane. It would be impossible to sum up who Gerina Dunwich is with a single paragraph. The path that has led me to where I am presently at has been a very "long and winding road" filled with many trials and errors, experimentations, transformations, strange encounters, unusual experiences, good times, and bad times...Perhaps one of these days I will publish my tell-all memoirs for the world to read.
TWPT: Was there anyone, be it another author, leader, friend, or family member who deeply affected the way that your beliefs developed over the years ?
GD: I was formally introduced to Witchcraft (as well as to spiritualism) in the Summer of 1969 by an older cousin who was, at that time, a "white" Witch. We have long since been out of touch with one another, but I shall always be grateful to her for getting me started on the Pagan path. Sybil Leek, an English Witch and book author who was very popular around that time also played an important role in the development of my beliefs, and even today when I read her works I am filled with great inspiration and a sense of magick. I regret that I could not have met her while she was still alive. Sometimes, though, I feel that she is with me in spirit and is acting as my guide, which, to me, is a great honor.
TWPT: Were there any books available to you when you chose your path that provided you with a firm foundation for your belief system? Or was it more of an intuitive approach to Wicca for you?
GD: It was actually a little bit of both I must say. I was greatly influenced at a young age by the works of such authors as Sybil Leek, Paul Huson, and Raymond Buckland, but in my heart I had always felt a connection to Pagan ways and the Old Religion long before ever reading about it. I have always felt that it was important for one to find their own way to spiritual enlightenment, and not to rely solely on the teachings or belief systems of any one person or group in order to attain this.
TWPT: Do you feel that it could be a hindrance to try to take in all the literature about Wicca before deciding about the specifics of what you believe? Or does it seem more logical that you would have some basic ideas about what you believe and then explore the vast amount of information now available in book form and on the internet?
GD: I honestly think that it would be next to impossible to take in all the literature that exists on Wicca in the course of a single lifetime. Many people, upon being introduced to the basics of Wicca, immediately feel within their hearts a connection to the path. Other people may feel a need to study and learn as much about Wicca as possible before coming to a decision. It is up to the individual how to approach this. However, just as it is traditional for a Witch to wait one year and one day before being initiated into a coven, I think the same year and a day tradition should apply whenever one is considering any new spiritual or religious path and that time should be devoted to study. Becoming a Wiccan or a Witch does not happen overnight, and being one requires dedication. It is a way of life and should not be treated as a passing fad or a "disposable religion" until the next one comes along to takes it place.
TWPT: What are some of the foundational beliefs of the path that you follow?
GD: The path that I presently follow is one which I founded called Bast-Wicca. It draws on the ancient Egyptian Bast (cat-goddess) religion, and incorporates elements of European folk magick and felidomancy (feline divination). Compared to many other Wiccan traditions, it is probably more magick-oriented than religious, but I guess that merely reflects the way I am as a Pagan. Cats are regarded as sacred, psychic, and highly magickal animals on the Bast-Wicca path; however, they are not "worshiped" in the sense that a deity or an idol is. The main tenet of my tradition is: "Craft thy magick with love, for love is the law of the Craft." Some people have told me that it sounded very Crowley-ish, but to be honest with you, I have never personally been a big fan of Crowley although I have a respect for his work. An introduction to the Bast-Wicca tradition will be featured in my upcoming book, "Exploring Spellcraft", which is scheduled to be published in the Spring of 2001.
TWPT: Do you find that Wicca lends itself more readily to being molded by those who step onto the path in search of flexibility than other spiritual traditions do? Why does this make Wicca so attractive?
GD: Wicca is unlike most spiritual traditions in the sense that it has no central authority (like a Pope) or liturgy, and can be quite easily adapted to accommodate the personal philosophy and beliefs of many individuals. To put it into modern terminology, it is very "user-friendly." Many women and men have turned to Wicca to fulfill their religious/spiritual needs after having experienced dissatisfaction with, and alienation from, other religions with all of their rigid rules and regulations and obsolete ideas. Not too many other religions allow their members to write their own rituals, pray to the deity or deities of their own choice, create their own traditions, organize their own circles of worship, combine elements from other religions and cultures, or, in short, be free and encouraged to think for themselves. Most religions (outside of Wicca) still do not even allow women into the priesthood!
TWPT: I'm always curious about how many problems public figures and authors in the Pagan community bring upon themselves by being "out of the closet" and public with their beliefs. Has this been a problem in your own experience?
GD: Keeping my private life private is an ongoing necessity. For safety reasons I cannot divulge who I am or what I write about to my neighbors or casual acquaintances. Although I am proud of who and what I am, I am also wise enough to know that the Burning Times are far from being completely over! (Do you remember the overly-inquisitive neighbor Gladys Kravitz on the TV show "Bewitched"? Well, like Samantha Stevens, I have one of those on my block too!)
Several years ago when I was living in a small town in Upstate New York, the neighbors caught on that I was a Witch (of course most of them assumed that I was involved in Satanism) and within a matter of months, vicious rumors about my family and me had spread throughout most of the county. As a result, I had to sell my Victorian house and move.
Since coming out of the proverbial "broom closet" in the late 80s, I have received alot of weird mail ranging from kids wanting to know how to change their teachers into frogs, to lonely prison inmates looking for romance, to fanatical Christians seeking to save my soul from Satan. Recently somebody sent me what I initially thought was a letter bomb, but luckily turned out to be nothing more than a cruel prank. But other than that I have been rather fortunate not to have experienced any great deal of discrimination for my magickal beliefs and lifestyle. And in my case, publicly announcing myself as a Witch has been more helpful than harmful to my career.
Apart from the serious problems relating to religious discrimination, one problem I commonly see with being a "public figure" is that some people expect me to be all-knowing and more than human, which I am not. But I think what is worse is when any public figure begins to believe that he or she actually is.
TWPT: What kind of relationship do you have with the Pagan community at large?
GD: The Pagan community is very important to me, and most of my friends, and of course nearly all of my readers, are Pagans. But I try not to get personally or publicly involved with most of the Pagan politics that takes place nowadays. I've never had much time for, or a strong interest in, politics. It is in my nature to help others, and one of my goals for a long time has been to open a Pagan community center here in Los Angeles which would offer classes, counseling, library facilities, ritual space, and so forth.
I have done a few workshops at some of the Pagan gatherings and festivals in the past; however, I have never really felt all that comfortable with public speaking, so this is not an activity that I actively pursue. But I do book-signings and card readings at many of the bookstores and occult shops here on the West Coast. I also maintain several Wiccan/Pagan websites, and I run the Wheel of Wisdom School, which offers a correspondence course on the eight Sabbats. I had been editing and publishing Golden Isis Magazine since it began in 1980, but I recently retired from that in order to devote more time to my writing and the school.
TWPT: As a Wiccan author what are some of the things that you want to accomplish with each book that you publish? And on a whole do you feel that your many books have achieved their purposes in being written?
GD: The main goals of my writing are to educate the public that Witchcraft is not evil or connected to the worship of the Christian's Devil, and to teach the old ways to those who seek knowledge of the Craft, although I have never written a book with the intention to proselytize anyone. I believe that people should choose their own religious/spiritual paths based on what feels right for them and not anyone else. I feel that I have been successful in accomplishing what I've set out to do with pen and paper; however, I am probably my own worst critic and with each book that I write I strive to make it even better than the one before.
TWPT: I have heard the phrase "educating the public about what Wicca really is" used by quite a number of authors over the years, what kind of audience do you have for your books and how does this translate into educating the public at large about the Wiccan path?
GD: The majority of my audience is female and in the age range between teens and thirties, judging by the mail I receive from my readers. But if even one-half of them gains an understanding of Wicca from reading one of my books and, in turn, educates their friends, families, neighbors, or co-workers about the beliefs and practices of modern Witches, this is a tremendous step towards enlightening the general public and helping to foster religious tolerance.
TWPT: Do you feel that we have gained any ground over the last few years in dispelling many of the myths that circulate about the Wiccan faith?
GD: I definitely feel that Wicca has made considerable progress over the last few years in the shedding of many of the stereotypes and misconceptions attached to Wiccans and Pagans. Certainly the Internet has played a major role in this in addition to the numerous Wiccan/Pagan books being published, and positive media coverage and portrayal of Witches. I recently saw an open-minded and enlightened Catholic priest on one of the afternoon television talk shows publicly defending the Wiccan religion. Ten years ago you would have seen something like this only in your wildest dreams! To me it is but one of many positive signs that we are proceeding in the right direction and I am very optimistic about the future of Wicca.
TWPT: How did you get started writing? Did it come naturally to you or did it take work on your part?
GD: Writing has been one of my passions for as far back as I can remember. I began writing poetry, plays, music and short stories while in my early teens. My first real publication came in October 1976 and was an interview that my cousin and I had done with singer/songwriter Jim Peterik (Survivor, Ides of March). Luckily my cousin had gone to school with Peterik in Illinois and he consented to an interview. The article was published shortly after in a local newspaper and I can still remember how thrilling it was for me to see my first byline. (I wrote under a different pen name back then. Began using "Gerina Dunwich" in the mid-80s.) My mother was so proud and so excited that she went to the corner drug store and bought about 50 copies of the newspaper! In 1987 the idea came to me to write a cookbook. Not an ordinary cookbook, but one filled with recipes for Witches and other magickal folks. I called it "The Magickal Cookbook" and sent a proposal to Citadel Press after having found their name and address in one of their books on modern Witchcraft. Expecting a rejection slip on my first try, I was shocked but ecstatic when I received a letter back from Citadel informing me that they were interested in publishing the book. They wanted me to add spells and other "witchy things" besides recipes, and they retitled it "Candlelight Spells." In 1988 it became my first published book, and one of my most popular titles despite some of the harsh reviews that it initially received. Citadel offered me another contract after Candlelight Spells, and the rest is history.
TWPT: How do you determine what you will write about when it comes time to start a new project?
GD: Often an idea for a book will simply come to me without me trying, usually in a dream or while I'm meditating, and then I'll write it down and put together an outline. I have found that if I try to hard to think up a book idea, nothing will come to me. It has to happen naturally.
TWPT: Does writing get easier as you put a few books behind you or is each project a struggle equal to all the other projects that came before?
GD: Each new book that I write presents its own challenges. The writing projects that I've undertaken in the past few years have required much more research than the simple spell books that I was writing a decade ago. However, I now know a great deal more about the ins and outs of the publishing business than I did when I first started out, and having served as a High Priestess of a coven I am now more experienced on a personal level with the subject matter about which I write, and so in this way these factors help to make the work easier.
TWPT: If you had to suggest to our readers one of your books as an introduction to the kinds of books that you write, which one would it be and why?
GD: This is a rather difficult one for me to answer since I've written so many books that cover different aspects of the Craft. For herb lore and herbalism I would definitely suggest "The Wicca Garden". For magick and spells, "Exploring Spellcraft"; and for Wicca in general it would be a toss-up between "Everyday Wicca" and "Wicca A to Z". All of my books are written with the novice to intermediate student in mind so I try not to get overly heavy with things like anthropology or psychology. My intent is to make every book I write enjoyable and interesting for the reader, while at the same time educational and a bit thought-provoking. I don't write in the "fluffy bunny style" or about stuff that I personally find boring because chances are if it puts me to sleep writing it, it is going to put my readers to sleep reading it.
TWPT: Tell us about what you are working on now and a little about what the book will cover.
GD: I am currently working on a book called "Exploring Spellcraft." It covers nearly every aspect of spellcrafting, including candle magick, love enchantment, amulets and talismans, moon magick, planetary hours, herbs, and kitchen witchery just to name some examples. In addition, I have devoted chapters to my Bast-Wicca Tradition and to Sybil Leek. It is scheduled to be published in the Spring of 2001 by Career Press/New Page Books. I also have four new books coming out this Fall: "The Pagan Book of Halloween" (Penguin/Compass); "Your Magickal Cat" (Kensington/Citadel); "The Wiccan's Dictionary of Prophecy and Omens" (Kensington/Citadel); and "The Cauldron of Dreams" (Original Publications).
TWPT: How do your beliefs change the way that you approach life and how do your beliefs affect the way that you go about your daily routines if at all?
GD: I have retained many of the same spiritual beliefs I had as a child and I've pretty much always lived a magickal and somewhat non-conformist lifestyle as a teenager and an adult, so nothing has really changed much for me in that area. When I was growing up, my mother subscribed to agnosticism (despite being raised by a strict Roman Catholic Italian family) and my father was an intellectual atheist who could made Madeline Murray O'Hare look like a Born-Again Christian. I can remember going through a very short-lived curiosity phase about religion when I was around 8 or 9, probably because I had some friends at school who went to church, so my parents enrolled me in Sunday School. I think I went 2 or 3 times before getting into a heated argument over theology with one of the nuns, who wasted no time in expelling me. Actually I consider myself rather fortunate not having been brought up in a religious household for the reasons that it allowed me to keep an open mind and that I've never had to experience a major upheaval of my beliefs and practices like so many Wiccans and Pagans who were brought up in the Christian or Jewish faith. As far as my daily routines, I suppose they're not too different from anyone else's, except maybe that I go through more typewriter cartridges than the average person.
TWPT: Looking at Wicca at its current level of development around the country and the world, what is it that we should be doing that we are not? Are there areas that we as individual Wiccans can work on to help correct the misconceptions that society in general has about us?
GD: I feel that there should be much more unity in the Wiccan community than there exists at present. Sometimes it seems that Wiccans in general devote more time to disagreeing about trivialities and arguing political issues amongst themselves than living a magickal life. It also saddens me to see so many "politically-correct" Wiccans showing intolerance of other religious groups, and even of other fellow Wiccans and Pagans who may follow a different tradition from their's or hold different views on spirituality. There is an old saying that we should all keep in mind: "United we stand, divided we fall." To me there couldn't be any truer words spoken.
TWPT: Now take a look ahead a decade or so and tell us what the future holds for Wicca and Paganism.
It is impossible, of course, for any one us to know precisely what the future holds, but I am optimistic about the decades to come, without being too idealistic. Wicca and Paganism have made so many wonderful advances over the past few decades, and I feel confident that our progress will continue. I read somewhere that Wicca is the fastest growing religion in the civilized world today. This is a great step for all of us, considering that it was barely a half-century ago that the anti-Witchcraft laws from the Burning Times were still on the books in England!
Realistically, I do not foresee Wicca becoming a mainstream organized religion in my lifetime (which is not my goal anyway), but I think as society becomes more educated about our beliefs and practices, there will be more people coming out into the open and proudly proclaiming themselves to be a Wiccan or Pagan.
There seems to be a number of young people getting involved with Wicca today because they view it as the "in thing" to do. There are also certain individuals turning to Wicca in search of a quick and easy fix to all of their problems. These, of course, are not valid reasons for embracing the Wiccan path, nor do they reflect what Wicca is all about. But the passing of time, as it always has, will determine who are truly devoted to walking the path, and cast off those who are not.
TWPT: Any final thoughts that you would like to share with our readers?
GD: Thank you, TWPT, for giving me this opportunity to publicly share my thoughts and feelings. My Witch's advice to all Wiccans and Pagans - regardless of tradition, race, cultural background, or lifestyle - is to always be yourself and never forget that God/dess (or whatever name you choose to identify that which is Divine) exists within you. Always be proud of who and what you are, harm none, and remember that diversity is something to be celebrated. Bright blessings and good spells to all!
TWPT: It has been a pleasure talking to you Gerina and we wish you all the best in your in your future writing projects and along the path that you have chosen. Blessed be.