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Interview with Alta Picchi (a.k.a. Alta Kelly)

By Maeve Kelly

When I first did this interview with my mother (Alta Picchi), I was taking an anthropology course called "Religion in Society" at UC Davis. Part of my assignment was to do ethnography of a local religion, interviewing people in the local Davis community for my research. (It is interesting to note that NROOGD also started out as an assignment for an Anthropology class!) I decided that I wanted to interview this lady named Cayce, who ran a local woman's circle in town and taught Wicca 101 through the Experimental College. What I decided to do then was interview my folks and compare where the difference lay between the local circle I was studying in to how much things have changed and adapted when my parents were first involved with NROOGD. Adaptation was, in fact, the key argument I was presenting in my paper. I was looking at several aspects. First, how to define change and adaptation in the pagan community and second, what new roles does a religion take on in a community through this adaptation?

BTW, I hope you get the fact that this interview was for an assignment for an anthropology class in religion in society, which is how NROOGD got started. Cute don't you think? I think Erif will really enjoy that.

I was fascinated at how Cayce ran her group compared to what I knew and had experienced in the Craft community. I decided to use the formation of NROOGD as a guidepost, because it was something that I knew and had personal knowledge of. I asked both my mom and dad (Aidan Kelly) a series of questions pertaining to the notion of how they changed and adapted within the Craft. Some of these questions related to what they thought about the Craft movement, but more particular about NROOGD. However, in questioning both my parents, I learned more about the Craft and what my parents thought about movement as a whole. Yet I feel that in writing this article, sharing what my mother wrote to me, about how she feels about NROOGD, to be the more important of the two interviews.

The following is the actual interview I had with my mother Alta Picchi (a.k.a. Alta Kelly) through correspondences on May 25, 1995:

M: What did you get out of creating NROOGD?

A: A lot of self-confidence in working with crowds. A feeling about a way to work with groups. A working knowledge of decisions by consensus, which in the original circle was the way plans and change were established (talk to me about this). A sense of wholeness about my abilities. I also found a place for my anger about my life situation at the time. I learned a lot about alternative life styles and working with gifted and weird folks. I increased my knowledge of historical witchcraft, by reading most of the books that came my way about the craft.

M: What did you contribute to this organization/tradition?

A: I brought extensive training into group and community organization from my professional training and experience (professional psychic and social worker)...Well, I didn't create NROOGD, I just helped to add a few things to the organization. I worked a lot on the day-to-day planning and footwork that makes a group stick together... When the group (coven) began to jel and folks wanted to get together more, I helped in some of the planning around group gatherings for large meetings. This took work to pull off an open meeting (sabbat) for a gathering of 50 to 200 people. Just the arrangements alone kept a number of us busy: renting or reserving space, planning and getting equipment, coordinating transportation, food, costumes, answering the phone, and mailings when we got to that point. I also worked with Aidan in organizing the first study group and coven outside the original main group. This was an intensive training for folks, so it required Aidan and I to have a course outline. In those beginning days, I believe, we met once a week for x number of months. When we developed another study group and coven, we required a lot of work from the folks involved: weekly meetings, full and new moon meetings, quarter and cross-quarter circles, and individual training sessions with trainees. I was firm in my belief that trainees needed lots of training before they achieved their cords. (This stemmed from the years it took to get a cord in the original circle. In the first circle folks received their white, red, and black cords over the course of years. Some when they felt ready. Some when their turn came up as they waited for senior members to get theirs.) We developed slowly in those days. We didn't quite know where we were going, so we felt out when and where the next step was to be and created a ritual to meet the need. Your dad was very good with rituals, but he wasn't alone in developing this...So, I was active in training new comers. Helping to organize large and small meetings (inner and outer craft stuff). I also brought to NROOGD my training and interest in chanting, mediation, and psychic development. Certainly not everyone was interested in this, but if it worked in circle, folks tended to use it again and again, until it became part of the ritual...I also started a newsletter and named it "the Witches Trine". This was picked up and developed by the group and went on for some years.

M: I have heard a lot of dad's side of the story, but you being one of the most quiet of the original members, I was wondering what you thought of the evolution of the Craft movement?

A: I think it shows that there is a place for everyone; that the hold of the Judeo-Christian society has weakened in the 20th century. The Craft meeting the religious needs of some people and it's growth in the U.S. is a sign of this. It is the safest "outsider's club" around (or was).

M: What have you felt has changed greatly from the time you were teaching in covens and/or in the community?

A: Until five years ago, I could trace NROOGD members to the original coven members who started NROOGD. I couldn't do it now without some help and a chart. As far as my ideas of what makes for good training or a good witch...I don't know where that is now or if any of it has lasted. I believe things change to meet the needs of the times. Introducing the male god into the circle as equal to the goddess is different for me and I don't feel comfortable with it; just another change...The in-fighting and power plays between individuals and groups is human nature, but it does get in the way of the religion. This started way back as the original coven began to take itself seriously and the interest in the group began to grow.

M: What type of "patterns" have struck you as being peculiar about the movement, new or old?

A: That there was such interest in this (NROOGD) and it has lasted and influenced the start of other groups. That your dad's creative work became part of the craft domain and folks presenting his work as if they had created it or it was a very old ritual. This came about in the third and fourth generation of covens. The rituals and poems began to be rewritten, added to, and changed, both odd and interesting. Gossip and myths started to appear about the original group and its members. This gave me a good view of what other religions must have gone through in their beginnings.

M: Do you feel the Craft tradition NROOGD can fit still with the times?

A: Well, it is fitting with craft times. I don't know about the U.S. in the 1990's, although folks still seek it out.

M: Do you think that as the movement still progresses, the Craft can still adapt to its members and provide a function for our diverse community?

A: I think the Craft will adjust to its members' needs and the membership will be attracted by the craft. I don't believe this will ever be a mainstream religion in the U.S. or in Canada. And depending on the society, the membership will grow and shrink.

M: Lastly, do you think the reason why NROOGD was created was that it provided you and everyone who were first involved a religion that could change and still keep its integrity?

A: No, I think NROOGD was begun as a creative exercise and filled a need for a bunch of bright, bored, and under worked people, who where looking for a way to express themselves. And it was a good place to be different. They got a thrill out of dancing, smoking, having sex, having a secret, and being an expert about something forbidden that didn't make them ill, land them in jail, or get them killed. In the beginning it was also very much a neighborhood and a huge friendship group.

A personal note on NROOGD from Maeve:

I think that the idea of religion being able to function as a way to express change with the needs of our culture to be a useful way of defining the social function of religion as a whole. The crucial part is the ability to adapt to those changing needs within our culture without losing its own integrity. I think that NROOGD, as well as most of the other traditions in the Craft, has proven to be capable of accomplishing this without losing its vital creativity in meeting its member's needs. Or as dad would say, "There are two things that human beings do well, sex and creating new religions. IF people don't like the religion they are in or feel that they are not getting what they need, they tend to vote with their feet."

In closing, I would like to ask everyone in NROOGD and those elsewhere, what you think about adaptation and change. Do you think that NROOGD or the Craft, in general, can clearly define the use of adaptation and change to fit one's own needs as a social function of religion? If so, how has it changed from when my mother was involved? I know that we all have thought about this on some related level. Many of us wouldn't be involved in NROOGD, let alone in the Craft movement as a whole, if we hadn't.

Bright Blessings to everyone and may we see another 30 years of our tradition grow.

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This work is copyright 1998The Witches Trine and the author. All rights reserved.

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