Gerina Dunwich is a priestess of the Old Religion, a professional astrologer, spiritualist medium, and the author of over two-dozen books on witchcraft and various occult subjects. Phantom Felines is her latest book and it explores the ghosts and spirits associated with our pets. We caught up with Gerina to ask her about the new book and her life as a Witch.
What inspired you to do Phantom Felines?
Gerina Dunwich: I wanted to put together a collection of true ghost stories from around the world, but I felt a need to approach it from a slightly different angle. So I chose animal ghosts as the subject matter because it’s an area of the paranormal that greatly interests me and currently isn’t covered to any great extent. Also, being the founder of the Paranormal Animal Research Group and a cat-lover who’s had a few personal encounters with animal spirits, it seemed only logical do a book of this type.
Was the book a challenge to write, or did the joy of doing it overcome everything?
It was a bit of challenge for me because it was written during an extremely stressful time in my life when I was caring for my bed-ridden mother who had been brain damaged and paralyzed by a stroke. But at the same time it was very therapeutic because reading and editing all the fascinating stories that people sent in kept my mind preoccupied and saved me from going mad. Also, nearly a year of researching and writing kept me focused for a long time on the subject of life after death and in a small way that helped me to prepare for my mother’s departure from this life.
What is your feeling about feline ghosts?
I have had a number of personal experiences with feline ghosts, some of which are included in the book. For years after my cat Naomi died in 1984 and we had no other cats in the house, I would sometimes feel the sensation of a cat jumping onto the bed at night. And there were even a few times during the day when I’d be in the bedroom doing something that I’d hear the bed creak ever so slightly as if a cat were walking across the mattress. My husband also experienced this. In time I figured out that it was Naomi’s spirit returning for a visit. When people began sending in their stories for the Phantom Felines book, I was surprised to read that so many people who lost a cat or a dog had the exact same supernatural experiences involving a bed. As far as I’m concerned, this type of phenomena is too frequent and universal to simply be dismissed as imagination or mere coincidence.
Do you see, overall, a more ready acceptance by people of feline ghost presences?
Among cat-lovers, perhaps. However, just as it is when it comes to human ghosts, the true believers are found predominantly among those who have had their own personal encounters with such entities.
What are your feelings on animal ghosts in general?
Like human ghosts, animal ghosts are very real and all around us. This is not based on folklore or myth or anything like that. The reality of these anomalies is based on evidence in the form of spirit photographs, EVPs, and documented sightings. Animal ghosts have been encountered by humans since ancient times.
Let me ask you… do you feel that Sybil Leek is finally receiving a long overdue acknowledgment from the Wiccan community for all her efforts?
I actually think Sybil Leek deserves a lot more credit than she receives for her role in helping to bring witchcraft out of the proverbial broom closet back in the sixties and seventies. She devoted much of her life and career to dispelling myths and misconceptions about Witches and trying to educate the public about witchcraft.
What kind of Witch would you say Sybil Leek was?
Sybil Leek’s writings influenced me as a young person to embrace the old ways and to open my mind to the world of the occult and the supernatural. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to meet her in person (she passed away five years before the publication of my first book, Candlelight Spells.) So what I know of her is what I’ve read in books or what other people who personally knew her have told me. Sybil Leek was a very interesting and inspiring lady; well-versed in folklore, astrology, and the practice of herbalism. She is said to have come from a long line of Hereditary Witches and, like many of the women in her family, possessed psychic talents. She served as the high priestess of a coven that she claimed was over 700 years old. Whether this was indeed fact or fiction, who knows? One thing is for certain; she loved being in the spotlight and was definitely a publicity hound, bless her old soul. She also wrote over 60 books, which not too many people are aware of.
Who do you consider among the leading Wiccan writers today?
There are so many excellent Wiccan writers today… Raymond Buckland, Sirona Knight, Edain McCoy, Jamie Wood, Ed Fitch, just to name a few. And many of the Wicca books written by the late Scott Cunningham continue to be a source of both information and inspiration for many who are new to the Wiccan path. And we shouldn’t overlook the important works of earlier authors such as Gerald Gardner, Doreen Valiente, Dr. Leo Louis Martello, Lady Sheba, and, of course, Sybil Leek.
Would you explain the difference between being a Witch and a Wiccan from your personal perspective?
A Witch is simply a person who practices a magickal art. A Wiccan, on the other hand, is a person belonging to the religion of Wicca, which was established by English author Gerald Gardner sometime in the 1940s and is a blending of English and Celtic folklore, mythology, Victorian-era occultism, Thelema (a philosophy and religion founded by occultist Aleister Crowley), Enochian magick (a magickal system from the sixteenth century), the Golden Dawn, Tantric yoga, Freemasonry, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Also, Wicca is a recognized religion while Witchcraft in and of itself is not. But this is not to say that a Wiccan cannot also be a Witch, and vice versa.
Would you share some of your ghostly experiences with our audience?
Over the years I’ve had numerous experiences with ghosts, but I will be happy to share some of them with you. In 1984 my husband and I went to Salem, Massachusetts, and toured the famous House of Seven Gables. It was there that we saw an old rocking chair start to rock by itself. We also lived in a house in Massachusetts that was over 300 years old and the hauntings there ranged from pounding in the attic to whispering voices coming from a sealed fireplace in the master bedroom. The house that we currently reside in is a 106 year old Victorian farmhouse, and on a few occasions we’ve heard unexplained footsteps coming from the upstairs rooms and it was just the other day that I saw a plastic CD carousel on a table turn around by itself. A couple times I’ve witnessed the latch on a particular cabinet door in my home office pop up and the door swing open. Interestingly, since we moved here my husband has had several strange dreams about three female ghosts who told him that they haunt our house. More of my ghostly experiences can be found in my book, A Witch’s Guide to Ghosts and the Supernatural and also in Phantom Felines.
Do you have any special feelings or insights about cemeteries?
I can’t quite say why, but I’ve always found myself drawn to cemeteries, especially ones dating back to the Victorian era and even older. Call me odd but I find great beauty in the statues and engraved stones that stand like sentinels over old graves. Cemeteries are great places for meditating, writing poetry, and ghost-hunting.
What are your thoughts about cremation following death, and scattering of ashes of the deceased rather than internment in the ground?
I personally find the practice of cremation to be much more appealing than the thought of my body lying under the ground, rotting, and being devoured by maggots. But to each their own.
What do you hope to encounter at death?
I hope to be reunited with my mother. She and I were extremely close and I miss her terribly.
What do you feel you will actually encounter at death?
I believe our spirits (or souls, if you choose to call them such) either remain earthbound as ghosts, especially in cases of sudden or violent deaths, or move on to new lives in new bodies. Other than that I’m afraid death is a mystery that I have no answers for.
What are your thoughts on Summerland?
Summerland actually has two different meanings. As a Spiritualist term, it denotes Heaven or the afterlife. In Neo-Paganism, it refers to an intermediate stage in the astral plane where our souls are supposed to rest prior to moving on to prepare for the next incarnation. Heaven is a lovely thought that brings comfort to those who fear death or feel a need to be rewarded for being a good or pious person. But I can’t say I firmly believe or disbelieve in it or because I really have no way of knowing. I do, however, believe in re-birth because I’ve had feelings and thoughts about past lives, and I wouldn’t mind coming back next time as a beautiful Siamese or Angora cat.
Do you believe that the Witch and Pagan community should be more vocal in defending its right to exist? What are your suggestions?
I think it depends on the situation. We all need to stand up for our rights, but at the same time we need to be cautious and discreet for our own good. If, for instance, you live in a small town dominated by right-wing Fundamentalist rednecks and you start announcing to everyone you’re a Witch or a Pagan, you’re just asking for trouble. You risk getting fired from your job, physically assaulted, or even killed. Seriously, what’s the point in that? Secrecy has traditionally been a part of the Craft for centuries and for good reason… safety. And the Witches of old knew all too well the importance of this. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t be proud of who and what we are or fight for our rights when the need arises.
How long do you think it will take now for the Catholic Church to be exposed completely for what it did to Pagans?
If you’re referring to the Inquisition, it should be made clear that the vast majority of people who were tortured and executed as “Witches” after Pope Innocent VIII linked witchcraft with heresy were actually Catholics and Protestants, and not Pagans. And during the first fifty years of the Spanish Inquisition, most of the victims were Jews and Moslems. People who were not Witches or Pagans were routinely charged with witchcraft or heresy and put to death so their property could be confiscated. This made the Inquisition a very profitable extortion racket. But nevertheless, the Catholic Church is still responsible for the murder of all these people. I find it to be the epitome of hypocrisy that the Catholic Church is the backbone for the anti-abortion movement when its hands are stained with the blood of thousands of innocent men, women, and children.
Do you see the “Burning Times” coming again to the Witch and Pagan communities? Is society past that shamefulness?
I don’t think we’ll ever see the public burning or hanging of witches again, but the social and political pendulum has definitely swung toward the conservative Christian right. And with Fuhrer George Bush at the helm, the separation between Church and State is growing alarmingly thin. I see efforts underway to suppress gay rights, overturn women’s Constitutional right to abortion, and to make schools force children to recite Christian prayers and replace scientific viewpoints with religious theories (i.e. “intelligent design”, which is just another word for “creationism”), just to give you a few examples. In regard to the Pagan community, there does appear to be a “holy war” being waged on Pagans in this country and a perfect example is the Rev. Jerry Falwell publicly blaming Pagans (along with feminists, abortionists, gays, and lesbians) for indirectly causing the 9/11 attack on New York City. Intolerance is on the rise and I’ve heard of Pagans losing their jobs and even custody of their children because of their religious views.
If a person came to you and asked how to become a Witch, what advice would you share with that person?
The first thing I would do is ask that person why they want to become a Witch and find out what their expectations of being one might be. The advice I’d give them would depend mainly on their answers. If, for instance, they said it was to turn their ex-husband into a toad or learn how to fly on a broom like Harry Potter, I would have to disillusion them with a strong dose of reality. But if someone whose interest in the Craft was serious and sincere asked me how to become a Witch, I would advise them to read certain books, including Exploring Spellcraft, study magickal herbalism, learn divination, be in tune with the forces of nature, and be patient, cautious, respectful and realistic when it comes to spellcasting. Accept responsibility for your actions and deeds. Witchcraft is an art, a way of life, a belief system, and a discipline. It’s not a fad, a parlor game, or a quick fix to all of life’s problems.
Do you see a movement by the religious groups of today to suppress the Witch, and the kindred of the Witch?
Without a doubt. They perceive us as a threat because our numbers are growing and we are becoming more visible, and more powerful.
What is the best defense against bias for being a Witch?
Education. But only if a person is willing to be educated. Some people are so closed-minded and set in their ways that nothing you can say or do will change their way of thinking. I don’t waste my time trying to educate people like that because it’s like trying to reason with children who cover their ears when they don’t want to hear what you’re saying. I’ve devoted my life and writing career to dispelling misconceptions and stereotypes associated with Witches but at this point in my life I realize and accept that the majority of the populace will always perceive us as kooks and the Church will always believe us to be devil-worshippers, no matter what we say or write or how many documented facts we produce. So my goal now is to enlighten those who aren’t afraid to open their minds and let those who stubbornly cling to their ignorance think whatever they want to.
What kind of Witch do you consider yourself?
If I were to label myself, I guess would call myself an “Agnostic Gray Witch.” I think that would, in a nutshell, pretty much describe where I stand on religion and magick. I accept the possibility of a divine being (whether it be a god and/or a goddess) but yet I am not a person given to blind faith. I never have been. I pride myself on being a skeptic and a realist. A lot of people are surprised when they learn that I’m not a Wiccan because I’ve written so many books on that subject. I did, however, feel strongly drawn to Wicca for awhile back in the 90s. While I value the experience as a life lesson and part of my spiritual growth process, the paths that the universe lays out for us to follow have since led me in other directions.
What are your personal thoughts on candle magick?
Candle magick has been employed by Witches and other magickal practitioners probably since candles were first invented. It is a simple yet effective way to cast spells, divine, and even communicate with the dead. But one must remember that candles are merely a tool and that the real power of magick comes from the Witch herself (or himself, as the case may be.)
Many writers still confuse the use of the words, “magick” and “magic.” Why is that? Is not the word, “magick,” the correct one when it comes to what true Witch and true pagan people do?
The archaic spelling of the word with the “K” at the end was brought back into popular usage by Aleister Crowley, who used this spelling to distinguish his mystical system of Thelema from stage magic. Some writers use the word with the terminal K to indicate both witchcraft and high magick, while others use it only in reference to the latter. In my books I’ve always spelled it with a K.
Why does the Christian and Moslem religions still attempt to condemn Witchcraft?
I’m sorry if this offends anyone, but seriously, what else can you expect from outdated religions that have historically slaughtered thousands in the name of the Lord and whose sacred texts condone slavery, rape, baby-killing, and the murder of people for not believing in their god? (For more information, see evilbible.com)
What is your hope for Phantom Felines?
I hope that people who enjoy a good ghost story will find this book entertaining reading. And that those who have had their own encounters with animal ghosts will find comfort in the discovery that they are not alone in their experiences.
What are your future writing plans?
At the present time I am working on a revised and expanded version of A Witch’s Halloween (formerly titled The Pagan Book of Halloween) which has been out of print for several years and is being resurrected by Provenance Press, an imprint of Adams Media. I am also collaborating with my cousin on a horror novel based on Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House.
Do you plan to write a book of poetry?
My first book of poetry, Circle of Shadows, was self-published back in 1990. I have since been putting together another poetry collection, Priestess and Pentacle, that hopefully will be published some time soon.
What are your personal plans for music, such as writing songs?
I’ve been playing guitar and composing songs since I was a teenager. And one of these days, when I have more free time on my hands, I would like to record them in a studio. My husband, who also plays guitar and writes music, has been trying to get me to do this for years.
Why is a Witch more open to tolerance than a Christian?
The notion that all Witches are completely tolerant to all other faiths is a myth.
Tolerance and intolerance exist in all religions and cultures, and in my life experience I have found people who practice Witchcraft to be no exception. Some are open minded and tolerant, and some aren’t. I’ve encountered many so-called “tolerant” Witches who expressed some very hostile feelings towards Christians, Satanists, Thelemites, Atheists, and others whose religious or non-religious views differed greatly from theirs.
What do you consider personally as your special gifts as a Witch?
I am blessed with the ability to read past lives by scrying people’s faces, much in the same way that one uses a crystal ball or the flame of a candle. I do this by candlelight and gaze into the subject’s eyes without blinking and eventually shadows form around their face and their features begin to change. Using this technique I am able to see who and what they were in another time and place. When I was a youngster I used to think that everyone could do this and never thought of it as anything special or unusual.
You can visit Gerina Dunwich’s Web sites: www.freewebs.com/gerinadunwich
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