Dianne Sylvan is the author of The Circle Within and The Body Sacred. She graciously agreed to participate in an interview with Copper Moon E-zine. We discussed concepts featured in both books, her blog and grabbed some great advice in the process!
1. What motivated you to start writing about your religious path?
Well, I’m a writer, and I’m religious. It seemed like a natural segue. Really, though, back when I first got the itch to write The Circle Within, there was a glut of Wicca 101 material on the market and very little of it dealt directly the spiritual aspects of Wicca. It was mostly “you need x and y tools, stand here, wave your arms like this, memorize these words, here are your correspondence tables.” By that time I’d already been practicing for years and I was looking for more. I decided that instead of complaining about the lack of more spiritually in-depth material I would contribute some of my own. You know what they say: if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.
2. In your book The Circle Within, you write about what you call "Wiccan Graces." Can you describe the meaning behind this term and provide an example?
Wiccan Graces is a pretty term to describe a fairly mundane concept: virtues. You can take several virtues from the “Charge of the Goddess,” for example: mirth and reverence, et cetera, and use them as guideposts for self-improvement. That’s a much healthier way to grow, in my opinion, than a punishment/reward model as many other religions have. Virtue-based ethics allows for more freedom of choice, and it puts the responsibility on the individual. The list of Graces I detail in The Circle Within includes virtues like love, integrity, and gratitude, but I also say that each person has to come up with her own set to go by. Even in the years since I wrote the book my own personal Graces have evolved a little, but that’s the beauty of Wicca: it’s an organic religion that has plenty of room to grow, if we’ll let it.
3. Often advice for new Wiccans is read, read, read. What do you suggest intermediate Wiccans do to revive a stale practice?
Go outside. Don’t just meditate on the Elements, go out and feel them squish between your toes. Meet the Goddess where She lives, in nature, and while you’re at it revive your own self-care practices; eat better, exercise, get enough rest and enough play. Live fully in your body and in the world. And above all, keep showing up.
4. You also recommend daily devotions. Why do you feel this is an essential ritual Wiccans should incorporate into their practice?
In the bigger picture, what you do every day effects your life more than what you do once in a while. All of those little rituals and devotions add up to a more spiritual life. You might have a huge transformative experience at a Sabbat ritual, but if you don’t back that experience up with day to day work, eventually you fall back into the old way of doing things; it's human nature to resist what's new and different even if it's better for us. Daily devotional rituals help reinforce the peak experiences and they lay the groundwork for more.
5. Do you have a stronger affinity for one of the Sabbats? If so, what is it about this particular holiday that "speaks to you?"
I’ve always been quite fond of Ostara; it has the best candy. I’m actually something of a Pagan heretic in that I don’t really enjoy Beltane. To me, anything involving Autumn is especially wonderful, both because my birthday is in November and because living in Texas the relief from the heat is a cause for celebration. I’m not as attached to the holidays themselves as I am to the larger turn of the seasons.
6. You candidly blog about depression on Dancing Down the Moon. How do you reconcile opening the door on this intimate aspect within your life?
To be perfectly honest, I started blogging about depression because I am depressed. At the time I started, I couldn’t think of anything else to write about—my spiritual life had ground to a halt because of my depression and it was either write about that, or stop blogging altogether. I’ve always been pretty honest about my personal life in my writing. It’s very important to me that people see that just because a person has been Wiccan for fourteen years and has written a couple of books doesn’t mean her life can’t fall spectacularly in the crapper sometimes.
Not to mention, depression is a very common problem among Pagans these days; we tend to come to our paths wounded in some way. “Normal” people (and I use that term loosely) don’t usually feel the need for alternate religions. Yet it doesn’t get talked about much as part of our spirituality. Our culture is materially gluttonous yet spiritually starving, and we all find ourselves trying to fill a soul-deep void with prescription medications as our only affordable tools. So I write about it, and I’m encouraged by the number of people who comment saying “I’m going through/have gone through the same thing, it’s so good to know I’m not alone.” That tells me that I’m doing the right thing by airing my dirty laundry.
Also? I’m 30. My Saturn return is kicking my butt, yet it seems to be really entertaining for other people, so the least I can do is make my readers laugh now and again. We all need more laughter in our lives.
7. What prompted you to write The Body Sacred? Did you envision a particular reader during the process?
I’m a 280 pound woman with body image issues and I know I’m not the only one. In fact, almost every woman I know regardless of size, shape, or demographics has some sort of body issue in need of healing. It occurred to me one day that the essential beliefs of Wicca—reverence for the natural world and our own place within it as embodied beings—could be, and should be, a means by which women could heal those wounds. I envisioned a reader like myself, a Pagan woman looking for a way to return the sense of sanctity to a belittled and violated body. I wanted to tell women, “we can reclaim our wholeness, just as much as we can reclaim the holiness of the Earth, and in fact it’s our sacred duty to do so.”
8. In chapter one of The Body Sacred "Fall from Grace," you discussed how Wiccans generally take a different viewpoint on women's roles and power. Do you think the mainstream western society will eventually break away from the "traditional" ways of thinking? What steps need to be taken in your opinion to shift away from this thought process?
I have days when I think the human race is absolutely splendid and has the potential to transform itself and let go of the fear and greed that keep us chained to a violent history. Then there are days when I think we’re just walking viruses with cell phones. I like to think that we’re on the verge of social evolution on a grand scale, that all the looming catastrophes we’ve brought down on ourselves are fixable. But first something has to make us understand that money can’t save us.
For all that it seems like we’re going backwards sometimes in terms of equality (equality of race, gender, sexual identity, all of it), I think we’ve made a lot of progress overall and I think there’s much, much more to come. The mainstream attitude toward women’s lives has shifted from “know your place” to “have it all,” even though the political establishment would prefer it was still “know your place.” But I don’t think even the Republican Party can stop change from coming. They can throw their temper tantrums and stick their fingers in their ears all they want. As I said, it's human nature to resist change, but it's the nature of nature to change, and nature is bigger.
9. What advice would you give to your teenage self if you could go back in time and send a message?
Look around you—in ten years, the popular girls, the pretty girls, those who seem to have it all together right now, are going to be living in the same horrible little town with five kids apiece and beer-swilling husbands who play fantasy football. They'll never have adventures; they'll collect NASCAR plates and think Jeff Foxworthy is a genius. Don't envy them. In fact, don't give them or their sneers a second thought. You are worth kingdoms.
Oh, and don't get a perm. That's just a bad, bad idea.
10. Do you have plans to write more Wiccan related books in the future?
I'm not sure. I tend to become very passionately involved in book projects, and it requires a lot of energy and devotion—I can't just bang out a book every six months and have it mean anything to me, and I'm definitely not in it for the money, so I don't feel like I have to publish just for the sake of publishing. Blog entries are much less intense, and besides, they're free to read. The internet has changed the way people learn, although a lot of people, myself included, still love real books. I'll never stop writing, but I can't say for certain when another subject will come along that captures me and casts enough of a spell to become a whole book. It will probably be at least a couple of years.
Of course, now that I've said that, tomorrow the Muse will slap me on the butt and I'll be tethered to my computer for the next six months writing the Hitchhiker's Guide to Wicca or something. The universe has kind of a perverse sense of humor.