BY: RHIANN MOORE
Despite what major movies might tell us, there is no one more peaceful than a witch. In meeting with Catherine, high priestess of the Toronto-based Coven, Tamarack, and Wiccan chaplain of the University of Toronto Multi-Faith Centre I was struck by her calm confidence as she eloquently detailed her journey from a born and raised Catholic to a high degree Wiccan. There was no talk of sacrifice or Blair Witch style terror, only a deep connection to nature and the innate desire to lift up the fellow members of her coven. In a time when the world seems to be barrelling head first towards disaster, she represents a way of life that believes in tolerance, acceptance of all belief systems and connections to the earth and its history.
Her particular practice is called Gardnerian Wicca. It came to prominence after England repealed its remaining witchcraft laws in 1951 and Gerald Gardner went public about his practice and became a figurehead in the resurgence of Wicca religion. It spread in North America in the counter-cultural mood of the 1960s and has continued to play out, largely unacknowledged since then. Catherine recalled, “I would spend a lot of time outside. I grew up near a beach and spent a lot of time there. That’s where I felt divinity, that’s where I felt spirituality.” Although from a young age she had an inherent connection to nature her family brought her up Catholic and she did not become a Wiccan until she was 30, “I always knew there was more than the religion I was brought up with.”
Despite the easygoing nature of Catherine, acceptance into a Gardnerian coven is less than straightforward. It takes a year to become accepted into the circle and a commitment of 13 full moons and 8 Sabbaths. Not for a lack of desire to include though, rather “Their energy has to meld with everybody else’s, everybody in the group has a say whether a person feels right or not.” Instead of excluding people from religion as a whole, Catherine detailed how it was a matter of an individual finding the right circle to make them feel supported.
Wiccan is in no way a tradition-based religion, “you don’t have a book that you follow, you don’t have an ethic people understand, you don’t have someone telling you what you’re doing. It’s a matter of everything that most people understand about religion – that’s what we don’t do.” As a result of this unconventional nature and the many different directions a particular circle can take, this means that it can take time and effort for a person to find their place. But once they do that means they have found a circle of friends who will support them and work – through rituals, feasts and open discussions – to help them achieve peace in life. Not that different from the personal life many of us strive for, Wiccan just adds in some deities, consecrated circles and astrological focus.
As a result of popular culture’s portrayal of witches, there have always been a lot of misconceptions with those who follow the Wiccan religion. Catherine expressed her frustration with society’s vision of her and her group, “we don’t worship Satan, we don’t do these horror film type activities. Some of us are pretty normal, some of us are not, but we are here.” After talking with Catherine it seems almost outlandish that such a peaceful woman could be interpreted so wrongfully through the eyes of society.
My conversation with Catherine must have looked like any other; we sat outside a coffee shop and chatted easily for over an hour. From the outside looking in nobody would have thought we were discussing the details of Wiccans and witchcraft, so why is it that if someone knew that they would view the conversation in a different light? All religion is based on belief systems and the urge to surrender to a larger concept; it seems unfair that a religion that made someone feel “more confident, whole, without pieces missing”, could ever be seen as somehow less legitimate than other religions.