At first glance, Tish Owen’s office seems fairly average: a water cooler in the corner, a beat-up file cabinet and a well-used coffeemaker tucked in the corner.
Take a closer look at her walls, though, and they’ll tell you a different story.
Crescent moons cover every available surface. A blue ceramic dragon watches over the room from the top of a shelf full of bottles with labels like “White Sage” and “Spirit of the Earth.”
And then there are the cheesy signs.
“Come Sit For A Spell,” hanging under the light switch. “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” propped up on a table, surrounded by candles. “You Say Witch Like It’s A Bad Thing,” placed above a shelf full of black and orange Halloween witch figurines.
“Oh, I think witches shouldn’t take themselves so seriously,” Owen laughs and gestures around the room. “I mean, look at how I’ve decorated this place. You think I’m taking myself seriously?”
Owen is one of the many practicing pagans in the Nashville area. She is also, by her own definition, a witch.
“I own that word, I own it all day long. Some people don’t, which is just ridiculous.” She scoffs, before affecting a Jeff Foxworthy-like drawl. “Do you cast spells? Do you dance naked in the full moonlight? You just might be a witch.”
More specifically, Owen practices Wicca, a nature-based religion that falls under the umbrella of paganism.
“Think of it like this,” she explains. “Wicca is to pagan as Baptist is to Protestant.”
Wicca boasts an estimated 134,000 followers, according to a 2001 City University of New York study.
“They say we’re the fastest-growing religion in the US,” she shrugs. “But I don’t know about that. People either come to Wicca of their own volition or they don’t.”
She takes a sip of her coffee and then smiles – wickedly, some might say.
“I mean, it’s not like we need new members. We don’t have a 5,000-person megachurch to pay for.”
A member of the Pagan community for 30 years, Owen discovered Wicca while browsing in a bookstore.
“I was dissatisfied with all the other religions. I saw a book with the word ‘Wicca’ on the cover and thought, ‘what is that?’ and then I did some research. I found some people who would lead me, teach me and….” she trails off. “Well, here we are.”
Today, she and a fellow Wiccan, Alice Middleton (name changed), work on planning an upcoming gathering: the Pagan Unity Festival.
“We’re celebrating Ostara,” Middleton explains. “It’s the spring equinox, so we’re celebrating that time when the warmth returns.”
“Even though it’s 26 degrees and all my daffodils are dead,” Owen interjects.
This year, Middleton is running the Ostara celebration.
This means deciding which gods and goddesses to call on, what objects to place on the altar, and how to conduct the ceremony.
“Personally, I follow the Italian tradition, which is called Stregheria,” she says. “It’s based on the beliefs of the Etruscans and Romans.”
Besides Stregheria, these traditions include Druidic, Norse, Santeria, and many others. Owen, a self-described “eclectic Wiccan,” likes calling on the Norse gods, but doesn’t strictly adhere to any of the traditions.
“The beautiful thing about paganism is that it can be whatever you want,” says Owen. “You can call on whatever gods or goddesses you want. Some people will say ‘oh, you can’t mix different pantheons!’ but that’s not true.”
“The different groups of gods and goddesses,” Owen explains. “Do you want to call on Norse gods? Celtic? Roman?”
Does a distant, high-pitched screech punctuate this list; one of these many gods making themselves known, perhaps?
“Parakeets,” Owen shakes her head as she glances toward the back room. “They never shut up, huh?”
These days, certain pagan rituals and items seem commonplace.
“Witchcraft has become a fad, sort of,” Owen shrugs. “Does that exploit us? Eh, maybe, but if people really want knowledge, if they really want to connect to a spirit, then I’m all for it.”
Many typically pagan objects, like tarot cards and incense, can be seen in the hands of people who don’t identify with any pagan religions.
“There are a lot of people who do spells and witchcraft, but not as a religion. As a religion, spells are a part of it, but so is communing with your deity and understanding who they are and what your path is,” Owen says, referring to this trend as “dime-store witchcraft.”
Cosmic Connections, open since 2002, specializes in this type of diluted witchcraft. They sell crystals and tarot cards to curious people, but they also cater to the Nashville pagan community.
“We have a Wiccan book collection that has been selling out a lot recently,” says Catherine Gatzimos, an employee at Cosmic Connections. “There’s definitely a significant amount of pagans here in Nashville.”
Gatzimos lists certain pieces of jewelry, candles, and chalices as items Cosmic Connections specifically stocks for the growing pagan community.
“If you look at the amount of stuff that’s in the store today and compare it with what we have now, it’s insane,” she says, looking at the rows of crystals and racks of Wiccan books.
However, selling pagan materials can get tricky.
Last September, Sephora pulled a witchcraft starter kit from their shelves after backlash from members of the Wiccan community.
“I thought it was hilarious,” Owen chuckles. “It was like, ‘Oh, look, we’re mainstream!’”
The mainstream isn’t too far off; last year’s Nashville Pagan Pride Festival, a tradition since 2004, boasted a crowd of about 800 people.
“I’m living for the day we have enough money to hold it in the Parthenon [replica in Centennial Park],” Owen grins. “How do you think the protestors would like that?”
Pagan religions may seem more accepted today, but members of the community still fear persecution.
“When people find out that you’re of an alternate faith, it tends to make them a little more fearful,” Middleton says quietly. “They judge you. I’ve lost friends over it. Some people lose their jobs.”
“Their kids,” Owen interrupts. “Their housing. I’ve talked to people who have all their spiritual accouterments locked in the trunk of their car so their spouse won’t find it.”
Middleton nods in agreement.
“A lot of stuff that we do, Christians do as well. It’s not as taboo as people make it out to be but, because it is unknown, there’s that stigma of evil.”
These misconceptions might sting, but Owen just shrugs them off.
“People think we kill cats and eat children,” she rolls her eyes. “We’re not evil. We don’t harm people. We’re not like the Disney villains….although, I did like ‘Hocus Pocus’ quite a lot.”
At its core, Wicca celebrates a relationship with nature.
“It’s an earth-oriented way of trying to reach an understanding with your gods,” Owen says. “Of course, most of us are living room witches. We’re not going to go out and freeze to death in the woods.”
However, for major holidays, like the upcoming Ostara ceremony, Owen and Middleton’s group will celebrate in the forest of Montgomery Bell State Park.
They expect a large crowd.
“Oh, there’ll be plenty of people at the festival” Owen grins. “It’s more pagans than you can shake a stick at.”
“We should put that on the flyers.”
They continue to joke, mostly about a “heathen” group – “Don’t call them Norse,” they both warn – attending Ostara this year when Owen glances at a clock on the wall.
“We’ll get into the details of the ritual once we’re alone,” she looks at Middleton meaningfully.
The implications are clear, emphasized by another sign leaning against some spellbooks lined up on a shelf: “Witches Only.”
If you like this article, check out : https://www.harnessmagazine.com/youre-how-old/