An interview with Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki
Provided courtesy of ConnectionsJournal
Copyright Connections 1995
In a most unusual interview, Dolores, Summer and friends sat down in a local restaurant. Amidst tidbits and main course, Dolores and we managed to share a bit of her history and wisdom.
Connections - I've only read one of your books, but it seems you have been all over the United States, as well as the rest of the world. Watching your schedule on Internet is fascinating.
Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki - They've been trying to get me on Internet for two years. I look at it this way, if I don't know, it can't upset me. Basically, I come over twice a year. April, May and then most of July. Occasionally, I come over in the late fall to see a friend of mine in Philadelphia.
C - So, where did all this start? Did you grow up in a family which was pursuing this type of life?
D - Yes, my parents were third degree initiates in the Hermetic Western Mystery Tradition, but my grandmother was a Witch, pure and simple.
C - What was a child's life like in that environment? Was it hush-hush, were you instructed constantly?
D - No, I was told things, I was shown things. But no one ever actually set me down and said that this is how you do this. I would just stand around and watch and stand and listen. My grandmother taught me quite a lot, I learned a lot from Gypsies. During the war, when we were evacuated we went up north to something called the Wittle Peninsula, which is quite notorious as a place where the veil is very, very thin. Where I went to school there is a big moorland on one side and the Gypsies used to camp there and I would go play with the Gypsies and with the Gypsy children. Finally I used to go see the old grandmother whose name is Bastol; she taught me tarot cards and taught me to tell fortunes. Things came to a sudden end when a neighbor told my mother she had seen me at the local goose fair, which is something that happens two or three times a year, telling fortunes. My mother took great exception to this. That was the end of that, but not before I learned quite a lot.
C - Then within your family there were no structured events?
D - Family tradition. And that is quite different than a school or an order.
C - Did you have rituals and celebrations?
D - From my grandmother there were seasonal celebrations. Most of her stuff was not as formal as the stuff my mother and father did. Yes, we had celebrations. The Western Mystery tradition, it's Golden Dawn type of stuff.
C - Does it differ significantly from what we read about here?
D - Yes it does. Ceremonial magick, because it doesn't belong to a particular order, had a certain amount of free form. It's rather like a dress that you can tailor to the form that suits you.
C - We have been discussing the difference between ceremonial magick and religious magick. We finally came to the idea that it can be both, it depends on how much structure you put into the ritual.
D - I disagree there. Ritual magick for me is Church magick, in the sense of the Mass, and Evensong, and Matins and Vespers and so on and so forth. For me Ceremonial magick deals with the old gods in the main. Or symbology as in the Cabala.
C - I had heard a different connotation, in that straight ceremonial magick had a straight mechanistic attempt to control the god. Like the young kids summoning things and trying to be in charge, they went to the right spots and the right places and said the right words.
D - That is a dreadful concept.
C - It may not be uncommon. You see it in science fiction, you see ceremonial magick completely divorced from the idea of religion.
D - What serves the gods, does not control them.
C - Right. So, how to define it.
D - You can't define things like magick, it's undefinable, it's unutterable, unknowable. You do it, it does you, you work together. The very idea of setting out to control the god call or the force of the god call is completely anathema to ceremonial magick.
C - The more we try to find out what it is, the less we know.
D - Chaos magick tends to want to control, and of course you find people using ceremonial magick with medieval alchemical magick which controlled, or supposedly controlled, demons. For me ceremonial magick is almost like a court dance. There were set patterns in which one side recognizes the other, and you advance and the other side advances, and you retire a little and the other side retires a little, you turn to the side and do something else and you are together again. It's like a stately court gavotte and it's all done to a specific pattern so you know exactly what you're doing and what you want out of the ritual. So you lay down the foundations of the pattern, or the dance, you state your intent, you invoke the gods to join you, not to stand over them with your wand and beat them around the head. You invite them to join you and you say "Look, look at my pattern; this pattern says this is what my intention is; this is the way I have invoked you; this is how I am invoking you."
C - It's an etiquette.
D - Yes, very much so, very, very formal.
C - I think a lot of this investigation of magick outside of one's self and one's world had to do with a lot of the fantasy role playing games and the mechanistic set-ups where if you added this herb and that and that you would get results. It did become pervasive in the culture as part of the definitions.
D - In the way young people approach this there is no courtesy, there is no correct way, there is no etiquette. That is a good word. There is no etiquette. You wouldn't walk straight into Windsor Palace and knock on the Queen's door and say come to tea. In the same way you don't barge straight in and say, "Isis come here!"
C - That is a wonderful way to put it, it's an intricate dance to delight each portion of the conversation, you have the comfort, you have the reassurance, and you have the honor and dignity, and then you can converse.
D - My teacher had a phrase he used very often in conjunction with ceremonial magick, he called it "woven paces, weaving hands." You would circumambulate, you move quietly with dignity to this corner, to that corner. You use this gesture or you use that gesture. You use symbols drawn in the air, you use symbolic phrases. They are all designed to say to the Gods "We have made a place for you, the best we can, but it's not like your place. But we have dedicated it to you. Please come and join us. We have something to ask you." And then the deity, if it decides to come, manifests in whatever corner you have placed it. Then you go about saying to it, "This is the reason why we have called you, and we need this in order to bring about that situation." It might be healing, it might be that rare book that you need, it might be weather witching, it might be all sorts of things. But you have always got to accept the responsibility. When you change something, no matter how carefully you define it, you charge something that has been set from the day of the first creation was called. So you are exerting that strange little gift that the creator gave us called free will and when you think how many people per day exert their free will, that is how much creation has changed every day.
C - Do you think the respect you have for these structures in your upbringing was inherent in the type of learning you had?
D - It was certainly, how would you say, not pounded into me but I was certainly instructed in it. I was taught that courtesy on the inner levels was as important, perhaps even more important then courtesy on these levels. On these levels if you are rude to somebody they can be rude back. On those levels you are liable to get whopped. Which is an entirely different thing.
C - I think psychotherapy is inherent in the path of study
D - Of course it is, it is the sacred science psychology and magic together.
C - For those who do the year and a day and think they are complete, I am dismayed.
D - No, I am sorry. In most cases they are just starting up. I must judge by the individual. In the SOL we have white cords for those who are not initiated. Once they have gotten past the twelfth lesson, they wear a golden cord, which they wear until they are initiated. I decide when they are going to be initiated. I decide on the quality of the work that they are doing, they way are holding themselves, behaving themselves, the way they behave in public.
C - Was the group you were associated with as a child also involved in these pursuits or were you unique?
D - In the Channel Islands people keep very much to themselves. They all know more or less what you are doing unless you are very careful. But the witchcraft laws have never been repealed in Jersey where I live, never been repealed at all. But neither has the Droit De Seigneur. (Ed. Note: This is a custom where the lord of the area had first night rights to the bride of any new marriage.)
C - What about your public schooling? What did you gain there?
D - I gained ordinary knowledge like any child. I was taught not to make any allusion to what I was or what my parents did, that was absolutely taboo. There always have been witches in Jersey, and there still are. There is still a coven in Seple, in fact. To this day I couldn't tell you more than half a dozen names because it's all kept pretty quiet.
C - How did you progress from such secrecy into such a public figure?
D - I went through the wall. Normally when children reach puberty they close down and you sort of regain your psychic abilities in your late teens or early twenties. I didn't. The combination of the bombing and stress and sheer fear. During the war I went through the London bombings, Coventry and Liverpool. We had to move from Jersey because the Germans occupied it. I was there when the first few bombs hit Jersey, they threw a few bombs to scare the hell out of people. There was a submarine that got the boat in front of us, so we kind of sailed through bodies. Bits and pieces. It normally takes eight hours to reach England from Jersey but it took us eighteen because we had to zig-zag. Then we went up to the north of England where we had relatives. It's a little promontory that's called the Wittle Peninsula. It's halfway between North Wales and Northwest England; it juts out into the Irish sea, and it's a very magical place. With the combination of all the bombing and all the stress, I simply didn't close down, I just opened up more and more. So I had to cope with growing up wide open psychically, which is why I tended to go off with the Gypsy children because they didn't think this was strange that I could see things. That is what made the old lady take me under her wing. I went to school there and when the war was over we went back to Jersey.
C - How old were you then?
D - I was sixteen. But I had already spent a year in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and I wanted to go back there so eventually I went back. I wanted to teach drama, and I did get a teacher's certificate. But I had to get practical experience, so I was put into a repertory company, which is what you call summer stock. We traveled around and did all sorts of things and then right out of the blue I developed a strong soprano voice, so I was shifted to Trinity College of Music. I left there and went home again and made the biggest mistake of my whole life. I got married. Everybody thought we made a nice couple, so why shouldn't we get married? I got to the church and I said to my bridesmaid "I don't want to marry him. I don't think I like him." She said "It's nerves, dearie." So I went down the aisle. Six weeks later l knew, I really knew, I had made a mistake.
C - How long did this last?
D - Three years. I was lucky, I didn't have any children with this little bastard. That was the end of that, so I went back to London to finish my studies at Trinity College. I was studying opera. And my teacher called me in one day and said to me, "Give it up. You look alright, your acting's good, your voice has got real potential. You'll never get there. You haven't got the will to kick people in the teeth." And I didn't, so I gave it up.
C - Where did you go from there?
D - One of the things that I loved doing, fencing. I have a thing about knives. And I was very good. I fenced for the Islands against France and against England, had cups and trophies for it. And so as a hobby and to keep my off other things, I joined a fencing club. And I went to this school that was run by a Hungarian, who looked me up and down, and never bothered to say, "Can you fence?" Just assumed that I couldn't. And said to me, "I 'will find someone who will teach you gently. Do not be afraid." So he dug around and he dragged out this tubby little Pole, who went through all the various moves, and said this is what it is, and this is how you hold your foil. And then he said, "Le planchet is empty. Try a few gentle moves." So, we did. And when he had picked himself up, he was three feet off the other side of the Le planchet. And he had an eight inch gash in his arm, which was bleeding profusely, which had gone clean through his protective jacket, and he looked up at me and he said very accusingly, "You can fence!" And I said "Yes, nobody asked me." And he said, "I think I'll marry you, it would be safer; So he did.
C - Is that your husband today?
D - Yes. I kept my father's name on. Everybody else ended in girls. I soon found out much to my delight, that my husband was also not psychic, but interested in this kind of work.
C - So, he was not amazed as you became more involved in working in it?
D - Not at all. In fact he became involved in it as well.
C - So, how did you come to actually working in it, was it back in 1972?
D - When I married Michael was in 1957, and we lived in England for a little while. And we came to a decision to go back to Jersey because it was a better environment for the children. We had been back in Jersey for about two years when, 1964-63, we came into contact with the Society of the Inner Light which was Dion Fortune's, and we took their course of study. In '67 we were initiated both into that. We came to know W.E. Butler of the Inner Light and there was an immediate rapport there, as if we picked up where we left off years ago. He and Gareth [Knight] and I were put into something called the Helios course. We asked permission to join this, which was given, and we took that course and became supervisors. All of the sudden the Inner Light got a new wobble and we were persona non grata. We had to move out because they didn't want anybody who had gone to another school. This despite the fact that Ernest had been a founder/member of the Inner Light. This often happens in occult schools. When we were initiated, the seeress who watches everybody come in, she was very ill. She threw up all over the place afterwards because no one had ever shifted to such a degree. She said to the then-warden "Watch out, these two will bid fair to take over the Inner Light." Then we went back into the Helios Corps. Then about 1970 Gareth went on to other things. At that time I came into a small inheritance, very small, but it was just enough to buy the copyright. So we bought the copyright and gave it to Ernest. But he held it in trust, and he said he would hold it in trust for whoever would take on after that and as it happened that was me.
C - So this was the start of your new career?
D - Ernest had taken over the whole thing and had written the entire course, except for the first six lessons which had been written by Gareth Knight. He was now the Director of Studies and he renamed the whole thing The Servants of the Light. That, in its shortened version of SOL, became a trademark. Now a trademark is actually quite a nice one, it's a double circle with a six-pointed star in it and little lamps filled with flames. Those are the people who founded SOL. Right in the center is a Bee and the Bee stands for service, service to the hive which is the school. The school is linked to the Alexandrian library in the sense that it is a teaching school. We are not a cult, we do not teach a religion. What we do teach is first and foremost we put you through fifty lessons of what is virtually mental psychotherapy, we make sure that you are able to handle magic. In that four and a bit years I teach as a workshop, three workshops, on ritual magic. One, two, three; beginners, intermediate, and advanced.
C - Are these lessons on site?
D - They are correspondence. And we don't have a building; we deal only in correspondence. The whole thing was meant to benefit those who couldn't find a teacher. Ernest was looking, and I didn't know it, but he was looking at that time for a successor. He had arranged with the inner-level contact behind the school, that when the contact found someone, he would get them to Ernest. They would come up to him, give him the name and tell him that they had come to take on after him. And so he sat and waited. And about a year later I had made this contact, I didn't even know who it was at that time. And we were sitting on top of a place called Heatherston Hill in London which is a major road, with traffic going up and down, and this thing appeared by the side of me and said, "This is my name. Tell them you've come to take on after me." And I metaphorically said, "Sling your hook." Ernest was in conversation with my husband, and this thing kept insisting all the time that this is what I tell, and I took no notice. We got up and we started walking down the hill, which was only a few moments walk from where the mother house was, the Society of the Inner Light, where we were making our last appearance before we were chucked out. And we got around, we turned around the corner, this thing was so insistent, I said, "Ernest, you have to forgive me. I really don't mean to be rude, but I've got this thing following us. And he says his name is such and such and I'm to tell you that I will take over your work when you go." I wasn't too happy about this. You know you don't tell an elderly gentleman as soon as you turn your toes up I'll be ready to collect all the goodies and run. He turned around and said to me, "You took your time to come, I'll talk to you later." After we'd made our farewells at the end of the night, we took him down to the station, put him on the train for Southhampton, he stuck his head out of the train and said, "By the way, (and the train's taking him) you're going to be the next Director of Studies after me." And I looked at him, "Oh, that's what that meant." So I went home to Jersey. And then he confirmed this by writing, and I refused. I used to go and walk my dog up and down the beach thinking things out and thinking what it would mean and this thing would keep pace with me and nagging all the time. It took me two weeks. And I kept saying no, kept saying no, and finally, no I don't want this. Too much responsibility, I don't want it, and I've got nothing to teach. I haven't lived long enough to teach. To which it responded, "You don't have to. Open your mouth; I'll do the teaching." I gave up.
C - That or be haunted?
D - Yeah. Very much so. But the contact deepened rapidly after that, to a point where Ernest started to train me as what is termed a mediator. This has now been changed into the god awful word "channeling." Which makes me think of sewers, gutters, various things. But a mediator is one who can hold two or three levels of consciousness at the same time. My contact doesn't like chatting to large groups of people and telling them what is going to come up. It's very rare. In fact the first time in two years he has spoken to more than two people at the same time occurred a few days ago at the workshop If he does it's simply because he feels at ease enough with these people to talk with them. He feels that they really do need that something that he can give them. But more often that not, it is a one-on-one. He's written most of the books. I can't really claim; l just take dictation. He is the one that decides where the school goes and how it does and what it does and whether a step forward will come and how it will come.
C - How much of your preferences, your knowledge, your background do you think is involved in all of this?
D - Certainly, it becomes part of it. He does take that into consideration. And as I become older he does take into consideration that I cannot hare around like a young chicken, although I give it fair representation. But he's a very good companion.
C - Now, your children, did they grow up in the same kind of studies?
D - Oh no, hardly. They would much rather they didn't have a mother who's as we say, well known. Tammy, in particular, my daughter Tamara, she's very psychic herself and she's involved with the Craft on and off, mostly off. She very much dislikes being referred to as Dolores' daughter, which happens. My son has tried to live it down. He went to University in Nottingham for a geologist. Then the bottom fell out of the oil industry; so he came back and took another course of study and got a degree in computer science and went to work in Jersey. And he walked in the door on his first day and somebody said, "Ashcroft, Ashcroft does you mother write books?" And the next day they brought in a pile of things for him to take home for me to autograph. After a few years there he joined the police force because he wanted to do community work. He was very much over qualified for the police, so they soon almost drove him out. He had better manners than most of them, and he really did try to be polite to people and things like that. But they used to call him into the office and say, "We've got this weird thing going on Letank. Now your mother's a Witch can she..."So, he decided to leave the police force and become a lawyer, and he went to London and did a three year course in two years; came out with honors. He's a bright young man. He joined a very prestigious law firm, and he said to me, "Don't call me at the office, don't come in. Don't do anything that may make them think that you're not just an ordinary mother. "
C - Did it work?
D - No, he'd barely been there a week when the head partner came in there with a pile of my books and said, "My wife says will you get your mother to sign these?" So he gave up. You just get used to it.
C - When you took over as the Director of the Studies did you end upmoving from Jersey?
D - No, I wouldn't leave Jersey. That's where my roots are. My family has had connections with Jersey since the 1700s. Although both my parents were born in England, their families have always had connections with the Island. That's where I was born.
C - It seems like a recurring theme with you. You left, but you always came back.
D - Always. Part from the fact it's a tax haven. I only pay 20 percent in the Jersey.
C - I'd heard something about Ireland as a tax haven too.
D - Yes, but not as much as we are. They still have purchase tax on things we don't have. What you call sales tax, we don't have any.
C - How do you describe the course of study you go through?
D - It's basically Cabalistic. Which is to say the Western Mystery rather than the Jewish.
C - Is this similar to what you grew up with your parents?
D - Partly. It certainly blends in well with it. But that was when Ernest was governing it. When I took it over my task, if you like, was to take it out into the highways and byways, to modernize it, to make it more accessible. And to that I have incorporated more popular references, and also I've made the school into something that builds bridges between traditions. So we now have Muslims, Buddhists and Jews, and Presbyterians and Roman Catholics. We've got a Roman Catholic nun, we've got loads of Roman Catholic priests on it, and you name it, Pagans, NeoPagans, agnostics, they're all in there.
C - And are your parents still about?
D - Oh yes. My mum's 92, my father's 90.
C - And how did they see it as you became more openly involved with this? Were they enthusiastic?
D - Oh yes, they've always been very supportive of me. My mother was supervisor for the course until about two years ago. She decided she was getting too old for it.
C - So when you took over the course of studies, your family became involved with you.
D - More or less.
C - Did your children ever get involved in the coursework?
D - Not in the coursework, no. My son will sometimes lock himself away in the office and throw a tarot card to decide which way he's going to take it in court.
C - So you started traveling in '72?
D - 1975 was when I came to the States for the first time; before that it had just been in England. I was invited by some American students to come and talk to them. I fell in love with the country and have been coming back ever since.
C - Do you do this in England as well? Is this a year round course of lectures?
D - England, Scotland, Ireland, Belgium, Holland, Sweden. Denmark next year. They are coming into it. I have been coming down to Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Greece, Israel, Malta, Spain, France, Germany, Egypt.
C - Have you missed any places you want to go?
D - Yes, I've got two places in the world I want to go. The Aleutian Islands and the Terra del Fuego, right down at the bottom. But that is purely for my own purposes. So South America is really the only place I really have to visit.
C - It seems you have a world wide view in the way our spirituality and the human mind has been moving. What have you seen. Does it give you hope?
D - I'm clinging to hope and trying very hard to keep it going, to keep my spirits up. I do despair sometimes, I really do. I see what to me are sacred mysteries being touted around, mixed up with all sorts of things and sold. It's bent out of all recognition, it does make me upset at times.
C - What are your fears?
D - My fears are that the mysteries will become like the orthodox churches, cut up into little bits and sects.
C - What do you think about the way the Pagan movement is progressing in the U.S. such as the new congregational movement?
D - Let me put it delicately this way. When I am in somebody else's house I never criticize the way they lay their table. There are some aspects of Paganism which could do with a bit of cleanup. Which is why when I come over now, I try to teach some of the ancient traditional English 'craft .Not to come over and say "This is better; this is the only way." Just to say look "Here is some of the stuff that is traditional— give it a shot."
C - How many times do you do your workshop every year in the U.S.? The list I saw was extensive.
D - I usually come down the east coast, then muck about in the middle, occasionally go down the west coast, then go up to Seattle. Mexico I visit. I see about 2000 people in the states, about 5000 people world wide.
C - In a sense you are your own force, you are creating your reality and that which you would prefer to see just by the number of people you see and train.
D - I am trying, thank you very much.
C - Is your companion, your uh...
D - Friend.
C - Is he pleased at your success?
D - He seems content, he's still there after 25 years.
C - So how does Michael take all this, does he stay home?
D - Now that he is retired he is starting to do a bit of lecturing as well. He's a mystic. He is in a totally different line than me. Mysticism is magical Christianity, like the Grail stuff.
C - In a sense it's like relational psychology, it's how you use any of these tools to bring sanity?
D - I have a friend in Ireland who refers to all this as sacred science, and that is a damn good name for it. Magic is outmoded as a word.
C - Do you know what you are planning to do in the States next year?
D - Check the Internet. I'm going to be in Atlanta. I'm going to be doing a workshop on the Black Virgin, the Miracle-Working Madonnas. Of course, that includes Black Isis, Hecate and so forth. And here in Denver, I'll be doing something called Within the Temple of Atlantis—which is four and half days, living as far as possible in the Mysteries.
C - You've been doing this for some years?
D - One of three, Within the Temple of Isis, Within the Temple of Anubis, which we have just finished. You cut the temple in half, and one half is the Temple of Helios, which is all white and gold, and the other half is the Temple of Naradek, which is all black and silver. One is ruled by the sun, the other is ruled by the moon. And they interact.
C - It has so many connotations to it, that reality has slipped. We're coming to the end of our time they are closing the restaurant. Are there other items we have not covered that you would like to speak about?
D - I think we've covered quite a lot of it. I would certainly like to do even more in the States, to be quite honest. There's a lot of places that haven't been touched, and you know I'd like to reach more people and help them to see what the mysteries really are.