Interview with...Ellen Evert Hopman
Originally published August 2016
What authors/ books influenced you in your early days of being a Pagan/following your spiritual path?
The first Pagan book I read was “The Spiral Dance” by Starhawk. It was a Witchcraft book but I very quickly realized that Druidism was my path and to that end, “Pagan Celtic Britain” by Ann Ross was an early favourite. I still think it’s one of the best books out there in terms of Art History of the Celts. It has fabulous drawings and photographs.
What drew you to your path?
I was born in Austria and my mother used to speak to me of the Celts. There were important archaeological digs going on in the Hallstatt where I was born and she used to talk about the Iron Age Celts with great reverence as jewellery, ironwork and weapons were being discovered. I thought everyone was raised like that so I didn’t give it much thought. When I finally heard there were Druids in this world I was in my thirties and those memories came flooding back. I think that had a lot to do with it, plus past life memories, of course.
Where do you find inspiration for your books?
For the herbals; like “Secret Medicines from Your Garden”, “A Druid’s Herbal for the Sacred Earth Year”, “Scottish Herbs and Fairy Lore”, “Walking the World in Wonder – a Children’s Herbal”, “Secret Medicines of Your Kitchen” and “A Druid’s Herbal of Sacred Tree Medicine”, it was my desire to understand the healing methods of the ancients. I started thinking about that when I was a teenager. In the midst of modern affluent American society I still wanted to know how to survive. All my books incorporate historical and traditional uses of herbs, along with new research.
These days I still think about what our culture would do if the internet went dark. Herbal knowledge used to be a part of everyone’s education, for literally millions of years. We need to get back to that – especially now that antibiotics are failing and modern drugs are often lethal.
For the novels; like “Priestess of the Forest – A Druid Journey”, “The Druid Isle” and “Priestess of the Fire Temple – A Druid’s Tale”, the inspiration came from my travels in Scotland and Ireland. The third book was inspired by just one sentence I read somewhere about how Saint Brighid of Kildare’s Fire Temple was based on “an earlier Pagan model”. I immediately started having visions about that pre-Christian Fire Temple.
Once I start writing a novel it quickly becomes like watching a movie. I am just a scribe, recoding what the characters say and do as they show me rituals and other details. I had a nice confirmation of that when the first novel came out. “Priestess of the Forest” was released in February 2008 and I had been working on it for years before that. The characters in that book showed me a Druid funeral which involved the herb Artemisia. The Druids were wafting Artemisia smoke and drinking strong Artemisia tea as they sat up all night around the body of a deceased Druid. This was done to have a vision and communicate with the deceased.
In April of 2008, two months after the novel was published, archaeologists announced that they had found the first grave they thought belonged to a Druid. There was a container in the grave which when tested was shown to have last held the herb Artemisia.
How did you become an author? Was it something you intended to do or was it by accident?
I never set out to be an author or an herbalist. In the book “Secret Medicines from Your Garden” I have a chapter that describes how I became an herbalist – basically I heard a voice telling me to do that, when I was fasting and living in a Franciscan community in Assisi, Italy.
My first book; “Tree Medicine Tree Magic” (which I am incidentally re-working now to hopefully re-release in the near future) came about because when I moved to New England I could not understand how settlers and Native Americans got through the long, cold winters with no fresh greens. Then I reasoned that they must have been using trees somehow. I tried to find a book that would tell me how to do that and I couldn’t find one so I made the supreme leap of illogic and decided to write the book myself! I was in graduate school at the time. As you can tell I have always been something of a workaholic.
What do you feel makes a book worth reading?
What I tell my Druid students is to mine books for practical ideas they can use in ritual. When I write a book, and even my novels are written as teaching tools for aspiring Druids, I always try to give the reader information they can actually use in their life; for inspiration and for survival. My over-arching goal is to keep the Druid path alive and pass it along to future generations.
Are you working on a new book right now and if so what is it?
At the moment as I mentioned above, I am re-working the old classic “Tree Medicine Tree Magic” which has been out of print for over a decade. I am adding new bits and getting it ready for re-release.
Do you write part or full time?
Until recently I have always worked a “day job” part time and taught and written the rest of the time. When you add in book promotion that means being at it seven days a week, usually. I was laid off last fall and am still trying to find an appropriate part-time gig, while experimenting with the possibility of just writing and teaching full time. We’ll see how that goes.
What's the hardest thing about writing?
Finding the time. It is very hard to make a living as a writer which means most of us have to have a day job. Having hours on end to day dream, think about characters, edit and re-edit chapters, is a huge luxury.
How can other readers discover more about you (website/facebook links etc.)?
There are loads of ways to find me;
Website: See all my books (and order signed copies) and events at www.elleneverthopman.com
On Facebook https://www.facebook.com/EllenEvertHopmanAuthor
On Amazon.com http://www.amazon.com/Ellen-Evert-Hopman/e/B001JPAB2W
On Twitter https://twitter.com/EllenEHopman
On Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/author/list/23137.Ellen_Evert_Hopman
On Pinterest https://www.pinterest.com/saille333/
and at Llewellyn https://www.llewellyn.com/author.php?author_id=648
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Sad to say there is no substitute for sitting in a chair and writing. I meet a lot of people who tell me: “I am going to write a book one day”. There is no “one day” there is only TODAY. Do whatever you have to do; work part time and live in a cheaper place, make economies, and set aside hours every day, just to write. There is simply no way around that. Those of us who write usually do so because “we can’t not do it”. We don’t have much choice.
There are tons of Pagan books on the market, what do you think makes you stand out from the crowd?
I try to give solid information in my books. Unless I am writing a novel I mostly leave out all the made up aspects of spirituality and Herbalism that you see in many Pagan books. I think there is a sense of depth in my books, especially the two most recent ones; “Secret Medicines from your Garden” and “A Legacy of Druids – Conversations with Druid Leaders from Britain, the USA and Canada, Past and Present”. These are both big books with plenty of factual detail, footnotes, websites, and suggestions for further study and reading.
Which one of your books are you most proud of?
That’s like asking a mother which child is her favourite. I do think that “A Legacy of Druids” has genuine historical value. It contains the voices of some of our most cherished elders who have crossed the veil since I wrote the book; people like Lady Olivia Robertson, Tim Sebastian and Isaac Bonewits. There are some other important Druids in there like Ronald Hutton and Philip Carr Gomm, who are still with us, thankfully.
That book covers most of the bases of the existing Druid groups of today and provides a window into the myriad of beliefs and practices within the current Druid revival.
I have an earlier book out called “Being a Pagan – Druids, Wiccans and Witches Today” that is another book of interviews. It was named one of the twenty seven most important books on Paganism by the Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/31/pagan-books-27-essential-_n_1556931.html That one features other notable Druids and Pagans such as Starhawk. Some of the people I interviewed such as Margot Adler and Alexei Kondratiev, have crossed the veil since that book first came out.