The Author's Corner
The Healing Power of Faery: Working with Elementals and Nature Spirits to Soothe the Body and Soul
Spellworking for Covens
Magick and Rituals
Inside a Witches' Coven
Spellworking for Covens:
TWPT: What was it that led up to your self initiation as a Witch back in 1981 and what was the most appealing aspect of Witchcraft that convinced you that this path was for you?
EM: I first learned about Witchcraft as a teen from a book called ďThe Grimoire of Lady Sheba.Ē At the time I wasnít interested inn pursuing this further because I recognized the Craft as a religion, and at that time I was exploring a variety of religious paths trying to determine which was right for me.
When I was about twenty I found a book by the late Sybil Leek and began to seriously get interested in Witchcraft. What I found most appealing at that time was the emphasis on the Goddess. As I uncovered Christianityís roots and found Judaism, I was moved to uncover Judaismís roots to find the old Pagan faiths of the Middle East and deities such as Isis and Inanna. I wanted to worship in a setting where the feminine aspect of divinity was not relegated to a lesser role. If we truly believe we are created in their image, then we must accept that it takes both male and female to spark creation. One aspect should be seen as lesser than the other.
TWPT: As you started out were you pretty much a Solitary or were you actively looking for involvement in a Coven or group setting? Where does one go looking to make this kind of contact?
EM: In the beginning I worked and studied with my best friend. I suppose you could say we were a coven of two, but at the time we werenít experienced enough to recognize it as such. We wanted to find a coven and teachers, but in the early 1980s groups and written resources were just beginning to emerge.It was my friend who finally found a roundabout link to a large coven just west of the city.
As to how one goes about making these contacts? That question can fill a book. In fact, it did. I get asked about covens so often that I wrote ďInside A Witchesí CovenĒ in 1997 to answer all those questions.
The two best things to do are: 1) network with your local occult bookstore or look for notices of open circles in alternative newspapers or on the web, and 2) keep your eyes and ears open for clues to whatís going on around you. Thereís no substitute for leg work. This is one religion that will not come after you; you have to go after it.
TWPT: 1981 was a few years before the advent of the internet as a major facet of making contact with others of like mind, what kinds of resources did you have available to you at that time for reading about what was going on within the Pagan community?
EM: As I mentioned, resources were scarce in the early 1980ís. There was a New Age bookstore in San Antonio that had a bullitun board for networking, but it did not carry much in the way of Paganism. Austin had a store that was Pagan friendly, but wasnít much into networking.
We ended up running our own ads in the available resources and just came out and asked for anyone interested in a study group with coven-possibilieies to contact us. This is often the best course of action to take--start your own circle.
TWPT: Has your BA in history allowed you to approach writing about Witchcraft with a different perspective than you might have had otherwise?
EM: My degree was not in ancient history, so I canít say itís been any help in my study of the Craft other than it taught me how to make the mosts use of any library. It was by working backwords through modern religions to find their Pagan roots that most impacted my study of the Old Religion.
TWPT: When did writing become an important aspect of your life and what were some of the first topics that you tackled when you began to put your ideas down on paper?
EM: Iíve been writing since 1980. That was the year I first got paid by a magazine for a small article on kitchen tips. If you knew how little I cook, and how much I hate kitchen work, youíd realize how funny this was. But thatís how I got my start writing professionally.
TWPT: Did you immediately recognize that writing was going to be a major aspect of your vocational life?
EM: Writing has always been an important part of my life. For a while I was even able to support myself freelancing with various magazines. I always knew I wanted to write books, but I knew the odss against making a living writing were against me. I have a stockbrokerís and financial advisorís license and, until recently, worked as a broker during the day while writing nights and weekends. Unfortunately, something else had to go to make room for all this work, and I ended up sacrificing sleep. The stress eventually lead to some long term health problems that I will be battling for a long time to come.
TWPT: What are some of the prime characteristics that an author should possess if they hope to succeed with their writing?
EM: You have to want it bad. As I said, I worked in the hectic atmosphere of a Wall Street brokerage firm, then came home and turned on my computer to write--not just about Witchcraft--but about any topic I thought I could write about that would sell.
A writer has to be willing to dig out resources, accept that what they write is not going to be perfect, that you will have your detractors, and that you will make mistakes in either your research or execution of how you present that research. I look back on some of my early work and cringe. I proud of most of my later works.
TWPT: What was the first book that you had published whose topic was that of Witchcraft or Paganism? What was it that prompted you to begin writing about your spiritual path? If you are an author is that a natural step to write about your spirituality?
EM: The first book I published was ďWitta: An Irish Pagan Tradition,Ē with Llewellyn in 1993. Thatís the book that makes me cringe the most. I see places where I didnít explain things well, or where I hadnít thought through faulty research. Itís like getting whacked in the head as suddenly you think, ďI canít believe I put that in print.Ē
A writer lives and learns just like one does in any profession. As a stockbroker I made errors. No body likes them, but you learn from them and, hopefully, grow wiser from having made them.
The only reason I chose to write about Witta is because it is a small tradition, one I was afraid would die out if it wasnít put down on paper. I began writing what would eventually be ďWittaĒ for myself. Iím hoping to have a chance to revise that book in the near future and make some additions and corrections.
TWPT: How did you initially make contact with Llewellyn when you were looking to publish Witta and how did they help you achieve your goals of becoming a published author?
EM: I approached Llewellyn as any writer would approach a publisher. I read through Writerís Market, select publishers, then prioritize them by who most publishes work like mine and by who I felt carried the most prestige.
Most non-writers have no idea how hard it can be to break into publishing anywhere at any level. Writers are asking a publisher to take a huge financial risk, hence they get the lionís share of the proceeds. A writer has to know the market and know who to approach and how to approach them. Much of this information is in book on writing and in the annual Writerís Market publication. Writers who donít do their homework do not succeed in any genre.
Most non-writers also are unaware that when a publisher is willing to take a risk on your work they control what they would like to see rewritten and they control all cover copy and packaging. Llewellyn is very savvy about creating appealing covers and Iíve been happy with all of them.
I got very lucky in that Llewellyn was my first choice. Carl Llewellyn Wecshcke is from the old school. Bottom line still counts, but he truly thinks of his business as being a tea, that goes from him through his staff, to his authors, right on down to the readers. Heís a joy to work with--his whole staff is.
TWPT: Tell me about the process that takes place between your publisher and yourself when you have an idea for a new book that you would like to write?
EM: When an author gets an idea, he or she ďpitchesĒ it to an editor. The editor will have a better idea than you if the product is marketable. If itís not, he or she may suggest some changes in the concept. When the overall theme is hammered out, then the author writes the manuscript. When the manuscript goes to the publisher itís sent to a reader who fills out a form on what they liked and didnít like and what changes they would like to see.
Rewriting is no fun, but itís the name of the game in publishing. Many popular fiction writers go through eight or more drafts before the final one goes to press. The most Iíve had to endure is four.
TWPT: Once you have finished a new manuscript and sent it off to your publisher what kinds of discussions do you have as to what form the book will finally take? Do these discussions include content as well?
EM: Llewellyn tries to send copies of cover art to its authors for input, but ultimately they make the call, just like any other publisher. Itís their money thatís at risk.
Once my manuscript is accepted, I donít see it again for about a year. In that time cover art, endorsements, and marketing blurbs are generated. It gets line edited and its basic format is set into proof pages.
At this point I get a call or letter from my editor with the production schedule. That means letting me know when sheíll need back answers to any questions that arise during the editing process, when I will get the proof pages so I can add my corrections, and then it must be back to her for one last line edit before it goes to print. About three months later the book is on the bookstore shelves.
TWPT: Over the years you have had several books published on Wicca and Witchcraft, when you send a new book out to readers all over the country what is is that you are hoping to accomplish with your words?
EM: Every authors hopes their words will change someoneís life, but Iím happy if I just gave someone something new to think about. I believe the best educated Witches are well read and combine that reading with what their hear discussed among others or are told by teachers. I still read many Wicca 101 books because I can always find something new in each of them.
TWPT: Your latest book, Spellworking for Covens, is the second book that you have published on the subject of Covens the other being Inside a Witches Coven. Tell me about some of your own experiences in covens and how those experiences helped you in writing Spellworking.
EM: I think my experience with group work is typical; Iíve had the bad, the good, and the ugly. Right now Iím a solitary, and have been for more years than I expected I would be. But Iím enjoying that. I used to think I had to have a coven to be a "realĒ Witch, which, of course, is not true.
I drew on lots of personal experience when writing both of my coven books. The first one, on how to form or find oneís own, was inspired by the huge amount of mail I receive from people who have no idea that it takes lots of effort ad legwork to get a coven started, even more so to find one willing to take newcomers.
TWPT: Why is magick such a strong foundational piece to a coven?
EM: I donít think magick is a strong foundation piece to a coven. I think thereís a lot of other work to be done, first in ritual and secondly in just getting to know and merge with each otherís energies with the goal of making them one.
Any newcomers also need to be reminded that a coven doesnít exist for the purpose of making magick, but to worship the deities at the turning points of the year which is represented by the seasonal wheel.
We all know magick is hard work, and lots of variables can upset it or propel it to success.
Magick should be the last thing a coven worries about, but if a coven can do it successfully and everyoneís happy with the outcome, then you have a wonderful, exceptional coven. I just hate to see any group putting magick ahead of other studies.
TWPT: How effective is the written word in communicating the concepts of magick and spirituality to your readers?
EM: I think that depends on the individual. Some are motivated by music or oral teachings, others like to know all the mythology they can, others are moved by words. I hope my books can be springboards into other areas of study for any Witch. I want to share my thoughts and ideas that Iíve culled from more than twenty years experience, but I donít pretend to have all the answers. After all, none of us ever learn it all, much less master it.
TWPT: If someone were to pick up a copy of your book, Spellworking, and take it home what benefits would they derive from it in relation to their current coven or group work?
EM: I wrote SPELLWORKING FOR COVENS because I often find groups are experts at working with ritual energy, but which seem to fall apart when trying to work magick together. I hope I can give coven leaders a tool for measuring if their group is ready for magick. Experienced leaders can usually sense weak links and know when the time is right.
If the time is not right, I hope to offer practical exercises for their group to prepare themselves for magick.
I also hope that leader can use the spell ďblueprintsĒ section to make the spells in the Grimoire section of the book, into powerful spells that benefit their groups.
TWPT: Tell me about the Witta tradition and why it is that you chose that tradition to become involved with? What is it about the tradition that you find appealing?
EM: I fell into Witta by accident. I was interested in Irish-based traditions, but couldnít find anyone near me who shared that interest. If I had, Iíd probably have found a tradition steeped in hierarchies and degree work. The Celts has a highly stratified society, perhaps rigid is a better word, so most Celtic covens operate this way, and itís not a way I can live.
Then I met my mentor and teacher, Mollie, at a ceilidh, or Irish dance gathering in Houston, Texas. Sheíd been taught by someone in her native Massachusetts. That group claimed to have spun off some Wittan covens in Ohio and Virginia, but they didnít know where it came from originally.
Like all ďancient traditions,Ē Witta as a defined spiritual path does not predate the mid-twentieth century, even though many of its concepts, beliefs, and practices have ancient threads running through them.
What attracted me the most was that this tradition did not operate on a degree system. Instead it emphasized everyoneís personal relationship with a patron deity. My birth religion emphasized the same thing, so it was not a hard leap to make.
I was lucky to find Mollie, my teacher, because she fiercely backed the egalitarian spirit of what was to be our coven of twelve. She never allowed anyone to think they couldnít do shouldnít do something in a leadership role after their initial year and a day was complete.
TWPT: Earlier you mentioned writing about Witta because you were afraid that it would die out if you did not put it down on paper, do you think that there are other traditions out there that might suffer a similar fate? What would you suggest to those who might be involved in traditions that are slowly fading away?
EM: Religions must always change and grow to meet the changes and growth of humanity. If they donít, then they cease to be a source of solace, and the religion dies out.
Witta and many other small traditions may vanish, but I see within them the cycles of nature, and they will come back again, but changed. Their names may be different, and their precise lineage forgotten, but that will not lessen the impact of the faith on the lives of its adherents.
Witta made me glad to be a Witch. Through it I developed a strong connection to deity and to the earth. Thatís something other covens and study groups did not do for me. There was noting wrong with those others, they just werenít right for me.
If you feel a tradition you followed seems to be falling apart, someone should record its history and practices. This is true even if it just consisted of a one or two covens involved. Having it written out will allow others to adopt or adapt the practice.
Some thread of it will live on and, perhaps, move someone else closer to the creative spirit, just as it did for you.
TWPT: What are some of the main misconceptions that those who follow this path have about what can and can not be accomplished by the use of magick?
EM: I donít think this question can be answered in terms of a tradition. We all know magick works. Period. And we all know that anything that flies in the face of the natural laws of universe is unrealistic magick. I like to use the example of flying. No spell will cause you to sprout wings and take to the skies, but it can help you learn and control astral projection or get you good seats on a safe plane.
TWPT: Tell me about some of the differences in working magick as a solitary and working magick within a coven? What are some of the advantages and some of the disadvantages of both types of working?
EM: Coven magick has to be done in consensus with the rest of the coven. This can be hard to do when pulling together each tiny component. Someone is going to be a dissenter at some point and the whole group will have to make changes. This is especially true if the spell is to benefit only one member of the group.
This difficulty in getting a spell ready to enact can be worth it though. The full magickal intent of many minds focused on the same desire can give your spell a superb boost, even if they only enact it one time. On the down side, if you have even one person in a large coven who is not convinced this spell is a good one for the coven to perform, even though he does not step out, his feelings can negatively impact the spell.
A solitary can plan his or her own spell, do their own divination to make sure it will harm none, use words of power that may make sense only to the practitioner, and can choose a variety of visualizations. Many times a solitary will do the same spell many times over to keep feeding it energy.
This is the equivalent of one coven spell. If the solitary keep his work to himself, then their is no one around who can send defeatist energy to it.
TWPT: As an author how would you evaluate your journey thus far? Are you happy with what you have been able to accomplish with your words and what would you change about yourself as an author if you could?
EM: I started writing around 1980, but didnít sell anything for pay for a couple years. I earned my first $25 selling a list of kitchen tips to a womenís magazine. That's very funny since I hate to cook and avoid the kitchen as if their were monsters in the cabinets.
I see writing as something I have to do as a Pagan. Some Pagans ar compelled to express their feelings and thoughts in poetry, others in song, others in ritual, etc. I write. I always have, and nothing feels more natural to me than writing about Witchcraft and similar esoteric subjects. What I write may not resonate with everyone, but it resonates with enough people that I feel Iíve made some positive contributions to the lives of other Witches.
Would I change things if I could? Yes. Any writer would. You learn to express yourself better, and your beliefs grow and change at the same time. The urge to go back and rewrite everything is an obsession at times, not one which is possible.
When that venerable Druid leader, Isaac Bonewitz, was asked to do a revised edition of his ďReal MagicĒ he prefaced the book with a similar viewpoint. I think it was something about his growth that had this old material following him like a lost puppy.
I write many things, but nothing as satisfying as the subject of Witchcraft.
TWPT: Do you do any public appearances at festivals or conferences as a workshop leader or a speaker in general? What does this face to face meeting with your audience/readers do for you as an author?
EM: I rarely do public appearances. I spent the last ten years working as a stockbroker and financial advisor. This was a high stress job that often necessitated working evenings, early mornings, and even overnight when needed. Between that I tried to keep writing. At one point I even had a second part-time job, and still did two and a half books that year.
It shouldnít surprise anyone that an opportunistic disease leaped at the chance to kick me when I was down. Iíve been unable to get out of bed some days.
When I do get up, sometimes it takes all the energy I have just to go sit in the living room and stare at the walls. This illness has cut into my social life, hurt my relationships, slowed my writing, and, at one point, almost killed me. Since then Iíve learned to say no.... and I hate to. But my health has to come first, so I keep things low key and will not go back to do anything highly demanding until I know it wonít cause a set back.
What I miss most is meeting a wide variety of people on various Craft paths. I love to chat with everyone because each Witch is both teacher and student, and I always hear something insightful or new to think about. The vast majority of Pagans Iíve met are bright, curious, and the kind of people Iíd want to merge my energies with in a group setting.
The only drawback to public appearances is the ďcelebrity syndrome.Ē Writers are by nature solitary creatures. When I do appear in public I hate it when someone treats me like some spoiled starlet. I mean I really hate it. I try to turn the conversation so that this person will know that I want to hear his opinion and that his beliefs are just as important as my own. Usually this works, when it doesn't I just feel awful. There are no stars in the Craft other than those in the sky above us.
TWPT: With quite a few books to your credit already I can only assume that you are hard at work on a new book even as we speak. What should we be looking for next from Edain McCoy as far as a new book is concerned?
EM: Iíve recently completed two manuscripts; one tentatively titled Advanced Witchcraft and another tentatively called If You Want To Be a Witch.
My current project is a book for Llewellynís ďSpecial Topics in TarotĒ series.
Iíve sent in three other proposals, and have the go-ahead on two of them, and a cautious interest in the other.
TWPT: Finally, do you have any suggestions for covens or groups who want to do spellworking in a meaningful way but not to let it become the whole basis for meeting together?
EM: Covens have to remember two things: 1) Their purpose for being, which is to worship and serve the deities, and, 2) That no ritual or spell is worth destroying a good coven. If that can be kept in mind at all times, then spellworking with all itís niggling little aspects cannot cause a rift in your group.
I think the coven that wants to start practicing magick together should already have a strong working ritual history. Every member of the coven should be allowed his input. The coven should create the spell together, discuss the divination of the outcome together, be open about any reservations about the spell based on ethics, and everyone should have a role in the process. This not only allows everyone to feel good about what youíre doing, but it allows everyone to give their magickal all to the task at hand. If you donít get full mental and emotional cooperation, then doing the spell as a group is probably not going to be useful.
If a spell issue is threatening to split your group, give up the spell. Itís not worth it if you have an otherwise strong coven.
TWPT: I'm glad that we finally connected for an interview and I do wish you continued success with your writing career and anything else that you set your mind to. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me and the through me the readers of TWPT.