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The Author's Corner

 



Thorn Mooney

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Traditional Wicca 

Traditional Wicca
TWPT Talks to Thorn Mooney

©2018TWPT


TWPT:  TWPT was started way back in 1999 which was a different world in terms of the internet, smart phones and social interactions. Tell me about what you found interesting enough in Witchcraft that you decided to study and practice it as a teenager. And how has the availability of information on the internet and through social interactions on the various platforms made this journey easier or more difficult?  

TM:  Oh man, the nineties were a kind of Golden Age for Wicca and witchcraft. In some ways, things are a lot easier and better now, but there’s still a lot about those days that I miss. Things still basically worked the way they do now: people found out about contemporary witchcraft through TV shows, movies, and friends. If you were lucky, you could get your hands on a book or two (probably by Scott Cunningham or Silver RavenWolf), but a lot of your information might also come from personal websites through places like GeoCities or AngelFire. Later, LiveJournal. You couldn’t get on Tumblr or Instagram and wade through thousands of posts on a hashtag, so there wasn’t as much discretion as to what sources were good and what weren’t. Many of us didn’t have regular Internet access at all, so I think we made a lot more up in those days and did a lot more experimenting.

On the one hand, it was less confusing. On the other hand, you had to work a lot harder to figure anything out. The reason so much “general Paganism” and witchcraft look like generic Wicca is because we were all pulling from the exact same sources. That’s all we had, and you couldn’t just message someone and ask a question or exchange cell phone numbers. You didn’t have one! It’s awesome that there’s so much more now, and no one has to be isolated with the availability of the Internet and e-books, but sometimes I miss the diligence and dedication that went into the hunt. But it’s still difficult for seekers to find legit teachers, covens, and resources. Anyone can build a web platform and get some kind of online witch certification and set up an Etsy store to sell their magical life coaching skills and initiation into the coven they invented last week. There’s more resources today, but just as much to be wary of. Someday, I suspect we’ll look at this decade as its own Golden Age, too. That’s just what we do by looking backwards. 

TWPT:  In the beginning were your studies focused on a particular tradition or branch of Witchcraft or were they more wide ranging? If it was a particular tradition you focused on what was it about that tradition that drew you to it?

TM:  I didn’t focus on a particular tradition at first because so little information was available and because it just wasn’t the “it” thing. Every book had that introductory chapter that included two or three lines about the various Wiccan and Pagan traditions, but they were all pretty much the same. The thing to remember is that this was the age of the solitary, do-it-yourself style of witchcraft that everyone just called “eclectic.” People talked about traditions like those were a thing of the past. Especially as a teenager, everyone aspired to the sort of magic popularized by the big writers of the day: Cunningham, RavenWolf, Buckland, and to a lesser extent writers like DJ Conway, Fiona Horne, and Ted Andrews. Most people wanted to be eclectic. Traditions meant limitations. When I got older, I got discouraged by how little I felt that I knew. I started looking for people who were involved in other kinds of Wicca, and it made the most sense to me to look specifically for Gardnerians, as this was—as far as I was concerned at the time—the original and most authentic form of the Craft. My thinking there is a lot more complex these days, but that’s what drew me to my tradition at first.

TWPT:  Were you open about the path that you were following with family and friends and if so what were some of the reactions of those around you to your interest and study of Witchcraft?

TM:  I was open with my friends and I was open at school and in college, but I never saw any reason to involve family. My parents weren’t religious, and I was concerned that my pursuits would just confuse them. Plus all of the books I was reading warned me that I wouldn’t be accepted. I was legitimately scared about some people knowing! Now I know that those fears were largely unfounded. Especially these days. In the grand scheme of things that people worry about, especially in the United States (terrorism, school shootings, police brutality, white supremacists, gender-based violence, poverty, access to medical care), witchcraft is pretty far down on the list for the overwhelming majority of people. I’m a public school teacher in the South and I’ve never had an issue as a witch. At most, people just think I’m a little kooky, or maybe a bit of a hippie. The choice to be out is a personal one and I’d never advocated that people come out just for the sake of it, but I think most of the time fear is pretty unreasonable.

TWPT:  As a point of clarification about your path, do you have spiritual components to your path or is it based more on the practice of the arts connected with Witchcraft instead? Does it have to be one way or the other or can they be blended together as the follower sees fit?

TM:  My witchcraft is absolutely religious. We perform ritual, have a set liturgy, work magic, and commune with gods and spirits. Witchcraft is flexible, and I think there’s room for people to use it in whatever manner. Whether or not it makes theological sense, or whether or not it actually works may be another matter, but who am I to say one way or another? To each their own.

TWPT:  Over the years were there others at a local level or on social media that helped you to better understand the path that you were pursuing and to refine it as you went along?

TM:  I don’t think any of us build their practice in a vacuum. Over the years, I’ve been influenced by a number of other practitioners, especially since I became so involved in online communities. My most influential set of peer is by far my friends and contacts on YouTube. I’ve been on YouTube for years at this point, both before and after I became a Gardnerian, and I’ve always found lots of thoughtful people (both experienced and newbies) to share ideas with (by the way, you can find me there at www.youtube.com/drawingkenaz).

TWPT:  What was it that brought you to Gardnerianism as your current working path?

TM:  I actually didn’t have to do a lot of synthesis as a Gardnerian because Gardnerian Wicca is already a religion within that broader family of Western ceremonial traditions. All I did was to delve into those systems on their own merits and then consider the influence that they’ve had on Wicca, even though many aren’t aware of it. People think of it as a nature religion, but I think that’s a misnomer. It’s based on an agricultural cycle, sure, and the gods rule over aspects of the natural world, but the basic building blocks are not unfamiliar within broader European magical systems: Qabalah, the Golden Dawn, Freemasonry, and others. These are not “nature religions” as we would normally define them, and I think anyone who has ever tried to take full traditional Wiccan ritual outside into the woods and fields will know what I mean. It’s hard enough just lighting candles on a windy day, nevermind carting around a full altar’s worth of tools (oh yeah, while naked), so I have a hard time when people insist that this is all about being in nature. This is a ceremonial tradition as much as it’s a nature religion, and I would argue more so. Outside of my work as a Wiccan, I’m very interested in Qabalah (especially as it relates to tarot) and the work of the Golden Dawn. I pursue these independent of my witchcraft practice, though certainly they overlap.



TWPT:  You mention in your bio that you culled techniques from an assortment of Western esoteric traditions for your practice. How did you go about synthesizing all of these wide ranging techniques into a coherent path for yourself within the framework of a Gardnerian tradition?

TM:  My academic background has been critical, mostly because it’s completely changed how I think about religion as a whole category. For example, even scholars can’t agree on what actually constitutes “religion.” We argue about it, and we reconsider our positions, and then movements arise that make us start all over. I’ve come to see patterns in how traditions form, develop, accrue momentum, and evolve. It’s made me less narrow.

TWPT:  Your academic background has given you a good understanding of the melting pot of religious thought in America. Has this influenced your own approach to practicing Witchcraft both on a personal level and within the Foxfire Coven?

TM:  Whether or not witchcraft is “traditional” totally depends on who you’re talking to. More often than not, I think we use the word to try to assert authenticity and cover our insecurities. As though “traditional” witchcraft is somehow older, more effective, more powerful, or deeper, when objectively those things just aren’t true. Witchcraft has never been a single thing at a single point in history. For the purposes of my book, I wanted to keep things practical. “Traditional” is a moniker that I use in contrast to the self-described “eclectic” traditions that developed after the eighties and continues to dominate today. I defined traditional Wicca as coven-based, initiatory, lineaged, hierarchical, and experiential.

TWPT:  What is traditional Witchcraft and how does it differ from non-traditional Witchcraft?

TM:  Wicca and witchcraft are not inherently the same thing any more than “football” and “sports” are the same thing. Football is a sport, but all sports aren’t football. Some athletes are football players, but others are dancers or fencers or distance runners. Wicca is a type of witchcraft, but it comes from a specific time and place in the grand scheme of witchcraft’s history, and it’s certainly not representative of the majority of that history. That said, when I’m in Wiccan spaces, I use the words interchangeably in the same way that a football player, talking to other football players, can refer to himself as an “athlete” and not confuse onlookers. We understand that he’s not calling himself an athlete at the exclusion of tennis players or basketball players. Wiccans, including myself, will call ourselves “witches” and our practice “witchcraft” because those words apply to us. It shouldn’t be understood that we’re inherently excluding other kinds of witches. I’m a witch. My religion is witchcraft. That witchcraft happens to be Wiccan, but I’m well aware that there are other kinds of witches in the world.

TWPT:  You have a book coming up in July 2018 called Traditional Wicca: A Seekers Guide. Up until now we have been talking about Witchcraft. To some Wicca and Witchcraft are not the same thing. In your mind are they two words for the same thing or something different?  

TM:  The biggest differences between traditional Wicca and other forms of Wicca are, I argue, the presence of hierarchy, the emphasis on the coven, and the roles of initiation and lineage. Other traditions may have some of these (there are lots of different kinds of covens in the world, for example), but rarely do they possess all of them. According to my definition, there may be many kinds of traditional Wicca, not just the “big two” of Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wicca. Lots of new traditions have developed in similar styles, and I intend for this book to apply broadly to hierarchical, initiatory groups. Some of my Feri friends have found the book useful, too, for example. Whatever tradition we practice, the rules and expectations for dealing with group leaders, teachers, and covenmates are often very similar. I hope there’s material here for anyone having to navigate group dynamics and wondering what the big deal about initiation is!

TWPT:  Was the research for Traditional Wicca something you had already done for your own practice over the years or were there some aspects that you still had to delve into for the subject matter you wanted to cover in this book?

TM:  Most of the material is from my own experience and from that contributed by other practitioners. There’s a lot of storytelling here! There’s a touch of content from my work as a religious studies scholar, but I really didn’t have to do a lot of additional research. My goal was to share my own experiences and provide alternate perspectives.

TWPT:  In the end what would you want a reader to take away from reading your book and applying to their own seeking?

TM:  I want people who are seriously interested in joining a traditional Wiccan coven to feel like they know what step to take next to get there. I want everyone elseto understand that the Wicca they see on social media platforms and in all those popular books isn’t all there is.

TWPT:  Since this is your first book how do you feel about the whole experience now that it is almost done? I say almost done because the book isn’t in the hands of the public yet which will bring you to the conclusion of your efforts.

TM:  I learned a lot about myself as a writer. This really helped me to build a disciplined practice. I work a regular, full-time job and am involved in a number of other activities that demand my attention and time. I think a lot of people want to write, but they think they need big chunks of time or for their lives to “settle down” to do it. But there is no settling down. You’ll probably never get big chunks of time for days in a row to write. Traditional Wicca happened in the minutes between classes  (I’m a classroom teacher), covertly during work meetings, and on weekend mornings. Ten minutes here, fifteen there, five there. That’s how books happen sometimes.

TWPT:  Do authors get nervous about finally seeing their work out in the world?

TM:  Yes, very. It’s extremely anxiety inducing, I think especially for me because I’m writing as a Gardnerian priestess. I’ve already had people come out and tell me that I’m breaking an oath or otherwise saying too much just by virtue of writing a book at all. Everyone still remembers Lady Sabrina and Aidan Kelly. More recently, people remember Alex Mar. But since the beginning, witches who choose to write about their work (even the good ones), are criticized by portions of their communities for doing so. I know a lot of people are wondering how I’m going to preserve the integrity of my tradition while still writing about it. But the answer is actually quite simply: I don’t. This book is about seeking, and about the structure of a traditional coven, as well as an argument for why our traditions are still relevant. There are no spells, no rituals, no instructions for how to initiate yourself, nothing. This is a book about Craft, it’s not a book of Craft. But I know that people will say negative things without actually reading it.

TWPT:  How did the words from Storm Faerywolf, Deborah Lipp and the late Raymond Buckland about your book make you feel as you approach the release date in July of this year?

TM:  I got some really wonderful blurbs from writers that I really respect. When Ray Buckland read my book and wrote to me about it, I literally shrieked. It’s wild even getting to talk to witches whose work I’ve been reading since I was a kid. But to get to talk to them about my book? I’m still not over that.

TWPT:  Do you feel like the 21st century is being kinder to alternative paths like Wicca, Paganism or Witchcraft than they were when you started this path?

TM:  That’s really hard to say. I think so much of that depends on what region you’re living in. I’ve never been targeted because I’m Wiccan, at least not in any serious way. The worst I’ve dealt with is loneliness: that feeling that you’re the only witch out there and your life would be so much better if you could just connect with other people. And that is definitely getting better. Not only are there more channels for witches to find each other, but there are so many kinds of witches! It’s still not always easy (and, hey, my book is full of tips!), but these days things are definitely much kinder for folks looking to build community.

TWPT:  Thanks for taking the time to talk with TWPT and we wish you much success with your first book coming out in July 2018 from Llewellyn called Traditional Wicca: A Seeker’s Guide.

TM:  Thank you!