Avalonia Author Interviews
( December 2004 : KW indicates answers by Kate West , Q indicates question posed by Sorita)
Q: The Real Witches Handbook has been a favourite of visitors to Avalonia for quite a few years now. What inspired you to write this book?
KW: Although Born in Albion (my first book) was well received, there was much about it that I wasn’t really satisfied with. It felt far too much like an introduction to just one kind of coven work rather than really a guide to the Craft. But the real impetus came from an email I received from friends in New Zealand. They wrote asking if we could recommend a book for their teenage children who were beginning to show an interest in the Craft. They weren’t seeking something which talked down or diluted the Craft, but rather something straightforward in plain English. Knowing of nothing like that myself, I set out to write it, although not just for young people, for all new Witches.
Interestingly, rumour got out that I was writing a book intended for teenagers, and before I had even finished the manuscript it received a ‘review’ in a well known Witchcraft journal slating it (and myself) for trying to open the Craft up to under 18’s! It just goes to show how much has changed in the last few years.
Q : You have written many books over the years, which do you consider to be your most important contribution? (Why?)
KW: Actually I would be hard to put to select one book over any of the others, I hope that they all have a contribution to make to the Craft. I have tried to approach the Craft from different directions to show that it is not something separate from daily life, whatever your interests. I feel strongly that it should be a part of life, not apart from it. Hence the ‘Real Witches’ title; it’s not that I feel my Craft is any more real than anyone else’s, but that it is there for real people with all the problems, worries and concerns of everyday real life.
Q: You often give lectures and workshops at conferences such as Witchfest, and have done a lot of work with the media on behalf of witchcraft over the years, do you believe that by being open about your beliefs and practises you will help change the way that the public perceive witches?
KW: Until you asked I can’t say I’ve really considered whether speaking at conferences and working with the media were in any way connected, but now I come to think of it I guess that they are two aspects of the same thing.
My involvement with the media started because I, like a lot of other people, was fed up with the way one or two others were purporting to speak for ‘all Witches’, and were showing us as a distinctly weird group who were not to be taken seriously. I continued because I could actually see the benefits in terms of the way the media and the public think of us. In less than 10 years we have come a long way; these days the questions are not so much about devil worship, sacrificing babies and/or virgins, but more often about our beliefs and practices.
I guess it was partly because of the media work that I was asked to be a speaker and to do workshops. My first few times were to quite small groups so it felt more like talking to a coven than to an audience. Of course these days the groups are usually somewhat larger than any coven would be! I must confess I enjoy it, it gives me a very real sense of pleasure to see how our Craft has grown and developed. No longer is the Craft seen as something to be hidden away, no longer is it seen as the preserve of a ‘favoured few’. So yes, I do feel it is important to be open (for those who can) so that we can be accepted for what we are, rather than feared for what we might be.
Q: Elements of Chants have just been released, what inspired the album and will there be more such offerings from you in future? (This CD is available from Mandrake Press )
KW: Elements of Chants was a long time in the gestation, getting on for 10 years! It was originally conceived as a way of teaching chants to group members, as our coven was growing and we sometimes seemed to be for ever covering the same ground for newcomers. It became more pressing when I was asked to do rituals at Witchfest and found that I would be doing them with people who lived a long way apart, sometimes in different countries, and we had little or no time for rehearsal! It all came together this year and, thanks to the enthusiasm of one of our group, we finally got it done. Someday I’ll tell the full story of just how it came into being – it’s quite a tale!! Given the way Elements has been so well received I expect we will do another album in due course. But before that we hope to do some pathworking CDs, and possibly one with a full Ritual.
Q: Your long time partner Steve, is a member of the Pagan band “Legend” – any plans for reforming and doing any concerts in the near future?
KW: Steve does have plans for at least one more Legend performance, probably at a future Witchfest International, and it will be spectacular! There will probably be one more album to go with it. A lot depends on the other band members, they’ve all gone separate ways and the difficulty is scheduling the time to get them all back together.
Q: As a High Priestess, what is the best advice you can give someone who wants to learn how to be a witch?
KW: As a High Priestess or, more relevantly, as a Witch who has been around for quite a while, I always advise those who are interested in the Craft to; read and think about what you read, to listen and to think about what you hear, to ask questions and to listen and think about the answers. Above all, to listen to your inner voice, the one which you know can tell you what is really right for you. Then to get on with it! No amount of reading, or listening, is a substitute for actually practising the Craft and learning from what you do.
Oh! And when in doubt, try asking the Goddess!!
Q: In addition to being a Witch and an author, you are also a mother. We often hear stories of people who are discriminated against for being Witches, has this caused problems for you as a mother?
KW: Oh yes, I’m a mother (deep sigh as yet another school holiday starts 😉 ), and those who’ve met Tali will know just what a live-wire he is! As an aside, when he was very tiny, a fellow Witch came up to me at a conference (he’s been attending them since he was just a few weeks old) placed their hand on his head and said “May he always know his own mind”. I’m still not sure if that was a blessing for him, or a curse for me, or both!!
Leaving aside the usual problems most parents face, thus far I’ve been fortunate and experienced very few problems connected with motherhood and being open about my Craft. His current school is well aware of who and what his mother is, and even asked for one of my books to show the children. I understand it was the fact that I’m an author they wanted to make, rather than the content, which is a bit advanced for children in the 4 – 5 yr age group. I’m also on the school’s board of Governors. However his previous school was somewhat different, being church aided. There I did not advertise my involvement in the Craft – I saw (and still see) no point in making Tali’s life any more difficult than necessary.
Q: You are the High Priestess of the Hearth of Hecate, many songs on the Elements of Chants album mentions this Greek Goddess as well. How long have you been working with Hecate and do you work with other Goddesses too?
KW: Hecate chose me to be her Priestess a long, long time ago, in my teens, and I have worked for her ever since. But I also work with many other Goddess and God forms from many different pantheons. However I feel it is important, whatever your calling, to work with local deities as well. These are the Gods and Goddesses of the land you actually live on, and it is difficult to be connected to the land without honouring those closest.
Q: Your work has inspired many people to become more involved in the Craft, who inspired you?
KW: It might sound a bit conceited, but I believe that the Goddess and the God were my inspiration. Having said that, I found the works of writers such as Paddy Slade, Doreen Valiente and the Farrar’s to be instructive.
Of the people I’ve had direct contact with; Maxine Sanders, Merlyn and Epona at the Children of Artemis, Dave and Sorita at Avalonia, and many others too numerous to name.
Q: Are you working on any new books at the moment?
KW: I’m currently working on The Real Witches’ Craft, although it’s proving to be a challenge. TRW Craft is a follow-on from TRW Handbook and is intended to give guidance on actually developing the skills and techniques of the Craft; meditation, visualisation, spell craft, divination and so on. In some respects it will be like having the lessons of the first few years of Coven life in written form, with exercises to help build those abilities.
My publishers had hoped for something on advanced Witchcraft, but I’m not at all sure that there is such a thing. An ‘advanced’ Witch is simply one who knows how to achieve that which they seek to do, and for that you need to know the basic skills and to be able to use them effectively.
Q: What, for you, are the best and worst things about the Craft today?
The best: The feeling of fellowship in Circle, and of being a part of the ever increasing family of Witches who now span the globe. All the wonderful people who are finding the Goddess and bringing Her into their lives. And, needless to say, seeing the Goddess and the God all around.
The worst: Bitchcraft and Bicca! The people who can’t wait to tell others what is wrong with their path, their clothes, attitudes, and even lives. The people who gossip about others behind their backs and stir up trouble, more or less wherever they go. And also the people who can’t wait to ‘mind’ other peoples’ business for them. We are freer now than we have been for centuries to follow our path, it would be to the lasting shame of each and every one of us if we allowed the Craft to be destroyed from within.
Q: How would you like to see Witchcraft in the future?
I’d like the Craft to be just another belief system, as valid as any other. I’d like to see it, and other Pagan paths, included in the National Curriculum. As far as I am aware, there are very few schools which permit the discussion of Paganism and Witchcraft with students. I feel quite honoured to have spoken to classes at two of them; a secondary in Cheshire and a college in Blackpool. Perhaps it’s something about that side of the country?!
Q: Any last words here?
KW: Yes please: I’d like to say thank you for the opportunity to speak here. I’m always flattered to be asked for an interview and it’s nice to feel that I may just have made a contribution to the Craft. Also I’d like to wish everybody a Blessed Yule, a stress-free Christmas and a very happy New Year.
Thank you to Kate West for granting this interview for Avalonia! For permission to reproduce this article please contact us first – (c) Kate West & Avalonia
Kate West’s is an author, mother and a witch, and she is proud of it. She has written many books on witchcraft, which cover a wide spectrum of related practices, she also regulary gives talks at Pagan and Witchcraft events throughout the UK and has done loads of work with the media to help promote a possitive and informed view of modern Witches.
Kate’s book The Real Witches Handbook has long been one of the most popular books with visitors to Avalonia, and remains, in our opinion, the best introductory book available for younger people. I first had the privilege of meeting Kate a few years ago at Witchfest, and have always been impressed by her continuous hard work, quirky sense of humour and her depth of experience and knowledge and in this interview she shares a little of that with us all!