A grouping of generically bland apartments in Redmond are not the dark gothic mansion on the hill with flickering lightning and roaring thunder I imagined (hoped?) to be a Wiccan's home.
I approach the numbered door, and it opens with a whiff of musky incense. Standing in front of me is Toby Hurd, a tall, dark and articulate early-30s warlock wearing jeans, a black tank top and a five-pointed star necklace on a black cord around his neck.
The apartment is crowded with books and artifacts, stacks of Edgar Allen Poe snuggled next to Anne Rice and thick-spined volumes with titles like "Book of Shadows" and "Witchcraft for Tomorrow." Ritualistic statues, pentagrams, daggers and other tools and tapestries surround a tiny couch across from an enormous sparkling crystal ball. Hurd offers me a glass of water, which he serves in a heavy crystal chalice. I think Enya is playing.
Telling people you are a Wiccan is like telling them you're a Jedi. There's an element of mystery and, to be frank, delusion that comes along with the assertion. But, Hurd explains, Wicca is more about worship of nature and traditional ritual than about casting love spells and wearing pointy hats.
"Wicca, modern pagan witchcraft is a religion," says Hurd. "It got its start in England in the late 1940s. It's a Reconstructionist pagan religion." He goes on to say he has been a Wiccan since he was 12 years old when, one sunny afternoon, he took a pair of deer antlers into the yard and declared himself committed to the neo-pagan religion.
After discovering the Wicca section at an alternative bookstore in Bend, Hurd committed himself to learning everything he could about the tradition. He now makes his living doing what he calls divination, reading tarot cards and scrying (seeing) with his crystal ball. "It's duo-theistic, we worship the Goddess and the God. It's also animistic, meaning everything is endowed with life, everything has a spirit."
The tradition of misunderstood witches is a long one. Wicca has a reputation for being Satanist. It's an easy assumption to make to make based on the Christian perceptions of good and evil. The Ouija boards, tarot cards and pentagrams easily impart the heebie-jeebies, but Hurd assures me there are no animal sacrifices or transmogrified toads.
"If you tell someone you're Wiccan or a witch, they have automatic thoughts on what that is and about 90 percent of those are wrong," says Sylvia Hoeper, a practicing Wicca for two years and member of Hurd's coven. Hoeper discovered Wicca after some frustration with male dominated mainstream religions. "I think people think it's Satanism. That we're out there naked in a field, and it's not. It's really just a pagan peasant religion. It's simple and based on the earth."
As for the perception that wiccans do magic, Hurd confirms that is a large part of their practice, but it's not rabbit-and-hat tricks. Wiccans believe in conducting energy through ritual.
"I truly do magic," says Hurd. "There are various definitions of the word magic. One I like is the art and science of causing change in accordance with the will by supernormal means. Of course, what most people mean by the word is magical spells," he explains. "Wiccans practice two kinds of magic. High Magic(k) is the kind that connects us with deity and transforms us from within, raising our consciousness and attuning us with the higher power. Then there is what is called Low Magic(k) and that is the casting of spells for practical and often personal ends such as healing the sick, encouraging love, success, protection from harm, etc., and yes, they work. Some religions teach you to depend on a higher power, Wicca teaches you to do for yourself."
Hurd and Hoeper are a part of a local coven that meets monthly around the time of the full moon to study and perform rituals and celebrates eight sabbats, holidays that mark the transitional points of the seasonal year. When I ask if I can attend one of the coven meetings (the next is Samhain celebrated on Oct. 31), Hurd checks with the group and says some of the women (he is the only male that is part of this particular coven) said they would be uncomfortable with an outsider being there.
"There's been a lot of bad PR about witches over the years. The worry is that these people have children and work relationships and clients and that people would treat them differently," explains Hurd.
The decentralized nature of the practices and the stigma attached to the religion means that many who label themselves Wicca are still solitary practitioners. Hurd explains that the internet has garnished a resurgence in "out of the broom closet" Wiccas on websites like witchvox.com, but widespread dissemination of information and the lax structure of the religion make it impossible to estimate numbers of followers and perform any type of quality control.
"It started out very regimented. You could only join if you were initiated. Over time, the ability to access to information more freely has lead to anyone who wants to call themselves a Wiccan doing it," explains Hurd. "They can buy themselves a purple cape and say they're going to put spells on people not grasping that this is a full religion."