A few years ago, a casting company set out to do a reality show about modern-day witches in Orange County. Camera crews filmed women doing rituals and practicing the craft in other ways. As the genre demands, the proposed series sought its lifeblood in drama, not education. “They were trying to pit witches against each other in trying to make it like the Real Witches of Orange County or something,” says Candy Eaton, an OC witch recruited for the project. “But there was not enough drama to want to do a reality show on us.”
Major networks passed on the proposed project. Eaton sees that as a blessing in disguise for a spiritual life that’s already profoundly misunderstood. “If there was a show, if they just followed a witch’s coven or group for a year and just watched the rituals, I think there’d be a better understanding among the masses,” she says. “It would be something people should want to watch and it would take away the stigma about us worshiping the devil and eating babies.”
Yes, witches don’t believe in Satan, much less sign his book. Satan is decidedly a Christian concept and today’s Pagans draw their roots from European folk religions that existed prior to Christianity becoming the dominate faith across the continent. Feminist scholar Silvia Federici describes the charge of devil worshiping central to the witch hunts of the 16th and 17th centuries as patriarchy, pure and simple.
“Even when in revolt against human and divine law, women had to be portrayed as subservient to a man,” Federici writes in Caliban and the Witch, her classic study. “The culmination of their rebellion–the famous pact with the devil–had to be represented as a perverted marriage contract.”
And the pentacle–an encircled five-pointed star–has nothing to do with the devil, either, no matter how many horror films distort the symbol revered by witches. Eaton explains its true meaning with four points representing earth, air, water and fire. The fifth? Spirit. “You’re honoring the elements,” she says. “A lot of people will ask if it’s a Star of David. No, actually it’s older.” Those are the nice, inquisitive folks. Eaton recalls a time when a man at a grocery store started fuming at the sight of a pentacle on her shirt and leaned towards her son whom she felt the need to hold tighter in her arms.
“There’s still ignorance out there,” she says.
But things are changing in the right direction. A coalition of Wiccan groups, including the Covenant of the Goddess, fought for the religious freedom to have the pentacle inscribed on government-issued tombstones and grave markers, as the Register reported in 2007. It took a decade and three lawsuits to win the right from the Veterans Department for Pagans who served in the United States Army.
“A lot of people consider witchcraft to be dark and evil,” says Karen Estremo, owner of the Dragon and the Rose in Santa Ana. “In general, it’s not.” She points to the Wiccan Rede, a poem that doubles as a code of ethics and its well-known refrain, “An’ ye harm none, do what ye will ,” or, as Estremo bluntly translates, “Just don’t be an asshole!” She points to the fundamentalism and fanaticism that can plague any religious belief system and practice. “Most of the things we do are to heal, protect, and bless.” she says. “Nobody wears a pointy hat, except on special occasion. Nobody rides a broom.”
Wicca is just one form of Neopaganism that author and practitioner Gerald Gardner helped popularize last century. And it’s important to remember: not all witches are Wiccan.
Popular culture does its part to keep the icon of the witch alive, as well as its stereotypes. Addie Velasquez, store manager for the Dragon and the Rose, recalls what happened after American Horror Story: Coven aired five years ago. “There were so many girls who walked in with outfits from that show,” she says. “It was funny. I’m more amused than annoyed by those shows, honestly. People will start to think you can actually do some crazy stuff, like bring people back from the dead.”
Instead, there’s eight days of power, or sabbats, that make up the seasonal “Wheel of the Year.” Later this month, Yule will be observed around winter solstice. There’s also Imbolic, Ostara, Beltane, Litha, Lughnasadh, Mabon and Samhain–also known as Witches New Year.
The religion and its rituals may not have been good enough for reality television, but have been more than good enough for Eaton in the past 30 years she’s been a Wiccan witch, a PTA mom, wife, and drummer.
“This is what we do; we honor the ancient gods and goddesses,” Eaton says. “We’re normal people just trying to be good and do kind things because that’s what we’re supposed to do.”
Gabriel San Román is from Anacrime. He’s a journalist, subversive historian and the tallest Mexican in OC. He also once stood falsely accused of writing articles on Turkish politics in exchange for free food from DönerG’s!