Wednesday, October 03, 2007
VALERA and ALAN CHILDERS:
“Village Witch” Co-Owners Speak at Pagan Pride
interview by MARK GABRISH CONLAN
Copyright © 2007 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
I showed up at the “San Diego Pagan Pride” event in Balboa Park September 15 expecting it to be a handful of people sitting in a circle on the lawn at Sixth and Laurel, sharing a picnic lunch and talking about pagan topics. What I found when I got there was a well organized festival, with vendor booths (including Druidic circles, the authors of a book on dream interpretation, rune casters, fortunetellers and even a maker of “Celtic jewelry” from Long Beach), active workshops and a group of purposeful people celebrating themselves and their interest in the non-hierarchical nature-based forms of spirituality that were dominant before the Abrahamic religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — organized, took over and started spreading their “thou shalt nots” worldwide, often burning pagans at the stake and throwing their books on bonfires.
As luck would have it, one of the first people I introduced myself to at the fifth annual San Diego Pagan Pride was Tim, who told me that his mother Hope was the event’s publicity chair. He called his mom over and I asked her, “Is there anyone here I could interview?” Hope referred me to Valera Childers, who’d chaired the event last year and is an active practitioner of Wicca, the “old religion” sometimes known as witchcraft (though she drew a subtle but significant distinction between the two terms). Valera in turn brought along her husband Alan, who described himself as a pagan but not a witch even though he’s a partner with his wife and three others in a home-based business called “The Village Witch.” In an appropriately natural setting, we discussed their interest in paganism and the common misconceptions of what pagans are all about.
Zenger’s: Why don’t you just tell me a little about your background and how you got interested in paganism?
Valera Childers: I was raised Mormon, and just as most people do, at a certain age I started questioning things that just didn’t sit right. I started doing research and reading, and that’s when I found paganism. It just resonated. It felt so comfortable. Then, under the umbrella term of paganism, I found Wicca, so that’s what I practice.
Alan Childers: My turn? Well, it’s funny. My mom was a Sunday-school teacher. But she wasn’t your typical Bible-thumper kind of person that you’d think of as a Sunday-school teacher. She was very open about spirituality being a personal endeavor. So as I got older and just researched more and experienced more stuff, it just came naturally. I wouldn’t say “found” paganism. It’s more that paganism found me, because that was already my belief system, and it just fit on top of it.
Zenger’s: What, as you define it, would be the essence of paganism?
Alan: As I define it? I define paganism as an earth-based religion, which really covers a lot of stuff. That’s the short, five-second version.
Valera: I would define it as any religion that is earth-based. It’s almost like a coming home, a return to the core values that people had before modern man and technology interfered with it.
Zenger’s: I’ve heard paganism described as really the oldest human religion. How far back does the tradition go, and how much reconstruction have modern people had to do on it to try to piece it back together after centuries when it’s been suppressed?
Valera: Goddess-worship has been around since the beginning of man. People can look at any history book, or books on research of ancient cultures, and you’ll always find a temple or a place where people worshiped. The symbols that they used were always goddess symbols, which equates for pagans to earth religion.
In re-creating it, we take what we know from history and archaeology, and since we have to live in today’s society, you make it fit how you live. We obviously can’t do things exactly the way they did back then, because we don’t live in caves.
Alan: Now you’re starting to talk about the difference between paganism and neo-paganism.
Valera: It’s just taking what we know from back then and making it fit. There are people who will say, “Well, this is the way it was done,” and then there are people who will say, “Well, nobody can be absolutely sure.” So I guess it’s all a matter of the way you look at it.
Zenger’s: You said you’re a particular practitioner of Wicca, which is also known as witchcraft. What would you say is the major misconception about witchcraft and the Wiccan tradition?
Valera: First of all, Wicca is not necessarily witchcraft. They are two totally different things. Wicca is the religion, and witchcraft is a practice of working with energies to bring about a desired result. Not everybody who practices witchcraft is Wiccan, and not all Wiccans practice witchcraft, although it’s more likely that if you’re a Wiccan you will practice witchcraft.
There’s a lot of misconception about witches in general. We’re not green, we don’t have warts on our noses, we don’t fly on brooms.
Alan: That would save so much on gas, honey.
Valera: Yeah, that would be awesome. That would be great.
Alan: Get a long broom and take the whole family.
Valera: There’s a lot of misconceptions out there. I wish people would just have a little bit of an open mind and realize that just because somebody doesn’t believe exactly what they believe doesn’t make it bad. It’s just different.
Alan: It’s a different route to the same path, same goal.
Valera: I mean, we’re all trying to get to the same place. Does it really matter how you get there?
Zenger’s: One thing I’ve noticed about pagans in general is that there might be some pagan tradition where they think, “This is the One True Religion,” but the pagans I’ve talked to don’t seem to believe like that.
Valera: Not generally. I think it’s rare that you would find a pagan who would believe something like that. I’m sure they’re out there; I just don’t know of any.
Alan: One of the basic premises of most pagan religions is tolerance, acceptance.
Valera: That doesn’t mean you have to agree with them.
Alan: Their path is not necessarily your path.
Valera: You go, “That’s cool. I don’t agree with it, but that’s cool.”
Zenger’s: In one of the investigations of animal-rights activists locally, some people were being questioned before the federal grand jury in San Diego. They were being asked what books they read, what music they listened to, and whether they practiced the Wiccan religion, which just struck my sense of irony. I said, “Oh, so it’s not just figuratively, it’s literally a witchhunt.”
Valera: Yes, bigotry is alive and well. I’ve been a victim of it myself. I was on vacation in Tennessee with some of my girlfriends, and we went into a restaurant. Not only did they refuse to serve us, but I was glared at. Living in San Diego, it’s such a blessing because everything is pretty open here and you don’t have to worry about going down the street and getting hung from the nearest tree. But in Tennessee, that was definitely an eye-opener. You know bigotry exists, but until you’re slapped with it in the face, you just don’t really get it.
Zenger’s: What is the difference between paganism and Satanism?
Alan: The biggest thing about Satanism, for starters, is that Satanism is not about killing and sacrificing and all that garbage. Satanism is about the here and now, personal pleasure. It’s about the physical world. That’s why their pentagram is upside down, because in a pentacle, what you have is the four elements pointing up towards spirit, so the four elements together equal spirit. Satanists have it upside down is because to them, the four elements equal physical reality, the here and now: physical pleasure, doing what you will, doing what you want. Paganism is about spirituality, it’s about what’s coming next, karma. A lot of pagans believe in reincarnation, so be good now or else you’re going to pay for it later. I don’t really want to come back as an ant, or something. It’s not high on my priority list.
Valera: Who knows? Ants work very well together. But just because Satanists use the word “Satan,” that doesn’t mean they worship what the Christian view of Satan would be. It’s more of the spirit of the word, because people think of “Satan” and they think of somebody who’s very self-centered, looking at themselves, it’s all about them. And it is all about the physical here-and-now. But they could have used any word, and to them it still would have meant the same thing.
Zenger’s: How did you two meet? Were you both pagans before you met?
Alan: That’s an interesting story!
Valera: I’ve been a practicing witch for, gosh, 12 or 13 years now. I actually moved in to be his roommate, and then we fell in love. I actually thought, “He’s a really nice guy. I should set him up with one of my friends,” and then a couple of weeks later I said, “Forget that! I’m going to keep him for myself!” So I did.
Zenger’s: And what drew you to her?
Alan: Well, she makes me laugh a lot. She really does. Every day, every day. And the fact that a big part of it was we do have a lot of similar beliefs and ideas, not just in our spiritual lives. I mean, she’s Wiccan and she does rituals and stuff like that, and I’m just pagan. I don’t do rituals.
But she’s really accepting, and we’re very supportive of each other. We have a lot of very similar interests, but different enough so that you can have your own life on top of it. That was pretty important to me, to still be able to do stuff that I wanted to do in my own time, but still have a life with somebody else to share those things, and that are going to be interested in the things I’m interested in also.
Zenger’s: Were you married in a pagan ceremony?
Valera: We were married in our family, with some of our closest friends.
Alan: We had one of our close friends marry us.
Valera: We just wanted to be married.
Alan: Yes, it’s just a piece of paper. By the time you get to a piece of paper, you’re already married. A ring doesn’t make you married. It’s just a ring.
Valera: It helps if it’s really cool-looking.
Alan: Yes, now you have a conversation piece.
Zenger’s: What kinds of organizations are there in the pagan community, and which ones do you participate in?
Valera: We’re owners of the Village Witch, along with three other people. We’re involved in Chalice Circle, which is an open Wiccan teaching circle. Obviously, San Diego Pagan Pride: I was the coordinator last year, and I was the vendor coordinator this year, and I’ll be another one of the local coordinators again next year. Then there’s all kinds of meetup groups and Yahoo groups that meet, and we’re all members of these groups. And we meet with them when we can, as our schedule allows.
Part of it is that pagans tend to keep to themselves because they’re afraid of persecution, and so it helps when you have these groups and they can get together and they’re like. “O.K., there are other people like me. I’m not the only one out there.” And there’s Covenant of the Goddess. The local chapter of that is Califia. They’re the closest thing you can call to a structured Wiccan organization. Most Wiccans and pagans don’t like the whole structure thing. That’s why they got away from Christianity in the first place. But they’re the closest thing that would come to that in the first place. I don’t know whether they’re a national or international organization.
Alan: I think they’re international now. I’m pretty sure they’re international. I think they’ve got something in Britain and a couple of other places in Europe. But that’s pretty recent, I believe.
Zenger’s: I’m really impressed with the scope of this event. It’s bigger than I thought it would be.
Valera: Thank you! We worked really hard. This is our fifth year here. We used to be over in Redwood Circle, and then we got too big.
Alan: No, the first year we were down at Marston Point.
Valera: Yes, at Marston Point, and then we were at Redwood Circle. It just gets bigger and better every year. We’ve worked really, really hard to build it. I’ve worked on other big projects before, so it was kind of a natural fit for me just to go, “Hey, if we’re going to do it, let’s make it grow.”
To contact the businesses and organizations mentioned above:
The Village Witch: (619) 255-5776, www.thevillagewitch.org
Chalice Circle (Meetup group): http://glbtpagans.meetup.com/cities/us/ca/san_diego/
Califia, Covenant of the Goddess: www.cogcalifia.org
Tree of Life: Metaphysical Books and Gifts, 4870 Santa Monica Ave., Ocean Beach, (619) 233-3970, www.treeoflifestore.com