With Two Ladies of the Craft
Just a few decades ago, “pagan” was still a four-letter word. Today, paganism is accepted as a rapidly growing spiritual movement, attracting many intelligent, well-educated people who share a common yearning for a mystical, back-to-nature – and festive – spirituality. By far the most popular neo-pagan movement is Wicca – witchcraft modern-style, sans the campy Hollywood clichés.
In Winnipeg, Wicca – and paganism in general – have become a vibrant part of the spiritual landscape, as evidenced by such public events as the annual Beltane in the Park festival and the Pagan Pride celebration planned for this fall by a group of rural Manitoba witches. Perhaps nothing better demonstrates how Wicca has penetrated the mainstream than the “Practical Magic” lecture and talk series. It’s held every month, not in some creaky inner-city row house, but in a shiny chain store: Chapters.
Recently, Winnipeg freelance writer Gail Matheson spoke with the Wiccan co-hosts of the Practical Magic series, Susan Hurrell and Jacinthe Labbe of the Spirit-Haven community.
Gail Matheson: How would you describe Wicca? What is Wicca to you?
Susan Hurrell: Wicca is a religion that falls under the umbrella of paganism. It’s a belief in the importance of connecting with Universal Energy, no matter what you might call that power: God, Goddess, Love, Truth, the Creator, the Source . . . Wicca is about having a relationship with that Energy and attuning yourself to the related cycles of nature, including the mysteries of birth, death, and rebirth.
In Wicca, we use the symbolic power of the Four Directions as well as the Four Elements of air, fire, water, and earth – not to mention all the magical and alchemical lore of human history – to help understand ourselves and the world. The answers may be within; but we use these tools to help access them.
The Wiccan “Craft” is very much a form of active prayer, whether you do it by yourself or with others. You call upon the four elements, the God and the Goddess, and you visualise and “energise” (through your focused intention) a change. You send it into the universe and return to the mundane, having set forth that energy for a change to manifest. Then you do whatever work is required in your everyday life to assist that manifestation – there’s no point in doing a job-finding ritual if you don’t put some resumés out there too!
There are many Wiccan traditions, in the same way that there are many Judaeo-Christian denominations that have evolved around a common set of beliefs or a specific idea. I’m only speaking for our “denomination” – Spirit-Haven – and cannot speak for the Global Wiccan community. Spirit-Haven started about five years ago as a magickal group and then evolved into our own tradition. We are creating it as we live it, formalising our ideas and expressions of Spiritual Connection.
Gail: How is Wicca different from Paganism?
Susan: What separates Wicca from other forms of paganism is our form of ritual or ceremony to mark the turning of the wheel of the year. We use these rituals as a context for raising energy in order to understand ourselves and to make changes in our lives, our world view, and our self view. Our rituals also help us create sacred space from which to raise positive energy that we send out into the world.
The highest law is to harm none, not even ourselves, and to know ourselves and live a life in balance with Universal Energy.
Jacinthe Labbe: The aspect of healing is also important.
Susan: Yes, in the Spirit Haven tradition we are building in Winnipeg, one of the ideas we want to reclaim is the ancient truth that witches do healing work. Many of the people who were burned as Witches were actually the healers of the day, the herbalists, or the midwives. They used the powers of the natural world and Universal Energy to heal. This is also part of what we do in the Spirit Haven community.
Gail: Tell me more about Spirit Haven.
Susan: When most people think about Witches and Wicca, they think in terms of covens. But within the Wiccan community, there is a group of us who refer to ourselves as Spirit Haven. Spirit Haven is our specific tradition, analogous to a denomination in other faiths. We also have many people who are not “members’ in any formal sense, but who join us to worship, to learn, or just “come out and play,” as it were. Most of our events are open to anyone.
To be more specific, the Spirit Haven Tradition is a formal, contemporary Wiccan tradition focusing on self- knowledge, personal growth, and putting theory into action. Formal means we are developing a liturgy. We create sacred space for worship the same way every time we meet. We seek ways to create a group mind to increase the focus of the work we do, be it prayer, healing work, magick, meditation . . . Contemporary means we live in the year 2000 with all the modern conveniences and values of our day and age. Our magic must reflect this contemporary, everyday reality, without outmoded superstitions or fears.
Gail: How has your Wiccan faith affected how you live your daily life, both in terms of rituals and practices and behaviour towards others?
Susan: Well, back to “contemporary.” Where do you buy “eye of newt,” anyway? (Laughter.) We use a fondue pot for a cauldron – and dragon hunting is always out of season.
Our daily lives as witches are just like everybody else’s for the most part. We make mistakes, we screw up, and we try to do better. Above all, we try to live according to the One Law – harm none. It’s a belief, a code of ethics, and a way of life.
Jacinthe: We are very conscious about what we say and do, because we know that these energies come back to us and that we have the power to create our own reality. Our thoughts create the world we live in, so we seek to balance and take responsibility for them. We don’t get up in the morning and do arcane things. Our daily rituals are things like getting up early to watch the sunrise, drink our coffee, and honour the beginning of the new day. Before bed, we can look at the moon and thank the Universal Power and Energy for the day that has passed. I acknowledge that which is greater than I am by doing smaller “rituals” like these.
Susan: Our “church” includes celebrating the eight Wiccan holidays, the full moons and dark moons, and regular meetings for planning or support, or whatever is needed. For example, a friend was being stalked by her former partner, and we got together to do a protection ritual for her home and her new relationship. The purpose of the ritual was to set an energetic boundary, so they believed they were safer, and allow them to go about their lives without fear. Energy is real. Thoughts create. You create your world with what you think and do.
Jacinthe: Wicca is a religion that focuses on the enjoyment of life and Life Force Energy. We eat every time we get together! (Laughter.)
Susan (laughing): We are encouraged to eat, feast, drink, and make music and love, all in the presence of the Goddess. This means: enjoy the bounty of life in a responsible way.
It’s challenging to be a member of a faith that is often defined by what we don’t believe or do. We spend a lot of time telling people what we are not, rather than what we are. We are not Satanists. We do not do animal sacrifices. It is not within our ethical boundaries to curse or hex people. We don’t do spells to make someone love you against their will. We don’t hate the Christian God. And people may be disappointed to know that we do not have wild sexual orgies. (Laughter.)
Gail: Why do you prefer paganism to other religions, or do you have an eclectic spirituality that includes some of these other influences?
Susan: I am pagan and Wiccan because that is how I found my connection to Universal Energy expresses itself most strongly. I was raised as a non-churchgoing Protestant. I bought my first Wiccan book at age 13, then wandered through other beliefs to try to find a connection to God that fit. In my early twenties I found that Wicca was the belief system that encompassed what I had believed, in some primary way, all my life. It was like finding a shoe that fit . . . finally! But it was also who I was all my life, yet didn’t understand how to express. Wiccan teachings gave me a vocabulary. And the more you can define something, the more fully realised it becomes in your life.
But, all spiritual paths are valid. There are aspects of the same truth everywhere. In our tradition, there is room for anyone of faith to come and sit with us in a framework of sharing and mutual respect.
Jacinthe: We chant, and we do mantras like the Hindus. We use drumming and songs from Aboriginal traditions. And we have found a new translation of the Lord’s Prayer from the Aramaic that is very beautiful and that we have used in a pagan hand-fasting [a ceremony for pledging a long-term committed relationship]. We used it as the final blessing. We will work with good ideas no matter the source, as long as they are life-affirming, forward moving, and connected to Universal Energy, for the highest good of all, harming none, and according to free will.
Gail: What is “Practical Magic”?
Susan: It is a monthly open-door discussion group or workshop around a central topic or theme that changes each month. We’ve covered Tarot, Wicca, Runes, Hallowe’en, earth magic, psychic self-defence, dreams, and meditation. And we’ve also invited others to do presentations on topics such as crystals, Aboriginal healing traditions, and how to make a fake antique-looking magical book, among others.
It all started because, as the manager of the New Age section at Chapters Polo Festival [the Chapters store on Empress], customers would ask me very in-depth questions about metaphysical ideas that could not be covered easily in a one-on-one discussion on the sales floor. When I approached my General Manager, Todd Bruce, with the idea of having a metaphysical event, he was incredibly supportive. He truly lives his belief in supporting diversity. He encouraged me to make our vision a reality, and has allowed us to use the Community Room at Chapters for many of our public events. We’ve jokingly renamed it “the Broom Closet”! But we truly could not have moved forward with the momentum we have without his support. That support led to the very first Practical Magic evening, which was on the very popular topic of Tarot. After two and a half hours, people were still hanging around talking, and someone asked, “what are you doing next month?” And so it began. Tarot and Runes have now been done twice, by popular demand.
Gail: How long ago was that first workshop?
Jacinthe: It began in March, 1999, and has been running on the last Thursday every month since then.
Gail: Who typically attends?
Susan: Anyone from the teenager who has just started to explore alternative spiritual ideas after seeing a movie like The Craft to the serious seeker and practitioner.
Jacinthe: It gives people a sense that “there are other people like me.” There seems to be an isolation factor for people who are interested in spiritual alternatives or who practice Wicca, and this lets them meet each other. When you’re not in a mainstream religion, it can be hard to connect with others who are doing what you’re doing.
Gail: What is your vision for the series?
Susan: I hope it continues on as long as people are interested. We try to bring in guest speakers, because we are certainly not authorities on everything. Anything? (Laughter.) We love finding others who are willing to come in and share their knowledge. As long as we can find them, it will continue. The series is very informal. And we want to keep offering it for free as long as possible.
Jacinthe: We had a visioning session and asked people to let us know what they wanted “Practical Magic” to be and what topics they wanted to see covered. I do a lot of the research and it has led me to look into topics I would have not had an interest in reading about. The participants are driving the direction, the vision.
Gail: Why have the two of you devoted so much energy to these types of events?
Susan: For myself, a spiritual belief is not what you do, it is who you are. This is a natural extension of who and what I am. We have had the chance to study with some wonderful teachers, such as Wiccan Elder, Ruby Miller, and Aboriginal Traditional teacher, Myra Laramee, and I am honoured, whenever I am asked a question, that I might be able to offer help.
There is a common thread among all beliefs. If we can focus on our common truths, that is the true meaning of being on a spiritual path. Sharing in the spirit of harmony rather than conflict allows all of us to grow. I learn far more than I teach, and I receive far more than I give.
Jacinthe: For me it is sharing the joy and the beauty of my religious path. As someone who grew up pagan, I want to make it available to everyone who has a thirst and a quest for something more than themselves. There is more to life than just “this,” and I am looking for it. The big religions have not offered me the comfort, or a place where I belong. I’m lucky my parents provided that for me, and I want to share it, not in an evangelical way, but by building community with like-minded people who are drawn together by the Energy itself.
Susan: One of the traditions in Wicca is we do not seek converts. We do not preach. If you are drawn to the path, then you are drawn to the path. If not, we search for similarities and move forward on our separate, but parallel paths.
Gail: What are some of the other Spirit-Haven events?
Susan: We host “Full Circle,” a pagan singing and drumming circle open to anyone with a love of music. We chant, sing, and drum with the intention to raise and direct energy and do magick with music. The Circle tries to meet twice a month.
Another event is a social evening called “A Pagan Place,” which is sitting around and drinking coffee, with the conversation often spinning out from a central topic.
We’re also hosting what we hope will be an annual retreat. The response for the first one has been very good, and it will be lots of fun – that balance of mirth and reverence we strive for.
We offer a year-long Tarot class, Wicca 101/201 classes, Sacred Sound, Sacred Power workshops . . . And we hope to have regular, monthly “healing circles” in the future. We also have an email list with participants from all over the world who share a core vision and statement of beliefs. We have a lot of ideas and plans for the future – as long as Spirit wills it to be, we will move forward in our journey.
Article by Gail Matheson in The Aquarian Newspaper’s Fall 2000 issue.
Check out our updated article “Wiccan Revisited”.