The Author's Corner
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Wiccan Mysteries and Magick:
TWPT : What responsibilities do you feel as an author towards those who buy and read your books? Do you look upon those who buy your books as students of yours in some sense?
RG : I do feel a sense of obligation to provide the most accurate facts that I can. I think an author has a responsibility to be thorough in his or her research, and to provide readers with more than a rehash of what they already have access to. I don't really think of my readers as students per se, but I would not be displeased to discover that some readers may regard themselves as students of my teachings. If I can be of some assistance to people in the discernment of their spiritual path, then my labor has been worthwhile.
TWPT : What authors have been influential along your own path? Is there one that you could point to and say that this person had the most influence in helping you to arrive where you are today?
RG : I can't really narrow it down to one author, but I've always enjoyed the writings of Charles Godfey Leland on Italian Witchcraft. I collect first editions by this author and my most prized possession is an autographed copy of Etruscan Roman Remains. I also enjoyed reading other turn-of-the-century authors such as James Frazer and Frederick Elworthy. Of modern writers, I would have to say that Joseph Campbell has been a significant influence on my spirituality. I am also an admirer of Doreen Valiente and Janet & Stewart Farrar.
TWPT : In what ways did Joseph Campbell influence your spirituality?
RG : I think Campbell helped confirm for me the Universal experience reflected in the myths and legends of all people. I believe it is important for us all to look beyond the cultural mythos in which we practice our Traditions. The tales of various deities are stories designed to depict how energy works and how the gods interact with humankind. If we stay locked within our microworld of cultural expression, I think we lose something of the greater picture. Looking at the macrocosm we can discern, by comparison of each culture, the basic truths that are constant in the human experience. For myself, I eventually returned to the Tradition of my ancestors, but I came back with a greater appreciation of the Craft Community. Now I see every Tradition as a separate sparkling facet on a very beautiful large jewel known as the Old Religion.
TWPT : Is there reading material outside the normal Wiccan/Pagan books that you would recommend that students should be familiar with.
RG : I think it is wise to do research using history and archaeology. To be well versed in such things lends credibility to the Craft. I like the early works of Gimbutas prior to Language of the Goddess, and I enjoy Chris Knight and Riane Eisler. Ginzurg is great for microhistory, I enjoy the historical and cultural anomalies he uncovers.
TWPT : Most of us have some sort of turning point in their spiritual lives, what time in your life do you remember as being the start of the path that you now walk?
RG : I was raised in the Tradition that I practice, but I think it was during my late teens that I came to realize the value of the path before me. My path is Italian Witchcraft, but in the summer of 1969 I met a Wiccan woman who managed an herb shop. She led me to others, and I think this merging of traditions was a significant step leading to where I have come to at this point. Wicca brought me a greater sense of Community.
TWPT : What did the "others" that the herb shop owner led you to show you about Wicca that you were not exposed to in your Traditional upbringing?
RG : I know that I might never have read various books had it not been for these people. I refer here to books on Eastern Mysticism and on the Kaballah. They exposed me to things that I may never have realized were related. Again, I think it is important to look beyond what is comfortable and familiar to us.
TWPT : Have you always been a writer or felt the need to express yourself with words?
RG : In a way I suppose that I have always been a writer of one type or another. When I was around 8, as an amusement I used to make up letters from famous heroes, writing them on parchment paper and burning the edges with a match. Then I would bury them thinking that some day people would dig them up and believe they found something of value. I started writing short stories for friends when I was 12, and won an award in elementary class for an article I wrote on religion. At age 13 I began to write poems, something I still enjoy. In High School, I wrote short stories on science fiction themes. I've always enjoyed writing with the old pen and ink tools, and dabbled with calligraphy for awhile.
TWPT : How do you go about starting and following through on a writing project? What prompts you to write on a particular subject?
RG : My ideas come from the feedback I receive from people attending the workshops I present, and from reader mail. I ask folks what they feel is missing in the books they have read or are reading. Then I try and join this feedback with something I would like to write about.
When I write, I disappear from friends and family for awhile and try and stay focused on the vision I have for the book. I make an outline of each chapter and decide what I want to communicate there. Then when all the chapters are outlined, I basically go through each one filling in the details. But every book I write tends to dictate its own course despite what I originally had in mind.
TWPT : When you lecture and teach your classes on Wicca/Witchcraft is there something that you want your audience to walk away with?
RG : Yes, I want people to feel empowered and to understand that they are a vital part of passing on the spirituality of the Craft. I want them to gain a true sense of the antiquity of our beliefs and practices so that they feel compelled to ensure its survival for future generations.
TWPT : When you write your books do you have a certain goal in mind as to what you would like to accomplish by people reading your books?
RG : Yes, my main focus is always to preserve the Old Ways. Beginning in the early 1980s there was a trend to drop the structures and traditions that were passed to us from those who earlier walked the Path, and we found ourselves moving towards self-styled practices and beliefs. Through my books I want to provide people with the historical/archaeological facts that strengthen our stand. There is an old Bahai saying: "Be lions roaring in the Forest of Knowledge" and I think Wiccans should embrace this philosophy as well
TWPT : Do you have a thread or a common theme that ties together your books into a whole work?
RG : My books are about the spiritual roots that nourish us. My basic theme is that we are the spiritual descendants of those who cleared the road before us, the well-worn Path. It is up to us to extend the Path further now, and to leave the continuing legacy to yet another generation. I advocate seeking a balance, embracing the traditional teachings left in the wisdom of our ancestors while at the same time looking inward for discernment and relativity.
TWPT : What trends good or bad do you see in the current Wiccan/Pagan environment?
RG : I think many of the new people coming into Wicca are changing it rapidly. Many are from a Judaic-Christian background and they tend to retain elements of their former system, incorporating modifications of their former beliefs into their Wiccan practices. Rather than letting go of old issues, there is a tendency to modify Wicca instead. I think many folks are transforming Wicca to accommodate the emotional baggage they carry rather than working on personal inner transformation,. Is this good or bad? I don't know, only time will tell. But it does concern me, and I often wonder what it is that we will pass on to future generations.
TWPT : Is there anything that we can do to keep Wicca from losing it's essential core beliefs as new followers move along the path?
RG : Yes, I think we can not be so afraid of having some solid sound structure to hold us all together. I don't see the problem with having a basic stand, perhaps simply saying that Wiccans celebrate the Wheel of the Year, worship deity as a masculine and feminine polarity, work with elemental spirits, and so forth. Here we can have something that defines us, that join us together. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not talking about being slaves to dogma and doctrine. I think we can point out to people that everyone is entitled to perceive and discern the teachings, as they will. In this we can nurture individual spirituality, while at the same time preserving a template that we can pass on.
TWPT : Is this current influx of people into the Wiccan/Pagan/Earth Religions just a fad that will pass or a trend that will continue?
RG : I hope it is something that will continue. When an organism stops growing it begins to die. I believe that the "influx" of people into Wicca is the response to the cry of the Earth Mother. I think the Earth is ill from our toxic waste and the abuse of our natural resources. She is calling out to her children, to the Nature People, and they are gathering at Her side. We're all seeds for the future, and I hope we continue to have much to bring to our fields for planting.
TWPT : I notice that you have a web page yourself, are you a web person? How do you perceive the web's effect on the Wiccan/Pagan community at large? Do you think that someone just starting out could gather enough quality info from the web to make an intelligent decision about following the Wiccan/Pagan path?
RG : I think the advent of Cyberspace is another fork in the road. I established a Web Page simply to reach a wider audience with my writings. Bookstores only carry the books that owners order, and therefore readers may not know what all is available to them. So I think the Internet is useful in spreading the word. I believe that there is enough in print, in one form or another, to allow a person to discern whether the Wiccan Path is for them.
TWPT : Is the web or chat areas a suitable place to seek teachers or training that you can't find locally? Can teachers be sure of who it is that they are teaching and how serious that they might be without face to face contact?
RG : I think that what can be found on the Internet is better than not having access to anything. Face to face teaching is preferable to cyber chat and email, of course, but some people have no other means of outside stimulation. The biggest problem with Internet communication is the written word. People often tend to misread tone, despite the symbols we use to indicate humor and such. Facial expression and actual tone of voice are very important in communication. Unfortunately, email and chat rooms allow people to think things over before they reply, and to edit their replies. So it is easier for people to appear to be one thing when they are actually another.
TWPT : How would you describe your personal path? Your book jackets mention Family Trad Italian, Gardnerian Wicca, Brittic Wicca, and the Pictish-Gaelic Tradition, so how do you go about blending those beliefs into a cohesive whole?
RG : My personal path is Italian Witchcraft. It is a path of reverence for Nature that focuses on Deity as masculine and feminine aspects, the goddess and god. I admire its antiquity and enjoy the nourishment drawn from its root. I no longer blend this with the other Traditions into which I've been initiated. When I did, it was relatively easy because of the commonality that exists in various Craft Traditions. I'm one of those who believe that the Old Religion was once a central sect that later divided and spread throughout Europe. Therefore I see all our similarities as vestiges of the earlier fertility cult from which the Craft evolved.
TWPT : How involved in the Wiccan/Pagan community are you?
RG : As an author I'm becoming more involved all the time. I do workshops monthly and travel to festivals. I'm also online quite a bit, stirring things up in various chat rooms.
TWPT : With the advent of Scott Cunningham's books the idea of being solitary gained quite a bit of ground, do you feel that solitaries should at some time seek out a coven experience so that they can round out their training?
RG : Not necessarily, but I do feel that we all need to extend out beyond our own views and ourselves. It is too easy to create our own realities that, although comfortable, may not allow us the spiritual growth we gain from being challenged. So I feel it is important to hear other views and to try and seek a balance between our own perceptions and those of others.
TWPT : Do you feel that Wicca/Witchcraft is derived from ancient origins as opposed to being the creation of Gerald Gardner in the late 40's and early 50's? What is some of the evidence that leads you to believe this?
RG : Yes, I think the inner connections within Wicca/Witchcraft are too complex to have been invented by one man or a handful of cohorts one night in the back room on a cold winter's night. Additionally, the themes that Gardner wrote about related to Wicca/Witchcraft appear over half a century earlier in the writings of Charles Leland on Italian Witchcraft. I refer to gathering at the time of the full moon, the worship of a god and goddess, celebration of cakes and wine, ritual nudity, and so forth.
The ancient Roman poet Horace, around 30 BC, wrote about Witches who worshipped the goddess Diana, and had the power to draw the moon down from the sky. In my book The Ways of the Strega I present a chronology of Witch trials related to the Society of Diana that spans several centuries, indicating a long standing tradition. There are many other indicators of the antiquity of Wicca/Witchcraft. What is interesting to note is that the animals that appear in the Neolithic cult of the Great Goddess also appear in classic Roman and Greek Witchcraft, and then later in the transcripts of Witchcraft trials. Is this coincidental? I do not believe it is. I believe it is evidence of survival.
Another indicator of the antiquity of the Old Religion lies in the 17th century writings of Francesco Guazzo, an Italian Ambrosian monk. In his work known as the Compendium Maleficarum, Guazzo writes of Witches who gather in ritual circles, possess handwritten black books, pass on their ways to their children, and work with spirits of earth , air, fire, and water. Here again we find aspects of the Old Religion also found in modern Wicca/Witchcraft.
TWPT : Wicca and Witchcraft are sometimes used almost interchangeably, is there a difference between the two and if so just where is it that you would draw the line? From your perspective as being versed in several traditions are there major differences or just different points of view?
RG : When Wicca was first brought to public attention in the 1950s, Wicca and Witchcraft were synonymous. I think it was somewhere in the late '70s or early '80s that people began to draw distinctions. Those distinctions vary so much now that I feel we can no longer define Witch and Wiccan without disturbing someone's politics. Ironically, having been involved in Wicca for over 20 years I can no longer define it at all.
TWPT : We have seen a great number of books published that claim to reveal the once hidden teachings of Wicca, is there still material that does not get shared with the public at large? Are there still teachings that are reserved strictly for those who have bound themselves to a coven and abide by the rules thereof?
RG : Yes, secret material still exists and most likely will never end up in the hands of the public. This is because such things are direct access to power, what I call the momentum of the past. It would be as irresponsible to present those teachings without the necessary training as it would be to put a loaded gun in the hands of a child. Some things work simply because they have always worked, and one need not even know how or why in order to trigger the effect.
TWPT : If some Wiccans never have access to a Coven or a Coven trained teacher then will they have less of an understanding of the mysteries than would someone who has these nearby? Is this "secret" information critical to giving solid foundations to new Wiccans?
RG : I think there are advantages to having access to experience in whatever form. And unfortunately, not everything can be learned from books. But there is the old argument that the first teachers had no teachers themselves. I think the potential for unlocking the "secrets" lies within us all. I don't mean that we already possess all the answers within us, but rather that our souls possess the means through which we can attain personal enlightenment. The physical dimension is a classroom, a learning experience for as spiritual beings. If we already possess the answers within us, then reincarnation would be a useless exercise of learning what we already know.
TWPT : In your book The Wiccan Mysteries you mention that at some point the Wiccan mysteries passed out of the hands of the initiates and into the hands of the public domain. Do you feel that teachings can become so diluted and so altered that they no longer constitute the spiritual path that they started out to be? In other words is there a point at which something changes so drastically that it no longer is what it was before and really shouldn't bear the name of the previous path.
RG : Yes, I believe that is possible, perhaps even likely. I know that Wicca is clearly not what it was in the 1960s, or even the early 1970s. Back then when someone said they were Wiccan, you knew their theology, you knew basically what they did, and why they did it. Today when someone tells me they are Wiccan, it requires a lot of questions in order to understand what they are all about. There are many divergent beliefs and views among Wiccans today, and it is getting more difficult to clearly see what ultimately unites us.
TWPT : Will we eventually reach the point where the name Wicca/Witchcraft no longer applies to the set of beliefs that are used to describe what we believe?
RG : I think we are perilously close to this point even now. For example, I write on the topics that would not have raised an eyebrow in the '60s and 70's, but here in the '90s many people feel I'm trying to introduce new themes into modern Wicca. It seems to me that the older traditional material of Western Occultism is already perceived as alien in modern Wicca. We're losing our heritage, and I think that would be a shame. Our ancestors endured a great deal to preserve their ancient wisdom so that it could be passed to future generations. Many Witches faced torture and death during the time of the Inquisition so that the legacy would endure. It saddens me greatly to think that this may have been for nothing. But please don't get me wrong, I do believe in adding new material to the Craft. I simply feel we should also retain the traditional material as well. In the end I'm talking about balance, walking our Path in balance.
TWPT : Do you feel that we, as Wiccans/Pagans are gaining ground in the public arena as far as our image is concerned? Are we more accepted in 1999 than we were in 1989?
RG : I think we have made gains with regards to the negative images people held concerning our beliefs and practices. I think we have lost ground though among other religious leaders and scholars. Most of that is due to the fact that many Wiccan authors have simply been careless with their research. There has been a tendency to romanticize Wicca, and in doing so we've tried to rewrite history.
TWPT : In what ways has Wicca/Witchcraft been romanticized? What would be a more accurate portrayal in your view?
RG : I believe we tend to think of our ancestors as "noble savages" of a high lofty spiritual nature. But I think most of us would be very shocked if we could spend a few nights around the campfires of ancient Celts, Romans, or whoever. These were people who did not spend a great deal of time thinking about "an as it harm none, do as thou will." Both the Celts and the Romans were warriors, invading the lands of other people, killing, looting and sacking. Both races practiced animal sacrifices. Additionally, the ancient Celts were headhunters who practiced human sacrifice, and the Romans were brutal conquerors by our modern standards. To such people, peaceful coexistence meant that one's enemies were already subdued or lived in fear. In some ways it is almost amazing that these ancient societies produced our spiritual ancestors within them, but by the will of the gods they did.
TWPT : Is there a danger in becoming a "mainstream" religion? Becoming organized and adapting styles similar to Christianity.
RG : I think the aversion that Wiccans have towards dogma, structure, and authority may well be our undoing in the long run. The focus in Wicca today is upon the self, what we feel works best for each of us as individuals. Unfortunately it is difficult to pass on to another what works best for one of us. Structured Traditions tend to outlive individual beliefs. Wicca used to be organized and structured, a fact many people have forgotten or overlooked. The basic format included degree levels, a Priest(ess)hood, laws, and written tenets of belief. Had it not been for these things, Wicca would not have existed to be passed on to us to begin with. I see Wicca as a Nature religion, and in Nature there are laws and there are absolutes, whether we like it or not. To survive a creature must live in accord with the ways of Nature. The laws of Nature do not change to accommodate the evolution of the creature.
In order to survive into future generations I feel that Wicca must embrace some degree of structure. We don't have to be slaves to that structure, and we can simply view it as a measuring stick by which we map out our individual spirituality. We don't have to agree with everything written in our tenets, we need only turn to them for reference and meditation. But the point is that we need a firm foundation upon which to build our separate realities.
TWPT : Do you read much of the current flood of books on the subject of Wicca/Witchcraft/Paganism? What are your thoughts on the current state of Wiccan/Pagan publishing?
RG : Yes, I try and read as much as possible. I think one of the problems we're facing boils down to credibility. There are a lot of books that present things as facts that are simply not factual. Others have accepted the material and built upon it for their own books, Traditions, beliefs, etc. For example, very little is actually known about the Celts and their religion. And yet there are thousands of detailed books written on this subject. Speculation has become accepted as fact, and I think we lose credibility and perspective when we wear blinders.
TWPT : When people look back on Raven Grimassi after you're gone from this plane what would you like them to remember about you? When they write the history of Wicca/Witchcraft what role did you see yourself as playing in the scheme of things?
RG : I would like people to view me as a man who tried to preserve our spiritual heritage. I would like to be remembered as a person who tried to provide the historical foundations that would allow us to stand with pride among all religions of the world. And if I am honored to be included among those who shaped the history of the Craft, then I hope my role was one of helping people view the greater depth of our religious and magickal views.
TWPT : Do you think that the next generation of Wiccans will have lost something without some formal training or way of passing down knowledge besides simply reading it out of book? I love reading and I love the fact that I can have many wise teachers simply by picking up a book but is there something lost by not having someone to share ideas with and bounce back the off target ones at you for reevaluation? Someone to act as a sounding board and to show you the pit falls that are inherent in any self directed studies?
RG : Yes, I think it is preferable to have a trained teacher than to rely upon a book. But, this is not practical for many people. Fortunately, I think that in addition to books we now have access to online chat rooms, festivals, and many excellent specialty stores. These provide a variety of experiences through which one can discern one's spirituality. I don't believe that it is absolutely necessary for one to have a teacher in order to practice Wicca, or even to be initiated. I think teachers and initiations are very beneficial, and if possible I feel people should strive towards obtaining them. But I also feel that a sincere heart, in a sincere seeker, will be guided by the gods in solitary practice.
TWPT : I would like to thank you for taking time out of your schedule to share your thoughts and ideas with the readers of the Wiccan/Pagan Times. Your input to this extended family is quite refreshing and quite welcome.