Earlier this week Immanion Press released Manifest Divinity, a book by area author Lisa Spiral Besnett. PNC-Minnesota interviewed Ms. Besnett at Sacred Harvest Festival about this book, which is aimed at “open[ing] up the readers understanding of the wide variety of Divine presence while respecting their personal religious framework.”
PNC: Thank you for taking time during the festival to chat with me about your new book. When did you first get the idea for this book?
Lisa: I have been working on this material for a really long time and in some ways since I was first introduced to the concept of Drawing down the moon. But framing this in the context of writing a book? That was something that took a lot of people telling me I needed to write it before I finally accepted that.
PNC: So how long have you been developing this material?
Lisa: I would say I have been actively developing this material for over 20 years. I’ve been interested in this material for thirty.
PNC: You wrote this book not for a Pagan specific audience, so when you originally developed this material, was that developed for a Pagan audience or not?
Lisa: I started with a Pagan audience because there is vocabulary in the Pagan community for some of this. There was a COG piece on invocation which says here are some categories. The problem is they are hierarchical and there was nothing about evocation. So I felt they were a great first stab at it and it’s nice to have that base of material to take a look at as a starting place to organize. The Pagan community works actively and consciously with this stuff whereas the general public? I think they would like to but it is not part of our [mainstream] culture.
PNC: At what point did you decide to open up your material to a wider audience? Was that before you started writing your book or during the process of writing?
Lisa: When I started to consider actually writing a book I had to decide who I was writing the book for. I thought about do I want to write this book for the Pagan community, but my experiences aren’t all Pagan. I do think there is a shift in our world view that is more expansive, a spiritual awakening. So the material is really valuable beyond the Pagan community and there are a lot of people who, if it is just Pagan specific, won’t even give it the time of day.
PNC: When I was first reading the Chapter titles in your book I thought it was going to be a different book than I actually read. Once I got into the book I got it. You have a chapter taking about choices and how people have a choice in how far they will take their religious practices and what relationship they will have with deities. That seems to be something we talk about in the Pagan community that isn’t talked about in the mainstream. How do you think that chapter will be received by people from traditional religions?
Lisa: I think people in the Pagan community talk about choices, but I don’t think that the Pagan community, as a general rule, feels like that’s an option. I think the same is true in the larger spiritual community. People who are living spiritually rather than focusing in on a specific religious practice have already made choices to accept or lay aside pieces of their traditional practice. I think that’s really helpful to have that validated and expanded on.
PNC: In that chapter you talk about setting personal boundaries even if you felt a deity wanted you to set those boundaries or not. People sometimes feel the pressure that they have to do whatever a deity asks of them or they’re a bad person.
Lisa: I don’t believe that. I don’t believe just because you choose not to do something that you are a bad person. I think you made a different choice. You have to live in our society so you get to decide what you will do and won’t do. Society is different for different people. We know people in the Pagan community who are very closeted, whose family doesn’t know what their actual spiritual practice is. And we know people who just can’t understand why you can’t be spiritual every minute of the day and out there and open and loud and proud. The culture you are living in is not necessarily as uniform as we’d like to believe.
PNC: I can see the appeal of this book for Pagans. But I have to ask, even though you wrote this for a wider audience, do you think that Muslims could make use of it? That Christians could make use of it? That Jews could make use of it?
Lisa: I think there is material in there that would inform and support those spiritual practices. All religions have spectrums of practice and there are many people who are doing a personal spiritual search who practice what they practice as their personal spirituality but still consider themselves part of the main three religions. Those people are the audience for this book.
PNC: This is the first book you have put out?
PNC: So what’s it like to be a first time author?
Lisa: [Laughter] Scary. Immanion [Press] has been wonderful to me. They answer all my questions, they are very responsive anytime I ask what comes next or what should I do. The fact that this is the same press that Crystal [Blanton] is using means I’ve also had support there. I wanted to go with a press that was focused on the spiritual community. I didn’t want to do a mass market press. I wanted to work with a publisher that has a particular standard for their material and Immanion Press does a nice job of creating a space for spirituality that is between the basic 101 stuff that you can find anywhere and the academic stuff that, for a lot of people, is hard to read. They are in the middle. Their books have an academic base but are readable and approachable.
PNC: So what’s ahead for you?
Lisa: I am teaching a seminar at the Women & Spirituality Conference in Mankato in October and I’m submitting a workshop proposal for Pantheacon. I’m sure I’ll be doing other things as well, but those are the things I know I’ll be doing. I know I’ll schedule some more things to do with the book, but I don’t know what that is yet.
PNC: Congratulations on your book.