Wiccan Renaissance: Join Wiccan Priestess Phyllis Curott
America’s foremost Wiccan priestess Phyllis Curott tells Claire Gillman why Wicca is enjoying a revival…
Claire: Wicca is enjoying a great revival at present. It’s the fastest growing spirituality in the UK. Why do you think this might be?
Phyllis: Wicca is the fastest growing religion in the UK, the US, and its growing globally. I think there are a number of reasons.
First, it’s a spiritual practice that works. It helps us take off the blindfolds tied on by history and habit. , and when those blindfolds come off, we see the Sacred. We discover that spirit and form, source and creation, divinity and world are One. We’re able to enter realms of spirit and to return to this world with new eyes and see that the world we live in literally embodies spirit. And we’re able to find the divine within ourselves. And just like you don’t have to be Hindu to practice yoga or Buddhist to meditate, you don’t have to be Wiccan to benefit from the practices.
The other reason for Wicca’s is its reverence for the Goddess and its role for women as spiritual leaders. The world’s been dangerously out of balance for thousands of years because of the suppression of the Feminine, and women. But that’s changing now and at an accelerated pace. Certainly in the US, women have played an essential role in the rebirth of Wicca and the return of the Goddess. The missing half of everything – divinity and humanity – is returning.
Another important reason is that Wicca is an embodied spirituality. I think in the past, we’ve projected divinity into abstract, energetic,c and heavenly realms and seen the world as fallen, as inanimate matter to be controlled and exploited by man, rather than as it truly is – the body of divinity. We’ve separated ourselves from the Sacred, from Nature, and we’ve forgotten where we are, and who we are, and why we’re here. The environmental crisis we’re facing is a manifestation of this spiritual crisis.
Wicca reconnects us to our divine context, the web of life, the sacred world in which we live. It shows us that – divinity is not just transcendent, light and energy. It takes form in Creation, the Earth, and all of her children including us. Nature embodies divinity, it’s the outer expression of inner spirit and it’s our greatest spiritual teacher. The practices and rites, the seasonal and lunar celebrations all bring us – mind, body and spirit – back into harmony with Nature and it’s profound wisdom and so back into harmony with divinity
And finally, it’s a spiritual practice, not a dogma. No one asks you to believe anything. Frankly, I’d have run right out the door if they had. Instead, there’s a simple, accessible, and very organic system of spiritual techniques, a kind of sacred technology if you like that hacks the human brain, shifts our consciousness and opens our minds and our hearts to see the Sacred. It suits modern temperaments and dispositions – we’re highly educated and motivated and adventurous. We don’t want to believe someone else – we want to discover and experience and know for ourselves. And the most important experience of all is our encounter with divinity – that’s not something anyone else can do for you, not a prophet or a priest or a guru. Wicca is a path of personal experience and responsibility. And if you work it, it will work.
Claire: You’ were an attorney at law involved in fighting organised crime. How did you first come to Wicca? And how do you reconcile these two very different roles?
Phyllis: I think a big part of Wicca’s appeal for me and for so many others, is that it isn’t a belief system about divinity. It was a spiritual practice providing experiences of divinity. Therefore, it didn’t require me to suspend my rational disbelief. It was simple, it was joyful and it was natural. It felt like remembering something that I already knew. And best of all, it worked. The magic within me really did awaken, and as it did I experienced the divine magic in the world around me
I was in law school when I started having precognitive dreams and premonitions, and a sense that the Universe was alive and aware and actively engaging me. And over time a series of extraordinary events, signs and sychronicities led me to a group of Witches in dusty old bookstore in NYC. They invited me to join them but it was too weird. Until I got a sign that even I couldn’t deny. I started attending circles and found an amazing spirituality of incredible power and wisdom and beauty. It was the missing half of everything – myself, the world, divinity. And it restored balance to my life. I had been entirely oriented toward the intellectual – a degree in philosophy, then a juris doctorate. But we’re not all intuition or intellect. We’re both and Wicca doesn’t deny the rational, it’s about integration and balance, fulfillment and growth.
The Witch is the ultimate feminist icon and, when I found out what Witchcraft was really all about, that was certainly appealing to me as a young lawyer dealing with a profession that was not at all welcoming to women.
That’s the story I told in my first book, my memoir Book of Shadows. We’re actually preparing a new 20th anniversary edition coming out soon.
Claire: Wicca Made Easy is a very practical book, full of techniques to connect to the sacred, such as meditation, visualisation and casting. Spells are the penultimate chapter and yet, for many they are synonymous with witchcraft. Are you easing the reader in gently in recognition of the fear and preconceptions that surround spells?
Phyllis: People have lots of weird ideas about Witchcraft – 500 years of persecution will do that. And it’s a lot of work to undo all that damage and distortion, to remedy those stereotype, so that people can rediscover their ancestral wisdom tradition and its universal practices and truths that are so necessary right now in this time of crises and challenges.
Spells are part of the stereotype – wave a magic wand, recite a few magic words, whip up the right ingredients, pull the lever and presto, whatever you want manifests. We live in an era of instant gratification, and mechanical thinking, and lots of materialism so these clichés about spellcasting are very appealing. But magic isn’t mechanical and it’s not about ego gratification or an arcane method for manifesting.
Real magic is what happens when you open your mind and your heart to the Sacred. It’s a quality of being, a deepened perception and awareness of living within an embodied divinity and living guided by the divinity within oneself. Magic awakens when we learn to connect with that divinity – in Nature, in Creation and in ourselves. That is the secret of spellcasting. The spells are the artistry of how you create your life with that awakened awareness and activated relationship.
So, my goal was not to ease people into it, but to lay the proper spiritual framework with wisdom and practices to open you to the Divine.
Claire: Why is Wicca such a good way to awaken to the divine magic of life?
Phyllis: Because it works!
I always say, if you work it, it will work. It’s a spiritual practice, the techniques are simple and accessible, they bring you into harmony with Nature and so into harmony with divinity. It’s the wisdom that all Indigenous peoples have that we have lost. But we have the same teacher – Mother Earth who nourishes not just our bodies, but our souls. And it is accessible to everyone. Again, you don’t have to be Wiccan to benefit from the practices.
Claire: Why do you feel it’s important to work with Nature and the Wheel of the Year in our modern technological world? Do the old ways still have a place today?
Phyllis: The old ways are the only ways that will assure the future. We have lost so much, but all you have to do is spend time in Nature and you’ll begin to rediscover the path back home. But it’s right in front of us and all around us. The laws of nature are, in fact, profound spiritual principles. And one of the most important principles is that all living things, when taking care of themselves, simultaneously and naturally make the place in which they live better for all Life.
Working with the elements, with Nature, with the cycles of the moon, and the seasonal rhythms celebrated during the Wheel of the Year, literally drop the barrier of consciousness that has kept us separated from Creation and from the Divine. We come into harmony with the natural world, and we literally come into harmony with divinity.
It’s not something you believe, it’s what you experience. And it’s extraordinary how when we come into sync with the great cosmic energies of the planet, the cosmos, our personal lives become easier, whatever stage where in whether its manifesting, or releasing, resting or returning, healing or helping others. And we take better care not only of ourselves, but of the place where we live, the planet that gives us life. That’s the point of the practices, the rites, and celebrations.
I could talk about this for hours, and in fact it’s the subject of an upcoming book. I had an extraordinary revelation with the Green Man and Mother Earth and was shown what I call the First Principles – that all of creation lives according to the cosmic blueprint of Creation, only we humans have forgotten.
Claire: There is a whole chapter in Wicca Made Easy on Magic. What does magic represent to you?
Phyllis: As I’ve said, magic is what happens when you open yourself to the Divine. It’s a quality of being, of life itself. It awakens within and you experience it in countless ways in the world around you, you receive endless magic – signs and sychronicities, manifestations and blessings bestowed by a divine universe. It’s like being deaf your whole life and then one day, you hear someone say they love you. We all know that love is magic. What I hope people will take from WME is that magic is love.
Claire: You are known for your unique brand of shamanic Wicca. How does this diverge from more traditional Wicca?
Phyllis: I began practicing Wicca at the same time that I became involved in c ore shamanism with the Brooklyn Drumming group – the first group using Dr. Michael Harner’s work. So from the start, I recognized the deep shamanic elements in Wicca – working in circle, honoring the four directions, the Sun, the Earth, the reliance on various spiritual methods and ecstatic techniques to shift awareness and alter consciousness, like chanting and dancing, encountering spirit beings and guides, honoring animals and plants as teachers, spirits of place, honoring the ancestors, the seasonal and lunar rites and rhythms, the remnants of folk traditions that were very important, the union of spirit and world, the balance between masculine and feminine.
My priestesses had been trained and initiated in the Gardnerian tradition, but they began to transform traditional Wicca when the created an all-women’s circle, so the path was open for me to explore those connections.
From early on, a lot of my work was about stripping away the more patriarchal ceremonial magical elements that were part of traditional Wicca, which I explored in both WitchCrafting, The Spirituality of Making Magic, and also in Wicca Made Easy. Things like the Threefold Law, which is really just, ‘I won’t do something bad because something worse will happen to me,’ is really just a rule based on punishment. I thought that since Wicca experiences the natural world as the embodiment of divinity, that should be its ethical foundation. It’s simple – we seek to live in a sacred manner because we live in and are part of a sacred world.
Another example is the difference between the traditional way I was taught to call the four directions – by summoning and calling up the spirits, essentially commanding the spirits of the elements to appear, rather than inviting them with respect and gratitude. Or what I call Wand magic, which I find tends towards mechanistic, manipulative thinking – you create the thought form of what you want to manifest, raise energy and shoot it off into the Akashic planes/the Universe from which it will then emerge here. It’s a kind of spellcasting that treats the Universe like an inanimate machine that we can manipulate for our own gratification, rather than as the living body of divinity. It’s a remnant of patriarchal thinking.
I prefer what I call Grail magic, where we open ourselves to receive the energy and blessings of a living divinity, to be the vessels of that divinity and to co-create with it. Which is not to say we don’t use energy, willpower, effort, thought forms etc, but when we do, we begin from a posture of communion, gratitude, reverence and respect. We ask rather than command. We co-create rather than control. It’s a more feminine and feminist perspective.
But my experience over so many years is that, regardless of what tradition people are working in, whatever path they are on, sincere practice over time brings all of us into the same sacred landscape and that is what is most important, and ultimately the proof of the practice. We are living in dangerous times and I truly believe that the Mother is calling us, especially the voice of Mother Earth. She is calling her children home and we need to listen, we need to return, we need to remember where we are and why we are here. We have so much beauty and healing wisdom to share with a world that desperately needs it.
Find Out More
Wicca Made Easy: Awaken the Divine Magic Within You Paperback by Phyllis Curott (published 20 Nov 2018 £10.99 paperback, £10.44 kindle, Hay House).