A while back, one of my faithful readers challenged me in comments to relate some of the real life incidents that lead me to state that I sometimes felt like Dr. Taverner in Dion Fortune’s famous occult novel.
Many moons ago, in the days when I might be spotted wearing a black turtleneck and silver pentagram (I think every young mage goes through such a phase at some point, mine happened to be in my early thirties), I was a very open member of the Wiccan community and made part of my living doing Tarot readings on weekends. As such, I chanced to meet a lot of “interesting” people . . . some of whom I would have liked to “unmet”. But, that is another story.
In this case, I was working in the local New Age bookstore one day when a pleasant looking middle aged lady came to me for a reading. As I recall, she asked a couple of general questions about her finances and prospects for love but I could tell that her heart was not in it and that her mind was elsewhere. Finally, I set the cards aside for a moment and asked her what the matter was.
After some hemming and hawing, she told me that she had talked to the owner of the store and asked if they had anyone “on retainer” who might deal with a magical problem. The owner, kindly or not, referred her to me since she knew that I was Wiccan and knew something about the magical arts. I explained to the lady that I did, in fact, have some experience in the magical side of things and again asked her to tell me what the problem was. She took a deep breath and launched into a story about her daughter, who had gotten entangled with a supposedly Wiccan group in another state but who had fled the group, running all the way back to her mother in Arizona (a thousand or more miles away).
At this point I stopped the woman, not wanting to get involved based on hearsay and asked the worried mother if she would bring her daughter to see me so that I could get the story straight from the source. “Mom” was only too happy to comply and, in fact, brought the daughter back to see me that afternoon. I am going to call this young woman Leila though that is not her real name or even near to it.
After the requisite introductions, Leila told me her story. Briefly, she had become involved with a coven in North Carolina about two years before our meeting. At first, things had gone well and she was delighted to be part of a nature based, Goddess oriented religion that not only accepted females but, indeed, honored them and allowed them to become priestesses in their own right. Her studies had gone well and she had been initiated into the coven after the traditional year and a day. That is when things started to go wrong.
As sometimes happens, the original leadership of the group had to resign. It seems to me, all these years later, that there was a work issue that forced a move to another part of the country but I might be mis-remembering that part. Wiccan covens are often led by a High Priestess (HP) and, in this group, that was the tradition so a new HPS was elevated. Unlike the past HPS, the new leader of the group was less than egalitarian. Long story short, the coven quickly devolved into a semi-cult in which the HPS exercised almost complete control, up to and including insisting that all the members get matching tattoos as a way of further binding the group together.
Leila had gone along with most of the HPS’ demands, including getting the tattoo, but she became increasingly uncomfortable, especially when the magic the group was working took a turn to the dark side. Understand that Wiccans live by a simple ethical code – “an ye harm none, do what ye will” – and most Wiccans strive to accomplish their goals with the least amount of harm to themselves and others. When the HPS started leading her coven into curses and other magic of malevolent intent, Leila decided that it was time to cut her losses and get out. When she tried to resign from the group, she was basically told that leaving was not an option and it was made plain to her that magical means would be used to force her compliance if she tried to exit stage left.
At this point, she was frightened enough to pull up stakes and haul herself to Arizona. One of the sabbats was coming up (Spring Equinox, if I remember) and Leila was convinced that the group was going to track her down magically and do her harm for daring to leave. I had no way of checking Leila’s story via more conventional means (this was before the explosion of the Internet, when almost every group was on-line) so I asked to see the tattoo. Fortunately for me, the device was on her arm and not some more sensitive place. I shifted my perspective a little so that I could get a more psychic view of the tattoo and found that this young lady was indeed “tied” to her coven by means of the symbol literally engraved in her flesh. Since that “cord” could, indeed, be used to send magic of influence in her direction, it was needful that we sever the cord and set her on a new path. I asked for her specific permission to do just that and her response was telling – all she wanted to know was how soon it could be done.
I set an appointment for later that night, and with the help of a local Wiccan priestess of my acquaintance, we set a circle, worked to sever the tie to the Leila’s coven, did further energy work to render the tattoo neutral and then performed a rite of initiation with strong birth symbolism to magically birth Leila into a new persona that had no ties to the old group or any other. We finished the night’s work, exhausted, with some work for Leila’s psychic protection and healing and then passed the young woman off to her mother. The spring equinox passed without incident and Leila checked in with me a few weeks later to report that all was well but that she was going to remain firmly solitary for a while.
Looking back, I would have liked more independent verification of Leila’s story but, given the level of fear that I was sensing, and the fact that both the mother and the daughter seemed fairly well balanced outside of this incident, I felt that there was a strong case for acting, if only to relieve psychological anxiety. Given, what my psychic senses were telling me though, I feel reasonably certain that there was some threat to the young lady and I could not stand for that.