“We are in the third hour of Mars, which is the hour of death and destruction,” said Bill Lyres, black priest of a witches' coven. “I'm sure you'll think it's ironic that you should have chosen this time, on this day, to come here.”
“Ironic” wasn't the word. I laughed nervously, and remarked that perhaps we shouldn't perform any rituals, given the nature of the hour.
“If you had come last night like we planned,” said Lyres. “I was going to try and summon the Goddess of Beauty, to give you eternal love and beauty. But this is a bad hour for summoning.”
Lyres has been a member of what he refers to as the “Old Religion” or witchcraft, since childhood. It goes back five generations in his family; his parents taught him its precepts and rituals, just as his friends' parents taught them Christianity and sent them to Sunday school. He grew up in Missouri and came to San Diego about 10 years ago; now in his mid-thirties, he has been active in covens since he was 17. Neither his wife nor his children practice his religion, though he's taught them about it.
“You'd be amazed how many people follow the Old Religion,” Lyres said.
I was amazed. To some, like Lyres, it is the Old Religion, handed down from parent to child like any other religion; to others, it is being born with special powers to develop, a “sensitive”, selected for witchcraft as a way of life; to still others it is one more path along the spiritual route which runs from transcendental meditation to Raja-yoga to Zen to Krishna consciousness to astral projection – and on and on and on. But what was the most singular about my witchcraft seeking this Halloween season was that once I began looing for that which I had never even glimpsed before – the practice of magic and witchcraft — I found it everywhere.
“I'll tell you this, it's no landlady's religion,” said Lyres to my friend Anna and me.
“You know how when you move to a new apartment, the landlady gives you about 27 'Thou shalt not's'? 'Thou shalt not have children, thou shalt not have pets, thou shalt not play the radio loud after 9 p.m.' Well, we teach indulgence in anything that will bring you peace and contentment, as long as it doesn't bring wrath down upon you and to others.”
“I'm a television repair mans,” he continued. “So I go into a lot of homes. And I see the signs of the Old Religion in more houses than you'd believe. But it's highly secretive, so most outsiders wouldn't even know that it exists.”
Lyres emphasized the difference between witchcraft and the much-publicized Satanism, with its Black Mass. The Old Religion is probably the oldest religion, he said; another word for it is “Wicca”, meaning wise – thus, witchcraft, craft of the wise; and it recognizes God as the supreme being. Satanism, on the other hand, of course puts Satan supreme and began during the Renaissance – its Black Mass a deliberate defilement of whatever Christianity held sacred.
Since the high priestess has denied my request to attend a coven meeting, Lyres agreed to describe to me what takes place. His coven – which practices both black and white magic -(black magic doing harm and whit magic, good) – consists of twelve women and one man, the Black Priest; woman is the center of the universe and key to the power. The high priestess, who can be appointed only by another high priestess, is the coven's absolute ruler, second to God; her will goes unquestioned.
“The only clothing we wear is black robes, which the high priestess purifies under the full moon,” explained Lyres. “We kneel on a baphen, a goatskin made out of the hide of 12 goats” –at the moment serving as a throw-rug in his den – “ad draw a circle, exactly nine feet in diameter, and a pentagram inside it. That's the only safe place to be during the ritual, inside that circle.”
“At the start, the high priestess sounds a bell and makes a recitation to the four powers of darkness – pointing in each direction with a magic wand made of ash wood, 19 ½ inches long – asking them to leave us in peace. Then the women drink a mixture prepared by the high priestess, and she prays to God and conjures the desired spirit, asking it to appear in a comely form.”
“So that it doesn't come with, say, the body of a goat and the head of a frog, something too hideous to look at.”
All of the foregoing does not guarantee success, Lyres added. Sometimes only something small happens, like a glass moving across the table, or the conjured spirit might appear in smoke; if you wish it to assume a more 3-dimensional form, you can make a small cut on your finger – since fresh blood gives the spirit body.
He held out a candle, of slightly reddish tint, in a shot glass, for our inspection. Ordinary enough, except for the red, at which I ventured a guess. “Yes,” Lyres replied promptly, “that's human blood. But what's really amazing is that this candle, which the high priestess made, has been burning through our coven meetings for five years. And the wax has never gone down, never been replaced.”
Lyres now confessed that at his first meeting with Anna and me – over coffee at Howard Johnson's – he had been frightened. An interesting twist I thought. What scared him?
“You,” he said to Anna. “I think you have special powers, even if you don't know it”—and suggested that she would probably make a good high priestess. “The things I could teach you...” he mused aloud.
Lyres gave us what he had prepared for our beauty ritual: a glass, with a special inscription on its base, a Gerber's jar with a mixture Gerber never dreamt of – red wine, Egyptian spices, and just a tiny bit of human blood.
“This will let Diana, goddess of the moon, know you are on of her children,” Lyres said, handling me a moonstone which the high priestess had sanctified by running water over it for six weeks.
“Keep it near you always,” Lyres advised, “and life will start going your way.”
“Here comes the green girl, here comes the purple lady – that's what I used to say to my mother, and she always understood, she never put me down for it,” said Oliver Force.
“People are flashes of color to me, until I look at them for a minute or so,” he explained, fixing his gaze on me.
I am green and Anna is blue. We were visiting Force in his trailer in a mobile homes court off Mission Gorge Road, where he lives with his brother, two dogs, a cockatiel, and two desert iguanas. Force was a trapeze artist in the circus, until a fall 12 years ago in which he was crippled and his sister and brother-in-law were killed.
“We were in a human pyramid,” he recounted. “I was on the top, balancing on one hand on a chair, and I fell 80 feet. Four days before I knew it was going to happen – I warned them but I couldn't convince them.” He had told me, on the phone, that he has extrasensory perception – and also that he might be able to lead me to people involved in witchcraft, which he is not.
Since the accident, Force has supported himself by giving readings at home - $10 for a regular, $25 for crystal ball – and performances of psychic prowess, utilizing those talents, which had earlier been a “hobby”. There are three crystal balls in his living room. One of them, he told us, is from the tomb of Ramses I and has been on exhibit at the Smithsonian.
The conversation turned to witches, and Force remarked that they usually have animals around, which “hold the magnetism of what they're working with”, I considered his menagerie, and glanced at him.
“Actually, I'm the head of a coven,” he smiled.
Force claimed he had played a role, witch-wise, in the indictment of San Diego's former Mayor Curran and his staff, in the Yellow Cab Scandal.
“A friend of mine, Jodi Bohmert, who worked in the Mayor's office, was fired. She said to me, 'boy, I'd like to see them brought up before the Grand Jury' and I said, 'Well, let's do it!' She wrote down the list of names, and I told her that within three hours or three days, they'd be indicted. Three days later, I was listening to the radio, and they announced the indictments – name for name, in order!”
Force told us that his father was a Canadian Indian and his mother an Egyptian who became a Hollywood movie star named Barbara Lamar. She was murdered when he was only six – he had foreseen her death – and at eight he ran away to join the circus, where he spent his life until the accident. He has had psychic powers since he was five; as he grew up, they were simply a fact of life; and his witchcraft – which traces back to Egyptians and Babylonians is a logical extension of those powers. He is also a practicing Catholic.
“Some people are horrified at the thought of witchcraft because they think you're trying to play God,” Force complained. “But it demands a supreme belief in God.” Force sees a growing interest in witchcraft. “Some people are turning away from the organized religions, and they want something else to fulfill their needs and desires.”
Force added that he mainly practices white magic, which is almost always for the benefit of others. “If it's something essential that you know you need, then you can do it for yourself. But if you do it too much for your own gain, then you lose it.”
“I believe that everyone has ESP and other psychic powers, but they've let them lay dormant and often they can't be aroused. He told us Stanford's Research Institute tested his powers and found him correct 98% of the time. Also, he said, he has helped the Sheriff's office t apprehend a man who set fires in Torrey Pines and two apartment complexes in Del Mar. Force invited me to confirm this with David Johnson, in the arson division.
“I wouldn't want to take anything away from Dr. Force,” said Johnson respectfully. “He did give a description which was similar to the arsonist, but the Fire Department apprehended him independently of anything Dr. Force told us.”
The description? “Well, he said he'd be acting independently, not with a group, and that he'd be a light-complected individual heavyset, breathing fast like a monkey.”
“He had in fact sailed down from Monterey – where he set three canneries on fire – and run aground near Torrey Pines. Yes, he did breathe fast – you see, he was very taken by fire, he became extremely excited if you even lit a match.”
“I wouldn't want to take anything away from Dr. Force,” he repeated. “He did come pretty close to my partner and me as to what kind of people we are. And he seemed honest. I mean there was no witchcraft – no wands waving or black lights flashing or bats flying.”
“You must be calm in yourself,” explained Force, “and find a method of communicating with another body or spirit. I have a flower out here, a gardenia, and the darn thing didn't have a bloom on it. I've been talking to it, caressing it, and now look at it.” Blooming – as are the poinsettias from last Christmas.
Since we arrived, I watched Force with his animals – dog or desert iguana or cockatiel – it is all the same. He kissed them, spoke lovingly. I was not surprised when he told us he has never been afraid of an animal. “I used to have an 18-foot boa constrictor that could've swallowed you whole. I had two rattlers; they were never de-fanged; I used to pick them up and kiss them.”
“In the circus,” Force continued, “I used to alternate between the high wire act and the animals. I was in a ring with 4 lions, 8 leopards, 2 ponies, a zebra, 4 llamas, 2 bears, and an elephant – and none of them were muzzled.”
“There was a gargantuan gorilla which a lady had as a pet, until her husband threw acid in its face and it became vicious; so they gave it to the circus.”
“No one could go near him,” smiled Force, remembering. “No one but me. He had an air-conditioned cage, so on hot nights, I'd sleep there with him.”
Force gave me a list of contacts, since I want to meet other witches and attend a coven meeting. His coven has just met at the last full moon, and it usually meets just once a year. He told me he knows a lot of black people into hoodoo in Logan Heights; I didn't ask for names.
One of the people on Force's list was a woman in La Jolla who “owns half of Ocean Beach,” he said. She was hesitant, didn't want her name used, but said that witchcraft is her religion – she practices by herself, as she's known Oliver for years, and he's very good, especially at psychometry, or divining facts about a person from an object which has been near him.
“He practices, of course. It's like having a musical talent; you must practice daily to develop it. And if you come from a musical family, then you start that much earlier and it's always a part of your life. That's what it was like for Oliver.”
As for her own experiences, she remarks that she has had amazing success in real estate. And it's not luck. “I've never lost a nickel,” she tells me, “and I've been buying real estate for 25 years.”
“As a young child, I saw the priest as a magician – he could transform a piece of bread into the body of Christ!” smiled Katie. She believes that her strong Catholic background – with its ritualism and even, in rare cases, - exorcisms – predisposed her for a belief in witchcraft.
I met Katie, 18, and Gerri, 19, in Gerri's apartment in an old house near downtown San Diego. Gerri's room was decorated mainly in black (“People think I paint my nails black because I'm a witch – but it's just because black is my favorite color.” laughed Gerri) and there were bottles of incense, candles, and circled pentagrams, a sign of protection, on the four walls, and here was also a black cat.
The two girls have much in common. Both are involved in theater; Katie is stage-managing at the Old Globe, and Gerri is in the School of Performing Arts a USIU. Both had clairvoyant dreams, telepathic experiences, and what they describe as “healing power” since they were small children. And both, brought up as Catholics, became disillusioned with Catholicism at 13 – partly because of the excommunication of their respective parents, who were divorced, and partly because they could no longer believe in the Church's concept of God or Christ.
“I was heavily seeking in my early teens,” said Katie who grew up in San Diego. “I started using the Ouija board when I was about 13. And then my high school English teacher taught me a lot about witchcraft.”
Gerri, who came to San Diego last year from Illinois, said she was involved in Buddhism for a while and then, at 14, read a book on witchcraft - “and then another and another!” Witchcraft made sense to both of them; it provided a context – as did no other religion – for the psychic powers the both believe they have always had, as well as a prescribed course for their further development.
“Psychic experiences are so common for me they're just a part of my everyday life,” remarked Gerri, who has been holding séances – something most of those I interviewed do not believe in - reading tarot cards, and practicing the rituals of witchcraft for years.
“Most people have some kind of telepathic experience,” contributed Katie. “The danger is in being young, fascinated by it, and trying to create phenomena when you're not ready.” She has been frightened by some of her experiences; twice, she said, she entered a trance and, according to witnesses, became “a white-robed figure with a bright aura” .
“I don't know if I believe so much in ritual itself,” Katie continued, “I do believe that chants are a way of channeling energies, that it is my will, not the ritual. I guess that's a more twentieth century view of witchcraft.”
Katie has studied witchcraft but practiced little, now, with Gerri's help, she intends to begin in earnest.
“I suppose it's about a desire for knowledge about the forces and energies that are a large, though not conscious, part of our life,” she said slowly. “A lot of people who reject religion want another security, too. The more I can find out about these powers, the less fearful and insecure, and the more successful I'll be.”
“Christ come to me Christ come to me Christ come to me Christ come to us Christ come to us Christ come to us Christ come to us Christ come to us Christ come to us ...”
I had come to a seance, with Katie, Gerri, and four of their friends. The litany came from one of the young men, a devout Catholic, who later declared that he had astral-projected during the hour ritual; Gerri said she went down three levels, down two more, then decided to go up - “it got brighter, brighter, I wasn't afraid, just going up an up. I felt joy” ; another girl saw a bat's mouth in the candle's flame, and her boyfriend, the astral-projector, scolded her for trying to see things; and Katie found it low-keyed. As did I.
After the ritual, story-telling time. The astral-projector told about his friend. Monk, from Sacramento. “It was really sad because his psychic abilities couldn't fit into any religion. For a while he was a super Zen, then super Hare Krishna, the super Jesus Freak. Finally, he just accepted he was a sorcerer.”
“I have always been involve in these things,” replied John Logan, in some impatience with my awkward question (no matter how many people I queried about their being witches, it did not get any easier). “But around 1965 I realized I was tired of trying to discover scientifically whether these so-called phenomena existed or not.”
“It was then that the Indian medicine man, who trained me over a period of years, came into my life. Just a coincidence, of course,” chuckled Logan.
Logan had studied comparative religions and majored in philosophy at Rice University in Texas, then worked at General Dynamics Astronautics as an electrical engineer for fifteen years. Currently, he is engaged full-time in psychic counseling – which includes “de-possessing” , or exorcisms – and teaching classes at his Hillcrest home in Raja-Yoga, tarot cards, parapsychology. Logan began studying parapsychology in 1962 and is on the Board of the Parapsychology Foundation in San Diego.
In Logan's view, a witch is quite similar to an Indian medicine man, who is similar to a Hawaiian “kahuna” , or keeper of the secret – and so forth. Different words, different cultures, but all dealing in the same powers.
“Witches are people with talent to see the universe alive,” Logan said, and handed me the “Witches' Almanac”, open to his favorite “witch” definition: Mark well their manner, for it is quiet and assumeth naught. It is in peaceful tones they speak, and oft seem abstracted. Seeming to prefer the company of Beastes, they converse with them as equals. They will dwelle in lonely places, there better (as they say) to know the voices of the Wind and hear the secrets of Nature. Possessing Wysdom of the feldes and forrests, they doe heale and arme with their harvests. They concerne themselves not with idle fashion, nor doe worldly Goodes hold worth for them.
Edward Johnston, Esq.
Sudbery, Suffolk, 1645
“A serious witch is not interested in producing phenomena as such,” explains a man I will call J., who often works with Logan in psychic counseling. “His aim is to get the job done with the least possible expenditure of energy.”
J. and Logan feel that their function is to serve (“The criterion of an ethical witch is 'hurt not, help much'.” Logan told us), and they would not consider it a worthwhile use of their time or power to move glasses across a table or conjure up a demon – although they said that is within their power to produce “whatever's necessary”.
They have arrived at what they consider similar points of psychic development through different paths. Logan thinks he always had latent powers, but needed shocks – one of which was peyote – to bring them out, while J. Said he has lived with full consciousness of these powers all his life.
They make several points about witches; (1) that misconceptions of what makes a witch are nearly universal in the ordinary world (2) that the sole purpose of a coven is to learn, and that for the mature witch, coven membership provides more obstacles, in terms of other personalities, than benefits (3) that a mature witch needs no ceremony, either, except possibly as a vehicle, and (4) there is a vast difference between a ceremonial magician and a witch.
“A witch,” explained Logan, “recognizes that all things are made of energy and are in concert and says 'I can allow that to happen' or 'I can block that'. The witch is striving for self-development, personal illumination; he wants to know what God is, what the universe is, and he takes full responsibility for what he does.”
“A ceremonial magician, on the other hand, says 'there are spirits and demons I can contact who will allow mw to do this or do it for me; his is a manipulative trip, because he wants control. Like black magic. He doesn't want to take responsibility for what he does, and he feels he needs an outside force to open up these powers because he feels inadequate.”
Nonetheless, the ceremonial magician does have power, they concluded. I repeatedly have heard rumors, in my witch-seeking, of a coven in La Jolla of some 15 or 20 years standing, comprised of wealthy and prominent people – and highly secretive. A woman I know told me the leader of this coven once approached her and offered to char her ex-husband in his bed, or heal her sick daughter – if he could but have pieces of his subjects' clothing.
“Altogether possible,” Logan told me, when I repeated the story. “I believe that individuals practices Egyptian magic. And may I quote to you words of a friend of mine, pertaining to this individual?”
“Of course, “ I answered.
“EEEK!” said Logan.
It was nearly time to go, and I was sorry that it was beneath Logan and J. To move a glass across the table, or for that matter move the table. Everyone I interviewed had made light of such elementary business; but after all this time, talking talking talking psychic phenomena, I had yet to see anything. They gave me some Indian corn to rub between my palms, to feel the energy, and my hands tingled slightly. Not exactly what I had in mind.