You’re Not in Oz, Anymore

Hecate, goddess of witches

Hecate, goddess of witches

We met Velvet at an annual gathering of a few thousand witches, druids, heathen, and magick-workers known as Heartland. Velvet was her magick name, and as such it was all we called her for the three days we spent with her and her coven on the campgrounds of Heartland. Heartland is in Kansas, an hour north of Kansas City, and despite the buzz of small-engine airplanes overhead—muggles with binoculars spying on naked pagans—the witches and the Christians and the Harley-Davidson bikers in the area all seemed to get along. Not so in the small town from whence Velvet came. Velvet was a young mother, but she hadn’t been able to bring her daughter with her. The local judge had awarded custody to her born-again Christian aunt and uncle, on the grounds that Velvet was, in the court’s view, a Satanist. Velvet scoffed. “As if I’d ever be a Luciferian,” she said. “They’re dirty.”

In fact, Velvet was an “elf-witch.” This is not to say that she was an elf, since, as she pointed out, elves are imaginary. We asked her to explain the difference.

KtB: How did you become an elf-witch?

Velvet: I heard about it and thought, yeah, right, this is just some Dungeon and Dragons freak’s odd little idea. [But] the person who told me about it, I met her grandmother, who taught it to her and had a Book of Shadows [spell book] from her great grandmother. So I studied druidic magick for two years, two years of shamanic magick, two years of Egyptian magick, two years of old Wiccan. Elf magick is different than a lot of what you see [amongst ordinary Wiccans]. Instead of four elements, it has six, seven elements. It adds Shadow, Depth, and Reflection to the list of elements.

KtB: Is that the only difference?

Velvet: Elven magick has rules against ingesting manufactured food, processed food.

KtB: Because elves don’t do that?

Velvet: Yeah, exactly. No, I’m kidding. Elves are nature spirits. Theoretical elementals. You will never see the little guys with the pointy ears. Pointy ears are a genetic defect. I know people with them. I know people with very fine bone structure and pointy ears. They are not elven.

KtB: From what we’ve heard, people do claim to be elves. And trolls, and dragons…

Velvet: Oh, shoot, go to Denver, man! There’s an entire little clan of people there who all claim they’re elves and trolls. And you’re goin’ – “You’re all cracked.” I do elven magic. But I don’t claim to be an elf. They don’t either. They say they were “bred” from elves—those little non-existent beings that run around?

KtB: Non-existent?

Velvet: Well, mythical, I should say. I can’t tell you if they exist or not. I have never personally seen an actual elf. I’ll give that they might have existed, just like I’ll give that unicorns existed and any other mythical, quote unquote, beast, dragons, may have existed. But if an elf walked up to me during a ritual, it wouldn’t make my ritual any stronger or weaker. It would just be rather odd. Because I’d have an elf. Amusing, maybe, but not important. It’s just a name. It seemed to connect me with everything more than what any of the other [magicks] I’d tried did. There’s a list of elven gods this long, but I don’t even worship ’em. I worship Hecate and Loki.

Hecate and Loki are both “dark deities.” I hate that term. The deal is they teach really hard lessons. And, they’re not lessons you want to learn. People want [magick] to be all set out in flowers and rainbows. And life is not all flowers and rainbows. I’m sorry. Neither is it all death and such, but people don’t even want to face that. Loki has a tendency to teach by playing a trick, and once you pick up on it, you go, “You know, I should’ve known that. That was stupid.” Hecate is more of the opinion of, “Smack, ok you’re in this situation, now get out of it. Yup, you got out of it. Ok, you learned something, didnt’cha?”

The way I came to follow Loki in the first place was, I was in a ritual down at Herne’s Hollow. A men’s ritual.

KtB: The men had no problem with that?

Buy the book!

Buy the book!

Velvet: Well, they started too, but—it was actually kind of amusing—I bet one guy twenty bucks that Loki would show up when we called him even if I was down there. And I won twenty bucks. I also went to sleep down at Herne’s Hollow, and I had this dream about a coyote coming and taking off this one ring I was wearing and leaving another ring. Well, I woke up and I found the exact same ring I saw in my dream sitting at my feet. Well, I switched it out with the one on my hand. I wore that ring for like six months. That was a cracked six months, lemme tell ya. Most people don’t even know anything about Loki other than he’s a trickster god. Which he is. But they don’t know anything about it. After Ragnarok [Norse mythological apocalypse] he’s going to be one of the two gods remaining.

KtB: Who’s the other?

Velvet: Odin. And he won’t really be alive. Ragnarok repeats, unlike the [Christian] apocalypse, which happens only once. Ragnarok repeats itself. It’s a renewal cycle. Odin will technically be dead but he can be brought back.

KtB: Doesn’t Thor beat up on Loki a lot?

Velvet: Yep. Thor has a big hammer. If I were Loki I’d be scared of that big hammer too. But if you look at all that [Thor thuggery], somebody learned something out of all that, too.

KtB: How does Thor teach?

Velvet: Whap! Learn it. Talk to a worshipper of Thor. Those aren’t subtle lessons.

KtB: We’ve seen some guys walking around with big hammers.

Velvet: Thor worshippers.

KtB: What did Loki look like when you saw him?

Velvet: He looked solid. You could reach out and touch him. Little old guy. Really skinny, hunched over. Long beard. I was just going, wow. A God. Like manifested.

After six months of wearing that ring [from Loki], I’d start thinking about what I was doing before I’d do it. It made me a considerably better person. I don’t have nearly as much tendency to yap when I shouldn’t. I lost the ring, but I continue to worship him, because he taught me a lot. Hecate has been more of a long, ongoing thing. I’ve worshipped her on and off since I first started being pagan. She was the first goddess I ever had any interest in. She is the crone [senior] form of the triple goddess. Mother, Maiden, Crone. I am not a crone. I actually chose her because she’s the only one I feel any connection to. The Maiden is too happy and innocent and bouncy. That’s not me. It’s me out here [at the pagan gathering], but it’s not me in normal life. My normal life isn’t happy and bouncy, and it just doesn’t work to try to be that way. I’m a goth, ok? Goths are not happy, bouncy. That would be just disgusting and wrong. Funny, but disgusting and wrong.

Velvet takes around the lake to see “The Venus Mound,” a ritual area for female pagans.

Velvet: The goddess gathering happens here. Over at Herne’s Hollow, it has a very male presence to it. This is a lighter, airier, female-type energy. It’s an altar for the goddesses. Plus it’s just a place females can come and sit. The men who are comfortable down here won’t mess with the females. [Velvet steps, barefoot, on a thorn.] Of course, then we have the spiky tree next to the chair. Locust tree. Spikes fall off. I step on ’em all the time. There’s some mythos that locust trees are acquainted with females, though I don’t understand because usually this little pointy thing they have going on is not equated with females. [Wind chimes chime, Velvet rolls her eyes.] Females like wind chimes. They react with air. Air is a female element. Air and water are female, earth and fire are male—no, wrong. I’m talking elven. Wrooong mythos. Typical. Um, earth and air are female. Water and fire and male. I don’t know why.

We walk up onto a small hill.

Velvet: There’s a Venus statue. Venus the goddess. The hinges around it are offerings left. They don’t necessarily have any particularly meaning to other than who left them. If you rummaged through the grass, you could probably find a $1.50 worth of pennies. Because people that don’t have a personal item to give, will give just something. I personally don’t like leaving money. I don’t have a problem with the penny thing, but silver is tacky. I think it’s like trying to buy off the goddess. I have an issue with that. I don’t leave offerings to Venus. Venus is a goddess of love. It’s just not my deal. I usually leave stuff over at the generic altar. Do I see anything I have left here in the past? I’m looking. There. My little beaded keychain. It was all I had on me. I wanted to leave something, and I had a sarong and a keychain. So Hecate got a piece of keychain. She couldn’t have the whole keychain, because I would have had to take it off the key. And it was the key to my house. I wasn’t asking anything. I generally leave offerings as, “Hey I still acknowledge you.” Because I don’t have a tendency to ask for much of anything from anybody.

People come up here and sit and talk to the goddesses for just hours. And say prayers. I’ve seen people do rituals up on the mound. I don’t, because I’m of the opinion it ties up the mound, and I can pray to my goddess down there as well as I can up here. Pray to my goddess down there, leave my offering here, and go do whatever it is I’m doing that day. As far as I’m concerned an offering is an offering. Leaving an offering here, it makes people feel they’re going to be recognized. I’m not of that opinion. I think if the goddess is going to care, she’s going to care wherever you leave it. The only reason I come out here to leave offerings is I feel power here. Same with Herne’s Hollow. I come out here and do a ritual to Hecate and go over there and do a ritual to Loki. It’s what I do. I won’t demonstrate now because I don’t want Loki now. Nooo Loki.

A mouse runs over her foot. Running in circles around us, like it’s trying to tell us something.

KtB: Maybe it’s Loki.

Velvet: Uh-uh. It’s hawk food.

Originally published on Killing the Buddha on November 13, 2003. Also appears in Believer, Beware: First-Person Dispatches from the Margins of Faith.

Jeff Sharlet and Peter Manseau were co-founders of Killing the Buddha. Together they wrote Killing the Buddha: A Heretic's Bible.