This issue, we sit down with Portuguese poet and astrologer Sara Timoteo. Under the nom de plume Cynthia Cassandra, she is the author of the just-released A Child’s Eye View of Astrology (Spero Publishing). Timoteo is also a volunteer with Pagan Federation International. Here, she discusses the origins and importance of astrology, her responsibilities with PFI, and what it means to be a witch in a Catholic country.
Eternal Haunted Summer: If you could correct one common misconception about contemporary Paganism, what would it be?
Sara Timoteo: A common misconception about contemporary Paganism is that paganism somehow implies a commitment to priesthood. Remember that not all Pagans are Wiccan – Wicca is just one of many pagan traditions. Not all Pagans are priests and priestesses – there are worshippers as well. It is not mandatory to be initiated in order to be a Pagan.
EHS: What is the status of Pagans (and Paganism) in Portugal? Are you well-treated by the general public and the media?
ST: Nowadays there is not an open hostility. In my perspective, the general public doesn’t know a lot about Paganism in Portugal, but PFI – Associação Cultural Pagã (representing Pagan Federation International in Portugal) is doing a great job in providing information and support to all who want to know a bit more about pagan ways.
My personal experience as a writer is that Paganism becomes somehow a pretext to make things a bit harder. I find that something is not quite ok with book signings and perhaps I miss some of the Portuguese literary social life because I am both a pagan and a witch. Being a pagan implies one of two options: either you assume it fully or you don’t. I chose to live openly my Paganism so I chose to deal with the consequences of being a Pagan in a Catholic country. One has to get really fast, strong and smart in order to survive in a monotheist cultural environment.
EHS: As a follower of the Iberic Tradition, could you tell us a little bit about your path? Which Gods and Goddesses do you honor? Which festivals do you celebrate?
ST: Iberic Tradition is a very diversified and ancient pagan path called that way because its practices encompass both Portugal and Spain (thus Iberia, meaning the Iberic Peninsula). There is a lot to be discovered and studied. José Leite de Vasconcellos, in 1897, started to publish a series of three books on The Religions of Lusitania that identified more than 100 indigenous deities. Archaeological evidence is always providing new leads for our conjoined studies. As with other indigenous pre-christian religions, we lack written evidence enough to build a reconstructionist approach to Iberic Tradition. However, any works developed respect the basic principles of Paganism – sacredness of nature, polytheism and cyclic approach to life or the Wheel of Life. We honor our Gods and Goddesses (Nabia, Trebaruna, Ategina, Endovellico, Bandua, Aernus, just to name some) according to certain festivals not very different in concept from other neo-pagan festivals such as Candlemas, Litha, and Samhain. Of course these festivals may differ in name and exact date, but the purpose is largely the same. Personally, I celebrate the different Moon phases within a single lunar cycle and hold some rituals in a neo-classical context as a part of my solitary practice.
EHS: How did you come to practice the Iberic Tradition? Was your path to Paganism fairly straightforward, or meandering?
ST: My path to Paganism was difficult and meandering and sometimes I feel it still is. This difficulty is due to my own volatile and rebellious nature. I never expected to have the chance to practice Iberic Tradition. I always saw myself as a solitary witch, definitely a Polytheist Pagan. I am very happy that it all happened quite unexpectedly.
EHS: You recently released A Child’s Eye View of Astrology. Why a book on that subject specifically for children?
ST: I remember very well what it is like to be a child who wants to know something more about astrology, tarot or other spiritual/pagan themes and not to be able to read about it. Your local library may not have books on the theme. Or you may find only fantasy or technical books on the subject. All the available books may be for adults and your parents may not care about the issue you are so interested in. So when such a chance to write children’s books on diverse spiritual/pagan subjects came my way, I grabbed it with both hands.
The purpose of the CEV series is to provide useful information on these subjects with a light yet methodical approach. These books are intended for children but also for their parents or even adults that don’t know the subject at all. I find that Astrology is a very popular issue today and children may gain a lot from a source of valid and practical information. At the very least they will be able to discuss and think for themselves. Astrology hardly has to do with general astrological almanacs. It is a very powerful tool for self-knowledge and it is very interesting to give children such a tool.
EHS: What kind of research went into writing A Child’s Eye View of Astrology? Did you come across an interesting or odd historical tidbits that you would like to share?
ST: Any book I write is based on bibliographical references supported by personal experience. I tried to put myself in the place of a child or parent that knows nothing about astrology and all the books and experiences were selected from that point of view. Presently there are a lot of books on astrology.
Personally the historical data that fascinates me is the magickal use of astrology in medieval and contemporary times.
Later in life I plan to write a book on astrology for coven use. One part will concern magickal personalities and abilities and other will concern coven magickal interaction according to astrological knowledge.
EHS: Just how far back into human history does astrology date?
ST: We cannot be sure about that. Written evidence fails to provide us with accurate dates and pre-historic evidence may be interpreted in diverse ways. In my perspective, we find some possible evidence of astrological calculations, including lunar cycles marked on bones and cave walls, dating back as far as 35,000 years ago. However, in writing, we can trace Western Tropical Astrology back to the Sumerian king Sargon of Akkad (2334 – 2279 B.C.E.).
EHS: How did you become interested in astrology? What drew you to the subject?
ST: As a child I became interested in astrology because I felt, as I still feel today, that Astrology refers to patterns broader than our mood swings or our particular needs or expectations. Methodical, comparative and continuous work is also appealing to me, so I became a professional astrologer after I completed two years of a three-year course with Paulo Cardoso, one of the greatest astrologers alive and certainly the best contemporary professional astrologer in Portugal.
EHS: In your book, you briefly mention that there is a debate over the accuracy of Western Tropical Astrology. Why?
ST: Western Tropical Astrology is the system commonly used by astrologers in Europe and U.S.A. Astrologers know for sure that the Universe is not static and that it is ever-changing, but they prefer to use the Zodiac as it was meant and designed in the ancient days. According the original Zodiac, the vernal equinox occurs yearly in what the astrologers call the 0º of Aries. Thus we call this method the symbolic zodiac.
There is an ongoing argument about the accuracy of Western Tropical Astrology due to the fact that actual constellations and zodiac placements are not aligned the same way that they were when Astrology was born and developed in Babylon, Chaldea and Egypt. There are some astrologers (such as Jade Sol Luna) working presently towards a new system based on accurate placements according to data used on astronomical calculations. This is an ongoing controversy because Astronomy and Astrology are apart due to that fact: the interpretation is not consonant with the exact position of the stars and planets involved.
As a witch I feel that a ritual made by millions of people at the wrong time is more powerful than one performed by three hundred people at the right time. Change takes time to take place in our world.
This is a pioneer work that personally does not affect my method of interpretation, but it certainly can cost billions in software and new astrology courses and interpretations. And it may leave behind many jobless old school astrologers. I welcome change as an astrologer, but that doesn’t mean I am the first to embrace it. Magickal proceedings are also very important in the way I look at astrology and I feel I can only change when there is a balance between belief and accuracy.
EHS: In addition to your writing, you also volunteer with the Pagan Federation International. What does your work with the PFI entail? What are your responsibilities?
ST: My work with the PFI entails a lot of different responsibilities. Presently I am the Chairwoman of the General Meeting of PFI- ACP and that means administrative details regarding annual general meetings. In addition, I work with some of our International Affairs. Occasionally I write and give some public speaking about Paganism, perform general services and take care of our yet-to-be library.
EHS: What other projects are you working on?
ST: In U.S.A., I am presently working on a lot of CEV Series Books (communicating with spirits, karma, reincarnation, leadership in a pagan perspective, pets and familiars, alchemy, etc.), a lunar almanac and a bilingual English/Portuguese poetry book. I am also working on an Oracle Deck of Fate. There is a book coming out in 2013 (I believe) about what is to be an oracular in the 21stcentury.
In Portugal I am releasing my third fiction book in March or April. I hope to publish three more fiction books before the end of 2012.
EHS: Which book fairs, conventions, or other events will you be attending in the near future?
ST: In the U.S.A., I have not yet any book fairs and conventions to attend, but I hope to get there really soon. In Portugal I am always on the road across the country in order to attend poetry and literary conventions.