Spirit of Ma'at: "Sacred Sites" Vol 2, No 6
an interview with Kirk White
National Public Information Officer for the
East Coast Covenant of the Goddess
by Diane M. Cooper
Diane: What kind of organization is the Covenant of the Goddess?
Kirk: The Covenant of the Goddess is an international network and collection of autonomous Witches and Pagans who gather together to network and do interfaith work. It was founded in 1975.
Diane: You used the word "interfaith." Are Wicca or Paganism considered formal religions?
Kirk: Yes, because we deal with finding ways to worship and attune oneself to the workings of the Divine. In our case, the Divine is the Goddess as she manifests through Nature. We believe in an imminent Divinity that the Goddess is everywhere, in you and me, in the rocks and trees. Our practice of devotional ritual, of tuning ourselves to the forces of nature, and even when we work to heal people and to do good works, are all due to our religious practice.
Diane: I find it curious that the energy you honor is feminine and that Christianity deals with the masculine. Do you have a place for the masculine energies as well?
Kirk: We do. The Covenant of the Goddess requires that all of its members be Goddess worshipers but they can also worship others. There are witches who are just goddess worshippers and that's it, and then there are those who worship both the male and female aspects as equals.
Some witches don't personify their deity at all. In other words they are not gender-specific. There are witches who are Pantheistic, in that all gods and goddesses are seen as One God or Goddess. And there are those who are polytheistic, where they may worship a pantheon of deities. Today they might work with Hera, and tomorrow they might work with Aphrodite.
Diane: Why do you think there's been such an interest in the movie Harry Potter among children and adults alike?
Kirk: I think it's because our culture as a whole has become somewhat sterile. Our kids grow up, go to school, and learn all the ways they are supposed to act and behave, and there isn't much mystery anymore. I think that Harry Potter represents the mystery.
Harry lived this pretty dull but in some ways somewhat torturous existence under the stairs. The only change in the dullness was when his nephew Dudley harassed him. I think a lot of kids and adults in our culture tend to feel the same way. We go through our daily grind, and the only thing that may punctuate it is when someone gives us a hard time. I think our culture has this longing to find out if there is another reality out there.
Diane: To find the "magic" of life, if you will?
Kirk: Yes. To find the magic of life that lies behind and is hidden for the most part from the mundane world. I think that's why the story appeals to both children and adults.
And I do think that this is one of the reasons why spiritual traditions like Wicca and Witchcraft are growing in popularity, because they show and are explicit in the fact of life having meaning and purpose. They teach that not only can you be a passenger on the ride, but you can be an active participant as well. You learn that everyone is a vital participant in the magic and mystery of life on a day-to-day basis.
Diane: Just the other day I was thinking how our societal system seems to be set up to keep us so busy that we can't slow down enough to sense what may really be going on.
Kirk: Yes. I think that's true. We are working harder now than our ancestors did. The farmers of the 1800s may have worked a lot but once the cows were milked they had a couple of hours break time. Today we're running full out just trying to afford all the nifty little devices and to keep up with our credit card debt. Many people feel trapped by all that.
Diane: Among some members of the Christian community there has been much outrage against the Harry Potter works. I haven't been able to get anyone to interview with me from that perspective, so I don't really know the particulars, but where do you think all that fear comes from?
Kirk: First, we need to be clear that it is not all Christians who feel this way. Around where I live, the Congregationalist and Methodist Churches have had Harry Potter reading groups for the kids.
I think the problem arises from the fundamentalist approach that takes very literally the Old Testament prohibitions against sorcery and says that anything not adhering to this fundamental approach is "of the devil." This means that anything that captures a child's attention has to be written in the Bible. If it isn't, then it is threatening. To be a witch or wizard is strictly prohibited in the Old Testament. I disagree, but I believe these folks are being true to their theology.
Certainly Harry Potter does make magic very appealing and exciting. Every kid wants to go to Hogwarts.
Diane: What is your definition of magic?
Kirk: Magic is the raising of energy through ritual and then the utilization of the will and imagination to focus that energy towards a particular goal you wish to accomplish.
One of the requirements is that the goal must be in harmony with the cycles, forces, and flow of nature. Another is to do no harm to anyone else. Doing harm can simply be stopping someone from doing what they want to do stopping them from doing their own will.
For instance, I've known of covens of witches who have done magic to stop a child abuser that the system didn't seem to be able to catch. They didn't do the spell to hurt the person, but to make certain senses arise so that the person wouldn't be able to continue their molestation.
But doing a spell of this nature is ethically questionable. That is where the Threefold Law comes into play. The Threefold law is a general rule that says, "Anything you put out to the universe will come back to you three times." So if you put out good deeds and energy, that will come back and return to your life threefold. If you do something harmful, that will return to you as well. It's one of those situations where the people doing the spells are weighing the benefits and the payoff. They are saying, "Well, it is worth it for me to have restriction come back to me three times if it stops that person from harming another child" (for more about the Wiccan tenets and the Threefold Law, see The Rede).
We live in a closed system. You can't put your toxic waste in your neighbor's yard and think that it's not going to come back someday and have an affect on you. It's that simple.
Diane: Kind of like instant karma?
Kirk: Yes, essentially it is.
Diane: I understand what you're saying. However it seems to me that if everyone is on the web of life and everything affects everything else, then all spells whether they be intended for harm or not will affect the entire system. So how do you determine what is ultimately going to be positive or negative?
Kirk: Ahhh! Well, first of all you want to pay attention very closely to everything that is going on around you. And then, you put lots of disclaimers into your magical practice. A standard one you put into the end of your magical ritual is something to the effect of "as long as it is according to the free will of all and that it harm none."
So, for example, if I need a job, as long as my getting the job isn't going to have a negative impact on somebody else who needs it more, then I'm asking in my ritual to be given the job. But what if my getting the job is going to mean taking it away from someone with a bunch of kids who needs that job in order not to lose their house? Then I don't want the job. You put that into your practice to cover all the bases. That's why no Pagan ever wins the lottery. [laughs]
Diane: Okay, but what's the difference between me going down and applying for the job as a person would normally, and you doing ritual? If you are saying, "May the best person or the most needful person win" then what's the difference between that and just letting "fate" have its hand? Are you stacking the deck in your favor?
Kirk: Well, maybe a little. There's a couple of things that happen by doing magic. One is, when you're doing magic, even before you're focusing the energy, you have had to come up with very precise outcomes. The more you can imagine your desire coming to be, the more likely you will get what you want. This is a good thing to do no matter what you're doing in life.
If you say, "Gee, I'd like to buy a house," you will begin to imagine the style of house, the price, the number of bedrooms you'll need all that stuff. So it takes things from a vague "I want" to a specific outcome.
You never just do a spell and not follow up in the physical world. If you're doing a spell for a job you can't just sit at home and never apply for one. You've got to go out and look for a job. Part of the ritual act focuses YOU so you know what you're looking for. It opens up your mind so that you're more likely to notice things you wouldn't ordinarily pay attention to. You are formally stating what you are looking for and how it will fit into your world, and you're making a ritual act of paying attention to the way the energy is flowing and its patterns.
By patterns, I'm talking about the way people act, and the patterns of nature the seasonal cycles. If you want to do highway work, for instance, don't apply for it in the winter in Vermont, because they aren't fixing highways then.
It's about being aware of everything around you. The more you are attuned to and aware of exactly what you're looking for, the more likely you're going to find it. A large part of the magic is that it transforms YOU! It also sends out a message to the universe that says, "Hey! I'm looking for something and if it's right, please consider me for it."
Diane: In Shamanism it is said that the use of ceremony engages the soul. And lately there have been articles written on the subject of "conscious" prayer, and books on the use of imagination in creating what you desire. Most do not add the element of ceremony or ritual, though.
Kirk: Ritual provides a focus. You do the activation first, and then you go into the ritual with an object of focus. You then raise the energy and you send it out.
I've studied many religions from Fundamentalism to Hindu and we're really all doing the same thing. Cultural context and the needs of our individual groups may change, but the Divine is the Divine and magic is magic. What words we use don't make any difference in what is still really going on.
I think this is one of the things Witches, Pagans, and Wiccans have recognized. They don't say you have to do it this way or that way. Because we are all Divine because we all have Goddess in us we all have direct access to Divine Inspiration. If you listen for that you'll find it, and you don't need somebody dictating to you your theology or your dogma or practice.
One thing I often say is that there have been people doing this for generations who have found the best ways to accomplish their goals. You can go down the hill in winter several ways. It's easier to ski but you can also go in your sandals. So I think there is some value in paying attention to the long-standing traditions of our elders. Ultimately, if the Goddess says to do it one way, you do it that way.
Diane: Let's talk about going with the flow of nature. So if someone is going against nature, or is using the accumulation of power for "evil," or is self-serving and harmful to others what can happen to them?
Kirk: My belief is that "real" magic is being in tune with the cycles of nature and the flow of energy around you, both in your natural environment or in the people around you. Also paying attention to the sun and the moon, even the grass, is part of this. Even the energy that is going through your body is important, so that you are optimally well and healthy.
The more you can attune to this flow, then the more you are in sync with life and nature. That is true magic. You're participating in magic just by breathing and being alive. Then doing what is right can come effortlessly to you.
As you get in sync, your needs will be met without your having to ask. So by the time you realize you're hungry, there's a tree with an apple. You don't have to find you're hungry, and then go find an apple tree. That's the real magic at a deeper level.
So people who are really living in that space don't look like they are doing anything at all. The times that you do spells are either when you weren't paying attention or weren't quite in tune. So you missed something and you were surprised, or something that was clearly out of the realm came in from outside an influence that you really had no control over like the September 11 events, for instance. Then you do magic essentially to rectify, to put things back into balance. You don't do the magic to throw the balance off, you do magic in accord with it so everything returns to the flow.
People who do destructive magic or manipulative magic can put on some pretty good shows. I don't know if you've ever tubed down a river or kayaked, but if you're really paying attention it can become this very effortless thing. You're aware of the way the current is moving you. You're hypersensitive to where the rocks are. You come into this meditative state where you're not thinking, you're just moving. It really looks like you're not doing anything, and you're not making much ripple in the water.
People who are doing dark magic are in that kayak trying to paddle upstream. They look like they are accomplishing a lot because there is water splashing everywhere. But the big problem is that they can't paddle upstream for very long. The stream always wins. And that's why those folks tend to burn out very quickly. Especially if you add the Threefold Law, that says that everything they do comes back to them. If they are paddling upstream they are making it very hard on themselves. They are going against the flow.
So that's the way I see magic working. Really, when someone does a spell, it's that you're kayaking down the river and you took your attention off the river for a second to look at a flower, and when you looked back there was a rock, at which point you had to do a quick move to get around that rock. That's what the spell is.
Diane: What I'm hearing you say is that if you really looked at the conscious practice of witchcraft, it would be a training at the core level to keep you in the flow.
Kirk: That's right.
Diane: I notice there is an incredible amount of material out there written about witchcraft, some really romanticizing the casting of spells? You go to just about any book store and you can find out how to conjure almost anything.
Kirk: That's right. There are books on how to get a boyfriend or what have you a cookbook of spells, if you will. They are written because that's what people buy.
To really learn to do magic is a discipline and it takes practice. You have to learn. And most people don't want that. They want to buy a book and say a few words and light a candle. They want a shortcut. The thing is, if you haven't done the other work, lots of time those cookbook spells don't work. Once in a while they'll surprise you and work if you happen to be in the right state.
All the people I know who've been in the Craft for more than a couple of years don't buy those books. They don't even have them on their shelves.
Diane: So if someone were interested in pursuing witchcraft or wicca, what would be the steps you'd recommend for someone to make an inquiry?
Kirk: First, I'd recommend they become avid readers and read with somewhat of a critical eye.
One book I recommend is The Spiral Dance, by Star Hawk. It provides a good orientation to the subject and has some useful exercises. Later, if people feel so inclined, they can contact organizations like Covenant of the Goddess to see if there are any local activities going on in their area. Another source is www.witchvox.com. It is the largest witchcraft website out there. They have tons of information and networking and resource directories. It's a great way to find other folks.
As with anything, when you're looking, proceed with caution. There are always people out there who are willing to take advantage of others.
Diane: Go with awareness...
Kirk: Yes, not a childlike naiveté. Do some reading first. Look at how the people you've contacted live their lives and if they are non-authoritarian. If they tell you how you have to live your life, run away.
Diane: Back to Harry Potter. Your email said you have a 10-year-old daughter who's memorized all the Harry Potter books. Tell me your experience with young people in regards to Harry Potter and what benefits you've seen.
Kirk: I think there are several benefits. On the magical side, of course, it re-enlivens their sense of magic and mystery in the world. Especially for kids that are being raised Pagan, it's given them something to talk about given them a place to feel that they're not weird but special. Another big benefit is, it's gotten kids and adults alike to read and that's always good.
I think the biggest gift is, it has added a sense of wonder to life again. I think the movie The Lord of the Rings serves a similar purpose to our own generation as Harry Potter does for the kids. It is about a different world than Harry Potter, but the Tolkien books were a source of inspiration and magic for those who are parents and grandparents today. I think its just terrific!
Diane: Thanks Kirk, for all the information you've shared.