10 Questions with Thuri Calafia

1. First, what is the Circles system and how does it differ from other Wiccan traditions?
Well, I wouldn’t really call Circles a “tradition” per se, though others have. Circles is simply a system of organizing study, but it’s very eclectic. Each book is/will be a complete course of study for that level.
The first way Circles is different is that each level, each course, from dedicant through adept level, follows a Wheel of the Year program that is ongoing; it can be started at any time – there is no waiting period for the “next class” to start. In the Dedicant book (and in all the books), and in Circles School, the first unit for any level is the Orientation and Basics lesson. Once that is completed, the student simply “jumps on the Wheel” in the current month, joining the rest of the class in a smooth and seamless transition. It’s very exciting this way; there are new students coming in (and graduating!) all the time, yet there is enough time for folks to bond with each other, and of course with me, too. No one has to wait, and students can delve as deeply or move along as quickly as they like.
The other fundamental way in which the Circles system differs is that study is connected to the Wheel of the Year; subjects are discussed in the time they’re exalted (a term I picked up from astrology, meaning, in my opinion – where it’s magnified, most powerful, in its most natural “home”). For example, we learn about dreamwork when we’re on the threshold of, and about divination when we’ve passed into the Dark Time; we learn about candle magic and colors just before Imbolc; about human sexuality and sex magic during April, when Beltane is on its way and the air is buzzing with raw passion and the urge to couple.
Finally, when I have all class levels going at the same time (Dedicant, Initiate, and Adept), which I will soon, there is the monthly lesson for each class once per month, but all the classes meet together for Pathworkings, the “hands on” part of the classes, and each student then is able to do the work for their current level. For example, if we’re doing ritual, the Dedicants would probably purify and charge the circle, maybe call quarters, the Initiates would cast and call deity, and the Adepts would probably deliver the ritual’s message and guide the meditation/trancework and fire the cone of power. With Pathworkings such as divination practice, the higher level students can help the newer students by providing feedback and suggestions for improvement. This teaches the Dedicants the ropes while teaching the Initiates and Adepts how to teach and to lead. Everybody learns.

2. Tell my readers about your first book “Dedicant: A Witches Circle of Fire”.
Dedicant is the foundation book for the series, and gives a good, solid Witchy education up to and including initiation. There are some surprises – I like to poke holes in the pretty red balloons of tradition, so when I discover an answer to a Mystery or find a way to shed light on a practice or belief which could profoundly alter the way folks look at things, I convey this information through my teaching and my writing.
I’m a fiction writer at heart – the first major piece I wrote is an epic lesbian novel (called Visions), and I feel this love of good prose shines through in my work. Every monthly lesson chapter in Dedicant (and most likely in all the books in the series) starts with a guided meditation starring the student as the main character, and there are other guided meditations (elemental ones, for example) which are all rather poetic and colorful, which hopefully inspires the student to connect with the energies of the season, and the beauty around them throughout the turning of the Wheel. My hope is to also inspire in the student a sense of their own power and intuition, a strong connection to the earth and moon tides.
I stress good scholarship, and so there’s required reading of other authors – the cream of the crop of what I’ve read – throughout the course. There are ethics exercises designed to make the student think, so when they start using energy to create change in the world, they’ll be in the habit of examining all possible consequences of their actions before taking such actions.
I kind of went to the “hit and miss” school of Wicca, being self-taught, so I’ve tried to put together a system of learning which helps the motivated student avoid that trap by providing guidance throughout the path to initiation, and, with the other books in the series of course, beyond initiation as well. It’s great for teachers, too – rather than teaching Wicca in a linear fashion and having to make each group of excited, eager students wait (and wait and wait) for the next round of classes, teachers can use Dedicant as a foundation for their own classes, and teach around the Wheel of the Year, too, adding their own required reading and special touches.

3. How many more books will there be in the series, and can you tell us a little bit about them and what to expect?
There will be three more books, possibly a fourth. The one I’m working on now is Initiate: A Witch’s Circle of Water. Initiate will likely be quite a bit longer and lot more intense, as I feel the program will help prepare the student for the intensity of being a priest or priestess of the Old Gods in an active community service role. In Initiate, the student will learn much about energy work, which is the training I feel is most often missed on the solitary path. This gives the student a solid foundation for renewing and re-filling his spiritual vessel by connecting with his patron gods and matron goddesses at a deep level. This helps ensure he doesn’t get burned out when he begins to serve his gods at Adept level. There will also be considerable exploration into various spiritual callings, or gifts, which will help prepare and train the student, so that he can feel confident and strong when he starts giving back to his gods through community service work.
The next one will be Adept: A Witch’s Circle of Earth. Adept will be all about community service, writing and performing public ritual, writing and facilitating private, specialized rituals such as Dark Workings and other specialized healings, Life Passage rituals and Wiccan Rites of Passage, house clearings when spirits are more than happy to hang around mischief for the residents, etc. We’ll explore some of the deeper Mysteries, too, such as qabalah.
I also plan to do a sort of prequel to the series, called Seeker: A Witch’s Circle of Air, which will explore all kinds of different earth-based religions. This book will be a sort of overview for those who are drawn to an earth-based path but are not sure if Wicca, the Native American path, Asatru or other earth-centered spirituality is for them. This would also be a good text for those who have already finished a course of study in one tradition or spiritual belief system, and who want to learn more of other paths. This could give them new possibilities, new avenues to explore.
There may or may not be a Master: A Witch’s Circle of Spirit. If so, this would focus mostly on Right Livelihood and what the student feels the Pagan community needs and why it’s their job to provide it.

4. What drew you to the Wiccan faith?
Oh, my. What didn’t? I’ve always been deeply connected to nature, and feel most at home outdoors, especially in the wild places. I can remember, from a very early age, feeling a special resonance with the ancient Greek gods – Artemis in particular – and doing what, looking back, I can only call devotional rituals to Her in the field across from my house. She’s been my matron goddess since that time, although I did go through a born-again-Christian phase for about five minutes in my late teens. When I was in my early twenties, I started reading. Bonewits’ Real Magic was one of the first books I read, and it really struck a chord within me – I grew up with the same sort of dry humor, so it felt really familiar. In addition, I loved his logic, so I read the book over and over, and still do. The next thing was Spiral Dance, and it felt like coming home. Starhawk has a way of expressing both the light and dark sides of the divine in a way that really resonates with me. Then I read Drawing Down the Moon, and I must admit I cried through most of it – the sense of family, of belonging, of community was something I’d never had in my family of origin, and so had always longed for. Suddenly, here was the possibility that I might someday find that family, that tribe. That’s powerful stuff. From there, I was hooked; the religion I’d always felt in my heart finally had a name.

5. After teaching for so many years, what made you decide now is the time to put that knowledge into books for the masses?
Well, deep at my core, I’m a writer – it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. Even as a kid, I had a group of other kids that would sit and listen to me tell stories, and of course they always had a “moral,” a lesson in them, and I believe I wrote my first stories around age nine or ten. So I guess I’ve always been a teacher, too. Then, in my mid-twenties, I had an astrologer tell me I was destined to be a spiritual teacher, and students just sort of… started appearing. So I guess you could say I kinda fell into the spiritual teacher thing, with a few IRL students, but mostly, it started with a sort of online 101, back in the late 1990s.
As my packets of information got thicker and thicker, and my attempts at selling my novel became more and more frustrating, I thought, “Hmmm… maybe I could get my foot in the door with nonfiction – this is almost a book already,” and then I just fell in love with the work. In many ways, fiction is still where my heart is (I’m a sucker for a good story), but this work has captured my heart, too, and I credit the many wonderful and amazing students I’ve had over the years with that energy – they’ve truly opened my heart. Now, I have plans for all kinds of writing projects, from this series, to a book on healing women’s sexuality, to a Witchy cookbook. And of course, there are always the stories in my head. I just love to write.

6. What challenges do you see facing the Wiccan community? How can the community resolve those issues?
The biggest challenge I see the Wiccan community facing is the one I get on my soapbox about at every turn: we must stop the infighting, the Witchier-than-thou BS, and unite as a people! If we are constantly looking down our collective noses, squeezing out the new priests and priestesses in our communities so that only the “Old Guard” gets to present public rituals and other good works, if we cannot see past our tiny differences to the vast common ground we all stand on, we will fall apart. This “us and them” attitude comes from our domestication in western culture’s fear of anything different. As a religion, we claim to honor diversity, but then we snipe at each other, snub newbies, and talk trash behind each other’s backs when someone’s spiritual practices are a hair’s breadth different from ours. This kind of negativity will never allow us to truly grow and build as a valid and viable religious community.
How to resolve it? I think it can really only be truly resolved on an individual level. I believe that each and every one of us must try to allow for the possibility that the person smiling at us from across the circle is just as vulnerable as we are, just as hopeful that real connections can be made with another Pagan, is just as smart and savvy as we are, and that they have no intention to harm our standing or our place in our communities. They just want to be heard, too. Why try to compete when we can connect and network and build? So you know some stuff. Bet they know some stuff, too. We must expand our minds, open our hearts. And then we need to get off our high horses and step up to the responsibility of reaching out to that new person and quit assuming its everyone else’s job. We must embrace each other! We must walk our talk! We need to make others feel welcome and important. We’re all important, damnit. Every one of us.

7. Zatanna, Samantha Stephens, or Circe?
Hmmm, not sure what you’re asking me here. Don’t know much about Zatanna. I watched Bewitched as a kid, and loved it. Loved the movie, too. Circe? Well, that’s one goddess I wouldn’t want to cross. But I’m not too much like any of those women.

8. Can you tell my readers about the College of Wicca and Old Lore?
It was started by Morning Glory Dragonfly, in 2000. At the time, Morning Glory owned the shop Herbs and Arts in Denver. She got together a team of four other teachers, including yours truly, and we started the school. This was just after I first wrote and submitted the proposal for Dedicant to Llewellyn. We set up the school to follow a Wheel of the Year program, though it was much different than the WOY program I had in mind, so we butted heads on a few things.
Unfortunately, some of the teachers butted heads on a great number of things, but Morning Glory was truly wonderful to work with, very knowledgeable, and such an open heart and spirit! Though there were difficult times, she did her best keeping it all together and for the time I was there, the school seemed very successful. I left later that year to pursue my own teaching dreams and to work on the book. I will never forget her, though; she taught me many things about spiritual leadership, and I try to live up to her example in many ways.

9. I understand that you host Witches’ Afternoon Teas. I’m partial to English Breakfast Tea, what kind of tea is served at your gathering?
Well, Carmella Cook, the owner of Essential Elements Herbal Apothecary, the venue we hold the Teas at, is in charge of the tea part. She usually makes a couple of pots of her special blends for the events, but she’ll make a cup of whatever folks want, and she has a lot of them! She also usually provides a fruit tray or cheese and crackers, or other munchies. I provide the “cakes”, which have been everything from fancy and decorated (I used to be a professional cake decorator), or basic and homemade, or store-bought pound cake and fruit when I was pressed for time. There are always refreshments, though, and usually a good variety. We also have free readings and each Tea has a different theme, from seasonal to silly. They’re a lot of fun.

10. Parting shot! Ask us here at The Magical Buffet any one question.
Well, I was going to ask you how the Magical Buffet got started, but then decided that question was too lame and ordinary and anyway, you probably answered that already in your FAQs or your About Us section, so I went there and found it. So now my question is: What is the first thing you’ll do as Supreme Ruler of the World?
I would immediately request more episodes of the television shows Firefly, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and The Boondocks

About the Author
Thuri Calafia is a Wiccan High Priestess of many years standing, and the creator of the Circles System and School. She is the author of DEDICANT: A Witch’s Circle of Fire; A Course of Study in the Old Religion. Calafia is active in the Portland Pagan community, offering various workshops and priestess services, presenting regular Open Full Moon rituals and Witches’ Afternoon Teas, and teaching Circles Dedicant level classes. She is working on the second in the four-book series, INITIATE: A Witch’s Circle of Water. She lives with her beloved Labrador, Miss Alyssa Ramone.