Gypsy Ravish is deeply engaged with the mysteries of this world. The singer-turned-high-priestess has been in Salem, Massachusetts since the eighties, dispensing wisdom, performing magic, and educating the interested about Wicca, an ancient religion based on worship of divine feminine energy.
CONVICTS took an unforgettable road trip up to Salem to meet Gypsy. Gypsy welcomed us into her space and explained the history of her town, offered us a layman’s understanding of magic, and dispelled misconceptions about the Wiccan religion.
To begin could you tell us who you are and where we are?
I’m Gypsy Ravish, and we’re in the Chamber of Mysteries at the Cosmic Connection, Temple of Stars in Salem, Massachusetts.
What brought you to Salem?
Actually, I was a singer. I was singing in Boston in my younger days because I had a gig up here in Beverly. I was opening up for Dizzy Gillespie and I had a really great band. I met somebody in the audience who lived here and we hooked up and lived together and had a child together. When that didn’t work out I stayed.
Can you tell us about the relationship between Salem and witchcraft?
Witchcraft and Salem are linked in the public mind. Unfortunately, three-hundred or so years ago, a witch-hunting hysteria pervaded the little town of Salem and people were hurt. Really hurt. This grim history has stayed in the minds of the people here. That was really just people being mistreated badly for nefarious reasons. But here in Salem, we have a whole other groove going on about witchcraft, and people come here all the time.
Who do you find is drawn to this town?
It’s a mysterious thing, who is drawn here. People don’t actually know why they are coming, but they are hoping for something wonderful to happen. They want to feel the magic, but they are not exactly sure how they are going to do it.
What are your favorite places around town?
This whole town radiates light. I love walking out by Derby Wharf under the moon, there’s beautiful energy there, we’ve actually had rituals on Derby Wharf with hundreds of people attending. Just walking through town can be inspiring. Certainly, the Gallows Hill Park area where nineteen people were killed under the wrong definition of witchcraft has an energy. I’ve walked that area many a time and the spirit winds blow cold up there. That’s where we have our ceremonies on Halloween night. This was also Native American land, so there may be ley lines.
So you mentioned ‘the wrong definition of witchcraft,’ and I’m sure there’s a thicket of misconceptions around the term. Can you explain what the Wiccan religion is, for those of us who are unclear?
So, witchcraft, known as Wicca to some, is the worship of the Great Mother. The great great mother goddess, who is the womb of world, who is the moon, who is the sea, who can be seen in the sky. Who is the nurturing, protective, sacred feminine energy of life along with her counterpart, the horned or antlered god who is the protector of animals, the god of the forest, the god of the wild. When you talk about the Great Mother, you are really talking about many different animations of that – the goddess with so many different names across different cultures. These are the archetypes of divinity that we work with in Wicca, but the really cool thing about them is that they are not just archetypes or names. They are real energy forms. The mysteries of life are not that easily labelled, but these work.
So if you had to sum up the Wiccan religion, what would you say it’s all about?
Witchcraft is all about the goddess and god. It’s really about reaching into the infinite and bringing energy into your body and soul, connecting with your high self. It’s not just a path of self empowerment. Wicca is a path of service – although self empowerment is important – especially in a world where things can beat you down. But the bottom line is it’s a path of animating love and beauty and spirit into the world to make it better. Witches have always been called caretakers of the earth, so we serve our community, we serve our families, we serve the gods.
So you are a Wiccan High Priestess. How did you come into that position?
It’s so interesting for me to look back and see how I became a High Priestess. I was interested in the ultimate mysteries. Interested in the questions of what is god? Where we come from and where we go when we die?
So what practical steps did you have to take?
I took some classes and did some volunteer work and one day I was initiated. That was when I understood the difference between being a witch and being a priestess. The initiation is a big blessing and a consecration in a magic circle. It’s very transformative, and afterwards I continued being involved in the witchcraft community here in Salem. I went through what they call the grades and eventually went to England and connected with the witches there.
What happened overseas?
They gave me some energy and a job and sent me back home and that was in 1986. My initiators in England said that when they were gone, I might just take up that torch.
What would the job description for a High Priestess be?
The job was to come back and represent the line of Alexandrian witchcraft and our roots. Here’s the other thing about a High Priestess: it’s to bring more people into the craft but not in a missionary way. It’s really about helping one person at a time along their path and bringing them to where they want to be.
Halloween is a big time of year for Salem. Can you talk a bit about this season and how it relates to Wicca?
We celebrate our Samhain, which is the Celtic name for summer’s end, which is All Hallows Eve, which is Halloween. Samhain is the last harvest. That is when you get ready for the dark tide, when you get ready for winter. The cycles of nature resonate with our human life cycle. With the seasonal death of the plants, Samhain was a time when death was very much on the ancients’ minds. So for me and for friends of mine and for the people who come to our ceremonies, we have a congregation called the Temple of Nine Wells that I am the leader of. We’ve been doing our Samhain ceremonies in the place where the witchcraft hysteria happened, on Gallows Hills Park. Halloween is a time to reach out and remember in honor your brother or sister or teacher or uncle or person you remember from your ancestral line that passed away.
Does Samhain look like Halloween, or do non-Wiccans celebrate a totally different version of the holiday?
People love to celebrate Halloween. They don’t celebrate it like witches do, but however a person touches the magic is valid. Children will come in and say ‘Trick or treat’ and I’ll say ‘Happy witches new year!’ It’s really very friendly around here.
So let’s talk about magic. Can you tell us a bit about this elusive concept?
Magic is energy. It’s making things happen with the power of your mind. It’s been defined in a variety of ways but I’ve seen it work. It isn’t just a figment of somebody’s imagination, it really comes down to what we think reality is.
So this is maybe the million dollar question, but how does it work?
Magic is very much a mystery, but it finds its own level. When we do magic, we ask that it be correct for our greatest good and for the good of all. The way things come to be – we call that manifesting – is always surprising and delightful. Things happen in the most perfect and graceful way, so rather than pigeon holing the way magic is going to occur – which would limit it’s flow – we ask for the result rather than exactly how we are going to see it happen. And then we listen, and we watch and we notice.
Lastly, what is the status of the Wiccan religion in these strange times?
There’s a resurgence of interest in witchcraft, Wicca, and alternative spiritual lifestyles now. They say it’s the fastest growing religion in America. Some people are happy with whatever religion they’ve got, and that’s fine. People think there’s only one truth, but there may be many sides to the truth and many paths to the same spiritual center or source.
Any last words for us?
Happy Samhain, Happy Witch’s New Year. May the gods preserve the craft. May peace prevail on earth.
Right on. Thank you so much Gypsy.