The Author's Corner
The Practical Pagan
The Practical Pagan:
TWPT: The beginning is always a good place to start in these questions so how was it that you first came across Witchcraft and what was it that attracted you to it?
DE: Although I did not formally come to Wicca until the late 1980's, I knew that I hailed from a family of women who were magic users and witches ever since I was a young child. My mother had power, her sister had power, and their mother had power–all of which my family lived with as part of our usual and customary way of life. In short, the abilities demonstrated by the women in my family were just "no big deal." Those abilities just existed, and we lived with them. Once into my teens, I began a study of eastern religion, reincarnation, the occult, the paranormal, etc., and I came to realize that both my sister and I had certain abilities, as well. For both my sister and myself, this seemed to part and parcel of our genetic make up, and the hardest thing was not showing off in front of people or bragging about our magical family heritage. Of course, certain of our best friends knew and were rather fascinated by the whole thing. My best girl friends in high school used to love to come over on the weekends and "get cosmic" with my mother and I. Ever since I was a child, I related most strongly to sacred women and female deities. The ancient Goddesses (Isis, Hera, Athena, Demeter, Amphritrite) called to me even when I was very young, and I have always known that the oceans, ponds, lakes, rivers, and streams were living entities full of magical creatures. Later in life, I would come to realize that the same was true of the earth, of the forests, and of the mountains.
College and law school put a rather abrupt halt to my spiritual seeking, learning, and development, but I managed to move in with another spiritual seeker while in law school. The two of us were living next door to several bona fide Witches, and I had a tendency to ignore the strange goings-on between the two apartments at the top of the stairs in our apartment building. My roommate and I would sit up until late in the night discussing things, and we shared many beliefs and ideas. Then, in my third year of law school, a series of incidents touched off my adult awakening. I began to see my spirit guides, and they began communicating with me quite directly. I realized that I would not ever be able to stuff the gifts of my genetic heritage back in a bottle again.
After I graduated from law school and went back to the St. Louis area, I met a group of people with whom I shared common interests regarding science fiction and fantasy. Among them was my first teacher: a very beautiful and powerful woman with whom I shared an instant, almost combustible familiarity and attraction. We became friends, but it was a while before she actually became my teacher. I had a gay friend who recognized that I was a Goddess worshipping Witch, and he gave me my first book: EIGHT SABBATS FOR WITCHES. By now, it was the late 1980's, and when I read this book, I felt that my eyes were truly opened for the first time. Then, my girlfriend gave me THE SPIRAL DANCE, and I realized that I WAS ONE OF THESE PEOPLE! At last, my beliefs and ideas had a name. I was Pagan. I was Wiccan. I was a Witch. (To me, there has been little distinction between Wicca and Witchcraft until just recently.) At this point in time, my girlfriend became my first Pagan/Wiccan teacher and mentor. So, by the end of the 1980's, I was fully awake, fully aware, and had begun my formal study in earnest.
TWPT: Once you had decided that this was the path for you were you "out of the closet" with your beliefs or was it better for you that you weren't? Why?
DE: No, I definitely was not out in the open about my being Pagan, being Wiccan, and being a Witch for several years. I was a young, fledgling lawyer in the conservative midwest, and at the time, I was working for a predominantly Irish Catholic law firm. We represented hospitals and medical schools, most of which were part of religious foundations and orders. I had very real concerns about how my spirituality would affect my job. My family was aware, of course, as were my closest friends, but I was not publicly out of the closet, so to speak.
Then, good friends of mine within the science fiction and fantasy community referred a local journalist to me in December of 1992 for an interview regarding Pagans and how they handled December, January holidays. When the journalist called me and asked me if I were Pagan, I experienced a brief moment of panic and then I realized: "What is the matter with you? You are a lawyer! You can handle yourself. Maybe this has been part of the Goddess' plan for you all along, Dana." So, I took a deep breath and outed myself. The article, in which I was prominently featured, appeared in a local paper.
My life did not alter a bit.
However, several years later, I appeared in a full color photograph as one of the leaders of a Pagan ritual which accompanied the St. Louis Pagan Picnic, a huge event held in one of the city's public parks. By then, I was working for a Jewish law firm. When I went into work after the photograph had appeared in the paper, together with a blazing headline which began "Pagan and proud, Dana Eilers leads a local ritual," the managing partner of the firm came to me and told me that the firm would back me 100% regarding my spirituality and that as soon as anyone gave me grief, I was to come to them so that they could handle it. It was a wonderful thing for which I am eternally grateful.
After this series of events, I found it very easy to be "out." I think quickly on my feet, I was a practicing lawyer for nearly twenty years, and I always seem to have a wise comment for most everything. So, I find that I have little, if any, problems in being a public Pagan. I can do what others are not able to do, for whatever reason. Someone has to be out in the trenches, and I just happen to have the tools that make it ok for me to be out there.
TWPT: Did you have any contact with the Pagan community at large in the beginning or was it pretty much just you? How was it that everyone made contact and what was it that you gained from having others of like mind to talk to?
DE: No, in the beginning, I did not have contact with the St. Louis Pagan community. During the 1980's, the St. Louis area Pagans were a fragmented bunch of people. There were a lot of them, and I mean, there were a lot of them. The Church of All Worlds had its origins in southern Missouri (Fulton, Missouri), and Oberon Zell had ties in the St. Louis area. Some of the Pagan folk in St. Louis had been interviewed by Margot Adler for her book DRAWING DOWN THE MOON. There were some longstanding covens in the area, but there was not a lot of interaction among everyone. I had several close friends with whom I studied, practiced, and learned, but I did not have a lot of contact with other Pagans. It was vital for me to be working with and studying with a group of people who shared some of my beliefs and views. Otherwise, I would have felt rather unconnected. Additionally, there is an enthusiasm which comes with newness, and that enthusiasm keeps its bright luster longer if you have friends to share it with.
After I had been studying for three or four years, I was introduced to a large, open coven in the St. Louis area, and with much trepidation about working with other people, I went to several of their events. I was made to feel very welcome and comfortable among these folks, and I had good experiences with them when I kept sabbats with them. About this same time, a St. Louis coven began hosting the St. Louis Pagan Picnic which became a large, thriving event in no time flat. I was introduced to Pagan authors Joyce Higginbotham and her husband River Higginbotham. Joyce was a lawyer, and River was an engineer. I had a lot in common with these people, and they invited me to be a member of a group of Pagans who were trying to form a Pagan church. It was at this point that I was ushered into the world of the various St. Louis Pagan groups. Eventually, a group of us formed the Omnistic Followship and from there, the Omnistic Fellowship set the events in motion that led to the creation of CAST, the Council for Alternative Spiritual Traditions. Through these two organizations and the Pagan Picnic, the St. Louis Pagans began communicating with one another. I began hosting Conversations with Pagans, and before long, the St. Louis Pagan community coalesced.
My life in Pagan community snowballed after meeting Joyce and River and after becoming involved with the Omnistic Fellowship and CAST. I learned many things, and often, the lessons were difficult and painful to learn. However, I am proud of the achievements made by the St. Louis Pagan community, and I believe that we have been able to formulate something in St. Louis that has not quite been duplicated anywhere else.
TWPT: What are some of the books that made an impression on you and allowed you to grow into a stronger Witch by challenging your thinking and making you push yourself? (These don't necessarily have to be Wiccan/Pagan titles)
DE: When I initially began my study, four books were quite important to me:
EIGHT SABBATS FOR WITCHES, by Janet and Stewart Farrar;
DRAWING DOWN THE MOON, by Margot Adler;
THE SPIRAL DANCE, by Starhawk;
THE WOMEN'S ENCYCLOPEDIA OF MYTHS AND SECRETS, by Barbara Walker
During the course of a very serious illness which was life threatening, the following books assisted me in healing:
ANATOMY OF THE SPIRIT, by Dr. Carolyn Myss; and
THE CREATION OF HEALTH, by Dr. Carolyn Myss
In coming to grips with the reality that sex is a legitimate form of energy raising, here are some books that really pushed my envelope:
MODERN SEX MAGICK: SECRETS OF EROTIC SPIRITUALITY, by Donald Michael Kraig
SCREW THE ROSES, SEND ME THE THORNS: THE ROMANCE AND SEXUAL SORCERY OF SADOMASOCHISM, by Philip Miller and Molly Devon
THE ART OF SEXUAL ECSTASY, by Margot Anand
THE ART OF SEXUAL MAGIC, by Margot Anand
TWPT: When did you become aware of the broader definition of the word "community" as it applied to the worldwide group of followers of these new alternative spiritual paths? Did knowing that there was a growing body of followers out there on the same path as you change your way of looking at the movement as a whole?
DE: Surprisingly enough, it occurred in a Pagan chat room. When I first got a computer in the early 1990's, one of the first things I did was seek out a Pagan chat room on the internet. I was made welcome at The Pagan Tea House and there, I realized that many of the participants were from other countries. I was astonished to listen to an Australian Pagan talk about the Wheel of the Year using different dates from those I was used to, among other things. All at once, the global Pagan community was enormous and at the same time, it was a small, small world. I also realized that there are many more of us out there than we can possibly imagine, and I began to think that the Pagan spiritual community was not so very small. I started believing that we should have seats on interfaith councils, places at the table when heads of state call on spiritual leaders to assess situations and to give guidance, and voices that are heard just as readily as the Reverend Billy Graham, Al Sharpton, the Pope, or any other spiritual voice. We should not be excluded.
TWPT: Not only are you a practicing Witch but you are also a practicing lawyer, when was it that you became interested in law as a career?
DE: I decided to go to law school during my senior year in high school.
TWPT: Have you ever taken any flack from the law community for your beliefs as a Witch?
DE: So far, no. The St. Louis legal community was nothing but supportive and genuinely curious. Really, the important issue in the St. Louis legal community was whether you were a competent attorney, and that is the way it should be. The St. Louis legal community really embraced me as a professional and as a complete person, Paganism and all.
Now then, there are lawyers out there who believe that certain Pagan traditions are harmful, but I have not personally taken any heat for being what I am from any of them. I don't particularly worry about taking any heat because I am more than capable of turning on a cold hose in response.
TWPT: When was it that you first decided to take up the cause of Pagan civil rights and exactly what is it that you do for the those who come to you with violations?
DE: Somewhere between 1997-1998, I was invited by Tom Dixon of Ozark Avalon to join an email list called Pagan Leaders. This was a group of well known Pagan authors, organizers, web site gurus, and other movers and shakers. We discussed all sorts of issues and when calls for HELP went out, some of those pleas occasionally found find their way to that particular email list. I do not recall that the list answered these pleas as a list; however, on some of these requests, I made a direct response which usually involved a very broad overview of the law in general regarding the issues raised and a recommendation that the people affected obtain legal counsel in their area. This list is no longer in existence. So, I guess you could say that I got active in the Pagan civil rights arena between 1997-1998.
From there, I was invited by AREN (some time in 1998, as I recall) to join their think tank of legal professionals and again, calls for help sometimes found their way to this list. On occasion, this email list would respond as a list to particular questions, but if I were particularly moved by a request, I would answer privately in much the same way as I had with the Pagan Leaders.
In the last few years, I have received dozens of requests for help, for representation, and for information. I am now retired from the active practice of law, and I do not act as legal counsel for anyone. I do not perform any active client representation at this time. My responses to people are usually to provide them with a brief, general overview of the law in their problem area, if I can, and then to make a recommendation that they obtain competent legal counsel in their area. If I have permission from the people I am dealing with, I will cross post their message to lists that I am on which have other Pagan legal professionals on them in the hopes that we can make a referral to a Pagan or Pagan-friendly lawyer in their area of residence
I provide references and resources for people to give to lawyers so that the lawyers know that modern Pagans are, for the most part, deeply spiritual/religious people who follow traditions which deserve First Amendment protection and recognition. To that end, I have written several articles which can be found on THE WITCHES' VOICE. Additionally, I have written numerous letters to Congressmen and to newspapers protesting specific situations and providing a First Amendment viewpoint where, perhaps, there had previously been none. I helped in the creation of a web site called BOILERPLATE, which has been specifically designed to provide Pagans with resources for writing coherent letters regarding issues pertinent to them.
What most people do not understand is that lawyers do not work for free, unless they belong to or work for a pro bono group which specifically provides free legal services. Some people have been quite distressed that Pagan lawyers don't for free for other Pagans. Lawyers, whether Pagan or not, are carrying law school loans, car payments, mortgage payments, insurance payments, etc. just like everyone else and need to be paid for what they do.
TWPT: Could you give me some idea as to the effect that the internet has had on the growth of the pagan community and how instrumental it has been in spreading information about the movement worldwide?
DE: The inter net makes Paganism available to everyone with computer access. If a person is too timid or too frightened to go into a book store to acquire materials on Paganism, they can browse countless web sites in complete privacy. If a person feels that they are completely alone in their Pagan beliefs, they can gain access to dozens of chat rooms and converse to their heart's content about their tradition. If a person is too frightened to network in person, they can network over the inter net. The inter net makes information, news, and situations available to Pagans in the blink of an eye. I am more informed now about current events and how they affect Pagans because of the inter net. I know more about what is going with other Pagans than I knew ten years ago. Furthermore, there are the marketing and sales aspects of the inter net: you can buy STUFF! You can send Pagan-oriented greeting cards. You can participate in on-line rituals with people you have never met but with whom you have formed a close connection through the inter net. I have done this, and the results of the ritual were satisfying and concrete. Really, the list is almost endless. Ten years ago, I would have viewed the notion of a cyber-Pagan with disdain. Nowadays, I am one.
TWPT: As an author what effect has the internet changed the way you research material for upcoming projects?
DE: When I graduated from law school in 1981 (The Dark Ages), the computer was just beginning to make its appearance. I learned how to do research the old fashioned way: in the law library with books. I know law students who are graduating from law schools today who have no idea how to Shepardize a case by hand as opposed to doing it on the Westlaw inter net site or on the Lexis site. That is criminal, actually. However, the inter net makes web sites available to me so that I do not have to travel over land to law libraries. I can stay up all night at home, hunched over the computer, doing legal research at Westlaw.com or Lexis.com. Still, there is nothing that compares to a BOOK, and I plan on checking all my citations the old fashioned way: by hand in a law library.
As for non-legal research, such as history for my forthcoming trilogy of ancient Egyptian novels, I have found that I really have to be careful about information garnered from the inter net. A lot of people don't have the foggiest notion of what they are talking about. For example, I checked some information about Hatshepsut which I obtained from a web site against my hard reference books (published by the British Museum and the Cairo Museum) and found that the inter net information was just bunk. So, you have to be careful about research gained off the inter net.
I like checking news-related items which are Pagan pertinent through Witchvox.com and Wren, who is a Media Goddess.
TWPT: When was it that you decided to add writing to your repertoire and how did you go about beginning the process of being an author? Was the reality of being an author different than the idea that you started with?
DE: This really was a gradual process which began with writing community rituals to be performed in St. Louis for events such as Magickal Weekend, the Open Full Moon Ceremonies, and The Pagan Picnic. Then, during the early 1990's, friends of mine began a really wonderful periodical called GOODWITCH STORIES, which is now unfortunately no longer in existence. I wrote some short stories and poetry for them and was much encouraged by the response to these pieces. Because I was becoming a Pagan civil rights advocate on the inter net, I found myself doing exactly what I swore I would never do: performing legal research for free, writing letters with legal citations and viewpoints in them for congressmen, school boards, and newspapers. So, my cache of legal-related writing just kept getting bigger and bigger. Finally, my friend Chere Belknap told me that I should write a book about Paganism and that I should write about it in the same manner and style that I used when presenting Conversations with Pagans, the seminar I started in St. Louis, Missouri. I thought she was crazy, but after a prolonged and serious illness, Chere and several other members of my coven encouraged me to write the book as part of rehabilitation and therapy; so, I did it.
The other half of this story has its genesis in my childhood: I always wanted to be a writer. I was writing and directing plays in grade school; wrote volumes of short stories and poetry throughout grade school, middle school, and high school (I took typing in high school because I decided that I could not be post-humously famous if no one could read my handwriting–most practical thing I ever did); had a regular column in the Junior High School paper; and wrote for the Edwardsville High School literary journal PEN N' INKLINGS in high school. My dream was to go to Cape Cod and become a writer like Henry Beston or Thoreau. Somehow, I got sidetracked and went to law school instead.
So, in the late 1990's when my maternal grandmother died and left the family property in Chatham, MA to my mother and me, I decided to abandon ship (that is, leave my legal practice) and make my dream a reality. It was a big step for me and came on the heels of that serious illness when the Goddess said to me: "Dana, do I have your attention now? Sorry to put your butt in bed for nearly six months, but that is the only way I could get you to pay attention." It was time to re-think my life and my career options; so, I listened to the Goddess, to my parents, and to my innermost longings. I left St. Louis, left my law practice, and came to Cape Cod in an attempt to realize my dream and to fulfill the Goddess' plan for me.
On the notion of "what is the reality of being a writer," I really have to laugh. What? You mean it is NOT like Barbara Cartland writing novels in bed in a pink, maribou feather bed jacket? The reality is what a close painter/artist friend of mine said: "I am glad that no one sees me while I am creating, because the reality is, I look like &^$% while I do it!" While writing this book, I was hunched over the computer most of the time late at night with the heat turned almost off so that I would stay awake, with my sweatshirt pulled over my head and a cat sitting on the monitor, trying to wipe the computer screen with her tail, and I had a dog on the small couch behind me, and a dog behind my chair. There were stacks of paper, journals, notes, floppy discs, and books everywhere. The process for writing my second book is even worse!
TWPT: Your book is entitled The Practical Pagan, tell me about some of the "impractical pagans" that inspired the title of this book?
DE: You know, I was afraid that someday, someone was going to ask me this question. Let me just say that over the course of the last ten years, I have been asked a lot of questions by a lot of folks. Here are some examples of the questions I have been asked or situations I have encountered when dealing with people, both newbies and established Pagans: "Do I really have to share my spouse in order to be Pagan?"; "I read that the Goddess commands us to be naked while we perform ritual. Can I be a Witch if I want to keep my clothes on?"; "Books? Do I really have to read books?"; "Is it ok to be a Pagan if I only want to be a solitary practitioner because I really don't want to practice with a group of people"; "Oh, you mean I can't ignore a Child Support Order even if I think that the judge was prejudiced against me because I am a Pagan?"; "Oh, you mean I have to obey my town's zoning ordinances with respect to my property even if I think they are prejudiced against me because I am Pagan?"; "Oh! You mean I don't have to perform a big, elaborate ritual to talk to the Goddess?"; "I want to practice with this specific group, but they use sex in their rituals. What should I do?"; "I went ahead and practiced with this specific group, and they used sex in their rituals, but they told me about it ahead of time, and I did it anyway, and now I feel violated and don't know what to do about it. By the way, I am over 21 years old;" "There are people in the community who grab at my breasts and my genitals and I don't know what to do about it."
I am sure that you get the idea.
TWPT: The Practical Pagan arose out of your Conversations with Pagans series, tell me about what you were looking to accomplish with these series of "conversations" and how these talks inspired you to write this book.
DE: In the late 1980's and early 1990's in St. Louis, the Pagan community there was really starting to blossom and get its stuff together. At an early Pagan Picnic, I was astonished at the sheer number of people out there who were Pagan, Pagan friendly, and Pagan curious. Historically speaking, the St. Louis Pagans were not all that comfortable in networking with one another. I had written an article about Wicca for the local New Age paper, and the editor of the paper had a local store. He suggested that I teach classes. I thought he was nuts. I asked him: "Who in the world would listen to me, anyway?" Then, he presented me with the notes, cards, and phone messages he had received since the publication of my article. I started getting phone calls at work from people who needed answers to questions and who just wanted to TALK to somebody. So, with some misgivings, I decided to do a seminar at my friend's store. I did not want to stand up in front of everybody and pontificate; I really wanted people to come and get THEIR questions answered and discuss the issues that were important to THEM. So, after discussing all of this with my good friends and fellow authors Joyce and River Higginbotham and with my first teacher, I decided to structure the seminar like a Question and Answer period from The Highlander conventions. I had a lot of experience in dealing with this sort of thing, being a lawyer and all. From the very first CWP, the format just WORKED. People liked it. They participated, and suddenly, everyone was talking. It was very gratifying.
TWPT: What kinds of involvement do you have with the community at large? Circles, meetings, gatherings. Does this allow you to maintain a feel for the ebbs and flows of the community?
DE: Well, I started off in St. Louis where I was/am a founding member of The Omnistic Fellowship, which is a Pagan church and of The Council for Alternative Spiritual Traditions (CAST). I was one of the people who helped to brainstorm these organizations into existence, and in the early years of both organizations, I was very active. CAST sponsored the Open Full Moon calendar in St. Louis where at every full moon, a different group or individual would come forward and present a spiritual observance for the community. The covens that I worked with presented rituals at these on several occasions. I helped to create these rituals and had major roles in them. Additionally, I have served on the Ritual Committee for both Magickal Weekend and the Pagan Picnic as an organizer/Chaiperson. In this capacity, I was responsible for putting together a committee to create ritual for these events and in getting that ritual out there to the public. I helped to create these rituals and had major roles in them. I have presented seminars on various topics at events in Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, and in New England. I have performed public ritual here in Massachusetts and have been part of working covens in the St. Louis area and here in Chatham, Massachusetts. I was part of a small group of people who created WildHaven, an autumnal equinox festival which ran for three years in Duke, Missouri. I was the ChairPerson for all three years.
Doing all the public work definitely affords me a bird's eye view
However, to be honest, all the public work is exhausting, and I have paid a high price for it in terms of my health, my own private spirituality, and my relationships with other people. While ministering to the public or the community at large, one can forget/neglect one's own needs. I know that I did. I pushed myself and ignored my body when it said "Enough," and I have often found myself wishing that someone, somewhere would create for me some of the rituals that I have created for other people. Recently, though, I have been hugely fortunate in finding covens with High Priests and High Priestesses who understood this and who did me the great honor of allowing me to just be a participant and not a facilitator. Thank you, Vince and Natalia! I treasure these people and the opportunity to have magic worked on my behalf.
In terms of my relationships with other people, it has been very hard at times to work with close friends. Some of my most difficult spats and tough spots with my Pagan brethren has come out of public work: I see things one way, and they see things another. It is hard to compromise and bargain. Fortunately, I have been able to work out most of the trouble spots (I love you, Mark and Elbee), and my friendships have continued.
TWPT: Do you see a cohesive community forming for paganism and where do you see this trend eventually leading to? What do you see as some of the trouble spots that are keeping things from coalescing more rapidly?
DE: What is that old saying? Organizing Pagans is like herding cats?
I think the easiest thing to address first are the roadblocks to the creation of community.
Most Pagans embrace Paganism because they are fiercely independent and because they do NOT want other people telling them what to do, how to behave, how to practice, and what to believe. A lot of people have come to Paganism because they have had it UP TO HERE with other people raining dogma and instructions down on them from up above. They don't like the idea of anyone, no matter who it is, being designated a leader. People have said to me: "You are a leader, Dana? Says who? I did not make you my leader." This serious aversion to anything remotely resembling organization is, perhaps, the single greatest roadblock to the creation of Pagan community, whether it be on a local, national, or global scale.
The second greatest roadblock that I see to the creation of community is the failure of people to take responsibility for what they do, or don't do, which I find somewhat interesting given how highly touted the notion of "Pagans take responsibility for themselves and their actions" is among Pagans. They walk around saying things like that and then when they fall down flat on a job, they take no responsibility at all for it. Folks volunteer to do a job, and then they either bug out or do the job badly. When asked for some accountability, people are quick to say: "Stop blaming me! You are creating a Witch war." Phooey! In any organization, there must be a certain level of expectation that is either met, or it is not. People working with good intentions will be able to take constructive criticism and do a better job next time. Folks cannot afford to be lazy, to slough off, and to just figure that because we are all Pagans, the rest of us are going to accept poorly done jobs. I may be Pagan, but I expect that someone who takes on a job is going to do that job to the best of their ability, ask for help if they need it, and if they can't do the job for whatever reason, they are going to let someone know so that another person can be found to do the job before it is too late.
Given these two serious issues, can we hope to create a Pagan community? On the local level, there were folks in St. Louis who denied the existence of a Pagan community even though there were well attended events occurring weekly, a local council of organizers/movers and shakers who were coming up with ideas for community events, etc. If I were to take the events occurring in St. Louis and view them as a microcosm for what is happening in the wider universe, I would have to say that despite the nay sayers, the recalcitrant and reluctant, and the just plain ornery independent ol' cusses, there is a growing population of people who want recognition, a place in their broader communities, and equality. These folks realize that one of the ways you GET these things is by existing in a community that is able to function, perform public works, and behave with dignity. Thus, these people are coming together and are forming communities.
On the national level, I feel that there already exists a definite sense of community among a certain body of folk who have been working their wands off for several years now. It is hard to describe who these people are, but they are authors, web gurus, media wizards, artists, military people, visionaries, activists, creators, teachers, crones and sages from every Pagan spiritual tradition that you can think of who have stuck their necks out. Some day, I think, the sense of community being created nationally will filter down to the local levels, and people will understand that being a community does not mean surrendering your belief structure or how you do things.
TWPT: From what you have seen in the types of civil rights problems that have been coming your way, are we making any headway into being accepted by the society at large or is it overly optimistic to think that society will ever accept belief systems that differ from the majority view?
DE: We are definitely making progress. The Supreme Court recognized Santeria as a religion deserving of First Amendment protection, and the state Supreme Court of Georgia has similarly recognized Wicca. The IRS grants our churches tax exempt status, and more of our children are able to wear the symbols of their faith to school every day.
Yes, there are still problems out there, but as more and more Pagans stand up for themselves, these problems will diminish. It will, however, be many years before we have complete acceptance. After all, White Anglo-Saxon Protestant America is highly resistant to change, especially to changes that they think will somehow disintegrate the fabric of their reality. However, we have gone from Elvis to Snoop Doggy Dog, and the stock market still opens every day. The Beatles brought over the Maharishi, and now, Dr. Deepak Chopra is big business. It just takes time, vigilance, and persistence. People of color still fight the good fight, and we will be fighting the good fight for a long while yet to come.
TWPT: How long has your book The Practical Pagan been out and what kind of feedback have you been receiving from your readers? Did anyone take offense to your "commonsense" approach to living the pagan life?
DE: The book came out at the end of April 2002, and thus far, the reviews and feedback have all been remarkably positive. I am really humbled to have written something that has been so well received. To date, no one has written to me and said: "Hey! I am an unemployed, slovenly Pagan who smells bad, and your insistence that I clean up my act has offended me!"
TWPT: I've had the pleasure of meeting Dorothy Morrison, M R Sellars, and Phyllis Curot over the last few years at The Witches Ball in Columbus, OH, when a group of authors get together at one of these events and they have a few moments to chat what kinds of things do you like talk about? Your writing, the community, the event, your next project or what?
DE: I have not yet had the privilege of meeting such an august body of folks all in one place and sitting down and shooting the breeze with them. This is my first book, and although I have had the pleasure of meeting Silver Ravenwolf, Patricia Telesco, Gavin and Yvonne Frost, Isaac Bonewits, and Oberon Zell, I did so as a convention goer who went to meet them---we were not on the same bill, so to speak. I have had the good fortune of meeting M.R. Sellars, Dorothy Morrison, Phyllis Curott, Ellen Evert Hopman, Charles Clifton, and a few others on email lists. I have developed a good rapport with these people. I look forward to being able to sit down with folks like these in person (more on the value of "in person" communication" later) and to converse into the wee hours.
However, newly published Pagan authors Joyce and River Higginbotham are close friends of mine and when the three of get together, our conversations often turn to the community, where it is headed, what stands in its way, and the hurdles we have overcome thus far.
TWPT: You mentioned earlier that you were a "cyber pagan", do you think in this day and age that someone could find a teacher and learn everything they needed to know without ever meeting their teacher face to face by using e-mail, chat rooms or the telephone to act as their point of contact?
DE: No, absolutely not. Human to human contact is essential to the Pagan learning process. Part of learning magic and part of learning how to be truly present in ritual has to do with the common humanity shared by the participants. Part of what a teacher teaches is in their facial expression, their passion, their vehemence, their compassion, etc. It is in the energy exchange that occurs between people when they are in the same auric space.
I do not view any Pagan tradition as being something that can be learned in its entirety from a machine. There are some great correspondence schools and courses out there but eventually, a human being has to go out there and interact with the real world. That is where magic, belief, faith, etc. is all put to the test. Besides, we learn not only from human beings, but from other sources, as well: books, experience, spirit guides, dreams, etc. Some of my most incredible teachers have been my collies and my cats. Everyone needs to disconnect from the computer at some point!
TWPT: You mentioned that "the process for writing my second book is even worse.", does that mean that you have a second book in the works? Is it Practical Pagans II or are you heading off in another direction with the second book?
DE: Although I hope to find my wry sense of humor surfacing somewhere in the second book, it is a horse of another color! My second book is, essentially, a legal treatise. Right now, it is entitled PAGANS, RELIGION, AND THE LAW. It begins with a historical treatment of the entanglement of religion and government; it goes on to address religion and the First Amendment, religion and housing, religion and employment, etc. There are legal cases and news items interwoven which either involve Pagans directly or will be of interest to Pagans. The book is researched to the hilt, heavily footnoted, and will carry an enormous Bibliography. It will not be easy reading, I am afraid.
It will be, I hope, the book that Pagans give their lawyers, the people at the EEOC, the people at DFS, the family law judge, etc. It will be, I hope, the book that lawyers representing Pagans read. It will be the book that Pagans read and realize: "Hey! I have RIGHTS!" It grows directly out of my having been a practicing lawyer for nearly twenty years and directly out of all the Pagan civil rights work I have been doing in the last five or six years. It is not a book of legal advice, but it is a book full of information that I feel is desperately needed not only in the Pagan community, but in the broader community.
TWPT: You also mentioned a trilogy of Egyptian novels you are working on, what will these novels be exploring and what made you decide to tackle fiction as well as your regular non fiction writing? Any time frame that we might expect to see the first of these novels hit the street?
DE: I have been writing short stories and poems since I was in the first grade. In the third grade, I graduated to being a playright. That was when I started writing and directing plays that were performed for my entire school. I was writing novellas in high school. College and law school sort of de-railed the creative writing process for me, and it was not until I began writing rituals that the creative juices started flowing again.
On the Egyptian end of things, I have been an Egyptophile since I was four years old. I have been consuming everything about ancient Egypt that I could lay my hands on since I was a kid. My library is rather extensive. The History channel/Learning Channel/Discovery Channel are like candy stores for me. My patron Goddess (Isis) and God (Anubis) are in the Egyptian pantheon, and much of my magic is Egyptian-based. Where one leaves off and the other begins probably cannot be traced!
So, about two years ago, I began having dreams about my Egyptian heroine. Suddenly, she just emerged out of my subconscious into my conscious mind, and she has been a dreadful nuisance ever since. Quite literally, she started in on me two years ago, saying: "Dana! Stop procrastinating and write my story!" She was everywhere. She appeared in my dreams. So, it was time to stop shoving her to the back of the shelf, and I started working on her story. Recently, one of my best friends bought a book for me at a garage sale on the great queens of ancient Egypt. One of the photographic plates is a plate of THIS WOMAN! I nearly fell down. Obviously, she has been calling to me across time, and I really feel as if I am not inventing her story so much as what I am channeling it.
The first of the books is about 500 pages long, and it is about 150 pages out from being done. I need to find an agent because Ballantine, Del Rey, etc. will only deal with agents. Hopefully, I will be able to find one. I feel that I have proved myself: I know how to structure a sentence; I understand the language and punctuation; I can deliver on time; and I am a disciplined writer. Uhm, any referrals out there?
TWPT: Is the creative process about the same when it comes to writing fiction as opposed to writing non fiction?
DE: No, absolutely not! Writing Pagan non-fiction has been, so far, like assembling a series of vignettes, homespun yarns, lectures, and advice columns. Writing fiction is like time travel. I have to get inside the heads of my characters and create their worlds. In order to do that, I have to transport myself out of my current reality and dream walk in different realities.
What both processes share, however, are the need for hard work, research, a love of the thing your are creating, and discipline. Unfortunately, I am a perfectionist who wants to be accurate down to the tiniest details. That makes for tough, but rewarding, going in both forms of creation.
TWPT: In more of a general vein, you've been involved with the Pagan community for about 10 years now, what do you see for the next 10 years? Any trends that are currently playing out that will come to fruition over the next decade or so?
DE: The Pagan community has been birthed, shall we say. Now, we have to get the kid from the cradle to the first grade. People will need to look beyond themselves and have a larger sense of vision. They will need to understand that in order to have a place at the table, some of their own "stuff" will need to take the backseat. Know what it is like to put a two year old into the car seat in the back seat? That is what we have in store for ourselves.
TWPT: As we close out this interview what piece of "commonsense" advice do you think would benefit the majority of our readers as they walk upon their chosen spiritual path? Any final thoughts you'd like to share with our readers?
DE: It is very hard to generalize, but I would say this: learn as much as you can. Just because you are Wiccan, do not forego learning about Druidry or the Asatru. Participate in rituals and ceremonies hosted by folks of other traditions. Get out there and learn by doing, participating, and sharing. And remember: when you come into contact with the non-Pagan folk or find yourself nose to nose with them, you could, quite possibly, be the only Pagan person they ever meet. Experiencing you could be the only Pagan experience they ever have. You are an ambassador for your gods, your beliefs, and your community. Act accordingly.
TWPT: Thank you Dana for sharing your thoughts with our readers and I do wish you much success in the years to come with whatever kinds of material that you put your pen to.