By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
THE SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA LOCAL COUNCIL of the Covenant of the Goddess held its Winter Witches' Ball on Saturday — not at a dark and sultry underground club or even Griffith Park at midnight, but at the Culver City Elks Lodge.
"Oh, the Elks are very open," says an attractively ample woman who calls herself Lady Mariah. "They don't care who you are, as long as you pay for the hall!"
Indeed, at first glance you'd hardly know you were in the company of ragin' pagans. The courtyard is tastefully decorated with red and white Christmas lights, and the back hall looks for all the world like a church social — long tables demurely attired in white tablecloths and basic potluck fare (witches do eat roast chicken, salad, gumbo and marble cake). A DJ in black jacket and pants shares the stage with the American flag, spinning everything from sock hop to salsa.
Then, in the low-key dimness, you begin to notice the guy in the long monk's cassock, painted face peeking out from his cowl; the woman in a floor-length black cape and a large glittering pointed hat that would make the Wicked Witch of the West drool with envy; the towering transvestite in top hat and vinyl; the gal with the pointy ear.
"The thing about pagans is, they tend to have a really good sense of humor," explains Lisa, an animated Wiccan who hangs out at that Hollywood bastion of the occult, Pan Pipes, and is a journalist in her other life. "They like to play with the stereotypes."
And the stereotypes abound. Satan worshipers. Blood gulpers. Baby eaters. The Rosemary's Baby crowd: Watch out for a chalky undertaste in that White Russian . . .
"So many people think we're Satanists," laughs Lady Mariah. "Satan's part of the Christian tradition, not ours. We don't even know who he is! We're a nature-friendly religion; we worship a god and goddess, we respect everything on the Earth, we honor both male- and female-based energy."
When you think of the path of environmental destruction blazed by certain Christians in the White House, paganism begins to look better and better. The Society of the Goddess is a nonprofit national "federation of covens and solitaires" dedicated to the legal protection of witches and the protection of religious freedom in general. Its members are actively involved in fund-raising for charity organizations like Children of the Night, RAIN and the no-kill animal-rescue organization Best Friends. A few days after 9/11, they raised $5,000 for the New York Fireman's Relief Fund and the New York City Fraternal Order of Police.
And they know how to sew! Lord Orion, Lady Mariah's significant other, says that he made every stitch of his lavish Celt Magistus costume, from the flowing cloak and intricate lace-ruffled jabot to the little ivory skull buttons on his silver silk vest. "I do jewelry too," he shyly admits. Another couple, John and Greg, who head up a coven in San Francisco, are the stars of the evening in their 17th-century Beefeater attire; John's outfit features a silk doublet, jewel-encrusted jerkin, black-and-gold velvet-and-satin "slops," or pantaloons, and velvet hat with plume.
"I designed it from a 1653 portrait of Sir Walter Raleigh," he explains. "I made the whole thing in 24 hours! I mean, I do have a $1,200 embroidery machine."
Do they do costume design for a living? "I wish!" roars Greg. "No, I'm a statistician for an Internet company."
"And I handle Lufthansa's mileage program," adds John.
In the long, snaking food line, conversations are animated. "Did I tell you about my witch experience in Jamaica?" "Awesome!" There's the usual gossip: "Did you hear? She was hauled in for having sex with young boys and claiming it was part of her religion!"
The guy in the cloak and cowl is now doing MC duty. Jumping up on the stage, he warms up the crowd.
"Are we all having fun?"
A big cheer.
"Who among us would like to be groped and fondled?"
A bigger cheer.
"And who among us would like to be flogged and beaten?"
Not such a big cheer.
"S&M isn't all that big here," explains Lisa, who goes on to talk about Pan Pipes. "We have lots of courses — a basic introductory course on Wicca, then there are courses in wand making, spell casting, hexes and curses, alchemy . . . "
Just like Harry Potter!
"Yeah, kind of."
Do the spells really work?
"Listen," she confides, "I got my husband with one!"
Pagans need love too.
We Have Our Issues
"Intervention damages the fabric of a nation, the chance of resurrecting its history, the wholeness of its cultural identity . . . More and more, over the past two years, I have heard North Americans in responsible positions speak of not caring whether the United States is loved, but whether it is feared; not whether the rights of others are respected, but whether its own strategic interests are defended. These are inclinations we have come to associate with the brutal diplomacy of the Soviet Union."