Interview with Morganna Davies
Morganna Davies, an Alexandrian Priestess, was a member of one of the earliest Alexandrian covens in the United States and founder of the Keepers of the Ancient Mysteries (.K.A.M.). She was also a Priestess of the New England Covens of Traditionalist Witches (N.E.C.T.W.).
She was a well versed initiate in several other traditions as well, a Craft practitioner for 40 years, notable university lecturer, Morganna was also a Reiki Master, Bachs Flower Essence Therapist and storyteller. Morganna ran many successful training covens and was responsible for the initiation of many good High Priests and High Priestesses. She was very active in the formation of many groups in and around the Baltimore area and also in the New England area as well. For several years she headed up The Alexandrian Tea in Rhode Island. She was an initiate of Mary Nesnick and Hans Holzer. Dr. Holzer documented some of Morganna’s magickal life in several of his books.
In May of 2001 Morganna, along with Aradia Lynch, authored the well acclaimed book “Keepers of the Flame”. Morganna was highly skilled in the Psychic Arts. Divination was a specialty of hers, never the one to be caught without her pendulum. She was particularly fond of working with the rehabilitation of feral cats and was successful at it. She lived semi-retired at her home in Georgia, where she passed through the veil to the Other World 27 December 2011.
(The above is adapted from an obituary posted at The Witches Voice and from the original introduction to this interview as it appeared on the web magazine “Echoed Voices”. Portions have been updated since her death.)
What led you and Aradia to write Keepers of the Flame?
* We were very disappointed to discover that so many new (90′s) Pagans had no idea of the history of Craft. Some had never heard of Traditional Craft, while others thought it had been made up whole cloth by Gerald Gardner. We felt the need to fill this gap. We talked with Elders from varied traditions, many who had been underground for years, and asked them if they would contribute to our book. We found that despite differences in opinions and practice, we had a great deal in common as well. Our focus was on Elders who had become High Priest or High Priestess before 1985. Some of these Elders were well known and in the public eye; others were not. The book has been very well received, and we are considering the possibility of an updated version.
Several of the people interviewed in Keepers have since passed on; do you feel that is significant to the timing of the book?
* Definitely. When we began we were primarily concerned with having people tell their stories to educate the newer Pagans and others who might have a need to know. During the interviewing process we realized that most of the contributors were becoming elderly and learned that a number of them were suffering life-threatening illnesses. We began to sense the urgency in having them tell their stories for posterity. Five of the Elders passed over before the book was published, and another shortly after publication. So far as we are aware, the book holds their last public opinions and thoughts on the Craft.
What is your definition of a “Tradition” within the Craft?
* To me, a Craft Tradition is just that — the practice of teachings that have been personally passed down to an individual by another qualified individual who came before them. The teachings are always passed down exactly as given and for the most part practiced in the same manner by those within the Tradition. However, a tree that doesn’t grow will die, and so some change is inevitable and even desirable. Alex Sanders said: “Add what you will; omit nothing.” I couldn’t say it any better. Having said this, I also believe that if one strays so far from the basic teachings of the Tradition, then they are no longer practicing the Tradition and should call it something else.
How important do you feel Traditional Craft to be?
* I cannot conceive of life without my Craft. It has molded and shaped me into the person I am today. It has influenced the lives of my children and helped me come to terms with the death of one of them. My Craft influences the way I do my work, how I interact with those I come in contact with, and especially those I teach and those I love and who love me. I don’t know of anything that could be more important.
How does it relate to the more current forms practiced today?
* I think that, for the most part, people are much less serious today than in the sixties and seventies. I often get inquiries from people who want to study with me. When they learn they might have to drive an hour or more to do so, they tell me it’s too far for them to travel. When I first came to the Craft I lived in Maryland and had to drive regularly to New York for circles and lessons. Later I drove from Maryland to Connecticut to learn and circle. There was never a question about how far it was. If you were serious about learning, you did what you needed to do. It was as simple as that.
In Traditional Craft there is a history and a system of teaching that the student must become proficient in. The system varies according to the Tradition, but they achieve the same result. It takes time and dedication to progress through the body of knowledge, but in the end you are the better for having done so. The system has proven itself, and there is no need to reinvent the Wheel.
This is the age of instant gratification, and many of today’s students don’t want to do the work required. As my daughter, Ayeisha, used to say: “No one wants to start at page 1 anymore; they want to go directly to page 42 and call themselves a High Priest/ess.” I have little tolerance for this.
Do you feel there was more cooperation/communication between the various branches/Traditions when you first encountered it than now?
* It’s hard to say. Twenty or thirty years ago most covens kept to themselves and for the most part had little contact with others. I know Craft people who for years didn’t even know that other traditions existed. My personal experience was good in this regard in that through my High Priestess I met other Craft people. I also had the good fortune to be able to share circles with some very fine Elders of other traditions, most notably Gardnerian and NECTW.
Certainly today’s internet has made the sharing of information an easy matter. But let the buyer beware. Just because it’s on the internet doesn’t necessarily make it so. There is such a potpourri of information out there that people tend to stuff themselves at the buffet and end up with spiritual indigestion. Much of the time quality has been sacrificed for quantity.
What is your opinion of the “present day” Pagan movement?
* If it weren’t for Traditional Craft there wouldn’t be a “Pagan Movement.” Their branches were grown from the roots of the tree of Traditional Craft. Today they have become an entity in their own right. So much so that most do not know the history of Traditional Craft (bringing us back to why we wrote the book). As a result, many Pagans today have little or no understanding of the teachings they have co-opted. They are attracted to the Pagan Path because they see it not only as an alternative religion but a means to gain independence from authority. With independence comes responsibility, but many have forgotten or abandoned this concept. The teachings of Craft (in many instances published by those who should have known better) are taken out of context. The sacred writings become an excuse – “If it feels good or if its fun, let’s do it.”
At the same time I believe there many are good, decent Pagans who follow the Old Ways and take responsibility for their actions.
What advice or recommendations would you give new seekers?
* I so wish the Pagan Way (of the 70′s) was still in existence. Its purpose was two-fold — 1) to educate people about Pagan religions and 2) to give people who wanted to move on access to Traditional Craft. They also they kept to the “Old Law” and never charged money for the teachings. This organization helped so many find their way to the Craft.
Today I would tell people trust their intuition and to question people they would choose to study with. If you find they can’t answer relevant questions, move on. And if they want to charge you for studying you’re in the wrong place. Charging money for the Craft is against the Old Law. If teachers are of Traditional Craft you can be assured of their credentials, and if they are a High Priest or High Priestess you know they went through a rigorous training, and therefore have something to teach you.
What to you are the differences/benefits of Initiation and self Dedication?
* This goes back to the question of the difference between a Pagan and a Witche. I believe that any sincere seeker can dedicate themselves to the service of the Gods. Not everyone wants or has access to a legit, functioning coven/tradition and in this instance a self-dedication is the only possible path for the sincere. At the same time, I do not believe that self-dedication makes a Witche. Only a Witche can make a Witche. The making of a Witche is accomplished through the Rite of Initiation. This rite links/connects you to a tradition and a history. When you receive initiation, the energy passed to you comes not only from the one who initiates you, but from all those in the line who have come before. The Witche takes oaths which bind for life. Initiation also gives you a distinct advantage in being taught by those who have already studied, are properly trained, and can help you avoid the pitfalls along the way to becoming proficient.
How do you feel the Craft has evolved/or devolved since you first came to know it?
* Many people today want to take the easy road, and there isn’t one. Once upon a time, people wouldn’t think of calling themselves Witches unless they had been initiated. Now they read one or more books and declare themselves to be not only Witches, but Priestesses and Priests. They start covens and become authorities. Much of the sacredness is missing. If you needed surgery, who would you want to perform it for you – the one who spent time reading Gray’s Anatomy or the one who went to medical school and studied surgery?
How/what do you see as differences between a Pagan and a Witch?
* All Witches are Pagans, but not all Pagans are Witches. Many follow a Pagan philosophy and way of life, but a Witche is one who takes life vows and becomes part of a Priesthood. When I came to Craft, Witches were considered to be clergy to the Pagan population who were for all intents and purposes the “congregation” (although I doubt you’ll find many Pagans today who subscribe to this theory). I was taught that the Craft must ever survive and that as a Priestess it was/is my responsibility to help make that happen.
Do you think Traditional Secrecy has helped or hindered the Craft and how do you explain the need for “traditional secrecy” within the Craft?
* I think the secrecy has both helped and hindered the Craft. Secrecy allows people to form misconceptions about who we are and what we do. At the same time it has saved many lives. I’ve heard the argument that secrecy is no longer relevant in this day and time, and that we should no longer practice it. I think to do so would be to throw out the baby with the bathwater.
No one thinks twice about other secret societies like the Masons and other magickal orders who take oaths of secrecy. Even the Christians teach that you shouldn’t cast the pearls before the swine. Translate that to mean not everyone is prepared or should have the sacred teachings. Many have given their lives to preserve the teachings. It becomes meaningless if just anyone can publish what they and others swore to protect. Alexandria, a Priestess from Maryland who contributed to the Keepers book, used to say: – For those who understand, no explanation is necessary; for those who don’t, none will suffice.”
I lost what was a very good position in 1979 when it was discovered I was of the Craft. You can think that we are now protected and this doesn’t happen any more. But in 1986 a Priest was murdered in a Western state in this country when it was discovered he published a Craft magazine.
Even now, in 2003, people can still lose their jobs and their children when their Craft connection is discovered. In the past few months a Witche in Maryland was refused a job because she told them she was Craft. A woman in Rhode Island was using the laundry room in her apartment. One of her neighbors was also doing laundry and began a casual conversationthat included the fact that the woman had an interest in Witchcraft. Unfortunately, their conversation was heard by another resident.
The following day the State Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) visited her to investigate allegations of child abuse, the practice of Satanic rites, and animal sacrifice. Even though DCYF found these allegations to be totally false, harassment from the residents of the apartment building forced her to move.
In today’s political climate, with a President who refuses to accept the Craft as a religion, we’d do best to cherish our secrecy. The first time “the milk sours” it will once again be blamed on us, and we will be hunted.
What is your opinion on open circles and public ritual?
* I have very mixed feelings on this. I do believe that there are some good generic rituals that can be used to good advantage for open and public Sabbat celebrations such as Ed Fitch’sMagickal Rites from the Crystal Well. The use of symbols and customs of the seasons for the Pagan public and others is valid. I would not encourage huge circles with people who don’t know one another doing magic together. It is difficult if not impossible to have Perfect Love and Perfect Trust working with people who don’t understand what they are doing.
What is your opinion on “How to Books” — spells, rituals, etc; their benefits/drawbacks.
* For the most part I don’t like them. Many of these books are just another example of skipping the hard learning and going for the easy fix. Exceptions to this general rule would be books like the Campanelli Wheel of the Year.
Do you feel the Traditional Craft has yet a role to play in today’s Pagan Movement?
* (The Gods only know.) We can still be a doorway for the sincere seeker. People can read all books and all the archeological information that they so love to quote, but the oral teachings of the Craft provide the mystery that can’t be found elsewhere. A large difference between the Craft and mainstream religion is that the Craft does have mysteries to teach. Most of the mainstream religions have lost their connection to the mystery. Traditional Craft feeds the spiritual hunger the soul is searching for.
Could you give us a list of recommended books/web sites, etc.?
* This is very difficult because there are many good books and websites to recommend. I suggest starting with the old and working one’s way up to the new. I highly recommend anything and everything written by Dion Fortune, Doreen Valiente, Sybil Leek, Vivianne Crowley, Wheel of the Year by Pauline Campanelli, Lammas Night by Katherine Kurtz, Keepers of the Flame by Aradia Lynch and Morganna Davies, Castings: The Creation of Sacred Space by Ivo Dominguez, Jr.
The Witches Voice is a very good network for seekers. I’d also recommend the NECTW website – www.nectw.org, and (of course) my own site – www.kamtrad.org.
Interview © 2003 by Moondancer
Used with permission from the author. All rights reserved.
This interview was originally published February 2003 on the Echoed Voices webzine.