“Any system of divination is simply a means of accessing a part of our awareness that doesn’t work with the logical brain,” Snavely said, arguing that witchcraft is no more ridiculous than any other religion.
Having begun her spiritual life at her mother’s Episcopal church, Snavely recalls staring out the window during Sunday service, longing for the shade and ambience of the woods.
“That was a very restful and healing place for me to be. There were very clear presences,” she said.
In her teens, Snavely abandoned church and began exploring alternative spiritual philosophies. Now she is a member of the Wiccan priesthood, a denomination of witchcraft whose lineage can be traced back to the 16th century, and whose more ancient descendants were meeting in sacred groves even hundreds of years before that.
“There are bits and pieces that survive. Our modern practices are quite simple,” Snavely said.
K.C. Anton of Veneta, Ore., is also a Christian-turned-Wiccan. Always a spiritual person, the idea of God was very real for Anton, but he remained skeptical.
“Most folks didn’t have a practice that answered to me. You had to take a lot of things on faith,” Anton said.
Now a teacher of Wiccan rituals, Anton has studied the practice for more than 20 years. For him, Wicca has been the path to happiness and self-improvement.
“I felt the awe-ful presence of deity. I felt something inside me,” Anton said. “The control and response of your life is in your hands,” he said, to distinguish Wicca from
There are many similarities as well.
“Christians have prayers, we have spells,” Anton said. Spells and magic are often misunderstood, he explained.
“A spell is making your intent go out into the world,” said Anton, who explained that desire for success and love are the two main things that people use spells for.
healing spell can be as simple as saying a few words over and over. Snavely invented her own spell, which she calls “the only spell I will ever give away.” To work this magic, one must look into the mirror each night from new moon to new moon for a month and say,
“I love and respect you.”
“People will cry trying to do that,” Snavely said.
Other times, spells are more akin to what people are accustomed to reading about in fairy tales. To draw someone to you through a love spell, one can use an actual physical part of that person, such as their hair, and create a mental picture.
The idea is to create the strongest thing one can do to bring about the desired change. Anton said his last two girlfriends have both been brought to him through spells. His first came when he was focused on becoming a writer and he found a woman who was also a writer.
“She was part of the answer,” Anton said.
Another fairly classical spell is to physically white out a pay stub and write in a new number.
“Think of it as a recipe, but it still needs to be personalized,” Anton said.
After mastering the basics, there are more advanced techniques such as sounding, toning, meditation and use of other languages.
Anton was always skeptical, and at first he tested the spells by setting time limits and comparing the results with those of Christian prayers.
“It was like in the laboratory,” Anton said.
Snavely has also seen magic in the works. She recalled an incident in which a man was hospitalized with an intestinal rupture and was in critical condition. Snavely and 10 others held a healing ritual for the man, and within a few days the man was released from the hospital.
Pagan celebrations often take place during full moons, and witches work with the four or five — if they count the spirit — elements. Halloween, the Celtic New Year with many names, purposes and even dates, is an active time for witches as it is one of eight major solar holidays or Sabbaths. This is a time to communicate with the dead elders and say goodbye to the old year. The festival is one for the fire element, as jack-o’-lanterns guide good spirits to relatives’ doorsteps and keep the bad spirits away.
On such a night, Wiccans like Anton and Snavely gather in a sacred, circular space. Placing a drop or two of fine-smelling oil, they “dress” the candles they will use to focus their intent in four directions. Living things have an energy field that people perceive in various ways, but witches operate outside of our official defined five senses. They gather in a circle to contain energy, then raise the energy by dancing, singing and using their bodies. “We are between worlds, the energy world and the tangible,” Snavely said, adding that this is why it is bad to bring watches into the circle.
The priestess directs the ritual to a crescendo, and everyone focuses on transferring the energy into a physical object such as a necklace or a worry stone meant for a son going to Iraq.
“We simply raise energy as a gift of the gods,” Snavely said. The physical sensation is an expansion of yourself, a natural high, she explained.
Snavely is a stroke survivor, and she gave her boyfriend consent for a similar ritual when she was hospitalized. Through an e-mail list, there were circles being done all over the country to help her and she attests that it made a difference. Although she has a permanent disability, she was able to retain her speech and her recovery went relatively smoothly.
“I am not permanently disabled to not function as priestess, thank goddess!” she said.
Paganism contains a broad category of nature-based religions such as shamans, druids and witches who observe natural energies and the powers of the mind.
“Awareness of nature is more than looking at a forest through an automobile window while you speed by. It is actually getting out there and being able to be a part of that forest,” said Eugene Witches leader Jeff Orendorff. “A nature-based individual can simply be in contact with nature and through that nature be in contact with what made that nature.”
Witchcraft tends to have more of a female goddess orientation, and some Wiccans do not allow men to work in their groups. However, what they all have in common is the idea that what happens in your little world affects everything else in some way. Kindness is spread by being kind to others. For this reason, it is prohibited to do witchcraft against someone else’s will or to manipulate someone. For this, there is the rule of three — whatever you put out comes back to you in a greater magnitude.
In Old English, Wicca means to bend or alter.
Anton explained that if you’re really firm like some trees, then you can snap when life starts pressuring you.
“That’s our magical idea,” Anton said. “Do what you want as long as you don’t harm anyone.”
Wicca is the most practiced pagan religion in Eugene. Most practitioners are eclectics, which means that they pull together from various sources. Anton said that the popularity of earth-based religion has multiplied greatly in the last 20 years and that the Eugene area probably has somewhere between 1,500 to 3,000 practicing pagans.
Yet a stereotype remains in the general public’s eye that witchcraft is somehow associated with evil.
“The word has been grabbed by other folks. What witchcraft means now for a lot of religions is a negative thing because it’s been turned around,” Anton said.
Snavely said a big reason for this misunderstanding is 1,500 years of churches preaching against witchcraft. When Gerald Gardner, an English witch who is considered to be the biggest influence on modern witchcraft, began writing about witchcraft it was still illegal. Laws prohibiting witchcraft were finally repealed in 1951.
Today, “witch” is still a powerful word that turns heads and has even caused parents to lose custody of their children.
Even people who know Snavely well have their prejudices. Snavely said she had to decide between being a “closet” witch or an “out” witch. She is mindful of this and sometimes has to censor herself in social and professional settings.
“You practice it like any other religion,” Anton said. “What you think affects the world around. It’s a very simple concept.”
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