If you haven’t had the pleasure of spending some time with Tylluan Penry you are missing out. She is one of the most charming, welcoming and wise internet personalities out there — a perfect neighbour.
I love how every one of your videos starts with a kind of incantation. You share your name and then tell us who you are and what you do. I always hear gravitas in the words … Solitary … Pagan … Witch. When we interviewed Joanna van der Hoeven she casually described the solitary witch as a bit of an anarchist and I thought of you immediately. I saw your cosy house, the overflowing garden and your delightful dogs. There is such a nice balance between the wise things you say and the spontaneous comic relief of your dogs doing doggy things. I wonder how you feel about the importance of abundance, chaos and surprise for living a spiritual life.
Oh definitely. I am a bit of an anarchist at heart and always have been. You know, I was the sort of person who fought back against school rules but in ways that didn’t quite break them but still managed to annoy those in charge. I don’t like rules very much , no matter where I happen to be. I suspect rules don’t like me, either …
My garden is a case in point – Mr Penry calls it ‘benign neglect’ and it’s funny how things thrive when you’re not spraying them with slug pellets or putting down weedkiller! It overflows with all sorts of plants and greenery, and although deep down I would like to have neat vegetables growing in rows, it never happens. I’m better at wildflowers, (weeds) and insects. In much the same way, my study is full of books and I am still tempted to buy more. I hate the idea of getting rid of any of them.
We never stop learning you see, and we never know enough. Always beware of anyone who tells you otherwise.
However, I think the greatest abundance in our lives should be love and compassion, because without those two qualities, we’ll make very poor witches indeed.
I live in a certain amount of chaos, but it’s my chaos and as I am fond of saying, I don’t ask anyone else to pay for it, live with it or clean it. I really wish people would get on with their lives instead of looking sideways all the time. It’s important on a magical and spiritual path to look where you’re going. If you keep looking sideways you’re liable to walk into a lamp post!
As for surprise – yes, we have to be adaptable to we can cope with whatever comes our way. Just when we think we’ve got a handle on something the gods have a way of hurling a curve-ball in our direction. We duck, run, get hit by it or catch it. It’s up to us.
Regarding the way I introduce myself at the start of my videos, I think it’s very important to name myself, and set out who I am,. The old Anglo-Saxons were great fans of naming, especially in healing. They would name the patient and his father sometimes, and like to name animals who were being magically healed too!
The repetition of the intro to the videos is also important and very traditional in a way. Ancient story tellers (you can see it at work in the Odyssey for example) had ‘stock’ phrases and sayings that they inserted into the story. This was partly to adjust the rhythm of their tale, but also (I suspect) to get them a few moments to work out what they would say next. My talks are all completely unscripted, so I think this might be why I do it – it’s a pause before I start. Maybe …
In one of your videos you describe a powerful memory of you and your mother going to a park where she promised to show you how to create a garden. She carried a pair of scissors and snipped bits of grass, some low, some high and popped in some daisy flowers here and there. You said you had a revelation that a garden exists in more than one place. There is the garden of here and now but also the garden of the imagination. That understanding to me feels like the very essence of magic: the power to imagine a future.
Yes, it is. It’s a simple premise, yet has the potential to be intensely complicated. A bit like my idea that all magic is at heart either ‘Please’ or ‘Thank you.’ We are asking or thanking. (And sometimes just exclaiming how blessed we feel). But even that is complicated – whom are we thanking? Who is out there? Spirit? Deity? Higher Power? What do we believe they can do for us?
I like how you leave those questions open for the listener to decide for herself! And I love the idea that this understanding came from someone purposefully weaving connections: mother, daughter and the land. When you create your videos do you see yourself as carrying on that kind of teaching role? Do you see yourself as a friend or perhaps mother figure for your viewers?
I think these days I’m more of a grandmother figure! Yes, in a way I do see myself carrying on a tradition in my videos, but of course my mother’s family did nothing but hex, and I think there’s enough nastiness in the world without my adding to it, so although I’ve written extensively on psychic self defence, I don’t think I would ever consider writing a book on hexing.
I do try to share experiences that have taught me, too, in the hope that they will help others. Sometimes people contact me with questions I’ve never even thought of but I do my best to answer them since I know that it is precisely these questions that will trip up solitaries. People need to feel they have someone they can ask.
Actually the idea of being part of a tradition is the main reason I started writing about my path. When it became clear that my children were not going to become witches anytime soon, I wanted to ensure that my knowledge wouldn’t be lost. This way, newcomers can pick up where I leave off. That said, I think most of my children have a certain witchiness about them. And my youngest granddaughter definitely has magical skills – children seem to grasp it all so instinctively. It’s such a pity they lose it as they grow up.
My main concern in making the videos was to share information and answer questions. I always feel that I have learned far more from readers and audiences than they ever learn from me. I refuse to put adverts on my channel – I want people to be able to just watch them with no distractions.
The thing is that we are surrounded by different worlds and it’s up to us to work out (a) how to spot them and (b) how to engage with them and (c) whether we ought to engage with them. I suspect a few may be better left alone!
You often speak of authenticity in your books and videos. You’ve suggested that becoming a witch depends on learning to be true to oneself. That the energy we find there can infuse everything we do. You have suggested having honest conversations with oneself. To ask: Does something speak to your spirit? Does it feel right? And then taking some time to explore why.
Having honest conversations with ourselves is really important because we all carry around so much baggage that we need to tidy up and (sometimes) lock away. It’s important to try and do this. Self interrogation is very helpful on a spiritual path (and I do see my path as spiritual and not just about casting spells).
Being true to oneself may have been an extremely difficult endeavour for some generations in the past though of course there have always been rebels.
It’s a funny thing, but people often used to tell me I was a rebel, and then my husband said, ‘You’re not a rebel, you just hate injustice’ and that’s certainly true. I am horrified at those witches (some of them authors or running courses) who proclaim to ‘harm none’ and then support politicians or policies who are extremely toxic. We do need to be aware of this. We cannot be a witch in a vacuum – what we believe has to infuse what we do, too.
Do you think the pressures of society are easing? Is it easier today to be a witch?
In some ways it is easier, yes. But I still get a bit of flack now and then from people whose outlook is stuck in the 1950s. A lot of witchcraft went under the radar years ago, passing itself off as folklore, and of course the late Victorian and early Edwardian period did a lot to foster this. You’ve only got to look at Frazer’s Golden Bough. It was a huge work.
I may get a lot of flack for this, but I suspect that people like Margaret Murray were often right in their theories. It’s become very fashionable to debunk her and her work nowadays, but don’t forget she was an academic in her own right. She went on archaeological digs with Sir Flinders Petrie and used to run his classes at University when he was away. She was a very intelligent woman, and I suspect that one day the tide may turn back in her favour
One of the biggest problems I’ve noticed (or at least, it will become a problem if we don’t recognise it) is this insistence that ordinary solitary witches should somehow be incorporating ceremonial magic into our practice. It’s fine if we feel really drawn to it, (personally I don’t) but we shouldn’t be pressuring others to do it. Solitary witchcraft is no less powerful for being simple – it’s just that the power resides in a different place (i.e. within us) and we have to activate it ourselves with a minimum of tools and ceremony.
I like to think of Imbolc as a quickening of the earth. A celebration that is less about the precise first day of spring and more about attending to those first flutterings of life. You once said that awareness and the feeling of oneness with the earth is what marks a witch. What is your corner of the world telling you these days? (Note to readers: This conversation dates to January 2019)
My corner of the world is awakening more slowly than many other places. The rhythm here is much slower – we don’t even have the daffodils in bloom on St David’s day (March 1st). But that’s just a combination of climate (nearly always raining) and the mountains. The rhythm is slower up here – we have to feel the seasons. One of the best guides for me is birdsong. I can hear it now (mid January) and it’s changed in the past few weeks. They are happy, joyful and busy. It’s lovely to listen to them.
I often feel we don’t exercise our senses enough in understanding the world around us. It changes gear through the seasons. You can sense it. And at times like the solstice for example, if there’s a new moon or a full moon, it does change the energies around us. But we have to practice, and feel it for ourselves.
Being a witch is a lifelong process. Sometimes it flows quickly, sometimes slowly. We learn to go with the flow and see what we can make of each and every opportunity that comes our way. We are on a lifelong path, and how we walk it is down to individual choice.
I feel it’s important to study on our path. We can’t really avoid it if we want to progress. We need to study ourselves, the world around us and the many worlds beyond. We need to learn about philosophy, nature, the stars, mythology and folklore … the list is endless. But it doesn’t need to be difficult. I remember once taking all my children out of school one day when we’d had a tump of snow, in order to take them out on a nature walk. I showed them the footprints of birds and small mammals, we marvelled at icicles and the noise of snow suddenly falling from tree boughs. And do you know they still remember that! That day was better than any lesson they would have had in the classroom. It stayed with them forever, which is exactly what the best lessons do
If I had to give some advice to a new witch, I would just say, “Be kind if you can. And if you can’t, well, at least avoid being cruel.”