TWPT : You mention on your bio page at your
website that you started to study Witchcraft back in 1976, was there
anything in particular that prompted this course of action
at that particular time in your life?
JH: I think three things in my
life converged. I really can't say which was more important, because
all three are very important to me.
I've always had a love of ritual.
I've been a "tree-hugger" since childhood. I had some
wonderful experiences in a nature-oriented summer camp and in the Girl
Scouts. I'm a born and bred New Yorker, but
always lived near a large park. I could always find peace and
strength by getting outdoors and under trees.
I have always believed in the principles that
later became known as feminism.
So, for me it was the classic Pagan "homecoming"
experience. When I discovered that there was a spiritual Path and a
supportive community that worships Mother Earth through creative ritual
... well, I just walked right in and never
TWPT : How was it that you made contact with
others of like mind once you had decided to pursue this spiritual
course in your life?
JH: My lover was very involved
with the science fiction community, which included lots of
Pagans. That's how I discovered that contemporary Paganism
and Witchcraft existed. I became interested and started reading
about it. After a while, I decided I wanted to participate,
see what this way of worship was like in practice. I asked
some Pagan friends of ours, and they took me to my first public
ritual. That was Samhain, 1976.
TWPT : How would you describe the Pagan
population that existed in New York at the time that you attended that
first public Samhain ritual? Were public rituals like you attended open
to the general public or only open to those who had contacts within the
performing coven to issue an invitation?
JH: The first Pagan ritual I ever
attended was sponsored by the Manhattan Pagan Way Grove. I hesitate to
call Pagan Way an organization. Rituals were in somebody's home during
the winter, in a public park during the summer. They were not
advertised, not really open to the public.
But any person who had been coming regularly could bring a friend
without needing to clear it first -- that's how my friends brought me.
There were gatherings for each Sabbat, always involving a formal ritual
followed by a potluck and party. This was a good way for people who
thought they might be interested to experiment with participation.
Local coven leaders would also come to Pagan Way, to socialize and to
meet the new seekers, see if they wanted to invite any of them into
their training groups.
Today, an organization called New Moon fills some of
the same functions. But it is much more open to the public, and the
Sabbat celebrations are probably ten times the size. Paradoxically,
it's easier for a newcomer to find New Moon,
but it's far more difficult for a serious seeker to connect
with a coven there.
I'd say that Pagan Way was primarily a gateway to
pre-Initiatory training, for those who felt called to make that
commitment, while New Moon is primarily a place where
Pagan laity come to worship the Gods. Both groups serve(d)
both functions, the difference is in the emphasis.
TWPT : What role if any did the social climate of
time play in how and where you could practice your faith?
JH: I was here in liberal
New York, so there wasn't much problem. We had our warm weather
rituals right in Central Park. Also, I had a civil service job,
so I was absolutely safe from religious discrimination.
TWPT : Tell me about your initiation as HPS and
your progression from there to a 3rd Degree Gardnerian.
JH: I joined a group, studied and
practiced, and had those rituals when my elders and I
felt that the time was ripe. I took my Third Degree in November
of 1980. Obviously, I can't discuss the specifics of those
TWPT : What kind of mindset does the initiate
order to complete the various stages and emerge on the other
side as a functional Gardnerian capable of training others
to follow the same path. Ritual forms will change from place
to place and from coven to coven but I'm sure that there are
qualities and traits that would help a person to succeed in
this pursuit. What did you see in yourself as you moved through
these various degrees?
JH: This is difficult for
me to answer because it was very long ago and, at that time,
it was very subjective.
I have to say that many people back then got their
degrees just by hanging around for the traditional year and a day and
not offending anybody. I know of Third Degrees of
that era -- and, even more unfortunately, also much later-minted
ones -- who can do nothing more than learn a ritual by rote
from a book and repeat it endlessly. I know of groups where
they have done exactly the same rituals, word-for-word invariant, for
ten years or more. That's all they ever teach their students.
And they actually pride themselves on this --
they think this is what it means to follow a Tradition!
I think that both the people and the Gods deserve
better than that.
At the time that I hived, I had just completed a
Masters degree in Counseling. My graduate program stressed "competency
based" education. This means that they rated us
on what we could do, not on our understanding of theory or anything
else. So my partner and I tried to analyze the competencies
- the skills - required of a good priest or priestess. Much
of our present coven training is still competency based.
But that turned out to be an oversimplification, too.
I've been studying the process of shamanic or mystical development in
many different traditions - doing the research for my next book, which
will be about spiritual mentoring.
They just about all hold that a teacher cannot guide a student
to where the teacher has not been. If you think about it, the
same insight is found among secular counselors and psychotherapists:
you need to sort out your own "stuff" before you can effectively help
others to sort through theirs. So, before we give somebody Third, which
in our Tradition conveys authority to hive off, to train and Initiate
others, we obviously need to make sure their skills are adeqquate, but
that's not enough. We also need to feel OK about their good heart,
their right motivation, their wisdom and compassion, their deep, clear
and conscious connection with the Ancient Gods ... all the "subjective"
stuff I was
in such reaction to 20 years ago.
It is subtle, certainly. But as long as we confuse
subtle with subjective, there's too much room for mistake
or abuse, for elevating people on the basis of simple longevity, or
even for how much they are willing to flatter the coven
leaders. What we need to do is talk together about what character
traits are essential, or desireable, and how we will help our
students develop them and how we will recognize them when they
are achieved. That's what I'm really thinking a lot about now,
and that's the conversation I'm hoping to have with other Pagan elders.
TWPT : While we are on the subject of degrees and
traditions, there are those who feel that we are losing touch with our
roots and that some of the wisdom of the elders of the Craft
is being lost because of the current climate surrounding our
community, what are your feelings on this subject and how might
we stop this erosion of the foundations of our belief system?
JH: This is one of the places
where my opinions are a bit heretical. We were taught that
Wicca is a religion without a laity. It did look that way back
in the seventies, but time has shown us that the concept was
not really accurate.
Back then, we were pretty well concealed, hard to find.
That meant that only the very strongly motivated
found their way in. As we became more visible, easier to find,
naturally some people who were less driven still managed to
find us. Those folks became the new Pagan laity. I don't think
there's anything wrong with good-hearted lovers of Mother Earth
who are using our religion to stay attuned to Her cycles and
provide guidance and power for the other worthy things they
do in their lives.
But what their presence shows us is that Wicca is not
simply a religion.
My religion is Paganism, same as theirs. Wicca is a
more concentrated, committed way of being Pagan. It's
like all Franciscans are Catholic, but not all Catholics are
Franciscan. And I'm deliberately using the term "Franciscan,"
the name of one particular committed religious order within
Catholicism, to emphasize that the Wicca are not the only committed
Pagan religious order. There are also Druids, Asatruar, etc.
I don't think the advent of the Pagan laity in any way
erodes or weakens what we have within our covens.
If anything, I think coven training is both broader and deeper
than it was when I was beginning. And there are many more trained
Witches, even though we are a smaller proportion of the Pagan community
than we were 20 years ago.
So I don't see anything that needs to be prevented or
repaired, just the growth and normalization that we really should have
expected all along.
TWPT : Tell me about the formation of Proteus
Coven and what expectations you had for it.
JH: I started a study group when I
was a Second Degree, and Initiated them and hived off soon after
receiving my Third. That is absolutely classic practice. My coven
maiden, a Second Degree, is teaching our current
pre-Initiatory study group right now.
My then-partner and I hoped to create a group
with solid and thorough training, an emphasis on creativity in
ritual, a strong commitment to protecting and healing Mother
Earth, and an absolute allergy to authoritarianism. I'm very,
very pleased with the results we've achieved.
TWPT : What are some of the advantages of working
with a coven as opposed to being a solitary practitioner all of your
JH: I've never been a solitary, so
it's hard for me to make that comparison. Maybe it's just that some of
us are temperamentally inclined to community and others to individual
practice. For me, a coven is like an intentional family, the people I
count on and who I hope feel they can
count on me.
TWPT : What brought about your affiliation with
CoG and what benefits are there from being affiliated with such an
JH: The coven in which I was
trained was CoG affiliated, so it seemed natural for Proteus to
affiliate when we hived. I think of CoG as sort of a "professional
association" for Witches, comparable to the Bar Association, the
American Medical Association and similar groups. As I see it, such
organizations have two main functions.
The first is public information and public education.
Professional associations look out for the interests of their members,
make sure their side of the story is heard, even
lobby for their interests. I think over the years CoG has
done an excellent job of public education and interfaith work,
and it shows in the far greater respect we now enjoy. All Witches,
perhaps all Pagans, benefit from this work, whether they support
CoG or not. But it seems wrong to receive these benefits without
making whatever contributions you can.
The second function is continuing professional
education. Historically, CoG is not as strong in this area. Perhaps if
more people got involved and directed their contributions that way,
more could be done.