Today, I am happy to post an recent interview I had with Rev. Don Lewis, who is the First Priest, and Chancellor of the Correllian Tradition.
How did you discover you were Pagan?
My mother and her family, the Highcorrells, were Pagan. My father for his part was a Ceremonial with his own rather idiosyncratic views. I was raised with my mother’s beliefs, rather than in them, as it was expected that I should study various paths and then make a choice. Things like Magic, Ancestor altars and Spirit messaging were part of my childhood. My bedtime stories included Greek and Egyptian mythology. I was also raised with fear of the outside world, and an emphasis on secrecy –things which as an adult I have fought against. As I grew up I studied many other things, including several forms of Christianity. At age 12 I received a spontaneous vision, as had many other members of my family including my mother, and began training in the Tradition. My principle teacher was Lady Krystel. But I did not make an absolute choice until I was coming up upon initiation –for a brief time I was torn between different possibilities. However as I came to understand the choices before me better, I gave myself whole-heartedly to the Tradition and never again considered any other path. That is not to say that I stopped learning about other paths –far from it- only that when I undertook initiation my familial path became my lifepath and thereafter all other things were seen through its lens. That was at Samhain of 1976.
You have had the pleasure to connect with many prominent people in the Pagan community, which of them was your most profound meeting, having the most impact on you?
I can’t really answer the question you are actually asking, because I do not think that any single meeting with a prominent person has ever had a profound effect on me. However there are several prominent Pagans who have had a profound effect on me through knowing and interacting with them. Those prominent Pagans who have had the most impact on me include Blv. Olivia Robertson, Selena Fox, and Rt. Rev. Pete Pathfinder.
The Most Reverend Hon. Olivia Robertson (1917-20013) was a Co-Founder of the Fellowship of Isis. Lady Krystel, my late mother Blv. LaVeda, and I joined the FOI back in the ‘80s because we felt that of all the major organizations it came closest to our own Correllian views on theology and spiritual practice. In subsequent years many other Correllians have also joined the FOI, usually for the same reason. I had the great pleasure of meeting Lady Olivia in 1994, when she came to Chicago for the first FOI US Convention, which grew into the annual FOI Chicago Goddess Festival. After that she came to Chicago many more times, for subsequent conventions, and I had many opportunities to interact with her. Lady Olivia was a great person –invariably gracious, unfailingly kind, always interested in the people she met. I was raised to believe that how a person treated those less prominent than themselves was an important indicator of their character, and Lady Olivia made everyone she met feel special and important because she always saw and responded to those things that were special and important about them, no matter who they were. Lady Olivia had many other aspects to her character –she was immensely well educated, amazingly creative, accomplished beyond measure, had an endearing sense of whimsy –and was in my opinion the world’s greatest living Oracle- but the quality that most struck me, and that most impacted me, was her graciousness. To me, this is a defining characteristic of a great person. When the most prominent Priestess in the Western World is also the nicest person you could imagine, you cannot help but be in awe.
Selena Fox is the Head of Circle Sanctuary and the Circle Tradition. Back in the ‘70s and ‘80s Lady Selena probably impacted me, and my family, more than any other Pagan leader –through her magazine. The importance of Circle Magazine to the Midwest Pagan community cannot be overstated. It was the first Pagan magazine we ever encountered, thanks to Lady Bitterwind, and the first Pagan magazine to ever print my work. Circle’s definitions of what it meant to be Wiccan and Pagan is much of the reason Correllianism describes itself as “Wiccan.” Circle represents positive, accepting, “big-tent” Paganism at its best, and Lady Selena epitomizes this attitude. Lady Selena’s unfailing optimism allows one to believe that all things really are possible, and her incredible stamina and hard work definitely make you believe that all things can be accomplished.
Rt. Rev. Pete Pathfinder is the founder and head of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church, and was a huge influence on me in my youth. At one time I did a great deal of illustration for his publications, and we spoke frequently by telephone. In these conversations Pete was kind enough to share his wisdom with me, and he had a lot to share. Pete had a great deal of real-world experience in law, politics, interfaith, and had even served as a mayor at one time. Of all the things I learned from Pete the most important was to speak the language that people understand. You can introduce people to a new language after you have gotten to know them, but rarely can you do so before. As a movement our words, symbols, and concepts are different from what the average person has experienced – there is no way for that average person to understand what we are saying if we do not take this into consideration and use terms and understandings that they are familiar with in order to help them understand those things which they have not encountered before. You can have the best message in the world but if you don’t speak the language of the people you are trying to talk to, they will never be able to understand that message.
However the prominent Pagan who had the most impact on me is unquestionably Ed Hubbard. I learned a lot of things from Ed, but probably the most important is “Production over Perfection.” What this means in part is that the potential a thing has means nothing, unless that potential is actually realized. What “could be” is irrelevant next to what actually “is”. Many people will equivocate forever trying to make the perfect thing, and in the end have nothing because they could never achieve the “perfection” they desired. But this is not to be wondered at because “perfection”, as most people understand the term, is by its nature unattainable. Any act no matter how imperfect is more important and more powerful than the most perfect yet unrealized idea, since the former actually exists and the latter does not. As an artist I understand the desire for perfection all too well, but learning the importance of production was perhaps the greatest of all lessons.
Many of us have a set of daily practices and routines that essential to our spiritual connection. Which one is essential to you?
As a rule this is my daily routine, although I admit that it fluctuates according to the dictates of life at any given moment: I talk to Spirit (in the sense of undifferentiated Deity), I talk to the Ancestors, I manifest what I hope to see during the day. When I say that I talk to Spirit and the Ancestors, I mean that I talk to them and then bring through their answers. Ideally I talk with Spirit separately in its own right, and then the Ancestors, but it is not unusual that I speak to them simultaneously. When I say that I manifest what I hope to see during the day, the exact method by which I do this varies. It can be as simple as a basic “I will it” manifestation, or as complex as “opening a room in time.” I also try to join with Lady Krystel at least once a week to channel the Ancestors together.
What would you like for someone who has never heard of our Tradition know about how we are different from other Wiccan paths?
Two things occur to me in answer of this question. The first is that we welcome and celebrate diversity. As a Tradition we offer both freedom and structure, which many people have told me is what they love about the Tradition. It has been said the “Correllianism is a lens through which all things may be seen.” Part of what is meant by this is that Correllianism is a way of understanding the universe which can be expressed in myriad ways and forms. The second thing is that we value practicality. We do not believe in putting theory over reality. It is not enough to slavishly pass on pre-existing ideas –we constantly strive to refine and extend our knowledge. Our Tradition is focused on the future, not the past.
Education is an essential part of the work of the Correllian Tradition. Why is this education outreach so important to you personally?
It is a matter of survival. As a child I lived with secrecy and fear. Some of these fears were more reasonable than others –unconventional lifestyles can expose a family to real problems, especially in those days. When I was 5 my father gave me detailed instructions on how to die with dignity in the face of the lynch mob which he was sure would come any day –though my mother did not believe that such a thing would happen and told me not to worry. Still, my mother shared her spirituality only with other members of her family and was otherwise closeted in her beliefs until the last five years of her life. These sorts of things leave an impression on a person. Growing up this way, the idea of survival was and is important to me. Fear and secrecy are anathema. Growing up I hoped that there might come a day when no child have to live with secrecy and fear because of the religion of their family. Education is the most powerful tool we have to bring that day about. Education destroys fear. This is both a matter of educating wide society as to who and what we really are, and also educating ourselves as to the most successful ways of approaching the challenges we face as a people. To me, educational outreach is ultimately about making the world safe for Pagans.
What do you think should be an important part of our outreach toward other faiths? Is dialogue between Book religions and those of less traditional paths an important issue you are working on? And what could we do as individual Pagans to reach across spiritual divides?
As individual Pagans the most important thing we can do to reach across spiritual divides is to be nice people, and to show by example that we are not the monsters that some effect to think us. We should do this not only in the passive sense of being nice people when we are encountered by non-Pagans, but in the active sense of going out of our way to demonstrate that we are nice, good people in ways that cannot fail to be seen by non-Pagans. The second most important thing we can do is to stand up for who and what we are and expect to be treated as equal citizens. It is much easier however to stand up for who you are when you are first perceived as a good person. Both of these come down to taking control of our own image and presenting ourselves as we wish to be seen. As a community we give little thought to this, but we should for it is all-important. At present and for as long as I can remember our image has been controlled by others, especially two forces: the media and conservative Christian churches. In recent years the media has been kind to us and become our benefactor. However the benefit they have brought us is not in the form of a realistic image but rather a relatively positive fantasy image which has at least helped to overcome much prejudice. Conservative Christian churches on the other hand spend millions of dollars and millions of hours every year trying to position our image in a very negative way. I am often asked why we have such a negative stereotype for so many people –and the answer is a deliberate and sustained campaign of misinformation. As a community we do very little to counter either the fantasy image created by the media or the monstrous image created by conservative Christians, and as a result have little influence over how we are perceived. Taking control of our own image is the most important thing we can do toward building bridges with other religions.
Paganism attracts such a diverse group of people. Witchschool is open to all of them. As an Elder,how do you personally encourage and embrace the diversity within our community?
My mother was fond of the saying “You must take people where you find them.” In my own life I have tended to follow this advice. This means a number of things, among which is that you cannot expect people to know what they have not yet learned, nor to possess strengths they have not yet built. All of the founders of Witch School shared this belief. This is one reason why Witch School was built to allow people to study at their own pace, and why it has always tried to offer various options –we know that not everyone is the same, and what works well for one may not work equally well for another. It is all well and good to have a great theory of what you think things should be like or how you think everyone should be, but such theories usually die a quick, hard death in the face of reality. The reality is that “it takes all kinds to make a world” and you must fit yourself to what you are presented with if you wish to interact with it, because you can never presume it will fit itself to you. This is true whether we are discussing circumstances, situations, or people. It is also true that in working with diverse people and circumstances we often learn more than we teach.
What is a current project that is dear to your heart, you would like our readers to know about?
A project I am working on and hope to bring to fruition is the idea of a Pagan oriented news program for Magick TV. This would be similar to the Pagan Nightly News we did in the early days of Magick TV, but on a weekly rather than a nightly basis. The program would examine news and world events in terms of their impact on the Pagan community. To do this I need to find both reporters and copy writers with an interest in real world issues. And those people have to be able to stand up to the grind of a weekly program. As a man who does a daily Vlog, a weekly chatroom now entering its 16th year, and who has done things like The Daily Reading, weekly radio shows, and monthly magazines, I can tell you that this kind of ongoing project can be a grind. But this kind of ongoing project can also be extremely impactful. So if anyone reading would like to volunteer for this project, drop me a line at DonLewisHP@aol.com
I want to thank you very much for giving me this opportunity to converse with you. I have been inspired by your many vlogs, and am looking forward to continuing to serve you and our community.