Local Wiccans are getting geared up for the annual Witches Ball of Toledo, set for Saturday, and their favorite holiday, which arrives on Monday.
The leader of the Northern Spirits Coven of Witches, Lord Chadow — aka Rick Werner — said Halloween, which Wiccans call Samhain (pronounced SO-win), is not just spooky fun and games, it’s also an important day spiritually.
“Back in the old times, if they would dress up in Halloween costumes they would never know who was behind the mask that stood in front of them and through that, the blending in was easier for the spirits or anything else that wanted to enter in,” Lord Chadow said
Morgana, a Wicca priestess, said Samhain is the most important holiday in the Pagan Wheel of the Year, a circular calendar that includes Imbolc, Ostara, and Yule. Samhain offers two reasons to celebrate, she said: It is the witches’ new year, and it is also “the time when the veil between the living and the dead is the thinnest.”
To honor deceased loved ones, those attending the Witches Ball can bring photos or personal items, such as jewelry or letters, to place on a table known as a Dumb Supper.
“We want to be very respectful,” Morgana said. “Christians would call it All Saints Day, or All Souls Day. It’s the same kind of thing.”
The local witches, who except for Mr. Werner wanted only their Wiccan names used for fear they would be discriminated against, meet regularly in the Collingwood Arts Center for classes and spiritual gatherings.
The Witches Ball will be held in the same Old West End building from 7 p.m. to midnight. The sprawling Gothic structure, which looks like a movie set for a haunted mansion, once was Mary Manse College, a Roman Catholic institution for women that opened in 1922 and closed in 1975.
The Northern Spirits Coven of Witches was founded 22 years ago, Lord Chadow said, and has between 25 and 30 members, age 17 and up.
Lord Chadow, 59, with slicked-back black hair and glasses, wearing a black robe and pendants, and carrying an athame, or symbolic knife, said he works in real estate and played drums in local rock bands for years. He took over leadership of the coven 10 years ago, assisted by Morgana and another priestess, Mystical.
There is at least one other Wiccan coven in Toledo, the Circle of the Sacred Grove, founded by Lady Bona Dea — a student of the late Lady Circe and a teacher of Lord Chadow.
Wicca, founded in England in the early 20th century, is based on centuries-old pagan practices. Surveys have scant data on Wiccans in the United States, but a 2007 study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reported that less than 0.3 percent of Americans listed themselves in the category of “Wicca, pagan, or new age.” That means there are fewer than a million Wiccans in a nation of 312 million.
Both Lord Chadow and Morgana said they became interested in witchcraft because members of their family practiced magic.
In an interview in the arts center’s dimly lighted theater — chosen by the witches because it is a “portal” with good energy — Lord Chadow said the coven is like a family.
“What I like about my priestesses, what I like about these ladies, is they help me,” he said, patting Morgana on the knee. “And there’s no special favors they do for me. They don’t hug or kiss on me, it’s nothing like that.”
After a brief pause, the two priestesses laughed.
“We like hugging you,” Morgana protested.
“Well, we always give each other hugs,” Lord Chadow said, correcting himself. “We’re very close. But I can say this much: When it comes to helping and doing something for somebody, these people right here are the first people I would go to.”
The priest and priestesses said most people don’t understand Wicca, and ignorance leads to misconceptions about their beliefs and practices.
While their families know they are witches, they said they are reluctant to tell others. But if someone asks, they will be honest.
“People only know what they’ve been told,” said Morgana, who works in the trucking industry. “You just have to slowly, slowly just get the message out. We’ll never be on the street corner with our Book of Shadows like it was a Bible and say, ‘Sign here! Join us, join us!’ But I would never say that you can never approach me and ask me. I would love to have that conversation.”
The witches strongly asserted that they do not worship Satan. Why would they, they asked, since they don’t believe the Devil exists.
They don’t perform animal sacrifices, let alone human sacrifices.
They never try to recruit members, but wait for seekers to come to them.
They don’t cast spells by saying “abracadabra, hocus pocus, or that kind of crap,” Lord Chadow said.
And they don’t really care for pop-culture’s sorcery superstar, Harry Potter.
“There’s only one guy in the coven who reads Harry Potter books,” Lord Chadow said.
“Wicca is very much a nature-based religion,” said Morgana, who speaks with a Welsh accent, having moved to Toledo from Wales 13 years ago. “It’s all about recycling. It’s all about loving the Earth. We honor the elements and various gods and goddesses, depending on who you talk to, but it has nothing to do with any kind of Christian Satan or anything like that.”
Lord Chadow said they give thanks to the elements that make life possible.
“We call upon the gods and goddesses, calling up and thanking all the elements that we use every day of the week that most people don’t thank,” he said. “We thank the element of air. We thank the element of fire. The element of water. And the element of Earth.”
Members wear hooded robes and pentacle ornaments — an upright star in a circle, unlike pentagrams whose stars point downward — with the star’s points symbolizing humankind and the other four elements. Coven members also wear custom-designed, silver Northern Spirits pendants with a wolf logo.
At their spiritual gatherings, held in a basement room at the arts center, they will stand in a circle and often “raise a little energy, make everybody happy” by playing African djembe drums, Lord Chadow said. Some dance, others don’t — “just like at a rock concert,” he said.
When finished drumming, the witches shake their arms and hands downward, “shaking” the energy back into the Earth. “We only keep what we need,” Lord Chadow said.
They will also burn boons, a form of spell-casting.
“When people speak of spells they think it’s going to be abracadabra, and then here’s a frog,” Morgana said. “But it’s really just a thought form.”
They may hold a piece of paper, for example, and concentrate, make a wish, then light it on fire with a candle and place it in a cauldron.
“The idea is your spirit and your wishes will go up there to the universe and hopefully your prayers are going to be answered by whoever wants to listen to you at that particular point,” Morgana said.
She isn’t worried by people telling her she will suffer eternally because of witchcraft.
“The cool thing is, there’s no Devil and there’s no hell,” she said. “We’re not going to burn in hell because there’s no such thing.”
Contact David Yonke at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6154.