When someone envisions Wiccan- pointy hats, hooked noses, cauldrons, spells and the paranormal spring to mind. Present day and away from fiction, there are people who claim the word pagan and practice the craft.
Lydia Crabtree is the High Priestess or Minister of Willow Dragonstone Community, a pagan community that offers education and support to interested and practicing members.
Crabtree explains the intricacies of paganism and the immersive world of the religion.
Q: What is your role in paganism? What do you explicitly do?
Crabtree: I am a High Priestess and minister. I am also a pagan author who writes on spiritual family development, social justice issues and chronic illness. I have talked abot paganism, family spirituality, child rearing from a pagan perspective and Wicca throughout the United States at pagan events. I have identified as a Wiccan for nearly 18 years. I have a degree in psychology from the North Georgia College. I have concentrations in theater and journalism also.
Q: What is Paganism?
Crabtree: Paganism is an umbrella term that describes anyone who has chosen to worship, celebrate or spiritually seek outside of Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Wicca is the recognized religion in the United States for pagans.
Q: What is a coven?
Crabtree: Covens are most often groups who celebrate an earth based spirituality that focuses on the celebration of the spirituality of the earth, elements, and Divinity as both male (God) and female (Goddess). These groups are intentional, often having by-laws, officers, and considering themselves churches or spiritual communities. They are most often run by a High Priestess and/or a High Priest. Covens function as a place to teach about Wicca, paganism and witchcraft. It is also a place for coveners to explore a deep spiritual connection with the Earth, the elements and the God and Goddess. Coveners are also seeking to gain self-improvement through Wiccan, pagan, and witchcraft practices. Covens, like other types of religious groups, vary widely.
Q: Describe how you carry out your role, specifically for someone who isn’t familiar with paganism.
Crabtree: As a minister, I serve the pagan community and especially Willow Dragonstone Community. If someone is hospitalized they call me and I go and visit and act as an advocate for their care. If someone needs to have a rite of passage for marriage or the acknowledgement of a forthcoming birth, or the blessing of a newborn, or a coming of age ritual for a boy or girl; they contact me and I facilitate the appropriate ritual for those events. I do lay spiritual counseling for pagans in the community. If you think your own pastor or minister or priest might do something for their congregation, you can be assured that I do something similar for the pagan community, especially Willow Dragonstone Community.
Q: When people imagine the world “coven” or “witchcraft”, images from something like the film “The Craft” are common. How much of that is truth and how much is fiction?
Crabtree: Films like “The Craft” are fiction. Therefore there is nothing within that move that should ever be considered accurate about actual covens or Wiccan and Pagan Communities. Regardless of the type of coven, covens are basically a group of people with a similar spiritual view who agree to support each other in good times and bad. We visit each other in the hospital. We pick up each other’s kids in emergencies. It is, in short, a community where members who have pledged themselves to serve one another while we share a common spiritual and religious beliefs.
Q: What separates a coven from others, aren’t there different “sects” so to speak?
Crabtree: There are many types of groups in paganism. The main groups are traditional covens, Reconstructionalists, and High Magician groups. Traditional covens take their information from Gerald Gardner, considered the father of modern Wicca. They often practice close to how Gardner taught and are typically hierarchical in nature. Reconstructionalists seek to resurrect how paganism was celebrated in the ancient world. Hellenistic Reconstructionalists seek to practice spirituality and ritual as the Greeks and Romans did. Asatru seek to practice spirituality and ritual as the ancient Norse did. Celtics of various types (Welch, Irish, Scottish and Gaelic) seek to practice spirituality and ritual as the ancient Celts did. African Reconstructionalists seek to practice spirituality and ritual as the ancient Africans did. High Magicians practice a type of paganism that combines pagan practice with high magic. These groups have a completely different historical reference for their practices rooted in secret societies and high magical practice.
Q: What are the specifics of the group that you yourself take part in?
Crabtree: Willow Dragonstone Community is a community of pagans, Wiccans, and witches of various beliefs who gather together to celebrate the eight common holidays, called Sabbats, and some full moons. We do not consider ourselves a coven because we are run by committee. Our members volunteer to do different jobs for the groups benefit. We have members who oversee food drives and community collections, members who oversee the care of community members who are sick or injured, members who oversee our web presence and social media presence and much more. Further all of our members volunteer to teach various classes and host various holidays and full moons (also called rituals). We practice magic as well as worship and celebratory ritual.
Q: What are the routines or ceremonies? Take me through what happens when you meet up.
Crabtree: When we meet, we gather at the location we are celebrating at, typically a member’s home. There will be an area to dress for ritual, usually a bathroom. There is often a way to spiritually cleanse in that bathroom that members will take advantage of when they dress. Some members will wear ritual robes they have made. Other members will wear special outfits that they only wear in circle. Others will wear blue jeans and a t-shirt. For us, there is no dress requirement. That is not necessarily the case for all covens or pagan groups. As people are dressing and cleansing, the talking in the group settles down and a member will gather everyone together to enter the area for the ritual. Once gathered, the ritual begins. For Pagans most of us do not have a physical church, sanctuary or temple, so we construct our temples each time we gather. We do this by casting sacred space, called a circle. This barrier is both spiritual and physical in nature. Once circle is cast, we call the four directional elements. Those elements are East – Air, South – Fire, West – Water, and North – Earth. Again we use physical representations of what we believe spiritually exists. Then we ask the God and Goddess to join our temple. The God and Goddess called can and does vary for our group from ritual to ritual depending upon what working or focus of the ritual is. After our celebration, worship, or magic is done, we partake in something to drink and a little something to eat while we discuss how our lives have been going, what things we are worried about and generally catch everyone up on what is going on in our lives. Then we deconstruct our spiritual temple and sometimes have a potluck meal, especially if it is one of the eight pagan holidays we celebrate.
Q: What made you immerse yourself in Wicca? Was it something you grew up around or became interested in?
Crabtree: No one would ask a Christian what made them immerse themselves in Christianity, as if it is a hobby or some passing novelty. If they go to church three times a week, pray daily and read the Bible daily, they aren’t questioned about what caused their faith to spring forth and have such a large impact upon their lives. I was born Southern Baptist. I wanted to know where the seed was that started Christianity. Eventually, I discovered the pagan roots for Christmas, Easter and nearly every major holiday celebrated first by the Catholic Church and later by Protestants. The more I studied the pagan roots for most religious holidays, the more I felt called by Divinity. With the God and Goddess and the earth and the elements, Divinity is truly omniscient, omnipresent and all knowing. Within the theological teachings I found an agreement I had never had with Christianity. In short, for me Wicca, Paganism was my home that I came back to.
Q: What are some misconceptions or ideas about Pagan, Covens, or Wicca and the like you believe deserve some consideration and press?
Crabtree: This will be the fourth interview I have done in advance of Samhain (Halloween) over my tenure as a High Priestess and pagan minister. I am Wiccan/Pagan all year. It is a sensationalism to think that there are green skinned, pock marked women with conical hats stirring a black cauldron with smoke rising from it on Halloween night. We are a group of different races, various genders, backgrounds, and sexual orientations. We are bound together by a similar theological and world view of Divinity. We meet monthly to celebrate at the Full Moon and to share our burdens with one another. We meet eight times a year to celebrate our eight holy days. We are in contact with each other on a daily basis. We strive to be productive and good members of the greater community. We have children of various ages that we are raising to be good moral, ethical people who are tolerant and loving.
A fairly straightforward article and no complaints. Now if we just could get interviewed other times of the year. [Grin]
I did my first Wiccan interview in my home town newspaper back in 1986 back in the days of the Satanic Child Abuse Panic. I think the goddess, and the god, were looking out for me, beginner that I was. The article was fairly good, certainly not due to my skills.