Kimberly appeared for the cover article for Worcester Magazine in 2008 as well as
interviews with smaller publications over the years.
Recently PEN was asked to participate with several other groups in an article for the Worcester Magazine to help dispel the myths regarding Halloween and Witches.
This article is taken in direct format and has not been altered in any way. The original article can be viewed at http://www.worcestermagazine.com/content/view/3371/
There were errors and the retraction is listed below
WRITTEN BY STAFF
WEDNESDAY, 29 OCTOBER 2008
No broomstick, no problem
By Erik Radvon, Photos by Steven King
It’s Halloween night. Children don their costumes, parents stock up on candy, and porch lights come on across the city. Somewhere, though, other forces are at work. They have lived in the shadows for millennia and been the source of countless tales of horror and the grotesque. Their likeness has been popularized in everything from Shakespeare’s plays to glitzy Broadway musicals. They’re witches. And they’re right in your backyard. What diabolical plans could these purveyors of the occult have in store for the most ghoulish day of the year, Halloween? Are they rounding up black cats for ritual sacrifice? Boiling a sickening brew in a black cauldron? Conjuring up the image of some dark lord to wreak havoc on those who have slighted them? What could these self -proclaimed witches, warlocks, sorcerers and pagans be doing on Halloween besides practicing some arcane ritual that would make the righteous tremble? You’d be surprised.
The Sorcerer Wore Brooks Brothers
Actually, Halloween is not that big of a deal for us,” says Bob Audlee, responsible homeowner, taxpayer and real-life Worcester County warlock.
“What do I do for Halloween? I go to CVS and Wal-Mart and buy some candy, put it in a plastic bowl and hand it out to the neighborhood kids. I decorate my house. You know, normal stuff. Why, what do you do for Halloween?”
At first glance, Audlee would be hard to peg as a sorcerer. Decked out in a Brooks Brothers suit and sporting a watch that probably cost a month’s salary, Audlee’s image fits that of a successful IT professional, which in fact is what he is. By day.
When not consulting search engine companies on how to better optimize their results or leading teams of network systems analysts on massive high-tech projects, Audlee is busy helping the magical world meet all its voodoo doll, poppet, bat heart, mortar and pestle, and rare granular incense needs via his online occult superstore, TheStonePentacle.com. The Stone Pentacle isn’t based in Silicon Valley, but rather 25 miles or so north of Worcester in a Lunenburg warehouse chock full of all things magical. Similarly, the virtual witch shop doesn’t take its name from antiquity or long-lost occult lore — it was dubbed in honor of an actual stone pentacle (five-point star) fashioned out of hundreds of bricks in Audlee’s own backyard.
“The name came from the monument I built behind my house. I made it myself out of cobblestones; it’s 12 feet across and can work as an astrological calendar,” Audlee says. “Sometimes the neighbors have peeked over the fence, but generally speaking they’ve been pretty cool about it.”
Audlee founded his online occult store a few years ago after becoming fed up with constantly having to track down all the necessary supplies to practice his beliefs.
“You know, it got to the point where if you wanted some pure sea salt, you’d have to go to a Jewish store, or if you wanted something else you would have to go to another ethnic store. There were a few New Age-y shops here and there, but even they could be hit or miss. So availability and consistency were the issues that kind of drove the creation of the site,” Audlee says.
According to Audlee, that’s the thing about Wicca, Paganism and other occult pursuits: There are no churches, no centralized dogma and no Watchtower-style literature slipped under people’s doors.
“It’s kind of an underground thing. We call it being in the broom closet,” Audlee says.
That, combined with a vast diversity of beliefs among followers and practitioners, makes it hard to neatly classify what exactly makes a person a witch or a warlock. “Wicca” has become a popular buzzword to describe the followers of this alternative spiritual path, but actual self-described Wiccans account for just one slice of the many-flavored occult pie.
“If you get 100 Wiccans in a room, you’ll end up with approximately 143.2 different sets of beliefs,” Audlee laughs. “There is a widespread variety of opinions and practices out there.”
If one group could be called “orthodox” in the world of modern day witchcraft, it’s Gardnerian witches. Named after 20th Century British civil clerk and witchcraft aficionado Gerald Gardner, Gardnerians employ the most rigid set of occult spiritualism, with rankings, degrees of initiation and complex rituals with exact requirements.
The group’s founding father spent the years leading up to and following World War II traveling the world as a member of the British civil service, racking up a resume that reads like The Jungle Book if it had been written by J.K. Rowling. In between planting rubber trees in Borneo and working as an official inspector for the British Empire in southeast Asia, Gardner stumbled upon the pre-Christianity practices and traditions of the native populations, apparently liked what he saw, and repackaged it for the Western world as “witchcraft” in the 1950s. The witchcraft name eventually gave way to the more popular (and less scary sounding) Wicca, and 50 years later Gardner’s particular brand of neopaganism is still going strong and has been recognized as an official religion in most of the industrialized world. The fact that books with titles like Wicca for Dummies sit on the shelves at Barnes and Noble and pentagram-emblazoned tee shirts adorn the racks at Newbury Comics is probably due in large part to Gardner’s interests and efforts in popularizing the occult.
Audlee, and a great number of self-practicing witches and pagans, classify themselves as Eclectics, or a kind of unorthodox magic-wielders. Also, like many others associated with Wicca or Paganism, Audlee was curious about different spiritual paths throughout his life and finally settled on occult practices because they offered a unique connection to the divine without the bureaucratic layers found in larger, more organized faiths.
“I was an altar boy, I read the Book of Mormon, went to temple with some Jewish friends, but I was really attracted to Wicca because it offered this direct connection with deity. It’s all about having a personal relationship with God or the gods or the goddess, or whatever you choose to call it,” he says. “It’s not so much about witches and magic and all that stuff as it is about people acknowledging that there is something more at work in the universe.”
Audlee says the people interested in such pursuits come in all shapes and sizes and from all walks of life.
“I really enjoy the people I meet. Once in awhile you get the flakes, the oddballs, and the people who have [an affinity for] wearing a lot of black, but aside from that there are a lot of different types of people who get into this,” he says. “I’ve shipped to high tech people, tradespeople and a lot of military personnel. I’ve shipped orders to an amazing number of APOs [Army Post Offices].”
Guess Who’s Astral Projecting Themselves to Dinner?
So, what if a member of your family or their significant other comes waltzing through the door wearing said pentagram-emblazoned tee shirt, carting an Aleister Crowley tome (try Google or Ozzy Osbourne for more on him) and burning multicolored candles at strange hours of the night? Do you: A) Run to the nearest church, find a priest willing to perform a 15-hour exorcism and lock the offending pagan into a padded room until their heathen tendencies are extinguished, or B) Try to dig up as much information on this witchcraft stuff as possible and figure out what it all means.
The witches of the Pagan Education Network are hoping you go with the latter.
Kimberly Sherman-Cook is a hairdresser by trade and a high priestess witch by choice. Alongside business partner and fellow witch Amy Pierce, Sherman-Cook acts as the public face of neopaganism. Both say today’s paganism is non-threatening and nothing for people to be afraid of, and through their Web site PaganEducation.org (another that can call Central Mass home; take that California!) hope to spread the good word about the dark arts.
Neopaganism has been thriving in recent years, due in large part to the Internet.
“Because there has been so much emerging about paganism and witchcraft, we thought that there should be someplace out there setting the facts straight and giving people a place to start from when they are looking for information,” Sherman-Cook says.
The group is legally recognized by both the state and federal governments as a “church entity” and is also a registered 501c non-profit organization.
The ultimate aim of the Pagan Education Network, or PEN, is to open a pagan retreat center in Worcester County that could train the next generation of high priests and priestesses to carry the faith forward into the future, and take on the surprisingly mundane tasks of maintaining neopagan community. “We need more people trained to perform hand-fasting ceremonies and officiate over births and funerals,” Sherman-Cook says.
For the uninitiated, hand-fasting is magic speak for a wedding, and as for what takes place at a pagan birth or funeral, the witches say it’s all rather normal. “None of it is much different than a normal birth or funeral or wedding,” Sherman-Cook says. “At a handfasting, two people are joined together on all levels, physically and spiritually. It’s really about attaching the spirit, which is a very traditional way of looking at marriage that is in cultures and traditions all over the world.”
PEN’s priests and priestesses all become legally ordained to perform such ceremonies and continue a sometimes lifelong process of expanding their occult knowledge.
“We are not the exalted gurus or experts or anything like that,” Sherman-Cook says. “If anything, we learn as much from working with people as they do from us.
Pierce says the world should know that witches like herself are far from the traditional “wicked crone” stereotype.
“We don’t have green noses and we don’t ride around on brooms,” she laughs. “We’re not trying to cause harm to anyone.”
Sherman-Cook says that while intolerance of pagans has faded over time, many misconceptions about witches are still out there.
“I guess I’d want people to know that we are just regular people. We go to work everyday and come home to a family and children. We try to live as upstanding members of society, the same as anyone else. We are concerned about current events, we want the Earth to heal, we recycle,” she says.
Witches Sherman-Cook and Pierce and wizard Bob Audlee all expressed the hope that their beliefs will continue to be further accepted by the mainstream as a serious path of faith and respected as such. “If people looked into our religion, they would see so many similarities to their own. There really are no secrets,” Sherman-Cook says.
Sherman-Cook, Pierce, and Audlee were gracious enough to allow Worcester Magazine to be a fly on the wall at a mock-ceremony in order to illustrate techniques they use in their religion and demystify the process. Using Audlee’s stone pentacle as a backdrop, the magical trio demonstrated some of the rituals that make up the pagan canon. No blood was spilled and no demons were summoned.
At one point in the ritual, Sherman-Cook provided a large metal cup and Audlee brandished a ceremonial knife called an athame. When asked what the ritual represented, the witches and the wizard had a quick answer: “Sex.” Sherman-Cook’s chalice represented femininity of the goddess, while Audlee’s athame stood for the masculine side of the divine. Middle school anatomy class can fill in the rest of the imagery.
“This is a big deal,” Audlee said. “This is a big deal for us to show someone.” The chalice is usually filled with a mixture of salt and water, which Audlee says was the original recipe for Holy Water. The ritual pays homage to the ultimate fusion of the feminine and the masculine, the uniting of the goddess and the god.
I Know What You Did Last Samhain
Modern Halloween has its roots in the ancient Gaelic tradition, Samhain (pronounced SOW-when). For the witches of Worcester County, the day is one part Celtic New Year mixed with one part Day of the Dead. Samhain was the Celtic harvest festival and represented the end of the warm phase of the year and the beginning of winter. According to Audlee, the day is a minor holiday for pagans.
“It could be compared to something like All Saints Day, where you take some time to think of beloved friends and relatives. It can often be a very personal day that doesn’t involve any sort of group ritual,” he says.
Samhain is just one compass point on the pagan calendar called the Wheel of Life. The wheel marks the two solstices, a Christmas-esque holiday called Yule and several other important astrological and seasonal times of the year.
The witches of the Pagan Education Network echo Audlee, and say that there are no crazy sacrifices made on Halloween night, no black cats rounded up, no conjuring of demons while the veil between the two worlds is at its thinnest.
“There is none of that type of stuff,” says Sherman-Cook. “It’s a time of reflection, really. Some witches will have an ancestral alter set up with some trinkets or mementos from their family or loved ones and perform a kind of remembrance meditation ceremony. It’s all about honoring those who have gone.”
Pierce added that any pagan group activity on Oct. 31 would be, well, kind of dull.
“One of the things that we might do as a group is get together and share stories of our grandmothers. You know, just share memories and look back on the year and look forward to the new one coming up,” she says.
Diane Haynes could be called an understated witch. She doesn’t like to weary flashy pagan symbols out in public and spends most of her days tending to her Spencer New Age store, Some Enchanted Evening (someenchantedevening.org). From the outside, the pumpkin-colored shop looks like a quaint bed and breakfast, or perhaps a suburban doctor’s office.
With 11 years in the Central Mass magic business, Haynes has seen a range of reactions to Wicca and alternative faiths.
“There’s been a few times when people have crossed the street because they didn’t want to walk past our building. We’ve also been excluded from some holiday events in town, I guess because they think that it’s only a Christian thing. It’s funny and sad at the same time,” Haynes says.
She says much of the prejudice against modern witches comes from fear and ignorance, which some practitioners can inflame through their choice of imagery.
“People don’t have to fear us, and I would very much like there not to be that fear. This is not something I’ve done to shock people; it’s just about finding spirituality,” she says “It does bother me though when people throw their pentacles around. I think a lot of them are doing it for the shock value, and that’s not necessary. I don’t think they realize how their actions can really affect other people.”
Haynes is hugely supportive of the Wicca and neopagan community in Central Mass, selling them supplies from her shop and offering higher education through the Spencer campus of the College of Metaphysical Studies.
“Anyone interested can take courses at $40 per credit hour and earn their associate’s or bachelor’s degree,” she says.
The College of Metaphysical Studies is accredited as a holistic college, she notes.
“You can’t transfer from here to Holy Cross, but for someone getting into the healing business it’s really helpful to have a college degree.”
Haynes hopes the public misconceptions of her religion will someday fall by the wayside.
“I would like to see a broader acceptance and respect for it. I think people are really driven by fear, and they fear what they don’t understand the most. Our beliefs are very close to Native Americans’ and I don’t know anybody who is afraid of them,” she says.
While generational shifts have softened some of the hard-line antagonism toward witchcraft, Haynes says that many people have become more militant as well.
“People have bad ideas about Wicca, but all it takes is a little crack in their armor to get them thinking about what we really believe and practice. I’ve had some of the most open conversations with ministers who have come into the shop. We’ve had nuns come in here and Buddhist monks and even Mormons. It makes for some lively conversations.”
Those conversations are great tools to thawing the icy divide between the pagan world and the more mainstream religions, Haynes says, but also conversations she prefers to have within the confines of her shop.
“I don’t generally want to have those discussions while I’m out buying groceries.”
Haynes tells of one such encounter at a neighborhood pharmacy, where she says a clerk refused to serve her because of misconceptions about her religion.
“I just happened to be wearing a pentagram necklace and it slipped out from under my shirt. The girl working there said to me ‘Do you know what that means?’ I said ‘Yes, I do, but I don’t think you do.’” J
We heard from several readers that in last week’s cover story on Wicca, the term “warlock” was wrongly used to describe one of its practitioners. As Kimberly Sherman-Cook, who was featured in the story, noted, “our community uses this word to mean, ‘oath breaker.’ It is a derogatory term used as a slap in the face.” Also, Samhain is considered a major holiday, not a minor one. We apologize for the errors.
This can be viewed at http://www.worcestermagazine.com/content/view/3393/