Fresh perspectives on those who were once considered the Sisters of Satan
Alexis Ola Zygan // Contributor
Ana Maria Caicedo // Arts & Culture Editor
Sarah Rose // Feature Editor
Freya Wasteneys // Managing Editor
Coralie Mayer-Traynor // Illustrator
Beyond the confines of fictional tales like Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Rosemary’s Baby, practicing witches live among us. Far from the grotesque, sexual and terrifying depictions in the media, most covens reject the cackling cryptic rhymes for individual empowerment and personal transformation. It’s hardly the collaboration with Satan we tend to imagine.
Anxiety—fed by negative public reactions and Hollywood’s demonization—has contributed to a certain stigma around witchcraft. Paganism is often confused with Satanism. But, like many other religions, Wicca exists in various forms and denominations, none of which are related to Satanism. Today, many witches practice in secret.
Privacy and geographic limitations can lead modern covens to choose to pursue their practices online. Lily, a member of the Correlian Nativist community (one of the many branches of Wicca), has been practicing Wicca—both collectively and on her own—since she was a young child. In fact, she said her talents first manifested at the age of two and she remembers predicting the rise of sea levels at 13. By 18, she knew it was her destiny to lead a coven of her own.
It wasn’t until her mid-thirties that she finally understood why her dreams forecasted future events. After running from fate for years, she finally came full circle when she asked the universe to aid her in starting her own coven. “I know a lot more than I did at eighteen, don’t we all,” Lily mused. Now in her fifties, she says the answer to her question arrived subconsciously in a dream, the day before she opened the Coven for membership.
Today, *Lily, who lives far from urban city life in the mountains of Northern Ontario, is the high priestess of a Correllian Nativist Coven that practices entirely online. She believes that the misconceptions that surround Wicca only serve to stigmatize those who practice magic, pushing them further from widespread acceptance. Lily asked for anonymity, as speaking about her craft can still result in backlash.
As a young Wiccan, the high priestess acquired knowledge from other pagans in her bloodline, particularly her father and great grandmother, who was a medicine woman. “My father shared telepathy with his mother as I do with my father. He will drink beer and I will burp it. He does it to aggravate me, so that I call him,” she said.
Coming from a family with Puritan ties, however, she was often urged to hide her talent for divination. She recalls that many people reacted with fear stemming from ignorance and a lack of knowledge. “Little dolls with nooses tied around their necks [were hung] off lockers or thrown at me,” she said of her peers’ abusive behaviour. Lily notes that practicing witches often prefer to remain invisible as a protective mechanism.
Correllian Nativists are unique from other Wicca traditions in their embrace of the internet as a space to learn, communicate and practice witchcraft. Lily’s coven interacts through a Facebook group where members collaborate, educate and practice magic collectively. The group has set opening and closing times, which Lily regulates, in order to keep bad energy out. Practicing online also means fewer restrictions on coven members, solving, for example, mobility issues which would result from meeting in a non-accessible space. Despite the distance between members of the coven, all invited can join, learn, and practice Wicca.
In recent years, Correllian Nativist Wicca has steadily increased in membership, growing in popularity worldwide. The practice emphasizes peer-based support and aims to enable its members to find power within themselves. This is done through meditation and energy-focused efforts that connect consciousness and intention.
*Violet, a Vancouver-based coven member in her forties, joined the group seven months ago. She explained that the group is currently working on first-degree priesthood (there are three degrees of wicca education), which involves studying the history of wicca and various gods and goddesses, as well as casting circles and practicing different exercises—such as cleansing and protection exercises.
The protection exercise, Violet explained, involves conjuring and maintaining energy. “Basically, it’s going into a meditative state and building a bright light around your body, like a bubble around your body so that negative energy can’t penetrate. It’s meditation and visualization, and then you have to try to keep that power up through the day, or for a set amount of time. [For] most people it takes years to master it—to keep it up all the time,” she said.
To cast circles, Lily types up a procedure which coven members must follow in order to enter the circle. Once they’re in the circle, the members try to exchange energy through visualization. The online nature of the coven can make circle-casting difficult. “It’s hard to feel someone’s energy from [a] long distance,” Violet noted. “If you’re in the same room as someone you can kind of look at them and gauge what their energy is, but when you’re online, you’re at a distance… you’re trying to see somebody’s energy and what they’re thinking and doing when they’re not right in front of you, you can’t read their face,” she explained. She added that casting circles is still possible online—“It just takes more concentration, and you have to be open to it.”
Each coven member’s encounter with a higher power is unique and based on the notion of a universal inner truth within nature that is expressed through outer forms. “It’s not so much ‘there is a God’ in the ‘God’ sense, it’s a higher power that is out there and it’s an archetype— the gods and goddesses are kind of a story and [they’re] expressing a universal power that’s in all of us,” explained Violet. “We all have a little bit of it in us and we can connect to each other, and to the trees and the rocks and all that stuff, through this universal power.”
Correllian Nativist teachings stem from Rev. Donald Lewis-Highcorrell’s text Witch School, and Lewis-Highcorrell himself serves as the Chief Priest of the Correll Mother Temple. The tradition strongly believes in the law of attraction, and much of their doctrine revolves around emitting good energy into the universe, and setting intentions to be collectively blessed by their covens.
Although membership is free, the work Lily’s coven engages in is often more in-depth than new members may expect. The coven has lost twenty-two members since January alone, and some find that working online leaves something to be desired—a lack of feeling of physical energy from another person, as Violet previously noted, which would be more likely to occur when meeting in real life.
When entering a coven, it’s typical to see all kinds of misconceptions around what it means to practice Wicca. Some members drop out after just a few months due to the strain of the workload. Others attempt to start their own coven, unaware of the amount of training necessary to facilitate one. The path of practicing Wicca is far from effortless, demanding devotion and energy to hone one’s craft.
While many younger witches may choose to pursue the religion out of a desire to “hex,” it is often a waste of time. In my own spiritual practice, I have come across others who long for this power but don’t bother investing time to understand the reasoning and the process. Practicing Wicca demands countless hours of studying, learning, practice, theory and hard work. Inducing harm to another being with the help of supernatural forces manifested is a force that requires years of dedication and study and—fortunately—it is unavailable to those who wish to achieve it by simply purchasing incense from a HeadShop and a deck of Tarot Cards from Urban Outfitters.
Perhaps this trend stems from the preconception of Wicca as a conduit to do evil, rather than the path to self-actualization and empowerment those deeply involved in Wicca know it to be. The moral code of Wicca can be summed up by the Wiccan Rede “do as you will, but harm none.”
Correalist Nativist Wicca will continue to be practiced, in solidarity online and off, as long as people like Lily continue to share the magical power of intentions and consciousness with others. Although stereotypes of Wicca persist, Lily’s coven exemplifies how practicing magic is nothing more than empowering one another to be your best self.
*Names have been changed at the interviewees’ request