INTERVIEW WITH A WITCH: Part Two
By Bob Gersztyn
This is a continuation of my interview with Wiccan radio talk show host Marcus Tempe. We continued to talk about the battle between cultures and religions as human civilization evolved into its current manifestation.
THE DOOR: An objective study of world history reveals that every culture and ethnic group has relocated, exterminated or assimilated another. Some feel that this progression of history is in actuality orchestrated by a shadow organization, who in fact call the shots. This organization is usually associated with Witchcraft and the occult. What do you know about the illuminati?
THE BEAR: Robert Anton Wilson wrote a wonderful series of books of fiction. I enjoy the heck out of it; he did something that is absolutely crucial to any storyteller. He borrows enough of the truth to be able to make you go, you know that sounds possible. What if? Now he’s got you. Any good science fiction writer will base his story on good hard practical scientific fact. State of the art technology that goes one step further. What if? Political theory as far as criminal conspiracies are concerned are very much the same sort of thing. People can take any three unrelated facts and go, what if? Maybe they’re on to something, but maybe they’re not.
THE DOOR: You can’t fool us. What do you know about the controlling council on the 7th level of the illuminati, and its plans to subjugate the entire human race for its evil purposes?
THE BEAR: Absolutely nothing. Frankly I’m more concerned about 2nd Amendment issues. Because I am one of those rarities, an ACLU supporter, who has been invited by the ACLU as a moderator of one of their forums on a new web site they are putting up. This will take place when the move from AOL occurs. AOL has invited the ACLU to end its interaction and its website in AOL’s umbrella. The move will take place sometime during November 1999. This has got a lot of people very upset, because AOL has come across like they are kicking out the ACLU. The ACLU has maintained a presence there for a number of years and this is not what I would regard as a good thing.
THE DOOR: Wait a minute. The ACLU is being kicked off AOL because of its support of the 2nd Amendment?
THE BEAR: No. Mainly because of 1st Amendment violations. There are occasions where people will use dirty words, and naughty language and talk about female body parts. This has a lot of the more Church Lady types in the AOL user community very upset with the ACLU because they allow dirty words in ACLU discussions. Isn’t this terrible? No it isn’t. But it’s modern day American Protestant Christianity that has recognized or attached to these particular body functions and body parts the dirty word syndrome. Every time that you establish something as sinful simply because it’s sinful. It says in scripture here it’s sinful. Then reason and judgment effectively shut down. You have people who have made up their minds and stop looking. You can’t have a free and open discussion and explore possibilities if you’re worried about dirty words violating some ancient sheep herders taboo, out of a body of lore that was put together 4 or 5,000 years ago.
THE DOOR: I guess you don’t agree with Josh McDowell then? What do you think will eventually happen with religion on a global scale?
THE BEAR: I think that we’re heading to a shift in consciousness. If you read books like Jose Ortiaz and The Mayan Factor, if you read any of the works on Native American traditions, the Hopi elders, the prophecies that they have. New interpretations of Nostradamus coming through. A lot of different teachers and seers and forecasters have come to the conclusion that we are entering a paradigm shift, which is going to be a pretty bumpy ride for the next 15 years or so.
THE DOOR: So you equate Nostradamus with Native American Seers.
THE BEAR: I think that if you have the same message coming across like boats, there’s going to be a major change in the world happening between now and 2015. Be prepared for it. You see these things happening in the Mayan’s, in the Hopi, in the Navajo, in Nostradamus and in people who are doing interpretations of a lot of sources. We need to at least look at these things, and see if the forecasters and visionaries are right. Even if not.
THE DOOR: Even Christianity has its doomsday prophets going back to Jesus Himself.
THE BEAR: However, Christianity generally does not check itself with non-Christian sources. The people I’m talking about are coming from Native American sources, from Nostradamus, which is a cabalistic magick source, from people who are psychics, which gets into ESP and the parapsychology field, which may have absolutely nothing to do with either Native American or Cabalistic magick. The point is, when you have all these different people, from all these different traditions saying, yeah we’re entering into a bad patch, the prudent person would say, just in case the power does go out and the flood waters do rise I think it would be prudent to lay in an extra case of food and maybe another couple of dozen candles. Just in case. Because even if nothing happens it’s like having insurance. Very cheap insurance to guarantee your survival over a bad patch. Whether the disaster happens to be Y2K,or going through a bad winter, like a couple of years ago, with the flood waters rising above the 500 year flood level, or a sustained blizzard or the long overdue earthquake actually strikes. Fill in the blanks for whatever disaster happens to strike.
THE DOOR: Let’s go back to your sources of information. You said witches are very eclectic and choose from a smorgasbord of spiritual ideas, borrowing from any and all existing religions. Yet there are these rituals that you speak of and I assume they go back a long ways.
THE BEAR: They are an attempt to reconstruct from fragments of oral tradition, which is all that we have left after the burning times.
THE DOOR: So there were books that were written and burned? During which period?
THE BEAR: No, no not books that were written, oral traditions that were handed down from high priestess to student. Often times from Mother to daughter or from Father to son. I know a few people who claim a family tradition of witchcraft. They are called Famtrad for short. Family traditional witches have a certain body of lore, which they don’t teach to anybody outside of that family. They claim the lore was handed down from generation to generation. These people are very hard to get to talk about any of this.
THE DOOR: Why?
THE BEAR: Because, the penalty for revealing this was usually a short trip to being burned at the stake. So what we do have in the way of modern witchcraft are fragments of oral tradition, which are handed down in story. Discovered by people like Gerald Bruce O’Gardiner, who wrote about witchcraft for the first time, in modern times, in 1950.
THE DOOR: What was the title of the book?
THE BEAR: He originally wrote a book called “High Magic”, by the pen name Seire. Then he wrote a couple of other books on modern day witchcraft, which you can find in major libraries and occasionally you’ll find in large bookstores, like Powell’s, here in Portland. Gerald Bruce O’Gardiner is credited with being sort of the father of the modern resurgence of witchcraft.
THE DOOR: He was a witch himself?
THE BEAR: He was a practicing witch himself. He claimed that he had been introduced and initiated into Wicca by a family traditional witch in England.
THE DOOR: How many witches are there worldwide would you say?
THE BEAR: Impossible to estimate. In the United States I’ve heard figures anywhere from 100,000-600,000.
THE DOOR: So way under a million.
THE BEAR: I’ve talked to Z Budapest who is another very well known figure in the witchcraft world. She is a refugee from Hungary. She got out of Hungary after the 1956 Soviet invasion, when she was 16 years old. She feels that with family traditionalists it’s impossible to make an accurate estimation worldwide.
THE DOOR: Is there any sort of Wiccan governing structure? Do you ever combine forces for a specific purpose and how?
THE BEAR: It depends on the issue for example on the Web you will find the coalition for religious freedom that is run by an attorney in Pennsylvania, who is also a practicing, witch. You will find the WADL (Witches Anti Discrimination League). That is another long running pagan religion organization. Locally we have the nine houses of Gaia and many of the groups listed in the community directory will be able to turn you on to additional groups, which they are local chapters of or have a loose working relationship with.
THE DOOR: What about you specifically? When and what were the circumstances of your becoming a witch?
THE BEAR: I began my spiritual pursuit when I was between 13 & 15 and decided consciously to actually stop being a good Catholic kid, according to my mom.
THE DOOR: Mom should know.
THE BEAR: By the age of 17 I completely severed all ties with the Catholic Church and really began an active pursuit of my own spiritual traditions. I became interested in Zen Buddhism. I read a lot of works by David Reps, who is an American Zen Buddhist.
THE DOOR: How did you get interested in your spiritual pursuit initially?
THE BEAR: As I became more of an adult I began to realize that what I had been taught as the answers were not complete answers. Somebody was holding something back. There were things happening that did not make sense. For example, the teaching and decimation of the Catholic Church is that this is the be all and end all of solution. This is the one possible answer, this explains everything, and it’s not only ridiculous, it’s a mortal sin to start inquiring any further. Well the more education I got, especially by the time I got into college and started taking courses in philosophy, anthropology and other things that you normally don’t get taught in Jr. High School, I began to realize that there were a lot more answers, and also a lot more questions, than the Catholic Church had been willing to teach me as a kid. I became interested in witchcraft in the early 70’s and was initiated into witchcraft in 1975. So I’ve been a practicing pagan for almost a quarter of a century now.
THE DOOR: How old are you now.
THE BEAR: Lets see, what year is this? 51.
THE DOOR: How have other religions treated Paganism, Witchcraft, etc.? Whether Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism, Islam, whatever, in countries like India, Japan or Saudi Arabia. Do they have any sort of policy against it?
THE BEAR: As a rule in a Muslim country, today for example, you are technically allowed to have a book of your own particular religion. For example Christians are theoretically allowed to bring in a Bible. However, Islam in practical terms can be very, very intolerant about public celebrations of anything other than Islam. To an extent, I found that in the brief visit that I made to Israel, I found that attitude also applied to a nation, which had based itself upon the Jewish religion. To a lesser extent you may find that in other countries such as Japan, which as you pointed out is officially Shintoist, but which also has a large Buddhist population. The Buddhist countries however, such as Thailand are generally quite open and accepting of a wide variety of other religions. I spent two years in Saudi Arabia, which gave me a good up close look at a fundamentalistic religious theocracy, in 1980-82.
THE DOOR: Why were you there?
THE BEAR: I was on contract, as a computer technician and light equipment maintenance technician, with a company installing a medical computer system. The first one to go into Abha, the capital of the Asir Highlands, in Southwest Saudi Arabia.
THE DOOR: Ah yes, one of our favorite places. What were your observations and conclusions?
THE BEAR: I had a chance to see what Islam is like from the inside, up close and personal. I went, that’s interesting. When I came back to the United States it also gave me very sharp appreciation about what it is like to live in a free country, as opposed to what it is like to live in a theocracy. Then I began working very seriously on the idea of promoting in whatever humble way that I could the notion of getting people to use their thinking of spirituality in terms of not sacrificing their souls to God, but using it as a vehicle of personal liberation, on a level that has not been normally experienced before. Most questions of liberation politics at that time had been political not economic. I wanted to expand the realm, because I believe very strongly that the spiritual element is precisely where questions of freedom are decided, and that any spiritual tradition that emphasizes freedom is one worth looking at. That tied very well into my training and experience in Wicca.
THE DOOR: What about Jesus’s statement in the Gospel of John concerning knowledge of the truth being the catalyst for freedom?
THE BEAR: First of all, that’s an example of something that a Wiccan, or Pagan, or Buhhdist, or Hindu or somebody else might find to be very true, because it is true whether or not it’s in the Bible, Koran, Torah, Bagavad Gita or any other sacred text. In other words you do not accept something that’s true simply because of the authority figure attached to it you accept it as true because it checks out. It checks out and it happens to ring true. It’s something that you can rely on. In the case of Wicca, the idea is that you are responsible for your spirituality. You are responsible for putting yourself through the training and discipline.
THE DOOR: Somebody had to train or at least get you pointed in the right direction occasionally. Who was that?
THE BEAR: The lady who inducted me into Wicca is living on the Oregon coast right now. She’s in her 60’s. She was a very good friend, who was a practicing witch for a number of years. She initiated me into the Wicca tradition as a Gardinarian witch.
THE DOOR: Gardinarian, is that like a denomination?
THE BEAR: Gerald Bruce O’Gardiner established a tradition of witchcraft through his books and through his students, who all went on to teach other witches. That’s why Gardiner is regarded as the father of modern witchcraft.
THE DOOR: Just like John Wesley is the father of Methodism or even the first Pope?
THE BEAR: Not like the pope, more like John the Baptist. He was a voice crying in the wilderness to make clear the path.
THE DOOR: So then, is there a Messiah coming?
THE BEAR: No. That whole Messiah trip, you have to; again this is the trap of Orthodox Christianity and the mindset. Christians are very guilt driven. They believe that we’re guilty and that the Messiah died for our sins, he’s gonna come back, and that sins will be washed away. This whole sin, guilt, fear trip is something that is very particular to the Semitic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It is not something that has any parallel with the normal pagan religions that you’ll find elsewhere in the world.
THE DOOR: So, you don’t have any guilt problems?
THE BEAR: No. We don’t have a guilt problem as far as original sin and the whole concept of sin, because we have a sense of right and wrong.
THE DOOR: Then you believe in free will?
THE BEAR: Yes, as a matter of fact I believe that the free will we exercise directly creates the manifestation of the universe that we experience. In other words, free will is the way that we approach the limitless facets of the diamond. Which facet we choose to look at, that is the exercise of our free will.
THE DOOR: What about good and evil?
THE BEAR: I believe in the “as ye sow, so shall ye reap” type of approach, or looking at it from the viewpoint of other people: “By their fruits ye shall know them”.
THE DOOR: That sounds familiar. What if you were put in a situation where you were forced to do something that was evil in order to survive? As an example you embezzled some money from your work to avoid bankruptcy. How would you view this?
THE BEAR: You would have to look at the harm done and the total dynamic of who was doing what. Who benefited from it, who lost from it?
THE DOOR: So you’re advocating relativism?
THE BEAR: In my personal book I’d say that relativistic ethics are probably about the only ethics that you actually can apply to the real world. Because the exact same action in 12 different environments and circumstances could have 12 different evaluations and 12 different consequences. For example killing someone: “Thou shalt not kill”. The Bible says, according to Billy Graham and some other Fundamentalist ministers “Thou shalt not murder”. Lets take it at the face value that most people are familiar with. “Thou shalt not kill.” Okay, I teach armed self-defense as a certified pistol instructor. I have an Oregon concealed handgun licensee. I have one of the first 2000 licensees issued in the state for 10 years now. I have come close to dropping the hammer on 4 maybe 5 people in the last 10 years. I also work security so that ups my exposure to situations. Do I feel happy about the prospect of taking a life? No. Would I hesitate to take a life if in my estimation that became necessary? No, because at this point I’ve rehearsed it and studied the issue and I’m aware of the full dynamics of actions, contributing factors, and the repercussions, which would flow from that, to be able to widen the game so to speak. In other words I don’t look at just the killing itself, but everything that led up to the killing, the killing and the results that flowed from the killing, as part of an integrated dynamic. All of which have to be looked at. If for example the person I encountered happened to be a career felon and I didn’t kill them, I feel that I would share in the moral blame that would accrue from every criminal act in the future that, that person would commit.
THE DOOR: I guess you would support capital punishment then?
THE BEAR: In certain circumstances. Again, there have been too many cases where capital punishment has been to hastily applied or applied to the wrong person. That’s legalized murder.
THE DOOR: In a case like John Wayne Gacy or Jeffrey Dahlmer, who have committed heinous crimes, yet are indifferent to them, and may even be psychologically incapable of complying with societies laws or morality. What would your verdict be?
THE BEAR: In my book that person has volunteered for the death penalty.
THE DOOR: Interesting. Let’s go back to guilt for a minute. According to Freudian psychology human beings are motivated by guilt stemming from suppressed thoughts and experiences, ranging from infantile masturbation to oedipal fantasies and beyond. How do you view this?
THE BEAR: Freudian guilt is the product of an essentially Christian culture.
THE DOOR: So then if there were no Christianity there would be no Freud?
THE BEAR: Without Christianity there would be no Freud. There would be no need for a Freud.
THE DOOR: What about Jung?
THE BEAR: Jung is a different case. Jung very much focused on archetypes. He believed that people regardless of culture or background felt and experienced certain spiritual truths in much the same way. It’s simply the the symbolism and the language by or through which they interpreted that transmortal experience varied from person to person and culture to culture, and there’s good argument for that.
THE DOOR: So then in some cases, as you’ve already stated you’re in agreement with certain parts or pieces of different religions and philosophies but you don’t have any particular set structure, except the book you mentioned by Gardiner?
THE BEAR: Even that has been extensively modified.
THE DOOR: Okay, lets put it another way. If somebody wants to become a Christian what they do is find a church. Next they ask to speak with the Pastor, they tell him “I want to become a Christian.” Next the minister will tell them whatever that denominational formula requires for them to become a good Christian.
THE BEAR: Accent on the word formula. It’s a very external structure imposed. You see in the founding days of Christianity.
THE DOOR: Yeah, but how do you do that with Witchcraft? Let’s forget about Christianity for the moment. How would anyone even begin to look? Are their any witch ministers, clerics, priests, priestesses etc.?
THE BEAR: In some cases. Again study the list of organizations in the directory I gave you and ask for some basic information. You’ll find a huge range of responses. Some people who practice paganism and witchcraft adopt or create a very hierarchical structure. There will be initiates, 1st degree witches, 2nd degree witches and 3rd degree witches.
THE DOOR: Is this group called a coven?
THE BEAR: Yes, a coven. They will have the kind of formal structure that you’re talking about. Some people function best in that type of formal structure. Other people are solitary witches; they will have nothing to do with a coven. In fact they will often times have only a few years of training, or they will be entirely self taught. Some people find that they adhere to a particular divinity. In fact I’ve talked to some witches who have actually had an intense visualization of some goddess or god figure, totally unexpectedly, without anything in their background to predicate that, that is the goddess or god figure to whom they would give their allegiance. Others, like me are syncretic or eclectic. We look and we find things that are true in many different god forms, and many different pantheons in many different disciplines including religions that have very little if anything to do with Witchcraft, such as Christianity.
THE DOOR: An evangelical Christian would call these visualizations of gods and goddesses a demonic experience. From a Jungian perspective then you would have had an archetypal experience. However, putting that aside for the moment, what good are these experiences?
THE BEAR: I’m relating them to how people see the truth. Some people need and depend upon a very rigid structure. They’re going, okay I have jumped through these particular hoops, I’ve taken this particular training, I must be doing this right. That’s the particular structure with which they approach the universe.
THE DOOR: Then there’s the Zen Buhhdist approach where you have to come to a point where you know nothing.
THE BEAR: That’s my point, everything is illusion, it’s all a matter of will. Read the Tibetan Book of the Dead. The opening chapter is essentially a recitation of about how everything is a matter of the viewpoint that you choose or allow yourself to default to. What is the Ultimate reality?
THE DOOR: Please tell us.
THE BEAR: Well, from a mortal viewpoint you will find as many different answers as you’ll find mortals. The whole purpose of the show in the practice of the show in the practice of paganism, that I personally adhere to is, by their fruits you shall know them.
THE DOOR: Where have we heard that before?
THE BEAR: If somebody is on a particular path that reads well upon them, they’re bright eyed, bushy tailed, happy, productive and a benefit to the people around them. You can tell by their body language, posture, tone of voice, how they relate and how they handle themselves in their relationships, whether they are a healthy or not healthy individual. Then I don’t really care what the name of the religious structure of the spirituality is that you hang on it. Sahheed Hamid for example is a Black Muslim. He is also a friend. He has been a friend of my families and mine for more than 20 years now. He is probably as far away from my particular spiritual orientation as you could possibly get. In that he’s African American, he’s a Muslim practitioner, he is very loyal to his faith and has found a huge amount of benefit in Islam. I’ve had him on my show and we’ve spoken of this at length. The commonality that we experience however, is not one of the same ritual, or the same name of God or even the same practice of spirituality. The commonality we see, is that each of us recognize that the other is on a path which is good for us, because we are benefiting the lives of those around us.
THE DOOR: What occupation do you work in to pay the bills?
THE BEAR: I’m in the security field right now. I’ve been trained and licensed by the State of Oregon as a private security advisor site supervisor for a local security company. I’m also a certified pistol instructor and I do self-defense training, as well as working with a martial arts school.
THE DOOR: So you are proficient in all these self defense techniques?
THE BEAR: Yes, I believe in the concept of personal empowerment.
THE DOOR: So then witchcraft isn’t pacifistic?
THE BEAR: Witchcraft is, in that most people are what I would call bunny huggers. They are very pro-ecology and pro-animal rights. Their lifestyle and mindset reflects this. Ninety nine out of a hundred would not know which end of a firearm goes bang.
THE DOOR: You already said that you supported capital punishment if the crime warranted it. What about abortion?
THE BEAR: I come down on the side of “free choice,” with the proviso that any man who attempts to pass judgment on what any woman does with her body is showing perhaps more bravery than sense. Women, I’ve noticed, get into one form of Paganism or another because they’re drawn to the empowering aspects of spirituality that emphasizes the pre-eminence of feminine over masculine power, the Goddess over God; Witches like Z Budapest or Starhawk in San Francisco have strong opinion on the subject, which they’ve written books about. At the same time, Pagans disagree about abortion probably as much as they disagree about vegetarianism, or any other political subject. Sienna, a Witch friend of mine in Vancouver, who own Laughing Bird Books and teaches classes on Witchcraft, said, “Getting Pagans to agree on ANYTHING is like herding cats.”
THE DOOR: Very interesting. While were on politically controversial subjects How about drug usage to enhance the spiritual dimension, much like Native Americans and other regional aboriginal peoples use conscious expanding substances, such as mescaline, psilosybin or marijuana in their rituals?
THE BEAR: I know of no Pagans who use drugs as part of ritual; raising the “Cone of Power” requires discipline, the ability to visualize clearly, and the ability to coordinate and work well with other in the Circle—all of which are skills which are damaged or defeated by drugs, not enhanced by them. The kind of “high” you get from any pharmaceutical means that it’s the pharmaceutical that’s working—not you; so, whatever “power” you think you’re generating, is strictly a chemical-based delusion. True, there ARE some ethnic groups whose spiritual traditions involve psychedelics like peyote and mescaline—but as their “medicine men” and “medicine women” will tell you, it takes literally years of work, training, and discipline (there’s that word again), studying as an apprentice under a master of some sort, before you can safely and effectively use drugs as a tool for the controlled raising and directing of spiritual or Magickal “Power” of any sort.
Unfortunately, in this day and age of instant gratification, there are too may teenyboppers who’ve seen The Craft or The Blair Witch Project, picked up a book, and decided that they’re “really” Witches and so want to be casting spells, etc.—and right now. Since they’re used to getting high, they figure, “Why not?” and start to “experiment” with ritual Magick and various drugs. However, teenagers will be teenagers, and may have to learn the hard way that drugs don’t “improve” anything you do that’s at all important—including raising Power and working Magick. This is not to say that Neo-Pagans are all prudes and teetotalers. Some are; others aren’t, to varying degrees, just like the population at large. I know of one Pagan who drinks, smokes tobacco, AND smokes pot; his wife smokes tobacco and pot, but doesn’t drink. Another Pagan friend of mine drinks occasionally, but doesn’t smoke anything at all. The basic rule, again, is what we know as the Wiccan Rede:
“Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill;
An Ye Harm None, Do What Ye Will.”
When you couple that with the Three-fold Law—that what you do, will rebound upon you three times, good returning for good and evil returning for evil—you’ll find that most Neo-pagans (both drug-users and “straight) just don’t abuse, misuse, or over-indulge in drugs of any sort. There’s no point to it, and some heavy dues to pay for screwing up, so why bother?
THE DOOR: Do you believe in God?
THE BEAR: A divinity? Yes. God in term of Jehovah or Yahweh? No.
THE DOOR: Do you believe in a personal God?
THE BEAR: Myself, I’d have to say no. I believe in a trans-mortal something, but it’s bigger than I am and I haven’t got the means to put a handle on it. Let alone define it and label it.
THE DOOR: What about the devil?
THE BEAR: The devil? Satan? Prince of evil? Christian concept. Anti-God. I gave that up when I gave up the church.