wheel of life turns. The fire burns and returns.”
A circle of 12 people sings these words around a fire pit behind the store Moon Goddess at 4018 N.W. Sixth Street. It is February and the group celebrates the Pagan Sabbath Imbolc, welcoming the arrival of spring. As they sing, a white candle passes through the hands of every person, each one making a wish. Laura Doljanica, owner of the store and high priestess of the Sacred Circle Fellowship, promises by the next harvest in August, these wishes will materialize. She asks everyone to be sure they have made a wish they really want, because there is no turning back. After each nods his or her head in affirmation, she throws the candle into the fire, and the group chimes in unison, “So mote it be,” to seal the spell.
When the spell is finished, everyone stands side by side, listening to Laura talk about the meaning of the Sabbath. Some have their eyes closed as they listen to Laura, while others stare into the fire. There are four candles on the ground around the circle, one at each of compass points. After Laura finishes talking, it is time to open each of the quarters. This is to bring forth the energy of the elements. Each direction has an element: North – Earth, South – Fire, East – Air, and West - Water. Four women help Laura open the quarters. For this, there is no room for error. Before the circle, Laura went to each woman and told her what to say and how to say it. “I want it felt,” she says sternly through a thick Argentinean accent. “I want it fast. I want it vocalized. I want the neighbors to hear.”
Once the ritual is finished, everyone goes into the house for a potluck dinner. No one may leave without eating. After such intense spiritual activity people need to eat so they can ground themselves, Laura says. The two small tables in the kitchen are covered with jambalaya, cakes, hot sauce, ribs and drinks. Everyone gathers in the store’s back room eating and talking for about an hour before it’s time to go. As they leave, everyone hugs each other and says they will see each other later on in the week.
Witches and wiccans from as far as Lake City and Live Oak come to Moon Goddess to observe occasions such as Sabbaths, Solstices and full moons. It’s the closest place of worship for most, and there are usually about 25 to 30 people involved with the group at any given time. The group is not a formal coven of witches with a set membership, but a circle, which allows its members to come and go as they please. Everyone who is a part of the fellowship comes from different backgrounds of practice and from different traditions, but they all worship the God and Goddess. All of the witches and wiccans who come to Sacred Circle have the same fundamental beliefs even if the practices vary slightly.
“I try to make the circles as eclectic as possible,” Laura says about the diverse circle.
Upon entering the friendly environment, people are greeted and invited into the current conversation. Frankincense and Myrrh incense fills the store with an inviting aroma and a haze of smoke. Different-colored candles mean different things and are used for certain spells. Green candles are used for prosperity, red for passion and power, orange for business and success, and the list goes on and on. The use of herbs is the same—certain herbs for certain spells. The store offers all these things for sale, and on certain nights, classes are held to teach people how to use them.
Leah Stuchel, a UF graduate student, teaches a class every Thursday night at Moon Goddess on topics incorporated in Witchcraft such as astrology, candle magick and Sabbath meanings. The two-hour classes fill up quickly and they ask for a $5 donation. At the end, Leah reminds everyone of one of their major beliefs, that everything you do comes back to you three-fold, so put your money in the till. She says it jokingly, but the belief is real. Everything is karmic.
When Leah teaches the magick class, one of the first things she has to explain to people is not which candles are herbs are used for what, but rather why it is spelled differently than magic. Throughout practices of witchcraft, magic is spelled in a variety of ways: majik, majick, majic, or magick. This originated to help differentiate the word from the generic pulling-the-rabbit-out-of-the-hat type of magic.
“Magic is generally associated with David Copperfield,” says Leah.
Like Laura, Leah has been practicing witchcraft her whole life. One of the first things she did when she game to Gainesville for graduate school was find the circle. When she first came to UF, she was very open about her beliefs, but things started to get complicated for her. Other students made things difficult for her. They tried to have her removed from the class, or attempted to make her feel uncomfortable so she would switch.
Jorge Montelongo has not told people in his classes about his religion because of this very reason. He is not ready to find out how they would react. All of his friends know and treat him no differently because of his religion.
“When I’m in a group with my friends and there are people around that don’t know they act sort of weird at first when they do find out,” Jorge says. “I’ve sat down and talked to some of them about it. Everybody reacts differently.”
Also, his parents don’t know about his religion. They know he is no longer Catholic, but they don’t really know what he is now. He is scared to find out how they would react. He is pretty sure his parents think the stereotypes surrounding witchcraft about cats and Satan and black magic are true.
Jorge didn’t find Paganism until later on in his life. He started exploring other religions when he was in ninth grade. When he was 20, he passed a store that catered to the Pagan and Wicccan community. He went inside to find out what the religion was about and has been practicing ever since. Jorge liked the fact that Paganism didn’t take away from his personal power. It doesn’t put the things that happen in his life in someone else’s hands, like he felt Christianity did.
“It was something I felt in my heart and in my mind,” he says. “I had finally found a name for what I thought was right.”
When he lived in Miami, Jorge was not part of a circle. He was in a coven. People in Sacred Circle only have as much responsibility to the rites and rituals as they want, explains Jorge.
“When I was initiated in Miami, it was a karmic connection,” he remembers. “It’s a commitment to each other. Being in a coven is like having another family. It’s different than Sacred Circle. People in covens depend on each other a lot. If you don’t show up one night, it’s like you’re letting everybody down.”
Aurora Collins, a retired high priestess, ran two covens in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., for over 20 years. According to her, the religion is very accepting and does not try to recruit new members.
“If this is what your spirit guides you to, great,” she says. “There are people here who will help you.”
The acceptance inherent in religion was important for Aurora when it came to her kids. She has three daughters. Two are witches, but the eldest is a Jehovah’s Witness.
“That was one of the big trials of my life,” she says laughing warily. “But my religion says I have to accept everybody’s choices in life, and I do.”
Aurora has always been very open about her beliefs, except for one instance. “When I was in the PTA, I didn’t vocalize it for my kids’ sakes,” she recalls.
She remembers her children asking her when it would be okay to bring a friend to a circle. She was always concerned about the way her kids would be treated if other parents knew about their beliefs. She also had a strict rule that people under 18 couldn’t come unless their parents knew about it. Laura feels the same way. She wants the parents to be involved.
“By telling kids they can come and not tell their parents, you are almost telling them they are doing something that is wrong and that they need to hide,” she explains.
There are a lot of stereotypes that go along with witchcraft, like the broom, the cats and the devil, but both Laura and Aurora agree these aren’t a big deal. All they display is ignorance.
“Personally, I don’t care if witches have warts and ride around on brooms,” Laura says, laughing. “It’s funny, it makes me laugh. It doesn’t annoy me.”
To Laura the big annoyance is people who get involved because they think witchcraft will solve all their problems. Life is still in the hands of the one living it, she says. Life is still the everyday stuff too.
“I can’t, just because I’m a witch, have my house clean,” she says.
Story by Heather