Wiccan leader flies out of broom closet

The Toronto Star/May 22, 1999

High priestess says many other witches are going public, too

Witching Day 1: Maybe if Wiccan high priestess Phyllis Curott had arrived on her broomstick, the whole thing wouldn't have happened.

She's heard all the witch jokes. She can get past them. But calling you on her cell phone, from a Toronto cab that has just smashed into the one in front of it, high priestess Phyllis sounds understandably shaken.

Here you are in a downtown restaurant, waiting to interview the Wiccan witch of the east - New York, to be precise - when the receptionist beckons you to the phone. Barely arrived to give Toronto women a crash course in witching, high priestess Phyllis jumped into a cab which has just rear-ended the cab ahead.

"I'm waiting for the police. I have to get the cabby's insurance. I think I should go to emergency. God, do you have to wait long in emergency in Canada? Last time I went to a New York emergency room, I had to wait seven hours.''

Witching Day 2: Happy ending. No serious damage. Kudos to Canadian health care. The session in Mount Sinai emergency - examination, x-rays, pain prescription - took just two hours, not counting the time Phyllis' PR woman spent getting her car out of the towing yard, after double parking on University Ave. while she dashed in to check on the wounded witch.

Now, in a downtown hotel, a bruised but enlightened Wiccan high priestess nurses a coffee, rejects a stale croissant and shares an epiphany.

"It was good, it was useful, it was a learning experience. It took me back, all the way back to other times this has happened to me, it made me retrench. It gave me a little - whoa, hel-lo! - wakeup call: Am I wasting time? Have I gone off the path?''

High priestess Phyllis is tall and blonde, long and lean, somewhere in her 40s. She had a Jewish mother, a Scandinavian sea captain father. Besides being a witch, she is a lawyer. In her Book Of Shadows, A Modern Woman's Journey Into the Wisdom Of Witchcraft And The Magic Of The Goddess (Broadway Books), you will learn that:

"When high-powered Manhattan lawyer Phyllis Curott began exploring witchcraft, she discovered a spiritual movement that defied all stereotypes.''

Tapping deeply into the western world's need to try to figure out what the hell is going on, the book is into its fifth printing, soon to be released in paperback. The front cover blazes with a stunningly opaque blurb from mental magic-meister Deepak Chopra: "A modern-day Persephone myth full of magic and mystery, Book Of Shadows transcends the bounds of its genre.''

What sort of path is this for a nice half-Jewish girl?

The high priestess says her mom, who died last year, was totally with her. Her dad, who died before Phyllis had her Wiccan epiphany, would have been 100 per cent, too, she is sure. As for her husband, a commercial photographer: "He always wanted to marry a goddess - which is what a witch actually is, in the cultures of many indigenous peoples.''

Phyllis' parents had some background as union activists, ending up on the anti-union-corruption side of the fence. So it seemed natural to steer their daughter into labour law, busting union corruption, which led her to entertainment law, which just naturally led to witchery, which is now big, big big all over America. Political activism, you see, is bankrupt. The path to enlightenment leads inside and backward.

And, according to high priestess Phyllis, broom closets across the land are flying wide, wide open.

"You wouldn't believe,'' she says, leaning over her abandoned croissant with a compelling smile, "how many witches are just waiting to come out of the broom closet. I was doing one talk show in New York and there in the Green Room was the sister of a very, very prominent on-air personality in her Chanel suit, and when she found out who I was she was so excited. `My sister's just come out of the broom closet!' she said.''

"An Ivy league graduate and promising lawyer,'' explains her press release, "Curott was a typical young woman in her 20s, determined to forge a law career within the burgeoning, male-dominated music industry'' (that's if you don't count Madonna, Cher, Barbra Streisand, Celine, Whitney, Alannis and the rest, of course).

Phyllis turned to witchcraft "when she began having prophetic dreams and mysterious visions of ancient female figures.''

That doesn't mean Cher, Madonna or Barbra Streisand. That means witches, particularly Phyllis' friend Sophia, who invited her to join a circle of witches, where Phyllis discovered that suppression of witchery, which is cutting-edge feminism, actually prefigured the Holocaust and McCarthyism, because the world - particularly the male world - is so fearful of woman's goddess power.

Or, to put it in High Priestess Phyllis' own Chopra-worthy words:

"Most people know intuitively that when you fall in love, the world is full of magic. What they don't know is that when you discover the universe is full of magic, you fall in love with the world.''

And, if you're lucky, or have been transported on the right PR moonbeam, the world falls in love with you.

And in future, instead of riding cabs to interviews, you tap your ruby shoes together three times.

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