Interview With Ann Moura (author of Tarot for the Green Witch) by Bonnie Cehovet
Ann Moura has been a practicing solitary Green Witch for over 35 years. She holds degrees in history, and is a teacher, as well as a writer. She has written previously about the history and origins of Witchcraft, as well as a "Green Witchcraft" series on the Craft as she lives it. Ann graciously agreed to take the time to speak with me about the connection between Green Witchcraft and the Tarot in her life.
BC: Ann, you are a solitary practitioner of Green Witchcraft, and have been for many years. Your path came down from your Mother and your Grandmother. I read that they wove the Green Witch principles, along with folk magic and other personal beliefs into a tapestry that included a base of Catholicism. Can you tell me a little about what that was like?
AM: The Craft was handled in a quiet manner in my childhood, and really there was little to do with Catholicism except in applying the iconography of saints to the deities of Nature and lighting candles in the shrines for special requests. There was no learning of catechism, communion, mass, praying the rosary, and so forth. In many ways I can understand how the African peoples of the Caribbean and Brazil developed religions that blended their native deities with Catholic saints, as with Candomblé and Macumba, because that is how it was with my mother.
My grandmother associated the God of Nature with St. Frances [“of the Little Birds”], and my mother was attached to both St. Frances and St. Theresa [“of the Little Flowers”], both saints whom she associated with Nature. My mother used to plant protective flowers and shrubs around the house, grew plants in the house for prosperity, and knew a great deal of magical lore associated with flowers. Yet, we also did spells with Bendis, the Thracian Goddess of the Dark Moon who is called a Goddess of Witches, and my mother kept incense burning before a Thai statue that resembled Shiva Yoga. As a child, I did not see the disconnect between calling upon the family Goddess to find hidden things and being just like my Christian friends. Mainstream religious holidays are a blend of many customs and traditions anyway, so for me, everything merged in a cheerful mélange.
The practices of the Craft--spells, spiritism, connecting with Nature, observing the solar seasons and lunar phases, leaving milk for the Fairies, hanging up wind chimes on the front porch to scatter negativity, letting the wind carry off wishes for fulfillment, etc.--were very casually and “naturally” approached, much as I expect a person growing up in a church would experience the imparting of their spiritual foundations.
While my mother and grandmother called themselves Catholic and used the images of the saints for the Divine in Nature, they never went to church except to light candles when needed, so I did not actually grow up as a Catholic--or any other mainstream religion. I was the only kid on the block who didn’t go to Sunday school. My mother passed on to me the spiritual doctrines she had received from her mother, which I present in my Green Witchcraft books as she said them to me. It was an oral tradition which I have written down to share with those who choose to adopt portions or all of it.
It was not until I was older and became aware of the spiritual differences between my friends and myself that I took their word for this difference and asked my mother if we were Witches. Her response was, “We do not name ourselves. Others name us. People know what you are without your having to tell them.” And this is how it was. With my mother and grandmother in Brazil, no one ever used the “W” word, but people knew who to see for healing and magical assistance. A payment of some kind secured the magic--giving a gift to receive a gift being one of the lessons my mother imparted to me--and my grandmother in particular used to get anything from labor to chickens, beans, rice, sausages, okra, or farina from people.
BC: How has the emphasis in your personal work changed from that of your Mother and Grandmother?
AM: I see the heritage of my mother and grandmother as the foundation of my Craft. Following a personal path never occurred to me until I was 15. I began attending a Baptist church so my girlfriend could get points in a contest for bringing newcomers to the church. We went to some church sponsored social functions together from bowling to camping, all the while learning about the Bible. It was this Bible study more than anything that made me realize the message being taught was not for me and I found Christianity to be spiritually stifling for women--I even caused a bit of a stir by noting that nothing in the Bible said women went to Heaven, only men, so that made it rather pointless for women to be Christians. The response was basically that women were inferior, they needed to submit to men as their spiritual guides, and even then there were no guarantees. That was when I tossed aside the umbrella of my mother and grandmother. I took the tools my mother had passed on to me and began seeking my own path. Curiously, some twenty years after my friend and I went our separate ways in life, we got back in touch and it turns out that today she is Wiccan!
I read about witchcraft back in the sixties and found that my experience made much of what I saw in print irrelevant, while older sources followed bizarre suppositions that connected witchcraft with Satan, fallen angels, and demons. So I continued to practice on my own as a Solitary, did my own initiation as an introduction to the Lady and the Lord, and took a Craft Name. I began writing things down--not calling it a Book of Shadows, just my book of rituals and my book of spells--and incorporated the herbs and plants, stones and color symbologies into a more formalized and focused spell-casting. I already knew how to speak to the plants and animals, and feel the energies of Nature working with me, so what I was doing was straining out the outside influences to work directly with what my mother called “the Power.”
She and I did candle magics together on occasion, and we communed with spirits together, so in many ways the transition was more internal for me than external. Awhile later I did a Dedication to the Lady and the Lord, to give something back to Them, and to open the channels of communication permanently. This is a deep commitment and not a step to take frivolously, and I emphasize this point in my books.
What I love about the spirituality of witchcraft is that it allows for ecstatic experience, which even Joseph Campbell in his lectures noted was absent in Christianity. The Lady and the Lord appear to us, talk to us, embrace us, and are with us. My children, who are now grown, are also initiated and both have taken the Craft in their own direction. One is drawn to the imagery of Hecate, the Morrigan, Sekhmet, Bast, Isis, Ra, and Anubis, and the other to the imagery of Herne, Shiva, Pan, Gaia, and Sarasvati. In the Craft, there is plenty of room for an eclectic viewpoint because no matter what the names, the deities are immanent--they are part of Nature, and part of us.
BC: I find it very interesting that you have also included both Bachelor's and Masters Degree's in history as part of your life path. What influence does this have on your Green Witch work?
AM: I went into history because I had a wide variety of interests and I figured that history would cover all of them. That way I could study art, literature, poetry, science, archaeology, anthropology, geography, psychology, philosophy, mythology, world religions, world cultures, and ancient history all together. I like to paint, draw, work with watercolors, pen and ink, acrylics, wood burning, needle point, appliqué and sewing, but I also like to write poetry, short stories, and have even completed a couple of very lengthy stories for which I have not yet found a publisher.
So I suppose I am Liberal Arts by inclination, but chose history as the blanket that covers it all, and I still tend to view things in terms of their historic development. After years of following these myriad interests, I wrote a letter to Llewellyn in response to an article in their catalog, and the Acquisitions Manager contacted me and asked if I could turn the letter into a manuscript, and Dancing Shadows [titled from the “Allegory of the Cave” of Socrates as told by Plato] was born. Here is where I tied together the many threads I had gathered over time into a coherent story of religion and the Craft. The owner of the company said he had been waiting 30 years for someone to write that book, and there were some who praised it and some who panned it. Overall, it was not a big seller. They let me re-write the book in a more general format a few years ago, and that is today’s Origins of Modern Witchcraft, which is doing a bit better than its predecessor. The most frequent criticism I get on this newer version is that is does not contain footnotes, which is humorous to me since the first version was not a big seller precisely because it was full of in-text citations! Oh well.
I think the best influence of history in my practice is that I have found a lot of grounding in what I do--similarities between what I learned and what others have uncovered in history--so I gain an empathic understanding of what ancient peoples were doing, and what they were going through. Seeing the art and architecture of the ancient sites of Europe is an astonishing experience that points the way clearly to the modern Craft. It is always a thrill to discover that others have been on the same or similar path. There are bits about the 1734 Tradition, for example, that hit home quite strong, while other aspects are quite dissimilar, and I can find the parallel in my own heritage to some of the ideas found in Gardnerian Wicca. So there seems to be a thread that weaves and wanders through all the witchcraft traditions and serves to remind us that we are indeed all connected.
What may have been the biggest influence for me to move in the direction of history was that my family traveled around the country on vacations to see the historic and geological sites of interest. Since I was having past life recollections from a very early age, some of these travels served to verify those impressions with actual places. In a sense, history has also been a way for me to reconnect with my own past so I can move on to a new future. I still enjoy using black mirror meditations to see what I need to learn from my past lives and what directions I can discover from my family heritage.
BC: In "Tarot For The Green Witch", the latest book in your Green Witchcraft series, you place a great deal of importance on each reader developing their own ethics as far as reading the Tarot goes. I happen to agree with you, but as a teacher/mentor, where does this come from with you?
AM: The idea of ethics as related to the Craft is pretty commonplace, but in relation to reading tarot--particularly for other people--the need is there for a reminder that there are real people trying to deal with real issues, and these people have feelings, hopes, fears, and a need for some form of security. I have always been able to see things in cards, even regular playing cards since I was a child, and I have learned from experience that people need to have things brought to their attention with gentleness.
One of my most memorable experiences was reading regular cards for a boy in school one afternoon, and seeing a problem for his father. We did my Tree of Life spread three times and the same card kept appearing in the heart of the tree. He called me that night and asked if the card meant that his father would die, and I told him no, it was only something that would shake people up. He was very relieved and told me that his father had just been taken the hospital with a heart attack. I learned from that to look for a more complete picture in my readings and to present it carefully.
I also have learned over time that the cards have a very important role to play in the area of counseling and changing the flow of the energies to be more agreeable--in other words, magic. A lot of what I talk about in the book concerning ethics is practical information and understandings that have come from experience. You have to be sensitive to how people feel and what they are able to emotionally process. A reader takes on a tremendous responsibility, because in reality, a total stranger is laying open his or her life before your psychic eye for scrutiny, and that takes a lot of trust. To be anything less than caring and sensitive to the needs of the person being read is to betray that trust. Once in awhile, when I do a reading for someone who is initially skeptical, I will be told that I have no idea how accurate I am--but actually, I do. I just believe in being tactful and circumspect until I can determine what a person is able to handle.
BC: In my research for this interview, I read where it was your practice to put out May baskets - hanging them on the door, then ringing the bell and leaving before the door was answered. I remember this fondly from my own childhood. This seems to be one of those "universal" practices - part of but yet outside of religion or spiritual practice. Do you find, as I do, that there are many such things in your life?
AM: Certainly there are a lot of the ancient customs that have been adopted into mainstream society and even into mainstream religions. The New Year’s ritual of biting on 12 pomegranate seeds for prosperity [or eating 12 grapes] with each stroke of the clock at midnight is one of many such practices, although probably more common in areas with a Spanish or Portuguese background. Throwing a coin into a well, wearing a charm of a mustard seed in a glass sphere, tying a ribbon onto a tree branch, braiding colored strands of thread into a bracelet for wishes and wearing it until it falls apart [popular in Brazil], and participating in many of the customs of Halloween, Christmas, or Easter are modern interpretations of the practices of Pagan Europe. Maypole dancing on Mayday was even a grade school activity during a spring fair when I was a child.
BC: Was being a practicing Green Witch always part of your path? Was this a normal flow of life for you (i.e. hereditary), or at some point did you make a conscious decision to become a solo practitioner?
AM: Practicing the Craft has always been part of my life, so that even as a Solitary Practitioner, I still have the family atmosphere. I made a conscious decision at 15 to put aside the mainstream umbrella to make my path purely one of witchcraft, so while my mother lit candles at a Catholic church, I supplemented her magic with my own being done in my room, using candle colors, herbs, and those symbols and sigils I felt appropriate. I did have access to some translated Grimoires while in college, and sorted out what I felt was relevant for my own practice.
I have a rational approach to the spiritual, meaning that it has to make sense and be consistent to the magical premise of union with the Goddess and the God in all things. There is “perfect love and perfect trust” where the Divine is concerned, so while others may be quite comfortable working with the Kabbalah and Ceremonial Magic, these approaches generally annoy me due to the misrepresentation of the ancient deities as demons, the inherent level of fearfulness--even when invoking angels--and the convoluted prayerful verbiage associated with the magical process. It is a matter of personal choice, not a matter of wrong or right--if you get results, it must be right for you. My heritage is that magic is easy, not complicated--that it is something natural, not difficult. So while I do not personally care for ceremonialism, I do enjoy “playing” with the sigils and seals, occasionally adding them to candle magics, spells, and so forth because there is a resonance for me with the energies of the planets and the Elementals.
BC: What lead you to the decision that you would become a teacher of your Craft (to others outside of family)?
AM: When my mother passed on 10 years ago, I realized that there was knowledge she never shared with me, simply because the need had not arisen, and I knew the same undoubtedly happened with her and her mother. I decided that I needed to preserve what I could of my family heritage, putting it into written form for my children and sharing it with whoever felt called to it.
When my brother, who was two years my senior and my only sibling, passed on suddenly about four years ago, I again felt that sense of urgency that something precious might slip away without being passed along and I needed to make use of whatever time I had to supplement the information I had already gotten published--to round out the heritage for others to read.
Some aspects of my heritage differ from things commonly taught, such as the types of spells, and other aspects had not been clearly expressed, such as how to move energy in magical workings, so I wanted to break it down into its component parts and present in a manner that would allow anyone to comprehend and adopt what appealed to them.
My hope is that more people will be able to experience the joy and comfort of the Craft as I have. My mother’s passing was actually a celebration of transition, with words from the Goddess, a vision of her spirit in passing, and hearing her laughter and teasing as we went through the whole funerary process.
My brother and I came to an understanding about an issue that I never realized bothered him until after he passed and we worked it out together. In witchcraft, there is no “death,” only transition. That kind of connection and communication is so wondrous that I want to share it with anyone who is interested, hence, my books.
BC: The series of Craft books that you have written is amazing - books that inform as well as teach. What was it that lead you to add Tarot to that cycle?
AM: I began reading with ordinary playing cards, but when tarot decks began to appear in America, I turned to those because their images provided an excellent focal point for visions. Over the years, I have accumulated over 50 decks, and I have found that some work better than others for me and in different ways.
Some seem to work better for spiritual matters, others for physical matters. One deck is so decorative there is nothing else that gets through to me, but another deck is so versatile I call it my “Teflon” deck because I can go through a series of readings clearing it for the next one by simply waving the cards in the air.
I realized early on that when I use the cards, I am mentally adjusting the pictures to suit my personal Craft images, and I wrote an article for Llewellyn’s 2002 Magical Almanac about this. People responded very positively to this, so I went ahead and developed the theme into a more comprehensive book. If the book gains the interest of the public, Llewellyn may well commission an artist to do up a matching tarot deck, which would delight me no end! I dabble in art, but I am not proficient or talented enough to produce my own deck, so I would simply be giving some ideas to a “real” artist to bring to life. Since reading cards and using them for guidance, meditations, and divination is part of my path, I felt it was natural to focus on this in a separate book.
BC: What role has the Tarot played in your life?
AM: I use the cards for divination, but also for spell work, meditation, and counseling. To me, there is no point in reading the cards if there are no alternatives to what is presented, so they form a starting point on any given issue.
I like to tell people that the cards tell you what energies are around you, what ones are dissipating and what ones are coming towards you, so if you don’t like what you see in the cards you can make changes because the energy is still in motion and you have advance notice. But if you like what you see, you just let things continue the way they are going.
Although I read my cards whenever I want an idea of how things are on any given issue, I don’t always listen to my own readings, and that is always a matter of choice--sometimes we insist on learning things through experience!
BC: In "Tarot For The Green Witch", you work a great deal with card pairing and interpretation. Can you tell me a little bit about how this form of interpreting the cards developed for you?
AM: The purpose for showing the pairing of cards in the book is to give people an understanding of how one card plays off another. While you could conceivably read a spread as individual cards, my experience is that the reading makes much more sense when you put them together--rather like telling a story--so that one card flows to the next. By showing pairs, you can then expand this to more cards to see how they influence one another.
Learning the cards by simple key words is the starting place, but the readings can become much more expressive and expansive as you begin to recognize the nuances of the cards due to the ones around them--the “value” of the card evolves and changes as you progress through the reading. If you start off with a question, for example, and lay out the cards, you can then modify your question and re-examine those same cards in the spread, seeing how their perception changes. Should I feel that I am no longer getting new images, then I know it is time to lay out some additional cards. I shuffle the remaining cards, cut, gather, and lay out modifying cards over one of the main spread.
One of the keys to readings, for me, is to focus the interpretation in relation to the question--which is what I like to use the Elemental Spread for. Another method is to lay out nine cards in rows of three and read them horizontally, vertically, and diagonally. The center card--number two in the second row--is often a pivotal card. But no matter what the technique or spread, one card leads to another for a coherent statement, and one card clarifies the interpretation of another, showing the subtle influences and the proper perspective in which to view each card.
BC: How does interpreting the Tarot in the Green Witch manner differ from traditional Tarot interpretation?
AM: The earliest surviving Tarot deck--the Sforza deck from 1450 Milan--had a lot of pagan imagery and did not have references to the Jewish Kabbalah or Christian Ceremonial Magic; the Major Arcana was not numbered; and the pips were not illustrated, thus having no up or down. To me, the addition of the Kabbalah and Ceremonial elements, particularly popular in the nineteenth century, drew the cards into a worldview that was more attuned to a Christianized Europe, and numbering the Major Arcana was a way of incorporating the mainstream vision of time, like history, as a linear progression with everything pre-Christian viewed as evolving towards a flowering that is Christianity--don’t even get me started on Scholasticism!
The Craft view is more holistic and connected, and time, like history, is not a linear progression, but a spiral dance. While I can utilize the numbering of the Major Arcana, I prefer to use the cards as an intuitive tool that invokes the lunar aspect of the Goddess for psychic understanding. By relating the Tarot cards to Nature, the Elementals, and the Lord and the Lady, I am looking at what is familiar to me and returning to a consistent Pagan worldview of the cards as applied to the modern Craft.
I know there are tarot decks of angels and saints, but even with these, the divination rationale is a masked pagan one, for the religions from which these images are drawn reject the use of Tarot, and divination on the whole. The Tarot, and indeed any kind of divination, is pagan in origin, no matter what the format or the focus of the cards. The intuitive meanings come from within, so the Craft images can be mentally superimposed over any type of Tarot deck, and that is what I have done.
The cards, as I see them, relate to the Goddess and the God, the seasons, the Wheel of the Year, the Esbats, tools of the Craft, and the life and abundance of Nature. With the Devil card, for example, I do not accept the Judeo-Christian interpretation of evil and fear, so I see that card as representing what these religions perceived as evil and fearful, namely, Nature--be it human nature, the wilderness, the passions, or the natural unfolding of events. But it also becomes a card that represents free will and the freedom of choice--do you choose to be upset over things you cannot change or do you maintain your sense of humor and move on? Do you make compromises that tie you to things or do you liberate yourself? Someone who stays in a troubled marriage for the sake of the children, for example, may accept the bondage of this card only to later embrace the liberating aspect by ending the marriage when the children are grown and on their own.
I had a lot of fun going through Tarot decks to select cards to illustrate the book--I only wish they could have been printed in color. The cards I used were those I felt came closest to expressing my vision. Yet many aspects of my interpretations, such as my alignments of the suits with the Elementals, are actually quite the norm, being found in numerous styles of Tarot decks, such as the Robin Wood Tarot, the Mythic Tarot, the Tarot of the Old Path, the Hanson-Roberts Tarot, the Wheel of Change Tarot, the Sacred Rose Tarot, the Rider-Waite Tarot, and even the Thoth Tarot. The last three are those of the Rosicrucians, the Golden Dawn, and Aleister Crowley respectively, so there is much about my own view of the cards that coincides with typical norms. One major difference perhaps is that I feel there are sufficient cards in the deck as to not require reverse readings, unless intuition suggests otherwise.
Astrology has also entered into the cards in the past couple of centuries, and I know of readers who utilize this quite well in their readings, but I consider astrology too slippery a topic--if you go with a Sidereal chart common to most of the world instead of the Tropical chart common to the United States, you could be off by an entire sign!
Using the Tropical chart, for example, a reader we know always assigns the Queen of Cups [Cancer] to my daughter, but she and I both know her card is really the Queen of Swords [Gemini] in the Sidereal chart, and that is truer to her personality and appearance.
I also see all Aces as power cards, read upright, and the pips as being related to the Major Arcana of the same number or a distilled number. So with a spread containing pips and Major Arcana of the same number, the reading of the pips can be interpreted in relation to the Trump card, as it were. If, for example, the Standing Stone/Justice [11=1+1=2] or Drawing Down the Moon/the High Priestess  is in a spread with a 2 of Pentacles, Swords, Wands, or Cups, the nuance of the pip card can be augmented and clarified by the meaning of the trump.
Hopefully, I was able to convey a sense of this with the listing of paired cards, and also with Appendix A where numerology is blended with the tarot for the reader to find an annual influence card, personality card, and life pattern card. I find that the more I work with the cards, the more in-depth the process of interpretation becomes--they are simply a remarkable tool with many applications.
BC: Ann, I want to thank you for taking the time to do this interview with me. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading "Tarot For The Green Witch", and will now be backtracking to review some of your other work. Do you have any final words of wisdom that you would like to share?
AM: Thank you for the opportunity to visit with you and your audience.
Bonnie Cehovet is a Tarot Master, a professional Tarot reader with over 10 years experience, a Reiki Master/Teacher and a writer. She has served in various capacities with the American Tarot Association, including Secretary of the ATA Board. She is co-founder of the World Tarot Network and Director of Certification for the American Board for Tarot Certification. She currently has columns appearing in the World Tarot Network newsletter and on the Meta Arts e-magazine site (Gateway to Tarot). She is editor for her own monthly newsletter, Gateway to Tarot, on Yahoo Groups.
Interview © 2003 Bonnie Cehovet
Page © 2003 Diane Wilkes