Interview with Anne Newkirk Niven, Editor of Witches&Pagans

Interview: Anne Newkirk Niven Editor of Crone, Witches&Pagans, and SageWoman Magazine

Michael Night Sky December 1st, 2009

This article first appeared in

anne Interview: Anne Newkirk Niven Editor of Crone,Witches&Pagans, and SageWoman Magazine

She lives in Forest Grove, Oregon, with her husband and three sons.
Anne Newkirk Niven happens to be a great inspiration to me in my Pagan and Magical studies, on the top on my people who inspire me list.

I first encountered Anne’s work directly as an Editor and Pagan publisher, when I sent in one of my articles/interviews as a contribution to one of her magazines. She mercilessly stole the article from the magazine I submitted it to, and placed it in another one of her magazines! (this is a true story and switching the article to the other magazine is something I am forever grateful for, of course!) I guess this is something you can easily do, and all in a day’s hard work, when you happen to be the Editor -N -Chief of the magazines. I want to thank Anne for taking time out of her very busy schedule to conduct this exclusive interview for Thorn magazine.

How did your interest in Paganism begin?

I imagine, like most Pagans, that there really never was a time when I *wasn’t* Pagan; it’s just that I didn’t have a name for it. I was a pious, evangelical Christian child, but with a mystical heart. My head was with the Gospels, but my heart was with the Earth, and eventually, as a young adult, I discovered the Goddess through reading two books: The Mists of Avalon (which was a gateway for many in my generation) and Starhawk’s original version of The Spiral Dance.

What word or words best describe you or your belief system, Spiritual or otherwise?
( Witch? Pagan? Goddess?….you get the picture)

I'm a Gaian Witch with Christo-Pagan leanings. Which, of course, is to say that I’m a Pagan heretic, just like I used to be a Christian one! My primary connection is to the Earth Goddess, which is what makes me a Gaian. I do magick (though relatively rarely) which is what makes me a Witch. And my primary connection to the God is through a lovely working relationship with Jesus. I also have worked, upon occasion, with Brigid, Isis and Oshun (I was turned on to this relationship by a cowrie reading done by Luisah Teish) and I have an ongoing, if subdued, relationship with Our Lady of Guadaloupe. You can tell a lot about me that I answer a question about my belief system in terms of my relationship with various deities, because I’m pretty much an iconoclast and have little use (in my personal life) for doctrinal formulae.

Fortunately, I got myself booted out of a rigid, fundamentalist church when I was only in third grade for my insubordinate questions, so my relationship with Christianity as a religion has primarily been with the liberal wing of the United Methodist Church. I received a bachelor’s degree in religious studies from a (nominally) Presbyterian college and went to a liberal Christian seminary whilst I was exploring my spirituality, receiving a Master’s of Divinity as an out-of-the-closet Pagan with Diana Paxson as my supervising pastoral mentor. I was consecrated to the Goddess and God by the Fellowship of the Spiral Path over twenty years ago, but I have not kept up my membership in that (or any) Pagan organization. I’m pretty happy as a solitary, at least for the moment, although I’m hoping to change that in my new home in Oregon.

Have you ever encountered any static from anyone (Pagan or otherwise?) while publishing for being a Witch with Christo-Pagan leanings?

Of course. I’ve been rather closeted, to tell the truth, because when I am open about my personal faith with Pagans I often get castigated, sometimes extremely harshly. (I’m not currently connected to many Christians on a personal basis, but the Christian friends I have are all very supportive of my Pagan beliefs. But then, they are liberal, social-gospel type Christians.) An editorial I wrote in SageWoman back in the nineties on this subject ignited a firestorm of protest; the one comment that stays with me to this day was a letter from a reader who wrote, (sarcastically) “Thanks for poisoning the sacred well.” I understand the need of many Pagans to avoid contact with Christianity, and I respect that by hardly ever commenting publicly on this subject other than excising vitriolic anti-Christian diatribes from our magazines. Encountering this type of prejudice has probably contributed substantially to my personal (not professional) distance from participating in Pagan groups and events. It’s very common, of course, for a new religious movement to reject the language, deities, and trappings of its predecessors (look at how the Christians have treated Jews over the centuries) but I used to naively believe Paganism immune to such influences. Historically, modern neo-Paganism grew up in a Abrahamic, primarily Christian, culture, so its rejection of that religion is a healthy part of its development. But I’m hoping that as the neo-Pagan movement develops more fully on its own, it will gradually moderate that stance. I already see this developing in the form of inter-religious dialogue between Pagans and Christians.

How did you get involved with Pagan publishing?

(Laughs). It’s a long story, but, in brief, I was trying to make a living. That’s why I laughed, since that sounds absurd, really. But it’s what happened. In 1988, I was living in Point Arena, California, a tiny coastal community in the middle of nowhere, having given up pursuing a career in the Christian ministry (for both personal and thealogical reasons) and my husband was operating a small print shop. I saw a copy of SageWoman and called the publisher, Lunaea Weatherstone, and asked to have the job of printing the magazine. Her printer at the time had done a bad job for her something like printing pages upside down and backwards, and she said, “yes.” After a long series of events, SageWoman came to be in my hands, and I ended up as her publisher. I’ve been doing this work ever since!

It must be a lot of work to publish Pagan magazines. Are there a lot of challenges in the work?

Well, yes, it’s pretty tough to make a living in any kind of publishing these days! The work is challenging, but rewarding, and I love it. I’m quite aware that I’m very fortunate to have been able to do this work for so many years. Publishing is not for the faint of heart: there’s financial challenges (like the fact that we barely break even on newsstand copies), lots and lots of creative challenges (you try coming up with a suitable illustration for a five-page spread on Satanism, like we did in PanGaia issue 50), and, of course, simply not enough hours in the day. But it’s by far the best job I’ve ever had.

You’ve told us about SageWoman; tell us about some of your other magazines.

SageWoman is the mother of all our titles. We wouldn’t even have a publishing company without her, and I still love SageWoman as much as when I saw my first issue. A women’s circle — in print — seems like an evergreen concept to me, and our readers seem to agree. But as a happily-married woman with three sons, it seemed odd to me to be publishing material only for women. In 1991, we started a men’s counterpart to SageWoman named The Green Man. Unfortunately, there wasn’t really community support for that title, and in 1995 it morphed into PanGaia, which was co-gender and therefore reached a wider audience.
Later we started a Pagan family magazine, The Blessed Bee, which we ran for eight years (and still have all those lovely back issues available) but like The Green Man, we just couldn’t find enough of a market for it, so we closed that title a couple of years ago. newWitch came about as a result of my husband Alan and I waking up on September 10, 2001 (yes, the day before 911) with the concept of a magazine specifically to break new ground in Pagan publishing. It was a fully-formed idea right out of the box, and the timing was fortunate — if we’d had the idea even 24 hours later, we would never have had the chutzpah to go ahead with the idea.
After newWitch, we went the other way entirely: to creating a magazine specifically for Crone-aged women. Crone: Women Coming of Age is the only one to grow from another title that we didn’t publish ourselves. A magazine named Crone Chronicles, published by our good friend Ann Kreilkamp, had a decade-long run and ended about five years ago. Last year, I realized that the concept might be ready to return, and called up Ann K. to see if she would collaborate with me on a re launch, and she said yes! So that’s how Crone came about.

During your time as a Pagan publisher have you noticed other Pagan Zines come and go? (what do you think keeps a good Pagan Zine going, and why do you think some of them cease publishing?, has the Internet affected the Craft of Pagan printed magazine publishing?)

(Laughing) Oh, my goodness, I couldn’t even count all the Pagan ‘zines I’ve seen come and go. We printed a good number of them; remember that we were small press printers before we were publishers. The mortality rate is truly staggering, but probably no more so than for magazine publishing in general; industry pundits like to say that only one magazine in ten survives two years, and less than 2% make it a decade. It’s like opening a restaurant; everyone thinks that they know how to cook, but actually running a food-based, customer service business is devilishly difficult. Pagan magazines have the additional challenges of facing a tiny niche market full of iconoclasts and free-thinkers (who are therefore unlikely to subscribe and difficult to market to potential advertisers) and the fact that Paganism is still a counter-cultural movement. For example, even after all these years, we still experience problems acquiring full newsstand penetration, especially for newWitch, because of prejudice against Pagans. And don’t even get me started on the difficulty of delivering our magazines to our incarcerated subscribers. We also have to mail everything in sealed envelopes, which is very expensive, because folks are reasonably worried about being “outed” as Pagan. It’s simply something we have to live with.
Add that to the fact that every Pagan zine I’ve ever heard of is run by volunteers (with a high propensity for burnout), massively under-capitalized, and with little or no experience in publishing or in running a small business, and it’s a miracle that there are Pagan zines at all. But the Goddess clearly inspires us and that’s what keeps all us Pagan publishers going, I’m certain.
As for the Internet, it has affected all publishing, Pagan and secular alike. It is a double-edged sword; we do a lot of business through the internet, and it makes it easier for folks to find us, but the Internet has brought about an explosion of free content (some good, some bad) that’s difficult to compete with. Unlike mass media titles, we depend on our actual readers, not our advertisers — though we value their support — for most of the revenue. So it’s absolutely vital that folks be willing to subscribe (or at least, buy on newsstand) our zines in order for us to survive. If everyone just says, “I can read that for free on the Internet” I’ll be sacking groceries in no time flat.

What is one of the best things you like about your job being a Pagan publisher and Editor? (what is most rewarding, or most humorous?, etc?)

Aside from simply having a job that’s contributing to the Goddess and building the Pagan community, what I like best is weaving together all the material I receive into a (hopefully) harmonious whole. I think of myself as a patchwork quilter, or perhaps, a choir conductor — the creativity is in melding the voices, not showcasing my own ideas.

Recent news I hear is PanGaia is merging with newWitch magazine, is this true?

That’s true; we are no longer going to publish PanGaia per se, and it was incredibly tough to make that call.
The proximate cause of no longer publishing PanGaia as a seperate title was both financial and personal. Financially, PanGaia always operated on a break-even basis, at best — and although it had a small core of dedicated readers, it never developed a large enough base to support itself, so it was always a (financial) drain on the rest of the company. Personally, we are slimmed-down to the thinnest staff possible — just our family — and I simply didn’t have the creative energy to manifest three magazines four times a year. I finally had to kick myself out of my denial over those two issues and do what needed to be done.
I spent an entire morning crying my eyes out when I finally came to grips with the fact that we could no longer publish PanGaia. Then, I picked myself up, and thought about how to take that circumstance and turn it into transformative energy. PanGaia has always been the most in-depth and serious of our Pagan magazines. If SageWoman was all “heart chakra” and newWitch focuses on issues more related to the first three chakras — issues of power, sex, groundedness, spellwork — then PanGaia was the “third eye” of the set. Although I thought that keeping these subjects corralled in their own little domains, I finally realized that carving up Pagandom (mentally, of course) into the “serious” audience and the “fluffy” audience was no longer useful. That’s where the idea of merging newWitch and PanGaia came from. We decided to expand the magazine to 96 pages and rename it Witches and Pagans to express the combination of the two audiences.

What has been the reaction to that change?

At first, I was really worried, because I got a fair bit of kickback from PanGaia readers who thought the new magazine would be too fluffy or, even more surprising, had a bad reaction to the W-word. I had people tell me, “I can’t subscribe to anything with the word “Witch” in the title.” I was flabbergasted, which I guess means there’s still some naievate lurking in my soul.
But as soon as the first issue came out, the reactions turned around completely, and I’ve been quite gratified that most folks seem to understand what we are trying to accomplish: a rich, deep, and comprehensive magazine that covers the entire Pagan movement. Our first issue has sold so well that for the first time we were asked to resupply Barnes & Noble with issues.

Since your time being involved with the Pagan Community, have you seen positive changes/growth since the earlier days?

A couple of things jump out at me — the increased popularity/mainstreaming of the idea of Paganism, and, conversely, the fragmentation of that community into an almost uncountable number of sub-cultures. When I first heard of the Goddess/Paganism, there was no mainstream consciousness of it at all, and now most everyone in touch with pop culture has at least heard of the concept, if nothing else than through fictional characters in mass media. During the time I’ve self-identified as Pagan, I’ve seen that title go from being freaky to trendy to blasé. It’s rather staggering, really. Of course, there’s still tons of prejudice and misinformation out there floating around, but a Witch (or Pagan, for that matter) today is more likely to be castigated by the mainstream for bad fashion choices than accused of sacrificing infants on the dark of the moon.
At the same time, this growth — and the increasing acceptance of Paganism by consensus reality — has changed the nature of the Pagan community itself. I remember a time when being Pagan was spoken about in whispers, and there were so few of us that we all felt we were part of one big family. (That didn’t keep family quarrels from breaking out, of course!) Now the community feels more like a movement or a confluence of communities than a single entity. I’m not speaking of the usual fracas of witchwars and the like, that’s all pretty penny ante stuff. But far more significantly, I’m actually seeing that the Pagan movement is more like the (to use an old term) “Rainbow coalition” — a gathering place for discrete, separate, self-identified communities joined primarily by some pretty vague (but meaningful) overarching concepts and needs. Primary among these concept is respect for female-named and aspected divinity — I know of very few, if any, solely masculine-identified Pagan paths — and an eco-spiritual consciousness that connects more meaningfully to immanent forms of divinity than transcendent ones. The Pagan movement also strongly values individual choice and what academics term “situational ethics.” The one thing every Pagan will fight to the death (metaphorically, of course!) is the right to worship deity in her/his own way.

What are some of the best things you like about the Pagan Community now?

It’s exhilerating to see the explosion of Pagan communities, for every possible need and desire. Paganism is an open book, and everyone is writing their own version of the good news; that kind of creativity shows the underlying vitality and, dare I say, deep connection to deity that only a genuine spiritual path can create. I’m also very happy to see signs of increasing intellectual vigor among Pagan writers and scholars and a maturing of Pagan ethical thinking. It’s a very exciting time to be Pagan, especially in a new political environment less dominated by an intolerant “my way or the highway” modus operandi.

Do you have any visions or hopes for the future of the worldwide Pagan and Magical communities?

I’d love to see the evolution of Pagan communities of faith integrated into people’s everyday lives, beyond the festival-based summer communities, and even beyond virtual online communities. I’d like to see open, public house circles — similar to the “house churches” which were so integral to the growth of the early Jesus movement — where any Pagan could come to worship. I’d love to see more Pagan social ministries — a sector of religious activity in which the Abrahamic faiths still almost completely dominate. Pagans — outside of the Reclaiming-style movement — haven’t yet largely embraced the fundamental connection between worship and work; that is to say, between being good and doing good. One place which is screamingly obvious that we need to move forwards in developing Pagan community is in outreach and genuine service to outcast communities. I'm especially aware of the enormous, tsunami-size growth in the number of incarcerated Pagans who have absolutely no meaningful pastoral services. And yet, as a community, Pagan prisoners are one of the largest sources of new Pagan adherents. As our movement continues to expand, mature, and develop, we will need to move beyond personal spirituality and morality into a more integrated, community-based path. Otherwise, we will never complete the transition into a self-sustaining spiritual path that stands the test of time.

Any thing you would care to leave us with in parting?

What I would like to say, directly to the Pagans reading this, is simple: keep your heart open. It’s very easy, as spiritual pioneers, as explorers, innovators and creators, to paradoxically become rigid, dogmatic, and self-righteous, to believe that we (however big that “we” is) are the only ones in connection with the divine. That’s the point when the Divine fades, and revelation becomes dogma. As long as we listen, really listen, to each other, without judgement and fear, I believe that we Pagans will continue to blossom and root ourselves deeply in our communities. I believe deeply in the transformative and creative nature of the Pagan reformation of western religion: I think it’s no accident that neo-Paganism blossomed just in time to bring a new bio-philic eco-thealogy to our anxious, fragmented, post-modern civilization. I believe in spiritual, as well as biological, evolution, and I think our movement is an important part of the next step in human spirituality. I hope, I pray, I aspire, for us to fulfill that destiny.

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