Traditional Witch (Interview)
[Prefatory note: I do not use the title “Lord Moondancer”, nor did the interviewer; however, the publisher of Echoed Voices felt it was necessary for some reason.]
An interview with Lord Moondancer, a Traditionalist Craft Elder
and Ladybug, his daughter
Echoed Voices: Lord Moondancer, could you give our readers a brief background and perhaps explain a bit about what the term “Traditionalist Witch” means?
Lord Moondancer: I’ve been an initiate of Traditional Craft since 1973; I was originally trained and initiated into the Georgian Tradition (http://georgianwicca.com) as a member of the second Georgian coven. I’ve been involved peripherally for most of my life with the Craft, having discovered the name for what I do at age 10 when I read a copy of Gardner’s Witchcraft Today. Since 1975, however, I’ve worked primarily in another tradition called the New England Covens of Traditionalist Witches, which developed out of the pagan family teachings of the late Gwynne Thompson.
Traditional Craft, Traditional Witchcraft and Traditional Wicca, is certainly more structured than a lot of the things that call themselves Wicca today. In brief, it generally means that there is an initiatory lineage that has been passed from one generation of Priestesses and Priests to the next, often culminating with Gerald Gardner as the penultimate “ancestor”, though this isn’t always the case. As Aidan Kelly made mention of in his book Crafting the Art of Magic, vol 1, there were certainly witchcraft groups in the US before Gardner, although they bore little to no resemblance to what Gardner passed on to his initiates.
Ladybug: I’ve been a Witch all my life. I was born into the Craft 19 years ago, and haven’t stopped practicing since. I’ve been raised doing things that most Wiccans don’t experience until much later in their lives, such as acting as Priestess in public venues (I was priestessing at five with a childhood friend, who has also been raised in the Craft, and in public since around nine years old.); a lot of what comes naturally to me takes years for others to perfect – I can be in guided meditative state in five minutes with the right guide. So far, I’ve worked in the New Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn (NROOGD) and the New England Covens of Traditionalist Witches (NECTW). Both are nice, but I’m much more familiar with NECTW than NROOGD.
What makes a Tradition? It’s a very good question, and I’m not quite sure how to address it . . . Traditional Craft isn’t learned from books you get at your local Goth supply store, it’s learned from those that have walked the paths before you, those that have had similar experiences to your own, those that actually have an inkling of what it means to dedicate your life to an idea – a feeling – a trust in what you know is there, even if you can’t see it or touch it. That’s Traditional Wicca.
EV: Ladybug, as Lord Moondancer’s daughter, it’s my understanding that you’ve been raised in the Craft. You must have a unique perspective of the Craft that others who have been raised in other religions don’t have. Could you share some of your points of view with us?
LB: Give me a topic that’s a bit more specific, and I probably can.
EV: Can you share some of your points of view on where you see the future of the Craft going?
LB: I actually had this wonderful image the other day: I was riding in the truck with my mom, and we were talking about how we are the first family group in this particular tradition in about 25 years; and as we are bringing it back into the family, what was originally a family tradition, we really will have traditional family gatherings of Craft. I had this image of 50 years down the road, we get together for family gatherings, what most families call a reunion now, and have fun and games, and it will be just like a great big picnic, with Horned God bouncy toys and stuff. [[laughter]]
EV: I understand in the past that you’ve functioned as Priestess at public rituals. Is that difficult to prepare for?
LB: Not really, because I was thrown into it at an early age. I think I was 9 when I did my first public ritual as Priestess. Preparing for it, I have to do meditation and reflection on the Deity that I’ll be working with. For example, for the past year, we’ve been doing a series of rituals on the Persephone cycle from Eleusis, and that required considerable amounts of preparation time at the beginning. Once we got into the cycle, it became much easier to “click” into it.
EV: Lord Moondancer, could you explain some of the tenets of your Tradition?
LM: Which one? [[evil grin]] Being an initiate in more than one form of the Craft, there are different pieces that go with each one. For example, in the Georgian Tradition there is considerable emphasis placed on balancing oneself emotionally, physically and spiritually; there’s even a “Georgian Manifesto” which reads:
The aims and purposes of the Georgians shall be:
- “to honor the Gods of the Old Religion,
- to aid the members to progress and improve themselves mentally, physically and spiritually;
- to work magick for the benefit of members and any others who may seek out aid for right purposes;
- to aid others in learning the Craft who truly desire the knowledge of the Craft for proper reasons;
- to combat the untruths and to spread the truth about the Craft to those outside the Craft;
- to work for peace, harmony, and unity among the various branches of the Craft;
- to work for a better understanding of and a better relationship between man and nature.”
As for tenets, the Elders who are online have discussed this in some depth, and have come up with the following as a partial response to that:
The Georgian Tradition is normally taught and passed male to female, female to male.
The Georgian Tradition is one of many branches of the Craft; it is Traditional in that it is taught and passed generally through a coven setting and always by persons who have been Initiated and Elevated to the Priesthood, according to the rites and rituals of the Tradition. It is eclectic in that it has origins in many sources: Alexandrian, Gardnerian, Celtic and other Traditions, and values to a high degree the creativity and originality of its members.
The Georgian Tradition is considered “oath-bound”: the mysteries and lore of the Tradition are not passed to any but “Proper Persons” who have been “Properly Prepared.”
While the internet is a useful tool in learning and communication, it does not provide a means for Initiation or Elevation to other degrees within the Georgian Tradition.
EV: What can you share with us of the NECTW Tradition?
LM: [[Laughing]] A whole lot less than we could before our last Elders Gathering! NECTW, as I mentioned earlier, came out of a set of family pagan practices and beliefs. This family was in Nova Scotia for many years, and in my opinion, these practices bear a strong resemblance to folklore and customs from that area in many ways. Lady Gwynne, when she realized that few of her generation were going to carry on the family teachings, and even fewer of the next generation, began to teach outside of the family in the 1960’s. As a result, she shared many things with others through letters, articles (including the March 1975 issue of “Green Egg” which was one of the first places that the so-called “long version” of the Rede of the Wiccae was published.) The Rede actually contains a great many of our beliefs and tenets; each of the stanzas has both an outer and inner meaning, which are only completely revealed after initiation and meditation. Almost all of the NECTW groups are small and the majority of them are on the East Coast (funny thing for something named for New England, no?)
I’m not really qualified to speak publicly about the other Traditions I’m involved with, being a relative newcomer to them (Gardnerian since 1997 and NROOGD since 1998).
EV: Lord Moondancer, what is your opinion of the state of the present day pagan movement and community?
LM: I think it’s in severe need of an enema. J When we have people who first heard of the Craft or paganism “a couple of months ago” and read a book and now call themselves Lord this or Lady that and think that they are qualified to lead a coven or working group or that they are automatically “Elders”, we have a big problem. Ladybug will talk about some of the issues about “elders”, and from my involvement with other Traditional communities Elder has very specific meanings that it doesn’t have in today’s Craft. By and large, the general community has no respect for their elders, and that translates back into the elders having little to no respect for the community that they are supposed to be serving; and service to the community is a big part of service to the Gods. We have multiple “pagan rights” organizations that can’t seem to get it together enough to keep their own legal paperwork straight, we have multiple calls for “pagan unity” (sorry, I know that’s an issue that EV is involved with) but it’s only unity with those that “we” agree with. Instead of pushing for “pagan rights”, let’s push together for equal rights, regardless of spiritual path or any other criteria. Equal means exactly that: equal. (This is the same thing I tend to say to folk who complain to me about the “Gay Agenda”, by the way.) The biggest problem, though, with the pagan movement and community, is the spectre of “political correctness.” Dumbing it down, fluffing it up, and whitewashing won’t make the Craft any better, in fact, it makes it far worse.
LB: Wow…let’s see. It needs a lot of work. We really don’t have much of a community at this point. We have a bunch of people who get together and play at being a community, but they don’t actually interact outside of that space for the most part. It needs a lot of work. Pagan movement? You mean the one that’s being put on by the “Hot Topic/Llewellyn” bunch? All of the high school kids trying to be like Nancy out of “The Craft”? (That’s the insane one, BTW.)
EV: Yes, that’s what I mean!
LB: My opinion of them is pretty much summed up in that most of them just don’t have what it takes. I don’t think that they have the dedication that it takes to devote their life to something this all-encompassing, something this … awesome. Most of them are too concerned with raising money for their new corset from the Met or Hot Topic. I’ll be honest – I used to shop at Hot Topic, and still do, on occasion. But I haven’t bought books there (I have far more reliable sources right here, at home), and I don’t buy into the whole “all black in the dead of summer” thing. I’m not a Goth. I wear pink, but I’m not fluffy bunny, either. I’m a Witch, I have been all my life, and most likely will continue to be so for the rest of it. I think those kids trying for that are in serious need of a wakeup call. Wicca isn’t like “Sabrina”, or “Charmed”, or “The Craft”, it’s something more. Those only exposed to the Hollywood versions of the Craft are going to think that’s what it’s really like, when some older films, such as “The Wicker Man”, are more accurate to what we do as Witches. We don’t go to the extremes of human sacrifice, usually [[smirk]], but we do sacrifice our God of the Grain in the harvest season, with use of an effigy, generally made of the grains sacred to the God. I don’t think that the “Hot Topic/Llewellyn” crowd could handle the symbolism of something like that.
EV: How do you answer questions from your peers about your practice?
LB: Generally, I’m truthful about it. If they have the guts to ask, I’ll tell them. What I find interesting is that in Seattle, supposedly more open-minded, I was discriminated against more by my peers than I am in small-town Bothell. In general, people seem to be a lot more accepting of the Craft here than in a big city setting. If my so-called peers in Seattle had bothered to ask, I doubt I would have been discriminated against as heavily. While I was in elementary school, my mom brought in pamphlets every Hallows for the office, entitled “The Truth About Halloween.” If the students had read them, perhaps they would have been more understanding. When my fourth grade class read The Witches, by Roald Dahl, I got up and gave a speech about how the book differed from what real Witches do. That may have helped my situation, if I hadn’t moved that summer…alas, I digress.
LB: That’s an aggravating subject. Most times, I’m the one asking the questions to the adults, and the response is generally something to the effect of, “You’ll understand when you’re older. Right now, you just don’t have enough life experience.” What I want to know is what they mean by “life experience”. I asked my mom today what makes an Elder, and she said, “Life experience.” I asked her to tell me an experience in life that makes an Elder, and her reply was, “Raising children.” I told her that I know Elders that haven’t raised children. Arwynn, you said, “Many marriages and divorces,” but my parents have been married twenty years, and I know others that haven’t married at all. I finally got an answer that I agree with, to some extent: Saturn Return. All the Elders I know have experienced at least one. I haven’t yet, but I’m getting close. I, unfortunately, fall into the same category as a few other Witches: those of us that have grown up in the Craft. Unless we move from our “communities,” we won’t ever be considered Elders, because the other members of the “community” will have watched us grow up, and we’ll be forever the little kids, running around and being the nuisances that all of us were. To them, we’ll never be the amazing adults that we’ve become.
LM: I have to agree with a lot of what she says. I know of several young adults who are in much the same boat; raised in the Craft, yet they will always be “Little so-and-so” to those they grew up around. It’s a difficult thing, to admit that your children are grown up and adults and the really competent Witches that they are, one that I’m just really having to face now.
EV: Lord Moondancer, something that I experience as a manager of several lists, groups and communities is the tendency of many pagans to expect instant enlightenment (an aside from Lady Raven – “just add Karma”), or rather feeling of entitlement as to training in traditional Craft. Do you have any thoughts or advice for people who seek initiation or education about the Craft?
LM: First off, you can’t learn it from a book, and you can’t learn it well solely on-line or via email. There is a large amount of the Craft that can only be experienced with a guide, which is what the Coven setting is; with people who have made that journey before you. There’s a big tendency to call anything pagan or heathen “Craft” – it isn’t. Frankly, I don’t consider myself a pagan, I am a Witch. Pagan is too broad a term, which is why I think a lot of folk want to claim the name “Wicca” for what they do without actually being able to do it. One of the email lists I’m on has had an ongoing discussion around this for some time. One person compared it to driving a car. Books can teach you the rules of the road, but only by getting behind the wheel and actually driving do you learn how to drive. Another comment often made is that “The Craft is whatever you want it to be.” Not so. For example, if I were to perform the required sacrifices of “Old Testament” Judaism at the Temple, I still couldn’t call myself a Levite – nor would I be a Hindu by solely lighting incense to Ganesh. There are a lot of paths to traditional Craft, but frankly, it isn’t for everyone, and there is no requirement in the Craft that we accept everyone who comes calling. In many Traditions, there is a concept of a “proper person” – someone for whom the Craft is right and correct as well as they being right and correct for the Craft. Sort of the “many are called but few are chosen” type thing. Sometimes, the egregore just throws you out (egregore: sort of an archetype of the energies of a particular tradition or group. It’s a word not found much in dictionaries yet.)
LB: I went to Roman Catholic Mass, but it doesn’t make me a Catholic. I think that the ceremonies are beautiful, but it isn’t right for me. This, the Craft, is. If I hadn’t been born into the Craft I would probably end up being Catholic, but that’s a “what if”.
EV: Lord Moondancer – do you feel that there should be a standard of excellence that should be held by the pagan community at large, in particular by the Elders?
LM: Absolutely, for both the community and the Elders. The community needs to support their elders, and the elders need to support the community. Part of the problem goes back to “what community?” I’ve often described the greater pagan community as an onion, with layers upon layers. You probably will never get to know all of the different layers without spending a lot of time networking with other members of it. In part, Elders need to be involved in community activities, and to be available to the members of the community as a resource, for guidance, for advice, when needed, and as a stick to keep them in shape when needed. When the community gets sloppy, the Elders lose interest in being there. An Elder I know in British Columbia once commented that the way to spot the Elders at a Pagan Gathering is that they are the ones in “normal” clothing. Ellen Cannon Reed wrote an excellent piece some years ago on standards; it’s available in several places on the net. I highly recommend it. Elders need to be aware of their responsibilities as well. If there is a problem in the community, they need to be willing to take a stand and let their opinion be heard. This doesn’t mean that they have to black-ball or bad-mouth folk, but to let the community know that certain behaviors are not tolerated there. With the propensity of pagan names used on the net and in our communities, it’s far too easy for the flakes and frauds to simply change the name they use and reappear elsewhere, and pull the same crap they pulled in the first place. Sex and drugs are probably two of the biggest hot issues in regards to this, and if you have a sexual predator or the like in your community, you really want to know about it to prevent larger problems from developing.
EV: One last question – how do you feel that the Craft has progressed or regressed in your lifetime?
LM: While there have been many advances in the way of overall acceptance of the Craft (and paganism) as “real” religions, there is still a long way to go. We are still treated to depictions of witches such as “The Charmed Ones”, Sabrina, and the like on television and in movies. The treatment that pagan deities received from the Hercules and Xena programs, while fun in many ways, were insulting for the most part to those who still worship those deities. I found it interesting that the Xena storyline that was to have involved the Hindu deities was greatly rewritten following protests from that community. In terms of availability and access to the Craft, I think that there are in truth no more real avenues of access to Traditional Craft than there were 30 years ago, despite the internet and the mass-marketing of the Craft. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, in my opinion. The Craft has always found their own, and will continue to do so. The sheer amount of fluff nonsense that is published about the Craft is both a positive and a negative. Scott Cunningham’s Wicca for the Solitary Practitioner is often described as the book to give to your mother when she freaks out about what you’re doing, and Paul Huson’s Mastering Witchcraft is still just as valid a vade mecum as it was in 1970 (that’s what Catholic Weekly called it – a genuine “do it yourself”, and if anyone should know, they should!)
EV: HAHAHAHAHAHAH! Thank you Ladybug and Lord Moondancer for taking the time to interview with us and share your views. I’d like to ask if at some point in the future you might be willing to come back and do this again?
LM: You mean I didn’t scare you away completely? LOL!
LB: Nah, she’ll be back for more. They always come back for more.
By Arwynn /|\
Used with permission from the author. All rights reserved.
Original publication in Echoed Voices webzine, 29 Aug 02
(all links in this article go to Internet archive of the site indcated,
current pages may have changed or been removed from the internet.)