If you had ewes, they’d be lactating. That calls for a Wiccan festival.
“We’re kind of Middle American, aren’t we?” asked Walter Rhoads, a longtime attendee of the Wiccan celebrations put on by Belisama Fire. There were at least two strands of insinuation in Rhoads’ droll voice.
First, he was talking about the apparent normality of the two dozen men, women and children—plus one dog—who had gathered that evening to celebrate Imbolc, “the Feast of the Waxing Light.” Perhaps a bit too ethnically diverse to be strictly Middle American, the group was made up of more women than men. Save for the hooded robes some wore, they looked like filing clerks in a medical-records office.
The celebration took place in shabby barn somewhere in Rio Linda, and this was the second irony Rhoads was getting at. Rio Linda was an unlikely location for a witch’s sabbat. Put it this way: If Rio Linda were Midtown, fundamentalist Baptists would be the shiftless 23-year-olds in Buddy Holly glasses.
Fire wasn’t worried about harassment from Baptists or anyone else. She’s led a circle for 12 years with no problems. Once, in Del Paso Park, the fire department had asked her to put out a fire, but even they had waited respectfully until the ritual was over.
Fire met a witch by accident, who taught her the craft in the Bay Area in the early 1970s. While her only daughter was growing up, she called herself a Catholic, but still practiced witchcraft. She first met her man in a bar after she quit drinking. “I also rescue cats,” she said, rounding out her résumé.
Fire explained that the name of the festival, Imbolc, is derived from the ancient Celt’s word for lactating ewes. The drippy sheep meant spring lambs would soon be gamboling in the fields. As livestock ownership is rarer nowadays (even in Rio Linda), Imbolc is not about sheep, but about regeneration in one’s life and looking towards the future.
When it was time to start the ritual, the people stood outside in the chilly night air. They filed into the barn, chanting a song that ended with the phrase, “We’re coming home.” Each person was purified with water and incense smoke. The group made a circle around a caldron of fire. Cookies and fruit were passed around to eat, juice to drink. The ritual went on for a long time.
About halfway through, Fire’s granddaughter, perhaps a bit bored, stretched out on her belly. She put her chin in her hands and bent her knees so that her Uggs waved in the air above her.
After the ceremony, there was a potluck. The kids made a racket. The adults nibbled and chatted. This seemed as much of the point of the gathering as anything else.
“The rituals aren’t necessary,” said Fire. “You can get the same thing sitting alone in a corner. I just like them.”
She tends to use the smeary argot of New Age speak to describe the ins and outs of her beliefs, with emphasis on “personal truth,” “directed energies” and “many paths.” But her philosophy might be honed down to one phrase: Be kind to others.
Nobody in the barn seemed to have a hard time with that directive. They were friendly even to the strangers present.
Might it have been different had the gods not been watching over?