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The Author's Corner

 


Lora O'Brien

 

 

 

Irish Witchcraft
From an Irish Witch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Irish Witchcraft From an Irish Witch:
TWPT Talks to Lora O'Brien

©2005TWPT


TWPT:  Most everyone that steps onto this path usually has memories of when it was that the possibility of following this path first surfaced in their spiritual lives. When was it that you first became aware of the Wiccan Pagan path and what was it that caused you to consider it seriously for your own path?

Lora:  Hmm, itís not easy to pin point one exact time. For those who have heard the old "I was born a Witch" speech about a zillion times, feel free to skip to the next question now. Donít say I didnít warn you! When I look back there are things I have done since very early childhood that were in tune with what I do now. Natural actions, defensive and protective techniques, and inclinations, which nobody had taught or shown to me. At the age of 15, I had an unexpected experience of deity, which opened my eyes and my heart to a ĎGoddessí energy or power. I figured I had my own religion, as I had never seen or heard of a spirituality that fit with that experience, consciously at least. In 1994, my sister was speaking to a local acquaintance of ours, casually asked him about the star he wore round his neck, and his response reminded her of her big sisterís weirdness. She told me about it, I looked him up. He asked some questions, listened to me, kept silent on his own thoughts (as all the best of them will do in such a situation), but sent me away with a book by Vivianne Crowley. My feeling as I devoured that book was, as so many have described before, just like coming home. It was the Witch word that struck me then, and as a female user of magic, Witch or Bean DraoŪ in my native tongue (pronounced. Ban Dree) is what I still most often go by.

TWPT:  At what point did you make up your mind that this was the path for you and what did you do to make it "official" so to speak?

Lora:   That was it for me. Once I knew what it was called, I knew what I was, and still am. I did a very simple dedication ceremony alone, for my own benefit rather than anything else, and it recaptured for me of the feeling of acceptance and complete awe that I had encountered through my initial Goddess experience. Those were my first and most important initiatory encounters.

TWPT:  Tell me about the Wiccan Pagan community that existed at about that time in Ireland when you committed yourself to this new way. Was it a difficult thing to connect with like minded individuals who shared a similar path?

Lora:  After a while, myself and the acquaintance who had given me my first book (a friend by that stage, he later became my husband!) joined the UK Pagan Federationís list of contacts. Ireland was counted as part of the Scottish PF back then, and the Irish contact list was very short. About a year after that, he got in touch to let me know there was a monthly meeting starting in Dublin, where we both lived at the time, and asked would I go with him. I wasnít too bothered, but we managed to make it to the second one, and many more after. That was An FŠinne (pron. On Faw-nya, meaning the circle or the ring) which has run very successfully since then.

TWPT:   Did you have any preconceptions of what the community might be like and how did those preconceptions compare to the reality of the situation once you started to make contact with others?

Lora:  I had no idea what the community might be like. I didnít think there was much of a community, as we see it now. There were individuals, who happened to meet on occasion, and might or might not get on with each other. Actually, not much different to what we have today, now that I think about it! That meeting was the first of itís kind in Ireland, and the majority of the people who went were open and friendly, which I enjoyed. I was painfully shy, and still can be (though I hide it well!), so was quite scared to attend anything like that - but I met the woman who would later become my Wiccan High Priestess on that first night. She liked me a lot, and so I was Ďiní from the start. I have since heard people say that other attendees could be too clannish and tend to exclude those who are new, but I guess this is a danger in any regular meeting. Irish event facilitators have always made every effort to be inclusive and open to all, from what Iíve seen.

TWPT:  Since we do a lot of talking about books here on TWPT I like to know what books authors found interesting and helpful when they were first starting out on the Wiccan Pagan path. Did you have any favourites that were informative and helped you to better understand the path that you now found yourself on?

Lora:  Well, obviously that first Vivianne Crowley book, which is called The Phoenix from the Flame, made a big impression. There was also Rae Bethís classic Hedgewitch, I donít think I know anybody who hasnít had a copy of that at some stage. I liked her style, the student teacher aspect, and the simplicity of it all. Marian Greenís A Witch Alone was a big help too, her books on magic are always useful. And Laurie Cabotís Power of the Witch was read and re-read. My friend had a few by the Farrars and Doreen Valiente in his collection, which I borrowed and found interesting. I didnít think that traditional Wicca was suited to me at that stage, and have come full circle again on that!

TWPT:  What kinds of differences exist between the Wiccan Pagan community of Ireland and the U.S. that you are aware of? Why do you think that is?

Lora:  Iíve not been to the States yet, so Iím not qualified to comment on the community there. From what I have heard and going by those who have contacted me over the years, the Irish as individuals seem to be more grounded than your average American Pagan. That is a generalisation of course, I have also met some very grounded American Pagans. There isnít a very large specifically Wiccan community in Ireland. Wicca isnít where my path lies now or in the future, though it is a path I have explored in the past. Most of us in the Irish Pagan community have little concern with grand titles, flouncy flake names, or pompous parading. I donít know if thatís what the U.S. community is like to be in, but it can be what seeps out. My husband classes himself as a "plain old eat the berries off the ditch Witch", and this to me is the epitome of what makes those of us born here (and those who have settled on this land) tick. Get in there, get it done, get out, and go home for a nice cup of scald (hot tea).

TWPT:  Were you a writer before stepping onto the Wiccan Pagan path? If so what is it about writing that you enjoy and if not then what was it that drew you to writing after you had embarked on this new spiritual direction?

Lora:  Yeah, Iíve always been writing something. It was only recently that I considered it for a career of sorts, I had always thought Iíd go through Art college and earn my keep in something along those lines. I got to Art college, but soon found it wasnít for me, and havenít been back since. I have always enjoyed the freedom of expression I get through writing - whether itís an article, an email, a book, a post for an online forum or group, or just my own diaries. I like the honesty of the written word; when you give yourself over to it, itís a glimpse of the true you. Iím completely myself when I get in a written flow, I write on topics that stir my passions and my desires, I write from the heart. I have some debating and public speaking experience, and had a top notch English teacher while at school, but that is the only formal training Iíve ever had. I could probably have done with getting some educational structure on how to write, as itís been a trial and error process for me, but sure maybe I just needed to learn the hard way! My spirituality, my heritage, my culture and my beliefs have always inspired my writing, and I hope they always continue to do so. If they donít - Iíll have lost the passion for them, and thatís no good.

TWPT:  Who is the audience you are seeking to reach with your books? Are you aiming at the beginning practitioner or are you aiming at those who have been on this path a little bit longer? Do you think that intermediate and advanced practitioners have enough books aimed at them by the publishing companies?

Lora:  My first book, Irish Witchcraft from an Irish Witch, was originally going to be called True to the Heart, and the audience for it was always intended to be basically anybody who had a GrŠ (pron. Graw) or a love for Ireland, with her inherent spirituality and traditions, but was disillusioned by the unreal information that abounds. My work and style seems to appeal to so many, it is difficult to define a Ďtarget audienceí. From the emails and reviews I get from the States and the UK, where people are grateful for the Ďrealí connection and information, to Irish Pagans who are heartily sick of being misrepresented and appreciate that I know what Iím talking about, to my Granny; a staunch elderly Catholic who has nonetheless proclaimed herself thoroughly approving (she sort of ignores the title with a somewhat glazed expression), as she says reading my book was like being back at the knee of her own Granny all those years ago. Although my book doesnít contain any complete beginner Ďhow to be a Witchí stuff, beginners and genuine seekers will benefit and learn from the information I provide. Likewise, those who have been on the path for a bit longer, have said they find my work to be "a breath of fresh air", quite different from what is usually to be found. There are certain publishers, usually the smaller presses, and some authors, who specifically cater for intermediate and advanced practitioners. All in all, I feel that anybody who wants to keep learning will always find the books and resources to help them to do so. If the mainstream Pagan publishers donít provide them, I go to the academic or more esoteric ones, and have always found ways to further my own education with little difficulty.

TWPT:  You mentioned your book was for those who were "disillusioned by the unreal information that abounds" about Irish spirituality and traditions. Could you give me some examples of the unreal information that you see currently circulating aboutIreland and its traditions and spirituality? 

Lora:  Youíre trying to get me in trouble! I wouldnít be widely known for my tact or diplomacy, but Iím not going to slate anybody in particular here. Suffice it to say, there are certain books that even the authors now admit are not the best work they ever did! Fair enough, as we all should continue to learn and grow. In my own seeking for something that was Irish, I have been continually disappointed. Nothing was ever quite right, quite what I felt to be Ďrealí. It is difficult to explain, but the land here feels real to me, I feel connected, and that connection has been developed and deepened by building relationships with the ancient sites and with the Powers that inhabit the land - Deities, Spirits, Heroes and the Sidhe (pron. Shee). A lot of the authors whose books I was reading over the last 10 years, professing to be "Celtic" (whatever that means!) or even Irish specifically, have shown only minimal and outside understanding of the culture and heritage that I feel this connection to. They take certain terms or ideas, and seem to presume that this is the whole picture, if it fits even generally with their preconceived notions of what is Ďgenuine Irishí: Leprechauns, potatoes, the colour green, the Banshee, shamrock, Aran jumpers, the idea of the Sidhe as some sort of cute flower fairies, etc. It is like they are skating the surface. The thing is, we all begin by skating the surface. The "unreality" of a lot of information out there lies in the way that it is often presented as the whole story, the complete picture, the definitive guide. I donít think my work has all the answers, by any means. What my first book offers the reader is a solid, connected starting point. Each personís journey and path is ultimately unique, though many share common bonds. 

TWPT:  Tell me what it is that makes Irish Witchcraft very unique when compared to other traditions that one might come across outside ofIreland or around the world.

Lora:  Well, not to be a smart arse, but itís Irish. Thatís the difference. It lies with the people, the land, the culture, the folklore, the heritage. And I donít believe it is superior in any way to other traditions, just different. I guess it can be seen in the practitioners today. Whether they call themselves witches or not, Iím talking of those who work with our native heritage in a magical or spiritual way. As I said in a previous question, the epitome of the Irish practitioner is a practical no nonsense approach, very grounded. Use what works, keep it real, respect the past but look to the future, always live in the present. Be honest and honourable - to yourself and to those you work with. I donít think the Irish are the only ones in the world to have these attitudes, but the practicality, adaptability, and strength of the Gael is still very much in evidence in modern Irish magical and spiritual practices.

TWPT:  Could you give me an idea of the topics that you cover in your book and what readers can expect to walk away with after reading your book as far as understanding Irish Witchcraft.

Lora:  I open with a general run down - everything from my ideas on what Witchcraft and Wicca are, and why they are different things, to the importance of the Irish language and regularly visiting or living on the land. I look at the "Myths and Legends", getting to know some of the principle figures of the Tuatha De Danaan deities. "Folk and Fairies" examines our ancestors views as well as a modern perspective on the Sidhe, while "Trials of a Witchís Life" delves into some of the stories of historical witches ofIreland. "Land and Gods" is quite a personal chapter, relating experiences from my own perspective of building relationships with this land and itís Powers. "Cycle and Sabbats" looks at what actually went on during the four main Irish festivals of Samhain, Imbolg, Bealtaine and Lughnasadh, and why. In "Stages of a Witchís Life" Iíve examined the Irish life cycle, and given alternative ideas for those of us who still find ourselves somewhat entrenched in other peopleís life development markers, such as Christenings, weddings, and the like. The concluding chapter is a slice of what itís like to actually live as a Pagan in modernIreland. What readers can expect to walk away with after reading my book? Like I said, a solid and connected starting point, with a hefty section on further resources to help with all the work that theyíll need to be getting on with from there. Youíll know me better too when you read this book, a necessary sacrifice of privacy on my part Iím afraid - as a lot of it is simply relating my experiences in the hope that theyíll be of some assistance to others. No point in us all making the same mistakes is there?!

TWPT:  Have you observed growth in the Irish Witchcraft community over the years since you first started along this path and how much interaction do you have with this growing community?

Lora:  Oh Gods yes. The Irish pagan community is growing in leaps and bounds, and stretching healthily into all sorts of more established areas such as academia, ecology, and holistic healing. I tend to be nosy and stay involved in as many aspects of it as I possibly can. Iím an active member of most of the Irish online groups and lists, asking awkward questions, providing what information I can, and generally making a nuisance of myself. I run a couple of them too. My husband and I run Crow Coven, though we are a small group of co-explorers at present, rather than an active presence in the community. I write articles and do interviews. I facilitate my local monthly meeting, the Pobal Gathering in Roscommon (Pobal means community, pron. Pub-uhl). And with my co-organiser Barbara Lee, run our national yearly Pagan event, Fťile DraŪochta (pron. Fay-La Dree-ocktha), a day and night long Festival of Irish Magic and Spirituality - which is a useful gathering and focus point for everyone from the cynical old hands to the mildly curious newcomers. My husband and I have close ties to many groups and individuals country wide, and support events such as Castle Pookís regular camping/hostelry gatherings, and the various nation-wide monthly meetings, as often as we possibly can.

TWPT:  Once you decided that you did want to write a book or several books how did you go about finding a publisher to get them out? Were you happy with the arrangements that were made to get your book into print?

Lora:  I had approached twoUK publishers with an idea for a different book, with little success, when Janet Farrar recommended I get in touch with herUS publisher, New Page Books. They werenít very interested in my original idea, but seemed to like my style and approach, and asked for other submissions from me. I had a vague idea about doing the Irish Witchcraft book, as I could see that something like it was needed, so I put the idea to them and they loved it. It was a very tight writing schedule, and I would have preferred more editing time before it went out, but all in all theyíve been very good to me. The thing that has pissed me off the most about having an American publisher has been the lack of distribution inIreland. A lot of people were contacting me, looking to buy this new Irish book, and it wasnít in any Irish shops!  Being the sort of person that I am, I made my own arrangements to get it supplied to Irish shops by becoming their Irish agent - an ongoing process.

TWPT:  Is there some kind of measure or guidelines that you think would be helpful to balance how much of your tradition is based on new ideas and concepts and how much draws from the past and the heritage that you grew up with? Keeping pace with the 21st century and yet not sacrificing all of the beauty and meaning of what has brought you to where you are.

Lora:  I try to make it clear throughout anything I write whatís my input, my ideas, and whatís coming from source material or accepted academic ideas. Iím not into this thing of pretending to be something Iím not. As a general rule, I try to look to source material first - original manuscripts, folklore, academic and historical writings. This gives a firm base from which to work. But there are more gaps in it than a crochet shawl; original or source material alone does not a living breathing magical tradition make. My next step is to use my intuition, my connection, my relationship with the Powers; see what those beggars have to say for themselves. On occasion, that will come first, research later. The Irish powers generally wouldnít be best known for their gentle patience, theyíll have no hesitation in shoving a toe up yer arse if they think youíre not moving fast enough. Once thatís been done, I try it out and see if it works. I keep records - though Iím no scientist, scientific methods of research and experimentation are invaluable when you want to do this magic lark properly. I look to other systems, other traditions, other opinions and experiences to come up with similarities or differences. Look at what works or doesnít work for other people and other systems or traditions, and WHY. My background has taught me the value of honesty, integrity, practicality, adaptability and (perhaps most importantly) a sense of humour, and these are the key aspects I hold when working my particular version of Irish Witchcraft.

TWPT:  What role(s) do you see yourself performing within the Irish Witchcraft community as an author? Do authors have a greater responsibility simply because they are a very visible aspect of the Witchcraft community?

Lora:  As an author in the Irish Pagan community, Iíd love to see my work as a motivating factor to all the others who I know can write as well (or better!) than me to get off their backsides and bloody well do it. I might be the first Irish person to write this sort of book, but I certainly would hate to think Iíd be the only one. Ireland historically has been an important and inspirational teacher, and I think She still sprouts the kind of voices that could and would do the world some good. So, speak up! I think anybody and everybody who finds themselves in the public eye has a huge responsibility to whatever group they are viewed as representatives of.

TWPT:  What kind of feedback have you been receiving about your new book so far? How much do you let feedback on any of your writings affect or direct future projects that you might work on?

Lora:  The feedback has been pretty amazing. The reviews have been excellent, and I have been very grateful for the many supportive emails and messages Iíve received through the web site, as well as the support and guidance from family and friends. When you write a book it becomes a bit like a child while you try to get it born to the world, carrying your hopes, dreams, and such a huge part of yourself out there for all to see. Itís nerve wracking! I was preparing myself for criticism, but although not everybody agrees with everything I write, people respect the fact that Iíve made it quite clear what is Ďmy opinion/experienceí, and what is accepted as Ďtruthí (though that is a very subjective thing!). Iím working on my second book at present, and I suppose the influence of the feedback has been to encourage me that Iím on the right track, that Iím not the only person out there who has this hunger or drive for real knowledge of, and connection with,Ireland as a living breathing inspirational entity. I did often wonder if I was alone in that, but now I know that Iím not the only mad one out there. Ha! Who would have thought it eh?!

TWPT:  I hadn't really considered the idea that your book might not be available in your home land because you had a U.S. publisher but I can see where that might cause you just a wee bit of consternation. Is that a common occurrence with books that are published in the U.S. that they are not available overseas?

Lora:   Most of the bigger U.S. publishers are pretty well established in Ireland and the UK. Easons would be one of our biggest chain book shops over here, and they have a good spectrum of worldwide publishers on their lists. With some of the newer publishers it can be more difficult, but itís only a matter of time before they get picked up on the radar here. Local booksellers are more than willing to go looking for new or specialist titles on request, far more so than the impersonal bigger chains, so I support them whenever I can. And of course, there are online sites like Amazon, where we can get pretty much anything.

TWPT:  Do you do much teaching or speaking in support of your new book there in Ireland? Is that something that you enjoy doing as much as you enjoy writing?

Lora:   Iíve done a lot in the UK; at events in London and Scotland, and will be attending a new festival "The Awakening"  in Manchester in April 2005. I run workshops here in County Cork at the wonderful Castle Pook. I am also around all day at our own Fťile DraŪochta (http://www.feiledraiochta.org/ ) and will do a book signing, though I wonít be doing a specific talk or workshop on the day - Iíll be far too busy running the thing! I love meeting people at these events, being able to get and give feedback and just have a drink and a chat. Iím very down to earth and it shows, Iíve a mouth on me like a sailor sometimes but I try to be good when I am doing a talk! I donít mind doing the talks and workshops, though it can make me nervous at times - I gather my courage, and just be myself.

TWPT:  Tell me about your involvement with co-organizing the Witchfest Ireland event. What got you started with that and how much time and effort do you put into getting this set each year?

Lora:   Bit of a history there. It was originally at the request of a UK Wicca and Witchcraft organisation that myself and Barbara took it on, though we had been thinking of something like it ourselves for quite some time. They wanted to back events in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, so we said weíd run the Irish one. That first one was in 2003, in the Red Cow Inn, and we called it Craftfest. It was successful, and looked set to grow. The following year, we tried to tie in more with their style of things, the venue was the Royal Marine hotel in Dun Laoighaire, and we called it Witchfest Ireland. There were a lot of logistical problems that year, with tickets and stall bookings going astray because the organisation seemed to be too busy to handle their growth, and it was, for us, one headache after another. The day itself turned out fine though, enjoyed by all. We went ahead and found the best venue yet, Chief OíNeills in Smithfield in Dublin for the 2005 event, booked it for the 25th June, and started our preparations pretty much as soon as we were done with the previous event. A few months later we were asked to change the date to suit the UK organisation, but their dates would never have suited us. So after a bit of back and forth we decided to go ahead and do it ourselves, and launched our own event called Fťile DraŪochta. It makes more sense to have us handling all the administrative side of things from here, trying to do it through London was a nightmare. To be honest, I also prefer to have it run completely by the Irish Pagan community, for the Irish Pagan community - any profits will be used to fund community projects here at home instead of trotting off to the UK. This seems to sit better with a lot more of our community, who have said on many occasions that they resented having to send off to London for tickets to an Irish event! With the name and the venue, as well as the range of speakers and stalls, we have tried to make it as inclusive as we possibly can for the entire community, rather than just a witchcraft event. It was never about that, for us. As for how much time and effort go into it each year, you really donít want to know! We have fantastic staff and support, with none of us getting paid for our time, but myself and Barbara start planning as soon as one event ends and only finish when we collapse exhausted after midnight on the day. We have been stopped by those who are more sensible than us, on a number of occasions, from beginning to plan the following yearís event on the day itself. Iím trying to get as much as possible done as early as I can for this yearís, in an attempt to stop some of the headless chicken type running around that has been the order of the day at times in previous years, as I will be very heavily pregnant by the 25th June!

TWPT:  Having gone through the fire so to speak in getting your first book published do you think the second one will be easier since you are now familiar with the process?

Lora:   Between one thing and another, Iím a bit behind the time frame I had originally planned for getting a second book out there, so I havenít agreed a contract with a publisher yet. I made a lot of mistakes the first time round, and I have learned a lot. I think I was relatively well looked after through the whole process, anything I needed materialised when I needed it. It would be nice if it was easier though, Iíve nothing against me having an easy time right now! Hopefully Iíll get a better deal on the second one, whoever said you donít get rich by writing the books never said a truer wordÖ

TWPT:  If you are not against sharing what is your second book going to cover as far as subject matter and is that something we will see next year?

Lora:   My second book will focus in on building relationships with the Powers of Ireland - working with the Gods, Guides and Guardians of this land. I would like to see it out in 2006, but with such a busy time ahead for me, Iím not promising anything.

TWPT:  I would imagine that the Internet has had a large impact on your ability to reach out not only to your own country but to other countries as well. Do you find it comforting to know that there is a wide world of Pagans out there and that you can communicate with them through the net?

Lora:   Yes, Iíve learned so much from the various forums and online groups Iíve been involved with, and run myself, over the years. Iíve made some good friends, and also had a few hard knocks - but hey, that makes us stronger too. Having an Internet connection has been invaluable to me, for everything from research at my finger tips, to being able to email my work to the publishers instead of having to rely on posting it to the States. Running my own web site has been great too, Iíve been contacted by a lot of people over the years, and been able to help quite a few of them out with information and advice - as well as receiving the encouraging feedback that I spoke of.

TWPT:  As you work on your books do you have a set schedule for writing or do you squeeze it in and around your daily routines?

Lora:   You mean Iím supposed to have a set schedule? Or a daily routine?!! Eek, nobody told me! Iím too busy to be bothering with all that, maybe someday, when I get that cosy little office with the open fire that I so often dream of when Iím meant to be writingÖ Seriously, with 2 small kids, another one on the way, and a house to run, as well as all my other commitments, I just fit writing in as and when I can manage to. Maybe that explains why I found the last book deadline so tight!

TWPT:  I always like to leave a spot at the end of my interviews to let the author fill in any gaps that I might have missed with my questions so I'll leave you with this question. Is there anything else that you would like to pass along to the readers of TWPT that I did not ask you about during the course of this interview? Imajicka pulls out the soapbox and pushes it towards Lora...

Lora: Ö climbs up on soapbox and realises she likes it to damn much up there. Feels like home. Iíll limit myself to a few quick words on community, a thing Iíve spoken a lot of during the course of the interview. Itís very important - not just for Pagans, but for all aspects of life. There are always going to be people within a community who get right up your nose and seem to enjoy the view from up there. If you think about it, there are people who feel that way about you. If there arenít, you probably arenít being very honest, because nobody agrees with everybody else all of the time. But if we keep it respectful, stay honest, and donít get our knickers in a twist over every little thing, then we will get stronger. We will learn from each otherís opinions, even if itís only to show us more clearly that we really are happy with our own. And, as valuable a tool as the Internet or books can be, itís not real life - what you do or learn online or on paper doesnít really count until you put it into practice in the real world. As Pagans, a highly individualistic path to say the least, our communities are our strength and our support. So support them!

TWPT: With that I will say a hearty thank you to Lora O'Brien for her spirited participation in this March's Author's Corner which marks TWPT's 6th year on the web. We also wish you the best of luck with the new life that will soon be entering your family. May she/he be a blessing to you.   And finally we wish you much success with your current book and anything else that you set your mind to in the coming years.