An Interview with Raven Grimassi

1. You are the author of seven titles, and two of those have won prominent awards. Have you always been a writer and researcher? How did you first get started?

My interest in writing began when I was elementary-school age. I actually received an award for an article that I wrote on "God." I became serious about writing when I was in high school. I wrote poems and short articles for my school paper. When I was a teenager, during the summers my mother would drop me off in a nearby park where I loved to sit beneath the trees and write poems. When I was about 18 or 19, I began a serious reading of scholarly books and developed a love of research and investigation.

2. What do you find to be the most rewarding and most challenging elements of writing books on witchcraft?

I love every aspect of writing, and to be able to write professionally is literally a dream come true for me. My readers make it possible for me to live my bliss, and I am extremely grateful to them.
The most rewarding experiences have to be the comments from my readers, who tell me that something I wrote helped them or challenged them in some positive way. This keeps me going, and is an affirmation that this is what I should be doing in life. To share the Old Ways with others gives me a true sense of direction.

The most challenging experiences are the critical reviews of my books, which fortunately represent a small minority of opinion. I view critical remarks as indication of how I allowed a misunderstanding to occur through the miscommunication of my words. A reader cannot know what you meant to say in a passage, they can only go with what you said. I try to use criticism to improve my communication within my writings for future works.

Unfortunately every writer attracts a small but highly vocal band of skeptics and critics who seem devoted to attempts to discredit an author. In my case, some people appear to have difficulty accepting that I come from a hereditary tradition, or that it contains authentic elements of ancient witchcraft. It is one of the less pleasant aspects of being published. But I've come to that comfortable place in life where I know who I am, and what I am. I can only hope that my dissenters will find their inner peace as well.

3. You were raised in the family tradition of Stregheria, or Italian witchcraft. How do Stregan practices differ from that of other traditions?

There are more similarities than there are actual differences. I think in Italian Witchcraft we find more emphasis on spirits and Otherworld beings. There is also less modern material incorporated into Italian witchcraft, for it has largely kept its ancient "feel." On the center of the altar, we burn a blue flame in a metal bowl, which symbolizes the presence of divinity. Our ritual circle is cast with a blade that is dipped into the flame. In some of our rites we use an older language that is related to Etruscan, and we work with moonlight as a magical medium. Italian witchcraft is less fragmented and patched than are most other traditions.

4. Your latest title is The Witches' Craft: The Roots of Witchcraft and Magical Transformation. What was your impetus for writing the book, and how is it different from the others you've written?

I've noticed over the past couple of years that many scholars and critics have been publishing books and articles that seemed aimed at derailing and debunking the Craft and the Goddess Movement. I felt strongly that someone needed to speak up and counter the allegations that our religion was essentially created by a retired civil servant in England named Gerald Gardner. So I began carefully studying the claims of our critics, and then looked for historical and literary evidence to the contrary. The Witches' Craft is different from my other books in that it provides more "hands-on material" related to older forms of witchcraft, and also goes into much more detail regarding the scholarly debate surrounding the history of witchcraft. The Witches' Craft introduces some different historical and literary sources, and compares the views of the academic community with those of many modern Witches. The idea for this book was first an article that I set out to write titled "The View from Colleges and Cauldrons," but when so much counterevidence was uncovered it became clear that a book was needed.

5.  In The Witches' Craft, you state that witchcraft has existed for centuries and is not a modern construction, countering some modern-day scholars. Would you elaborate on this?

Well, of course the bulk of that answer lies in the book itself, but there are many things that strongly suggest the existence of a very old Witches' sect. Modern scholars tend to believe that witchcraft as a religion is no older than the 20th century, with its main roots in the popular literature of the 19th century. Most scholars dismiss the period of the witchcraft trials as hysteria rather than evidence of the existence of a cult of any sort. But there are many interesting elements appearing in witchcraft trials that suggest a structured sect with lineage. One example is the mention of Familiar Spirits. An interesting theme that appears in Witch trial transcripts is the mention of the inherited Familiar. In one of the Chelmsford trials, the accused confessed to possessing a cat who was passed down from witch to witch. In another trial, a 12-year old girl named Elizabeth Francis said she received a cat as her Familiar from her grandmother. In a trial held at St. Osyth (1582), Margerie Sammon claimed she had inherited her Familiars. To me this suggests a tradition rather than a flight of fancy.

6. In The Witches' Craft, you include correspondence with the late author Doreen Valiente. What role did she play in your research?

I had the honor of corresponding with Doreen Valiente over a two-year period prior to the idea for this book. My original interest was to uncover the degree of influence that Italian witchcraft had on the Gardnerian material that she embellished with such works as Charles Leland's Aradia material. But I think that the value Doreen's letters bring to The Witches' Craft is her position that witchcraft is "The Old Religion," which naturally implies that she did not believe the Craft to be a modern invention.

7. Why is it so important that newcomers to the Craft today research the historical writings of those who have passed on before us?

I believe that understanding the views and insights of those who explored the path of witchcraft before us provides a balance for us in modern times. Much of the material written today on Wicca /witchcraft is focused upon the Self, whereas the older material reflects the Group Mind or Collective Consciousness of our ancestors. In some regards "intuition" has now replaced experience and wisdom. I believe that a middle point of compromise might best serve us all more effectively in the long run.

8. What witchcraft authors have influenced you the most and why?

Without a doubt, the primary influence would be Charles Leland. A very close friend of mine has maintained for years that I'm Leland reincarnated, which, although flattering, is not something I claim. Leland best captured the Old Religion, in my opinion, and his love of folklore became my own passion.

But as to Wicca, I think that Stewart Farrar's books were initially the most instrumental in my studying this branch of Witchcraft. His material caused me to take a sabbatical from the Italian Craft for several years. I liked Stewart's writing style, and the information he presented was quite compatible with what I already knew and practiced. Other than Farrar, one of the earliest books I read was Ray Buckland's Witchcraft From the Inside. Buckland was able to convey an older feeling to the Craft, which I enjoyed very much. And naturally, I cannot forget to include Doreen Valiente's books, which in my opinion are among the very best available. Doreen was a Witch of the Old Ways, and there is an undying bond among those of us who still honor that.

9. What advice do you have for newcomers to the old ways of witchcraft?

I believe it is important to live in accord with the Old Ways as opposed to simply embracing the tenets in mind and heart alone. Even simple acts of recycling waste material, planting trees, and supporting environmental programs are important connections. Once, long ago, people lived in common cause with Nature. They understood that humankind is part of Nature, no greater nor any less than any other living thing. Trying to master Nature has led to many of the problems now befalling the Earth. I believe it is important to study the ways in which our ancestors lived in accord with Nature. I suggest reading about primitive and ancient societies from all parts of the world. This will provide a much broader scope of understanding.

I believe it is important to be well read in general. I also believe it is important to study and compare different Craft traditions. Many modern Wiccans and Witches tend to stay focused on their own cultural roots and thereby limit their understanding of the Craft as a whole. It takes many pearls to complete a necklace, and it takes many ideas to complete a view that is greater than the limitations of any one People.

For people investigating the older forms of witchcraft that predate Gardnerian Wicca, I suggest studying material written on witchcraft during the classical era. Although the views are distorted as to the character of the Witch, there are many things of interest relating to ancient perspectives.
A good starting place is to read my book, The Witches' Craft, and then read Witchcraft and Magic in Europe (edited by Bengt Ankarloo and Stuart Clark). Follow this up with Etruscan Roman Remains by Charles Leland.

10. What's next for Raven Grimassi? Any projects that you are currently writing on?
Yes, I've just finished a manuscript titled The Witches' Familiar, which addresses how to work with Familiar Spirits. I'm currently writing another manuscript titled Spirit of the Witch. It is a work that focuses on what it means to be a Witch, and to live life as a Witch. The book explores the Witch in mundane life and in spiritual life. I believe it will be the first book of its kind to deal exclusively with witchcraft as a spirituality.

About Raven Grimassi

Raven Grimassi was a Neo-Pagan scholar and award-winning author of more than eighteen books on Witchcraft, Wicca, and Neo-Paganism. He was devoted to the study and practice of witchcraft for over forty years, and was ...