At the end of August, 2007, Ellwood "Bunky" Bartlett made headlines when he became the first openly Wiccan lottery winner of the MegaMillions jackpot. The media latched onto Bartlett almost immediately, in part because he's quite a colorful guy, and partly because he freely admitted he'd prayed to the gods for assistance before buying his ticket. Bartlett said he'd like to create an educational center with some of his winnings, and the press immediately assumed it would end up being some sort of "Hogwarts in Maryland." Bunky took some time to answer a few questions for us here at About.com, explaining what his vision is for a spiritual retreat (here's a hint: it's not Witch School), and discussiing responsibilities within the Pagan community.
Pagan/Wiccan Guide Patti Wigington: First of all, Bunky, I'd like to take a moment to thank you for answering some questions for our readers at About.com. I have to say, a lot of folks were thrilled -- albeit surprised - to see someone who's openly Wiccan all over the news with a winning lottery ticket. I just have to ask this -- what was the first thing you bought?
Ellwood "Bunky" Bartlett: My biggest worry was that my daughter was driving around in a car that wasn't safe, so my first "purchase" was a new Ford Explorer, so I could give my Escape I got in February to her. Then I got an Escape Hybrid so that I could travel "Green" and still be able to get out of my home in the snow. Rural Maryland isn't known for it's prompt snow plows!
Guide Patti: You've mentioned previously that you had prayed to the gods prior to buying the ticket, and promised that if you won you'd do your part to help educate people and help others. However, it looks like you've been teaching classes and doing energy work for a while -- do you feel that now you've got the financial resources to do so, you're *more* obligated to help other people out?
Bartlett: I feel that the Universe has given me this gift of abundance for a reason. There is such a need in the community for Wiccan/Pagan Outreach, one-on-one (in person) Seminary training, and more. I just hope to fill that need, and others in the Pagan community.
Guide Patti: I know that once you won the lottery, there were quite a few interviews in which you mentioned a desire to start up the Willow Spring sanctuary. I think the mainstream media has brushed that off as a kind of "Hogwarts in Baltimore" kind of idea, but what it sounds like you want to do is build a spiritual retreat center, rather than a magic school, and something that's open to all faiths. Can you elaborate a little on your plans? What will Willow Spring include -- classes, job training, etc?
Bartlett: Willow Spring Sanctuary will not only be a Seminary school for Wiccans and Pagans, but it will also have career advancement and vocational training. If you're in danger of losing your job for lack of knowledge of Microsoft Word, we'll have a class for that. Having a hard time keeping your finances straight and are in debt because of that? We'll teach you to make a budget and get ahead. We're not out to "give a man a fish", we're out to teach people how to go out and make these opportunities for themselves. And no, contrary to the requests my office has had, I'm not teaching a "Lottery magick class", it wasn't a spell, it was a sincere desire to help my community, while still not winding up in a cardboard box myself.
Guide Patti: There's a drastic shortage of training available for Pagan clergy, although we do have places like Cherry Hill and other seminary-type places. If Willow Spring takes off as you hope it will, do you foresee it turning into a college-type institution where people can receive the leadership training that's not as widely available as we'd all like it to be?
Bartlett: Absolutely! We are currently working with some industry professionals to create a curriculum that will allow for accreditation. Not only do we want to create an atmosphere of higher learning for the Pagan community, but also credibility for us, in the eyes of mainstream religion.
Guide Patti: You've also mentioned making counseling services available to people who need it. I thought that was great, because I think in the Wiccan and Pagan community there's sometimes a reluctance to go to a mainstream counselor, for fear that one just won't be understood, or that you might get "preached at". In a spiritual path where anyone can be a high priest or priestess, do you feel that Pagan clergy people need the ability to be both spiritual leaders *and* counselors? In other words, should counseling be part of leadership training across the board?
Bartlett: I feel that counseling should be a part of any clergy's background. By virtue of this "calling" people are going to talk to you. People are going to tell you things that they've never told another living soul. You need to know, not only how to deal with that, but how to help THEM deal with that.
Guide Patti: Have you started looking at land yet for the project? You're fairly established in Baltimore - are you planning on staying in the area, or are you looking at moving somewhere else?
Bartlett: Yes, I have started looking for property with my realtor and since I was born and raised here in Maryland I want to help my community at large.
Guide Patti: Bunky, thanks once again for taking the time to answer these questions for our readers -- we all wish you the best of luck with Willow Spring, and hope to hear a lot more good news about you in the future!