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The Interview
by Sorita
( July 2005: YA indicates answer by Yvonne Aburrow, Q indicates question posed by Sorita)
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Q: When did you first become interested in Wicca/ Paganism?

YA: I first realised I am a Pagan around the age of 17. I had always talked to trees, felt a connection to nature and the land, and been interested in witches. The thing that clinched it for me was reading “Puck of Pook’s Hill” by Rudyard Kipling – still one of my favourite books. I joined Wicca aged 23, and was lucky enough to find a coven who were also interested in our connection to the land and local deities and spirits. My current coven also have a similar spirituality, and we work in a very egalitarian way.

Q: Who inspired you most on your own path?

YA: Many people have inspired me, especially the people who quietly get on with their spirituality and don’t feel the need to collect acolytes and neophytes; they are usually the ones who will let fall a pearl of wisdom at the right moment, and are most connected to the land and honourable in their dealings with others. In short, people who walk their talk.

Q: You are passionate about nature, and have written books inspired by different aspects of nature – trees, birds and animals. What do you feel is the most important thing that modern pagans can learn from nature?

YA: Balance. Nature is a self-regulating system, and we have to re-learn that we are a part of nature and not separate from it. An excellent book to read to get a sense of this is Karen Traviss’s novel “City of Pearl”.

Q: In your book Auguries and Omens you explore the rich folklore concerning birds. Do you have a favourite bird?

YA: More than one favourite! Herons are particularly significant for me, but I also like birds of prey, especially owls. And I like woodpeckers too. I think robins are my special favourites though, as they’re so friendly and inquisitive, and I like the story that they brought fire for humans.

Q: I myself am passionate about birds, and I have a special love of
pigeons. Many people would disagree with me, but I feel that Pigeons are very magickal, what are you views on these birds?

YA: Pigeons were used for augury and were sacred to Zeus at Dodona and to Venus everywhere. Aren’t carrier pigeons amazing, too? That’s a pretty magical ability, to be able to find your way home from a strange place using the earth’s magnetic field.

Q: In your book The Sacred Grove you write about magickal gardening. What are you currently growing in your garden?

YA: Lots of herbs – marjoram, sage, rosemary, etc. Also some wheat for Lammas. Our garden is very shady with lots of trees, so flowers are difficult, but we have lots of shrubs and a small silver birch – one of my favourite trees.

Q: What would you recommend to those of us living in big cities, who
only have window box or balcony gardens?

YA: There is an example of a balcony garden in The Sacred Grove. The good thing about a balcony or window box is that slugs don’t tend to be able to climb that high (though some are pretty intrepid), so you can grow things that would normally get eaten by them, like coriander, basil, and other tender herbs. If I had only a balcony or window box to play with I’d concentrate on growing magical, medicinal or culinary plants.

Q: In The Magickal Lore of Animals you discuss the use of animal sacrifice in ancient cultures. Do you feel that animal sacrifice should still be used in ritual today?

YA: No. However, as discussed in that chapter, we should not judge our ancestors for doing so, and if one was having a barbecue or other communal meal, there would be nothing wrong in offering some to the gods. But most people would not know where to start in slaughtering an animal humanely, and we have lost the sacred context in which these practices were acceptable.

Q: In the same book, you have an excellent section on Totem Animals. What role do you feel Totem Animals play (or should play) in
traditions such as Wicca and Druidry today?

YA: I am suspicious of the term “totem animal” as a generic term for people’s connections with animals in different cultures. I think we should be exploring the concept of animal familiars, rather than borrowing the only partially understood term “totem animal” from another culture, as it is then divorced from its context and therefore impoverished. We need to develop a concept that fits in with the context of our own practices and beliefs. I personally feel an affinity with several animals, birds, and plants, but cannot pin down which one is my main “totem”.

Q: You have a large collection of poetry on your website The Yew Tree. What inspires you when you write poetry?

YA: Lots of things! Especially landscape, mythology and love, but also in writing scifaiku (science fiction haiku), I am inspired by speculations on alternative ways of living. I try to write poetry about specific experiences that I have had, rather than general nebulous concepts.

Q: I particularly enjoyed The Geek shall inherit the Earth which is
about the gap between those who understand technology, and those who do not. What role do you feel technology has played in the growth in interest in paganism and witchcraft?

YA: The obvious one is the facilitation of communication via the internet, which has enabled disparate and geographically scattered groups of pagans to stay in contact with each other. However, there seem to be a lot of people from a scientific and technical background who are interested in paganism and witchcraft, and I think the connection here is that science is often a response to the awe and wonder felt in the contemplation of the universe, and paganism is too. The scientific response is to find out how it works, and this is nicely complemented by the pagan urge to understand it spiritually. Also Arthur C Clarke once said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, and I think most
practitioners of magic have the feeling that if only the scientific
paradigm was a little more open and flexible, it would be possible to come up with a scientific explanation for magic – indeed, there are many areas of science which look promising in this regard. For anyone interested in this, I would recommend Serena Roney-Dougal’s book “Where Science and Magic Meet”.

Q: I noticed the article Paganism & Food on your website, which was an interesting read. Do you have a favourite ritual feasting dish you
like to cook and share with others? Could you share the recipe for our readers?

YA: Actually I’m a bit lax about preparing food for ritual feasts, as there never seems to be enough time. However I do have a favourite recipe, called Spaghetti alla Puttanesca (Spaghetti of the little whores) which was apparently eaten between appointments to revive the flagging spirits of the ladies of the night.

Spaghetti alla puttanesca (serves 2)

1 tin tomatoes
half a jar of anchovies
(or 1 tin artichoke hearts – for veggie version)
2 large cloves garlic
4 good handfuls of pitted black olives
2 tblsp capers

Fry the garlic in the oil from the anchovies (if doing veggie version, use olive oil). Add the anchovies, then the tomatoes, garlic, olives, and capers. Simmer till the anchovies have disintegrated and the sauce tastes nice and fishy.

Serve with spaghetti or other pasta. NB do not use basil or parmesan – it’s perfect as it is!

I also recently invented a cross between bhajis and omelette, which I named bhomelette, because I didn’t have enough eggs for an omelette, and thought it would be nice – which it was. Here’s the recipe, together with an Indian salad recipe:

Bhomelette (serves 2)

1 finely chopped onion
1 finely chopped garlic clove
1 tsp ground cumin/jeera
1 white fish, chopped
1 salmon steak, chopped
2 eggs
2 cups gram flour
half a cup water
1 tsp fenugreek/methi leaf (or good handful of fresh)
1 tsp dried coriander leaf (or good handful of fresh)
pinch salt

Fry the onion & garlic with the cumin. When the onion is browning, add the fish and fry till cooked. If the herbs are fresh, add them now. Meanwhile blend the egg and gram flour and salt and water (with the herbs if using dried ones). When smooth, mix in the onion, garlic and fish. Put more oil
in the pan if required, then fry till golden brown. Serve with salad.

Traditional Indian salad

chopped cream of coconut
chopped fresh root ginger
salt
lemon juice

Salad – chinese leaf, lettuce, cucumber, pine nuts, chopped fresh coriander.

Q: Where do you like to go to relax?

YA: A walk in the woods, or by a stream, or in the hills. I also really enjoy swimming, preferably in a lake or from a pebbly beach.

Q: Finally, is there anything else you would like to share with our
readers?

Oh dear, this is like that job interview question, “Do you have anything you would like to ask us?” Scary. Well, you didn’t ask about my views on polytheism…

I am a polytheist, that is, I believe that deities are individuals in the same way as humans and other people. They can interact and even be interpermeable with us and with each other, and with the underlying patterns of energy or wyrd; they are not merely aspects of some great nebulous divine unity, rather they are distinct identities. I am also an animist, that is, I believe that everything has spirit, and that spirit is interpermeable with matter. I am neither a holist nor a rationalist, preferring a middle way, where diversity, multiplicity and incompleteness are welcomed.

Nina Lazarus interviews Sorita d’Este.

May 2005, Cafe Rouge, Chiswick

Sorita is a Wiccan High Priestess and Ceremonial Magician who lives and works in West London. I have known her for a few years now – in both a professional and magical context and thought it would be interesting to interview her.

Q: You are a Londoner, but this has not always been so.  Can you tell us a little more about your background?

Sorita:  I was born in Cape Town, South Africa, my family is a complicated mixture of Italian, English and South African – with a mix of other flavours.  I lived in Cape Town until I finished my studies, and then came to London with a friend in 1995, with the intention of staying for a few months.  But I fell in love with London and the cultural diversity it represents, and decided to stay.  Having been here for 10 years now, London is home.  This is where I work, play and conjure.

Q: What is it about London you love most?

Sorita: Difficult question!  The British Museum?  Ronnie Scots?  Atlantis Bookshop?  Tower Records?  Soho? Richmond Park?  Ultimately, I think I just love London – the whole thing.

Q: How did you get involved with Paganism?

Sorita: I am not so keen on labeling myself as Pagan. Recently I am also starting to feel that the word Witch is not quite right for what I do and believe, though I continue using it in some situations.

I became interested in mysticism, religion and magic through experiences I had as a child, ranging from out-of-body experiences to prophetic dreams, ‘seeing’ things other did not and an inherent belief, even as a child, that Nature was alive and sentient. In my late teens I became involved with a group of people who introduced me to the Craft.  I spent a few years learning with them, but it was always in complete secrecy – as I was still living in South Africa, which even now is very conservative in regards to religious choices, so this was very important to all of us.

Living in London allowed me to experience many other possibilities.  In the first few years I lived here, I spent time exploring Buddhism, bumping into Hinduism, Transcendental Meditation (TM) and Astrology – as well as other esoteric traditions.  When I met David Rankine in 2000 we soon realised we had an interesting intellectual connection and that we were passionate about wanting to share our love of magic with others. This resulted in the foundation of what is now the StarStone Network.  We established our own aims and goals, rather than following slavishly in the footsteps of the traditions we came from, as we felt we wanted something relevant to the 21st century.

Q: Can you say more about the Traditions you came from?

Sorita:  David is a bit older than me, and spent many years in Wales where he was involved with a Craft Coven.  They were Alexandrian lineaged, but part of the Progressive Witchcraft movement.  Back then he was married to Karin Rainbird and their Coven drew on a wide variety of flavours, much of which is expressed in their 1997 book Magick Without Peers.  Likewise, David and I follow in the Progressive movement, we are both Alexandrian initiates, but both of us have also had training and extensive experience in other traditions.  Naturally, we draw from our varied experience.  David is passionate about Celtic mythology (esp. Welsh), the Qabalah, the work of the Golden Dawn, Fellowship of Isis and much more.  He is also currently working with Stephen Skinner (the author of Techniques of High Magic, with Francis King) on a series of books in which they are making available, for the first time, works previous unavailable in print.  Their work spans John Dee and Enochian Magic, The Goetia, Key of Solomon and many other works within the Grimoire tradition.  Naturally his work and research in these fields inspires some of the work we are doing too. My passions are Greco-Egyptian magic (the PGM), traditional ‘folk’ magic, Wicca and learning more about different gods and goddesses.  David and I are currently putting our notes on The Morrigan together for publication later this year.

Within our network we are not the only teachers, we actively encourage other members to take the lead and share their skills and knowledge with other members. In some ways we are both traditional, and progressive.

Q:  What do you mean by Alexandrian lineaged?

Sorita: Exactly what it says!  David and I both received initiations into Alexandrian Wicca, and we pass that on to our own Craft initiates, together with appropriate training and materials.  However, we do not slavishly follow the rituals set out by Alex Sanders – most of which are based heavily on that presented by Gerald Gardner to his initiates, and some of which are drawn from other sources, including Franz Bardon.  Instead, we use what we have available to us now – materials, resources and knowledge, to follow in the spirit of the tradition.  The Craft is not limited to the teachings of one person or group.

Q: We all enjoy your WWL Picnics in the Park very much.  What is the inspiration behind this?

Sorita: As you know, I have been running the WWL Moots for a few years now.  We mostly meet in a pub in Bloomsbury throughout the year, but the idea of summer picnics came out of discussions with members who are parents and don’t want to hang out in a pub with their children.  None of the Pagan events in London is really child friendly, so even though I am not a mum and have no intention of going down that route, I thought a picnic would be a great way of allowing children to join us.  Not just that, but London has amazing parks, and I thought it would good to encourage more outside time!

Q: You and David are very active.  Lapis Companions, the Open Circle you facilitate is another wonderful resource.  How did that come about?

Sorita: Lapis Companions again was created from discussions with members of WWL who wanted to participate in ceremonies and learn more.  The pub moots are great for meeting people, but not for learning and experiencing ritual.  David and I decided to create an experimental format, and we are blessed to be supported by so many of our initiates and friends in this endeavor.  With input from regular attendees we select different themes for each month, and explore that in a basic ritual structure.  Recent rituals include: Imbolc ritual to Brighid, celebration of Hekate, the Morrigan, Bast, and a Thelemic themed Beltane which David created with a friend.

Q: What is the best advice you can give someone who is just starting out?

Sorita: Learn as much as you can, about as many different paths as you can.  Then commit to a path you feel most drawn to, with people you feel most comfortable with.  This will take time.  Don’t commit to anything you feel uncomfortable with, no matter how prestigious you believe the group or teachers are.  And – learn to meditate and incorporate some meditation into your daily life!

Sorita d'Este

Sorita d’Este Photo by J.S. (c)2003