Netherlands and Elsewhere
Interview with Morgana
By Christopher Blackwell
Sometimes I can be blind to the obvious. Back when I started ACTION http://aren.org/newsletter/), AREN’s (Alternative Religions Education Network http://aren.org/) president suggested I try networking with some of the Europeans groups, which included Pagan Federation International. There I have been in contact with Morgana for a few years now and I even post on the PFI forum.
While there I asked whom they would like me to interview in Europe and one person suggested Morgana. Talk about missing the obvious. [Grin] So that is how this interview came to be.
Christopher: Could you tell our readers a bit about yourself and how long you have been Pagan?
Morgana:I was born in Wales although my parents were born in Lancashire, England. We moved back to Lancashire where I spent my school years, not far from where Gerald Gardner was born at Blundell Sands near to Liverpool. I studied to be a teacher and after teaching for a year in Liverpool I moved to the Netherlands.
I didn’t intend staying there since I wanted to go to India… which I did in 1977. I was fortunate to be able to go overland via Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. I stayed for a year – did a bit of teaching – went to Nepal and Sri Lanka as well and returned via Afghanistan in 1978. I was greeted by the Russians … that was in effect the last year of the backpackers adventures overland to India and the historic “Hippy trail”.
I never lost my wonder for travel but once back in the Netherlands I settled down to domestic life. Well not quite…
I met Merlin before I left for India. In fact he introduced me to the phenomena of Wicca. He called it “the Old Religion” and something familiar clicked, but India called. During my travels he had met a couple of Alexandrians. So when I came back he introduced me to them. However I didn’t find them to resonate with my feeling of “spiritual”. Merlin didn’t seem to get too far either so we decided to look to England for more information. We came across the works of Dolores Ashcroft Nowicki from the Servants of the Light (SOL) and Marian Green. Both gave correspondence courses – Marian’s “Natural Magic Course” seemed the most appropriate, so that is what we decided to follow.
As it happened we would meet both ladies later and both would be tremendously important in our Craft career. I still meet Marian regularly, more than 30 years later!
1979 however was the year when things changed dramatically. We had done quite a lot of the Natural Magic Course. However I lost my job as a teacher and I lost my room because my landlord wanted to move. Merlin also had to move house… hrmmm what should we do? Of course fill the car with as much as we could and go to England for a holiday.
And what a magical journey it turned out to be! It started with a visit to the Atlantis bookshop in London. Merlin found a newsletter with a call for new members in a coven in Brighton. No email address of course, not even a phone number, just an address.
In those days one wrote letters and waited for a reply… but we hadn’t time for that. We had to go back to Holland. So we after visiting Avebury, Glastonbury, Tintagel and the New Forest we decided to call in at Brighton. There one late afternoon I knocked on the door of an old Victorian house. The door opened and a man – the spitting image of Gerald Gardner – stood before us. But he just took a look at us and closed the door!
A minute later the door re-opened – he said, “I have to pick up my wife, would you like to come?” So 2 seconds later we were in a car with a complete stranger heading for the centre of Brighton.
We met a lady – in her late 30’s early 40’s. She looked at us and said “Aha…” Later she told us that they had been expecting us! We joined them for dinner and talked and talked. Who were we? What were we looking for? Who were they? We met them once more before leaving back to Holland.
Back to – no job, no home. It didn’t take too much time before we found a room albeit way too expensive for a student and unemployed teacher. 3 weeks later we got a telephone call “would we like to be initiated?’ At Autumn Equinox 1979 – we went back to Brighton and were initiated 1st degree Gardnerians.
Christopher: What was it like to be Pagan when you started?
Morgana: There were few books around and no Internet. I didn’t even know the word “pagan” could refer to something contemporary. Classical Paganism was something to do with Greece. And Shakespeare.
I grew up in the 60’s & 70’s and my first pagan experiences were as a hippy. I loved the music of the Incredible String Band and loved the lyrics of Robin Williamson and Mike Heron. I also went to the festival at Bath in 1969 following the huge success of Woodstock. Seeing Santana, Jefferson Airplane, Led Zeppelin and dancing on stage with Dr. John probably sealed my fate.
Although I was the first in my family to receive higher education and could support myself financially it was the advent of the Pill, which truly meant that I was able to escape the cycle of “marriage and babies”. I knew that I as a woman could achieve more than my mother in the 1970’s than she had been able to in the 1930’s but it was more than being “emancipated”. I never became a feminist – and yet I knew that I could not accept Christianity and the patriarchal stance of the Church. I wanted to be a priestess!
Christopher: How did you meet other Pagans? Were there Pagan organizations available?
Morgana: We met few pagans. There was very little organised in the late 70’s – early 1980’s. The people we met were Gardnerians as we went back to England for coven meetings. Some of my Craft friend were also involved in the Pagan Federation but that was in the UK. We met Marian at the Questfest in 1981. so gradually our circle of friends expanded. Travel to the UK then was by boat from the continent. It would take us the best part of a day to get to Brighton and London. Air travel was far too expensive!
So we founded our own organization 🙂
In 1979 shortly after our initiation we founded “Silver Circle” and launched a quarterly magazine “Wiccan Rede”. We started holding information evenings and gradually started training our own people. By 1984 – yes five years later – we initiated our first trainee.
Over the years Silver Circle grew and became the biggest Wicca network in the Benelux. By 1996 Internet entered our lives…. and email! Our daughter who was born on the Summer Solstice 1985 was no longer a baby .. and I started to spread my wings … again.
Christopher: How did you start getting active in the community?
Morgana: Our first public appearance was with the foundation of “Silver Circle” and the launch of the Anglo/Dutch magazine “Wiccan Rede” in 1980.
At this time only a handful of people had even heard of Wicca in the Netherlands.
We managed to get good quality articles from Dolores and from Marian. We wrote most of the articles though.
Then we started the Information evenings, fondly called “The Friday Evening group”. We covered all sorts of subjects including Western Mysteries. We started the coven but also had a ritual group. Most weekends were filled with craft activities.
Then in 1997 Lady Bara, an Alexandrian HPS, and I decided to volunteer to run PFI Netherlands under the then International Coordinator Tony Kemp. It was at this time too that a number of witches – including Lady Bara, Merlin and I – decided to start the “Witches Cafes”, monthly moots. The first one was in Utrecht. Later other people would start cafes throughout Holland and Belgium.
By 1999 I was International Coordinator for PFI and we started expanding it. At first PFI was a district of the PF but by 2006 we had started a foundation “Stichting PFI”. We spilt off from the PF and became an affiliated organisation. This meant that we retained an advisory seat on the Council for International affairs but were a separate legal entity.
The PFI nations fall under the Foundation. Now there are more that 20 separate PFI Nations and we are present on all continents.
Christopher: How did you start writing booklets?
Morgana: By necessity! There was little literature available in Dutch, so we introduced many concepts via articles in “Wiccan Rede”. I should add that I wasn’t really a writer.
Merlin wrote the editorials and many more articles than I ever did!
I was also working full time. Merlin was a full time househusband, so short articles and essays were about as much as we could do manage. Merlin revised a booklet he had written into a book “Horens van de Maan” (Horns of the Moon) which was published by a Christian publishing house.
He also wrote the readers we would use for our “Guidance Course”. This was in 1990.
Our booklets were also used to support the information we were giving via Silver Circle.
Sometimes we would sell books etc at medieval fairs. Now most of it is done via Internet of course.
Christopher: What about “Beyond the Broomstick”? I understand it is available in English at Amazon.com
Morgana: Yes. This is what I wrote when a friend of mine offered to publish the English version:
“Twijgen uit de bezem” was first published as a series called Beyond The Broomstick (1980, Wiccan Rede). It was translated into Dutch and published as a book in 1982. At that time there were virtually no books about Wicca available in Dutch.
Morgana wrote the eight-part series as an introduction to Wicca with particular emphasis on the philosophical thoughts behind it. As a new religion in the Netherlands, few people knew what Wicca was, and there is a natural tendency to explain something against a background of ‘what it isn’t.’
Examining major concepts such as Polarity, the Triple Goddess, the God and the Elements, Morgana has presented Wicca in a clear, easy-to-read manner. This is an excellent primer for beginners but is also a handy source of information for the already interested to learn more about ‘what Wicca is’.
Both “Beyond the Broomstick” and the Dutch version “Twijgen uit de Bezem” were published in 2008.
Christopher: How long have you been working with Pagan Federation International? What do you do in PFI?
Morgana: I have been the International Coordinator since 1999. I manage the various PFI Nations, coaching new national coordinators and generally oversee the whole operation.
The PFI Forum has several sub fora including one for the NC’s so we have an ongoing dialogue. Most of PFI is cyber-run as you can imagine. It has to be otherwise it would be too expensive!
I am also the co-NC, along with Lady Bara, for the Netherlands so we help the members here. We have an annual conference, which Lady Bara organises. I tend to visit the different PFI’s and give talks about Wicca or Paganism. I also attend academic conferences and represent the Foundation. I gave a paper for example about Wicca in Rome, Italy, in 2007.
Since I have had quite a lot experience working in an international setting I am (getting) quite used to different cultures. Within Paganism this is vitally important I think. I try to encourage each PFI to work locally – but also know they can ask us (especially from the UK and US) for advice. There is a vast amount of pagan heritage in Europe, which has yet to be uncovered. Through war, political structures and foreign intervention in general plus increasing globalisation many Europeans feel that their culture is disappearing. Religious fundamentalism too hinders an acceptance of a different way of thinking – a different kind of spirituality.
There is a place for interfaith although many pagans shirk at the thought of inter-religious dialogue. Many too do not want to be involved in “politics” and yet this is often because they are still afraid of standing up and being counted. There is still discrimination and old Church laws undermine secularism.
Christopher: I have been told you are active in Pub Moots and Forums? Care to tell us a bit about them?
Morgana: Yes this is all part of the networking that I do. I meet many different kinds of people from young to old, and from many different countries and social backgrounds. The moots have a social character but we try to give practical advice and information about the various Pagan traditions. Sometimes we give talks and hold seasonal celebrations too.
Although Internet has been incredibly important for keeping in contact, personal contact is always going to be the way in which we share our hopes and dreams.
Christopher: How far have Pagans come since you were new to it? What yet would you like to see happen?
Morgana: When I started, finding information was very difficult. Now there is an overkill! However people have to be much more discerning today. Not everything you read on Internet is correct. And this certainly applies to paganism. I have seen Paganism become almost mainstream in the UK. Here in the Netherlands we don’t have too many problems practising our religion either.
Christopher: What yet would you like to see happen?
Morgana: On the one hand I would like to see paganism accepted as a valid spiritual path. On the other hand as soon as it becomes mainstream I think it will lose its wildness and independence. Witches should be subversive. We should not be afraid to show where there are anomalies. That women can be equally proficient in administering rites of passage. That the sacredness of life includes having full control of your own body and your own life. That personal responsibility and respect is something we earn and is not enforced by some government body.
I would like to see our children having the freedom to think and believe (or not believe) for themselves. But above that we can live in a world in harmony with nature. That WE try to adapt to nature and not vice versa. That we know our place in the order of things, not as slaves but as free men & women.
Christopher: Any advice to some of the newer members in the Pagan community?
Morgana: change really does begin with you. However it is not instant. And you certainly can’t buy it! Community spirit, a sense of belonging, love & respect are all things that do not have to cost a lot. Look at different forms of organisation. Be open to the lessons we can see in nature. There are natural hierarchies, take heed and listen. Most nature religions are based on an oral tradition not books.
It is worth looking at how different cultures have survived and even if we live in the city to integrate old and well tried customs. And not get bogged down with the “authenticity” of a Book of Shadows. I would say to close “Use your common sense”.
Morgana, Zeist, the Netherlands, November 2009