The Author's Corner
Apprentice to Power:
TWPT: Tell me about the spiritual path that you followed that has brought you to where you are today?
TR: To tell you the truth, I am always surprised at where I am today when I think in terms of the spiritual path I've followed throughout the course of my life. I grew up Catholic-and my parents thought I was a good candidate for the priesthood around the time when I was ready to transition to High School.
I went to a Catholic School for my elementary school years and my eighth grade graduating class voted me "most likely to become a priest." Of course, from one twelve year old kid to another that was supposed to be an insult. I wasn't sure what to think of it, but it certainly did wake me up to the fact that other people thought of me in a spiritual way. As far back as I can remember though, I was always doing things like casting spells, trying to predict the future and seeing spirits. I think I frightened my parents on more than one occasion when I would tell them things about the spirits that I "saw" living in our house.
By the time I began College, I had serious doubts about Catholicism and that was when I began to earnestly explore earth religions, shamanism and Wicca. When I was eighteen years old, I decided to take a class at a local Bookstore that was notorious for being owned by Witches.
Who were these Witches anyway? I wondered. I had already ventured outside of my religious upbringing by questioning and searching, so I felt I had nothing to lose by taking an introductory class in Wicca.
That was when the whole world opened up to me. That was when I really understood the value of stepping outside of the little zones of safety we human beings like to set up for ourselves. Once I was introduced to real Witches, I began my journey of training and authentic, self-motivated spiritual exploration.
I trained with a circle of Gardnerian Witches in Los Angeles for several years and then I studied magical practice from a woman who was a shaman in a Native American tradition. The combination of Wicca and shamanic practice helped me to see a correlation between the two systems. That was when I decided to write "The Once Unknown Familiar." It was around that same time that I decided to start my own Gardnerian Coven in the Los Angeles Area. That was the beginnings of EarthDance. Over time, as all things do, my spiritual understanding and therefore my writing evolved.
TWPT: Was there anyone, be it another author, leader or friend, who deeply affected the beliefs that you now hold?
TR: Starhawk was the first writer who put the Craft into a perspective that made the pagan path seem both attractive and deeply spiritual. However it was the writings of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell that really inspired me. It was when I decided to go back to the University to get a Master's Degree in Psychology, that a friend introduced me to the writings of Jung and Joseph Campbell. My friend suggested that I learn about Jungian Psychology. I didn't know what that meant at the time, but I took his word for it.
Campbell, a world renowned mythologist, was able to seamlessly blend the ideas of many spiritual paths to form a tapestry of the human psyche and spirit that changed how I understood Wicca forever. Prior to studying the works of Campbell, my spiritual path was based mostly on custom and a lot of ritual activity. My understanding of the meaning behind my actions was very limited.
At the time, I simply enjoyed my coven friends and creating magic in the world. I didn't understand the deeper ramifications of such work. Campbell and Jung opened me up to a new vision of what the Craft was really all about. They helped me to see that Wicca is an intricate and sophisticated path of spiritual awakening.
Through their work, I was able to see how my path in the Craft intersected many other paths and how they were part of a pattern of human growth and healing.
TWPT: Were there any books available to you at the beginning of your path that gave you at least a foundation for your belief system? Or was it more of an intuitive approach to Wicca for you?
TR: My Goddess! It really wasn't that many years ago that books on Wicca were scarce. When I was a young Witch, the only books that had any reputation were "The Spiral Dance" and Paul Huson's "Mastering Witchcraft." And both of these books represent polarized extremes regarding the manner in which one goes about practicing Wicca. Aside from that, neither of these books were able to provide much of a structural foundation for me. So, it really wasn't until I was initiated into Ouroborus et Ova, the Gardnerian Coven in Los Angeles that I learned a more solid, practical foundation. It was there that I learned about the structure of ritual and all of the nuts and bolts that go along with it. I owe that to the coven's High Priestess, Morven Forest.
TWPT: What is it that makes learning as part of a coven different than going at it as a Solitary? Advantages and disadvantages in your eyes.
TR: Certainly working solitary is an important tradition within the Craft. Many practitioners, for one reason or another decide that practicing the Craft alone is for them. People who live far from a training circle or who just feel that their spiritual path is one best explored alone end up on the solitary path. It is a very different experience when you practice Wicca alone than when you participate in a group. For starters, when you are alone, your celebrations and rituals can be as long or as short, as elaborate or as simple as you want them to be. You are free of the political rumblings that can often be part of group participation. Many "solitaries" are alone because they don't like Craft politics. Also, when you work alone, you might feel less inhibited to try new approaches and to explore more challenging spiritual work. On the other side of the coin, group energy and practice can lead to breakthrough spiritual experiences. If you have the opportunity to really train with a reputable group, I fully encourage it. Under the tutelage of an experienced Craft elder, you can have very powerful, directed, life-changing experiences.
TWPT: How do you feel about the abundance of material that is available to the novice as they step on the Pagan/Wiccan path? Is it always a good thing?
TR: I think the abundance of material is great. New Pagans need to develop their own sense of identity and tradition within the community. There are probably as many interpretations of the Craft as there are Witches. And each interpretation can be valid. As long as there are many options for reading and getting started, then most individuals are bound to find information that will best suit their own style, interpretation, temperament and spiritual understanding.
TWPT: What are some of the foundational beliefs for the path that you follow?
TR: I have found that Wicca has very little to do with beliefs. It has more to do with experience. So, I would say that my foundational beliefs are really foundational experiences. I experience the world as an expression of the divine. I experience myself as divine as well. Over the years, I have come to realize that each second in time is precious because it is a moment of divinity. That means that each activity I do, each breath that I take, each word that I speak holds power. My task in each moment it to constantly see into that power and that divinity. My personal rituals and the rituals/celebrations of the EarthDance Collective all evolve from this immediate experience of nature and divinity.
TWPT: I'm always curious about how much flack public figures and authors in the Pagan community take for being "out of the closet" with their beliefs. Has it been a problem for you being out where folks can take verbal shots at you?
TR: I've been lucky in this respect. Up to now, I've worked in the field of Mental Health and Social Work. There is a culture of people in these fields that allows for exploration of all kinds. However, one incident comes to mind in which I felt forced to end a job because of my Wiccan visibility. A zealous Christian co-worker had seen my face on the cover of "Dark Moon Mysteries" and she decided that she could not suffer a Witch to work in peace. At the time I was handling foster families and foster children. This co-worker decided to inform the families with which I worked that they were dealing with a Witch. Needless to say, families began calling the company and lodging complaints about a "Satanist" working with their children. Although the firm was supportive of me, I realized that it would be difficult to repair the damage that was already done, so I moved on. As a side note, the company fired that Christian co-worker before I left.
TWPT: How does your advanced degree in clinical psychology , if at all, affect your perceptions of the spiritual aspects of your life?
TR: Witches historically have assumed many different roles within a community. One of the traditional roles of the Witch is that of healer and counselor. My degree in clinical psychology is really an extension of how I perceive Myself-my "role," if you will--as a Witch. I think my natural talents lie in the area of healing. I heal with my words and with my understanding of people's emotional pain. What better magic is there than transforming a life of disempowerment into one of freedom and empowerment?
TWPT: Tell me about your group EarthDance Collective and how you go about bringing more attention to the cause of feminist spirituality?
TR: The EarthDance Collective is a coven of elders in the Los Angeles area that promotes awareness of Wicca through teaching and public rituals. I'm not sure that I would define my teachings or the work of the Collective as feminist spirituality any longer. Feminism is a method, a structural framework upon which people can lay their beliefs about power, gender and politics.
Feminism is useful when trying to understand the dynamics of power and of learning how to come to a place of balance. Wicca, as I see it, starts with an understanding of perfect, natural balance. It starts with the assumption that we are all going to work together and share power as equals. One's spiritual assertions are often their political assertions as well. Perhaps my writings do help people explore the boundaries of what they assumed about their own power in the world-and that is really what I find matters the most.
TWPT: Tell me about the premise of your book Dark Moon Mysteries?
TR: Dark Moon Mysteries is all about working with the darker aspects of magical energy. We are all made up of both dark and light energy-as expressed in the familiar Asian Yin-Yang symbol. In Western cultures in particular, we tend to look away, discount and even separate ourselves from anything that may seem dark. But the dark is part of who we are, what the earth is and what life is when you consider it as a whole. Darkness occurs on the personal realm as "shadow." Shadows represent the forbidden, dangerous or unthinkable aspects that we all carry within. It can be our anger, our rage, sadness, grief, selfishness, cruelty, aggression and so forth. Dark Moon Mysteries is a book of insights, rituals, meditations and exercises to help magical folk recognize their darker aspects and incorporate them into their lives in a way that promotes healing and magical empowerment.
The reception of this book really surprised me. I thought certainly Witches might not be interested in deeply exploring their darker nature and widdershins energy. But I was wrong. The book continues to draw the interest of both Crafters and non-magical folk from around the world. I was completely stunned when it was selected to be on the Time-Warner Book of the Month Club. I don't see Dark Moon Mysteries as a mainstream study in magical practice at all, yet mainstream readers have written to me, thanking me for what I've done. It is amazing, really.
TWPT: Why is it that we as a culture have problems dealing with the dark side of our lives and personalities? And how does this effect our abilities to draw upon this power within our rituals and our work?
TR: This is a very good question. Most people don't ever wonder why they are they way they are. Certainly, when it comes to exploring the forbidden, the hidden, the unthinkable, the road stops short for most folks. Our culture does not support an open exploration of our darker natures. We want to have a culture of people who are commercially viable, socially productive and ready to follow "the system." These are all things we're ready to do when we repress-or hold down-our natural expression of the self. The natural expression of self is one that contains both light and dark aspects. A light aspect in its natural state does not produce a person who is manic, super-polite, and glowingly happy. Instead, this individual radiates a calm, peaceful, low-grade joy. Likewise someone who allows his or her dark aspects to come forward is not menacing, hateful and full of rage. Dark aspects naturally expressed have a dignified strength and a grounding energy about them. For example, anger is not explosive in its natural state. It is more of a temporary flash of energy that one can feel in the belly. The problem is that we don't work to feel our dark aspects on a daily basis-we cover up our natural feelings and energy flow (sometimes for years on end). That's when our darkness bunches up and then becomes explosive when we are angry or depressing when we are sad.
This is also the way that we completely drain ourselves of magical power. Life and nature require unfettered expression. When a cloud must form and produce rain, then that's just how it is. And there is power in the natural ability of the cloud to be itself fully. In fact, a cloud may have more power than many of us who live our lives according to social scripting, ignoring our true natures and our true powers. It is really sad to live in this way, but it isn't without a remedy. Once someone begins down the path of releasing their shadows and finding a neutral stance, they will have greater magical flexibility. This is when human beings come into their full human potential and are able to achieve wonders.
TWPT: Could you tell me what is behind the resurgence of Wicca/Witchcraft/Paganism in an age that has grown increasingly high tech?
TR: It is odd isn't it? One might imagine that as we become more technologically advanced, we might lose our sense of spirituality. But it hasn't happened. In fact, with the growth of the internet, people are exploring their spirits more readily than ever before. I believe that what is fueling our keen interest in spiritual matters-in particular, paganism--is a growing, internalized existential question. As our culture begins to rely more and more on machines and electronics, as we decipher the human gene codes and explore the vastness of space and time we are coming to realize the fragility of human existence. We are coming into the "mid-life crisis" of our humanity so to speak. At midlife it is natural that we start to wonder, "what is it all about?" We often ask ourselves, "am I just a human body?" or, "Why am I here?" Paganism offers a fully human approach to these questions. It doesn't rely on a set of rules or commandments to instruct its followers. It doesn't rely on beliefs. Instead, it encourages people to explore their place in the world and in nature. Through simple methods such as ritual and meditation, Wicca and other forms of neo-paganism awaken people to the interconnectedness of all things. The internet is a metaphor for what we are really looking for, which is a true human community.
TWPT: Is there the potential for misuse of all this knowledge now that it has come out of the shadows and has been made available to the masses through many books and on the internet?
TR: There is always abuse and misuse in every spiritual tradition. That's because not everyone is functioning on the same level of consciousness at the same time. Education, socio-economic background, personal history, time, place and temperament are only a few influences that taint the individual mind as it interprets any information (spiritual or non-spiritual). Differences between people are bound to happen. Some of these gaps between human understanding can never be fully closed, so one important task is to develop tolerance and a sense of openness.
TWPT: Is there information within the community that was not meant to be handed out to those who have not been properly trained and/or initiated? And if that is the case where does that leave those who practice solitary?
TR: There is information that is shared from elder to initiate-usually within the context of a coven. These secrets are often referred to as the inner mysteries of a particular tradition. However, from my perspective, the inner mysteries are usually nothing that can't be found in books and in various formats. I'm not sure that there is anything really "new" out there. So where does that leave us? Well, the inner mysteries are a reflection of an even older tradition which is when the shamanic/magical teacher would guide his/her student into a very personal spiritual awakening of some sort. The only true inner mysteries are those that spring forth from the individual unconscious. These are the only mysteries worth knowing in a lifetime, because they are the true keys to an individual's magical and spiritual potential. One way to these personal inner mysteries is through careful observation of dreams. Many people find it helpful to have someone else-a neutral party-interpret the symbolic meaning of their dreams. The process to uncovering your own inner mysteries is hit and miss, but slowly, slowly the contents of the deepest parts of your spirit will emerge and then you can tap into this for power and magic. Some of the most powerful magical people I know were never taught a specific tradition's "inner mysteries."
TWPT: How do you decide what to write about or what your next project will be?
TR: There are two ways that people can be creative. The first way is being creative out of personal intent. This is the way of many commercial artists and writers. The other way is to tap into the voice of the divine and create from that perspective. That's that path of "listening to the Muses." Both paths are perfectly valid and perfectly powerful. However, each book I've written has come out of this second "Muse" experience. I never plan too far in advance what I'll write about. A theme emerges as I meditate, look at my dreams, interact with other people and participate in the world around me.
TWPT: Are there still folks who begin on this path simply to obtain power over others and use it for their own benefit? What would you say to those who seek the power without the substance of magick?
TR: There are, of course, people who start on the magical path thinking that magic is all about having dominance over other people and the world around them. It isn't a bad, wrong, or evil place for them to start. In fact, most of us have ambitions to control one aspect of life or another. For example, we may not want bad things to happen to us, or we think that we need to have the perfect job or the perfect relationship. There is nothing wrong with being in this space, unless we are unable to see ourselves here. When we act unconsciously, then we are not able to shift our experience or to learn. As long as we are able to learn and grow from a place of control to a place of shared power we are on the right track. We're all in different places and we need to be tolerant of that.
TWPT: Your new book coming in Sept. is called Apprentice to Power: A Wiccan Odyssey to Spiritual Awakening , tell our readers what they can expect from this latest work?
TR: Apprentice to Power is different from anything in the neo-pagan tradition that has been written before. Told through story, fairy tale, personal magical encounters, rituals and celebrations, Apprentice to Power is a colorful introduction to the world of Earth Centered Spirituality and Wiccan Practice. It came from my vision of the Craft as a vehicle of spiritual awakening. I felt as though no one had ever addressed how to live one's life within the guidelines of magical practice. Mostly we read books about how to light candles for love or money. Or we read books that tell us how to celebrate the seasonal passages and how to select appropriate magical tools. But as the Craft grows and matures, we need to learn how to live our daily lives with a sense of spirit from the pagan perspective. Apprentice to Power deals with helping you to find power in each moment of your life, in each task you undertake, in your work, your play, your children, your sex-everywhere.
Many people think of the Craft as a celebratory religion. Certainly, it is this, but it is also a tool of personal-transformation. Not only is Apprentice to Power a book full of magical information, but it is one that is fun to read. It is a book that you could take with you on a vacation and still have a good time-as well as a spiritual experience.
TWPT: Do your books follow a path of progression or are each of your books completely independent from the others?
TR: Each book is independent of the others, however they follow my personal magical and spiritual progression. It is interesting for me to look back to my thinking in 1993, when I wrote "The Once Unknown Familiar." I'd definitely want to revise each project based on my current thinking. In fact, when the final proofs of "Apprentice to Power" arrived the other day, I was ready to re-write the whole thing again, based on where I am with my current thinking and spiritual progression.
TWPT: What was it that motivated you to become a writer yourself and begin to share what you had learned along the way?
TR: It is difficult to say what motivated me to write. I knew that I had something to contribute to the contemporary reemergence of the Craft. I was really "driven" rather than motivated. That's the distinction that keeps me writing: I'm driven to say more, to clarify our spiritual tradition.
TWPT: What advice would you give to other writers out there who might have ambitions about writing books of their own?
TR: People were astounded when I wrote my first book. I suppose that writing a book does seem like a daunting task. However it is better not to look at the mountain-just focus on the rocks that are in front of you and keep climbing. If you have something to say and something to add to the Craft, then it is very important that you give voice to that addition. I told people that I wrote my first book doing only two pages each day-and that is the truth. Only two pages each day is a small enough chunk to be manageable yet it is also effective in getting a whole body of work done.
TWPT: Do you have any last comments or last thoughts for our readers as we close out this interview?
TR: In closing, I'd like to share a quote from Richard Jeffries that I read the other day. He said, "It is eternity now. I am in the midst of it. It is about me in the sunshine [and might I add in the moonlight and the darkness of space]; I am in it as the butterfly in the light-laiden air. Nothing has to come; it is now. Now is eternity; now is the immortal life." It is truly magical for each of us to remember that life in this very moment is sacred--no matter what this moment is bringing. Look for deity, power and magic right now.
TWPT: I'd like to thank you for taking time out to talk to us and wish you much success with your new book on the eve of it being published. (Sept. 2000) Blessings to you and yours.