Now for something completely different… Amateur Religious Ethnography Botched, Or the Pagan Interviews, Part 17 (archive 2012)

Interview “Anna GreenFlame” of the Eternal Harvest tradition. This interview occurred over a couple of months and was stalled to several weather instances and personal instances on both parties.  Therefore, there was often one or two weeks between questions and this is referred within the interview.  

Skepoet: What is your religious background and how did you come to it?

Anna Greenflame: I was raised Baptist by my southern family. This was nominally fundamentalist, but in the late ’60s/early 70s before it had become politicized. It was a little southern church where everyone was kin to everyone else, and a supportive place.

In college, in the early 1980s, I converted to Episcopalianism because of their rituals and because they validated reason and openness and did not condemn people who were not Christian.

I started to follow New Age trends in the 1990s in a continuing process of self-discovery. When I met my husband in 2000, he practiced trad Wicca. I enjoyed the formal rituals and loved the sexual egalitarianism of the theology. I met other trad Wiccans, and they seemed extremely secure and grounded in themselves, and I wanted to be like them. The tradition that my husband founded and that I practice is called Eternal Harvest.

Skepoet: What is your academic background?

Anna Greenflame:I have B.A. in Anthropology with a concentration in archaeology, and an informal minor in English romantic poetry from Duke University (informal because Duke did not have “minors” at that time). I have graduate work in library science but did not complete the MLS.

Skepoet: How do you see these interacting with each other?

Anna Greenflame: Their interaction with each other: my academic studies certainly influenced my decision to convert to Episcopalianism. Meeting so many diverse people at Duke, I could no longer accept that the Jews, Muslims, etc. I was meeting were going to hell. I could not reconcile the archaeology and biology I was studying with any literal interpretation of the Bible. The Episcopalian church valued reason as well as faith. Most of the members were academics.

However, there were more subtle influences going on. I chose to study archaeology because I had an irresistible desire to immerse myself in the past. I was looking for something “back there.” English romantic poetry scratched a similar itch. I remember looking at an Attic red-figured vase of the Maenads and Dionysus and fancying myself dressed as a Maenad, with hair in ringlets, running over the hills. I did not see myself worshiping a Goddess, yet I was attracted to the Cretan snake-woman images and intrigued by the theories of Marija Gimbutas that were all the rage at the time.

My real love for the Episcopalian church — and I went to a “high” church that was very formal — was the ritual. “Smells and bells” is what we called it. I became a lay reader because it was natural to see myself dressed in robes and standing before people doing something religious.

So I think I chose my academic studies based on the same longings that I found fulfilled when I discovered trad Wicca 20 years later. (I had flirted with eclectic Dianic Wicca in the early 1990s, but it did not appeal to me.) My academic background has certainly informed my practice and my ability to evaluate texts and to teach Wiccan history.

Skepoet: Do you see your tradition as rooted in British Traditional?

Anna Greenflame: You know, good question; but I’m not sure how to answer that. We cast circle in a formal and standard way, pretty much the same prescribed way every time and anyone of anything but the most eclectic Pagany-Wiccany person would go, “oh, that’s Wiccan.” However, how we cast circle does vary from what is described in the Gardnerian BOS. We have no recognized lineage from Gardner; there *is* lineage from Gardner, but not alternate gender and therefore not acknowledged by their standards. And there are some things we do, chants and gestures and such, that are unique to us and given to us by our own Trad’s contacts. Tell me what you mean by “rooted” in BTW and I’ll be able to answer that more precisely.

Skepoet: Rooted as in stemming from, but not necessarily solely from, traditional Brit Wicca in either Gardnerian or other from?

Anna Greenflame: I think all trad Wicca ultimately derives part of its form from BTW, so in that sense, yes, I think we do.

Skepoet: Are there any trends that you see between Wiccans and the larger pagan community?

Anna Greenflame: I’m sorry to be obtuse! But I don’t understand the question, i.e., trends in the sense that “many / most Pagans follow a Wiccan-ish model in terms of creating sacred space?” or “Pagans and Wiccans in general often feel great reverence for the past?” — in other words, do you want me to comment on what we have in common, or how we are diverging?

Skepoet: Actually, I am interested in both and wanted to see where you would go with it. Let’s start with divergence and then maybe more to commonalities.

Anna Greenflame:  So, we were with Wiccans and Pagans.

I’m going to philosophize a bit. I perceive a general tendency toward nostalgia in many human cultures, including our own and those from which we derive. There is a sense of the Good Old Days — boy, *they* really knew how to do it back then. So we get pagan Romans complaining about the current generation and how things were better “back in the day,” and the same in the Greek world; we get Greeks looking upon Egypt as The Great Mystical/Magickal Storehouse of All Religous Knowledge and Skill.

I think this impulse drives many people who adopt the label “Pagan.” I think it probably has been there all along, but I fancy, based on a couple of articles I’ve read, that modernism and the Industrial Revolution, and the Romantic reaction to it, fanned that flame until it burst into a roar in the 18th and 19th centuries. I think Hutton demonstrates that pretty clearly.

At the same time, I am a mystic, and I believe Otherworldly forces are constantly interacting with us and inspiring us, so it’s not all just psychological.

Anyway, I think the occult societies that flourished in the 18th and 19th centuries were part of this trend toward “recovering” and “preserving” “the wisdom of the Ancients,” culminating in the Golden Dawn. Gardner took part in it, although I think he himself was not driven by nostalgic impulse so much as he recognized that other people were, which is why he took pains to make the lore that had been passed down to him (which he married with his own ceremonial, Thelemic, and anthropological stock) sound old — he was shrewd enough to know that people expected that.

As valuable as Wicca and Paganism are in their own right, whether old or new or a mixture of both — I do not believe for a minute they would ever have taken off the way they have were it not for the glamour of doing the same things as our forebearers and ancestors. I believe that sense of continuity was and is a major driving force in the development of Wicca and now of later non-Wiccan Pagan traditions.

You see it all over. Wiccans thought they had the Real Old Unbroken Stuff. Then everyone realized that was not so much the case. You can look back at the work being done in the 1960s, 70s, 80s and onward here in the US. There was a drive to purge the “recent” ceremonial stuff out of Wicca and go back to a purer Pagan Celtic or Pagan Norse ethic.

So then you get reconstructionists, you get people who are driven toward an even “PURER” form of worship. Hey, look at this archaeological dig! Look at this manuscript! We’re doing the REAL old stuff now!

It’s behind the grandmother-initiation stories and the glamour of the fam-trads, too.

The same impulse forms so-called “traditional Witchcraft” in the Robert Cochrane vein. I’m about to be adopted into a group of that form of witchcraft, and the practices are awesome and powerful — my Wiccan trad began incorporating some of them about ten years ago — but I don’t believe for a minute that it’s any more of Ye Anciente Olde Authentick Wytchcraft than BTW-derived traditions.

I think this lust for the Old, and the correlation of Old and Historical with Valid and Authentic, has gotten out of hand and is driving a wedge between Pagans. My perception is that Wicca is now the ugly, unwanted, red-headed stepchild of Paganism and that many reconstructionists assume an air of religious superiority. I do not see this trend going away because no one is addressing that original impulse toward the old, the ancient, and why do we view it as more authentic, and what does that say about us and our real spiritual longings.

I’m currently reading Carlos Ginzburg’s “Ecstasies” book (subtitle: “Deciphering the Witches’ Sabbath.”) I’m looking at the accounts he brings to the table from all over Europe of spontaneous astral travel on the Ember Days and on Thursdays — traveling to the “good society” of the Goddess or to battle for fertility — and none of it resembles anything that anyone I know of is doing. And yet, it’s our best evidence of really authentic European Witchcraft practices. Who’s reconstructing those practices? No one as far as I can tell, because *those* witches were born to do, by being born in the caul, or at certain times of the year — the 12 days between Christmas and Epiphany — or other circumstances that cannot be duplicated at will. And the travel they were doing was full-on etheric body astral travel, not just mental travel via the active imagination, but cataleptic trance, not so easy to achieve. And who is honoring the Ember Days? Who thinks of Thursday as the day for Witchcraft? — nothing to do with Thor or Jupiter, either.

What I think we all have in common is that we’re doing the best we can to communicate with non-Abrahamic spiritual entities in a way that (a) works and (b) is at least archetypal if not demonstrably historic. I also think we have that powerful nostalgic impulse in common. Where I think we differ is that most Wiccans now understand that what we do IS more archetypal rather than historical, and reconstructionists have not got to that understanding of their own practice yet.

Skepoet: What are your primary concerns in practicing Traditional Wicca? How important is cultus or community for example?

Anna Greenflame: One of the primary concerns is to remain authentic to the practices and energy connections of our particular Tradition without being stifled, or promoting a stifling practice. One of the ways we do this is to mandate that second degree students begin to explore some other pagan/Wiccan/Witchcraft/magickal tradition; and then to become eligible for third degree in our Trad, you have to actively study and/or receive initiation into somebody else’s Trad. NOT for us to steal from it or try to marry it in to what we do, because we don’t and would not want to (we have a hard enough time managing the flow of inspiration that comes to us in EH practice), but for the same reasons that college students go abroad to study: to broaden one’s horizons and to encounter the Mysteries we all share in a different way and different context.

So we do define ourselves as being orthopraxic rather than orthodoxic. It’s our initiatory rituals, some of which are unique to us, and the particular ways we construct sacred space using chants, gestures, etc. that come from inspiration that set us apart. One of our concerns is that we are growing and yet have not sat down and said, okay, this is what makes Eternal Harvest vs. Northwind or Black Forest, etc. We expect to be doing that this fall.

Community is important to us. First, our trad community, where we as Eternal Harvest members swim in the same Cauldron, so to speak — the bonds we share with each other. Second, the wider, non-Trad community is also important to us. I think we feel ourselves to be ambassadors for Traditional Initiatory Wicca, demonstrating the best of what it can be: a structured way to encounter the Mysteries and experience that transformation. So we have to practice what we preach! We are good friends and allies with the non-Trad groups in our area, and we come together twice a year to hold camp-out gatherings — ShadowHarvest in early November, and Mayfaire in early May. Eternal Harvest sponsors them and hosts them, but with major support in terms of publicity, donations, and volunteer labor from the two big pagan stores in our area and the tribes that have grown up around them. I’m not going to say there is no tension in our community, but by and large it’s minor, and most of us both in Eternal Harvest and out of it avoid ego trips, head games, drama, and the resultant Witch Wars because most of us have “been there, done that” and hate that kind of crap.

Most of us in EH have abandoned the mindset that you have to have a lineage to be an initiate in the broader sense or the inner sense. My husband, its founder, is a holdout on that opinion formally, although he will concede privately that so-and-so independent eclectic is an awfully good Witch.

Skepoet: What do you see as British Traditional Wicca relationship to Golden Dawn?

Anna Greenflame:  Well, that’s hard for me to answer, since Eternal Harvest is not British Traditional Wicca. I know what’s in Gardner’s online BOS and various books, and that’s it. What I practice is considered “Traditional Initiatory Wicca” — a line that does not have lineage that BTWs would recognize as BTW, but that derived out of BTW (with changes along the way) that they recognize as being serious, formal, structured approaches to the Craft and the Mysteries that have attained their (our) own lineage and egregore.

However, I think structured Wicca of any kind can certainly claim ceremonial and lodge magicks as its Father, with the Pagan and earth mysteries as its Mother. Our elemental correspondences, our ways of drawing pentagrams (except for my Trad, which does it differently) and in fact the idea of drawing invoking and banishing pentagrams, our “guardians of the Watchtowers” (a nod to Enochiana), the formal way we set up and consecrate sacred space is derived from Golden Dawn practices and, obviously, Solomonic magic as well. Perhaps the Golden Dawn came into Wicca by way of Crowley. I know that Sorita d’Estes and David Rankine have some books on this; I have not had time to read them. And members of Gardner’s New Forest group were Rosicrucians and Gods know what else, probably some Golden Dawn offshoots as well.

I think in a broader sense, both the Golden Dawn and (in the next generation), Gardner were tapping the same bone — getting inspired by the same spiritual current. However, the Golden Dawn rituals are quite cerebral, in my experience, operating mainly on the mental place; and Wiccan rituals — once the circle has been set up — are ecstastic, operating best on the etheric and astral plane. It’s a very different vibe. I have taken a Neophyte initiation into the Golden Dawn and attended other Neophyte initiations and a couple of equinox rituals. They feel very different from any Wiccan or witchcraft ritual I’ve ever experienced.

Skepoet:  How do you feel about relationship between reconstructionists and Wiccans in the larger pagan community?

Anna Greenflame:  I think I answered that in my first reply a few weeks ago. I don’t see us as having much relationship. I think reconstructionists look down on Wiccans and take a purist and intellectual, left-brain, materialist approach to worship, whereas my best Wicca work takes place when my left brain is functioning just enough to remember where I am in ritual, and to light the candles.

Skepoet: Do you think that gap is widening or lessening?

Anna Greenflame: I  don’t know. Probably widening. There are not a lot of reconstructionists I know. I am friends with a group of ADF members who vibe to the Norse culture (so they are “Norse Druids”), and I would say the distance between us has grown, although that may be due to neutral personal things, like school and lifestyle issues — they came to a recent gathering and had a good time, and we have each others’ backs. I do like their ADF rituals. I don’t think they look down on us, they know us too well. But at the same time, I think even the ADF motto — “why not excellence?” — defines “excellence” as “scholastic.” No, it’s not. I do believe wholeheartedly that when one is stating something as fact, as in “The Irish Celts did xxxxxx” then one is obligated to make sure that one is not pulling “facts” out of one’s ass a la poor Edain Mccoy’s infamous Irish Potato Goddess. However, I also believe that there is no way to achieve some pristine state of factual purity when it comes to the past. I once worked as a docent in a historic home slightly over 200 years old. We have the original house inventory, letters, paintings, newspaper documentation, logs, eyewitness documentation etc. of the builder and his family and there is STILL a lot we don’t know or that is completely ambiguous. For that matter, I can easily see where lore and custom that was current in my childhood in the 1960s is being changed, repackaged, and presented as “authentic” nowadays in a way that is very different than was was truly happening in the 1960s. So I’m suspicious of reconstructionist efforts in terms of their accuracy and purity and defining “excellence” as that.

Excellence to me means, have I achieved an encounter with the Otherworld in such a way that my soul’s evolution, and that of the spiritual beings who walk with me, has deepened or progressed? Have I transformed and become deeper, wider, better, stronger? Has my spiritual effort brought me something that helps me be a more effective priestess, healer, teacher, wife, etc.? That, to me, is excellence.

Skepoet: So experiential development would be more important than historical development then?

Anna Greenflame: To me, it is, and I think that is true of everyone in my trad. We all like history, and again, when we speak of history we want to speak it factually. But our praxis is not limited to that which is historically-attestable. When we find a historically-attested practice we might sit with it and see if it fits, or if it can fit with a modification, but most of our praxis outside of standard Wiccan stuff comes from inspiration.

We do a lot of Ancestor work, and not just Ancestors of our blood — our literal grands and uncles and such — but Ancestors of the land and Ancestors of Spirit. And we think we get both information and energy from them.

Skepoet:  Anything you’d like to say in closing?

Anna Greenflame: No, I think I’ve run on at the mouth enough. :-) Thank you and Blessed Be!

 

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