Elizabeth Buckner looked hard for a religion that would add something to her life. When she discovered Wicca, the 41-year-old North Side resident knew it was right for her.
‘‘None of the regular religions that I went to — Catholicism, Judaism — just spoke to me," Buckner said. ‘‘They didn’t feel right. I can’t explain why they didn’t. So I studied Shintoism, I studied Buddhism, all of those as a very young lady.
‘‘When I started studying Wicca and started studying about the duality and balance between the god and goddess, that struck a chord with me. And with a lot of Wiccans, they call it ‘coming home.’ And that’s what it feels like. It just feels natural."
Buckner is among central Ohioans who practice various forms of paganism or neo-paganism. These can include Wicca, Druidism or Native American spirituality, all of which have roots in ancient religions.
While varying in beliefs and practices, pagans share a common desire of ‘‘linking with the divine, taking care of the Earth," Buckner said.
The number of central Ohio pagans is unknown because they have no formal structure and because some practice their religion privately. But a recent ‘‘Pagan Pride Day" event drew about 200 participants.
Rituals follow year’s cycle
The eight major Wicca ritual celebrations are timed to the seasons. While Samhain is linked most often with Halloween, its observance on Oct. 31 originally was meant to mark the new year on Nov. 1 by the ancient Celtic calendar and to honor ancestors, Buckner said.
Other major observances include Yule, held at the winter solstice and honoring the sun god as daylight begins to lengthen; Eostre, at the spring equinox when planting starts; and Beltane on May 1, to promote human and agricultural fertility.
Rituals also are performed monthly during the full moon.
Practitioners are guided by the Wiccan Rede, a poem suggesting rules for living and ending with the exhortation: Harm none, do what you will.
Some Wiccans group together to form a coven, led by a high priestess or priest. Buckner is high priestess of a coven of seven to 10 members called Spiral Rose Gate, which she formed in 1993.
How gods and goddesses are viewed varies from coven to coven, Buckner said. In hers, the goddess has aspects of maiden, mother and crone (a wise elder); the god is viewed as light lord and dark lord, one for each half of the year.
Buckner, who works as a bookkeeper, is a witch, but she noted that not all witches practice Wicca.
As a witch, she said, she peforms magic, usually during full-moon rituals. Magic, she explained, is directing energy to create a result, such as healing a person; it can be done by laying on hands, through spells or by using folk remedies, such as herbs.
Wiccans come from all walks of life, Buckner said, and prospective practitioners take up the belief for different reasons.
‘‘Sometimes they’re very young; they don’t know what they want," she said. ‘‘Sometimes they’re older, and they’re like me. They’ve been searching for awhile, and this seems like home."
But, Buckner noted, Wiccans don’t proselytize, and she tries to give those seeking her advice the best spiritual direction.
‘‘I’m not out to convert you," she said. ‘‘If you come to us with a genuine desire to learn, most of us will bend over backward to help you find whatever path you need to be on. It may not be mine."
Church didn’t satisfy
Like Buckner, Lilith Blackthorne (who prefers to use her Wiccan name) was looking for ‘‘something different in religion" when she embraced Wicca in the late 1980s. At the time, she was living in Bowling Green, Ohio.
Blackthorne, who lives on the North Side, said she had been raised ‘‘very Methodist."
‘‘I would say it was more of a calling," she said. ‘‘There was nothing wrong with where I had been. It just wasn’t filling the spiritual void anymore. So I wouldn’t say it was a turning away from anything. It was an expansion."
Like Buckner, Blackthorne is high priestess of a coven and licensed by the state to perform marriages. She said she was attracted to Wicca because it was ‘‘something that honored the Earth, something where women were on an equal footing with men."
She joined a coven in Bowling Green and found it satisfying to be able to practice Wicca among fellow believers.
‘‘What surprised me was, I guess, the diversity of people there," she said. ‘‘You would expect to get one type. You’d expect to get every left-wing, leftover hippie you could round up. And it wasn’t that way....What surprised me was how normal everybody appeared to be."
Blackthorne, 39, works as a customer service trainer. She said paganism seems to find general tolerance, although not necessarily acceptance, in central Ohio.
Wicca, she said, keeps her from stagnating spiritually. Among its key teachings is taking personal responsibility, Blackthorne said.
‘‘You can’t pass the buck; you can’t say, ‘That happened to me because my god or my goddess hates me,’ " she said. ‘‘It’s kind of: ‘This is the hand you’re dealt. What are you going to do with it?’ "
Druid ritual fulfilling
Druidism, the ancient religion whose practitioners included the Celts, Romans, Greeks and Norse, appealed to Michael Dangler because of its mysticism and emphasis on the study of astrology, math, natural sciences, prose and poetry.
Raised in the United Church of Christ in Chicago, Dangler began looking at other religions while in high school. After realizing deism and Native American spirituality were not for him, he found Druidism.
While an undergraduate at Ohio State University in 1999, Dangler attended a Druid ritual for the first time with a Dayton ‘‘grove," the name given to a small Druid group.
‘‘I had an absolutely wonderful experience," he said. ‘‘I could feel what I was supposed to be feeling. It was very different than when I had been to other more eclectic rituals."
Dangler, 24, who works at the OSU Office of Information Technology, is senior druid of Three Cranes Grove. The grove started with two members in 2002; today, it has a core membership of 12.
Druids generally celebrate the same holy days as many other pagans. Their rituals, which involve invocations to many deities and drinking of the ‘‘waters of life" to represent the blessings given by the deities, are open to the public.
They strive to practice the nine Druid virtues: industry, sensuality, courage, strength, honor, hospitality, reason, memory and vision.
Community service is part of the Druid practice, as it is for many pagan religions. Recently, members of Dangler’s grove donated blood to the Red Cross; at their winter solstice ritual this month they will collect toys for needy children.
Dangler, of the North Side, said Druidism enables him to ‘‘look at my life, to be proud of who I am and to know that what I am doing is right and good and just."
‘‘I really wish I could describe the feeling I get in rituals," he said. ‘‘When I’m standing there making offerings honoring the gods, the closest I can get is to say I feel full. Full of love and honor and all those wonderful concepts you can’t really name. It’s a very ineffable experience."
Pagan business grows
Psyche North Torok has seen her business, Fly By Night, grow from one box of books sold out of her home to a store full of pagan books, jewelry, T-shirts and bumper stickers in the OSU area.
Torok, 44, became involved in Wicca in 1983 when she moved to Columbus from northeast Ohio. She recalled that the first ritual she attended, which included evergreens and holly for the winter solstice, ‘‘was kind of like church."
At her store, Torok teaches Wicca classes and also does tarot readings.
A tarot deck has 56 ‘‘minor arcana" cards that relate to the day-to-day aspects of a person’s life; the 22 ‘‘major arcana" cards represent the more universal forces affecting a person.
Many times clients are looking for guidance in relationships or their careers, Torok said. But information in the cards is more directional, and not ‘‘set in stone," she said.
‘‘I don’t think of it so much as supernatural as it is something very natural," Torok said. ‘‘I think it is my subconscious working in unison with the client’s subconscious to come up with answers and guidance."
Wicca’s mystique and its identification with a female goddess attracted Torok. It continues to help her grow personally and spiritually, she said.
‘‘It compels me to work on myself," Torok said.
Likewise, Buckner said that after nearly 20 years as a practicing Wiccan, she is still amazed by what she is discovering.
‘‘I’m continually learning new things," she said. ‘‘As long as I continue to learn new things, find out more about myself and the world around me, I don’t see any reason to go back to something as straight-laced as I probably would find (other) religions at this point."