From the witch trials of the 1600s to more positive (yet inaccurate) depictions of witches in Charmed and on The Craft, witches are often portrayed as dangerous, mystical beings.
But as many Wiccans, Pagans, and witches in the Akron area say, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
What is “witchcraft”?
“Witchcraft” is used to describe different practices, even though Paganism, Wicca and witchcraft are all different and vary based on the individual. “Pagan” is a term that refers to religions that are not mainstream, but has evolved to refer to mostly nature-based religions, including Wicca, and for many, includes the worship of multiple deities, as opposed to one.
Kim Deneen, owner of A Creative Apothecare in Lakemore and High Priestess of Cúnant na Gealaí (Celtic for “Coven of the Moon”) explains, “[Paganism] is kind of like an upside-down umbrella and then you have all the religions that go underneath. You can be Wiccan and not practice witchcraft, and vice versa. Wicca is actually the religion of it. You can practice witchcraft and not be Wiccan.”
Paganism, witchcraft and Wicca can be solitary practices, done completely on one’s own terms. Some people may practice candle magic, work with herbs, divination or countless other tools and concepts, while others work with specific deities or specific practices, like ceremonial magick.
Kim and fellow high priestess Jennie Bishop maintain their own individual practices, but they also lead Cúnant na Gealaí, a Celtic coven. A coven is a small group of practitioners who participate in rituals together. These groups are typically closed to outsiders and can be very secretive, due to the stigma surrounding witchcraft. This also keeps in tradition with covens of centuries ago, when witches had to hide their practices or risk persecution. To join a coven, “you have to actually find somebody who is in a coven,” Kim says.
She explains that new members are referred to as “neophytes.” Once you are dedicated, you’re at the first degree. After a year and a day has passed, the witch can move up to the second degree. If the coven leaders feel that one is ready, they may be granted their third degree. After reaching the third degree, a practitioner is able to leave and start their own coven.
“In our particular type, you cannot practice with the coven that you leave for a year and a day, Kim explains. “That way you stand on your own feet.”
She says that as a high priestess, it’s her role to guide people, particularly members of her coven, on their spiritual journey.
Jennie, as Kim’s right-hand person, takes on the role of teacher.
“It is kind of stressful to understand that you’re responsible sort of for all these people, but at the same time, it’s great building the trust and the friendships that it takes to be able to do that and have them come to you with things and trust you and know that they’ve made a good decision with where they’re at.”
Northeast Ohio Spirit of The Earth Circle (SOTEC)
According to Adrienne Arrington, a high priestess of SOTEC, the group is the “largest public Pagan group in Northeast Ohio” and has been around for about 14 years.
Adrienne explains that there is a difference between their public group and a coven, like Cúnant na Gealaí.
“A coven generally implies that you take some sort of promise to just be in this group, and as a circle, we don’t do that. So a large portion of the populus who attend our events are solitaries and family groups,” she says.
SOTEC hosts classes about different aspects of Paganism and holds public rituals for the sabbats, or Pagan and Wiccan holidays, like Yule or Samhain.
“Ultimately, we’re very boring. We are really dull. We lament gas prices and we worry about whether our kids go to school, and you know, we worry about our parents and is it gonna snow really badly, because Ohio. We do all the same things,” Adrienne jokes.
When it comes to being a high priestess, Adrienne’s role is a little different from those of Kim and Jennie. Adrienne is ordained clergy through the state of Ohio and plays the role of guardian for SOTEC.
“I make it so that, when you come to ritual, it is a safe space for you. There are two parts to that. There is, hey I need to know who has issues and can’t stand for more than 30 minutes so we have a chair. I know the people who are allergic to strawberries, so we know during the spring, nothing with strawberries ‘cause we can’t be doing that. I’m usually the liaison between us and the park ranger. If, god forbid, the police ever show up, I’m the one who speaks to them… I know first aid. On the other side of that, I deal with the metaphysical capabilities. At Samhain, I have to work really hard at Samhain. So I make sure that the circle is solid so we don’t have unwanted energy visitors,” she explains.
Her role as a high priestess also includes responsibilities like blessing houses and providing guidance and counsel to those who need it.
Those who are interested can learn more about Northeast Ohio Spirit of The Earth Circle on their Facebook page. Until further notice, events, classes and rituals are done virtually.
Because Paganism, Wicca, and witchcraft are not organized religions, many followers consider themselves solitary practitioners and practice in a way that is unique to them, fitting their needs and preferences.
This is where it gets confusing. Some people may consider themselves witches, but not Wiccan. On the other hand, some may consider themselves Pagan, but not practice witchcraft. However, certain practices, like working with herbs, can be found in those who consider themselves any or all three of the above.
This is why some people, like Amy Snyder, Tricia Cole and Iris Matos, consider themselves “eclectic,” which means not following any specific path or working with one deity or group of deities. These are practitioners who pull from any practice as it suits their needs.
I met Amy, Tricia and Iris a few months ago when I started on my own spiritual path, which revolves around Paganism and witchcraft. We are taking a class at The Healing Brew about, and working with, different aspects of Wicca, such as creating an altar and utilizing the elements for magick.
“I really don’t have one specific path that I follow or any specific deities that I follow. I try to take each situation as it presents itself and try to use what I think is best in that situation as far as any kind of practice goes,” Amy says.
For her, this means sometimes working with herbs and planting them around her house for certain metaphysical purposes. Sometimes she practices candle magic. Usually she wears bracelets with different gemstones and crystals to bring their qualities into her everyday life.
“I am as eclectic as [Amy] is,” Tricia adds. “If I was doing candle work or whatever, I would call in whatever deities pertain to that spell or manifestation that I’m working on. If I’m cooking, throw some herbs in there, say a few words, stuff like that. I have plants around the house, I have different herbs around the house for different uses and I do burn a lot of sage,” she explains.
Iris considers her practice eclectic because she works with gods and goddesses of all sorts of pantheons.
“I have six gods and goddesses from different pantheons,” she says. “I at least say a prayer or do a meditation or something, even if it’s just a minute or two.”
She works with Egyptian, Celtic, Greek and Taino gods and goddesses. The Taino people are indigenous to Puerto Rico and part of Iris’s ancestry.
Some other practitioners, on the other hand, have very specific paths that they don’t stray from.
Scott Anderson, Adrienne’s fiance, follows the Nordic path. While this includes working with gods like Odin, Thor and Loki, Scott assures me that they have very little in common with the Marvel movie superheroes, a common misconception many people have when it comes to the Nordic path.
Scott says his practice is very laid-back.
“Take Adrienne, for example. She has a very specific incantation she has to say and a very specific way to say it and very specific books. Me, I don’t have a temple but I do most of my work in my truck while I’m working or out in the forge. And it’s a very personal connection. I talk to them like I would talk to you or talk to my parents. It’s a hell of a lot more laid back. As long as I’m respectful, everything’s good,” he explains.
In his practice, sins don’t exist.
“The closest thing we have for a guideline is the nine noble virtues. Follow those and you’ll do OK. We have courage, of course, truth, honor, fidelity, discipline, hospitality, self-reliance and industrialism,” as well as perseverance, he says.
For him, the practice isn’t about worship. It’s about having a personal relationship with his gods.
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Mike Szerorkman practices ceremonial magick, which seems to be anything but laid-back.
“You have to get a result, so you will do whatever is necessary to get that result, so the intention is there but it’s all about the process, making sure you get everything right. ‘Cause ceremonial magick is very much about, cool I did it. Now I have to be able to do it again. It’s being able to repeat this process again and again and again,” he explains. “It’s knowing sacred geometry, knowing what plants you have to use, what incense you’re using, each knife has to have certain runes and etchings on it. It’s a process.”
Mike prefers to work with Hellenistic and Greek deities deities because they are easy to relate to.
Mike prefers to work with Hellenistic and Greek deities deities because they are easy to relate to. “They were flawed in their appetites and the way they did things,” he says.
Spiritually, Mike considers himself Pagan and polytheistic, but he says he is “ethically a Satanist.”
“One of their mottos is ‘sacrifice your faith, not your humanity,’ and I think that makes sense to a degree,” he says. “You are on this world, that’s a fact. You can’t dispute that you’re here. The afterlife, that can be disputed, so you might as well stick with what you know, your humanity, and be a good person rather than be hateful for something that may not even happen or may not even benefit you.”
Paganism and Wicca are not mainstream religions, and because of that, they carry a lot of stigma and misconceptions. While each person interviewed had a laundry list of misconceptions and pet peeves about how their beliefs are perceived, almost each person said, “We don’t eat babies” or “We don’t worship Satan.”
Amy points out that there are actually a lot of similarities between her practice and other religions.
“Magick that we might practice could be equated to something like prayer in mainstream religion,” she says.
“You can explore it really without consequence, because a lot of it is learning… you learn how to garden. You learn how to meditate, you learn how to make candles. Who cares? If you walk out of this and you’re like, ‘hey, I don’t pray to gods,’ big whoop. You know how to garden, you know how to meditate, you know how to make candles,” Adrienne says.
Each practitioner also insisted that theirs is a religion centered around peace. “There’s no violence in our religion whatsoever, in our beliefs. We don’t hold any of that. We value life, we value nature, we value the planet,” Tricia explains.
For those who are interested in learning more about Paganism, Wicca or witchcraft, Akron has a handful of metaphysical shops, including Acreative Apothecare in Lakemore. Both Acreative Apothecare and Northeast Ohio Spirit of The Earth Circle have Facebook pages where they post information about classes that they host.
Allyson’s background is in media production and anthropology. Her hobbies include coffee, traveling, and taking months to read a single book.
Editor’s note: Allyson Smith also manages ad clients for The Devil Strip, and The Healing Brew is among her past clients. The Healing Brew was not interviewed for this story and it did not see the story before publication. Photos: Used with permission from Adrienne Arrington.