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This year we had the pleasure of visiting with Selena Fox, who has been on the forefront of the Pagan Movement in the Untied States since the early 70s. Leading her first public pagan ritual in 1971, she can be counted among the prominent elders in the Pagan and Ecospirituality communities. Because of Selena’s efforts as a public media spokesperson and religious freedom activists, Pagans in the United States have begun to realize freedoms that other religious communities enjoy. It was CIRCLE Magazine and Circle Guide to Pagan Groups that guided many seekers of Paganism and Wicca to a spiritual home. Selena is also a trained counselor and psychotherapist receiving a B.S. cum laude in psychology from the College of William & Mary and an M.S. in counseling from the University of Wisconsin-Madison where her thesis was entitled When Goddess is God: Pagans, Recovery, and Alcoholics Anonymous.
At the time of your birth, your family members were observant conservative Southern Baptists. Can you tell us about the journey that took you elsewhere?
I began having lucid dreams, out of body travel, and encounters with Nature spirits as a young child. At the age of nine, I had a mystical experience that included a calling to ministry, and as a result, I deepened my involvement with my family’s church and Christian studies. However, as I matured, I came to realize that since I was female, I would not be able to be an ordained Southern Baptist minister. When I was seventeen, I left the church, expanded my spiritual studies, and changed my religious identification from Baptist to Pantheist, a philosophy with origins in ancient Paganism.
Your membership in the Eta Sigma Phi Honor Society indicates that you studied Classics. Did your studies lead to research of classical religious beliefs and how did this inform your developing practices?
I took my first course in Latin and Classics when I was thirteen. I enjoyed it so much that I continued my studies through high school and college, deepening my affinity with ancient Roman and Greek cultures, philosophy, and religion. During my undergraduate years at the College of William and Mary, I was active in organizing Classics activities, including founding the Classics Club, and serving as President of the campus chapter of Eta Sigma Phi. During my senior year, I got the idea to complement Classics classroom work with experiential learning. With the support and participation of Classics Department faculty and students, I created and facilitated a Greco-Roman Rite of Spring. Dressed in tunics and togas, we processed to a green space in the center of campus and invoked Dionysus and Gaea/Terra in an ecstatic ceremony. What was a fun, educational experience that day for our group, also set me on my priestess path. I called the Ancient Ones, and They came—and They have been part of my life ever since.
Can you tell us a bit about the hereditary Witch that you met in Hampton, Virginia and her effect on your own journey?
My first job after college graduation in 1971 was working on an archaeological dig in Hampton Roads. I became friends with a co-worker, Marianne, and we discovered that we had a shared interest in magick. She was a family tradition Witch with Prussian heritage. She invited me to her home, and on Full Moon nights we did ceremony together. Sometimes other women would join us. Through our relationship, I learned some magickal ways of working with the Moon as well as the joys of working with other Pagans in a small group.
You define yourself as a Wiccan priestess, rather than a Witch. What are the distinguishing differences separating the two definitions?
I identify both with Wiccan priestess and Witch, and for me personally, I view them as interchangeable terms. However, I know that for some, these terms are not interchangeable. In the 1970s and early 1980s, I used Witch publicly to identify myself more often than Wiccan priestess. However, that changed as I became increasingly active in Pagan religious freedom and civil rights work. I found it more politically effective to be publicly identified as a Wiccan priestess in order to work for equal rights for Witches, Wiccans, and other Pagans.
Can you tell us about how Circle Sanctuary went from concept to reality?
I founded Circle Sanctuary at Samhain time in 1974. Its original name, Circle, and the logo of a circle containing twelve circles around a central circle came to me in a meditative vision along with the concept of creating a spiritual center that would bring together people who celebrated Nature in sacred ways. Six weeks later, I brought some friends together for Circle’s first gathering, a Yuletide celebration. In June of 1975, Circle Sanctuary moved into its first rural home, a rented farmstead near Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. We created a ritual room on the main floor and a ritual circle outside. We began holding classes and seasonal celebrations there as well as in nearby Madison, Wisconsin. In 1978, we incorporated as a non-profit religious organization in Wisconsin and in 1980 received federal 501(c)(3) tax exempt church status. In 1983, we purchased and moved to our present home, Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve, a 200-acre Nature sanctuary in southwestern Wisconsin.
How did the greater Pagan community help you realize this vision and how has the community benefited from Circle Sanctuary?
Over the years, we have had Pagans of many paths and places work with us on a variety of our projects and services, including publications, sacred sites preservation, festivals, civil rights activism, interfaith relations, academic studies, and podcasts. We continue to be thankful for contributions of time, money, expertise and other support we receive.
Circle Sanctuary has helped the greater Pagan community in a variety of ways. Through our Lady Liberty League, we have helped win Pagan civil rights and religious freedom victories. Through our events, websites, social media, podcasts, albums and publications, we have facilitated the sharing of rituals, music, art and knowledge in print, in person, and online by Pagans of many traditions across the USA and around the world. Every year, we sponsor training for Pagan leaders through the Pagan Leadership Institute we hold during our weeklong Pagan Spirit Gathering. We helped develop the emerging field of Pagan Studies in academia, including coordinating Pagan Academic Circle. We have established the first national Pagan cemetery and one of the first Pagan land projects. We have been among those sponsoring and supporting festivals and conferences bringing together Pagans from different paths. We continue to help bring about better public understanding and respect of Pagans and Paganism through interfaith networking and chaplaincy endorsement.
Lady Liberty League has done some very important work, can you tell about some of the recent progress that Lady Liberty League benefits the broad spectrum of Paganism and Witchcraft.
Lady Liberty League (LLL), founded in 1985, is the Pagan civil rights and religious freedom support service of Circle Sanctuary. Over the years, we have helped Pagans across the United States and other countries combat discrimination, defamation and harassment. We helped win the ten-year battle to have the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) authorize the inclusion of the Pentacle on the memorial markers its issues to mark the graves of deceased veterans, and now more than 200 Pentacle-inscribed markers are in public and private cemeteries across the USA. In 2017, with the help of LLL and Circle Sanctuary, the Awen, a Druid symbol, was added to the VA’s list of symbols authorized for memorial markers and several have been issued. In recent years, LLL’s work also has included work with zoning, public accommodation, child custody, inmate access to Pagan materials, and chaplaincy issues.
Can you tell us about your involvement in the first Earth Day in 1970?
I helped organize an environmental teach-in at the College of William and Mary on the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, and I have been active in organizing Earth Day events ever since. We have a public Earth Day Festival every year at Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve. In 2019, I taught a five-part EcoRites leadership intensive attended by Pagan leaders from across the USA and some other countries as part of preparations for the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day in 2020 and future Earth Days.
What are the current environmental endeavours that you and Circle Sanctuary are pursing?
We are engaged in a variety of environmental projects at Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve, including forest preservation, wetlands conservation, prairie restoration, and Ecospiritual education. In addition, I do workshops and public talks on Greening the End of Life as well as direct Circle Cemetery, a national Pagan cemetery, which is one of the first Green cemeteries in North America.
Tell us about the Circle Craft Tradition and what distinguishes it from other Traditions?
Circle Craft is a form of spiritual practice which combines old and new Pagan folkways, shamanism, Wiccan spirituality, transpersonal psychology and Nature mysticism. I helped form this tradition in 1971 with its primary influences being from Greek and Roman Pagan religions, American folk magick of Appalachian and Ozark mountains, and American adaptions of folkways from Scotland, Germany and Latvia. Central to the Circle Craft tradition is Nature communion and the honoring of the Divine as One and as Many. The Wheel of the Year in the Circle Craft tradition begins with Samhain and includes Solstices, Equinoxes, and Cross Quarter Sabbats. Sabbat celebrations take place over several days and nights rather than on a particular day as is the case with some other traditions. Circle Craft practice also includes the celebration of the New and Full Moons. As with many Wiccan and Witchcraft traditions, ceremonies are held in a Circle which is cast clockwise. However, in Circle Craft practice, nine directions are called instead of just the four compass points of many traditions. The Nine directions and association sacred forces are: Earth, physical realm, in the North; Air, mental realm, in the East; Fire, behavioural realm, in the South; Water, emotional realm, in the West; Cosmos, Universe, for Above; Planet, Biosphere, for Below; Spirit, Divine Unity, in the Center; Soul, Within; and Community, Around. Some traditions are initiatory, and some are non-initiatory. Both options exist in the Circle Craft tradition. The Circle Craft path has much in common with Hedgewitchery and contemporary multicultural Shamanism. It includes work with ancestors, green spirits, animal spirits, and spirits of place in addition to Elementals and Divinities.
Circle Guide to Wicca & Pagan Resources of the 70s and 80s which you compiled was an important tool for the new seeker on the Pagan path. What would you recommend for Pagans today taking their first steps, regarding both books and networking.
My recommendations for those new to Paganism include: (1) at the start of each day, do a prayer, short meditation or ritual honoring the Divine by the name(s) that you connect most strongly with; (2) spend at least a few minutes every day in a park or garden, by a tree or body of water, or in some other natural setting communing with and appreciating being part of Nature; (3) select several Pagan articles and books in print and/or on line and read and study them; (4) also learn through Pagan podcasts and videos; (5) attend at least one festival or other event per year that brings together Pagans of different paths in order to experience Pagan diversity face-to-face; (6) also explore and experience Pagan diversity via social media and note which forms seem to be the most compatible for you; (7) keep a spiritual journal and note experiences, dreams, visions, perspectives, and ideas; (8) pay attention to dreams and daydreams and listen to their messages; and (9) create a personal altar to use as a focal point for practice.
There were many hotbeds of activity in the 70s and 80s, for instance the Magickal Childe, the burgeoning festival circuit and Circle Sanctuary. What do you see for the community that is in closer communication via the internet yet in many ways isolated?
Engaging with cyberspace makes it possible for Pagans to connect with much information and many people, but if Pagan contact is limited only to cyberspace, this can be isolating. Cyberspace can be a helpful tool but it is important to balance cyberspace with face-to-face encounters with other humans and the natural world. Attending a Pagan festival, fair, concert, conference, pride day or other event can be a way to deepen awareness of the larger Pagan world and to make lasting, mutually beneficial, holistic connections.
Tell us about your continuing profession involving counseling, readings and life. How does this benefit you, your clients and the Pagan community?
Combining my professional training in psychology and spiritual studies, I do counseling, psychotherapy, readings and life coaching as part of my work. Most of my sessions with clients are done via telephone consultations; some are by zoom video conference. Most of my clients are in the United States, but I also have worked with clients from other countries. Clients seek me out for a variety of reasons. Some do work with me as part of a life passage, such as dealing with a birth, marriage, death, change in residence or job change. Some consult in order to work through a trauma or other challenge. Some do sessions with me in order to deepen their spiritual understanding. Some connect in order to get insights on dreams and visions they have had. I continue to learn and grow from this work and am thankful that I have been able to help others on their life journeys. As a mental health professional, I have done diversity education in hospitals, clinics and other health care facilities and I been able to help build bridges of understanding about Pagans and Paganism and to demonstrate how Pagan spirituality can be a positive aid to personal growth and development.