Feast your eyes on Sorita a first time, and you're struck by her dimples and long limbs, her exotic beauty. Feast them again, having heard she's a Wiccan High Priestess, a lecturer on witchcraft and the occult and a full-time writer and researcher, and you're struck by how very normal she is.
She knows she doesn't conform to the theatrical image of the witch. Furthermore, she believes that the negative image of witchcraft is partly perpetuated by those modern witches who like to dress up in Hallowe'en outfits most of the year, and by the media's sometimes uninformed portrayal. Certain tabloids aside, even the so-called Alternative publications seem to feel that a witch equals velvet and silver jewellery. 'The negative image of Witchcraft can be a problem,' concedes Sorita, 'especially for people who live with family or friends and have to keep their beliefs a secret. Things are changing however, and I hope that it will continue to become more accepted and more mainstream with time.'
For her it all started in childhood, when she had out-of-body experiences. That had made her look into psychic phenomena and eventually led to an interest in magick. Her tendency to sit and meditate everywhere earned her the African Xhosa name of Nombulelo (she who prays) while still at school, studying the language. An interest in African mysticism was not far behind. For early Western influences she quotes authors Lewis Carol, Dante Alighieri, Mircea Eliade, Aleister Crowley, Shakespeare. Poets such as Shelley, Wordsworth, Swinburne and Lord Byron all played important roles also. Ahe stopped eating meat as a child, the moment she realised it came from animals. Although not a spiritual move, her interest in vegetarianism is, funnily enough, what got her in touch with witches initially. (Although she hastens to add that giving up meat is in no way a prerequisite of paganism or Wicca!)
By the time she moved to England ten years ago, Sorita was already a Wiccan High Priestess. The best part of that, to her, other than obviously meeting lots of interesting people, is helping others with their spiritual development. She trains witches and runs groups in London with her partner and High Priest, David Rankine, a well known and great-looking Wiccan author. 'Teaching puts you on a continuous high learning curve', she enthuses. 'The biggest drawback, however, has to be the constant need to reason with people who are convinced that fictional TV contains real witchcraft. Sometimes I get people asking for spells to change the colour of their hair or eyes, rather than use dye or lenses. I have even had one man who wanted me to initiate him on the pavement outside a bookshop; I instead made him swear an oath to a pub sign as he was rather intoxicated at the time. One lady wanted me to do an exorcism on her pet bird that she believed to be possessed, but that is a story in itself!'
Despite the humour, it is clear that Sorita, like many a High Priestess, has had to endure a lot of criticism for her spiritual path. She wouldn't know what she would get treated like if she weren't a witch, but from non-magickal folk, the first reaction would be intrigue, excitement, or sometimes what she calls 'the face'; a mixture of disbelief, disgust and "what do you mean" all rolled into one. Some would even accuse witches of cursing. For those, Sorita has very little patience. 'Witches do not take cursing lightly; personally I prefer blessing someone if they really annoy me so that they will have positive things in their life to occupy them rather than bothering me or those I care for. Compassion is much better than hate for dealing with those consumed by jealousy and inadequacy. Wiccans have a moral code "An it harm none do what ye will" and this is always taken into account when performing magick.'
Wicca in general has been accused of gay-bashing, which makes Sorita laugh. Although it is traditional in Wicca for a man to be taught and initiated by a woman and vice-versa, there is no rule that excludes anyone on the basis of their sexuality. She confesses that some of the single girls in her covens actually ask her to try and find some attractive, single straight men for them, as the abundance of lovely girls and handsome gay men outweighs the straight variety. Her tip to aspiring High Priestesses would be to choose coveners by their sincerity, honestly, eagerness to participate and learn willingness to contribute to discussions and workings.
Beauty and strength, power and compassion, honour and humility, mirth and reverence; she lives her life as described in the famous Wiccan Charge of The Goddess. The craft permeates every aspect of her life. Sorita is a High Priestess upon waking, at bed-time and the bits that lie between.
To find out more, visit Sorita's website www.avalonia.co.uk for book reviews, many articles, free lessons and links to other great websites and organisations. Sorita runs Lapis Companions, a monthly meeting in Central London .