Dunwich, Gerina

Dunwich, Gerina (1959)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Gerina (pronounced with a soft G) was born in Illinois in December 1959, and she became fascinated with the paranormal at a very early age. She remembers, as a small child, sitting with a girlfriend under a large tree and suddenly, for no apparent reason, grabbing her friend's hand and pulling her away. Almost as she did so, a large limb broke away and fell from the tree, crashing to the ground on the spot where they had just been sitting. Her girlfriend's mother, a devout Christian, believed this prescience showed that Dunwich had supernatural powers, and she broke up the friendship between the two girls.

Dunwich remembers dreams of a past life in which she was burned at the stake as a Witch. She also learned that her mother had had similar experiences in her childhood.

A cousin introduced Dunwich to Witchcraft in the summer of 1969. The first two books Gerina read on the subject were Sybil Leek's Diary of a Witch and Raymond Buckland's Witchcraft from the Inside. Both exerted a profound influence on her, she claims.

In 1975 her parents separated, bringing a stormy ending to the marriage and an end to Dunwich's relationship with her father. He had discovered occult books, herbs, and poppets in his daughter's bedroom and decided she was a servant of the devil. At the divorce court, he publicly proclaimed his belief that she was a Witch. As Dunwich herself says, "In a different century such a startling accusation would surely have resulted in my arrest, trial and execution." But in 1975 it merely invoked sighs of disbelief and a few chuckles. The mother was awarded custody of Gerina.

In the spring of 1977, at age seventeen, Dunwich moved to southern California. She developed an interest in astrology and cartomancy and quickly began casting charts and reading tarot cards, first as a hobby and then to supplement her income. She was also pursuing a career in writing and in the entertainment industry. Three years later, she began publishing and editing a small, quarterly literary journal called Golden Isis. It contained poetry, fiction, and artwork focused primarily, on the Goddess and the contemporary Witchcraft scene. Its international circulation eventually grew to over 3,500. This success inspired Dunwich to write poetry on a daily basis and soon she began gathering a collection of magical verse that she self-published a decade later as Circle of Shadows.

In the early 1980s, Dunwich met Al Jackter, musician and part-time wrestler.

He shared her interests in astrology, psychic phenomena, and spiritualism. Believing each other to be soulmates, they became lovers and decided to spend their lives together. In 1984 they relocated to Massachusetts, not far from Salem. Dunwich succeeded in landing a book contract with a major publishing house in 1987 (appropriately, she felt, the contract was dated October 31, Samhain). The following year saw publication of her first book, Candlelight Spells. It received mixed reviews but enjoyed good sales, prompting further contracts.

As the 1980s drew to a close, Salem lost much of its appeal for Dunwich, disenchanted with the blatant exploitation of Witchcraft that she saw there. She and Jackter returned to California. Four years later, they moved back across the country to upstate New York. There they moved into a century-old Victorian house that sat on hill north of the Adirondacks. The house had a reputation for being haunted. One of its ghostly inhabitants was an old woman, believed by many to have been a Witch. Intrigued by legends surrounding the house, Dunwich transformed a portion of the building into a combination antique/New Age store and called it the Country Witch. The store's success was marginal, but it served as an instrument to bring together the Pagan folk of the area.

An eclectic circle, called Coven Mandragora, was established on Imbolc, 1996, with Dunwich presiding as High Priestess. The same year, the Wheel of Wisdom School (an educational arm offering correspondence courses) and the Pagan Poets Society were established. There was also a local networking organization known as North Country Wicca.

In February of 1998, Dunwich received a ministerial license from the Universal Life Church. The first legal Handfasting she performed was for the cousin who had originally introduced her to Wicca thirty years before.

1998 proved to be a transitional year. A tremendous ice storm hit New York State, leaving many upstate areas without electricity or telephones for several weeks. Dunwich's house sustained damage, much not covered by insurance. Coven Mandragora, which had struggled through two years of trials and tribulations, began to fragment. Dunwich was unable to handle the stress, feeling that to try to hold everything together was futile. The coven officially disbanded. By this time, malicious rumors of Satanic rituals and animal sacrifices at "Dunwich Manor" began surfacing. Life in the small town became unbearable for Dunwich and her loved ones. Fearing the Christian community, she closed up the shop, put the house on the market, and moved down to Florida. She remained there only a few months before heading, once again, to Southern California and Solitary practice.

As a cat lover and the author of a book on feline magic, lore, and worship, Dunwich founded a unique tradition of Witchcraft that she called Bast-Wicca. It incorporated elements of Egyptian magic, classical Witchcraft, and felidomancy. The principle deity was the ancient Egyptian Goddess Bast, or Bastet. Dunwich firmly believes that all cats possess great psychic and magical powers. She says that cats are sacred on the Bast-Wica path, and magic is seldom performed without the presence of a feline. Her own familiar is a graceful black cat named Salem.

Dunwich's books include Circle of Shadows, Wicca Craft, Wicca Love Spells, Everyday Wicca, Magic Potions, and Your Magickal Cat. She is a member of the Wiccan/Pagan Press Alliance.

The Witch Book: The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, Wicca, and Neo-paganism © 2002 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.