There’s no such thing as a typical pagan. However the subject of this interview, Jools, is a good one to start with, simply because she’s such a feisty and independent minded person who is both a fairly well known figure on the York pagan scene, while refusing to conform to pagan stereotypes.
Here’s a lovely picture of her down the pub:
2. What age are you and where do you live?
I am 38 years old and I live in York
3. How would you describe your spiritual path?
I am an atheist witch
4. How did you get involved with this path? What’s your “history”? How did your personal background influence this?
My grandmother bought me a book about the tarot when I was 14. In the bibliography there were references to books by Regardie and Valiente so I got them from my library. Since then I was hooked. My mother is a strict christian but thankfully never made us go to church. She was very concerned at my ‘dabbling with the devil’ as she thought it.
The idea of paganism appealed to me as I was always strongly drawn to fairy tales, magic and using my imagination as a child.
5. Have you always felt the same way about your spirituality, or have there been changes? If so, when, and how?
I originally agreed with wiccan ideals as a teenager and came close to joining a coven but found it too much like christianity. I pretty much gave up all spiritual practices for the first 5 years after my daughter was born. I then started on my current path 10 years ago.
Interesting – would you like to expand? (Was it a “real” Wiccan lineaged coven?)
It was a wiccan discussion group which would have morphed into a coven in time. I found their stances on various points as being unresearched and ‘unsatisfying’ in a way. it was closed soon after and I was not invited back, purely because it was a case of last in forst out, and I was last in (or so they said). I then dabbled with eclectic paganism until the birth of my daughter. Mostly kemetics.
I empathise about stopping spiritual practice after having children – I have two under five and I’m barely beginning to get my spiritual head above water… Did you have a burning desire to get back into it or did you get led back in by a friend?
It wasn’t a burning desire but after 5 years I was drawn back to it. A shame as I had given away nearly all my books and had to replace many of them. I suppose the underlying need was always there but being a parent meant not too much time for personal things. If it is within you it never really goes away.
6. Have you ever been physically attacked or discriminated against because of being a pagan?
7. Has anyone ever made assumptions about you (good or bad) because of being a pagan? What were they?
HOW PAGANISM FITS INTO YOUR LIFE
8. What do you do for a living? Is there any conflict between your work life and your spirituality?
I am a civil servant working for the Ministry of Defence. There is no conflict.
Do you feel uncomfortable about MOD use of British sacred land, in Wiltshire and elsewhere?
Not really. It belongs to them, but they are giving (or at least selling) a lot of it back. It wasn’t the army’s fault really, it was the governments. I am sure that it would not happen now, for example.
9. What are your hobbies and interests?
Cooking, reading, brewing wines, baking, comparative religion, camping, my daughter
10. What about your family and friends? Are they of similar spiritual paths to you, or are there differences?
Most of my friends are interested in the occult and/or pagans. My mother is high Christian and my sisters aren’t religious at all. My partner is wiccan.
12. Do you believe in the existence of a ‘deity’? If so, have you ever had any divine experiences?
How do you resolve the pagan nomenclature of deities and the pagan practices of working with deity with identifying an atheist witch?
Being a witch is independent of paganism. You can be a wiccan witch, a christian witch or even a satanist witch. Witchcraft is more of a skill than a spiritual path. I was an atheist before I became a witch, as the religious parts of wicca and paganism always gave me a problem. I didn’t have success with talking to the gods, and when I really thought about it, it seemed more acceptable to me that deity doesn’t exist. Witchcraft fits around that perfectly.
13. Do you believe in the existence of ‘spirits’ – human or non-human? Have you ever had any experiences of ‘spirit’?
Yes. I talk to trees.
14. Do you believe in the existence of magic? As a believer, how would you explain it?
Yes. It is science that hasn’t been explained yet. It is the human brains ability to bend the universe to its will.
15. Do you practice your spirituality alone, in a group, or both? Was this a deliberate decision or a necessity?
Both. It was more of an accident. I used to practice alone. When I started seeing my current partner it turns out he did an Open Circle so I joined in with that.
16. If you’ve done both, which do you prefer?
Both as good as the other.
17. Do you believe in the reality of curses? Would you ever do one? What types of spell would you include in your concept of a ‘curse’?
Yes. I have done a couple. Curses are spells with the intention of causing harm or hurt to a person. I only use them in response to hurt or harm experienced by me.
Did they work?
Yes they did.
18. Do you think the law of three-fold returns exists?
19. What practices are regularly incorporated in your spiritual life? (E.g. meditation, prayer, ritual, magic, visualisations, trance work…)
Pathworking, guided meditation, spell working, visualising, potions, divination, ritual.
20. What festivals, holy days, special occasions etc do you mark as part of your spirituality?
Mainly Beltaine and Samhain, but we celebrate the main fire festivals and quarter days.
21. Have you ever done magic to get something and did it work?
Yes and yes.
22. Do you spend much time in nature, in the wild? Do you spend enough time out there?
I tend to go for a good long walk in the countryside near my house once a week. I think it is enough.
23. Do you think paganism works better in the country than in the city? Why?
No. because paganism is a path that is made spiritual by the people who practice it, not by where they are.
CONTENTIOUS PAGAN QUESTIONS
24. How do you define the term “Wiccan”? How do you feel about the idea that “Wiccans” are people who have been initiated into a lineaged Wiccan coven?
A Wiccan is a member of an initiatory tradition that is part of the western mystery tradition. I have no problem with people being initiated into covens, as that is what Wicca is.
25. Is Wicca and paganism generally too “fluffy”?
It can be, but that is down to the books being published now. These bear no relation to books published soon after neo-paganism gained in popularity.
Which ones did you have in mind – and would you recommend them to newbies?
I am thinking more of books by Paul Huson, which would have had much less fluff and more witchcraft in. Unfortunately they would not have been any more historically accurate than the books we have now. Just less fluffy. So no, I would not recommend those books now. The only ‘older’ books I would recommend to newbies are books by Valiente, but in conjunction with Hutton or Davies because she still gives an incorrect history of witchcraft.
26. How involved are you with the Pagan ‘scene’? What are your views on the Pagan community –its strengths, weaknesses and any issues facing it?
I ran a pagan gathering in York, and help my partner run 2 others. We also run an Open Circle for all occultists to attend and celebrate the festivals.
My views are that pagans are too apathetic. They ask for moots to be provided and complain at the lack of interactivity but when it is provided they don’t want to come. This is not the case everywhere – there is a strong pagan community in Bristol and other places that I have visited, but in York it seems that it is a bit fractured.
Pagans’ strengths are that they do believe in fair play and that they should be heard. Their weaknesses are that they are not willing to take on personal responsibility for that. The issue facing paganism is basically acceptance by mainstream society.
27. Does British Traditional Witchcraft represent a real surviving ancient form of witchcraft pre-existing Gardnerian Wicca?
It may represent pre-Gardnerian witchcraft, but that would only make its lineage early 20th Century (post Murray, Graves etc). There is no ancient form of witchcraft surviving in this country. British Traditional Witchcraft and Wicca both incorporate ideals of what the protagonists thought was witchcraft but was probably just cunning craft or wise craft. Until Murray printed her theses witches were always thought of as malefic, so pre 20th century people will not have wanted to be identified as a witch.
28. Is the political climate getting more or less amenable to pagans?
More so, definitely. I have no problems with other religions but there are always people who want to stir up trouble. The Discrimination at Work Act has allowed pagans to be honest about their path without fear of being discriminated against.
34. What would make the pagan scene in York better?
35. Is Martin Shaw really all that?
Are you kidding me? Did you see him in the Scarlet Pimpernel? He is gorgeous.
36. Do you think synaesthesia influenced you to start doing pagan stuff?
No, because I didn’t know what it was until I saw it on TV. I thought everyone was like me. I believe that it helps my path now as I find visualisation extremely easy, and every sense is inter-related.