Monday, April 28, 2008
SANDY LAREAU: Informing and Entertaining the Modern Witch
interview by MARK GABRISH CONLAN
Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • Used by permission
In every other advanced country but the U.S., May 1 is the International Labor Day — but to Pagans in the U.S. and abroad, it’s also Beltane, one of the Pagan high holidays. “May Day brings desire,” explains a Pagan Web site. “The Maiden of Spring and the growing young Sun God meet in the fields and perform the dance of life. Great bonfires are built to celebrate the warmth and the strength of the sun.”
This year’s Beltane is bringing something else: the first issue of Modern Witch magazine, described on the home page of its Web site, www.modernwitch.com, as “a quarterly magazine for the Wiccan, Witch and Pagan.” Zenger’s encountered its energetic founder, Sandy Lareau, at a March 29 fundraiser in Hillcrest for the annual San Diego Pagan Pride event this September 9. She agreed to an interview two weeks later at Filter, the North Park coffeehouse at 30th and Polk formerly known as The Other Side. For subscription and other information, visit the Web site or e-mail Sandy directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Zenger’s: Could you tell me a little about your background, and how you got interested in Paganism and Witch topics?
Sandy Lareau: I’ve always been a Witch. When I was a little girl, I used to talk to entities, spirits that would come in my room and plop down on my bed and have a conversation. My mom would ask me, “Who are you talking to?” And to me it was perfectly obvious. I’m talking to this guy.
I’ve always been attracted to the occult, and I don’t mean dark, manipulative stuff. I always thought there was something else out there beyond what we perceive with our normal five senses. Growing up it’s awkward to be like that, because other kids who don’t necessarily pay attention to those things think you’re kind of strange.
I used to read fairy tales, sneak off to the library and read science fiction, and I’d get my hands on anything divination-wise, like tarot or palm reading. But it wasn’t until probably 1995 that I finally figured out what it was I was. A friend of mine is Wiccan. I had no idea he was Wiccan, abut everything we talked about was similar. I researched it, and found out it had a name.
Zenger’s: You said you grew up with a belief that there was something beyond our five senses. Why do you think that didn’t get channeled into a more mainstream religion?
Lareau: I grew up in the 1970’s in a very conservative family with Roman Catholic parents. I did follow my parents’ religion, actually. I was very active in the Catholic Church up until age 11, when I insisted that I wanted to be a priest and I would not be consoled with being a nun. That wasn’t good enough. I wanted to know the mysteries. I wanted to know the secrets. I wanted to know how to turn the water into wine.
So after about age 11, I drifted away from that mainstream because it wasn’t a fit for me at all. I didn’t buy it. I didn’t believe that Jesus Christ was the only way to God. I knew Jews and I knew Buddhists, and I couldn’t imagine these good people going to hell just because they weren’t Catholic. It just didn’t gel with me.
When I read some occult books after that, in my early teens and middle teens, the word “witch” terrified me. I was in denial until finally I met somebody whom I loved and respected as a person, who showed me it wasn’t such a terrible thing to just accept who you are.
Zenger’s: How much does the religion as you personally practice it have to do with attempting to research ancient models, and how much of it is basically intuitive and working out a way to do it that fits modern life?
Lareau: Ancient models are a good foundation, but they don’t necessarily fit in modern life. We can’t go around wearing robes and living in the forest. We have to live in this society, we have to live under the laws of the land, and, face it, we have to make a living. So it makes sense to embrace the world around us as it is now, but because we’re very earth-oriented people, we all are involved in recycling, earth activism and things like that. The bridge between the ancient and the modern is how we can go back and restore some of the earth’s natural beauty and health. I think that’s what a modern Pagan’s task is today.
Zenger’s: So what would you most want people to know about who you are, especially someone who — as it once was for you — the word “witch” is absolutely terrifying?
Lareau: Well, it’s understandable why people are terrified, with all the Hollywood mumbo-jumbo about eating children and having purple eyes and flying around on brooms. It’s hysterically funny if you look at the history of what a witch really is. The word “wicca” is old English for “wise.” Wiccans try to be the wise people of the community. We strive to be spiritual. We strive to be the people other people come to for advice.
We don’t sacrifice animals for blood sacrifice. It’s completely against everything we believe. We don’t believe in causing intentional harm on anyone or anything, and we believe in being responsible for our actions. We don’t believe in manipulating the will of other people. We’re actually pretty peaceful. We’re not manipulative, scary, death-eating people. We’re special-ed teachers. We’re doctors, lawyers, writers, musicians, electricians, just people who believe that the earth is sacred.
Zenger’s: How would you define the term “spell”?
Lareau: A spell is an action where you’re putting all your concentration and energy into something. Sometimes it can be a prayer, and sometimes it’s just organizing your thoughts and defining your intention. If you put all your energy towards something, you’re probably going to achieve it, no matter what it is.
Zenger’s: When you pray, whom do you pray to?
Lareau: The Lord and the Lady. Most Wiccans acknowledge a duality in nature, the masculine and the feminine: the Goddess and the God. Some Wiccans only acknowledge the Goddess. A lot of them are feminists who’ve perhaps experienced harm in the past from the male gender. But most Wiccans are a balanced people. We understand that there’s male and female in all of us, and there’s male and female in pretty much all of nature. So that’s the underlying principle of what we pray to, with the understanding that God is something you just can’t define. The best we humans can do is to polarize it into something that makes sense.
Zenger’s: What do you think of the U.S. military allowing practicing Pagans to be buried under the pentacle as their religious symbol?
Lareau: That’s been a long time coming. We’ve actually been trying to get that for 10 or 12 years now. In fact, I served in the United States Air Force for six years, and I had “Wicca” on my dog tags. When you serve, you take that oath that you will uphold the Constitution, and you’re basically willing to die for your country. I think one of the reasons so many Pagans are in the military — besides the obvious benefits — is that a country that so treasures freedom of religion is so worth fighting for. So that was an acknowledgment to us to have the pentacle finally able to be on our headstones of people who have died for the country.
Zenger’s: There seems to be a contradiction to me between saying that a central tenet of your religion is not doing harm to others and joining an organization like the military whose function it is to do precisely that.
Lareau: I hear that a lot. But the primary reason that we have a military in this country is for defense. It’s the Department of Defense, not the Department of War.
Zenger’s: Until 1947 it was the Department of War.
Lareau: That’s correct. But things evolve, and I don’t think there were a whole lot of Wiccans in the military in 1947. In fact, for my day job, I work for the defense industry now, but it’s in an industry that saves people’s lives, not takes people’s lives. Being in the military to defend our country is an honorable thing to do. You are allowed to defend yourself, as a Wiccan. You’re not allowed to go out and make war on somebody as a Wiccan.
Unfortunately — if I may be political for just a second — I don’t believe that the current administration has honored the defense part of the Department of Defense. I think that we are in an unnecessary war, and unfortunately we have all kinds of Americans — Wiccan and Christian and Buddhist and Santerias and everybody alike — over there dying for something they probably don’t agree with.
Zenger’s: Let’s talk a little about the magazine now. Why did you decide to start it?
Lareau: It was one of those “see a need, fill a need” things. Don’t get me wrong: there are some great Pagan magazines already out there. Unfortuantely, they’re mostly geared towards one type of Wiccan or Pagan, or they’re geared towards a single gender. I also saw a need for something that you couldn’t get on the Internet. Right now the Internet is full of how to do spells and how to do rituals, and how to divinate, how to read tarot cards and things like that.
But as a Pagan community, we deal with many social issues that are unique to us, and we have a lifestyle that is unique to us. I didn’t see a whole lot of that addressed in any of the magazines, or on the Internet, out there anywhere. So I decided it’s time to do a magazine that deals with those things. Green technology, for example: I want to know what products are out there I can buy that are good for Mother Earth, and I want to know what products are out there that are bad, so I don’t buy them. I think other Pagans want to know that, too.
I want to know how to teach my children to talk about their religion in a group setting that is not going to make them uncomfortable, and is not going to make other people uncomfortable. That’s why we have the “Life and Family” section of the magazine. What else? “Mind-Body-Spirit.” There are so many good-quality alternative health options out there that are just not addressed in any one place. I wanted to bring that to the community, too, because 90 percent of all Wiccans are herbalists of some form or another. It’s part of our training. You have to know what they do, what healing properties they have, and things like that. So it’s articles like this, and lifestyle things, that I wanted to bring to the community.
Zenger’s: You said you’ve already produced your first issue. What’s going to be in it?
Lareau: I have a lady who has many degrees, and one of them is in psychology. She is writing the “Life and Family” column, and the “Ask a Pagan Parent” column, which is fun. In our green technology feature, we are doing bio-friendly fabrics that the government and other entities are using.
We have a couple of other really great columns. Kenny Klein is a Pagan musician, an extremely talented man. He is writing a column about Pagan festivals, because we have festivals all over the country, all during the year, and he’s been to just about every single one of them. Some of them might not be fit for families, whereas others are very family-oriented, and those are the things you want to know before you commit to go.
We have a “Traditions” feature, where we cover a different Pagan or Wiccan tradition in each different issue, because there are so many different ones out there. Some of them are hereditary, and some of them are just made up by the High Priest or the High Priestess who founded it. Those things are interesting to us, because not everybody practices religion the same way, not even in Wicca.
Zenger’s: I would say probably especially not in Wicca, since you don’t have a central authority telling you all, “This is the way you do it.”
Lareau: Right, “This is the way to go.” There are probably as many traditions of Wicca as there are Wiccans, to a point. I did study with a couple of established covens for a while, where everybody goes along in the same direction. But if it works for you, it’s great. If it doesn’t, it’s nice to know what else is out there.
Zenger’s: How are you funding it, and who, if anybody, have you got to advertise?
Lareau: I’m funding it out of my 401(K). It’s not doing anything right now anyway, so I thougfht I’d put some of it to good use. What the heck. I have a couple of advertisers. Willow Tree Press is fantastic. They have several ads in the first issue. I have this store out of New Yor, the Awareness Shop, that’s bought the next four back pages. I’m working out a deal right now with the Pagan Radio Network. I think we’re going to do an exchange there. That way I get my name out there on the Pagan Radio Network [an Internet-based radio service at www.paganradio.net], and he gets his ad in Modern Witch magazine.
Zenger’s: How many copies are you printing of the first issue?
Lareau: 2,500. I wish I had them all sold, but I don’t. I have a lot more marketing to do. I’ve been using my lunch hour to sit in my car with my cell phone and make sales calls to stores across the nation, to see if they’ll carry the magazine.
But folks are putting their money where their mouth is. I really wasn’t expecting the overwhelming support and response from people I haven’t met, especially from the local Pagan groups. The Pagan Pride coordinators and the Village Witch have both been so loving and supportive of this project. I just can’t thank them enough.