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The chill from a cold hardwood floor is making its way up through the soles of my bare feet as I join a coven of witches to practice witchcraft ceremonies intended to call forth ancient gods.
All of us are clad only in hooded robes. The room is dark save for the persistent flickering of a small candle. An eerie silence fills the room as I reflect for a moment on how I came to visit this remarkable coven.
1998 144 pages
I first encountered the Hamilton witches' coven in the early 1990s while attending McMaster University, also in Hamilton.
The examination of deviant or near deviant behaviour and the application an implications of sociological paradigms concerning this behaviour was the theme of an intriguing assignment I undertook while immersed in a fascinating Sociology course taught by professor Jack Haas.
The paradigms to be applied to a case study of a deviant or near deviant group included structural functionalism, defined by sociologist Robert Hagedorn as a perspective that primarily "stresses order and stability in society." 1.
Structural functionalism emphasizes that a society cannot survive unless its members share some common values, attitudes and perceptions; that each part of the society contributes to the whole; that the various parts are integrated with each other and that this interdependence keeps societies relatively stable and functional.
Another paradigm to be applied was conflict perspective, which, as Hagedorn points out, "emphasizes that societies are always changing, that conflict and dissention are always present in society, that parts of every society contribute to change, and that coercion is always present in society because some people have more power than others. 2.
The third and final paradigm to be applied in the exercise was that of symbolic interaction, which, as Hagedorn notes "focuses on people and how they create, use and communicate with symbols, especially language." 3.
I was to apply the three paradigms to explore the coven's problems and gain some insight and understanding regarding its difficulties existing and coping within society.
Simply put, my task was to observe a coven in action, take notes, and scrutinize their actions during the four month period running from late October 1989 to February 20, 1990, a period that spanned a number of ceremonies and special Wiccan days, weeks and months.
But I soon found myself being drawn into a larger role than that of a completely detached observer examining Wiccan culture.
After first researching the subject of Wiccan and Pagan culture, then conducting a series of very detached interviews with each of the four members of the Hamilton coven, I broadened my scope to include a dozen other members of the city's Wiccan community.
The Hamilton coven that I studied most intently also faced a complexity of problems. These included: alienation from the dominant culture, prejudice, real and/or perceived discrimination, real or perceived persecution by society, societal apprehension, intolerance and suspicion, disorganization and infighting within the Wiccan community in Hamilton.
The infighting was of a non-violent and subtle, yet no less damaging, form that served to undermine to undermine the credibility of the Wiccan community and its members.
Without repeating all of the slanderous remarks, sarcastic comments and expressions of disbelief I encountered, let me bluntly state that I found very few witches who held those outside their own coven in high regard.
No sooner would I mention the name of a witch I had interviewed or read about when another witch would dismiss the first as a pretender or novice or flake.
Most of the witches I encountered suggested other Hamilton area witches outside their own coven were somehow going about witchcraft the wrong way and should not be taken seriously.
The witches doubted each other's stated credentials and had difficulty in agreeing on who - if anyone - from the local community could be relied on as a truly credible spokesman or expert on The Craft.
As well, each coven tended to operate in relative isolation from the others. This disorganization within the Pagan community, combined with the verbal backbiting I've mentioned, served to fragment the community into splinter groups, which held each other in somewhat low regard.
This was a community very much at odds with itself. And it was this community in which I would immerse myself for several months.
I took on the role of participant-observer, engaging in the Hamilton coven's ceremonies, observances and celebrations.
In so doing, I gained a fuller understanding of why these very different people came together to embrace an ancient religion that is today far removed from mainstream religions.
I also acquired a deeper understanding and appreciation of paganism, the art of witchcraft and Wicca as an enduring form of religion.
For this book, I'll avoid lingering at great length on the application of the three paradigms and how this coven might be construed by each.
Instead, I'll focus more on my own observations and experiences as I set forth on a journey into the often secret world of Wiccan culture.
This book contains the details of this journey of discovery.
It is a journey I wish to share with anyone professing a curiosity towards matters Wiccan. And our journey begins now.
- Michael B. Davie.