Exploring alternate faiths in Kingston

Our experience at a Wiccan Moot

An uninformed, novice’s attempt of a Wiccan altar.

As we pulled open the double doors to The Merchant Tap House on the third Wednesday of September, we were nervous to see what was on the other side.

Days of discussion and wonderment pre-empted the many possibilities, all of which we expected to be grand, odd and… magical.

Walking through the dimly lit entrance at exactly 8 p.m. we nervously approached the bar to find that the inside of it was far larger than it seemed. It stretched into several directions filled semi-divided rooms that couldn’t be fully seen from any one vantage point. We’d never been here before and didn’t know what to expect.

We made our way to the bar and ordered a white wine each, paid for by the only other person on a stool, a man from Boston watching the Red Sox game.

Looking around the almost empty pub, we began to lose hope that we would find what we were looking for, so we asked the bartender if he was familiar with the Wiccan Moot that meets there monthly. He wasn’t. 

Wiccans are members of the religion Wicca. Often scrutinized for being cult-like and mysterious, the religion in simple terms can be defined as an earth-based, pre-pagan religion. It’s very hands-on and requires a lot of work to properly follow. The word “moot” is what they call their informal gatherings.

The bartender walked through an entryway to the back of the bar and returned to tell us that he suspected we should go sit by the table with the white balloon in the center, as the group sitting around it looked like they could fit the part.

The incredibly practical way of finding the group was a theme that continued throughout our evening.

We couldn’t help but giggle and promised we’d give him the details afterwards and with that, nervously made our way over to the Wiccan’s table. 

In preparing for the Moot, we ran multiple searches on how to begin practicing Wicca. We wanted to 

go in already inducted into the religion — which we now realize was ridiculous. The Internet told us to build a religious altar with things that inspired us, made us happy and connected us to nature. 

Actually, it said “you.” Singular. If our first faux pas was trying to build a religious altar, our second was trying to do it as a pair. We collected clovers and leaves, do-dads from our bedrooms and a compilation of Poe’s short stories and tea light candles; each item meant to compliment the spooky mood we were aiming for.  

When we thought of Wicca the night before coming to the Moot, the images that came to mind were of Hermione Granger, broomsticks, Sabrina the Teenage Witch and that really odd Halloween-themed Olsen twins movie with a moonstone and a magic mirror.

Walking over to the three person table, it was clear that those depictions were nowhere near reality.

Sitting down, an outsider’s only clue as to why we were congregated was a small pentagram pendant hanging from the male group leader’s neck. 

The female leader welcomed us with questions about what led us to their gathering and we shifted uncomfortably in our seats as we told them that we worked for The Journal and came to learn more about the Wiccans than what was offered online.

What began as a defensive and uncomfortable conversation quickly turned to a friendly and welcoming academic environment. The leaders pulled out their prepared notes and began to explain the topic for the evening: Mabon, the autumn equinox. 

This occurs twice a year and puts the sun and the moon, the god and the goddess, in equality. They explained that this was a time of harvest and celebration, also known as a Sabbat. 

Wary of our minimal knowledge, the Wicca leaders  frequently stopped themselves from only using technical terms and seemed to genuinely care for our understanding of the practices. We glanced over at each other knowingly — we were being better accommodated here than in some of our seminars. 

The duo who ran the meeting explained that they had very different introductions to Wicca. The woman told us that she had been raised with Wicca and decided to continue the practice into her adult life. She emphasized that they don’t sway people, or allow people under 18 to participate in certain aspects until they have lived enough to make an informed decision. 

She sent her own children to Catholic schools in order to expose them to mainstream religion and make sure they were able to experience things for themselves before choosing what they wanted to practice. 

The male leader of the meeting, was raised in a Christian family. He chose to pursue Wicca when he was 16 years old after a period of questioning Anglican Christianity. While both had different experiences, they connected in Kingston. 

The itinerary for the evening was formatted to encourage discussion and was balanced to include some hands-on inspection of the selected gemstone and herb we were presented with a wealth of information, both scientific and spiritual, about each. 

Both leaders had differing views peppered throughout the evening. Each time they spoke about their opinion and interpretation of something, such as the concept of Magick, they managed to do so without aggression. Neither one wanted to convince the other that their way was best, instead they expressed their thoughts intelligently and listened to each other’s point of view. 

The common understanding of magic has to do with spells, wizards and witches. Magick with a ‘k’ is to be understood as the belief in nature being super rather than the belief in the supernatural. Wiccans will things to happen through their everyday actions. They don’t force change, but promote it through ritual.

They stressed after any sweeping statement about what something meant or how something was practised, that not all Wiccans would agree on everything. Because of the heavy emphasis on individual interpretation, they didn’t need to. It gave the concept of Wicca, despite being a demanding practise, a sense of freedom that someone from a monotheistic background may not have had with their own scripture and sermons. 

Wicca, as we came to realize, was not a mysterious fad, but a complicated and serious religion with an equally complicated and serious history.

By about halfway through the night, we began to feel somewhat guilty about our misinformed ideas about what Wicca would be like. 

We concluded that any religion or practice could be reduced to spooky and strange rituals if not presented by a knowledgeable source. Just because we desperately wanted Harry Potter’s world to exist in real life doesn’t mean it does.  

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