June 23, 2011 by Lain
Northern Tribes is proud to present an interview with Edmonton’s Ali Ravenwood, the first in a series focused on the “Elders” and leaders of the Edmonton Pagan community. Ali’s long list of contributions to the community include; forming the Congregationalist Wiccan Assembly of Alberta, helping gain legal status as a church in Alberta, providing Pagan chaplaincy service within Alberta’s prison system, serving on the board of Panfest, founding and organizing the Edmonton Beltaine Faire, to name only a few. Priestess, mother, advocate and friend, Ali’s hard work and dedication have helped shape Edmonton’s vibrant Pagan community.
Lain – What was the Edmonton Community like when you first arrived here?
Ali – “I arrived in Edmonton from Winnipeg in 1996. Winnipeg had, and still has, a large and vibrant Pagan community; in fact their Beltane in the Park, the model for our Beltaine Faire, has been running there for over 20 years. When I came to Edmonton I found plenty of Pagans, but very little in the way of community. As a single mom with no extended family, I needed community, so I worked on building one. My first Beltaine event was actually held in the river valley in 1997, but it took me a long time to get around to organizing the Beltaine Faire.
I had a vision of the kind of community that I wanted to manifest. Now, almost 15 years later, Edmonton’s community is larger and more diverse than Winnipeg’s!”
Lain – How has the community changed since you first arrived in Edmonton?
Ali – “In the beginning, there was a lot of fear. When I organized the first Open Circle, folks warned me to expect harassment, bricks through the window, that sort of thing. Everyone used a magickal name, and the fact that I used my legal name in public had a lot of people concerned about my safety. For the most part, their fears were groundless. Although there have been a few incidents over the years, I’ve found that in general, the public really isn’t interested in persecuting us. The biggest change I’ve seen is in how people have challenged that fear, found the courage to crawl out of the broom closet, and stepped forward to openly serve their community.”
Lain – What is your definition of an “Elder”? Do you consider yourself to be an Elder?
Ali – “At tremendous risk of backlash, I can say that yes, I do consider myself to be an Elder. In my opinion, an Elder is any person who has spent a significant part of their life working to serve the Wiccan/Pagan community. It really doesn’t matter who your teacher was, which tradition you practice, or how many degrees you hold; these formalities are irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. To be an Elder, you must have served your community. My first teacher once told me that the primary duties of a priestess can be summed up in four words: “Chop wood, carry water”. To be an Elder is to serve others; therefore, to paraphrase Gardner, “You cannot be an Elder alone.”
Lain – What was your reaction the first time someone called you an Elder?
Ali – “I told him to lower his voice! Seriously, there was a time when claiming to be an “Elder” would earn you nothing but scorn and disbelief. This attitude was based on the idea that we are all valid, so therefore we are all equal and nobody has the right to claim Elder status over anyone else. Of course, this is just silly. Any group focused on a single goal will eventually produce some members with more insight and experience than others. A few years ago, a group of Edmonton Elders formed a panel to help guide the direction of the developing community. We all knew instinctively who the Elders were, but we didn’t dare use the word; instead, we called ourselves the Secret Squirrel Society. Because Elders may be unpopular, but everybody loves squirrels.”
Lain – What would you say is your best contribution to the Edmonton Pagan Community?
Ali -“I think my most significant contribution is the one I am least known for: publishing The Pagan Path, a submissions-based local magazine which ran from 1996-99. The Pagan Path was modeled after Winnipeg’s Minstrel Magazine, an extremely successful publication that ran for over 15 years and was instrumental in building Winnipeg’s Pagan community. I wrote for The Minstrel and sat on the editorial board for several years, and after arriving in Edmonton, I wondered if a local publication could have the same effect here. I put up hand-printed notices in a couple of bookstores with my name and address, inviting interested folks to attend a planning meeting for a Pagan magazine. I hoped for at least 3 people; nearly 20 showed up! Artists, writers, poets, academics, visionaries…all eager to work towards this common goal. Many of the people who came to the meeting that night are still active in our community today; each of them branched out in their own direction to follow their personal path, which brought about the rich and diverse community we now enjoy.”
“Writing for Pagan magazines also put me in contact with Pagans across the country who were working to serve their local communities. One of these was Sam Wagar, founder of the Congregationalist Witchcraft Association of British Columbia. In 2006, with Sam’s help, I founded the CWAAlberta to give local Wiccans and Pagans a voice in the larger public arena. My new vision is to see the day when Wiccans and Pagans are treated with the same tolerance granted to Hindus, Buddhists and Shintos: we’re just another minority religion, and nothing to be afraid of.”
Lain – I understand that you are “retiring” from organizing and event coordinating to focus on a new vision.
Ali – “There are so many generous people willing to share their talents that my organizing services are no longer required. Instead, I now want to focus more on advocating for Pagan and Wiccan rights, public relations, education and raising awareness.”
“I am retiring from community-building activities in order to concentrate on my new vision, which I hope to manifest through the CWAA. We’ve already made great strides in the right direction. Our national board is close to achieving charitable status with the federal government, which would allow the CWAA to write off our expenses and dramatically increase our capacity to move forward. The CWAA is now a member of the Edmonton Interfaith Council; by educating local clergy about our faith, I hope to reach their congregations more effectively, to help reduce the fear and suspicion that alienates our neighbours. I want to normalize Wicca in the public consciousness, because I believe that is the solution to the problems of discrimination and intolerance that we continue to face.”
special thanks to Brad Johnson, local Edmonton scratch artist, for graciously providing the portrait of Ali. Visit Brad at his Facebook Page