Bewitched by Wicca

Arizona Daily Star, Mar. 28, 2003

They live in suburbia, own a dog named Barleycorn and love to show off their kitchen remodeling.

Just call them the witches next door.

For close to 20 years, Ashleen O’Gaea and Jim Law, also known as Canyondancer, have practiced Wicca, a gentle paganism that celebrates the changing seasons and honors the cycle of life, death and rebirth.

Yes, they belong to a coven. Yes, there’s that faint outline of a pentagram on their family room floor. Yes, they practice some rituals without benefit of clothing – going “skyclad,” as they call it.

But those times are rare. After all, O’Gaea points out, “this is the skin cancer capital of the world.”

There’s no sacrificing of animals, no casting of evil spells, and above all, no Satanism.

“It does happen that we get lumped in with them, but we’ve seen a lot of progress,” says O’Gaea.

The two helped found the Tucson Area Wiccan-Pagan Network, also known as TAWN. It holds monthly meetings, cranks out brochures – many of them written by O’Gaea – and maintains a Web site at

As you might have guessed, there are now e-covens convening in Internet chat rooms.

Not so for Canyondancer and O’Gaea. “Our coven has 10 members who meet once a month,” says O’Gaea.

Those in the coven – in their 30s through 50s – work in health care, the legal field and education. One is in the military, currently deployed in the Middle East.

The coven usually meets in O’Gaea and Canyondancer’s back yard, inside a circle marked with symbols for fire, water, earth and air. There, they chant, burn candles and incense, and share cakes and ale with their deities.

Other times they hold rituals at designated campsites.

Only once have they been challenged – by a ranger who told them to take down the ritual banners they had hoisted.

After a little explanation from the group, the ranger, says Canyondancer, went to check on their status.

“He came back, said it was OK, then looked down at his watch and said, ‘Yep, the Constitution is still in effect.’ “

Both were raised in Oregon, he as a Presbyterian, she as a Unitarian. After marrying and coming to Tucson in 1974, they joined the Unitarian Church.

Before long, says O’Gaea, “we had hived off the Unitarian Church with some other followers and were doing our own little things – observing the solstice and May Day.”

In 1984, they discovered Wicca, and in 1991 founded Campsight Coven, raising their son, Ryan, the Wicca way.

“When he got to be 14 or 15, he went his own way, but he still films our rituals,” says O’Gaea.

When Ryan was younger, she fought to get his school to add a solstice observation and put “Deck the Halls” on the winter holiday program. “It’s pagan, you know,” says O’Gaea.

Since then, she’s published two books on raising children in the Wiccan way. A third book, “In the Service of Life: A Wiccan Perspective on Death,” is due out next month.

“Death is not an end, but part of a cycle, a prelude to rebirth,” says O’Gaea.

She also writes to inmates as part of Mother Earth Ministries, which offers paganism to the incarcerated.

Then there are the workshops, speaking engagements and book signings, not to mention maintaining their Web site,

After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, says Canyondancer, some witches became fearful of persecution. “They went back in the broom closet,” says O’Gaea.

Not these two, it would appear.


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Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday March 29, 2003.
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