[We welcome back guest journalist Zora Burden. She is a poet, and a journalist for the San Francisco Herald. She has written two interview books, “Women of the Underground,” featuring female musicians and artists. Burden’s autobiographical writing narrates Goeff Cordner’s feature-length film “Portraits from the Fringes,” a segment of which became the award-winning “Hotel Hopscotch.” In all her work, she likes to focus on feminism, radical outcasts, surrealist art, social activism and the esoteric. Today we present side A of her interview with author Patricia Kennealy-Morrison.The second segment, side B, will be presented next Sunday.]
Patricia Kennealy-Morrison was one of the first female rock critics and journalists, having begun her career in the 1960s. She was the editor-in-chief of Jazz & Pop Magazine and, later, an award-winning copywriter and director for RCA and CBS Records. In her book Rock Chick: A Girl and Her Music- The Jazz and Pop Writings, 1968 to 1971, Patricia recalls her time as a rock journalist in a collection of articles, reviews, essays and interviews with the most notable musicians of the era and on festivals like Woodstock and Altamont
Along with her own work, Patricia was also the wife of the rock legend Jim Morrison. Her bestselling memoir Strange Days: My Life With and Without Jim Morrison commemorates their life together and love for one another, and is one of the most candid and definitive books on Jim Morrison. She was portrayed in Oliver Stone’s movie The Doors (1991) by actress Kathleen Quinlan. She served as a consultant to the film and had a cameo, performing her own wedding ceremony, between Quinlan as herself and Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison.
Her prolific writing continues with the murder series The Rock & Roll Murders: The Rennie Stride Mysteries, the latest of which is set for release at the end of 2015. She is also the author of a series of Celtic-based science fiction novels, The Keltiad.
After her work was published by such companies as NAL, Signet, ROC, and HarperCollins, she founded her own publishing company, Lizard Queen Press, in 2007.
In 1990, Patricia was knighted as a Dame Templar at Rosslyn Chapel, an initiate of the Supremus Militaris Templi Hierosolymitani. She is a historian and archivist of Celtic traditions, as well as a High Priestess. She was one of the first women in the U.S. to boldly and publicly acknowledge that she practiced Witchcraft, during a time when feminism was barely in its second wave. When she married Morrison on June 24, 1970, they used a Celtic Pagan handfasting ceremony officiated by a Presbyterian minister licensed to perform weddings in New York City.
A pioneer in her work and life, Patricia continues to be a role model for women, especially those practicing Witchcraft and other forms of Paganism.
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Zora Burden: What was your childhood like? Where did you grow up and what were the traditions of Witchcraft you learned as a child or in your formative years?
Patricia Kennealy-Morrison: I was born in Park Slope, Brooklyn in 1946, the first year of the baby boom, which makes me a dowager boomer. We moved to Queens for a few years, then out to Long Island in the great wave of G.I. Bill-financed mortgages and pleasant homes with trees and yards and stuff. I lived there with my parents and three siblings until it was time to go away to college at age seventeen.
I wanted journalism and mountains, a really rural area, and the only place in New York State that had both was St. Bonaventure University, a Franciscan school in the Allegheny mountains of southwestern New York State. The Catholicism was pervasive, but I managed to avoid the worst of it, and I truly loved my courses and the area. But two years was enough, and I transferred to Harpur College as it then was, it’s Binghamton University now. I majored in English Lit. and graduated in 1967, having just turned 21.
Both places taught me a lot about Paganism: many, many books, and I spent prodigious amounts of time in the stacks, learning. But I didn’t find a group to join until I was living in New York City after graduation, a Scottish traditional coven, which I was still in when I met Jim and later when we got married.
ZB: What magical gifts and talents or inclinations did you have growing up, and how were those encouraged?
PKM: They weren’t encouraged at all! My family was very strict Irish Roman Catholic, though the little gifts like Sight did sneak through, from both sides of the family tree. But we never discussed it.
One gift I could do without: precognition of deaths. I had a vision of Jim the night before he died: he was standing by my bed, so real that I could smell his indefinable scent; he bent over to kiss me and was gone. A few years later, I woke up screaming from a nightmare of my sister being killed in a car crash; the next day, my mom called to tell me that my sister’s fiancé had been killed in a car crash. I had a vision of my beautiful Irish wolfhound jumping on the bed as she used to do, again so real the bed sagged under her; the friends who had her called the next day to tell me she’d peacefully died. And of course there’s the earthquake precog … It never tells me anything nice, like winning lottery numbers, and I kind of wish it would stop. Being warned isn’t much fun.
ZB: What is the focus of your belief system? Did you learn mostly from oral tradition?
PKM: I consider myself a Celtic Pagan. That is the chief pantheon I worship and the traditions I follow. I learned from both books and personal teachings.
ZB: How have your spiritual or magical beliefs expanded throughout your life?
PKM: After [Jim] died, I didn’t want to be in the group on my own. I found the Pagan Way Outer Court group that Margot Adler ran, and met with them for a while, though it was mostly social rituals, not workings; then a Welsh Traditional group of only four people, but that was mostly Gardnerian. By then I was tired and disillusioned, so went solitary, and have been so ever since.
I had guests from time to time for rituals at home, including musician and actress friends, and once in a while I joined Phyllis Curott’s Temple of Ara for big public celebrations like Yule, which was nice. But that’s it really. I don’t feel the need at this late date to belong to a group. My Facebook private page serves the purpose nicely. If they all lived in New York I would definitely have them over for circles. Alas, they do not.
ZB: What specific lore, festivals, rites or rituals have the most meaning to you? How do you incorporate this into your daily life?
PKM: It is so ingrained in me that I seldom think about it. The wards and protections and permanently cast circle are just always there. Samhain is my favorite festival, and I always do some sort of ritual to welcome the guests who come to visit from the other side: food, drink, flowers, pumpkins. I spend it very quietly, as a rule, though once in a while, as I said, I’ll have an actual physical guest, which is also nice. I don’t like to talk too specifically about it, as there have been incidents. But there are also precautions.
ZB: Who was most inspirational to you with regard to your practice?
PKM: No one, really. I just read and studied on my own, then later found groups to join. Unfortunately, the groups were more social than scholarly in nature, one of the reasons why I unjoined eventually.
ZB: What early magical experiences did you have that are most memorable?PKM: I remember once at about age nine, lying in the yard in summer and seeing someone in a white robe walking along the top of a big puffy cumulus cloud. And down along the edge of the deep woods by our house I would frequently see large, iridescent clear-gold bubbles drifting slowly by, changing direction and speed, while down in the really deep blueberry woods I would sometimes see a small hooded figure that would disappear as soon as I looked at it. It wasn’t Blake and a treeful of angels, but hey, what is?
I could also do weather magic, a little: I rained out a high-school graduation (not mine) because I was an usher and I wanted to be inside so I could see friends graduate, but if the ceremony was held outside I would be stuck far away in the parking lot and wouldn’t see a thing. So I made it rain, despite a forecast of bright, hot and sunny and not a cloud in the sky.
But the thing that really turned me completely was a vision I had when I was sixteen. I was awake in the middle of the full-moon night and was sitting at the window of my room. A huge willow tree grew in the yard, and I was contemplating it when all of a sudden a woman appeared in it. She was beautiful, dressed in robes, barefoot, holding a tambourine sort of thing, which I later learned was called a sistrum.
She didn’t say anything, just looked at me and I looked back at her, completely unafraid. She was totally real: she stayed a full minute or two, then just smiled and vanished. Next day I went to the library and found a book I’d never seen before, a book called The White Goddess. And then some more books. There weren’t many resources in those days, the early 60s, but it all got started there.
ZB: Which gods or goddesses are most important to you? Which were Jim drawn to?
PKM: So many! Though my main devotions are to the Goddess and the God in all their varying forms, I would have to say that my chief devotion is to Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwydion, Welsh gods of the Wild Hunt (Gwyn) and writing (Gwydion), and to Dionysus, in his aspect as psychopomp and healer.
On the Goddess side, Ariadne, mortal wife of Dionysus, I really relate to her and the Mórrígan, Irish war goddess.
I couldn’t say where Jim’s divine side led him: Dionysus, certainly, as has been well documented. I tried to show him the god’s other side, not the mad ecstatic libertine but the grave, bearded priest and guide of souls. We bought a book at the Strand, well several books actually about this topic, which I still have, along with Jim’s notes.
ZB: What sacred sites are you drawn to?
PKM: I am drawn to, and have visited, wonderful sites in Ireland and Britain. The first sacred place I went to was Stonehenge, for the winter solstice in 1972. It was staggering: you could walk among the stones back then, not like now where it’s all fenced off. I had a cab drive me out there before dawn and told the driver to come back in four hours. So I snuck in, so easy to do, and walked around saying hello, and then sat down with my back to the Hele Stone and waited for the sun.
I could feel it coming in like a rushing tide. There was no one there: just me, the stones and the rooks and ravens. And the Unconquered Sun, Sol Invictus. That, I have always felt since, was my real and true spiritual awakening, a baptism of power, if you will. Later, when the place opened up for business, I snuck back out and entered lawfully with a ticket, still with no one around for hours. But it was an immense experience, and I will never forget it.
That same trip, my first to England, I also went to Glastonbury for Christmas, which was awesome in its own way. I didn’t climb the Tor, though: not ready for it, or it for me. Four years ago, I was back in Glastonbury, having attended summer school at Christ Church, University of Oxford, and went to the Chalice Well; still no Tor climb, though that was because I’d torn my Achilles tendon and couldn’t walk very well. I drank the well water and walked through a sort of large sluice where the sacred water rushes through, very healing. Next time, the Tor.
There were other trips to Ireland and England and Scotland and Wales, alone or with friends, and I’d steer them to sacred places like the Merry Maidens or Logan Rock or the Rollright Stones. There’s still quite a few places I’d like to get to, though.
I’ve also been to Hawai’i, the Big Island, and I paid respects to Madam Pele in her house at Kilauea. You can’t help but feel her presence there, with the lava bubbling up (at a safe distance) and the steam and all. I felt so safe with her and so at home: I sat on the edge of the firepit Halema’uma’u and made her an offering of food and drink. It was amazing. The Heart of the World, beating beneath me.
ZB: What orders do you belong to?
PKM: I am a Dame Templar in the Sovereign Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem, invested in 1990 for services to Celtdom through my books. The investiture took place at Rosslyn Chapel, the one at the end of The Da Vinci Code. Spectacularly beautiful, and the power nearly took the roof off. There were 19 North Americans being invested, and supposedly there are 19 Templars buried in the deep crypts. It was incredible: I received the full accolade, with a historic sword called the Deuchars sword, a cloak and a breast star, which last I have worn since on formal occasions, and was wearing Dress Morrison tartan for the ceremony.
Author Katherine Kurtz and her husband Scott MacMillan sponsored me to the order, and were there along with two other friends. Anyway, after the ceremony I went over and meditated with my hand on the Apprentice Pillar, about which there are all sorts of tales. Quite a day. One of the greatest spiritual experiences of my life.
As a bishop of the Antioch Rite church, Katherine also founded the Order of Saint Michael, a third-order kind of thing, in which Pagans and Jews and Christians all were welcome. It was based on the warrior order called the Michaelines that she wrote about in her Deryni books, but it was a genuine serious religious order, not some silly fannish thing. I was a founding member, and had a blue habit with a red cord and a Celtic cross. But after a while it began to feel less welcoming for me as a Pagan, even though there were plenty of other Pagans in the group, and so I fell away.
I have never had any problem reconciling my Paganism with my purely cultural Catholicism, Catholicism being so very Pagan anyway. When I worked in midtown at CBS Records, I would often stop off after work at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and visit the Lady Chapel to say hi to the Goddess. If people on either side have a problem with it, they are cordially invited to bite me. I’m quite comfortable with it. But I would never in a million years go back to being a Catholic, or any other kind of Christian. It would be very wrong for me and of me to do so.ZB: Being that Celtic Paganism is earth-based, how hard is it to practice while living in an urban environment?
PKM: The earth is the earth no matter what. It would be a very poor Witch indeed who couldn’t reach down through a bit of concrete to touch it, or out through walls to find the winds and the stars.
ZB: Can you talk about the location for your initiation and what tradition are you a priestess in?
PKM: It was nothing special, just someone’s loft, and the tradition was more Scottish and Irish than anything else.
ZB: Do you prefer solitary work, with a partner like Jim or in a coven?
PKM: Jim and I would certainly have been magical partners, had he lived to come back to me from Paris. I doubt we would have had a coven, though; we were both much too private for that.
ZB: What aids do you use in ritual? What is the primary focus of your craft?
PKM: At this late date, having been a practitioner for almost fifty years, I really don’t need any “aids.” I’m not a horse! Generally I don’t even bother with props, though they’re quite nice to have and I own some lovely and extremely powerful ones. These days I generally just do things for the people I care about: some Tarot or rune readings, protective/defensive spells and the like. I’m fairly fierce about it.
ZB: What is your opinion of drug use in spellwork in relation to shamanism or your own practices?
PKM: I have no opinion. I know shamans and shamanesses have used drugs, traditionally. I wouldn’t use drugs myself for magical practice, and apart from trivial recreational pot or coke, in the 60s and 70s, I never used drugs at all. I haven’t used anything stronger than Advil since 1974. Just walked away.
ZB: Will you talk about your journey to becoming a high priestess?
PKM: I became the high priestess of my group only because I was the most logical person, at that time, to take over. I was really too young for it, and I stepped down rather soon thereafter. It wasn’t for me, and except for that one brief interlude in a “Welsh Traditionalist” (heavy on the Gardnerian/Valientean) coven, I haven’t been formally with a group since, so there’s very little else to say.
ZB: You’ve mentioned your dismay with what you call fluffy bunny syndrome. Will you talk about this and the importance of embracing both the dark and light aspects of Witchcraft?
PKM: Fluffybunnies! are the bouncy little teenies! (or older) who seem to think Witchcraft is just so adorkably cute! and squealy! They’ve read a book! (maybe), or seen TV shows or movies! And now they think they are these cool badass practitioners! Wrong, kiddiewinks. So very, very wrong.
I don’t consider magic to have a dark and a light side. The magic is the same power, regardless of the use you put it to, like electricity. And sometimes it’s a little too real for the fluffies, and they get all oooh scary stuff! and run away. Twits. As Terry Pratchett’s hilarious Witch Nanny Ogg says in Witches Abroad, “Witchcraft. Up at the sharp end.” There are times when you need that sharp end. So you’d better be prepared for it and you’d better be ready to use it, because when that situation comes along, giggles and bounces aren’t going to help you.
If you’re going to embrace the Light, you have to embrace the Shadow as well. Because the stronger the light you stand in, the blacker and sharper the shadow you cast. Never think you don’t have a Shadow. We all have them, even the purest among us. Maybe especially the purest. So when you can’t see where your Shadow is, look out, because it’s right behind you. And it’s reaching for your throat.
ZB: You have been described as extremely knowledgeable in the many traditions and practices of Witchcraft in history throughout Europe. Which fascinates you the most and why?
PKM: I’m well conversant really only with the traditions of the Celtic Nations and England. That is the tradition I’ve followed all my life, and the one I know best. I’ve read and studied a bit about other Ways, though: perhaps the one I feel most kinship to is the Nordic, and I’ve been known to say a word of thanks to Thor and Odin and Freyja now and again—I have Norse gods and goddesses on my altars, and hold great respect for them.
In fact, the book I’m working on now is about the big Viking raids on England in the late ninth century, and the faceoff between Paganism and Christianity there. I’m on the Pagan side, naturally. Greek and Roman gods, too, though not as much: my particular patrons there are Dionysus and Ariadne, obviously, for whom I have a great devotion.
But I don’t get my nose in a sling about Christian deities: I see Mary, Mother of God as everyone’s Mother Goddess. Jesus, not so much: a powerful avatar and a great teacher, but I don’t feel a connection. St. Michael the warrior archangel, and St. Joan, the warrior maiden Frenchwoman, are also very important to me. As I said, I have no problem with it. Except for St. Patrick, who I think is the worst thing that ever happened to Ireland.
ZB: What legends and mythologies interest you the most and how do they affect your religious practices?
PKM: Oh, Celtic, of course. Though I think of them not as mythologies or legends, but as truths. I wrote a trilogy in my Keltiad series based on Arthur, King in the Light, and his court. But this was one Round Table that did not fall. I’m very proud of those three books: The Hawk’s Gray Feather, The Oak Above the Kings, and The Hedge of Mist.
I’m adding a bit of Norse tradition as I write my Viking book, Son of the Northern Star. I occasionally wear a small silver hammer of Thor, in a Celtic style, with a wolf’s head, as a nod to my own roots. The name Kennealy, originally Cennfaeladh, means “wolf’s head”, and tribal shamans were said to wear a wolf’s head upon their own in ritual..
As for my practices, I’ve tailored them over the years. There is a permanent Circle in my house, warded and secure; you can tell a Witch lives here! I like statues, so I have quite a number of them, on three different altars, including a fragmentary Irish sixth-century Kernunnos bronze torso, a terra-cotta head of Zeus from Magna Graecia and a first-century Roman bronze head of Dionysus. On the Goddess altar, a 4,000-year-old statue of Tanith-Astarte, recovered from a Mediterranean shipwreck, and a little bronze Celto-Roman goddess figure from probably the second or third century, found in an English field. And a whole bunch more.
I respect all other traditions, and I have consulted practitioners of those Ways whenever I’ve felt that I could use some help from a different quarter. Sometimes you need to come at a problem from a new slant: I’ve asked help from Madam Pele, from Dionysus, from Artemis or Diana, from one or two orishas. Always making sure beforehand that the Powers don’t mind and approaching in a respectful way traditional to them.
ZB: You were incredibly bold for coming out as a Witch and Pagan when feminism was still in its early stages. Did you experience setbacks for doing this?
PKM: I don’t know as I would call it “bold.” I think it was more out of sheer fury, or just general pissed-offedness, that I wanted to throw it at people’s heads. I just wanted to be able to be honest. Nobody ever said anything to my face, perhaps because they feared I’d hex their faces off if they did. And perhaps I would have. But I really didn’t have to: I found early on that people will do that sort of thing to themselves quite efficiently if you just give them the idea and a bit of a nudge. Contrary to public opinion, I’ve never cursed anyone outright: it’s way too much trouble, and I’m a very lazy Witch. I just hang up the karma mirror and let them catch the reflection. With perhaps a little extra kick, just so they learn the lesson. But basically I don’t have to lift a finger.
ZB: How do you think views have changed today towards women Witches in society?
PKM: I think that TV and books and magazines have done a lot to alter the perception of the Witch: yeah, now we’re all expected to look like the “Charmed” sisters, or Angelica Houston, but that has to be an improvement. And we’re perceived as powerful, not like that twinkie Samantha, twitching her nose like a rabbit, but more like a lioness. So maybe not the best perception, but at least an improvement. Surely that’s something, right?
ZB: With Witchcraft becoming such a part of popular culture today, and women taking back their power from the patriarchy of the church, how do you see this progressing?
PKM: I don’t think that we will see female priests in the Catholic Church in our lifetimes, or at least in mine. Other sects of the Christian cult are far more welcoming, and that‘s great, but we need to get women priests back into the Church to counteract, if nothing else, the vile tendency toward pederasty and child rape that male priests are neck-deep in. I hope they rot in the hell they don’t seem to believe in. There actually were female priests back in the early centuries of the Church, until the guys got their hands on the wheel and started driving straight to hell. It will happen, and either the Catholic church will change or it will die. Either way, good outcome.
ZB: What are the best book references, essays etc. on Paganism or Celtic traditions for people to study? Will you be writing any books on the subject?
PKM: There is so much complete trifling drivel out there, written by uneducated Witchlets or money-grubbing hacks, that I hesitate to recommend anything. The only books I can recommend wholeheartedly are Caitlin Matthews’ works, and her husband John Matthews’ as well. They’re dear friends, full disclosure, but they know Celticness inside and out, and are careful scholars and trustworthy Pathfinders. Read anything of theirs.
As for reference books: I was lucky enough to be able to find some amazing books, back in the day. I’d start with P.W. Joyce’s Social History of Ancient Ireland, happily available in reprint, though I have a first edition and another early one; well, anything by him is helpful and good. Just go rummage around. The good books will present themselves to you and the crap ones will fall away.
And no, I will not be publishing any books on the subject myself, even though I did write one some years back (The Crystal Ship: The Shaman and the Priestess, a spiritual memoir of Jim and me, with prayers and rituals and practices). I have too much else to write, and people like Caitlin write in the field far better.
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Next Sunday, the conversation continues. Patricia shares more about her own work as an editor and author, and more about her life with Jim Morrison … (Stay Tuned for side B)