An Interview With Pat Devin
Pat Devin, both a Dianic Elder Priestess and a member of Coven Ashesh Hekat, as well as Public Information Officer of Covenant of the Goddess, Southern California Local Council, is listed in the credits of The Craft as a consultant in the making of that film. We thought it might be interesting to get an account of her experiences in Hollywood.
Interview by John Brightshadow Yohalem,
In December, 1994, I received a phone call from Matthew, who runs The House of Hermetic, a shop that has been a longtime fixture in the Los Angeles occult community. He had been contacted by a Sony publicist, looking for a Witch to act as technical advisor on an upcoming production, tentatively titled The Craft. Matthew felt it was important that we attempt to have as much influence on this production as possible, as it would be a major studio release, with the likelihood of much press and publicity. He and I agreed that, regardless of the content of the film (this being Hollywood, we could only hope for so much) the presence of a credible, knowledgeable and experienced spokesperson, whose focus would remain on the reality of our religion, could prove vital, if not during filming, then afterward, as the publicity machine got rolling.
At the time, I was First Officer of the Southern California Local Council of Covenant of the Goddess, and was serving as Co-National Public Information Officer. Matthew gave me the phone number at Sony and I contacted the publicist, who set up a lunch meeting with Andrew Fleming, the director of the movie, and Ginny Nugent, the executive producer. I honestly don't know what images they held of Witches before they met me, though I suppose I could infer a bit from what was in the script, with Lirio "smiling creepily" at Sarah in the shop and the description of the old woman at the back of the shop (a character consigned to cutting floor oblivion after I spent months trying to improve her image) as a Spanish-speaking, decrepit, cackling hag with stained broken teeth and scraggly hair.
I learned later from Matthew that the publicist contacted him again, asking if he had any other recommendations, just in case, for some reason, they didn't want to go with me. Matthew assured them that I was the best candidate for the job and declined to offer anyone else. As it turned out, there was one other candidate. Babetta, proprietress of The Sorcerer's Shop, a local supply center, who, for many years, billed herself as "The Sexiest Witch in L.A." and who had acted as consultant for previous productions, was also considered. She is best remembered in some circles for a nude pictorial she did several years ago for a men's magazine, in which she pretended to be having sex with a swan.
I'm not certain why they agreed to go with me - I've suspected it's because I did not try to sell them candles! I think there was a pivotal point during our initial lunch. We'd been talking for a couple of hours. I'd been explaining my almost 30-year history as a Witch, talking about the religion, the inter-connectedness of all life, Immanence vs. Transcendence, the importance of the Goddess, the reasons for Inquisitorial propaganda (complete with woodcuts) and, oh yes, what color candle I would use for a love spell. They told me a bit about the movie, that it concerned teenage girls who begin to experiment with magic as a way to attempt to gain power and control their lives. I could understand that, having been a teenager, reading Sybil Leek, singing "Season of the Witch" and joining my high school girlfriends in midnight Ouija Board sessions. Andy leaned forward in his chair. "Pat", he said, "You'll have to remember that this is a movie. It's Hollywood. It's not intended to be a documentary about the Wiccan religion. It's intended to make money. It will, hopefully, be entertaining. Do you think you can work with that?" I replied that I would like to see the script, but I would certainly be willing to try.
The first version of the script that I read I considered pretty encouraging for the genre. There was no mention of Satan, aside from the line about if God and the Devil were playing football, Manon would be the stadium: more Gnostic than Wiccan, but a great line. The Law of Threefold Return was already a major part of the plot, as were Lirio's discussions about magic itself being neutral.
The beach scene was originally set at Winter Solstice, in a circle of black candles in which the girls intended to sacrifice the small animals they had with them - although all the animals escaped unharmed when Manon was invoked. I realize that sacrifice is a traditional part of religious practice - Pagan and non-Pagan - but I assure you that, had any of the animals been hurt in the scene, I would have thrown a fit. In fact, I objected to Sarah picking up a goldfish plopping on the sand and releasing it in the sea, as goldfish are freshwater fish! Andy, somewhat bewildered, asked if I really thought anyone would notice.
The fact that the first script I read contained discussions of magical ethics and the consequences of misuse of power was exciting. I could see the possibility of a decent movie. In re-reading the earliest version of the script I have (which was not the first version I read, as that got filled up with my comments on post-it notes and sent back to Andy for revision), I see no reference to "a glamour", so that was probably a suggestion that came from me, to explain what the girls were doing with the magical illusions (at that point, these included briefly turning themselves into boys!). I know that Andy had never heard of binding, before I suggested it (or the importance of binding without harm). In the original script, the characters of Rochelle and Bonnie, having realized that Nancy has totally lost control of herself, joined Sarah in trying to stop her. This resulted in a fight where Nancy, after threatening to slit Rochelle's throat, ended up dead - impaled on a closet coat-hook: this led to a very long post-it note from me to Andy to the effect that Nancy, who had been abused, neglected, molested and finally driven mad by attempting more than she was prepared for (a lot of this was much more explicit in the first script) was not intrinsically evil and did not deserve to die. Andy agreed and changed that.
My goal for the rituals and chants was that they be authentic, if generic, and that they contain nothing that could not be easily found in at least two books, or plausibly created by teenage girls. I told Andy that, if the girls were going to threaten Sarah with death for leaving the Coven, he needed an Initiation where the girls committed themselves to each other. I wrote the Initiation scene, using widespread and common wording for the challenge. I suggested several possible ritual acts for that scene. Andy chose a drop of blood in the wine, which is based on a rite of my 1734 group. I asked my High Priestess' permission before suggesting it. I wrote the opening chant (it originally had about 12 lines, Andy and the girls chose two). I belong to two covens - one Dianic Feminist Separatist and one in the 1734 Tradition. The words in the scene are similar to what you'd hear in my Women's circle. I consulted with both of my covens extensively, running my ideas and concerns by them and getting input. The idea that the girls wanted "a fourth" so that there would be one to call each Corner was mine - often, in my Women's circle, we have a different Priestess call each Corner. I assigned each girl to an Element - so did the art department, though we differed on two of the girls. I had Sarah as Earth, Rochelle as Water, Bonnie as Fire (because of her burns) and Nancy as Air (in part because, in my Women's circles, the Priestess of the East usually "controls" the rite, initiates the next action, and so forth.). The art department decided Bonnie would be Air, Nancy Fire - because Fire was more threatening. (Twister hadn't come out yet!) In the rituals and chants I wrote, the girls still have my Elemental assignments.
It was my idea to change the beach ritual from Winter Solstice (and black candles) to May Eve (red and multi-colored candles) especially when the art department realized that a Winter Solstice scene meant Xmas decorations at the school, on Hollywood Boulevard, etc. I'd been trying to figure out how to get Andy to change the scene to Beltane, anyway, because I thought the dialogue would be more appropriate (and much funnier for Pagans: "He filled me") and because of Beltane's energy being so appropriate for young women and their blooming sexuality. Most of the actual ritual on the beach, including the invocation, was in the original script, except for calling the quarters. Ironically, in one scene that was filmed (but not used), Sarah performed a healing ritual for Bonnie at the hospital using sage and wine and invoking the Goddess in a chant.
Who is Manon?
As I understand it, in very early versions of the script, each of the girls had her own name for the Ultimate Deity. In the first version of the script that I read, Rochelle was still calling the Ultimate Deity "Noah". Manon was Nancy's name for Deity. When I first read the script, I joked that the girls were actually invoking the spirit of a pissed off blond French girl who was angry about her father's death (from the film Manon of the Spring). It turned out that's exactly where writer Jim Filudi got the name - he just liked the name. I told Andy to drop "Noah" and, after consulting lists and lists of God/Goddess/Demon/Angel/Spirit names, to stick with Manon, as I didn't find it listed anywhere and I didn't want hordes of teenagers running down to the beach or out to the woods invoking anybody real.
I realize that there are Deity names that sound similar to Manon, but just about any name you pick is going to sound similar to some Deity from some culture, somewhere. I've since been told that Manon may be a minor Water spirit - well, I looked and other people looked and we didn't find it listed anywhere, which is why we used it. In the original script, Manon is described as hermaphroditic, bigger and older than God or the Devil. I have a version of the script where Manon is referred to as "She" as well as "He" (I pointed out that, for a hermaphroditic Deity, "She" would also be appropriate), but Andy was never really comfortable with that and in the end, despite the urging of myself and the actresses, the masculine pronoun prevailed.
(We understand that, lately, Manon has been turning up on lists of ancient deities - but only since the movie appeared! Never underestimate the spiritual influence of Hollywood.)
Did any of the actors or other participants get interested and want to read books on the subject?
Robin Tunney (Sarah) was the only one of the actresses who had done no research and knew nothing about the Wiccan religion. I gave her The Truth About Witchcraft Today, by Scott Cunningham. Rachel True (Rochelle) pulled The Spiral Dance out of her backpack at our first meeting. Neve Campbell (Bonnie) had done research for the part. Fairuza Balk (Nancy) had been born into a Renaissance Faire family and had a Pagan upbringing. She had a lot of books and knew quite a bit. After the movie was completed, she bought Panpipes, a Magickal supply shop in Hollywood. Though she does not run the shop, she owns it.
On the last day of shooting at the beach, one of the actresses asked me to Dedicate her to the Path of the Goddess. We walked up the beach in the dark, away from the lights, to a cove where I Dedicated her and presented her to all four quarters. For her name, she took a name that I'd told her I would have named my daughter, had I ever had one.
As you know, Ethical Witches do not proselytize. The Craft was seen by approximately one million people in its' first weekend. If one in ten of those people are intrigued enough to look into the subject further, maybe read a book (and now there are shelves full of books!) that's 100,000 people who will at least be more educated about our reality. If one in ten of those people chose to pursue the subject further, that's 10,000 people out of the first weekend.
I began calling myself a Witch at 16 because Donovan wrote a song called "Season of the Witch". I do not underestimate the impact of the media on teenagers and this movie was brewed up for the teenage audience. One look at the lead characters tells you that much. It was not aimed at mature men and women who occasionally like to dress up in the woods and whose major conflict is over who gets the last piece of chicken at the feast (as long as we don't count the Witch Wars that are generally proof that some folks have too much time on their hands).
How frustrating was it to have your suggestions ignored?
That depended on what I had suggested - was it something I thought might be nice or something I felt strongly about - and why it was ignored (money and marketing considerations were most frequently cited). I wasn't "ignored" - a lot of my suggestions were acted upon and virtually all of my suggestions were given careful consideration, even if they didn't all end up in the final version of the film.
I was saddened when some of my favorite scenes in the script were cut. Scenes that I thought really advanced the characters and I'll always miss the truly magical final scene in the original script, that had Sarah reading to a group of little girls and, as she reads, the story comes to life around them, and they are in a forest clearing, with deer and birds around them. I loved that scene.
What recommendations do you have for anyone else who gets into your position, i.e. technical advisor on a film about witches?
First of all, remember that, no matter what you do, you won't be able to please everyone. I decided to try to get as much truth into what was, after all, a teenage date spooky movie, as I could. I knew the results would not be perfect, but I felt obligated to try, as the movie was going to come out in any event. I knew that I would be criticized for my attempt to be as authentic, if generic, as possible. But, of course, had I chosen to just make it up, I'd have been criticized for that.
Have a basic knowledge of how "the business" works, try not to be too attached to any scene, character or idea and be prepared to compromise, as, trust me, you can be replaced. Have a sense of humor - you'll need it!
Interview by John Brightshadow Yohalem,