I Spent A Night With Witches And We Tried To Contact The Dead
I found it.
The blue brooch my mother had made into a ring for me.
It was my grandmother's. I had always loved it. When she died it was the one thing I kept.
When my mom had it made into a ring she accidentally made it one size too big, so it only comes out on special occasions when I know I'll be careful with it.
Going to my first meeting with the occult felt like a special enough day.
Preparing to meet a group of Wiccans is an odd feeling. What do I wear? Do I call them witches? Are the men actually called wizards? What if I offend them, will I be cursed forever?
While driving over to The Green Man Store in Hollywood, California, I felt myself fiddling with my ring.
I was preparing to attend the store's seance, “Calling the Ancestors from the Well of Souls.”
I had no idea what that meant, but somewhere in my mind, I thought there may be a chance I'd speak to Betty, my grandmother, one more time.
Down the street from a movie theater and two different pizza places sits the tiny witchcraft store. It's the only door covered by a large tree growing out of the sidewalk.
The door is heavy; it's brown and old-timey.
I creak it open as if I'm accidentally about to walk in on something I shouldn't see.
Inside, a woman sits behind a counter. She doesn't even look up to see who I am. I look around for a minute, totally unsure if I should say hello, or if somehow she knows why I'm here.
Finally, another woman, smaller in stature with grayish hair cascading down her back, comes around the corner.
“Can I help you?”
“Ah, yeah, I need to see …” I pause while rummaging through my bag to find the list of names I had been given, nearly in a panic. Somehow these witches already make me nervous.
“Jill, Carrie, Griffin or Rita?”
“Oh, right, right you're here for the interview. Let me grab Jill,” she says, rushing into the back.
I stand around and touch nothing, but look at everything.
The beautiful gems strewn about the center table, the crystal balls, the green man masks all over the walls.
“Stacey,” a voice calls from behind me.
I turn to see Jill, one of the store's owners and the witch I am here to meet.
She's tiny, almost fragile looking. She has a short pixie cut with the biggest blue eyes I've ever seen. Immediately I think to myself, “she must be Glinda, the good witch.”
I ask Jill to take me on a tour of the store and explain some of the items to me.
Jill lifts up the tablecloth covering the center table to uncover their stash of caldrons.
“Every good witch needs a caldron,” Jill exclaims. And any witch could buy a small one here for under $20.
In the corner of the store sits a gold statue of a woman who sort of looks like Lady Justice. She's blindfolded and draped in fabric. Only, instead of a scale, she has a bucket of cash.
“That's Fortuna, the goddess of luck,” Jill explains.
Fortuna is not only holding a bucket of coins, she is also surrounded by a pile of very real cash.
The store keeps Fortuna out, ready to collect money from people who are hoping to have a little luck come their way. In return, the store donates the money to people in need around the Hollywood community.
“She's blindfolded because, like Justice, luck is blind,” Jill says.
I ask Jill what "The Green Man" means, she gets Griffin, the group's High Priest and the store's manager.
He explains they chose the green man because he represents an ability to bring the paths of pagans together, to help us all evolve and grow. The space, he explains, is a mixture of free thinkers who "unify for the desire to have a relationship with nature and spirits."
We go outside to the back area, where Jill says outdoor events are held.
Griffin is there with an older woman in a long, red dress, standing around a burning caldron. A burning caldron. They're discussing something about the flame.
The woman in the long dress stares at me, but says nothing. Nothing was the most she'd say to me all night.
She is the coven's High Priestess, the expert, the caretaker. While she's older, her face still seems youthful. Her dress is floor-length with full sleeves, but you can still see the intricate tattoo around her shoulders that must travel down her chest.
Jill and I go upstairs to talk about witches, Wicca, pagans and more. We sit in a room, surrounded by offices occupied by psychics. Tracey, one of the in-house psychics, gives me a warm hello before going back to her work.
Wicca, Jill explains, isn't the same as witchcraft.
While witchcraft has been reported throughout all of human history, the practice of Wicca is relatively new.
It was developed in England by Gerald Gardner and introduced to the public in 1954.
The term Wicca sort of acts like the word “religion.” There are different fractions of Wicca, different belief systems, and totally different ways of doing things. Wicca, as Jill explains, isn't one size fits all.
Here's an easy way to think of it via Patti Wigington, a Paganism/Wicca expert:
All Wiccans are witches, but not all witches are Wiccans. All Wiccans are Pagans, but not all Pagans are Wiccans. Finally, some witches are Pagans, but some are not - and some Pagans practice witchcraft, while others choose not to.
The Covenant Of The Goddess estimates there are nearly 770,000 self-identifying witches in America. As Jill eludes to, you can safely assume most are good, but some, are the kind of witches you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley.
Jill and I head back downstairs to join in on the event.
It's a much more diverse crowd than I was expecting.
The ages range from mid-20s to 60s. It appears people from all walks of life and diversities are here. Everyone sits around and chats about their day.
One older couple is sporting coordinating Hawaiian shirts with skull accents.
In all, there are about 30 participants, ready to commune with our ancestors.
Renowned Pagan Recording Artist Sharon Knight is here to guide us through the chanting. She looks like a badass biker chick who doesn't give a f*ck what anyone thinks of her.
Only, her personality turns out to be much less intimidating. She's warm and inviting. While she walks us through our initial guided meditation, I have a quick episode of ASMR that sends a good vibe from the crown of my head to my fingertips. I like her. I feel safe.
In the meditation, I am told to envision traveling to the center of the Earth. Once there, I find a field. Through the field is a cave, and in the cave is a beautiful well filled with glittering blue water. This is where all the music comes from.
Once I touch the well, it fills with blood. Not just any blood, the blood of my ancestors.
From there, the group spends two full hours chanting. Much of it is guided by Sharon. It includes beautiful four-part harmonies and sounds that just simply pop into our minds.
Other sections are sung with words that just flow from us. During one song we chant, “River of blood runs through me,” over and over while thinking of our family members through the beginning of time.
I keep concentrating on my family and my grandmother. The only thing that comes to mind is the sound of my late Uncle Bruce's voice. He was a gruff guy, to say the least. He ate hardly, spoke softly and was deeply loved by everyone.
Yet, all I hear him say is, “Kid, this is ridiculous, why are you doing this?”
Then, something magical happens.
We laugh. The entire group laughs uncontrollably. And we sing. To be honest, it feels really, really good.
When it ends I open my eyes, expecting to see Betty there staring back at me. But I see nothing.
I'm tired and my throat hurts. I'm kind of hoping the witches have something to fix it. They give me plain, non-magical water. And that's OK.
I sit quietly on the couch for a few moments before getting up, hugging Jill goodbye and stepping out of the store and back into the real world.
When I get home, I take off my ring, place it in my jewelry box and smile. It was the most I had thought about Betty in five years.