A couple of years ago I had the pleasure of interviewing a fellow Hoosier, and popular Pagan Author Edain McCoy, for my personal blog. A few days ago she graciously gave me permission to rerun that interview here for PNC to help us get our Bureau running. What follows is that interview in its entity.
P.N.C. Thank you so much for agreeing to let me interview you for the site. How exactly was it you became a Witch and involved with Wicca and Paganism?
E.M. I first read “The Grimoire of Lady Sheba” when I was about 16. Witchcraft intrigued me, but I was not in the frame of mind to change my spiritual practices at that time. My father was a minister in a very leftwing sect, so I didn’t have anything to rebel against. I was always encouraged to think for myself and discuss these things with both of my parents.
When I was in college in Texas I started to see and hear more about the Craft, and a friend and I set out to learn all we could about it. A little more than a year later we did a dedication and self-initiation rituals.
P.N.C. I must admit that I myself have never actually read one of your books from cover to cover. I have however read bits and pieces of a couple of them and at one point had borrowed a copy of The Witch’s Coven from a friend and started reading it and was very much enjoying it when I had to give it back to her. What was the first book on Paganism that you wrote, and how did it come to pass that you got published?
E.M. I don’t think that’s unusual to skim books. I think most of us read non-fiction to learn, and few of us have time to re-read things we already feel we know. I’m guilty of that myself. Yet, I often find by not reading straight through I miss points that tie things together between chapters.
I’ve always written because I love it. I have a large collection of dusty manuscripts in my closet, some dating back to the days of the manual typewriter. Sometimes I look at them and take comfort in the fact that I’ve learned from my mistakes.
The earliest book I wrote that I’m still proud of is “A Witch’s Guide to Faery Folk”. Like anyone seeking publication, I studied the market, targeted my publishers, followed their guidelines, and listened to their revision requests.
One problem with writing about spirituality is finding things you believed and taught twenty years ago that are no longer a part of your practice, sometimes they’re not even part of your belief system because experience has yielded wisdom, and you’re in a different place. Yet those old books - especially if they’re still in print - are out there telling the world something you would now present differently or not at all.
The Witches’ Coven is a good example of something that is simply out of date by anyone’s standards. It was written just before the Internet explosion. I would give anything to slap the URL www.witchvox.com into those pages.
P.N.C. I totally understand what you mean about something becoming out of date and you wishing you could give anything to slap www.witchvox.com on it. I wrote a blog piece not long ago where I pointed out that when I first got involved in Paganism and Wicca there was no such thing as the internet and www.witchvox.com. How do you feel the internet has changed the accessibility to information about Paganism? Do you think this change is for the good or perhaps that things were a little better before the internet came along?
E.M. There was an involved conversation about this at Florida Pagan Gathering’s 2007 Beltane festival. The answers were mixed. Certainly we’ve seen the negative side of being able to hide behind a screen in the public schools where bullying has escalated online.
It seems to me overall that the Internet has been a miracle for modern Pagans. Those us of who came into the Craft even before the primitive dial up bulletin boards were in use with 256 modems, find the Internet a magnificent tool. I’ve connected with people I’ve never met who I now consider friends via Facebook. It personalizes the communication in a way email never could. And WitchVox has opened up communities where Pagans were hidden by choice or chance.
Some still use the anonymity of the screen to wage Witch Wars, but in my experience this is much less than the childish battles that raged back when Pagan zines were the only forum for airing our differences. I truly believe these people move on and spread their toxicity elsewhere.
People come to Paganism because, if you harm none, we accept you for who you are. We don’t care where you came from, who your parents are, how old you are, how long you’ve been Pagan, how fat or thin you are, what color your skin is, or how you choose to set up your domestic situation. I think because of this there are simply fewer of us willing to engage when someone draws a battle line. I know it’s tempting, and I’ve lost my temper on a few occasions, but I try to remember something Joseph Kennedy told his children - and I’m not sure I’ve got the quote correct. “If you respond to an attack, you only elevate accusations into something that merits a public debate.”
P.N.C. You mentioned Witch Wars. If there is one thing I can not stand above all others it is just that. I agree people come to a Pagan path for many different reasons. I have seen these wars ruin friendships and communities. What do you think is the best way to deal with these situations?
E.M. I think ignoring the war is the best action, but it’s difficult. I’ve allowed myself to be pulled into arguments I didn’t want to have. I think that’s part of the human condition, but I also think it’s a part of ourselves we can learn to control, just as we do any other primitive instinct.
If someone has the courage of their convictions, feels solid in their faith, and is confident they are on the right path for themselves - why argue? It’s pretty sad when someone needs others to validate spirituality. One of the best parts of Paganism for me is to see and hear the differences, the thought processes, the conclusions, that growing and thriving Pagans produce. To forget that we are all students and all teachers, whether we’ve been in the Craft for 50 minutes or for 50 years is not only counterproductive - it’s just wrong. If we want to be told what to do and think, I’m sure there’s a fundy church close by who will be happy to have the non-thinkers and unconfident.
P.N.C. I noticed that you seem to have an interest in the Fae folk and traditions, how did you develop that and what role do you feel it has played in your life and practice?
E.M. The fey have been my teachers since I was a child and first saw them in my next door neighbor’s garden. While there are many definitions of fey or faeries, I’m closest to those who are nature spirits, the soul essences of the natural world. Just when I think they’ve taught me everything possible, I am humbled to know there is more to learn on this topic.
Yes, I know one is always a student and a teacher in the Craft, but I never imagined one subject area would have so many branches of learning connected with it. The world of the fey - in all their forms - is completely limitless.
I’m working on a book now on the faerie star and its symbolism and practical applications. The journey has been fascinating, and I only hope I can present what I’ve learned in a way that will allow others access to these teachings. Hoarding knowledge is just ignorant. We all read to learn and grow. Yet there remains a sector of Pagans who have something negative to say about everything that’s presented in a practical book, usually because it is not copying or repeating some scholarly works. What would be the point in that?
When I write about Craft matters it’s always with an eye toward sharing, and that’s the same way I read. A mishmash of facts is not as useful as the detailed experience someone else shares with me.
That’s what I hope I am doing for the nature spirits - making them accessible to others who feel moved by what I write. Those who don’t will find another route to the same place, and that’s the way it should be.
P.N.C. The Pagan community has changed in so many different ways since my involvement with it began more than 20 years ago, that it sometimes seems hard to keep up with it all. What do you think the biggest change in Pagan Community has been since your involvement with it, and where would you like to see the community go in the next 5 to 10 years?
E.M. I remember back before the Internet, when connecting was harder, and Pagans more afraid to be public, and there was such a franticness to connect that way too many of us ended up in covens, study groups, or social networks that were not right for us. I’m not saying any of them were inherently bad or good, but they were usually not a good fit.
I did the same thing. The first coven I was in was quasi-Gardnerian, and they were all great, but they weren’t the right place for me. I learned a lot and hope everyone in that coven is thriving and happy.
With connections easier to make, and Pagans more open about who they are, I think we’ve achieved a better balance. Not all Christians go to church every week, and not all Jews are kosher. Not all Christians like big churches, and not all Jews like small synagogues. Each person has to decide for him or herself what works to connect him or her with the divine, and must chose what the balance between spirituality and mundanity must be. Some see none, other keep them compartmentalized.
For example, I’ve met a group of eight women in Indy who are solitaries by choice, but they meet a couple times a month for coffee and to chat. I’ve met others - like myself and my two closet friends - who prefer to keep our spiritual practice between ourselves. One is active in Pagan Pride, one is in tune with the pulse of smaller happenings.
I was raised by a very left wing minister of a left wing sect. I grew up being taught religion is personal. I did not have to talk about it with anyone, explain it to anyone, or engage in any event I didn’t want to be in. This did not make me a bad Christian, and I don’t think everyone has to be active in the larger community to be a good Pagan. If anything, I think we suffer from too many leaders - and this is not all bad. Pagans are taught to think for themselves, and that is going to appeal to leadership people and personalities.
I do feel there’s something for everyone now - more than ever. No one has to feel they must join some group or volunteer for some event to be Pagan. We are individuals, and the spirit of that individuality is what drew most of us to Paganism. The last thing we need is someone judging us by any “harm none” actions we chose to live by.
P.N.C. If you could go back and change something from the past pertaining to your involvement in the Pagan community what do you think it would be?
E.M. I would have asked more questions in the beginning. My mother used to say that the most intelligent, rational thinkers often lose their heads when it comes to religion. I was taught to always question, yet, in the early days - the early 80s - I was too accepting of ideas we now look at and automatically question, such as the 9 million killed during the years of Witch prosecutions. That’s an exaggeration, yet for years I never looked into this for myself.
I also would have recognized the widening chasm between European Pagans and Pagans in the Americas. The Americas are a blend of cultures, spiritualities, customs, ideas, ethnicities - and we are mobile. The average American - USA that is - changes residences every 1-1/2 years. Like rolling stones we go along picking up the practices of various people an cull them into our own spiritual lives. This upsets some people, many of them European Pagans. More often than not, you’ll find Pagans in all of the Americas more open to blending and shifting, making room for new ideas and rites.
Suppressing both of those things - the questioning and the conflicting - hurt me by making me feel things I did, said, or believed were wrong. None of it is wrong - just unique, and I would never want it to be any other way. I would rather be an isolated Pagan, happily practicing my own spirituality, than be with a large group with whom I felt no commonality. Keeping one’s mind sharp and thinking critically about things - not compartmentalizing them - but examining them and where they do and do not fit an individual, is the key to kingdom in Paganism… or in being happily Pagan.
P.N.C. One last question for you, what advice do you have for or would give to folks young and old coming to a Pagan path in their life?
E.M. That’s easy. I’ve given the same answer to this question for years, and it’s a two-parter.
First of all, never forget that you’re always a student and always a teacher whether you’ve been Pagan for 50 minutes or 50 years. Some of the most profound questions and new ideas are presented to me by those seeking their way to us. I’m absolutely convinced this is why the long weekend Pagan festivals are so popular. The energy of learning and sharing just builds until it fills you, and it takes days to come down from that high.
Also, if you stop learning, why would your soul want to stick around? If it’s not going to learn anything new, it might as well leave it’s current physical host and try somewhere else.
Secondly, learn tolerance. We have Pagans on many paths drawing from many ethnic sources. In the Americas, these are often blended. No individual — and no group — is right or wrong in their practice. I include Christians, Jews, and other mainstream faiths in this class too. There are wonderful, open-minded spiritual people out there who support us and we don’t want to alienate any of them. We’re all human beings seeking our way back to our creator, that divine part inside us that unites us with every living thing.
I love the adage to take what works for you and set the rest aside, but I’ve learned not to set things too far away. Many times something that makes no connection with me today will become profound wisdom in a few years.