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The Author's Corner

 

Kate West

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The Real Witches' Craft

 


 

The Real Witches' Coven

 

Spell in Your Pocket

 

 
The Real Witches' Kitchen
 



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The Real Witches Coven:

TWPT Talks to Kate West
©2002-2003TWPT


TWPT:  What was it that first led you to personally explore Witchcraft/Wicca as a spiritual path?

KW:    There were many threads inmy younger life which, I feel, drew together to bring me to the Craft: 

As a young child I was raised in close proximity to someone who I only later realised was obviously knowledgeable about the Craft, and although Wicca and Witchcraft were never talked about, much of her influence remains with me. 

Also, despite being Christian my parents, being a lot older than those of my contemporaries, held and passed on to me a lot of the old ways of healing and knowledge of the land and the cycles of nature and the seasons.  I now realise that many of the things I find instinctive were perhaps encouraged or enhanced by that exposure.

In my teens I was encouraged to examine many of the ‘orthodox’ belief systems but found none which met my spiritual needs.  I actively sought the balance of male and female in the Divine, a closer relationship with nature and the cycle of the seasons, and I believed in Magic because I knew that it worked.   I followed the cycles of the seasons and the moon in my own way and with only the guidance of the old myths and legends. 

It was only later, on a visit to the Witchcraft Museum at Boscastle, that I discovered that these beliefs were among the foundation stones of the Craft, and that the term ‘Witch’ was not just that of myth and fairytale.

TWPT:  Was your life such at the time that this was a smooth transition onto this path or did it require some mental adjustments to bring yourself in line with these new spiritual ideas?

KW:   In some ways discovering the Craft was such a smooth transition that it was as though I had always been a Witch, but just needed to find the right ‘label’.  I’ve found that this feeling of ‘coming home’ is common amongst Witches, indeed for many I would say that it is more a question of remembering than of discovering.

TWPT:   Did you have someone at the time to answer questions and give guidance to you or did you have to find your way alone? What kinds of tools and books were available to you and were there any shops that specialized in thesematerials that you were able to seek out?

KW:   My interests in nature, plants, herblore, wildlife and the cycles of the Moon and the seasons were all aided by my parents.  But my interest in the Goddess and the God, the festivals and magic were definitely something I had to explore on my own.  A lot ofmy information came from books which treated the subject as
m
ythology, history and/or anthropology, rather than a current spirituality.  When I was young in the Craft there were few non-fiction books around and those that were on sale were usually sensationalist.  There were virtually no shops or stores which catered to our needs, and like many Witches of the time I improvised or made the few tools I did use.   

TWPT:  What kind of Craft community existed at that time and how did you goabout making contact with it? 

KW:   It never really occurred to me to try to seek out a Coven in the early years and I literally found my way by instinct:  I was out in the car one day, took a side turn I had never noticed before and discovered a shop which was not listed.  This led to my first knowing contact with other practising Witches.  Subsequently I have discovered that during most of my developing years there were Covens and other Witches really very close to me then, even to the extent of being in the same place at the same time –but at the time I wasn’t consciously aware of them.

TWPT:  Tell me about the first several years that you spent seriously practicing your new beliefs and what kind of growth you experienced as you gained knowledge and put it to use

KW:   In the early days my Craft practise really focussed on some of the things I wonder if we sometimes forget to go back to today. I spent a lot of time simply observing and being part of the cycles of the seasons, and in being in touch with the land.  I followed the cycle of the Moon and made a point of relating her phases with those both within and outside of myself.  I read anything and everything I could about the tales and myths of the Goddess and the God, and literally spoke with them about my life and asked them for guidance in my Craft.  I studied and practiced meditation techniques and learned through actually practising the Craft how those skills are so essential to the visualisation which makes magic work.  Although I certainly worked magic, I never really thought in terms of spells and even less so about rituals.  For me, magic was just something I did, not in any way the complex process that so many new Witches seem to expect it to be.  Of course I made mistakes, we all do, but I learned from them, which is as the Goddess intends.

TWPT:   Was writing something that you had always wanted to do? When was it that you decided that writing about The Craft was something that youneeded to do? 

KW:   I never really set out to write, it just sort of happened to me!  At the time I started writing I was working in an ‘occult’ shop and running a Coven comprised almost entirely of newcomers to the Craft.  I found myself answering the same questions over and over again.  As a result I wrote a short pamphlet entitled “Religion, Ritual and Magic” to summarise some of the answers to frequent questions from the public.  In some respects I suppose that I hoped to move the questions on to a more interesting level!   I also found myself providing printed sheets to many of my Coven members, and indeed to the members of other Covens.  Anyway the pamphlet, and some of the notes, grew into a booklet and eventually, at the suggestion of my current partner,  into a book.  “Born in Albion – the Re-birth of the Craft” was published in 1996. 

TWPT:  Did you have any ideas as to what the books were going to be about? Did you perceive some needs within the community for the material that you eventually were to write? 

KW:  One of the first questions newcomers to the Craft ask is invariably “Can you recommend any good books?”  At the time of ‘Albion’ there were few concise and reader-friendly books on the market, so I endeavoured to try to fill that gap.  Subsequently I’ve been told that one of my strengths as a writer is that I write in the same way as I talk, and that people can ‘hear’ my voicefrom the page.  Latterly I would say that there is still a need for straightforward books on the Craft, too many are written as though the reader has nothing else to do in their life.   

TWPT:   Give me a brief overview of the Pagan Federation and then tell me about your involvement with them and how that came about. 

KW:  The Pagan Federation is possibly the foremost Pagan organisation in the world today.  It was founded in 1971 with the twin purposes of fighting defamation and educating the public, via the media, about modern Paganism.  Although founded by Witches it has always sought to include other Pagan beliefs within its remit, and I feel has served the Pagan community well.   

I became active within the PF in the mid 90’s and, having stood for election, became Media Officer.  Shortly after that I was nominated Vice President, and served my 3 year term of office.  However, it became progressively more difficult to fulfil my obligations to the PF as my young son became more active and demanding, so I did not stand for the office of President even though pressed to do so.  I still do occasional media work on behalf of the PF, but these days most of my effort is directedtoward the Craft community and I work closely with The Children of Artemis for the promotion of today’s Witchcraft andWicca.

TWPT:   When was it that you formed the Hearth of Hecate coven and how has it grown and changed over the years? Is this something that you areintimately involved with even now? Is the coven associated with any ofthe major trads? 

KW:   The Hearth of Hecate was founded in the mid 1990’s when I first moved to Cheshire to be with my partner Steve.  Prior to that Steve and a couple of other members had been travelling to my previous Coven inDevon.  In those days not everyone expected to find a Coven on their doorstep! 

Although I was initiated in the Gardnerian tradition, I guess that The Hearth would be better described as being Alexandrian/Traditional in its workings.  In the time since it was established the Hearth has grown to the point that we now have four Daughter Covens, and another ‘on the way’!   Although we are now based in Norfolk, the central Hearth still meets and works, sometimes joined by some of our Daughter Covenors, and will I trust continue to do so.  We hope one day to hold a grand Coven gathering where all our Covenors will attend, but co-ordinating a meeting of that many Witches takes some organisation!

TWPT:   What was your first book that was published and how did that becomea reality? 

KW:   My first published book was “Born inAlbion – The Re-Birth of the Craft” co-written with David Williams.  As I said before itwas an expansion of the pamphlet
I’d produced to explain the Craft. 

One day whilst I was working in the shop in Devon a couple of people came in, one of whom was Steve Paine.  Steve was already an experienced Priest of the Craft, and a director of the then Pagan Media Ltd.  Steve soon started attending our Rituals there and it was he who first suggested turning the, by then somewhat substantial, “Religion, Ritual and Magic” pamphlet into a book.  Since that time Steve has become my husband, partner and High Priest.  My first solo book  “Handfasting – TheWiccan Wedding” (published by Mandrake Press) contained the Ritual I had written for our Handfasting, as well as guidelines for writing and holding Handfasting rituals.

TWPT:   Were you pleased with the way it was received by your readers and did you immediately set about writing your next one? Or at least thinking about what you might like to tackle next. 

KW:   “Albion” and “Handfasting” both received good reviews and many appreciative comments from readers and elders of theCraft, which was (and still is) extremely encouraging, so I followed up with “Wiccaning – the Naming of the Child” and  “TheRites of Withdrawal – Saying farewell to a loved one”. 

TWPT:   When did the idea for the Real Witches series of books first occur to you?

KW:   Coming to motherhood at the age of 40 has given me a real sense of having been given a gift from the Goddess.  And as such Ifeel it is an obligation (as well as my pleasure) to look after my family.  This means there is less available time for the Craft.  Whereas previously I could spend time looking for obscure herbs, oils etc. or in writing complex and elaborate Rituals, I now had all my previous obligations and to care for a small child as well. The RW series was started because I realised there was a need for books for people who wanted to practise the Craft but who also had homes, jobs and families to consider, who couldn’t devote all their time to the Craft but who still wanted to follow that path.  At around the same time I was approached by several parents who wanted to allow their youngsters to read about and practise the Craft but who felt that many of thecurrent texts were too formalised or too devoted to Ritual.  So I tried to make The Real Witches’ Handbook accessible to, but not directed at, younger readers as well.  The whole point about The Real Witches’ books is not that they purport to be the ‘one true Witchcraft’ but that they are written for real people, who live in the real world, with real (and busy) lives.

TWPT:   What makes your series of books stand out from the rest of the titles that purport to be complete introductions to Wicca and the Craft?

KW:   I try to write in the same way that I would speak;  I endeavour to make my books easy to understand, and informal, humorous even.  I try to include practical information so that the reader can really make things work and safety information so that theydon’t set their hair, house or cat afire!  I put in real life examples from myself and my Coven to show that mistakes can be made and lessons learned.  I try to ensure that any ingredients are accessible so they don’t have to spend weeks seeking hair of bat or hen’s teeth.  In short I assume that the reader has other things to do rather than having to analyse my writing to work out my meaning.  I really don’t think I can or should comment on other writers as I’m sure that they too have their own intent when writing.

TWPT:   Who would benefit from The Real Witches Handbook? 

KW:    TRW Handbook is for anyone who wants to practise the Craft in a way sympathetic to those around them; be that theirparents, children, partner or flatmates and whether because those people just aren’t of the Craft, or would be actively againstit.  Not everyone has the luxury, or for that matter the inclination, of being able to shift all the furniture, burn copious quantities of asafoetida and bang a drum at midnight!  But it is also for anyone who wants to follow the Craft without a lot ofparaphernalia and Ritual, or in a style closer to the traditional Witch.

TWPT:   You mention in the Real Witches Handbook that seekers might be misled by some of the dubious texts that abound, is there anything youcan offer these seekers that might help them avoid these pitfalls? 

KW:   There’s some smashing examples of dubious books around, one which has recently resurfaced gives a precise text so that the (presumably lazy) reader will be able to recite the Lord’s prayer backwards!!  But that’s an obvious example.  Probably the things that most need to be borne in mind are that the Craft comes in many forms and not all of those are right for everyone.  A reader should retain their common sense when reading any book, and if something does not feel right to them then it probably is not right for them.  Whilst I agree that we should treat books with respect (that’s the message I’m trying to instil in my 5 year old anyway!), you do not have to finish reading, let alone treasure, something you feel is wrong for you.  It is not as though these days there is any shortage of available material from which to choose.  If you’re not sure about a particular book, order it from your local library, read it and then decide if you want to buy.  Finding a good book is not a great deal different from finding a good car mechanic; you could just pick the nearest or easiest to find, but if you want a good one, then get a recommendation from someone you trust.  Oh, and when you have read a good book, take a look to see if the author recommends any others.

Whilst we’re sort of on the subject I’d just like to mention another thing:  I know that books are expensive but, as a lender of books could I just ask your readers to do other lenders a favour and remember to promptly return anything they borrow, preferably in the condition it was loaned! 

TWPT:    How prevalent are the predators and the charlatans within the realm of Witchcraft and Paganism? Is there anything that the true followers of the way can do to give the seeker a safer environment? 

KW:   There’s no way of telling how many people try to misuse the Craft for their own ends, whether to extract money, for sexual purposes, or just as a ‘power trip’, but there is also no doubt that there are some who do so.  However many there are, it’s still too many. 

There are several things we can do to make the Craft a safer place: We need to provide safe forums for communication and the exchange of ideas, in particular for the young.  It is no use just telling a 16 yr old to wait, we all know that two years is forever when you are in your teens.  Besides, how many of us can honestly say we were over 18 when we started?  We have to provide safe places for communication and even meeting.  If we, the reputable Witches won’t, then guess who will!  In the UK the Children of Artemis do this through their website and Gatherings.

We must inform and educate all newcomers, about money, sex and control.  Everyone approaching the Craft should be aware that, whilst Covens and individuals do need to cover their expenses, we do not charge huge sums of money for teaching theCraft, or working magic.  They should be aware that, whilst skyclad and The Great Rite Actual do happen, no-one should everbe forced to do something which they are not prepared for, or to which they have not consented. 

They should also be aware that true Witchcraft is not about exercising power over others, or having it exercised over you.  It is about self control , development and personal responsibility.         

We need to police ourselves.  Where someone is discovered to be using the Craft for their own ends we should communicate amongst ourselves and ensure that word gets out.  In the days when the Craft was smaller it was common for a High Priestess to contact others of her acquaintance to let them know that ‘X’  was power-hungry, or even just a liability! I’m not suggestingthat we produce a formal blacklist, but being able to say “I really wouldn’t recommend X”, then most people should get the idea. 

As this subject has come up more than once recently, I shall be holding a workshop at Witchfest in Croydon in November ’03,on the subject of avoiding just these sorts of people and problems. 

TWPT:   As I have been up to your website I am sure that you are aware ofthe importance of being visible on the web but what role has the web played in the resurgence of Witchcraft in the recent years? 

KW:   I feel certain that email and the web are major contributory factors in the rise of would-be Witches.  Whereas previously many people were interested there was nowhere they could go to find out the facts, few books to read, and any meetings would only known to a few.  Now there is an abundance of information and communication, and it is possible to reach people around the globe at the touch of a button (at least for those who don’t have my computer there is!).  This, of course, brings its own problems but on the whole I feel that it’s a good thing so long as people take sensible precautions. 

The web brings the Craft other advantages too; we can share our Craft with many others of like mind, we can call uponWitches around the world to help with specific acts of magic, we can share our joys as well as our troubles.

TWPT:   Is it anymore likely that you will run into those dubious characterson on the web as you would in real life? 

KW:   Definitely.  It is so easy for someone to appear to be something they are not when all you have is their words on screen.  The so-called sixth sense we all use when we meet someone new is all but completely useless on the internet.  Worse than that, if and when you do meet someone with whom you have exchanged emails, you have a somewhat distorted preconceived idea of them from their words, and the mental image you have given them, to overcome before your instincts can even start to operate.  It’s all too easy to forget that someone you have never met before is a stranger – even if you’ve been corresponding for 10 years, they’re still a stranger!

It is well known that paedophiles in particular do use the web as a way of contacting minors, and young would-be Witches are as vulnerable, if not more so, than others.  These would-be Witches are aware that there is secrecy surrounding the Craft and so are not surprised that contacts are secretive.  They are frequently unwilling or unable to tell their parents who, where and why they are meeting and hence can easily put themselves at risk. 

I’d like to remind everyone of just some of the key ‘rules’ when meeting someone they do not know well:

Make it a public place, with other people around, preferably in daylight.

Make it somewhere you know well.

Take a friend, even if they have to keep an eye on you from a distance.

Make sure you can get home under your own steam.

Never go anywhere with a stranger.  If they need to show you something in their car (or wherever), they can go and fetch it – you stay safe.

Make sure you do not give information that enables you to be located whether at home, work, school or college.

Trust your instincts!

TWPT:   Tell me about the Real Witches Kitchen and why you decided to writethis book? 

KW:   I must confess that I really wanted to call this book “Kitchen Witchery” because that’s what I call it when I show Covenors how to do these sorts of things, but the publishers really didn’t like that title! 

The archetypal image of a Witch frequently shows her stirring a bubbling cauldron over an open fire, and in some respects this is a factually accurate, if out of date, picture.  Much of the work of the Witch takes place, or at least starts, in the kitchen.  It’s no use having knowledge of the healing powers of herbs and plants if you have no way of getting them into your unsuspecting family’s mouths, or onto their bodies!  So the making of soups and teas, lotions and ointments is really quite important.  Now my ancient forebears may have trekked out into the woods, clutching their cauldron and bucket of well water, but me, I prefer good lighting, sensible height work surfaces and an absence of curious cat in the mix!    Not only that but there are other things that the industrious Witch can make in the kitchen; candles, incense, soaps, bath oils, and herbal preparations of all kinds.

Additionally, there’s the thorny subject of foods to celebrate the Sabbats.  I feel quite strongly that the Sabbat feast should reflect both the season and the locale.  In other words, nice as it is to have say Spanish oranges in February, it’s not in keeping with Imbolg in East Anglia!  Not to mention that there really is more to Oestara than chocolate.  There is, honest!  TWR Kitchen also includes ways of extending the Sabbat celebrations to include family and friends, even if they’re not Pagan in anyway.  I like to share my joy in the seasons with all my near and dear, without in any way wanting to force my beliefs on them.

TWPT:   Do you feel the same relationship as a teacher would about those whoread and study your books? How does this affect the way that you write if at all? 

KW:   I certainly feel much the same way about my readers as I do about my Covenors, although often with less exasperation for lateness, absence and the like!  In fact much of what I write has already formed part of Coven life, long before the books are even thought of.  I certainly feel the same responsibilities towards them, especially in terms of their safety, both physical andotherwise, hence all the harping on about being careful with candles and the like!  I think this does influence the way I write, making me more careful to speak plainly and to consider any potential mis-interpretations, although I can’t avoid them all.

I do try to respond to all those who contact me, although between life, computer problems and deadlines etc. I’m frequently not as prompt as I would like to be. 

TWPT:    I have seen on your website where you are hard at work on a new title in the Real Witches series that will be out in 2003. Tell me aboutwhat we can expect from The Real Witches Coven and some of the concepts that it will be covering. 

KW:   The Real Witches’ Coven is due out in the UK on Feb 17th , and is intended to guide the would-be High Priestess and/or HighPriest through the whole challenging process of starting and running a Coven.  I like to think that it will also hold some new ideas for those with experience too.  TRW Coven covers setting up a Coven from finding and selecting members, through training and initiations, rules and discipline, Rituals for Esbats and Sabbats, the problems you might encounter day to day and ways of avoiding them, right through to the ways a Coven might divide or even close.  It even includes a piece on how to be agood Covenor, as it just isn’t possible to run a Coven without the co-operation of the members!  The idea is to try and help people avoid at least some of the pitfalls and hopefully to give them a chance to enjoy having a Coven, rather than spending all their time picking up the pieces! 

As an aside, when I first thought about this project (it was going to be called The Coven Handbook at that time) all the other HPS’s and HP’s I spoke to came up with the same idea; 200 pages filled with “Don’t do it!” in large type! 

TWPT:   Even before that we can expect a new book from you called A Spell inYour pocket around December of 2002. The title makes it fairly obvious but give me a run down on what will be included in this book and why a book of spells? 

KW:   A Spell in Your Pocket is not actually a book of spells per se, but is a pocket sized introduction to the Craft which includes some spells, and herb lore.  It’s more of a gift book than part of the Real Witches’ series.

Having said that I’ve just completed writing The Real Witches’ Book of Spells and Rituals, which should be published later this year (2003).  This really is a book of spells and rituals and came about because of the large number of enquiries I have received from practising Witches who want instruction on what sort of magic to perform, and how to do it, to achieve their intent.  As the title suggests it also includes many Rituals and information on how to write and put together your own.  A lot of people are still concerned that there are definitive ‘right’ ways to approach the Goddess and the God and I’m hoping to encourage the idea that, if your intent is pure, you can be really quite flexible about how you meet with your Gods.         

TWPT:    I hear you’ve had a frightful time with your computer over the last few months, has this had any spillover into when readers can expect to see the books that you were working on at the time?

KW:    Computers?  Aaarghhh!!  Firstly, I must apologise to your readers if they were expecting to read this a bit sooner. 

I’ve always been a bit of a technophobe but this last year takes the biscuit!  If I was just a little bit more paranoid I’d be convinced that it’s all a plot designed to prevent me from completing a book on time.  And yes, research has indicated that it originated from a stronghold of Christian evangelism!! 

Anyway, by dint of staying up until the small wee hours, and farming out my poor child to anyone who’d look after him, I got the book (TRW Spells and Rituals) in on my second extension deadline, and if the Old Gods are smiling on me it should be out towards the end of the year. 

However, as my piece on the Harper Collins website hints at, if I find out who designed the viruses that started the problem, I won’t be needing Witchcraft when I take them for a short walk through the garden of enlightenment!!  BTW many thanks to those out there who have sent me anti-virus spells.

TWPT:   Do you ever venture out on the road doing personal appearances/teachings and what kinds of memorable experiences have youhad out among the Pagan folk? 

KW:   Yes, I’m a frequent speaker at Craft events, Pagan conferences, and other groups, not to mention bookshop talks and signings etc..  So far for this coming year
I’ve got a number of things already lined up including Witchfests in Dublin, Glasgow and Croydon, Witchcamp in the summer and many others.  Then I’m doing a Handfasting course in Feb, and have offers for a number of other events and meetings, which I’ve yet to cross-match against the school holiday timetable!

I find it’s great to get out and meet the people who are part of the Craft today, as well as those who are going to be taking it from here into the future.  Not only that, but I get to make new friends and catch up with existing ones.  My poor partner Steve, rarely gets to enjoy the conferences in the same way as he’s usually practising his speciality, directing sound and lighting on whatever stage(s) are being used.

Of all the events we’ve been to over the years Pantheo Con in San Jose has got to be the most memorable:  From being told that we looked too straight to be Witches (despite the temporary pentagram tattoos on our foreheads!), to the hotel shared between a couple of hundred Witches and a somewhat nervous-looking 4th Army Airbourne Division, it was quite the most stunning and entertaining conference we’d attended, then or since. 

At one point I was running late doing Q & A after my talk when the ‘wall’ was rolled back to reveal a row of very unhappy looking soldierly types who weren’t going to cross the invisible line between ‘them’ and ‘us’.  I don’t suppose my comment that “they don’t look much like Witches to me” helped them to feel any more relaxed as one scurried off to find someone in charge to move us along! 

As the only ‘limey’s’ in attendance, our insistence on going for a walk had the hotel staff speechless, and it took us days to work out that what sounded to our uninitiated ears like “eighth-army” turned out to be a strong southern accent saying “Athame”.  In the UK attendees at such events usually get out their long dresses and Wiccan jewellery, in the US it’s no holds barred, one of our team found herself in the lift with a chap wearing nothing but a leather apron who wanted to talk about methods of self-flagellation.  Even the afore-mentioned 4th Army Airbourne wore more ‘scrambled egg’ than most UK Witches wear silver!

TWPT:   You seem to be very busy at the moment, is there anything else thatyou would like to share with our readers around the world about what is in store for Kate West over the next few years? Any final thoughts orbits of wisdom that you might like to share with everyone? 

KW:   Well as I’ve indicated; TRW Coven is due out in Feb., and TRW Spells and Rituals towards the end of the year.  I’m currently working on The Real Witches’ Garden, which is scheduled for publication in March 2004.  TRW Garden is not a ‘how togarden’ book, but rather how to use the Craft to help your garden and your garden to help your Craft.  As I’ve tended gardens of all shapes and sizes, from window sill to extensive wilderness, and in all kinds of condition from gravelled over to ex-builders rubble heap, I intend to try to bring a little bit of earth magic into every environment and to focus on what is possible, rather than what would be ideal.

After that?  Well we’re looking at an idea for The Real Witch’s Diary which, if it’s accepted, will be a somewhat lighter work combining information on the Craft with real Diary entries.  A cross between my Book of Shadows and my personal journal (only without any child-care entries!).  There are other ideas in the offing, but I’m keeping those under wraps for present, no sense in tempting the fates too much!

I’ve already listed some of my forward appearances above and details usually appear on The Children of Artemis website. 

They don’t go on mine as only Steve can update it and he can sometimes be ‘on the road’ for weeks at a time.  Having said that, we are in the process of catch-up at present.  Other info can be found on Harper Collins site together with my “thoughtfor the season” which comes out for most Sabbats.   

And finally, I can’t claim authorship but I do like it:

“Meddle not in the affairs of dragons, for you are crunchy and taste good with ketchup!” 

In Mirth and Reverence..... Blessings   Kate 

TWPT:  Thanks for taking the time to talk to us Kate and I do hope that you have seen the worst of your computer problems for quite some time to come. Blessings upon your journey and your writings.