Discovering Raven's Loft
In the quaint little town of Escondido California, down streets lined with antique shops and pet stores, past the churches and school yards you find traditional America. Good people live here with good family values. This town is wrapped in ideals that are just as reflective of Middle America and the heartland as any small town in Kansas. That's why it's so interesting to find that in the middle of all this hometown and apple pie there is also diversity and, more importantly, there is acceptance and understanding.
Over on Grand Avenue, just a few blocks from the local church, you will find a small shop with an alternative vision. The name of the store is Raven's Loft. The owner is Raven Grimassi, author of several books and a leader in the local Pagan community. He and his partner, Stephanie, have spent several years enlightening all who will listen to the "old ways." Many have learned that the clarity they seek requires taking a spiritual step back in time.
It was an honor for me to interview Raven on Sept. 21st, the day of the Autumnal Equinox and Raven Loft's Psychic Faire.
C: A store like yours is generally searched out because other religious shops don't offer what those of the Pagan belief need. It's not something that you can find in every town. It's nice to know that you can have something like this in a town like Escondido.
RG: We were hopeful that the community would be here and it is, so that worked out well. Because Escondido is a conservative city.
C: What is your vision of Raven's Loft?
RG: The way that we see it is, that it's not only a business for us, but a networking community center for everyone as well. So our vision really is to bring people together, to have a place for people to come, not only to get the supplies for their spirituality, but to also to be able to network
C: I also know that you are an author and have written several books. Your latest book was "Beltane: Springtime Rituals, Lore and Celebrations," can you tell me a little about it?
RG: Actually it is the sixth book that I had released; it was really the first book that I wrote at the request of publisher. The others I wrote because I just wanted to write them. The publisher is doing the Sabots of the year. Beltane came along and really, not much is known about Beltane. Beltane by that name is exclusively Celtic. The Celts, as you know, didn't leave any written literature, so we really don't know a lot about it, but we have references to written work by Greeks, Romans, scholars, historians and what not of that era. So I thought that it would be nice to bring it all together into a book in modern ways of looking at it and some of the things we know about antiquity, to show what these rituals were really like and what the customs were like. So it's a book of folklore, ritual and spirituality kind of mixed in. Beltane really, to me, is all about the beginning of spring, the new cycle of rebirth. I tie it into the Green Man theme of understanding that nature is alive and conscious. Rituals like Beltane venerate nature and help us come closer to nature; to see that we live in common cosmic energy with nature, but that we don't master nature, at least we don't do it very well. But if we live within common cosmic with nature, it works fine.
C: If I'm correct, you are or have some Italian heritage?
RG: That is correct. I am half Italian, a quarter German; a quarter Scottish.
C: I know that you have written a few books on the Italian Strega. How does the Italian paganism differ from that of the Celtic paganism?
RG: Actually there are more similarities than there are differences. We tend to work more with spirits, than what you would find in other traditions, especially ancestral spirits. We keep an ancestral shrine that honors the memory of the spirits of our ancestors, that is the intricate part of the Strega path. You don't find that in a lot of the Northern European traditions. You do find Samhain, the festival where they acknowledge that, but throughout the year, they don't seem to be a continual theme of that veneration. Other than that, it's pretty much the same. The wheel of the year is different, but that is because of the logistics. The mythologies are a little bit different, we still have the Horned God, the Great Goddess, the Sun and Moon connection. For us (the Strega's) the Solstices and the equinoxes are the greater Sabots. Where, in Great Britain, they are the lesser and the cross quarters are the greater. Again, that has to deal with the difference in the culture and the climate and what was more important to the people. Like I said, there are more similarities, more so than anything. I was originally initiated into the Pictish or Gaelic tradition and British tradition as well. So I have seen first hand the differences and similarities of both traditions. Really there are very, very few differences in what we do, just in when and how we do them. We pretty much are practicing the same religion.
C: If I can back up just a little bit, the honoring of your ancestors, is that similar to the Native American tradition?
RG: Perhaps, maybe, we have a shrine that we keep. It's called a Lare Shrine. We put something that represents the ancestral spirit-- like a little figurine. Anytime that there is an event such as a wedding, a death, some family event, we light a candle on the Lare Shrine and put some grain and an offering of some kind like milk, honey and wine mixture in a little shell. We invite our ancestors to be a part of this event, so that the line doesn't really die and there is no really absence; you know it's always an ongoing thing. We also go to them in the time of trouble. We light a candle and ask them for help, enlightenment or advice that can be taught in a dream or something like that. Because we believe that the ancestral spirit stays with us. We believe that the actual person isn't there anymore, you know.
C: So your human body is just a vehicle for that energy force?
RG: Right, and we don't believe that there is a little pack of individuals that are our "Uncle Guido" or something from the past, but his essence. The essence of the ancestral spirit is a conscious thing in unto itself. Just like the earth is a consciousness.
C: How do you perceive the future outlook towards paganism?
RG: I personally feel that it is starting to be more accepted. Yes, I think it is in many ways. Partially, I think that it is tied into the general movement towards appreciating the planet that we live on as a whole. People in general are being a little more respectful and understanding the relationship of all living things; how it affects the earth, the pollution issues, recycling issues. People are becoming more conscious and aware, so they are starting to re-think a lot of issues now. We no longer seem so scary to them now. They may see us in the park or hear about us having an Earth Day celebration, it no longer so bizarre to them. They can sort of wrap their minds around what we are really are doing. I think that witches though are still having trouble. It's just the word itself, it's kind of scary. Pagan, they don't really know what you mean by that. But if you say you're a witch, people still fall back upon the stereotypes and their ignorance of what they think that is. The witch with the green face and the long nose with the wart on the end. I was remarking to Stephanie last Halloween actually, that I was looking out the window of our store, at the store here on Grand Avenue, I was noticing that they were putting up the Halloween decorations with the ugly witch and all that. I remarked to her that isn't it funny that here we are in the 21st century; it's still okay to mock and undermine this particular spirituality. You couldn't do that and get away with it if you were doing any other ethnic group, like you couldn't put a Jewish depiction of somebody overly esthetic or someone who is black or Muslim making them with the big nose or what have you or a Buddhist making fun of the Buddhist up in the window. But the witch is still okay. She can be ugly and green and people cackle and all. That is one religious group that is still okay to treat that way. I said, isn't that odd that everyone thinks that is okay?
C: It's funny that you should mention that because I have a friend that for Halloween one year she dressed up as Jesus. She did a great job, yet everyone was appalled and called her a blasphemous.
RG: Right, right exactly. I think that pagans are starting to make a mark by the good things that they are doing to educate the general public, for example, Pagan Pride Day. Also too, I think that it has to do with the media and the newspapers that are showing that pagans, witches and the whole group, I mean are people who are store owners, doctors, lawyers, police officers, fire fighters, bankers, whatever. So this starts to breakdown their ignorance, to say, "Now wait a minute these are normal folks." When we went to open this store, we were a little concerned. The first thing that we did is, that we went around and met with the other store owners. We just introduced ourselves to them using our mundane names. We explained that we are opening a gift store. We talked and visited with them; we bought a few things from them and we built up a little repose with them. And then when we opened the store, and they came by to say "Hi" and "Congratulations" and then saw that it was a pagan/witch occult theme. It was funny to watch the looks on their faces, because they had prior to that come to like us, they just thought that we were really nice folks, and now they had to throw that up against their stereotypes of the ignorancethat they had. You could see their brains were trying to digest that information, "You're really nice people, but you're pagan, but you're." You could see that happening in there you know. But I think that it was an educational thing for them, to have them come away thinking "Gosh, maybe I misjudged, you know this whole group of people." Actually, that is what happened because we are still friends with a lot of store owners in this area because they don't have the ignorance that they use to have.
C: What prompted this psychic fair?
RG: Well, again, it was the sense of community; bringing people together to network. We thought about bringing people down. We had talked about the other day on how people have been so disturbed and moved by the events of the World Trade Center, people aren't sure of their future and what is going to happen. We thought that people could find some peace and balance by coming down. Sitting with a psychic talking about their emotions and their fears. You know psychics often times become councilors more than they become prophetic. So we just thought that it would be a good idea to offer that to the community and come on down to the center and have that experience.
C: Recently the world became a less safe place due to the events of the past few months, such as the World Trade Center disaster and the war. Is there anything that you would like to share on that aspect?
RG: You know, I look at it and, to me, it is a very remarkable demonstration of how little progress we have made as a spiritual race, that people would stoop to something that barbaric in the 21st century. Without the concern and compassion for people that are going to die that are in no way related to whatever problems these highjackers think they have with us; that they would be willing to kill innocent people to make a statement. I think that that is outrageous. Why it happened? There is a lot of hatred and ignorance in the world. The powers of light and darkness always try and work towards a balance. We say what evil did at that moment, but then we also saw what good did at that moment when people went down and risked their own lives to save people. Spirit does that dance. You really cannot define good without bad, you have to have that balanced. I believe that no one deserved to have this happen to him or her. I don't think it was because of anyone particular group of people, it's just a general hatred of what we as Americans stand for in the world. And they have their reasons for hating us and, to them, those reasons are valid. I think that one thing we as Americans have difficulty with understanding is that these people feel justified in their actions. You have to kind of stop for a second and say, " Well they felt justified in doing that." And from their perspective we are "the bad guys" and what they did was a holy thing. For us to try and understand that is so difficult. I certainly do not see it as a justification for anything, but I do understand that they do hate us and that I do understand that they do believe that they are the righteous people in this act. You have to go to spirit at these moments you know. You have to look at it and you have to realize that this is their pain and their ignorance. And evil looks for those weaknesses and then acts through them. That is what we saw. We saw evil come through, but evil didn't triumph. It did its act, it was ugly and it was destructive. Now out of that, the whole nation has become unified. People are raising flags; donating blood and money; people are risking their lives to save these people. The lot of good that is being generated far outweighs the evil that is done. Evil is very concentrated, very dark and very profound. Now I am hoping that people will stop and look at that and go, " Gosh, look at how much greater good has come in and counterbalanced stuff." That is what I am hoping for anyway.
C: I have tried to teach my children that good shall always overcome evil. But not so much good as I think true and pure love. These are times when you have to look inside yourself to find out where your spirit lies. I have also taught my children that if you're going to hate anything, hate the act and not the people who committed the act. I feel this act was generated out of the jealousy, fear and hatred for what we as America represent.
RG: That's right. And hatred looks for a vessel, and it has found one in these people.
After I was done with Raven, I had the privilege of speaking with Raven's partner, Stephanie, about the vision of Raven's Loft.
S: The vision of Raven's Loft was actually one that we both shared even before we came together, that we would have a store that would serve the community and a store that would serve a common cause within nature itself, to be able to offer the ability to get together so we all could share our views about the earth, the spiritual path; generally having the feeling that we do have a place here that we can unity and do something, along with the force of the retail part of it as well. We really have made a great effort in trying to keep our prices so that we can serve the community so it was affordable. So the whole vision of it was really about a place where the community could come together and share; also teaching people about spirituality. Everyday we have people coming in asking us about the path. To really be a place where we can help educate people what this path is really about. To also help dissolve the misconceptions about it too, which I think is really important. There even are people who are seeking the path that have misinformation about what it really is. It's a great opportunity to have that, because you know they are seeking. They want some answers. So they are willing to listen. It is just our opinion of it and we have that to offer which is really valuable.
C: I have noticed from just a few classes that I have taken here, that there is wealth of knowledge that can be gained and it's not just in one religious trek. I tried to follow many religious belief systems
before I came home. That's how I look at it anyway.
S: That's the beauty of it, we don't try to prophesize, lure or convert people to this religion or spirituality. We do, however, give them the opportunity to hear an alternative to what most people had been exposed to all their lives, then they make the decision as to whether it is for them. Some come back with a lot more questions and the others never come back and that's fine, because they realized that it isn't for them, as it didn't resonate with their heart. Or it really did and they want to learn more. Then, if that is the case, we help guide them where to go next, whether it be a group or an organization we put them in contact with or specific teachers or we suggest a certain book. We really use our discernment as to what is the next best step for the individual. I think that that just comes from experience of having practice ourselves. Then again, being exposed to an enormous amount of people from the traveling that we do, with Raven being an author, and the events that we do; the book signing we do and just being able to interact with people all across the nation. So it really gives us an overview of how to lead people and help guide them in the direction that they want to go in, at least opening the doorway for something new for them to think about.
C: Shops like yours allow others to be more open about their spirituality. I used to be very quiet about the spiritual path that I chose, now I am comfortable to be of a different light. If asked, I tell people that I follow an ancient Celtic tradition or that I follow an old religion in a new age.
S: And that is unthreatening as well. I like that, an old religion in a new age. I usually tell people that I practice the old religion. If they want to know more about that, I let out a little more. Then, if I see that there is a little more interest or there is a disdain, I adjust my conversation to their responses. I do that here in the store. There was an older lady that came in today that said that this was all very new to her. She seemed a little scared, so I explained to her that in this spiritual path we believe in the Great Creator. The reason why we see it in the polytheistic way is because of this. And I am sure that no one had ever talked to her about that before. You want them to feel comfortable, to ask questions if they have them; to feel that they can come here, and that is really what we strive for.
C: How do you deal with the younger generation, who look to this as the new fad or in-thing just to "fit in"?
S: These kids are pretty assertive in their personalities, I usually assert myself with them. I ask them if they know what kind of store this is. I really kind of try and draw them out so that I can have that conversation with them, so I can find out what they know, what they are doing with it and what the kids are all about. If they are receptive, I will talk with them, if not, I usually leave them alone and just let them do their thing. If they want to buy a pentagram, I always, always ask them what this represents. They will either say they do know and then I ask them to tell me. Some really do know what it represents and I will let them know that they really do know. I then ask them what books they have read or are you studying with somebody. How did you get into this? I generally try to draw them out, so that if they want to come back and ask some questions, they can. Now, if they don't know what the pentagram means, then Raven or I take the time to tell them about it. What it does represent and what it doesn't represent. You know that you don't wear this upside down, so people don't think you're Satanists. Then I ask them if they know what that means. We are always trying to find out what they know. We also tell them what their responsibility when working the path. Even my son wears one. I told him he wasn't able to wear it in public until he was able to talk about it. He needed to know what it means and what it meant. And he has honored that. One never wants to be put into a position where they have to defend it. It's not like that. It doesn't matter to me that one doesn't agree with my spiritual path, I know what it means to me and what it does for me. It is the person that I am and, by virtue of me being my whole self all the time, is an example of what my spiritual path is. And that is exactly what I tell people. This is all external. The external part of it comes from the inside. It is as above so below, as within so without. All your external world is. is being expressed from within you. Until you have it in you, you are not truly living your heart, the core of your being or what your spirit is. If you don't know it inside, then all the rest is imprudent. Magic isn't something that you read in a book, magic is there everyday. You create magic by how you guide things around. True magic comes from within, it is the knowledge of knowing that you can change things. You are the one moving the energy around. It is a part of your life and how you guide yourself and everything around you.
I would like to thank Raven Grimassi and Stephanie for taking the time to speak with me. If you are interested in more information, check out the Raven's Loft Web site at http://ravensloft.stregheria.com/ or you can also look for stores like Raven's Loft in your own community. There is a world of knowledge waiting for you. Take the time to discover it!
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