Modern Witch: Witchcraft in the 21st Century
Join Devin Hunter for insights, magic, and pop culture as we celebrate modern witchcraft, mysticism, and the occult in the 21st century.
Modern Witch interview with Courtney Weber
Author, tarot creator, and pagan leader Courtney Weber joined me on the latest episode of The Modern Witch Podcast. Our conversation was such a blast that I had to send her a few more questions. For the full interview head on over to The Modern Witch PodCast.
DH: The New York pagan scene has been exploding over the past few years. As a pagan Leader within that community what would you say are some of the major reasons for this renaissance?
CW: It seems to go in cycles, with a resurgence happening every twenty years or so. One of my teachers says that's pretty typical of the entire Pagan movement, as a whole. Other writers have connected the interest in Paganism and Witchcraft to environmental damage. When we notice the planet it injured, we cherish it even more. My gut sense is that this recent resurgence is an unconscious reaction to 9/11. I moved to New York in 2003, when the city was still in the very early stages of healing. There wasn't much of a cohesive community. I kept meeting people who, like me, were looking for the community but couldn't find it. It started coming together slowly, but then quickly and one day just exploded in number. I suspect other local congregations may have experienced something similar with their own numbers. Consciously or not, people are trying to find meaning and comfort in a world that became sharply terrifying on one single day. I believe I can trace my own embrace of Paganism to the aftermath the tragedy. Everywhere, but especially in New York, the collective soul needs nurture. Green faith (as the interfaith community calls it) is dynamically restorative. I think there is a pulse beneath the concrete that suffering souls can feel. We know the Mother is a Healing one, and this draw is what I believe stirred this recent renaissance.
DH: In the wake of Hurricane Sandy there was a major multi-faith relief effort, what part did Pagans play in this effort?
CW: We started by first checking in with one another and making sure our own needs were met, whether they be super practical or more emotional. One member of my community lost his job when it was literally washed away--the waterline in the store was above his head and they could not afford to take him back. This young person was a working student, but he was one of many we could help by simply sharing information..where to find government aid, forwarding him job postings and the like. But some of our greatest work came from collaborating and collecting resources.
Normally, there are ten or more Samhain celebrations scheduled within a five mile radius. That year, nearly all were canceled because of the storm. Our Coven's Samhain was one of only two Samhain rituals that did go on (that I was aware of). We'd rented a space at the Gay Center in the village, but it was still without power a week after the storm. We ended up in a former speakeasy-turned theater space...and we didn't even know if we would have power, there! We asked everyone to bring a candle for light but FORBID flowing clothing, also asking that they bring clean-up supplies and canned food. They did. I noticed members of several Covens show up, along with dozens of solitary practitioners. Many walked miles to come, not even knowing if there would be heat or electricity. Still, they were so eager to be with like-minded others after the storm that they made the trek, rescue supplies in hand. The power finally came on in the space about an hour before we began, so we assembled all of our candles on the altar, together. It was an incredibly beautiful sight.
Prior to the storm, I'd made friends with an Episcopalian minister through our chaplaincy work at Occupy Wall Street. She had a car and one of the last tanks of gas in the tri-state area there was a severe gas shortage (meaning NO GAS ANYWHERE. AT ALL.). I told her the Witches were gathering for our high-holy holiday and would have supplies for rescue relief. We enough stuff to fill my living room to the point that I had to make a little path from the front door to my bedroom. The minister and her husband came the next day drove it to the Rockaways, directly. That was just one example. Other members of the community went directly into homes, climbing up 15-16 flights of high-rises in the dark, to help out the elderly whose power was not restored for weeks.
DH: What have you noticed are commonalities pagans share with other spiritual cultures, especially during times of need?
CW: Spiritual people of all faiths typically share the belief that basic human needs must be met. We may not agree on what the Divine looks like, but we can't argue that the hungry must be fed. Those without heat must receive blankets and space heaters. Those who cannot leave their apartments must be looked in on. I think we share the same outrage over injustice. The majority of those most affected by Sandy lived in poverty-stricken areas. Many did not speak English. Many were elderly or ill. The first order of business was to care for those directly impacted. The second was to address the systems that left these people vulnerable in the first place.
Working with other faiths also helps others understand us, better. Recently, a number of us from the Pagan Environmental Coalition attended an anti-fracking rally. An organizer approached one of the members and thanked her for coming, asking if she'd come by herself or with a group. When our member mentioned she was Pagan and from the Coalition, the woman said something like, "Well, I'm a Christian and I don't believe in what you do." Our member replied, "That's fine. We're not here to talk religion. We're here to stop fracking." I think the woman said, "Oh. Well, thank you for coming." I can't presume to read the other person's mind, but she must have gone away with at least a slightly different viewpoint about Pagans. She might not agree with our religion, but if we're turning out to support the same cause as she, we might not be "all bad." It's one step, even if it's a small one! I like to think she'll take that experience to her congregation and share a little more about us. Nothing happens in a vacuum. Everything ripples.
DH: What do you feel as pagan leaders our focus should be in the coming years as our community continues to grow and discover its self?
CW: We do so much work in regards to Pagan awareness and trying to educate non-Pagans about us. Frankly, I don't think just talking about ourselves is effective. Why should people listen? I like Buddhism as a philosophy, but I don't want to hear a bunch of Buddhists rant about what they believe. If they believe in peace, I want to see how they will work for it. Our local Pagan Pride chapter started including ecojustice organizers from secular groups at Pagan Pride Day which has been extremely successful in raising awareness and getting work done. If we believe the Earth is sacred--let's not talk about it, let's show it! We need to find what breaks our hearts and address it in ways that bring us joy. Raising energy is good, but it's not enough. We need to get our hands dirty, whether it's cleaning up a park or attending local working group on a minimum wage increase. Many Pagans believe in "As Above, So Below." We spend a lot of time in "As Above," focusing on theory and Spirit and growth of the soul. But to really know thyself, work must be done on the So Below. I've learned that my community has a passion for issues impacting women, homeless LGBTQ teens, ecojustice initiatives, and animal welfare. By presenting these issues to my community, individuals received the opportunity to learn they care about and what they can do thereby knowing more about Themselves than they would find in a Quarter Calling. If we want to know ourselves, we won't solely find it in a Circle or a festival. We will find it under times of stress and passion, finding our strengths and shadows by addressing the things that break our hearts. This knowledge will lead us to knowing our collective Self.
DH: You are involved in the People’s Climate Change march this September, what do you hope is accomplished during this march?
CW: I want to see at least 1,000 Pagans from all parts of the world marching together through the streets of New York, each calling attention to the ways climate change will affect their area. If droughts, tornadoes, disease, or hurricanes pose a direct threat to marchers' areas, I want to see signs saying so. This is predicted to be the biggest climate march in history. Over 300,000 people have already pledged to be there. My hope, and the collective hope of the march, is that it will attract the attention of the UN Summit on Climate Change and show the outrage and commitment of the people of the world to this issue. I want to see Pagans there in force to show the world that we are a serious demographic to consider. We are not a group people to be dismissed. We are loud, proud, and active in making the world a safe place for our future generations.
Fore more about Courtney and all she is doing check her out on the latest episode of The Modern Witch Podcast.
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