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Interview With a Witch Mom
Lillitu Shahar Kunning, blogger at Witch Mom, doesn't see a problem with it. The Feri witch sheds some moonlight on her religion, and says society's understanding of her life is akin to believing the word "yellow" simply means the color of the brick road, a definition as narrow as the point on a witch's hat.
ParentDish spoke with Shahar Kunning, mother to son Rowan, 6 months, about what it's like to be a witch and a mom. We assume that's pretty close to being a witch and a politician. An edited version of our interview with her follows.
ParentDish: So witches are in the news at the moment. What do you think about the Christine O'Donnell uproar? Is it possible to be a politician and a witch?
Lillitu Shahar Kunning: Oy! I don't want to claim Christine O'Donnell. It's kind of like when Sen. Larry Craig was caught in that airport bathroom. No gay person wanted to claim him, either. Actually, I haven't seen the old footage from Bill Maher, but from what I understand, she was a dabbler, not an actual witch with religious principles.
PD: Yeah, she's not a mom, either, so we can't help her. Speaking of which, congratulations on the birth of your son, Rowan. We read on your blog that he was born on the auspicious night of the Wolf Moon.
LSK: He was conceived on Beltaine, which is May Day, aka May 1st, the previous year, in a ritual setting. So we hyper-planned for Rowan to come and he came on the Wolf Moon, which is appropriate because one of the Gods we invoked while we were conceiving him was the Lord of Wolves. When he was born, we found it really funny because he had gray fur all over his back and on his legs. We were like, "Oh, he's a little wolf cub!"
PD: The conception doesn't sound particularly romantic.
LSK: Actually, it was thrilling, especially at that moment when we both knew that it had worked. Witches' rituals are very sexy in general, and this one was especially so!
PD: So how does Joe Average Guy define "witch?"
LSK: The average person probably thinks that there's no such thing in real life and that it's sort of a storybook idea. You know, the caricature that you see at Halloween, with the green skin, bump in the nose -- the old hag. Or if they are part of particular religions that do believe that we're real, they believe that we're evil or something to be feared.
PD: So, any truth to that?
LSK: Witch is a term that encompasses several different religious traditions. People call themselves witches whether they are men or women or transgender. We believe in certain precepts. Witches believe that everyone is connected. And not just people, but everything on the planet; that everything is part of nature. The connection itself is Divine and we're connected to the Divine.
PD: Divine, like God?
LSK: Some witches believe in a couple of deities, some believe in many deities. We don't just believe in the one male deity. It's sort of an earth-based religion. We believe that the earth is sacred and that we need to take care of it. These are the commonalities that witches share.
PD: What is Feri witchcraft?
LSK: My religious tradition is an American witchcraft tradition that, just like America, is influenced by a lot of different populations coming into the United States. It has influences in Appalachian folk magic, Mexican folk magic and Hawaiian folk magic. Hoodoo, which is also something I practice, is an African American spell work tradition. There are many people in the South who practice Hoodoo and a lot people mix up the word Hoodoo and Voodoo. Voodoo is a religion. Hoodoo is a set of magic spells that anyone can do.
PD: I've seen magic spelled with a "k," as in m.a.g.i.c.k. Is this a witch thing?
LSK: You could spell it magic, with no "k," but that term is used by illusionists like Criss Angel and authors like J.K. Rowling, so its real and original meaning got convoluted and diluted. It was Aleister Crowley, I believe, who started calling what we mean magick, with a "k." What he meant is the art and science of knowing your true will -- your real purpose here on earth -- and enacting it in the world. Spells and such are ritualized actions using a symbol language, which speak to the unconscious mind, to make these things happen, but they don't work like on "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch."
PD: Is Rowan's dad a witch?
LSK: My partner is also a witch and he's a priest in the Feri tradition. I'm not a priest yet. Our tradition is a mystery initiatory tradition and I have not yet been initiated. I'm studying with my teacher and she says initiation is coming soon. I've been studying for about six years, but I have not yet been initiated. So she holds mysteries that I don't have yet.
PD: So, how is a witch family structured?
LSK: We're fairly progressive as a family. We believe in equal parenting. My partner does just as much child care as I do. We both equally split bread-winning. It could be because we're witches, but pretty much everything we do is because we're witches. It's a cultural thing.
PD: How do you raise a baby witch?
LSK: He's going to be raised with a witch's mindset, but we're not going to force anything on him. Our religious tradition, as I've said, is an initiatory one, and he will have to be initiated before he can be a full member of the religious community, and he can actively choose that.
But he's also going to learn about all the other religions and what they mean, and not in a biased way. I'm actually in seminary right now, the Unitarian Universalist Seminary, getting my Masters of Divinity, and it's a multi-religious education. I'm taking classes on Islam, I'm taking classes on Christianity, on Judaism, on a lot of different religious traditions and I'm learning it from religious practitioners. It's an unbiased environment. I feel really strongly that my child should know about the people of the world and their cultures. And he should be free to learn what we believe, and when the time comes he will decide what he believes.
PD: Do Mom and Dad do the initiating?
LSK: People initiate their lovers, people initiate their children ... but in our tradition, it's frowned upon to teach those whom you are intimately connected to. You can initiate your lover or child, but you usually send them off to get their education from someone else and that person determines when they're ready for initiation. So, we're going to be raising him as a witch, and if he decides to pursue Feri witchcraft, he will find a specific teacher, besides his father and I, to learn from. And when he's ready, they will initiate him or we will, if he asks for that.
PD: What are some of the rituals that you'll teach him?
LSK: Ritual, to me means casting circle and working between the worlds. This is the closest witches have to attending church, which, of course, I will teach Rowan to do. But witches make magic every day, regardless of whether they have done all the circle-casting and whatnot. Think about it. Are Christians only being Christian when they attend church on Sunday? Not really, right? I will teach Rowan to listen to all living things: people, animals, plants and rocks. I will teach him to be ethical and discerning and realize that his words and deeds have impact on this and other worlds. I will teach him how to manifest his will and make stuff happen. As for actual rituals, we observe the eight sabbats, which are holy days, on the wheel of the year, and we also do esbats, which is a meeting on new and full moons, from time to time. We also sometimes perform rituals for specific purposes, like spellwork, at these esbats.
PD: Halloween is coming up. Will Rowan wear a costume and go trick-or-treating? Do witch kids go trick-or-treating?
LSK: Halloween, as it is represented in mainstream American culture, is not something witches celebrate as a religious holiday, but many celebrate it as a secular one, like a Labor Day or Thanksgiving. It is not the same religious holiday as Samhain, where Halloween has its origins, but it is fun. Trick-or-treating is a part of mainstream culture and I see nothing wrong with having some fun and doing Halloween up for kids. I had a blast as a kid playing pranks, trick-or-treating, dressing up and going to parties. I hope that Rowan has just as much fun with his friends. He already has several costumes -- a bee, a dragon, a fairy, a firefighter, a skeleton -- that he wears to the supermarket and other mundane places.
PD: Where do witches go to school? Do you plan on homeschooling?
LSK: I'm not quite sure if he's going to go to a public school, a private school, if he's going to be home-schooled or group-schooled. I'd like to find like-minded parents who want open-minded, free-thinking children, so that we could all be responsible for the curriculum together. And so that the kids will actually get socialization together, which I think is the main thing at school. I'm doing a lot of research right now. He's only 6 months old, so I have some time to make a decision.
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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.