TWPT: Tell me a little about yourself and how it is that you came to the path that you’re on now?
JM: When I was in elementary school I was the strange kid in the corner obsessed with the Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot. Right next to those books in the library were books on vampires, werewolves, demons, and Witchcraft! I knew who Alex Sanders was by the time I was in the fourth grade! In the summer between my seventh and eighth grade years I checked out a copy of Sybil Leek's "Cast Your Own Spell" from my local library. I didn't read all of it, but on the day my books were due back in the library I had misplaced one. Sensing my father getting upset, I used one of the spells in the back of "Cast Your Own Spell" to find the book I was missing. Much to my surprise the spell worked, which ended up scaring me instead of inspiring me to practice the Craft!
When I was 21 I picked up a copy of "Celtic Magic" by DJ Conway and within three days I was praying to the Great Goddess and building a Wiccan-Witchcraft practice. "Celtic Magic" is not a great book, but it does lay out the basics of Wicca and that captivated me. From there I just wanted to learn as much as I could about Witchcraft and Paganism! I've been doing that ever since.
I've dabbled with other Pagan paths before, but Wicca has always felt like home. I like the ritual structure and the freedom it gives me to work with whatever deities call to me. It's effective when I do things on my lonesome, and works particularly well with small groups. I loved it then and I love it now.
TWPT: Was writing something that you felt drawn to as well?
JM: When I was 18 I wanted to write fantasy novels, so I guess I've always wanted to write. English and history classes are the only thing I've ever excelled at in school, and my books use both of those disciplines, so maybe ending up as a writer was inevitable.
The only downside to writing is that I don't really like doing it. I love presenting workshops and I love researching stuff, and I love the writing process when it's over, but I don't look forward to sitting in front of my computer and putting together a 120,000 word book. (And my last two books have been that long! That's like two books for the price of one!)
TWPT: Your latest book came out in January and is called "Transformative Witchcraft: The Greater Mysteries." Tell me about the title of the book and what exactly
JM: Absolutely! Witchcraft offers direct interaction with the divine and/or whatever higher powers you honor in your circle. For many of us our rites literally take place in a space that "is not a space in a time that is not a time." We walk between the worlds, that's really something special.
TWPT: Is that why people who are abandoning traditional religions that no longer speak to their hearts or change their lives find their way to paths like Witchcraft because it does offer them a transformative experience?
JM: Yes. Witchcraft is interactive, in that it's not a practice where we just sit there waiting for something to happen. We do stuff, and that doing of stuff transforms us. Through magick it also allows us to have some control over our lives, instead of living by the whims of a jealous dictator god.
All of the mystery has been stripped away from Christianity. Witchcraft is full of mystery. If someone wants a genuine spiritual experience and not just a list of rules, Witchcraft is the thing!
TWPT: You start off the book with three chapters on the origins of modern Witchcraft. How important is it for someone that they understand where a path comes from and how it was formed to bring a fuller experience to their own practice?
JM: I'm not always certain it's necessary for everyone to know our exact history. I think the broad strokes of history are useful. For instance, Modern Witchcraft as we practice it today is not a 1000 year old religious tradition or even a 500 year old tradition. It contains bits and pieces of the past, but is essentially a modern thing. We are rooted in the past, but our branches are constantly reaching up towards the future.
I think our history is interesting and worth knowing about. I also just personally like knowing where things came from, so I hope that my interests appeal to everyone else. Not everyone needs to know the names of Gerald Gardner, Doreen Valiente, and Robert Cochrane, but I think our Witch experiences are much deeper when we do. The past is a great source of inspiration too; it's a fabulous thing to know for figuring out what one wants to do next in the circle.
There's a tendency to think of "history" as dry or boring. Even my editors at Llewellyn often feel that way. One of the biggest compliments they paid me after reading the initial draft of the book and those first few chapters was "this isn't boring." Generally the history of the Modern Craft has only really been written about in academic books and a few books from hard to find publishers, so I'm hoping to bring it out into the light a little bit more.
TWPT: Does "Transformative Witchcraft" put forth any particular views when it comes to traditions or practices? Or is it a generalized approach to Witchcraft without any tradition/system or coven/solitary in mind?
TWPT: From Chapter Four onwards the book is about the mechanics of a person’s practice and coming to an understanding of what Witchcraft is and what it means to follow the path. How important is it to understand the underlying concepts of Witchcraft to successfully perform rituals and accomplish your goals along this path?
JM: "Witchcraft" is an intensely personal thing, and it's something we do. I'm not sure it's something that one can absolutely understand, and my understanding of it is likely to be different from someone else's understanding. We all walk the path as best we can, but for some people that path is extremely crooked, for others it's more direct, and for others it probably leads through a briar patch or three.
For each of the things discussed in the book, I like to think that I give the reader the tools to create a space in which those things are best experienced. In order to build the cone of power and really raise energy in the circle one must know how to cast a strong circle and purify their ritual space. So before going over energy raising, I go over those fundamentals. I like to think everything in the book builds on what comes before it. It's probably more of a "next level" book, but even those new to the Craft will probably still understand most of it and get something out of it.
TWPT: What were you hoping to be able to communicate to your readers with your book Transformative Witchcraft?
JM: I'm hoping that I got people excited about doing the great rite, building the cone of power, building initiation and elevation rites in their covens, and interacting with the divine! To me those are all foundational practices within Wiccan-Witchcraft specifically, and most other Witch covens and groups too. They are also a major part of our historical legacy, and I wanted to write about them in ways that had not been done before.
There's something I say in the book and it's something I often find myself saying in public too, "the mysteries of Witchcraft don't exist on the printed page, they exist in the doing." I want people to know how important the doing is.
TWPT: Not only do you have the book that came out in January, but you also have a book coming out in December of this year as well. Your upcoming book is called "The Witch’s Wheel of the Year: Rituals for Circles, Solitaries and Covens." This book is about rituals for circles, solitaries and covens celebrating the sabbats during the turn of the wheel. How do each of these rituals differ from one another in how they are applied to circles, solitaries and covens?
JM: A ritual with 100 people at it is not the same as a ritual with twelve attendees. They require different ways of doing things, and different ways of structuring the ritual. I've gone to a lot of rituals over the years, and I've been to some rituals that would have been great for twenty people being done for 200 people, and the end result is usually a disaster. Unfortunately, most of us have to learn by trial and lots of errors, so I'm hoping this book can illustrate what works for large groups, and what works best for a solitary.
I have a friend who is a Llewellyn author, and they were doing a ritual at a large festival and ended up with maybe 200 attendees. Unfortunately they stopped everyone individually on their way in, challenging them with a sword before pricking them with a sterile lancet, and it took over an hour just to get everyone in the ritual space! I was one of the first ones in and had to pee nearly immediately. Two and a half hours after entering the ritual space I finally got away to pee. There's just no way it should have taken an hour just to get into the ritual space.
Solitary ritual can be especially difficult for lots of people, I know I struggle with it. I often feel silly verbalizing things out loud when I'm alone, or going through the process of calling the quarters and casting a circle. Hopefully I offer ideas that make this easier, and make people comfortable with working alone.
TWPT: Do you think that people take enough time to acknowledge or simply to set aside a few minutes to enter into the turning of the seasons as an integral part of the Witchcraft path?
JM: I think most of us do a good job of connecting to the Wheel of the Year. Such acknowledgements don't necessarily require a ritual, just awareness. I think feeling the turn of the seasons is essential in the Craft, and while most of us seem to be in too big a hurry to get to Autumn, we are all usually aware of what's going on around us.
TWPT: Often it is said that our disconnect from nature and from the rural lifestyle over the centuries is to blame for why we don’t celebrate the seasonal changes during the year like our ancestors would have done. What do you think of that idea? Has technology & an urban lifestyle led us to not even notice the turning of the wheel anymore?
JM: I think feeling the ebb and flow of the natural world and its yearly changes makes one's magick stronger, so in that sense, yes. How one relates to the Wheel is a personal thing.
TWPT: What is the emphasis of your book Witch’s Wheel of the Year?
JM: I wrote the book with three ideas in mind:
1. To help people learn how to do good ritual. As I said before, the differences between small, solitary, and large rituals are very real, so the first third of the book is about "how to do" each of those kinds of ritual, and the various bits that make up ritual.
2. Give people strong rituals to do. Early Witch rituals in books are mostly pretty terrible. Even some of my favorite Witch books from the 90's contain really boring, rudimentary rituals. I'm hopeful that the rituals I've put in the book inspire people to do more in their Craft. Also, especially at public rituals, we have an obligation to share good rituals so people will come back to the Craft. If they are bored to tears in the circle they are probably going to go do something else.
3. Share helpful information about the sabbats. I love our sabbats, and they have interesting histories. Sharing some of that history provides inspiration for future rites.
Each of the 24 rituals in this book is completely unique. All of the quarter calls are different, so are the circle castings. Hopefully the book works like a "choose your own adventure" so when someone is putting together a ritual for their group they can pick and choose the bits that best work for them. For example, one can use the quarter calls from Lammas, the circle casting from Yule, and the cakes and ale ceremony from Imbolc in their Midsummer ritual if they want.
It's also more than Wiccan-Witchcraft specific. It has a few Traditional Witchcraft style rituals too, both for groups and solitaries. I hope it becomes a "go to" resource for people planning sabbat celebrations.
TWPT: Overall what would you like readers to take away from your book "The Witch’s Wheel of the Year" and adaptively incorporate into their own practice?
JM: I hope they take whatever works for them from the book and incorporate it into their practice. One of the things that I love most about Witchcraft is how personal it is. It's a little bit different for everyone.
TWPT: Any thoughts you’d like to share about "Transformative Witchcraft" or "The Witch’s Wheel of the Year" that I didn't cover with the questions as we bring this interview to a close?
JM: Only that I'm really proud of both books. I feel like they both present Witchcraft as the inclusive path it is, open to anyone who wants to partake in its mysteries. Between the two of them, I think most people will have everything they need to set up a coven with truly transformational and meaningful rituals.
TWPT: Thanks for taking the time out of your schedule to answer these questions and to share with the readers of The Wiccan/Pagan Times your thoughts on your books. As always I appreciate the effort it takes to add something into an already busy schedule. Take care and enjoy HexFest in New Orleans coming up in August.