July 2014 Interview of Maeve and Greybeard, The People of The Woods
I heard Lady Bella speak once on the topic of silk worm silk v. spider silk. She said that the silk produced by spiders is so much stronger and better than the silk produced by silk worms, but the process cannot be duplicated. Silk worms are dumped into a bin and left over night and in the morning there is a pile of silk, but if you dumped spiders into a bin and left them over night in the morning you would have one fat and very full spider and no silk. Obviously this is the most simplistic description of what is truly a complex process. But think for a moment of the paradigms involved. One is a group that works together to accomplish their goals, the other is a group that literally consumes each other and by proxy itself. In this way, we as Pagan’s, have an opportunity to choose our path. We can be one who contributes to the good of the whole, one who chooses to share resources and in turn one who receives the benefit of shared assets, both tangible and metaphysical.
The Aquarian Tabernacle Church offers a unique opportunity to solitary practitioners and independent groups in that they have the chance to step under the umbrella of ATC, be embraced in love and fellowship, and be granted support by becoming an affiliate. For the groups or solitaries out there who struggle along on their own the chance to affiliate with ATC can be a wondrous sharing of experience, ideas, and affections. In that vein I asked Maeve and Greybeard, leaders of ATC’s newest affiliate, to sit down with a Kurious Kitie and share their decision.
We met at Goddess Fest, an annual festival held in picturesque Julia Davis Park, which is located in downtown Boise, Idaho. Maeve was a striking woman with silver hair and bright eyes that flashed with wisdom. She had a commanding bearing and I thought that I could sit at her feet and learn for eons. Greybeard was a darling grandfatherly sort with twinkling eyes, rosy cheeks, and an enormous grey beard worthy of his name. With his joviality and warm smile he made me think of hot apple cider, fruit cake and holiday carols, reminiscent of Father Christmas.
KK: Thank you both so much for sitting down with me. I really appreciate the chance to rifle through your brains.
Maeve (M): Thank you for asking us, Kitie. We love the chance to share our beliefs with others.
KK: Tell me, what is the full name of your circle?
Greybeard (G): The People of the Woods; Church of the Old Religion.
KK: I asked you here because you decided to affiliate with the ATC. I think that is kind of amazing and I wanted to find out more about you, your church, and your decision.
Maeve shared with me that she and Greybeard had been together for over 17 years. In that time Greybeard had also been a longtime friend of Pete Pathfinder and the decision to affiliate with ATC had been in the forefront of their minds for the last decade.
G: I first met Pete at a COG convention…
G: Covenant of the Goddess. At one of their conventions in the 90’s.
Greybeard had heard some stories about disagreement among affiliates in the Seattle area. The details of which were foggy, but he wasn’t surprised because disharmony among circles was the norm.
G: At that time I was the High Priest of a church called Our Lady of the Woods. I maintained a loose contact with Pete, sometimes just having exchanged web addresses on our websites. Back then the ATC website always had a countdown clock to Spring Mysteries, but I was living too far away to go. I wanted to pursue an affiliate at that time, but the group, as often happens, split in two.
KK: Forgive me, I’m still a new born in most things Pagan and I sort of have a million and one questions. So, when you tell me that groups often split, do you mean that in the sense of birthing a new church where your dedicants go and form a new church or do you mean some sort of disharmonious rending?
G: They divide into separate covens and split off.
M: Disagreements sometimes happen, but more often what happens as we train up coveners [M and G’s term for members of a coven], after a few years in the dedicant stage they may be mature enough to want to do something of their own. They may end up being HP & HPs and we’ll be coveners, I don’t know, but we want to make that process smooth for them, because it is a natural maturation process. Part of our tradition is that we have certain things that we share and hold in common that we want to pass on. Another part of that tradition is being flexible and allowing for change, because there is a lot of spontaneity and creativity in the way that we do rituals. We welcome that and include peoples ideas and creativity and let them have the chance to develop authority and that kind of attitude on the part of coven leaders… ya know, sometimes you find it and sometimes you don’t.
Maeve chuckled softly, tossing her hand up, eyes rolled high — her passion for mentoring brought her to the edge of her seat.
M: There is a lot of variety in the way covens actually work out over time.
KK: That is a really positive healthy attitude and I really appreciate that. That’s really what I meant when I said that it’s really eye opening for me when you say that it is common for them to split. It seems that it would be the natural evolution of a group to grow and eventually hive off.
M: Sometimes it’s negative and sometimes it’s positive, but it’s allowed for in a lot of the books. That as they grow they begin to want to do things in their way and then they go out and form a new coven and that is how we grow.
G: People and relationships grow and change after a few years.
M: Often people move and this way they can take what they have learned with them and share it with others.
G: The People of the Woods, was first formed in Los Alamos, New Mexico and then moved to Albuquerque. We used the state symbol of New Mexico, the symbol of the Zia Pueblo people, because it is on the state flag. There’s been some legal battles because the Zia Pueblo claim the state stole the symbol from them, but we stole it from both of them, so we have no pride.
His beard twitched with rosy cheeked laughter and I saw a glimpse of the mischievous boy he must have been.
G: We can worship the sun ourselves.
KK: What made you want to come to the ATC then?
G: We dropped out of COG in the 1990’s, Maeve finished her PhD and we moved to find a job for her. Our other coven members moved to different places, the original group dissolved, so we started inviting people to join near Spokane, but Maeve was so busy with scholarly work and we didn’t have a lot of time to spend on it. I did networking in the Spokane area with other pagans. I would sometimes travel to Pagan festivals doing teachings and rituals as an honored guest.
Greybeard shared that the legal battle involving the Church of Iron Oak drew his attention back to the ATC. During their campaign he contributed to their legal defense fund and re-immersed himself in the trail blazed by Pete Pathfinder. Now relocated in Washington, they were finally able to participate in Spring Mysteries. Impressed by the professionalism of the ATC staff, they also took the chance to meet Jon and Jeanine Lesniak of Golden Thread Grove (A Boise ATC Affiliate) They had not realized how large the ATC had grown and they were amazed at the number of affiliates.
G: We liked a lot of the things we found with the ATC. We want to work with the broader Pagan community all over the country. Our decision in part was that we wanted to support the ATC in what they are doing. I think it’s good for our religion and for ourselves.
M: The short version was that I got tenure, I became department chair and I finally had time and really wanted larger ties. The move to Washington has caused a lot of growth for us.
G: We like the autonomy that the ATC promises to local covens. That you can be autonomous and still be affiliated. You don’t have to do everything the ATC way, exactly. And then, they are Wiccan and we are Wiccan and that works out real well. In these days where there are so many kinds of Pagans, it is nice that they are officially Wiccan. Bella’s nice!
M: The ATC manages at the same time to have clear principles and standards that they are very specific about and at the same time the people are very loving. The whole atmosphere and the energy is very positive.
Maeve and Greybeard attended Spring Mysteries again in 2014. It was their second pilgrimage to Fort Flagler and this trip was special to them. Having made the decision to affiliate, they didn’t make the journey alone. They brought a few coveners with them to share in the blessings of the Mysteries. The couple met with Lady Bella at the sea side cottage. It was there closeted with other third degrees, affiliates, and WSTS professors, that Lady Belladonna welcomed them into the group and announced them as the ATC’s newest affiliate. The pair were shocked yet pleased, because they had not yet turned in their paperwork or told the Lady of their decision.
KK: She just knows sometimes.
M: We were glad because we had made the decision and it was a warm welcome.
KK: How did you personally come to a pagan path?
G: I was raised in the Episcopal Church but I never really got it. Then I spent 20 years looking around for something better. In my early 40’s I met a woman who shared hobbies with me and we really hadn’t been following any religion at all, but I spent time out in the woods communing with the trees and after a discussion with her I found out the whole Pagan thing existed. There was no Pagan Pride in those days, and if there had been I don’t know that I would have gone to it or known enough about it to go.
Greybeard went on to describe his path of apprenticeship for three years before becoming High Priest of his, then, coven. The group that he had studied with was called the Temple of the Pagan Way in Chicago, a Quasi-Gardnerian group.
G: Fairly recently we were contacted by the original founder of the Temple of the Pagan Way, who over the years had lost most of their material. They are trying to reconstruct their history and documents and they contacted me.
KK: Wow! That’s amazing.
G: I have been supplying them with copies of the material.
M: He saves everything.
G: My file cabinet of shadows never fails! A book of shadows is nice, but a file cabinet… It’s a lot more space and you can be very organized. In the 90’s we developed a disc of shadows on DOS. As computers evolved we changed our format so the disc went away, but the file cabinet stayed.
Once my giggling was under control, Maeve continued with her story.
M: I also was raised kind of Episcopalian… well I wasn’t anything for a while, but I was a very religious child. I sought out churches and finally my family gave up and started taking me to a couple of churches so I wouldn’t get baptized into something weird.
KK: Whoa! That’s very open of them.
M: Yeah, I guess so. I never thought of it that way, but I guess it is.
KK: It sounds like they helped you make your own way rather than force you into something.
M: Nobody forced me. (laughing) I would go to the church down on the corner and get my little sister up and dressed and take her with me, but otherwise it was by myself. Then we went to the Episcopal Church for a couple of years. I found it really satisfying in so many ways. It was wonderful training in ceremonial magic, so I learned a lot with ritual and I really appreciate that. Then as an adult, I found it increasingly unsatisfying. I decided that my relationship was actually kind of addictive. I would feel the need of something, go to church and at that time I was going to church that had a lot of formal services. The kind of intense rituals and then at the end I would just want to go again. It was like an addictive cycle. It was no good. Maeve hit this slump of discontent in the mid-70’s. At the time she was a 20-something grad student, and she reasoned that with her knowledge of ritual and mythology, she had a strong enough foundation to form her own religion. She researched Goddess figures and started writing her own rituals, based on what fit her spiritual needs.
M: I decided that I would figure out what I need! In the mid-70’s there were not a lot of books around, and it took me a while realize that I had kind of reinvented witchcraft! (laughing) I thought, “Oh wait a minute! I know what this is!” It was kind of weird, but that was my introduction to the Pagan path.
She went on to describe her own personal dark night of the soul being tied to a destructive individual who claimed to have leaning toward the priesthood. After freeing herself and rediscovering her own worth, Maeve was blessed with a chance meeting with Starhawk. She connected with a coven of women and they worked together for years, learning and growing together. When that chapter drew to a close that she met Greybeard.
M: This taught me that what we have, what we do is so rooted into our natural connection to the Earth and its cycles. It can be destroyed, but it comes back because we pay attention to the cycles and the seasons, to what gives us pleasure and meaning and what life is about and then we can recover that knowledge. So, I invented witchcraft! Not many people know that. (laughing)
KK: (laughing) Amazing! You’ve given me so much material already, but I feel like there is a little more there. Since affiliating with ATC, what has been the most surprising?
M: When we go to ATC events people remember our names and give us big hugs. I’m really shocked at that. I’m not used to being so welcomed. I will add that Jon (HP of Golden Thread Grove, Boise affiliate) doesn’t always remember names, but that’s ok because we don’t always remember names. “Oh it’s you!” (laughing)KK: If there was one specific thing that your group could lend to the ATC as a whole, what would that be?
M: We were talking about that last night. We see that Jon and Jeanine are doing work at Hekate’s Sickle and our feeling about that is, for the two of us that we have decided to be old. I mean, we’re pushing 70 and I’m getting past middle age and we’re getting into the time where I’m ok to say “old” and that is going to be my excuse for sitting down and letting other people work. But we have some new coveners who are young, some of them are very young. We are building a new generation and bringing new coveners into ATC and getting them over to experience the Mysteries and Sickle. So, what I want to give to ATC and to the world in general is another generation. To give them the means to continue growing and building our work. And what we can give them is some wisdom from our 40-50 years in this practice and stability, including some financial stability. We are able to contribute more than a lot of groups will. So, I think that there’s some benefits of age that we have and then being able to raise up another generation that will continue their work, I hope.
KK: You damn kids, get off my lawn!
G: I think being an ATC presence in the Spokane, Eastern Washington area is a benefit to the ATC in general because the mother church is primarily on the western side, and being able to network and build up the ATC is quite a gift.
M: That’s an excellent point. Greybeard is wonderful at networking.
G: We have met a group that is already working with the Greek and Roman pantheons and bringing them into the Spring Mysteries is a gift. Also, being able to join into Goddess Fest to support other groups is wonderful, it’s a little closer to Spokane than Seattle. I would like to get involved with helping the overall national organization a little bit. Bella is extremely loving and magical, she has a lot of work to do to keep this organization going and I see some of that… having areas where it might need some help. Contracts is my professional field. I don’t know where I can help with that, but as time goes on I’m hoping to help out some there.
KK: to G – You know, Dusty is very good, where if you tell him you want to work, he will find something for you to do, so there are going to be plenty of opportunities. To M – When you were saying that it’s OK to be old, I was thinking of this African Proverb that says “When an elder dies a library burns down.” That is always what I think of when I meet someone who accepts their age and who accepts their position to pass on their wisdom to a younger generation.
M: That’s very sweet. I’ve heard that proverb before, that’s the kind of wisdom that comes from an oral tradition and really ours historically is an oral tradition. We both feel a lot of need and desire to pass on what know and to create the circumstances where coveners can have those experiences for themselves. We really do want to share what we have experienced, valued, and learned to next generation.
KK: Is there anything that you would like to add that I haven’t already thought to ask?
M: I would like to add that I think that the ATC as an organization of affiliates is doing important work. It is so easy for small Pagan groups to feel isolated. The cultural environment has changed, but it’s not as different as we would like. There are some things you can do with numbers, with a public presence that you just can’t do without it. Just like there are some things you can do if you have a group that you can’t do in solitary practice, in terms of the energy or just in terms of creating a kind of public safety space for us to be Pagan’s. So, I think the affiliation process is really important. One of the reasons we wanted to do this is that we wanted to add to that network that Pete has done a lot to create.
Maeve called over a tall, statuesque woman. She was introduced to me as Aria, a member of their coven. Aria’s hair was blonde and lovely, with a face both open and honest, if a little fresh.
KK: You joined The People of the Woods and you came all the way from Spokane to celebrate with us this weekend?
She said “Yes.” with a pleasant smile.
KK: We love that! What drew you to their church?
Aria: I was listening to Maeve talk, and I felt this way all my life and didn’t have a name for it. I was just feeling like I needed to develop it and I was searching on the internet and found the link on Witchvox. I sent them an email and we started talking and it’s just been the best. I feel complete and I hadn’t felt that in a long time… well, ever.
KK: That’s wonderful. Thank you for sharing that. To Greybeard and Maeve – Now for the fun questions! What is your favorite ice cream?
M: Sadly, I am lactose intolerant, after finding that it took 5 years to give it up. But I used to like French vanilla chocolate, but now I have to subsist with sorbet. That’s not really ice cream.
G: My favorite is orange with chocolate chips. But it is rare and hard to find, the last orange I found was at a Haagan-Dazs in the Atlanta zoo. About 15 years ago, I found an ice cream shop in Seattle that made their own, orange freckle ice cream. It was delicious. That’s my favorite, when I can get it.
KK: Ok one more. If you were on another planet looking at this planet through a telescope, what would you name the planet or constellation?
M: The whole galaxy? And what language would we be speaking?
G: Fred. Fred I think.
M: I think it would have to be something untranslatable that would sound kind of like Klingon. Translated as the galaxy of trees.
M: I would suspect that the trees are very important and I don’t know why.
G: I should speak to Jon about this! We are celebrating John Barley Corn and you cannot get a glass of John anyplace.
M: I thought about that and I trust that he has tried to get that to happen and cannot. I suspect city ordinances has something to do with that.
With hugs, tears, and laughter I thanked Maeve and Greybeard for their time and wisdom. They left me feeling simultaneously exhausted and energized. My questions were answered and a thousand more spawned. The ATC is truly blessed to add such incredible people into their fold. I hope to visit them again so Greybeard can regale me with tales of the Salem Witchtrials and Maeve can blow my mind with her knowledge of mythology. I hope that by reading this, others will have the chance to dine on a meal rich in wisdom, loaded with experience, garnished with humility and washed down with a tall glass of John.
Hail and Welcome, People of the Woods.
As always, Send any topics you would like discussed or questions you would like answered to me at Tiffanyafarlow@gmail.com. Feel free to comment below.