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Partisan Pagans 

The political divide is even splintering Spokane's witches

click to enlarge The original W.I.T.C.H. group in front of the Chicago Federal Building in 1969.
  • The original W.I.T.C.H. group in front of the Chicago Federal Building in 1969.

They cast spells and they cast ballots. In Indianapolis, they hexed Donald Trump, taking to Instagram with grainy photos of Beelzebub. In New England, Vermont's Feminists Against Trump — a group of college professors — cast spells of love to "destroy the Great Orange One."

In Brooklyn, Portland and beyond, black-clad activists identifying as witches — finding inspiration in the 1960s feminist group known as the Women's International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell (W.I.T.C.H.) — marched amid a sea of pink "pussyhats" during the Women's March. They clasped hands, and with lips snarled in a spell, declared in unison that they would resist.

Feminists the nation over are reclaiming the word "witch." Some identify with the word simply as a means to invoke power, to take back a history of violent persecution against women. Others are becoming public with their faith, with their practice of witchcraft.

In Spokane, however, many area witches traded in their black pointed hats for red baseball caps. These witches — both women and men — came out of the broom closet and went public with their pro-Trump politics. The election of Trump has divided not only families seated at the dinner table, but covens of witches from the four corners of the earth.

"People are so divided politically, even amongst us witches," says Lola Stardust ( her "craft" name), a 45-year-old Spokane homemaker. "There is a certain stereotype that all Christians are conservative, right-wing, and that people running around casting spells in the woods are bleeding-heart liberals."

Witches are impossible to categorize. Many practice variations of Wicca, a pagan religion developed in early 20th-century England, rooted in the worship of the sun and moon, and The Goddess and The God. The faith, popularized in the 1940s by Gerald Gardner, an English Wiccan, has transformed into offshoots like neopaganism, led by feminist activists.

Stardust is a second-degree priestess in her coven, The People of the Woods. She uses her "craft name," which is common for witches who aren't public with their faith. As a child she had an affinity for talking to the sun, the moon and the animals, but didn't devote her life to witchcraft until she became a stay-at-home mom.

The People of the Woods is an outspoken, politically conservative group, though Stardust identifies as liberal. Members of her coven — a group of witches who perform rituals together — argue on Facebook pages like Pagans/Witches in Spokane, claiming "many Spokane area witches are celebrating the Trump inauguration. Many witches want America to be a great nation again."

"People in my coven have very different political beliefs than my own and we have butted heads, but we leave that at the door when we worship together," Stardust says. "It's the separation of church and state that really needs to be practiced, and I live it with my coven."

Elizabeth Shaw doesn't have patience for niceties. The 25-year-old witch and high priestess also identifies as an "intersectional" feminist — a feminist who acknowledges overlapping identities and related systems of oppression.

"As Trump became more popular, he brought out all of the hypocrisies of witchcraft," she says. "Witches are traditionally white people who have a lot of growth and learning to do. Are you transphobic, homophobic or racist? Our religion is literally based around loving the earth and loving everyone. But we need to do more to celebrate diversity, especially in Spokane."

Shaw became a witch in Catholic middle school, all because of a research project on Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. As the Facebook page monitor for Pagans/Witches in Spokane and Spokane Witches in Action, she sees Wiccan conflict played out online.

"If we are going to make it through this presidency, we are going to have to get along," she says. "All I can be is loving and kind, but I'm running out of patience."

Woods Wizard (not his real name), 66, grew up in the 1960s and is no stranger to political unrest. He's been active in the Spokane Pagan community for a dozen years. As administrator of Spokane Pagan Village Commons, he oversees the activities of 15 local pagan groups. He describes many Spokane witches as former veterans who are fiscally conservative but socially liberal.

While no counterculture, not even the witches, is insulated from American politics, Woods Wizard says that a utilitarian code of ethics binds witches like Stardust and Shaw together.

"The two main virtues of Wicca are freedom — so long as you harm none — and personal responsibility," he says. "A lot of the political differences in the pagan community come down to how each of us prioritize these two virtues." ♦

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