Oh my Goddess / In Utah This Week, Oct. 26, 2006

By Kim Burgess
In Utah This Week

To honor the feminine with The Church of the Sacred Circle, stop by the Oct. 28 All Souls’ Night Masquerade Ball at Anderson Commons, 734 E. 200 South. The event starts at 7 p.m. and includes Tarot readers, an oxygen bar, costume prizes and dancing. Admission is $10 per person, free for children under 12.

The next Mooncraft meeting is also at Anderson Commons, on Nov. 5 from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

The full moon is said to bring out werewolves, ghosts and skinny Goth kids. On a recent weekend in Salt Lake, I instead came across some the juice-loving pagans from The Church of the Sacred Circle. While not as exotic as any of the former, the pagans were fun and generous, allowing me to sit in and watch their Mooncraft festivities during “Interview-a-Witch Month,” as co-founder Rev. Heron calls October.

Fittingly, the group meets at Anderson Commons, an old Victorian home filled with chandeliers and stained glass. In a back room, I found a place in a circle of about 20 members, most of whom were middle-aged ladies wearing pentagrams. Heron stood in the center beside a table covered in a purple and green cloth. The mood was serious and spiritual, which made me want to giggle — an involuntary reaction I have to emotional heaviness. The feeling only got worse when Heron started a cleansing ritual that involved splashing each person with a few drops of salt water and waving incense over her body.

When the salt water hit me, I flinched and immediately felt embarrassed. Determined to redeem myself, I endeavored to do the next task perfectly: a “blot” or toast of the Norse gods with the aforementioned juice. Heron explained that she would call out the name of a god and we would repeat her, raising our glass before taking a sip. “Hail Odin!” Heron shouted to the first god. “Hail Odin!” the assembled pagans echoed back. After hailing a few more gods, we reached, “Hail the ancestors!” by which time I was out of juice and toasted with my empty cup. Hopefully the ancestors weren’t offended.

With our cups put away, it was time for divination or seeing into the future. Heron’s tool of choice were runes, small rocks with symbols “often painted in your own blood.” The runes are put in a bag and shaken up so that whichever ones you pick predict your future. Heron’s runes were divided into collections based on each of the elements and placed on separate tables around the circle. In a slow-moving line, we stopped at each one and picked out a rune before consulting a yellow photocopied sheet that described their meaning. The runes correspond to broad concepts like change or love and have names out of “Star Trek” — Sowelu, Beorc, Uruz, Laguz and Wyrd (pronounced weird).

My own picks symbolized chaos, joy and transformation, which roughly related to the question I had in mind. As a bonus, the runes were ours to keep, which thrilled Cloe Neville, one of the group’s younger members at 30. Neville herself had led last month’s Mooncraft, showing the group a brand of paganism that worships the Triple Realms, land, sea and sky. “I’m very nontraditional,” she explained. “Most people work with the four elements. … What I do is along the lines of Celtic Reconstructionism, but I wouldn’t call myself a Reconstructionist. I just prefer to work with the Triple Realms. I also work with an Egyptian goddess and with Mother Earth. I like how open they are [here].”

Heron responded that she strives to keep the group inclusive of all types of paganism, which is defined simply as worship of nature or multiple gods. “We’re non-denominational pagan,” she said. “We’re not just specifically Celtic pagan or Celtic Wiccan or Nordic. We include all the different Earth-based practices. That’s why you’ll find a widely varying ritual when you come to our full moons. … People get a chance to volunteer to lead the circle, which shows us different things and give them good practice.”

Heron’s own path as a pagan priestess involves dipping into Hinduism, Buddhism, Celtic and Nordic traditions. Raised a Mormon, she left the church at 14, outraged that she couldn’t engage in healing ceremonies because she was female. “I knew I wanted to do clergy work, and choices were limited there,” she said. “Here we honor the feminine, which is lacking in mainstream religion. … As pagans and witches, we create the lives that we want to live, and this is the life that I want to live.”