Monday, October 12, 2015

A Chat With Rosemary Nissen-Wade ~ On Poetry and Witchcraft

We have an extra special chat for you today, my friends. Our very own Passionate Crone, Rosemary, besides being a phenomenal woman, and a talented and internationally recognized poet, is also a witch. Recently , one of her witchy poems sparked the idea of us having a chat about the Craft, and you are in for a treat. Rosemary tells all! Draw your chairs in close, we'll brew some ginger root tea sprinkled with lavender blossoms, and have a witch's tea party. I can't wait!

Sherry: Rosemary, I am really thrilled to be chatting with you about this topic, which interests me greatly. Tell us how you came to the Craft, will you, please? We are all agog! 

Rosemary: Well, I could give you a very long and complex answer to that, which would leave no room for further chat, but here is the condensed version. I've been a witch (and a psychic medium) all my life, but it took me a long time to understand that. I shut it down hard in childhood, because my adults told me it was my 'wonderful imagination,'  and I quickly absorbed the lesson that if you believed it was real you must be mad – which could have unpleasant consequences.

Me, about four

Sherry: You  seem to have been your full, powerful self from a very early age, Rosemary. I so love this photo of you!

I actually became shy and timid for most of my childhood and young adulthood. I wonder now if that was because I was suppressing so much. It wouldn't stay suppressed, however. In my early forties I had experiences that could not be explained away in what we consider rational terms, though I tried hard – in great agitation and fear, with severe headaches. Eventually I noticed that I was still functioning in my life, and doing no actual harm to myself or anyone else, so if I was building a delusional construct in my head it must be fairly benign. I gave up and decided I might as well believe my own experience. The headaches etc. promptly stopped and I discovered that the effort of resisting it was what had been driving me mad.

In the following decades I explored meditation, personal development, I Ching, Runes and other oracles, ceremonial magic, shamanism and Druidry. Some of my training came from books and/or knowledgeable people; most of it came from what some call 'Spirit' and I often refer to as 'Upstairs' or 'The Universe'. (Why are we so reluctant to say 'God'?) Along the way I also trained as a Reiki Master, in the old-school one-on-one way, over a period of years.

I was guided to use the Tarot, and later a crystal ball in conjunction with it, and to use these tools professionally. 

However I had a huge block in relation to witchcraft. Most of my life, people had said to me, only half-jokingly, 'Oh you're a witch' and I always had an intense knee-jerk reaction: 'Don't call me that!' I realise now I may have suffered for it in another life.

Sherry: I am so enjoying the telling of this journey, my friend!
Rosemary: One day, I don't know why, I suddenly thought to myself, quietly and calmly, 'Of course you're a witch. You've always been a witch.' I realised, looking back over my life, that yes, of course this was so. It was said in the second person, so perhaps it was my Higher Self or one of my guides speaking to me, but I opened to the message at once, so deeply that it seemed it was my own thought. It felt peaceful and right, like a  homecoming. 

Sherry: Yes, a coming home to oneself - which is the journey for each of us, whether witch or not-witch. Tell us about crystal balls and wands, Rosemary.

My first crystal ball

Rosemary: The crystal balls belong to my career as a psychic medium, to help me focus on the messages I receive for my clients. I began with the tiny one but have long used the large. I am more clairsentient – knowing things by feeling and touch – than clairvoyant, so I don't scry with it (i.e. gaze into it). I put one hand on it, hold one of the client's hands to make a connection, shut my eyes and get whatever I get. 

The large crystal ball I now use

However, I did scry with the tiny crystal ball when I used that, and it was amazing the different things I saw for different clients, even though the ball didn't change physically. (I am somewhat clairvoyant too; also clairaudient.)

 This is fascinating, my friend.

A favourite wand

Rosemary: The wand is one of my tools as a witch. I use it to direct energy. This one was channelled for me by the woman who made it. She didn't know that traditionally a witch's wand is the length of one's forearm from inside elbow to middle finger-tip; she certainly didn't measure me – yet this is exact. The scarf I wrap it in when it's not in use is purple silk.

The magical powers are in the user. If I was caught without a wand and needed to direct energy in that kind of way, I'd use my forefinger. Or if I was outdoors I could pick up any stick off the ground (regardless of length) and use it successfully. However, wands can enhance the witch's own energy by such things as crystals at the tip, the kind of wood they're made from, any anointing with oil that they may have received or charms said over them, etc. Many witches like to make their own.

The witch's hat was just for fun. A cheap Halloween item from the toy store, it disintegrated many months ago. It was never used in ritual, but I did enjoy wearing it as a joke on various occasions.

 I love you in the witch hat! So how does one come to the Craft, if she suspects she may be so inclined? (she asks, with a throaty cackle.)

Rosemary: Witchcraft can be innate, or you can learn it – or both. There are hereditary witches, where it's in the genes, and I think I may be one through the maternal line. We have both Celtic and Indian (Hindu) ancestry. Many of the women in my family have been quite psychic, and my Nana had a naturally healing presence. 

My Mum and aunts would say airily, 'Oh we're all witches' when anything particularly intuitive or spooky happened – and yet they didn't mean it seriously; most of them were actively Christian. Well, they sort of meant it. They did and they didn't – it's hard to explain. Anyway, they were certainly not practising the Craft (unlike me; I of course take it perfectly seriously). 

 It's interesting that they knew of this heritage, or proclivity, yet discounted its appearance in you, as a child. Likely in hopes of you having a "normal" life, whatever that might be. 

Rosemary: What's a witch, anyway? Not a worshipper of Satan; let's make that quite clear. We don't believe in the existence of any such entity. We do revere the natural world. 

Sherry: That is the part that draws me so strongly, as you know. Earth-based teachings, reverence for nature, connection with the natural world.

Rosemary: Some of us are polytheistic; some of us believe in a single great Source from which all emanates; some of us are pantheist, seeing the spark of Divinity in every living thing. It is possible to be all of these things at once, e.g. I see all living energies, including those known as Deities, as (symbolically) sparks from the Great Fire. I also like to see God as the Great Mother rather than Father, so I most often use the term Goddess (but God covers it too). In reality I believe God to be beyond gender and other limitations; I just prefer to focus on the feminine aspect.

Sherry: This speaks to me, too, Rosemary.

Rosemary: Not all witches believe exactly as I do. As there are many denominations in Christianity, and different varieties of Buddhism, so there are various forms of Wicca. Wicca is the religion of witchcraft. I like it because it lacks dogma. We distinguish it from what we call 'the book religions'. Its only law is, 'Do as you will so long as it harms none' – which I think is the most stringent moral code there is, as you have to rethink every situation on its own merits. It's hard to live up to, but we must do our best. 

We also speak of the 'rule of three', which postulates that anything you send out comes back to you threefold. I personally don't take 'three' too literally; it's more that it comes back multiplied. I have been Wiccan, but am not strictly so any more. I prefer to see witchcraft as my spiritual path rather than a religion in any prescribed way. 
I now call myself a Pagan witch rather than a Wiccan. 'Pagan' is a broader umbrella, including various earth-based and/or magical traditions, such as Druidry and ceremonial magic. My practices are eclectic. I have been in a coven, but these days I mostly work solitary.

Sherry, did you know I also have a witchy blog, Cronewyze, where I address various magical matters? You might find it interesting. There are lots of good books one can read, but I think the classic text for beginners is still The Spiral Dance by Starhawk.
Sherry: I have several of Starhawk's books on my shelf, including this one, and am now motivated to read them! My witchy senses are perking up, under the resonance of your words. And I shall definitely be poring through Cronewyze, my friend.

Rosemary: At a certain point, after studying by myself for a long time, I got a notion to acquire some kind of official accreditation, and was led to the Correllian tradition, based in the USA with roots in Italian Stregheria and in the founders' Scottish and Cherokee ancestry. It was originally a family tradition. The heads of the family decided to go public and ally themselves with the larger Pagan community. Their online outlet is which has evolved a great deal since those early days. I did the first two of their three degrees and a number of electives, and have the right (though I don't claim it) to call myself a Priestess in that tradition. I found their teachings excellent, including some things I haven't seen anywhere else, and they remain an influence in my eclectic practices. 

: I can see your power as Priestess in your regal bearing, my friend. Let's take a look at some of your "witchy poems". And maybe you can talk a little about the beliefs or teachings around each one, to give us a further understanding of the Craft? I love "Innocence", which states its intent so clearly.  

‘I must believe,’ he said.
I understood. ‘Yes,
because you have seen.’

He nodded. He was speaking
of the witches in his home village
in Karangasem, past the mountain.
His uncle was one of them.

Already I too believed,
though I didn’t know then
that I myself was a witch.
There were just these things I did,
these things that happened....

I think of that acceptance
now, in my own country,
where so many ignorantly think
witches are evil, magic is wrong.

In Bali the villagers knew
witches are healers, magic
like all things, is a gift from God.

Sherry: Witches have always been natural healers. It was fear and ignorance that once thought them otherwise. 

Rosemary: Yes. Also, in the days of the Inquisition, when witches were persecuted and killed, very often the victims weren't even witches in the first place. It was a convenient excuse for eliminating someone you had a grudge against, or whose property you coveted. There are places in the world where, shockingly, this kind of thing still happens, such as parts of Africa.

Even in Western countries such as Australia and America, real witches can suffer for their spiritual path. It is only a few years ago that a Melbourne woman nearly lost her job for this reason – a very public case, which she won because religious discrimination in the workplace is illegal here. (But I imagine it wouldn't have felt like a very friendly place for her to work, thereafter.) And it's only a few years ago that an American online friend fighting a custody battle for her children was at greater risk of losing them because her ex outed her as a witch.

I'm not secretive about it because I am not in a position to be hurt by active discrimination – I'm no longer in the salaried work force and my kids are well grown up, live elsewhere, and have different surnames from mine anyway. But a friend in my town is very careful not to be too obvious about it, as any prejudice could affect her children.

There is still much ignorance. This is partly because people imagine we worship that Devil whom we don't actually believe in, and partly because of the oft-quoted Biblical injunction: 'Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.' I have read that the word 'witch' here is a mis-translation for 'poisoner'. In any case it comes from the Old Testament, not from the teachings of Christ.

Sherry: It is amazing, but not surprising, that such misinformation and prejudice and fear still exists. Which is why I am enjoying this chat, as we can help spread awareness about its true intent. I found one poem you wrote that seems to explain the Craft to perfection. Let’s look at it.

My most elaborate altar


Sweep with your special broom.
Cleanse, exorcise and charge water.
Cleanse, exorcise and charge salt.
Mix. Sprinkle around the perimeter
in an anti-clockwise circle
(we are in the Southern hemisphere).
Place your altar in the north (west /east).
Set the sacred objects upon it
in their right places:
dagger, wand, chalice, pentacle.
You will already have
your statues and pictures
your crystals and candles
displayed around the room.
If you wish, make a circle of rope;
it can be permanent.
It will be good if there is a window
through which you can see the moon.
Speak the words of consecration.


Just walk outside
into a space among trees.
Clear away any man-made litter.
Find your directions.
If you don’t know, use a compass
(essential equipment
for the urban witch).
Find a feather, a twig,
a shell, a stone.
Look up. Breathe in.
Extend your finger.

Sherry: Marvellous! I love it.

A simple outdoor altar ~ in outdoor ceremonies,
one must observe fire safety of course

Rosemary: That poem is one way – no, two ways – of describing how to prepare the space before doing ritual: the very formal way, in this case indoors, and a very simple outdoor version (without even the basic altar shown above). Both extremes are valid. 

Here is Australian witch and international singer, Wendy Rule, casting circle on stage - the Northern Hemisphere version. In the Southern Hemisphere, we switch fire to the north (the Equator) and earth to the south (the nearest Pole.)


Sherry: Oh, my goodness! I am an instant convert, and must buy some of her music immediately! I shall play it with the lights off, and candles flickering, when the moon is especially full and beautiful.

Rosemary: This next poem also indicates something of the purpose of ritual.

I use my laser-tipped shaft
– a long crystal laser –
wand and athame both.

I cast a simple circle,
no elaborate ritual tonight.
I’m a plain and basic witch.

I welcome the elements,
creating sacred space
in my small back yard.

Even in moonlight
the trumpet creepers
glow bright orange.

The trees bend in
above me; the rose bush
has tight new leaves.

It has been a strange day.
Now I reach night, and accept
that some friendships grow old.

This, though, is constant: me
and the full moon together
in a garden, year after year.

I let the day go, in its pain.
With raised arms, I accept
into myself the moon’s white light.

I draw it down, and use it
to bless the plants and my cat
and the listening nature spirits.

I ask that the world will know
love, peace and truth. I ask
to be strong. And wise.

Sherry: Strong and wise. One can ask no more than that.

Laser-tipped wand / athame

Rosemary: This is the tool referred to in the first verse of the above poem. An athame – pronounced either ATH-uh-may or ath-AH-me (I say ATH-uh-may) – is a witch's dagger. It is not used to cut anything physical but only to carve space, to create a circle of sacred space 'between the worlds' during ritual or for special magical workings. Some people use the wand for this purpose, as well as to direct energy. In this case, because the crystal at the tip is not a point but a shape known as a laser, which is considered esoterically to have properties of cutting energy, this tool doubles as both wand and athame.
When I am using a more traditional kind of wand, without a laser tip, I use it only to direct energy and I use an athame to cast circle – this one, shown here with its sheath:

 Sherry: This is all fascinating, my friend.

Rosemary: Ritual is often based around the Full Moon. Or it can be a celebration of the seasonal turning-points of the year – such as Imbolc, held in late Winter, foreshadowing Spring.

The moon is bright
and nearly full,
almost directly overhead
when I go out late
to make ritual for Imbolc,
for the coming of Spring.

More and more
my small back yard
becomes a sacred space:
place of daily meditations
and communing with Nature.
The energy gathers and builds.

I cast my circle simply,
with my right forefinger.
Deosil (sunwise)
is anti-clockwise here.

I bow as I name the directions
then open my arms
to call down the light of the moon.
I feel her enter and fill me.

I have some prayers,
I have some praises,
I have some thanks to give.
All this is quietly done.

Then it is time
to open the circle
and free all spirits
which may have been trapped
inadvertently or otherwise,
bidding them go in peace.

I step inside my door

At Spring Equinox 2014

Sherry: This is all so glorious, Rosemary. I am enjoying this conversation more than you can imagine. For we, the uninitiated, Wikipedia tells us that Imbolc (pronounced i-MOLG) is a Gaelic festival halfway between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox,  celebrating the coming of spring. Historically it was observed throughout Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Man.

Rosemary: Nowadays, of course, it is observed by witches and some other Pagans, such as Druids, all over the world. Many of our practices have their roots in ancient Celtic culture. (While we can't know every unrecorded detail of what these ancestors did, much has come down to us through folk lore and folk festivals.) We continue to use those old names for our seasonal celebrations, known as Sabbats. I think even in ancient times pronunciation varied with place. In some places Imbolc was known as Oimelc. I pronounce it IM-bolk (rightly or wrongly). 

Sherry: Rosemary, when we hear about witches, we hear about spells and hexing. Let's talk a bit about that, shall we? (she says, drawing her shawl around her shoulders, and edging ever closer to the fire, which is cackling. Er, crackling!) 

Rosemary: We regard spells as prayers – active prayers, in which we not only make a request but also set the energy in motion in various ways to support bringing it about. 

Often that's done in a very physical way, using (for instance) herbs, oils or crystals; maybe creating some specific object with magickal properties. E.g. I was recently taught how to make a 'mojo bag', which comes from a form of witchcraft known as hoodoo. This one was for prosperity, and involved sewing the bag myself, putting inside it things believed to attract prosperity, and keeping it with me.

Some spells consist of, or include, written words. There are specific words of power that can be used – but all words have power. Some verbal spells can be done with thought alone. An author called Marion Weinstein has some good teachings about this in her book Words of Power. I refer you to the Kindle edition, because the paperback is now incredibly expensive. Alternatively you could get her earlier book Positive Magic. It has a long chapter on Words of Power, which was the basis for the later book.

Shows like Charmed (remember Charmed?) are not true representations of the Craft. For instance, it's not essential that verbal spells should be rhymed – though they can be if you like. As a poet I was highly amused in one episode of Charmed, when new family member Paige spoke a non-rhyming spell, the other witches stared at her and she said defensively, 'It's a haiku.'

The witches I know are very ethical and wouldn't use spells to manipulate other people. It's OK to make a spell to attract love to you; it's not OK to make a particular person fall in love with you. Many of us add a caveat to any spell: 'According to free will, for the good of all and harm to none'.

And yes, in case you're wondering, spells do work! For that very reason we don't do them lightly. This is another case of 'be careful what you wish for' – and even more careful when you're actively working to manifest the wish.

Sherry: Good advice, Rosemary. I love "for the good of all, and harm to none."

Rosemary: Opinion is divided on whether to hex (i.e. curse). The well-known witch and author, Z Budapest, believes it has its place. She tells a story of a large circle of witches meeting to formally hex a serial rapist-killer in their area. His next intended victim escaped and the police caught him. Whether magic is good or bad may well be a matter of intent.

I personally don't hex. But I will do banishing spells in case of need, albeit rarely. The idea is to banish the evil a person is doing rather than the actual person. I don't mind if that comes back on me multiplied, because I would rather not be doing evil anyway. 

It can, however, result in removal of the person too, if that's what The Powers That Be decide it's going to take. There was the time a friend of mine finally ended an abusive relationship, but the man wouldn't leave her alone and subjected her to so much harrassment and mental torture that she was a complete mess. I thought she would go mad. So I did a very thorough banishment. Usually I like to fuel my spells with the energy of love, but this one was powered by white-hot rage! Soon afterwards he unexpectedly moved, not only right out of her life but to a different country. 

It's not done to boast of one's magical workings, but I do tell this story from time to time as a teaching example of what's possible.

Dark rainsky
I think the moon
will be hidden.

When I go out
into clear cold
she is right above.

I tilt my head
her white circle doubles
the two overlap.

Around the vesica piscis
bright blue light
shines and deepens.

Lady Moon
I stand on the earth
and beg for blessings.

The hour grows late
help me now to fulfill
all my promises.

Sherry: Beautiful, Rosemary. In closing,  what would you like to leave us with on the topic of witchcraft, to help those who aren't familiar with it to better understand its practice?

Rosemary: I've enjoyed the opportunity to discuss it, but would like to make it clear that even those of us who hold it as a religion are not evangelical about it. We're not the least bit interested in getting converts! We think there are many valid paths to God, and that people should be free to find what best suits them. That's their business, not ours. 

You can even be a witch and have another religion. I have come across Christian witches, Hare Krishna witches, Buddhist witches, agnostic witches who aren't sure about God but understand energy, and people who refer to themselves as Christo-Pagan. 

If you are drawn to the Craft, it's up to you to seek it out. (Be discriminating. In all walks of life, including this one, you may come across criminals, frauds and controllers.)

All that being said, I do believe that once you freely give yourself to the Goddess, the connection is forever. She will never abandon you.

First there's the walk downstairs,
each step a new colour:
violet, indigo, sky blue,
apple green, golden yellow,
orange, and the bottom step's red.

I find myself in a tunnel
which leads to a gate.
Through this gate I see
a sunny meadow with wildflowers.
On the other side is a creek.

I walk out onto the grass.
A beautiful woman
comes to meet me, gliding.
I raise my eyes to hers.
She is smiling at me.

In a clear voice,
but soft as a whisper,
she tells me my secret name.
I stand in the sunlight,
free and perfectly happy.

I know that this
is the half-way mark.
From here I must turn,
walk back the way I came
and complete my journey.

When I retrace my steps
I'll carry her loving smile
in memory, making me strong.
I shall be changed, and the old paths
will lead me to new places.

My purple cloak

Sherry: That is so lovely, the old path leading you to new places. I so adore a recent poem of yours, which gave me the idea for this chat in the first place. I would love to close our conversation with its beautiful message. 

After the feast of Brigid
these were left,
some in the glass flower vase
we set on the altar before her,
the rest in a box in the fridge
on a sheet of wet white tissue paper.

‘You can eat them!’ said one
who had gathered them for us,
her smile lighting her face.

It is three days later,
but they kept.
I pick up a few, singly,
and place them in turn on my tongue.
Surprisingly, they don’t melt.
I must chew the tiny petals.

Then I scatter them all
on my morning cereal, and eat.
My senses open to Faerie.

I am at once ethereal
and rooted in earth;
more decadent
than Marie Antionette,
yet innocent as a wisp of air
breathed from a baby’s lips.

I thank the Goddess for sharing,
and open my mouth
to speak beauty.

Sherry: Yes. You open your mouth - and tap on your keys - and speak beauty, my friend. I adore this poem. In fact, I Wish I'd Written It!

Fellow poets and potential witch novices, be sure to check out other glorious witch poems on Rosemary's blog. Scroll to the bottom, click on "witch poems", and enjoy. 

Thank you, Rosemary, for giving us this wonderfully generous explanation of what it is to be a witch. It has been, in a word, spellbinding. Smiles. One of my favourite chats!

What a treat this visit has been, hasn't it, my friends? Do come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you.