Austin Shippey's Strange World of the Occult
Austin Shippey, aged twenty-three, has been making a splash in the strange world of the occult, being recognized as a priest of Alexandrian Witchcraft and a worshipper of the Old Gods. He has travelled the country speaking on esoteric topics, spiritual healing, and the forgotten beliefs of our distant ancestors. I had the privilege of speaking with Austin on a crisp, breezy June night at his covenstead. I had received the address only hours before and was instructed to come alone, bringing only my camera and a tape recorder. I was to arrive at 9:00, and if I was going to be late, not to arrive at all, for at a chosen time a witches’ ritual was going to take place. Little did I know that this wouldn’t be the only time I spoke with him and his fellow witches, nor did I realize that this meeting would spark a spiritual fascination that could only be quenched by learning the secrets for myself…
I arrived at the quaint yellow house and had no idea what to expect. Was I about to encounter a pack of nut-jobs, a crazy cult, a group of Satanists in the upper echelons of society à la 'Rosemary's Baby,' or a devoted religious group as I had been told?
The door promptly swung open and I was greeted with a gentle smile by a beautiful young female witch, a 'priestess' of the religion, who refused to be named for this interview. She wore a silky, light-green evening gown and strange magical jewelry in glistening silver. "Hello, you can wait in here. There's tea if you'd like." The mysterious priestess disappeared into the back of the house. Tattered books covered every shelf, and the decor of the house had a tinge of that hippie style so in with the youth right now.
I stare at the tea in front of me, untrusting, yet thirsty. I reluctantly take a sip... 'Nothing's in it, it's just plain ordinary Lipton's tea.' I thought.
Finally, the man I have been waiting to speak with enters the room, dressed in an eye-catching bright-red paisley button-down and a pair of dark jeans. Around his neck is a shimmering chain, from which dangles an ankh--the ancient Egyptian symbol of life--with a tiny flower in the center.
We exchange pleasantries, and I begin to interview one of the most unplaceable figures I've come to interview. For in his apparent openess and honesty, he seems to conceal an abundance of secrets.
“What do you think makes witchcraft so popular in our current times? Is this a good thing?”
Austin Shippey: Witchcraft is spreading across the world in interest and fascination, from people who purchase a book written by one of our members and decide to practice some of our traditional folk methods, and even to those who choose to get initiated and learn the sacred methods of the priesthood which we would never publish. I think in our unsure times people realize that taking charge of life mustn’t only happen on the earthly plane, but also on the spiritual. Our Goddess has always been a Goddess who breaks the bonds of those who have been oppressed, she calls for freedom and believing in your own personal power. That is a message that sounds loud and clear right now.
People are drawn to the light of the Craft, but that doesn’t mean they will get initiated; the occult arts have always been for the few. At the end of the day I am happy if witchcraft is responsible for shaping a freer, more enlightened society.
“What do witches know?”
Austin Shippey: Witches have been called many names, the Wicca being one of them, meaning “The Wise Ones.” A new initiate must begin their training in the hermetic systems, mystical qabala, angelic magics, meditation, and the study of historic magical books. Witches must become adept at meditation and altered states of consciousness—which psychology is only recently catching up with. Study in magic continues for life and necessarily involves the study of world spirituality. At the end of the day, each of us lives up to the title of priest or priestess. We are students and devotees of the God/dess that man has known by many names throughout time.
“How and why did you decide to become a witch?”
Austin Shippey: I've always been aware of the spirit world; I felt this even as a child. I was always fascinated with religion and the different ideas of God and spirits, and paired up with that terrified of demons and the Devil, and afraid of stepping away from Christian ideas for fear of eternal punishment. As a child there was no time where I didn't ponder the spiritual possibilities of the world. When I began to mature I decided to open my mind and explore world religion and the spiritual sciences. After a period of exploring and reading all that I could get my hands on, and attending spiritualist and Pagan meetings, I decided I wasn't going to become a Druid, meditate while contemplating my navel, travel to India, confess my sins, or sing Hare Krishna in the streets. Not that I disagree with those paths, but they just didn't have what truly resonated with my soul.
I then discovered the Craft. I was struck by photographs of a mysterious priesthood bathed in moonlight, dancing a dance handed down from before the Crusades and witch hunts. I read of ancient Gods and secret methods of magic taught only to initiates, mouth to ear. I learned that the witches have a Book of Shadows--which is copied word-for-word from the initiator's book--that contains the Cult's traditional rituals and beliefs. Most importantly, I felt a very unique power surrounding those priests and priestesses, an energy that pulsed with wisdom, vibrancy, and a quiet understanding. I knew that this was right for me; I felt in my bones that I was meant to be a witch. I needn't seek any longer, because witchcraft was still alive and breathing. The Witch Cult still exists! It was then that I decided to take the oaths and be initiated into the Magic Circle. That is how I became a witch.
“What happened when you became a witch? Were you bestowed with any powers or abilities?”
Austin Shippey: [chuckling] In a sense. At our traditional rites we are given a power which has been passed on through initiation from woman to man, man to woman--this is how it has always been done. We are anointed and given some of the secrets of the Cult. We are taught to invoke our Gods and spirits. We learn secret names, invocations, alphabets, recipes, and are taught how to wield and master our own personal powers. We learn to travel to and receive knowledge from the other planes of being in spirit form. We teach that the greatest strength can be found within ourselves, and that there is no part of us that does not come from the Gods.
I have the power to heal, to open doors where they before hadn't existed, predict the future, speak with spirits both human and inhuman, and many other things. My specialty is in astral projection and the control and exorcism of harmful spirits. The most basic rituals we utilize have remained relatively unchanged since pre-history and the first explorations of divinity. This is why we lovingly call our cult “The Old Religion.”
“What happens during this initiation you speak of?”
Austin Shippey: The initiate is blindfolded and challenged, the challenge being borne they are consecrated a priest or priestess and witch, then properly brought into the coven and taught the secrets. The further details I am forbidden to say.
Why do people always accuse witches of worshipping their Gods in the nude?
Austin Shippey: Because we do! [laughing] Although, we also use robes and are trained in the effective usage of magical garments. We are all born naked, to us it is natural, holy, and free. Witches work with power, and many of the rituals require us to be naked for the proper power to be obtained; the power we utilize resides in our bodies and can be drawn out by various methods. Science has called this power by many names, but no matter how you know it, it causes miraculous things to happen. It is also a sacred power, which is why we teach the occult law: harm none. A witch who uses their power to harm others is at risk of losing all, including their very life—it is unwise to use such a holy gift for evil. Our Goddess, being the Mother of All, teaches us to be free from slavery. There is nothing more free than being at peace with yourself and the body you have been given.
“What do you hope to accomplish being public? Obviously, many people out there believe you to be evil, or simply delusional.”
Austin Shippey: I want to somehow shine a light in a world where magic is often forgotten or feared. The universe is vast, and the many ways that mankind connects with the Divine Source of Life are all beautiful when being used for the ultimate good. As for the people who think I'm delusional, I think everyone is a bit delusional—but I have personally seen magic work. When you see miracles happen before your eyes, it is hard not to believe.
We are reminded, via a matter-of-fact interruption by a priest I have yet to meet, wearing a spotless white robe, that it is time for the ritual to begin. As I am led to the front door I can smell a faint whiff of incense drifting through the house. Little did I know that this would be the first of many visits to this strange little time-traveling house tucked away in the suburbs.
(Continued on page 13 . . . . . )