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Witches Come Out of the Broom Closet : Sorcery: One coven usually holds its rituals in Ojai, which apparently has the most witchcraft activity in the county.

November 12, 1990|MAJA RADEVICH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

One witch wafted incense through the air as the other called upon the gods of nature to bless the bride and groom.

About 50 guests joined hands and encircled the couple and the two witches. And after exchanging wedding rings, Jaymie West, 20, and Shane Barnett, 18, both of Ojai, concluded the ceremony by jumping over a broomstick, symbolizing their leap into a new life.

"Witches use a broomstick to wipe away negative energies from the space we'll be using as a ritual area," said Linda Selby, a self-described witch who, along with Jennifer Lee of Ojai, performed last week's ceremony at Ojai's Soule County Park.

Selby and Lee say they are two of about 25 witches in Ventura County who don't keep their pagan religion a secret. Selby estimates that there may be 100 to 200 witches in the county.

"It's really impossible to even give a good guess because not even all the witches know the other witches," Selby said. "Most people still practice witchcraft in secret from fear of being ostracized by friends or losing their jobs."

"In fact, it was only about three years ago that I came out of the broom closet."

Marcene Wynne, grandmother of the bride, had mixed emotions about the wedding.

"I've talked to those two women," Wynne said, still unable to say the word "witch" without wincing, "and they explained that this is a very old religion. Plus, this is what the young kids are doing these days, and Jaymie seems happy and that's all that matters.

"But still, it is pretty strange," she said, adding that her granddaughter was raised a Christian and was expected to have a traditional wedding.

The bride did dress in white: a white, ruffled shirt over black leggings and brown boots. The groom also wore black leggings and a black shirt. Their feet remained bare so they could maintain contact with their mother, earth, they said.

"We chose to have a Wicca ceremony because that's the most positive, loving religion we know of," said West, who is not a witch and isn't planning to become one.

Barnett plans to petition to become a witch in a few months, he said. After doing so, he will become eligible for initiation after one year and one day of training.

"One of the reasons I like Wicca is because in the other religions the role models are men. And women are secondary," he said. "But that's wrong. That's denying half of reality and half of yourself. Here, the gods are male and female; there's equality and balance."

Raised a Protestant, Barnett said he always had a fascination with fantasy books, magic and medieval history. A little over a year ago, while attending a convention for the game Dungeons and Dragons, he met Selby selling her oils and perfumes. After he and West met about six months ago at work and decided to marry, they called upon Selby to perform the hand-fasting.

Selby, 40, said she began practicing witchcraft at age 16 after meeting an old woman in her neighborhood who taught her the craft. In her 20s, Selby said, she stopped practicing witchcraft because of social pressures. But never feeling right about forsaking her beliefs, she returned to her religion five years ago.

"At that time I was still secretive about what I was doing and I even hid it from my husband," said Selby, who is now separated. She has no children. "But one day when I was meditating I saw a beautiful, robed woman handing me seven blue stones, which she put in my hand and they slipped into my body."

Explaining that the color blue is associated with the throat area, Selby said, "I knew then that it was time for me to start talking."

Now Selby is vocal about her beliefs. She has a bumper sticker on her blue van that reads "Blessed Be," a witch's greeting to another. And she always wears a pentagram pendant around her neck. A five-pointed star within a circle, the pentagram is the Wiccan religious symbol.

A scientific researcher in a firm in Newbury Park, Selby said she doesn't face discrimination at work. And her neighbors and friends accept her for what she is.

Selby and the rest of her coven, a group of about five witches, usually hold their rituals in Ojai, meeting by lunar and solar cycles.

"Ojai's a wonderful place. It's very magical with a beautiful, spiritual nature," Selby said. She and most of the witches interviewed agreed that Ojai has the most witchcraft activity in the county.

"The only time the coven had any problem in Ojai was when we bought these magic wands that have glitter in them which glows in the dark if you shine a light on it beforehand," Selby said. "We wanted to charge up our wands so we went outside in the daylight. We went running and dancing around the house singing 'The earth, the air, the fire, the water, return, return, return,' and waving our wands the whole time.

"I guess the neighbors thought we were doing something weird and called the landlords."

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