Editor's Note: Bronwen Forbes passed away just a few days after this interview was conducted.
1. Your new book is titled The Small-Town Pagan’s Survival Guide. I’m assuming you’ve had the experience of being a Pagan in a small town; did you grow up in one, or move to a small town as an adult?
Both! I grew up in one; Berea, Kentucky in the mid 1970s had a population of about 8,800 people, not including college students. Living in a small town on the edge of the Appalachian Mountains had a profound impact on my future spiritual choices. Then, after leaving the Washington, DC area in 2000 for the Midwest, my family and I eventually ended up in a town of 12,000 people. When I did most of the writing and editing on the book I was living in a town of about 3,000.
2. How did living in a smaller community affect your magical practice?
Well, becoming an active Pagan in a major east coast city, your practice changes by necessity when you move to a small Kansas town! I still struggle with focusing my practice more "inward" and being less dependent on other people and structured community activities (festivals, concerts, open circles; none of those are available in a small town, at least not nearby and not every week!). Living in a small community has made my practice much quieter, much more low key. And I’ve learned to see a variety of activities as part of my magical practice, everything from going to the local farmer’s market every Saturday to hiking around the local reservoir with my dog on a crisp fall day. I’ve learned the value of these other practices.
3. Your new book is quite a departure from your previous book, Make Merry in Step and Song, which focuses on Mummer’s plays and other Pagan dances, songs, and celebrations. What inspired you to write The Small-Town Pagan’s Survival Guide?
At first it was a desire to mentally escape from the absolute worst restaurant dishwasher job ever! Seriously, I was living in this town of 12,000 people in The Middle of Nowhere, New Mexico, and I would spend most of my work shift thinking of things I was learning from the experience that I could share with others. The Small-Town Pagan’s Survival Guide came from that time. I was also trying to start a monthly discussion group at the same time, and kept thinking, "I can’t be the only person trying to be Pagan in small town America." So I decided to share what I learned; I hope, I really hope, that others will try to do what I did connecting with others in their own small towns (only I hope the book will tell them how to do it better than my own efforts at the time!).
4. The Small-Town Pagan’s Survival Guide also includes quotes and advice from other Pagans living in small communities. How did you come into contact with these individuals?
This was done through the magic of the Internet, coupled with all my small-town friends that I could bully into completing a survey for me. I posted notices in various Pagan forums and on Witchvox.com asking for interested Pagans who either grew up in a small town or had moved to a small town after starting their Pagan practice to contact me for a copy of the survey. Overall, I had over fifty respondents; I wish I could have had quotes from all of them in the book, but I lost touch of many of them before I had a chance to get their permission to be quoted—some changed their email addresses, which was the only way I had to contact them. I feel really bad about that.
5. What if I live in a larger city or suburb? What does The Small-Town Pagan’s Survival Guide have to offer me?
Even urban Pagans are new to the community at some point, and there is a lot of (what I think is) good advice in the book about how to behave at public rituals, how to start your own group, basic Pagan manners, even some do’s and dont’s for attending your first festival; geography has no bearing on these and other issues that all newcomers to the community face. Plus, the list of favorite online shopping sites will keep anyone surfing the ‘net for quite a while, even if they have a perfectly decent esoteric shop around the block from your home. If nothing else, The Small-Town Pagan’s Survival Guide is a story (several stories, actually) about what it’s like to practice Paganism on a day-to-day basis—the ups AND the downs. Everyone can relate to that, I hope.
6. What would you consider to be the number one piece of advice for a Pagan struggling with magical life in a small town?
Just one? Argh! Think outside the box: look for opportunities to express yourself spiritually in a way that is pleasing to you and your Gods that may not be outwardly or ritually Pagan at all. Get involved with a theater group, or your kids’ scout troop. Clean up the local park. Start a community garden. Raise money for the library. Get involved with your small town in a way that helps your fellow citizens and feeds your soul, and your magical life will be much less of a struggle.