Dorothy L Abrams: Magic

Interview with Dorothy L Abrams: Magic, Ethics and Standing in your Power

February, 2014

Dorothy L Abrams: Magic, Ethics and Standing in your Power

Dorothy is the author of Identity and the Quartered Circle which is out through Moon and available now. She is also a co-founder of the Web PATH Centre, a pagan church and teaching centre near her home in Clyde, New York. I caught up with her to ask her some questions about the book, her magical life and her world outlook.

Mabh: You’ve been active in the magical community for many, many years, yet Identity and the Quartered Circle is first book. What inspired you to write this?

Dorothy: I finished teaching the first fully successful Wicca IV class a couple of years before I wrote Identity and the Quartered Circle. That meant the cycle of the Mage (To Know, To Will, To Dare and to Keep Silent) had been completed at least once. Many people finish the first 2 levels. Fewer finish the third.  Only a handful have finished the 4th. That was a landmark in my work, so I thought it was time to publish. Frankly I think many writers rush their work in publishing too soon. The magic needs time to ripen in us.

MS: Virginia Waldron describes the book as being ‘Honest, helpful and kind’; if you were forced to describe your book in three words, what would they be?

DLA: Thoughtful, reasoned and expansive.

MS: Who do you expect will get the most out of your book? Did you have a particular readership in mind when you were in the creative stage?

DLA: I wrote Identity first for my spiritual community, The Web PATH Center, as a legacy and as a resource for the teachers. However, I also had in mind the solitary Witch or Pagan looking for a teacher and unable to travel or pay big bucks to study pagan spirituality.

MS: You mention that the ideas in your book have a wider application than the Wicca/Neo-Pagan context. Do you think this book has something to offer those on a non-Pagan path?

DLA: I do. The search for identity is universal. Our human need to understand our life’s purpose transcends denomination. Just as I might read a Buddhist text on identity and compare it to Freud or Jung within their Judeo Christian framework, I expect others could read Identity and the Quartered Circle as a neo pagan book and learn something unexpected about themselves even though they might not be pagan at all. We always take what fits us from books and leave the rest on the page. Beyond that, people in the arts find some interesting ways to combine art and spirit in my book.

MS: And what’s the key message you want readers of your book to leave with, when they close it for the final time?

DLA: That who they are behind their masks, why they are here on this earth matters very much. No one is unknown and unloved though many people feel isolated.

MS: You have an enormous amount of experience in many different areas including teaching, writing and women’s support; which experiences were most poignant and relevant when it came to the writing of this book?

DLA: Now you have touched on my identity! Separating out one over another is difficult. I suppose the concept of justice is the most important to me. By that I do not mean punishing the guilty. I mean equality before any authority, the right to be heard and believed when we speak our truth, the power to determine our own choices. Because I live a life which includes magic and ritual, justice, speech and power all have a magical component. That combination embraces the emphasis on ethics that Merlin and I share.

MS: I note that you’ve done a great deal of work for women in need of help due to sexual and domestic violence. Can you tell us a bit about S.A.V.A.R. and your involvement here?

DLA: I am not active currently with those issues other than in consciousness-raising on a personal level. I have retired from outside employment and focus on writing. I was thrilled to receive the S.A.V.A.R. GOLD Award in 2010 as a founding mother of that intervention program. S.A.V.A.R. offers advocacy, support groups, and crisis intervention for victims/survivors of sexual assault. My friends and I started it as a volunteer program in 1979 I think it was. I put the first training session together and wrote the manual. It is now a fully funded program with professional staff and the support of the community and law enforcement. Well done I say!  I am one of those Aries women who have big ideas, start programs, train people to run them and then step back and let the process work. I am very proud of what S.A.V.A.R. has done over 30+ years. Many start-ups didn’t make it through all the political changes of the last 3 decades but S.A.V.A.R. did.

MS: Ethics and human rights are clearly at the heart of what you believe and do; would you agree with that statement, and what’s the biggest challenge in encouraging others to accept this way of thinking as the foundation of their life, rather than an added extra?

DLA: Yes I certainly do believe that ethics and human rights are central to my work. Our pace of life and conflicting responsibilities are the biggest challenge for people seeking a self-actualized spirit based life. People need time to be still with the spirits and hear them. Many people don’t take the opportunities they have to do that, because they are rushing around to meetings, errands, jobs, and their kids’ schedules. We can do most of what we do AND meditate but we need to approach our lives from a place of stillness. Most people work from a point of panic. I say all that because I think the spirits are always teaching us power, love, tolerance, and ethics from their wider perspective. We need to listen and let them adjust our silly fears and prejudices until we need them no longer.

MS: Do you think a magical existence is a natural progression from a kind and fair existence?

DLA: Not necessarily. People can be deeply committed to kindness and compassion, to generosity but not have any awareness of their own capacity for magic or spirituality. They likely never guess that intervention from them to a person in trouble looks a lot like a miracle. What they do is simply right. They would shake their heads at us and wonder why we would think anything of a bag of groceries or a check to help cover the rent. To a mother with hungry children, it is magic sure enough.

MS: When, would you say, did magic first touch your life? Can you tell us how you first realised you were on a magical path?

DLA: Thanks to my mother, my path has always been touched by magic. We watched for fairies, told stories about them and practiced telepathy always. On the other hand, she didn’t believe I had benevolent ghosts in my bedroom when I was 3 or 4.  They turned out to be my great great great grandparents. I never stopped believing in magic. I kept quiet about it when I ran into hard headed rationalists. I went to church looking for more of it (and found it). I left the church when they ran out of magic. Starting on the Goddess path of magic involved a witch friend, my partner Merlin and the feminist theologians over a period of years in the 1970’s and 80’s.

MS: Do you have a favourite seasonal festival? Why? What resonates about it for you (or not)?

DLA: Each one is my favourite when it is time to celebrate the rites. I do a lot of living in the moment so every day is my favourite. I used to think summer was the point of the whole year, but I am a bit more balanced now. What I love is the beauty each festival evokes. The altar, the songs, the spells or healings have such symmetry around the wheel, I revel in them. The most beautiful ritual for me though, is with the full moon. Seeing her bright in the sky always takes my breath.

MS: You work with many different creative media such as drumming, chanting and journaling, and you’re also a healer. Is there any aspect of the magical work you do that brings you closest to the answers you are searching for? One that has, perhaps, a more potent effect than the others?

DLA: Hmmm. Trance drumming brings me more challenges, more insights (I hesitate to call them answers) and more forays outside of my comfort zone than the others do. The conversations I have with the spirits under the influence of the drum actually then erupt in the other creative arts of chanting, writing and healing and the visual arts too.

MS: You speak of art expressing truth and mirroring us as creators. Can you tell me about the most beautiful or evocative piece of art you’ve ever seen created in one of your workshops or teaching sessions?

DLA: The one that comes to mind happened during Wicca IV. All the students were supposed to complete a class project that involved a circle and some aspect of their insights, similar to a mandala or yantra. That is not an easy assignment. They were to work on it outside of class and bring it in to share and teach about its significance. My friend had big plans she wasn’t likely to finish, simply from the perspective of how much time it would take. That put her in a stressful position as the deadline loomed. On her way to class one morning, she crested a hill to see the sun surrounded by a rainbow aura. She recreated that in pastels, that is quite beautiful. Among other things, that picture taught her and all of us about asking the spirits to step in and inspire us. Of course sooner is better than on deadline, but that was another aspect of her lesson.

MS: Is the Pagan community fully accepted in the Clyde area? Do you ever encounter any difficulties based in discrimination or simple ignorance?

DLA: Fully accepted? No not likely. There is a good deal of religious fundamentalism around here. On the other hand this is the area of New York where the Fox sisters began spiritualism and the Suffragists held the Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention in 1848. The first ordained woman minister in the US Antoinette Brown held the pulpit maybe 5 miles from my house in the 1850’s.  Harriet Tubman went through here with escaped slaves to transport them to Canada prior to the American Civil War. This is an interesting area for new beginnings and conservative trends to bump against each other.  The Web sometimes sees glitches in advertising we put out, or posters torn down. How does one determine if that is purposeful, discriminatory or even ignorant? None of us have been accosted in the street. The centre has never been picketed. No one has written irate letters to the editor because there are pagans among us. I understand some groups around the US have had those experiences. We have a lighted pentacle on our porch for the holidays. No one has been rude to us, or threatening. We participate in the Lyons Community Health Fair. There is a witches’ parade in full regalia in a town nearby, on the theory there is a little witch in every woman. Pagans take it seriously and Christians experience it as dress up. Overall the atmosphere is accepting and people ignore us.

MS: Do you think acceptance of magic as a way of life is becoming common place in the USA, or is there still a way to go? What are the next steps in removing the stigma attached to most Pagan paths?

DLA: Both. Magic is more accepted and common place yet we have a ways to go. If pagans accept no stigma, there is no stigma—in one sense. On the other hand, being afraid of us or gossiping ignorantly can create hard feelings or even danger. There are some strange people out there. I tell my students to practice grounding, shielding and stand in their power everyday as a matter of course.  That makes a huge difference. People simply leave us alone. No surprise there. It is what we do, and expect them to do. Pagans who expect to be taken seriously, who take themselves seriously will be treated better than those who fear and defend themselves.

MS: And finally, what’s next for you? Any more books on the horizon?

DLA: Yes. More books!  I have a fiction series about witches in the 12th century in Cumbria. I am shopping that around, looking for a publisher or an agent. Those tales are past life memories for me, my Merlin and people in the Web. They are romantic, magical, adventure stories set in real history. I had an excerpt published this fall called Cawing Crows and Baying Hounds. It comes with a warning though. It’s pretty hot! I plan to write another in that series entitled The Riders in Yorkshire for NaNoWriMo (national Novel Writing Month) which is a 50,000 rough draft written in November. This is an annual writer’s event that produces some good rough drafts.

In addition, The Web PATH Center is writing a book for Pagan Portals (Moon ) entitles Sacred Sex and Magick. We are also producing a grounding CD that should be out in 2014. I am the scribe for both projects, but the work is a group effort.

In my legacy series, the next book after Identity and the Quartered Circle would be Consciousness and the Gods, or some such title. I have started collecting material on consciousness but I have no idea when I might start writing. I’d like that book to be as comprehensive as Identity is. My books are about pagan practices, and they are about philosophical or psychological concepts that are meaningful in 21st century life. Putting them together is heady stuff for me as a writer. Making them practical through ritual and the arts is my intention.

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Dorothy’s book, Identity and the Quartered Circle is available from Amazon and all good book retailers.