This month's interview is with Wiccan authors Eileen Holland and Cerelia. We talked with them about their new book, The Witch's book of Answers.
Composed of vexing, insightful, and revealing questions about contemporary Wicca posed by real people, A Witch’s Book of Answers: More than 700 Answers to Often-Asked and Out-of-the-Ordinary Questions (Weiser Books) is the handbook today’s Wiccan practitioners have been searching for. Although every witch must find his or her own answers to questions, it doesn’t hurt to have some help. In their book (and this interview) Eileen Holland (author of The Wicca Handbook, Weiser Books) and practicing pagan Cerelia share their indomitable wisdom (and wit) with practitioners and initiates alike. Grown from Eileen Holland’s Open-Sesame Website, A Witch’s Book of Answers offers practical advice and insight that witches can apply to their own lives and practices, whether they’ve been practicing for one day or for 20 years. In addition to the questions and answers that form the foundation of the book, Holland and Cerelia provide exercises and general information throughout, including how to use visualization in magic, how to ground oneself after a ritual, and what to do if a Tarot reading predicts something terrible. Eileen Holland is a Wiccan priestess, a solitary eclectic witch, and the author of The Wicca Handbook, Weiser, 2000. She is also the webmaster of Open-Sesame, site (www.open-sesame.com/welcome.html), a popular witchcraft site that is visited by over a million people each year. Cerelia has been a practicing pagan and witch for twenty years. This is her first book.
[PNN] The Witch's Book of Answers is the result of many online conversations on your website open-sesame.com. What prompted you to take the questions and answers you find there and put them in book form?
[EH] I used to answer all of my e-mail, every single letter that I received. OpenSesame is an e-group that grew out of the web site. Cerelia and I began it in 1999, with our friend Ryan, when my e mail volume became too much to handle. I needed a way to be able to communicate with people without being overwhelmed, and the e group made that possible. It has been a wonderful experience, a place where Wiccans discuss the things that interest them. There was no one "lightbulb moment" when we decided to make a book out of the e-list. The e-group membership grew to hundreds of witches as the years passed. The same questions were often asked by new members, and we began to refer people to the group Archive rather than having to repeat ourselves continuously. It gradually became clear to us that compiling some of the questions and answers into a book would be a useful thing to do. A Witch’s Book of Answers represents just a fraction of the material we have accumulated, so we hope we’ll get a chance to do a sequel.
Eileen Holland (Photo courtesy of Red Wheel)
[PNN] Why do you think people need to read this book? Who will benefit from it most - newcomers to the craft, or those who have been involved with it for a while?
[Cerelia] Though I believe it can benefit newcomers and seasoned Witches alike, I do believe the most benefit will be for the newcomers. Those that were afraid to even touch a book with the word Witchcraft on it, will be so relieved to find out the truth about something they have been raised to believe was so evil.
[PNN] What's the strangest question you've been asked about Wicca?
[EH] There have been a lot about flying on broomsticks (I wish!), turning into animals, shooting fireballs, selling your soul to the devil...the usual nonsense, but the funniest one was a letter from a boy who wanted a spell that would turn him into a doll like the one in the Chuckie films. He wanted to transform just long enough to prove his "powers" to another kid. That one really cracked me up.
[PNN] Are you planning to take a break for a while, or do you have any other writing projects coming up?
[EH] A book of spells will be published by Weiser next spring, and I’m working now on a book of magickal correspondences that will likely be published the following year. After that, probably a book about invocation. And one of these days, a sequel to The Wicca Handbook. I’d also love, if I ever return to Egypt, to do a book about the magick that survives there. Take a break? I hope not! I have Multiple Sclerosis, a progressive disease, and writing is part of what keeps me going. It is possible that there will come a time when I am too disabled to continue writing, so I feel like I have to hurry up and write as much as I can now.
[PNN] How has this book been received by the readers of open-sesame?
[Cerelia] I have heard very nice things about it from our members. We don't go out of our way to push our book on our members. We have told them when it came out and it is mentioned by our members from time to time. We have an Open Sesame recommended reading list, with MANY, MANY books, besides ours, that are suggested as good books for our members to read.
[PNN] Many people (Over 7 million at the last count) have visited your site looking for answers. Apart from reading you book, what other sources would you recommend to them?
[EH] I think it’s important to know mythology, to read authors such as Robert Graves, Joseph Campbell, Patricia Monaghan and Marija Gimbutas. That’s where I find my answers.
[Cerelia] As I mentioned, the reading list is filled with other reading material suggested by us and our members. Sometimes this path is a bit lonely for some. Finding others to share their beliefs is sometimes hard, so the Open Sesame list fulfills a very important need for them to be able to speak and share with like-minded Witches and Wiccans. Attending pagan festivals is also a great way to meet others.
[PNN] What would you say has been your greatest achievement to date?
[EH] The way that I cope with adversity. I am one of those disgustingly positive people whose cup is always half full, and who always somehow manages to find silver linings in even very dark clouds.
[Cerelia] To date.....This book. It is something that I never had thought would happen to me in a million years. The more I worked with Open Sesame and helping others to understand this path, the more my life has been fulfilled. The more I gave to the list and members, the more that seemed to bless my life. I know it sounds kind of corny. But it is SO true. I also began painting in the midst of putting the book together, and both endeavors have blossomed beyond anything I could have thought possible. Two things I never expected to become such a big part of my life.
[PNN] If you could go back in your life and change one thing, what would it be?
[EH] "Je ne regrette rien" for the big stuff (even my wild oats).... But years ago a purplish stone took my eye as I was crossing a stream bed in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. I didn’t pick it up because the Moroccans I was traveling with would have thought it an odd thing to do, but for some reason I have always wished that I had.
[Cerelia] That both my parents could still be alive. They would be so proud of my achievements.
[PNN] How would you want to be remembered?
[Cerelia] As a Witch who made a difference, in the attitudes of others, towards Witches, Wiccans and Pagans.
[EH] "Yes, she rambled" would be a good epitaph for me.
[PNN] Do you have a favorite group/musician?
[EH] Not really. I love reggae, the blues, and the punk rock music of my youth. My dancing days are over, but The Ramones still make me want to get up and dance! These days I mostly listen to Enya, Santana, Pink Floyd, Loreena McKennett, Iggy Pop and Joanne Shenandoah, a Native American singer.
[Cerelia] My age is showing....ha! Jackson Browne was my first love. Then Eric Clapton and Steely Dan
[PNN] Do you have a favorite bumper sticker?
[Cerelia] "The last time they mixed politics with religion, people got burned at the stake".
[EH] "Where there’s a Witch, there’s a way."
[PNN] If you drew a picture to represent your mind, body and spirit, what would you draw?
[EH] It would definitely be Tallulah Bankhead, before anyone else gets into the lifeboat. (Except that my coat would be fake fur.)
[Cerelia] A vague spirit, painting, writing, singing and speaking. Creating is the most joyous and important part of being!
A Witch's book of answers is available at better bookstores everywhere, or from the link above, or by contacting Red Wheel, Weiser and Conari Press at: (800) 423-7087 or