Canada's most visible witch

  DATELINE: TORONTO (AP)  May 08, 1988
   EDITOR'S  NOTE  To  hear some of them tell it, there are more witches in
North  America than you can shake a boom at. One of them is an American who
emigrated to Canada, a high priest of Wicca who is campaigning for witches'
rights. Among other things, he wants a license to perform weddings.
    By JEFF BRADLEY Associated Press Writer
    TORONTO  (AP) He's a Vietnam veteran who spends quiet evenings watching
Cary Grant movies and would like to be reincarnated as Fred Astaire.
    But Charles Arnold is also Canada's most visible witch, a second-degree
high priest of Wicca, the religion of witchcraft.
    "I  don't  melt  if  water  is  poured  over  me," says the 40-year-old
clerical  worker  who is campaigning for legal acceptance of his beliefs in 
both  a  male  and  female  divinity,  the  potency of magic and absence of
original sin.
    Arnold  began  the  quest  last  year  when  he asked his boss for paid
religious  leave  on the Wiccan holidays of "Samhain," Nov. 1, when witches
celebrate  the  mortality  of  the  body  and  immortality of the soul, and
"Belthane," May 1, welcoming summer, life and fertility.
    Humber  College of Applied Arts and Technology, which employs Arnold in
its  hospitality office, denied his request because Wicca is not recognized
by the Canadian Council of Churches and lacks tax-free charitable status.
    Arnold  protested  to  a  labor  arbitration  board  which  upheld  his
grievance and said: "Wicca is obviously a religion...the modern survival of
the ancient pagan religions of Western Europe."
    But Arnold's victory was short-lived.
    The native of Washington, D.C., who served a year in Vietnam, became an
anti-war  activist  and  emigrated to Canada 15 years ago, had also applied
for  a  license  to  become  the first Canadian witch authorized to perform

    In  a  March  ruling, the Ontario registrar-general's office turned him
down.  It questioned the legitimacy of his ordination and the nature of the
Wiccan marriage ritual, known as a "handfasting."
    Arnold  blamed  Ontario's Protestant establishment, although Council of
Churches  official  Edith  Shore  showed  some  sympathy  for  the Wiccans.
"Christianity was a fringe group when it started, too," she said.
    Arnold  complained that the Marriage Act discriminates against Canada's
5,000 witches by making it a crime, punishable by up to six months in jail,
to perform an unauthorized wedding.
    "They  should either license me or do away with the law altogether," he
said,  noting  that Wiccan weddings are permitted in 38 U.S. states. He had
to travel to Montpelier, Vt., for his own Wiccan wedding three years ago.
    The  practice  of witchcraft is fairly widespread in the United States,
but precise numbers are hard to come by.
    "It's  everywhere,  every big city probably has a group," says the Rev.
W. M. Kent Burtner, a Dominican priest based in Portland, Ore., who studies
cults.  "I  see  it  basically  as  a  nature  religion not associated with 
Satanism,  but  that  may  be  skewed  because  of  whom I get to meet as a
Catholic  priest.  It's a write-your-own theology sort of a approach and it
runs a real broad spectrum."
    Lady  Sabrina, a high priestess in Nashua, N.H., estimates there are "a
couple  of  hundred  thousand"  members scattered across the United States,
including "a couple of thousand" high priests and priestesses.
    Starhawk,  a  San  Francisco  high  priestess and author of "The Spiral
Dance," a book about Wicca, largely agrees.
    "I  just had a conversation with someone and we decided that there were
between  250,000  and  4  million  of  us,"  she  says.  The 4 million, she
explains, would include all pagans.
    "In  any  case,"  she  says,  "there  are  more  of  us  than there are
    Starhawk says many members are underground.
    "There  is  a  long  tradition where it is not safe to be a witch," she
says.  "We  don't  necessarily  announce it. Many people's jobs would be in 
    Starhawk,  an  author  and  lecturer,  teaches at a Catholic college in
Oakland,  Calif.  Her  most  recent  book is "Truth or Dare Encounters with
Power, Authority and Mystery."
    Lady  Sabrina  runs  Our Lady of Enchantment, a Wicca mail order school
with 6,000 members representing 25 countries.
   "I  have performed marriages and have tax-exempt status, but I only know
12  or 15 others who have tax exempt-status," she says. "You really have to
fight to get it."
   "Many  of us in California perform marriages, but here if you go through
the  trouble to sign the papers and take a blood test, you can get licensed
to perform marriages," Starhawk says. "A dog could get the license here."
    Lady Sabrina, whose church is open to the public on Friday nights, says 
she never heard of Charles Arnold, but that does not surprise her.
    "For  a  while  a  woman  in  Salem, Mass., who was picketing the movie
'Witches  of  Eastwick'  became  very well known. Since there is no central
organization,  whoever  makes  the  most  noise  becomes the most prominent
    Arnold,  a  soft-spokeman  man with a beard, says he was initiated as a
priest in witchcraft traditions dating back thousands of years.
    Each  coven,  grove  or  temple  chooses its own rituals and vows. Some
covens meet in the nude, but Arnold's group prefers robes.
    He offered this description of a Wiccan wedding:
    Inside  a  magical  circle, the male and female divinities are summoned
along with the guardians of the four elements air, water, fire and earth.
    The  groom's  left  hand  is  bound  to the bride's right hand and some
choose to draw blood from their skin and touch like blood brothers.
    Couples  exchange  rings,  bracelets or floral crowns; step over flames 
for  purification  and  fertility,  and  jump  over  a  broom  to symbolize
household unity.
    Traditional gifts include bread (for plenty), silver (prosperity), salt
(health) and wood or coal (physical and emotional warmth).
    Before  the  priest  pronounces  them  husband and wife, he invokes the
couple  "to  pleasure one another," Arnold says. "We don't cut sex off from
the rest of life. We don't make a big thing out of it either."
    At  the  heart of the primitive religion lies the power of the male and
female  in  nature, symbolized by the god usually referred to by the Celtic
name  Herne,  and  the goddess known as Cerridwen or Athena or Isis, Arnold
    Wiccans  also  believe  in the mysteries of magic, reincarnation and in
celebrating the rites of passage, such as first menstruation and menopause.
    "We  go through life after life to learn and evolve and progress to the
point  where  we  rejoin  the  god and goddess," Arnold says. "Behind them,
there is something we can't even identify, the unity they come from." 
    Witches don't go around laying curses on people, and they don't conduct
human  or animal sacrifices, eat babies or worship the devil as depicted in
folklore and comics, he said.
    But the craft does have a practical side.
    "I  mix up potions and my wife makes some of the finest liqueurs you've
ever  tasted,"  Arnold says. "I use wormwood and calendula (a rare herb) in
vinegar to take bruises away and lavender vinegar for sunburn."
    Arnold  says  he discovered his religion 10 years ago after intuitively
constructing  a Wiccan altar in his home. A woman he was dating happened to
be a witch and was startled to see the altar.
    Leader  of  the 50-member Temple of the Elder Faiths in Toronto, Arnold
was raised in New Jersey by a grandmother who read tea leaves.
    "We  believe  that  if  you  are meant to find the craft, you will," he
says.  "Many traditional Wiccans think we're growing too fast and this will
water down the religion and may actually destroy it."
    He  said  covens  usually  meet  on  eight sabbaths coinciding with the 
year's  solar  and  lunar  cycles.  The  average age in his group is 27 and
members include a real estate agent, a schoolteacher and a naturopath.
    "Covens  are  closer  than  most  families.  Members  tend  to  be more
imaginative  than  most  people and a little bit eccentric," said Arnold, a
published poet and expert on ritual body decoration.
    "I want to come back in my next life as Fred Astaire. He had class."