Witch at Large: Ruminations from a Grey Perspective

Seeing Paganism in terms of being a movement, explorations of our history, societal context, comparisons to other religious movements, and general Pagan culture.

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Creating Sacred Space with Pagan Prison Inmates – VI

Some More Ways in Which Inmate Circles Differ from Civilian Circles

In previous blogs I’ve mentioned various differences and restrictions that affect how we can work and what we can and cannot do. We can burn candles and incense, and we have created a temporary temple space.

The first time I went into San Quentin, accompanied by the Jewish chaplain who was then in SQSP/DOCR sponsor the Wiccan circle, I encountered an assortment of men unlike those I usually meet in my day-to-day life. The inmate population does not reflect the population at large. Inmates are disproportionately minorities and veterans, the poor and addicts. I’m a middle-class, oldish Euro woman, well educated and privileged in many ways. So obviously we in the Temple of One Consciousness (the inmates’ name for their circle) cannot bond on the basis of much shared experience. A Christian-reared feminist such as myself, initially drawn to the Craft by a recognition of female divinity, has a very different experience and understanding of life from that of a male serving a sentence in prison for a felony criminal conviction.

We seek common understandings. We seek to share common ground, but some of our steps in that direction must be carefully chosen. I am goddess-oriented, although not exclusively goddess-worshipping. I had a father, brothers, a husband, male lovers, a son, a grandson, and many male friends from the full spectrum of sexual and gender expression. I love all of humankind, in the broadest sense. Which is not to say that I’m not highly critical of much culturally-inculcated “male’ behavior, and the men who propagate it.

I’m from an experimental end of the spectrum of Witchen practice. I’m used to hugs, the sharing of personal stories from our lives, intimacy. In prison we cannot hug or share personal stories. Further, most of my coven work has been with women only. Here I was with a room full of men. We were strangers to each other. We were not able to become acquainted and foster friendships in the same ways you the reader and I could do in civilian life.

Some of what we’ve done together has involved only the presence of a goddess. So, for instance, at our Samhain feast we invited The Morrígan and the Ancestors; we did not invite a god. At Imbolc we learned about, and invoked, Brigit, and I had three different images of her in the picture stands. At Ostara we had two different vertical images of flower-bedecked Springtime goddess and a central image of a bowl of beautiful colored eggs. (More about the eggs in a subsequent post,)

But I feel strongly that men’s lives can be enhanced by establishing relationships with gods. So come Yuletide, however, and I designed our ritual around the Oak King and the Holly King. I found online a beautiful colloquy between those kings written and recorded by Damh the Bard. I brought in images of the two kings four the vertical picture stands on our altar, and a horizontal print of their duel to place between the two god images. I also brought in many sprigs of holly and oak leaves for the altar.

I really like to have seasonal greenery on our altar, especially on sabbat altars. For Harvest Home last September we borrowed Indian corn and gourds from the Jewish chaplain. But there was no winter greenery available to us. Of course, I cannot bring in real holly sprigs and oak leaves, so I printed out a bunch, cut precisely around every berry, thorn, and lobe, and spread them on the altar. It’s amazing how real they looked if you didn’t look too close.

We invited both kings into our circle. I asked two of the men to take the role of the kings and had them read the colloquy.

Shortly I will post more about how we’ve adapted and what I’ve tried to bring to the circle.

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Aline O’Brien (M. Macha NightMare), Witch at Large, has circled with people of diverse Pagan paths throughout the U.S., and in Canada and Brazil.  Author of Witchcraft and the Web (2001) and Pagan Pride (2004), and co-author, with Starhawk, of The Pagan Book of Living and Dying (1997), Macha has also contributed to anthologies, periodicals, textbooks, and encyclopedias.  A member of the American Academy of Religion, the Marin Interfaith Council, and the Nature Religion Scholars Network, Macha also serves as a national interfaith representative for the Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) and on the Advisory Board of the Sacred Dying Foundation.  Having spent the last eleven years developing and teaching at Cherry Hill Seminary, the first and only seminary serving the Neopagan community, Macha now serves on its Board of Directors. An all-round Pagan webweaver, she speaks on behalf of Paganism to news media and academic researchers, and lectures at colleges, universities and seminaries. www.machanightmare.com


  • Joseph Merlin Nichter
    Joseph Merlin Nichter Wednesday, 13 August 2014

    Another great post Macha!

    Those men appreciate you for every slice of your scissors and your presence alone makes all the difference.

    Blessings to you.

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