Have Broom Will Travel: Interview with M. Macha Nightmare
M. Macha NightMare is the Witch with the most unforgettable name. She has lived through a lot of American Wiccan history and made some herself.
She helped found the Reclaiming tradition, has been in the forefront of interfaith work, is an author and co-author of at least three books, and writer of countless articles in the Pagan media. She has given an untold number of workshops and talks, interviews and is part of the Cherry Hill Seminary as well. When I asked for permission to interview her she was quick in responding.
Christopher: How long have you been Wiccan? What traditions have you helped found?
M. Macha: For about 30 years. I don’t call myself Wiccan, however, because to me that refers to BTW (British Traditional Wicca) not to various eclectic, bootstrap traditions. I call myself a Witch at Large, although in recent years I’ve taken to using the term Pagan because I identify with, and sometimes work with, Pagans of all stripes.
I had some early training in NROOGD (New Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn), also a created tradition, still thriving for more than 40 years.
I began to work with Starhawk and friends when I met her in the fall of 1975. Our practice was Anderson Faery/Feri-derived with strong Dianic and social justice and environmental activism influences.
Some of us early students later formed a coven called Holy Terrors, all women. We joined CoG (Covenant of the Goddess) in 1981. I got active in CoG at that time, and since have met many wonderful Witches — you have to be a Witch/Wiccan to join CoG — around the country. Back in those days we were all just Witches; we didn’t make much of traditions.
Later, as CoG expanded to other states, the notion of traditions became more pronounced. By this time I’d been working with Reclaiming Collective for a few years.
Reclaiming Collective was a small group that taught classes and put on public Sabbat rituals. We numbered anywhere from eight to maybe twelve, never more. Of course, there were many more friends who helped us with the bigger rituals. At one of our meetings, I said that I felt we had all the earmarks of a recognizable tradition of the Craft. Others agreed, and so we were. But it’s not as though we started out with the idea of creating a tradition. It just happened. Reclaiming was created by several people, and I was one of them. The Collective, after several retreats, wrote our Principles of Unity for others who chose to identify as Reclaiming Tradition Witches, and dissolved in 1997. This freed both the Collective and [gave] those who practiced more or less as we did the freedom to grow as they would.
I am also, more privately, an initiate of Feri. I had nothing to do with the creation of either Feri or NROOGD.
Christopher: It was a different back then. Can you describe what it was like, what were the feelings in the beginning?
M. Macha: Well, the obvious difference between then and now is that we were secretive, off the grid, invisible to others. I’m glad most of us feel comfortable being out of the broom closet today. Some people, in certain locales and circumstances, still choose not to reveal their religion publicly.
Our movement arose from the counter-culture of the 1960s, and as such, was oppositional to mainstream religions. We never anticipated that the Pagan movement would grow into the populist movement it is today.
Christopher: What was it like working with Starhawk before she had become well known?
M. Macha: I guess you could say she was home more, easier to reach.
Christopher: You have lived through a lot of our American Wiccan history starting at the time when political activism and feminism entered into the religion. In your opinion how important was feminism and activism to our developing Wiccan community? Does it still have a part to play, and why?
M. Macha: For me they’re both very important. I think that if one avoids taking any political or social stance or involvement, that is their politics. Retreating from life is not an option for me.
Of course, women’s lives have improved due to feminist activism in the 1970s, but we still have a long way to go to achieve parity with men. Recent statistics show that we still don’t have the same earning capacity as men doing the same work.
Even more importantly, the green movement needs us. If we love and revere Nature, as we claim to, then it seems imperative to work for healing and sustainability of the Earth. Otherwise, we are hypocrites.
Christopher: How important has interfaith work been to changing our society’s view of Wicca? Why is it important to build contact between religions for our future?
M. Macha: Very important. People fear that of which they are ignorant. Without Pagans to interact with people of other religions, they remain fearful and hostile towards us. Demonstrating to people of other religions that we have the same concerns for our communities as they do builds trust between us. The kinds of things my local interfaith council (Marin Interfaith Council) work on together are mainly issues of social justice and environmentalism: shelter for the homeless; food for the hungry; compassion for immigrants and understanding the issues around immigration; re-integrating returning soldiers into society; etc.
On a global level, Pagans (CoG, EarthSpirit, Circle, et al.) have been active in interfaith efforts since the centennial of the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago in 1993. At Parliaments since then, in Cape Town (RSA), Barcelona (Spain), and this year in Melbourne (Australia), Pagans have presented papers, contributed to exhibitions of sacred art, and presented concerts. MotherTongue, a choir of EarthSpirit folks, sang in sacred concerts in both Chicago and Barcelona.
Don Frew of CoG spearheaded an international sacred space design competition. He serves on the Board of the Interfaith Center of the Presidio (ICP), home of the United Religions Initiative (URI), where the old Presidio chapel is being redesigned to serve as a sacred space for all religions.
In 2006, Don, Patrick McCollum and I were invited by Imam Mehdi Khorisani of Redwood Mosque here in Marin County where I live to participate in a gathering in San Francisco with H.H., the fourteenth Dalai Lama and other religious leaders working towards world peace.
In 1998, I was invited to participate in The Biodiversity Project Spirituality Working Group in Madison, WI, to discuss and strategize ways to get members of various religions to recognize the importance of biodiversity to the world, and to encourage them to green activism. The most conservative Abrahamic [adherent] (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) has just as much stake in the health of this planet as any other living creature, regardless of belief, or no belief.
Christopher: How have you managed to handle being so involved in the community and found time for so many different projects? How often are you on the broomstick circuit?
M. Macha: Well, at this point in my life I’m an empty-nester and I’m of retirement age, although I still have to work to supplement my Social Security. I also have a very supportive partner who believes in the value of the work I do.
I also try to get by modestly, in the sense that I often sleep in cabins or in people’s homes instead of hotels, or in inexpensive motels.
I try to do no more than one ride on my broomstick per month, but this next month I’ll be gone for three weekends, so I’m a bit concerned about how I’ll hold up. With age comes less resiliency. One cannot party all night and then get up the next morning and start all over. One needs to remember to be more conservative with one’s energies.
Christopher: What have been some of the most important things that you have taken part in?
M. Macha: The most important things I’ve been involved in are (1) co-authoring, with Starhawk, The Pagan Book of Living and Dying, and the workshops it has generated; (2) my part in developing Cherry Hill Seminary, the first and only, so far, seminary of its kind, designed for Pagans of all stripes; and (3) my interfaith activities.
Christopher: Many people don’t think they have any particular skills to offer, nor the experience. How can our newer members find what they can do to help?
M. Macha: Lots of mundane skills can enhance Pagan activities and activism. We need to create better opportunities for mentorship. I recommend any newer member to look for a mentor, or a group of mentors, to guide their growth and development.
They can also look around their own communities to see what needs doing, where there are opportunities for volunteerism, and do so as out Pagans.
Christopher: Now what about our boys and men? In your opinion are we men still trapped by our own stereotypes? Do we perhaps need our own liberation?
M. Macha: It’s up to men to determine that. I think younger men, some raised by single mothers and others in progressive families, tend to be more sensitive to life in general. They’re generally more respectful of females, more willing to help with what has traditionally been “women’s work,” more in touch with their own feelings and willing to express them. They tend to have less of what I’ve experienced as an innate sense of entitlement that more conservative men have. Nearly all (white) men in my generation have this sense, and even when it’s pointed out, they fail to see it – even those who profess to hold “feminist” values. So I’m encouraged by the attitudes of many of the younger men I meet.
Christopher: What about family? Do we still have what we need to develop for our families and our young people?
M. Macha: Yes, young and old. We need to decide whether to start from scratch and develop Pagan schools, camps, hospitals, hospices, retirement homes, or to work with existing institutions to make them more Pagan-sensitive. The latter seems much more do-able to me.
Already, many Pagans have contributed to the education of hospitals, hospices and chaplaincies to increase their sensitivity to the needs of Pagan clients. (I could get specific here, but time and space may not permit that.)
For more information on M. Macha NightMare, visit her website www.machanightmare.com for an updated calendar, or her blog, The Broomstick Chronicles, at www.besom.blogspot.com for more personal ruminations.