[Today, we sit down for an interview with Australian witch and author, Frances Billinghurst. Here, she discusses her devotion to various Deities such as the Dark Goddess; how her practice has been affected by Covid-19; and her past and up-coming literary projects.]
evOke: What spiritual tradition do you follow? Is there a specific name for it, or is it more intuitive and eclectic?
Frances Billinghurst: I have been interested in metaphysics since my late teens and it is this interest, I feel, that this tends to shape how I see things. I have been initiated into Alexandrian witchcraft and have a leaning towards ceremonial magick and the qabalah. As such, I don’t tend to stick solely to one spiritual tradition all the time, as I do like to explore other magical practices and techniques. It also depends on what kind of work/practice I am doing as to whether I stick solely to one tradition/format or not. Having said that, my initiation teachings still form the foundation to whatever else I am doing.
evOke: What deities, spirits or other powers are honoured in your tradition?
FB: I am very much deity-focused — I always have been. This has been something that resonated with me right back to the initial commencement of my journey, and is reflected in my interest in mythology. Within my tradition, the God and the Goddess are referred to by specific names (which are oathbound and which I use only within Alexandrian rituals). I personally have affinities with As’t (Isis) and Nephthys, Kali, Ereskhigal, and Hekate (to a lesser extent). Gods I tend to work more with are Ganeshaand Anubis. There is an aspect of the Horned God who appears from time to time — I only know him as that. Within my personal work my ancestors are important, as well as spirits of the place.
evOke: You have written, contributed to, or edited a number of books in the last few year. Weathering the Storm, for example, offers spiritual and psychological advice to those who are isolated or hurting. What prompted the development of this anthology? And what inspired your submission, “Bobbing in the Sea of Uncertainty”?
FB: Weathering the Storm was a project lead by Trevor Greenfield of Moon Books (who are publishing two of my books next year) as a response to the current global situation brought on by COVID-19. I think his inspiration was that he noticed that there didn’t appear to be any (or many) such books that specifically focused on assisting pagans or people following alternative earth-centric belief systems through times of uncertainty. So he put the call out to Moon Book authors for suitable submissions.
My submission, “Bobbing in the Sea of Uncertainty,” was an account of a rather profound experience that happened to me in Bali in 2017, which I guess really forced me into the process of “trust” and “surrender” to a higher purpose (something up to that point in time I somewhat dismissed as rather “new age”). While I consider that what happened to me in Bali was the climax of a process of deep change that had commenced a number of years earlier, it turned out to be a perfect coping mechanism. As such, I thought it was an appropriate submission; to me it reflects our current environment of constant change and uncertainty, and I learnt from my Bali experience to basically surrender and trust that there is a higher purpose.
evOke: In line with that, how has the COIVD-19 pandemic affected your spiritual practices? Do you find yourself engaging in more solo rituals? Online groups? More introspection and prayer?
FB: In Adelaide we didn’t go into complete lockdown for the first couple of months (March and April); however, I decided to cancel everything. During this time I did attempt some live streaming and video talks (resurrecting my YouTube channel) and that took a bit of getting used to. Since May, I have resumed small meditation circles and have been hosting the odd event/workshop. However, things are very much being played by ear.
Even when working with a group/coven, I have always done my own rituals. I have found that over the last five or so years, my personal practice has tended to be more “devotional” as a way of connecting deeper with deity. Since 2017, I have attempted to focus more on meditation and mantras — the latter I find assists me to ground and surrender to the “process.”
evOke: You also contributed the essay, “Re-Analysing the Wheel of the Year” to Pagan Planet, and wrote Dancing the Sacred Wheel. What prompted these writings? And how do yearly/seasonal celebrations differ in the southern hemisphere as opposed to the northern?
FB: Both the essay and the book arose out of many years of frustration over the lack of information or even awareness for us living south of the equator, or when northern hemisphere writers merely state that we only need to “swap things around six months.” The essay was to highlight the differences, while the book was a more in-depth look at the seasonal wheel from the southern hemisphere, or more appropriately where I live in Australia.
My book, Dancing the Sacred Wheel, took ten years to write and during that time exposed a number of issues than there was room to discuss. With Australia being equal in size to that of the USA landmass, it includes numerous environmental areas, including deserts. When it is harvest time in one part of the country, that may not necessarily mean it is harvest time in another area. As such, the traditional seasons do not always fit or appear to be reflected in the landscape. My magical practice has always included what is reflected by the land upon which I reside (much to the annoyance of more strict traditionalists).
Australia is rather unique in that there are over 500 different aboriginal “countries” (family/clan groups), each having their own customs, traditions, stories, and beliefs. Not all of this information is available, as I found out when I was writing the book, with some knowledge still being kept private today, or can only be accessed through university connections, or has even been totally lost since the arrival of Europeans. What I had been able to include in Dancing the Sacred Wheel is a starting point to hopefully inspire readers to look at their own environment in comparison to the “traditional” Wheel and to see what fits and what doesn’t. This even applies for northern hemisphere readers.
For someone like me, while I personally consider that understanding the underlying mythos of the Wheel of the Year is important (this comes back to understanding our past, or at least the history of the Craft), relating it to the environment or land upon which we reside is also important.
evOke: Pagans, neo-Pagans, and polytheists in the western hemisphere have a problematic relationship with indigenous traditions, where there has been a great deal of cultural mis-appropriation. What is the situation like in Australia (and New Zealand, if you can speak to that)?
FB: This is a somewhat difficult question to answer and, indeed, one that is causing a lot of discussion as to how best this can be handled. I feel that there is still a bit of confusion as to what actually is referred to as “cultural mis-appropriation,” especially if you are practicing a spiritual tradition that has been “imported” (i.e., traditional witchcraft here in Australia) or even deity that you have no bloodline connection with (i.e., most of the ones I have been drawn to).
In Australia it has been standard practice at official/governmental events for the traditional owners and custodians of the land to be acknowledged at the commitment, or even a “Welcome to Country” to be performed by the appropriate Aboriginal elders. This practice is starting to appear at an increasing number of public pagan events. I personally do not use or even allude to anything Aboriginal in my practice due to the risk of causing possible offence, save for a brief mention of a myth that I know is public knowledge. Being in a slightly precarious position of living in a country that is not of my birth and from mixed heritage, when I acknowledge the “spirits of the place,” to me that means not only my ancestors (both of my bloodline and spiritual practice), but also any others who are around, including any of the land (i.e., those of the Kaurna country upon which I live).
Over the years I have consulted with a number of Aboriginal elders as to the best way for me, as a white foreigner, to acknowledge the local energies/spirits of the land. Whilst there have been various suggestions, the common element was showing a degree of resect, which is what I do.
evOke: Encountering the Dark Goddess: A Journey into the Shadow Realms will be released by Moon Books in April 2021. Congratulations! First, what inspired this project? Why a book on the Dark Goddess?
FB: Thank you. I have been running various workshops with respect to working with the darker aspects of the Goddess since about 2006. The initiating inspiration for these workshops (which has morphed into this book) was that, at the time, the depiction of deity seemed to be becoming rather “whitewashed,” and I guess a number of “new agey” perceptions had started to appear. To me, paganism and the Craft is all about connecting with the concept of the divine (however you perceive it) as a whole — the yin and yang balancing act — in order to become “whole” within our own selves (our microcosm is a reflection of our macrocosm). Likewise connecting with the divine masculine and divine feminine aspects. My interest in metaphysics and Jungian psychology also is a source of inspiration, in particular the concept of the “shadow.”
evOke: The book examines the Dark Goddess in thirteen of her aspects. Why thirteen? And how did you decide which Goddesses to feature as examples of these aspects?
FB: The number thirteen was chosen due to there being thirteen moons (normally) in the year so that readers could choose to work with one aspect of the Dark Goddess each month. There are a few goddesses whom I am naturally drawn to that I “needed” to include. Others I felt were lesser known or were often surrounded by confusion or conflicting information about them. Then there were a few (Hel and Oya) who I haven’t really worked with, but who “wanted” to be included. In other words, I kept getting “messages/signs” from Hel and Oya to be included.
evOke: Encountering the Dark Goddess also includes crafts, rituals, and spells. Are these based on your own experiences? Drawn from myth? Divinely inspired?
FB: All three really. Some of the rituals and spells I reworked from other material so that they would be more in alignment with the context of the book; others tended to manifest themselves. Some of the meditations almost wrote themselves due to my connection with that particular deity.
evOke: If you could correct one common misconception about the Dark Goddess, what would it be?
FB: That she solely has this Underground aspect who is vengeful, frightening, and terrifying. For me there are a number of defining characteristics that would make a deity “dark,” including those who were responsible in creating the universe or even the world as we know it, those who challenge our often preconceived ideas/perceptions on things or how we deal with various emotions (i.e., anger, jealousy etc), or even who shapeshift between the worlds.
evOke: Where can people find your work?
FB: My author’s blog contains a list of my self-published works (also available on Amazon and the usual online stores) as well as the magazines and anthologies that I have contributed towards.
My publisher is “encouraging” me to become more active on Twitter and Instagram, and even resurrecting my somewhat neglected YouTube channel.
evOke: What other projects are you working on?
FB: I have just finished proofing my second manuscript with Moon Books, Contemporary Witchcraft: Foundational Practices for a Magical Life, which is my version of a 101 book, but from a more traditional perspective. I am starting to work out what to include in a follow-up book.
As I work with both the God and the Goddess, I am currently drafting the outline for a Dark God book. A second Dark Goddess book has also been suggested to include those who didn’t make the first book.
[Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine, Eternal Haunted Summer. A complete list of her published works can be found there.]