Photo by Nick Paris

The fire pit mirrored the circle created by the witches. Fire dancers enclosed the group while the beating of the drum echoed the witches’ chants as they sang praises to their god and goddess, welcoming them into the circle.

A chalice was passed around, symbolizing the Triple Goddess, the female deity in the religion’s duotheistic system. Inside the chalice was a razor blade representing the Horned God, the male deity. The witches in the circle took turns drinking from the chalice while a witchcraft community teacher, Birch Tree, stood in the center, beating the drum and singing along.

Beltane, one of the four fire festivals of Wicca, happens in the wake of spring, six months from Samhain, which occurs on October 31. Witches celebrated the two-day event April 30 and May 1.

The first day emphasizes fire and fertility, and the second day consists of more rituals and feasts.

About 40 Wiccans were present at the rituals held at Seabright Beach for the first day of Beltane. The second day’s rituals were held at Tree’s Sacred Grove Witch Store, located in Soquel.

“This is a big crowd,” said Ginger Fox, an initiate of the Shamanic Feri Tradition of the witchcraft strand of Wicca, and employee of the Sacred Grove Witch Store. “Lately [the events] have been getting bigger because we have been throwing all of the [Wicca Sabbat] celebrations. We know there is a need for them.”

Santa Cruz now has a large witch community, some of which can be found on the UC Santa Cruz campus.

“Eleven years ago there was an active on campus club, [called] Coven Willow Wind,” Tree said. “It came and went several times in my time here, and sometimes it was a really large club.”

This club and the Sacred Grove Witch Store provide outlets for the UCSC students and the rest of the Santa Cruz community to learn more about Wicca.

In the Wicca religion, the Triple Goddess is symbolized by the moon, the Horned God by the sun, and the Earth is considered to be the Wicca mother. During Beltane, witches celebrate by giving back to the mother with fertility.

“The fertile process is sacred in our religion,” Tree said. “Everything is about the plants growing, animals mating, about the god and goddess chasing each other around to mate. We take our fertile energies and give them back to the planet.”

Tree said this fertility does not just consist of reproduction, but of many different aspects as well. In the contemporary world, its definition has evolved to include the growth of plants, animals and even bank accounts.

“It’s all eclectic now,” said Pearl, who did not wish to disclose her full name. “It is all about creation and fertility and how you translate that into the modern world. It’s usually how you manifest fertility into your life as either prosperity with your money or your energy.”

Pearl, another initiated member of the Shamanic Feri tradition of witchcraft under Wicca, emphasized her tradition’s differences from other strands of Wicca. Feri tradition stresses personal responsibility within the spiritual and personal life of its followers who must take responsibility for their rituals, spells and anything that may happen in their personal lives.

Pearl said she did not want to disclose her name because she is not comfortable depicting her beliefs, even in the modern world. This is true for many members of the Wicca community. A few witches at the event were not comfortable being interviewed, nor did they allow their pictures to be taken.

Tree learned the effects of the lack of understanding of his community at a very young age.

“I was [brought] into Catholicism but I was born a witch,” Tree said. “Around nine years old I started to figure stuff out. From nine to 13 I thought that I had invented my own spiritual path, and then at 13 years old I met people who happened to be practicing my religion.”

During his spiritual journey at the age of nine, Tree had a revelation. The declaration of this revelation to his Catholic parents proved unsuccessful.

“The revelation was, ‘I am God, you are God, we are God, here — manifest in human flesh to have an earthly experience,’” Tree said. “Needless to say I barely got the words ‘I am God’ out of my mouth before I got slapped.”

During the 1960s and 1970s, religious persecution led many witches to move from the eastern United States to the west.

“All Witches historically learned to shut up,” Tree said. “There are people that are going to understand, and as soon as they don’t, you can’t make them understand it.”

Tree said that the community began moving to California. Many migrated to San Francisco and Santa Cruz.

Although he preferred not to speak much on the private subject, Tree said that Santa Cruz Wiccans do not have a place of worship due to lack of funding. Because of this fact, the Wicca community of Santa Cruz mostly gathers at rituals, or at their store.

The Sacred Grove Witch Store therefore serves as a haven for the community. This is where Tree provides a learning experience for witches with classes, such as Witch 101, and workshops.

“Our people have organized out of the back of witch stores,” Tree said.

The witches that attended the Beltane event give back to the Santa Cruz community by donating food to a local organization, Second Harvest. In the past few months they have donated three barrels of canned foods.

“We just live lives of quality,” Fox said. “We make sure we are happy, fulfilled and whole.”