Interview by Lee Prosser
Kala Trobe is a well-known, respected writer, and highly regarded as an interpreter of the Tarot. Rather than be called a Witch, she prefers the word, Esotericist. An innovative and creative woman, she has written many popular books which have a wide appeal with readers. Her writings and lifestyle are eclectic. A charming lady who loves cats, it was a pleasure to interview her and hear her perspectives on many topics.
What is your affinity for Tarot?
Kala Trobe: I have been using Tarot for eighteen years now, and they’re one of the most important tools for living that I know. They help me immensely with my own life, and also lend me the role of guide or psychopomp to others. I’ve been reading professionally for about five years now. The images and meanings act as a tool for the intuition, a frame around which the subtler energies can work. The Tarot has very specific meanings, many of which follow archetypal patterns and scenarios. I find this an enormous aid to my intuition, enabling me to access a wider spiritual context and simultaneously, to be very accurate.
I feel that the cards are ‘old friends’. I’ve meditated on each, and traveled through and into them. They are rich with meaning both universal and personal for me now. I see my past in them, as well as other people’s, and of course they speak volumes of the present and probable future. As I always tell my clients, the Tarot tells you the most likely set of events based on the way things are in the present, but that we have at least a modicum of free will (!), and therefore undesirable aspects and outcomes can usually be modified or changed – if the client changes now. The Tarot is a tool for self-scrutiny and self-improvement. That’s one of the reasons I love working with the system: I feel it is possible to be pro-active rather than passive where most events and scenarios are concerned. The Tarot can tell you how, and when, to act.
I am also fascinated by the Fool’s Journey as a description of the soul and its various stages of initiation. I love to see how different artists approach this symbolic cycle. The artwork on many Tarot decks is superb, and somewhat underrated I think. It takes a lot of work to produce a set of 78 images that cohere, whilst maintaining the original import. The work of Lady Frieda Harris on the Thoth deck stands out as particularly artistically adept, though I find the energies of that pack rather too chaotic for me at present. There are some brilliant, artistically imaginative decks, too many to name, but one example is the ‘Victoria Regina Tarot’ by Sarah Ovenall, with wonderful black and white images of the Victorian era. The Tarot lends itself to many contexts — which is another of its strengths, I think! I have several working decks, of which the cornerstone is Pamela Coleman Smith’s ‘Rider-Waite’, the classic pack. The Mythic Tarot by Juliet Sharman-Burke aligns the meanings to the Greek Myths and does a fabulous job of getting the archetypal meanings across, and I use them a lot. I’m also particularly partial to Nigel Jackson’s ‘Mediaeval Enchantment’ deck, and ‘The Tarot of the Old Path’ by Howard Rodway, which is essentially Wiccan/Neo-Pagan. Jackson’s is more alchemical. I pick the deck according to the vibe of the day, the client, and my own proclivity. I used to carry four decks with me and let the client select their own, but that was a little cumbersome!
So, to answer your question, my affinity for Tarot is very strong, and I feel incredibly blessed to be able to use the cards. I’m learning all the time: the implications of the juxtapositions are subtle and mind-bogglingly varied! I never get bored with Tarot. Oh, and my Rider-Waite deck is actually the oldest possession I have from my past, apart from my toy dog (imaginatively named Doggie, and given to me when I was about 2) — as I lost everything else during my initial magickal training, as I explain in The Magick Bookshop. So there is a strong element of personal fondness in there too, and a sense that, when I have nothing else in the world, I still have the Tarot to see by.
What is most important to you about the Qabalah?
Probably, the fact that it was integrated into so much "modern magick" by the Golden Dawn, and it would be impossible to follow modern occultism without a working knowledge of the Qabalah and its GD correspondences! That’s why I learned it in the first instance. Then I discovered what a beautiful mystical system it is. I feel that the Tree of Life provides a helpful map of the worlds; as Dion Fortune (I think it was Dion Fortune) put it, a kind of "filing cabinet" into which all experience has its own place. With the Qlippothic side and its subtleties also acknowledged, that is.
Do you consider yourself an eclectic Witch, or do you follow a certain pathway?
I consider myself to be an esotericist. I am interested in all mystical systems, contemporary and ancient, and in the elements they share. I suppose that makes me syncretic, yes, but I don’t call myself a ‘witch’, as I don’t practice witchcraft 24/7. Far from. I do, however, look at life from a metaphysical standpoint pretty much 24/7.
Do you see Witchcraft and Paganism becoming more open in the world, more available to those who wish to follow and practice these approaches?
Definitely. In the UK there is a pagan moot in almost every town, and very little opposition to either witchcraft or neo-paganism. I understand that things are rather different in America, particularly in the Bible Belt. I was shocked when I was in North Carolina and some men leant out of a passing car and yelled that I was a Satanist, and cursed, etc., simply because I was walking along wearing black. Similarly, when I was in New Orleans, I was surprised by a very rude man who took exception to the (dark serpentine) pentacle I was wearing. He started yelling that I should not bring my evil beliefs into his city, which made me smile somewhat, considering New Orleans’ own rich esoteric history. There are intolerant people everywhere, of course, but the subject of "alternative" spirituality doesn’t seem to be misunderstood in the UK to the extent that it is in very religious countries (religious, that is, in an orthodox sense). I have had a few problems with radical Muslims in Leeds and London, having said that.
Do you have any special favorite Witch authors? If so, who and why?
My all-time favorite esoteric author is Dion Fortune. I adore her fiction work especially. I also love Crowley’s Diary of a Drug Fiend, it’s beautifully rendered and tells a gripping moral tale about addiction and personal Will. Another favorite occult author is Kenneth Grant. Of specifically witchcraft-related authors, I’d have to say Nathaniel J. Harris, whose book Witcha is refreshingly wise and dark, and Christopher Penczak, who is one of the brightest spirits on the witchcraft scene today; a powerful, healing presence and top-notch author on the subject.
You have a fine connection with Kali, the Hindu Goddess. I have read your essays on the Witch and Hinduism. According to some historians, the fundamentals of Witchcraft can be found in the roots of Ancient Hinduism. What are your feelings on the ancient goddesses and gods found in Hinduism?
I have great respect for Hinduism, and if I had to belong to any orthodox religion, I would choose to be born Hindu. The temples in India and Bali were amongst the most vibrant I have ever encountered; and very different. It is interesting to observe how the Indonesian Hindu gods vary from those of India — and in India, the deities vary too depending on the locale. The antiquity of the religion is evident in places such as Hampi, Vijayanagar, which I have visited; not so much because of the age of the buildings (in this case, only founded in the 1300’s — about the same as the first Oxford colleges!) — but in the fact that the religious practises barely changed over the centuries. The religion itself is at least 4,500 years old, probably vastly older. Of course, it would be impossible to describe here how I feel about the individual deities… though I approach 10 of them in Invoke the Goddess and Invoke the Gods.
Hinduism describes the human condition with the most vivid, and often lurid mythology and iconography. It’s a psychotropic religion! Also, the sense of the divine is omnipresent in Hindu countries, I find. God is on the streets, not just in the temples. Life is rawer there — I tend to think of India as God’s subconscious, containing everything that’s possible to be imagined — including, of course, the very pernicious. The religion reflects this, with its luminous array of deities and demons.
What are your favorite Hindu goddesses and gods?
Difficult! Probably Kali, Krishna, Durga and Laxmi: but that’s a bit like asking "What are your favorite aspects of the human psyche?" All are needed!
There are many books about the theme of Witchcraft in India. Cemeteries are sometimes discussed. I could not help but notice your wonderful approach to cemeteries with accompanying photos on your Web site. What is it about cemeteries that attracts you to them?
I have always been obsessed with Death — in a positive way. Its trappings, its rites and monuments, naturally fascinate me too. I feel happier in cemeteries than probably anywhere else — they ease my soul. The knowledge that each life is finite and ephemeral is very comforting. Not only that, but I love funerary architecture and design. I’ve visited some fantastic cemeteries — some of my favorites being in New Orleans, Paris, and good ole London. I also dream about graves and graveyards a great deal. As a child I had a recurring dream in which our back garden was a cemetery, and I’ve always wanted to live overlooking one. Obviously, an old one would be preferable.
Whenever I visit a new town or country, I head straight for the graveyards. I’ve seen some spectacular ones, some of which are pictured on my Web site at www.kalatrobe.com. Catholic countries or states are especially good at memorials, I find — like the fabulously colorful graves in St Louis 1 in New Orleans, and the showy mausoleums of Paris. I love the different paraphernalia you find on graves, too. Jewelry, gifts, cans of beer (it’s quite common in England now to find unopened cans and bottles of booze on people’s graves, especially if they died young). In Thailand, I found graves with electric joss-sticks on them, which I found pretty amusing. They looked permanently lit, of course, but gave off no incense. I’m also quite partial to photographs on graves, tacky though they are. It creates a powerful connection with the "inhabitant", so to speak.
Cemeteries are also rich in social history. I love it when the epitaph gives the cause of death, which tends to be the case for more unusual accidents. In Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington, there’s a memorial to a whole troop of Cub Scouts (like the Boy’s Brigade) who drowned when their boat sank on an adventure holiday. That’s a sad one, with all of their sweet old-fashioned first names, and all of them aged 11-14. There’s plenty of Second World War history there too: entire streets of people who were killed during the Blitz, bombed by the Nazis in their own beds and living rooms.
In China, the longevity of the populace is particularly evident from the epitaphs. Many of the memorials are for citizens aged well over 100. The men in particular live longer there than in other countries, no doubt about it!
The oldest person I’ve ever ‘found’, died, apparently, aged 119 (and a virgin!) — in 1609. That’s in Leigh-on-Sea churchyard, Essex (England). I think there may have been a touch of miscalculation going on there, but you never know.
I was morbidly fascinated by the pet cemeteries in Los Angeles when I was there. A real sign of affluence and luxury! Many of the graves were better tended and plusher than those given to humans in most countries. And it’s rather entertaining to read epitaphs to entities called "Fluffy Miso" or "My Dear Departed Humbug". Evelyn Waugh wrote a blackly humorous novel this subject, The Loved One, set in California. I read it years ago and thought he was exaggerating. I never would have believed it unless I’d seen it for myself!
In Kandy, Sri Lanka, I found three young British brothers who had been gored to death by a rampaging elephant they were trying to shoot. The grave described it in detail. Two of the brothers climbed a tree, from which they watched their youngest sibling being killed by the furious elephant. The animal then waited by the tree, shaking it periodically, until the other two fell out, exhausted and hungry, and met the same fate. I stood there imagining it all for long enough for a leech to get stuck to my foot!
In Highgate Cemetery in London, the graves are a poignant reminder of the extremes of poverty and wealth in Victorian England. The tombs range from incredibly expensive mausoleums, to nameless graves containing coffins piled seven-deep. The conditions of the working classes in England at that time were dire, as Frederich Engels elaborated in his treatise of 1844. There is a vast, ugly monument to Karl Marx in the East side of the cemetery, symbolizing the Communist reaction to precisely these extremes. There are the graves of a variety of other famous people there, too – including the Pre-Raphaelite Muse, Lizzie Siddal (interred in the Rossetti family grave, though Dante Gabriel isn’t!), and the first author to publish an openly lesbian novel in England, Radclyffe Hall. There are always fresh flowers in her part of the necropolis.
Like many graveyards, Highgate is also a nature reserve — yet another reason to love cemeteries.
What have been some of your paranormal experiences?
Probably the most disturbing, and thus the most memorable, have been the two experiences in which I awoke to find an entity standing over me, staring into my soul. The first was when I was 15, and the being in question was actually myself – but my ‘evil’ self. It looked identical to me physically; except that its eyebrows slanted down sharply to the bridge of the nose, like those of a cartoon baddie, and its eyes were glowing green. The green from the eyes lit up the entire face. Essentially, I interpret this as my first acknowledgement of inner duality, my own ‘daimon’ demonized by the Christianity with which I was reared; the disenfranchised sinistral self reified into luminous flesh. I mention this ‘paranormal’ experience partly to demonstrate that "psychic phenomena" do not always come from the outside, though this is often the case.
The second encounter on awaking was finding my recently deceased stepfather standing over me, staring at me with absolute hatred in his eyes. We hadn’t got on during my childhood, to say the least, and hatred is often as strong a bond as love (she says, cheerfully!) He hung around in my room for days, and I had to do a great deal of work to appease him (old habits die hard) and help him move on after some sort of resolution had been forged between us. I also had to bring in external help: too subjective on my own. I could, after all, have been delusional, had several other people not been able to perceive him too. The transition was successful, laying many past events to rest for good. I’m really glad that I had that opportunity; it freed me from a great deal of emotional and Karmic baggage.
I’ve performed quite a few similar spirit-guiding processes since. This has almost always been involuntary — spirits just turn up to converse, and/or be helped. I’ve known quite a lot of people who have died, and in one or two cases, have got to know them better after their demise.
Have you ever encountered a ghost?
No, not as such, but I’ve experienced some seriously haunted places, and felt the ghostly presences there. One obvious example is Hampton Court Palace, Henry VIII and Elizabeth 1s’s old abode. The ‘haunted gallery’ there is where Anne Boleyn (beheaded by her husband, Henry VIII) is said to roam. The whole place is packed and layered with ghosts and baleful psychic experiences. When I took witch and author Christopher Penczak there, he could barely stay upright! He had to keep sitting down, as do I when there. The psychic atmosphere is giddying. I’ve never seen a head-to-toe classic apparition, though.
In addition to your fine book, The Witch’s Guide To Life, what else would you suggest to the person just starting her or his quest towards becoming a Witch?
Hmmm, there are so many books out there on the subject, it’s difficult to say. There’s something for everyone, and it’s different in each case. Probably the best thing to do would be to go to an esoteric bookshop, ask Spirit (or your gods, or a relevant deity such as Thoth) to guide you to the right book for you at that time. I also like the idea of books themselves being used for divination. Bibliomancy in an esoteric bookstore — what could be more apt?! Much better than following a reading list constructed by anyone else.
In our enlightened era, is there still a chance that the “burning times” could come to us again? Is it finally safe to be a Witch and say so in public?
That entirely depends on where you are, and with whom. You can be as witchy as you like in many public places in London, but go announce it at Speaker’s Corner (in Hyde Park) on a Sunday when the radical Christians and Muslims are bickering on their soap-boxes, and you’ll unite them in antipathy to you! Similarly, I imagine that in America, it depends on which State you are in, and on what area of that State. For example, when I was in the backwaters of Louisiana, I saw signs in the swamps, declaring semi-literately that we had to "Repent or be Damned". I wouldn’t feel particularly comfy about encountering whoever scribed those, especially if I was clad in my in black pointy-hat gear at the time! But in the French Quarter of New Orleans, I’d positively fade into the woodwork (or should I say, curlicued ironwork?!) .
And yes, to answer the first part of your question, the ‘burning times’ could come to any of us — that is, to any group that is not conforming to the consensual norm — at any time. It’s the nature of the species to attempt to destroy what disturbs it.
What is your favorite pet companion, and why?
The magickal, mystical cat wins every time. Not only is the cat sublime, but it is also fluffy – talk about winning combinations! The fabulous feline is entertaining and empathetic, and keeps your knees warm in winter. What more could one ask?!
Of your books, which do you consider your favorite, and why?
My fiction is my favorite, because there is a freedom of expression allowed in literary story-telling that is difficult to attain in more objective writing. So, of my books currently in print, I would have to say, my first fiction book, The Magick Bookshop. It is actually "faction", and very heavily based on my real past. It has elicited more response from readers than most of my other books; a lot of people have emailed me to say that they enjoyed it, which is very gratifying.
What new essays are you writing?
Most of the essays on my site have been previously published in periodicals, or given as talks at various events. I try to save most of my writings for my books, for obvious reasons, which is why there aren’t as many essays on the site as I’d like there to be. This evening I’ve been working on a collection of essays on aspects of Thanatology.
What are your future book plans?
Literary fiction is my dominant passion. It will still be on ‘magickal’ subjects, of course.
What is your favorite place you call home?
London, especially Camden Town. I also love living in Amsterdam.
I cannot call it "home", but I have deep links with New Orleans, and some of my soul is there.
True home, however, is not to be found on the physical planes!