The Burning Times
By Jeanne Kalogridis
TWPT: Tell me about your introduction to Witchcraft.
JK: Some fifteen to twenty years ago, I was an angry young agnostic totally disillusioned with Christianity. But agnosticism/atheism didn't work for me. I sensed there was some marvelous power in the universe, so I began to seek for a new way to express the feelings of reverence and awe I had for life.
During that time, I happened to read an newspaper interview with Laurie Cabot of Salem. What she had to say about Witchcraft totally intrigued me. So I went out and scoured the bookstores, searching for a book that described the sort of Witchcraft she'd talked about. I found the wonderful Earth Magic by Marion Weinstein.
So I began, as a solitary, to practice the religion I found described there.
TWPT: Did it require any major revisions in the way you thought or was it something that was inherently familiar to you?
JK: No major revisions. It was incredibly freeing to begin to think of God in feminine terms, to think that women were equal in power to men, and no less holy.
TWPT: Since that time how has Witchcraft become a part of your life and changed your approach to living?
JK: I see everything as sacred now. I don't run from the very mention of death, but see it now as part of a necessary and wonderful cycle. I honestly believe it helped raise my self-esteem immeasurably, because the religion "shares the power" with the individual. We aren't craven creatures pleading with a judgmental god to spare us; we work with incredible, beautiful forces to create a better world.
TWPT: Would you describe yourself as a solitary practioner or do you have associations with other covens or groups?
JK: At one time, many years ago, I was part of a coven. However, half the group (including myself) was more interested in the Qabala and High Magick; the other half preferred "traditional" Witchcraft. So the group split into two groups. Eventually, I moved across the country and since then have remained a solitary. Having experienced both worlds -- solitary and group practice -- I am content to remain solitary, because my beliefs are now so eclectic. I no longer fit neatly into the slot of "Wiccan" or a particular type of "pagan." (But then, does *any* pagan fit neatly into a slot?)
TWPT: When was it that you first conceived of the idea to write a novel concerning Witchcraft and the Burning Times?
JK: I'm going to be brutally honest: the idea came after a romantic encounter with my beloved. This occurred more than ten years ago (and I still have the same beloved!), as I was lying quite content and half-asleep in bed. The image of my heroine, Sybille, came to me full-blown. I knew her name at once, and saw her running in a terror down a forest path. I also knew that she was running from the inquisition, and a midwife; it took much more time and research to locate her in 14th-century France.
TWPT: Tell me about your personal studies pertaining to the Craft and what some of the most eye opening revelations were as you dug below the surface perceptions.
JK: Well, I started out studying Wicca and then branched off into High Magick, especially the Qabala. I came to Wicca very naively, as someone interested in controlling the circumstances around her; it finally got through my thick skull that the point was to master *myself*, not external conditions. *I* changed, instead of trying to change the world -- and what I had formerly seen as terrible problems began to lose their power over me.
Now, I would call myself a Buddhist/pagan. IMHO, the power of "directed" compassion is unsurpassed by that of any elaborate ritual I used to perform.
The Tibetans seem very wise to me.
TWPT: Are the ideas and concepts of Witchcraft or The Old Religion that you write about in the Burning Times tempered by your own perceptions and knowledge as a practioner?
JK: But of course, to quote Pepe LePhew. The "confessions" extracted by the inquisitioners can't be believed, so we really don't know exactly what kind of paganism was practiced in medieval Europe. I borrowed heavily from the type of Witchcraft that *I* knew. To quote my character, Sybille:
"I communed with a Power so awesome in Its scope, so far beyond the human pale and my poor head's capacity to conceive of the Almighty that I felt humbled in Its presence. Yet It was nothing like the dour God presented us by the village priest, the Father-God of hellfire and damnation and commandments and purgatory. This Power cared not one whit for convention or rules or the petty politics of prelates or the manner in which It was worshiped, or even if It was worshiped at all. It simply was. It was life itself, joyous and chaotic and all-consuming. It was pure ecstasy."
TWPT: To make the novel as accurate as possible it must have taken some intensive research on your part to accurately portray the time period. Tell me about what research went into making this novel such an historical portrait of the times?
JK: Intensive is the word for it, all right. Before the onset of the internet, I spent an infinite number of hours in California libraries hunting down information on different areas and periods where/when the "witch craze" was at its peak. I finally located some incredible documents that had survived from fourteenth-century France, which listed the locations of the executions, as well as the names of the actual victims. Some of those victims are mentioned in the book, in a particular burning in Toulouse which was documented.
TWPT: Given that we are rapidly becoming the internet generation, what parts of your research came from the use of the internet and how is this something that could not have been done prior to the rise of this networking tool?
JK: I was able to describe the city of Carcassonne, France and the Papal palace in Avignon with incredible accuracy thanks to the French tourist bureau. Its internet sites allowed me to take a virtual tour of the standing medieval city of Carcassonne (and to "walk" down its narrow streets), as well as tour the Palais des Papes and see the beautiful murals painted on the walls.
TWPT: How long have you been working on The Burning Times and how did it differ from writing your previous books? (see authors website for other titles)
JK: I worked on it off and on for ten years -- mostly off, while I did other novels, such as the Diaries of the Family Dracul trilogy. When I finally seriously sat down to finish The Burning Times, it took slightly more than a year to write.
It differed from working on my previous books because I was terribly nervous about its importance and its being "good enough" to properly represent the Wiccan/pagan point of view. (Not that I don't always worry about my books being as good as they can be, mind you.)
TWPT: What would you like readers of your novel The Burning Times to take with them from your book? Were there any lessons or wisdom that you purposely tried meld into your novel about the time period that would apply to our time?
JK: I think the book's most obvious message is the importance of religious tolerance; it's related to the corollary that only compassion can conquer fear. Intolerance is most definitely rooted in fear.
TWPT: Do you think that your novel will find acceptance within the Wiccan/Pagan community as an accurate representation of the times that have become a battle cry against religious discrimination in our modern day and age?
I can only hope that The Burning Times finds such acceptance. And I hope that all its readers, Wiccan, pagan or otherwise, take the notion of religious tolerance to heart.
Jeanne Kalogridis April 16, 2001