Roman Reichert, a tall 22-year-old student, roams the Long Beach City College campus in his green hoodie and jeans. He blends in with all the other students until you ask him to introduce himself.
“I’m a Wiccan witch,” Reichert said. “I practice Wicca as my spirituality and witchcraft as my practice.”
Other witches, too, surround him on campus, including 21-year-old Alena Sisson, the president of the college’s Pagan Club.
That club is not the only Pagan hub in Long Beach. Across town is a Wicca shop, called Eye of the Cat, which has been holding down its off Broadway location since 1974.
Though they remain hidden as a minority enclave, many witches and Pagans are part of the Long Beach community. The Long Beach Pagan Meetup Group has 311 members, another Pagan club exists at Cal State University Long Beach, and local Pagans also frequent the Points of Light shop off Stearns Street.
Kelly Hernandez, owner of The Eye of the Cat, is also a self-described Elder High Priestess Wiccan. She described the local Wiccan community as large and “eclectic.”
“Some are a little more earthy,” said Hernandez, a rosy-cheeked woman who comes across as cheery and usually is found laughing. “Some are on the high magic side of things. Some are scary. Some are very happy… You really have a huge collection of different type of people.”
Her store has flourished for over 30 years because of the relatively large number of people interested in Wicca, boosted by members of the Long Beach gay community, Hernandez explained.
“There are a lot of gay men who come to The Craft (witchcraft) because the church doesn’t accept them,” the Elder High Priestess explained. “They were looking for a way to express their spirituality.”
Despite the large enclave here, many stereotypes abound around Wicca. Some people believe, for example, that witches practice Satanism.
“It’s a common misconception; it’s nothing like that,” said Sisson, the president of the Long Beach City College Pagan club, wearing a black shirt with a giant pentacle. “We don’t make sacrifices or call on evil spirits or demons. It’s benevolent magic used to help yourself or help others.”
Their use of magic is also not as scary as one might think. Sisson, for example, has used spells to help study for tests. She lit a purple candle as she studied. Then, during her tests, Sisson would think of the color purple, and the answers would come to her.
Wicca does not have a sacred text or bible, but since many follow deities from various historical pantheons, witches can be often found with their head in a book.
“Pagans tend to be the best read group of people I’ve ever met. You’ll find they’re voracious readers,” said Dr. Wendy Griffin, a Long Beach Wiccan and Academic Dean for Cherry Hill Seminary, an online school for Contemporary Paganism.
Dr. Griffin, a former chair of the Women’s Studies Department at CSULB, said that Wicca is the largest strand of earth-based belief systems under Paganism.
She added that philosophical knowledge for witches is gained through lived experience. “You don’t need a religious institution to tell you what’s right and what’s wrong,” she said.
As many Pagans pursue knowledge, Chapel Hill Seminary offers a Master’s in Divinity in Paganism, with some courses focusing on ministry, counseling, poverty, and even climate change.
“Much of Paganism sees the earth as sacred, so when you’re talking about the devastation of the earth through human misappropriation of resources it relates to everything Wiccans believe in,” said Dr. Griffin.
Witches’ use of magic carries different interpretations. Some witches believe they can actually affect the world through nonphysical acts, Dr. Griffin said, while “some people see it more as psychological work.”
Though some men follow Wicca, the practice often regards femininity as sacred, with the inclusion of female deities, priestesses, and worship of nature.
“There’s tremendous respect for females and the work they do… It gives females a lore more autonomy than mainstream religions,” Dr. Griffin said.
Some may prefer the term Wiccan over witch, depending where their traditions stem from or to avoid stigma. Witches may also practice very differently from one another, to the chagrin of more strict covens.
Sisson, for example, practices Fairy Wicca (sometimes spelled Faery Wicca). She said she communicates with earth-based fairies through meditation.
“It allows me to ask for fairy guidance whenever I’m doing guidance or spells, or before major events in my life,” Sisson said.
She also worships gods and goddesses other witches may not, such as Poseidon and Aphrodite.
But what unites all witches are the three general rules, according to Dr. Griffin: to do what you will but harm no one, to remember that anything negative you do returns to you threefold, and to find the divine in nature.
The LBCC Pagan club members repeat these rules over and over. The rules compel Reichert to perform spells involved with healing others and building wealth.
“A lot of the stuff I do is positive ended… I try not to do the negative aspects and believe me, you slip sometimes being angry,” Reichert said.
Just as the Eye of the Cat shop owner speculated, some of the witches at LBCC found their path to Wicca by first rejecting their Christian roots. Growing up in a strict Christian household, Reichert said he sought out a less “suppressive” spirituality. It took time before Reichert’s father understood why he chose Wicca.
“It allows me to be involved in something. I never been accepted into Christian culture and it’s the only religion I’ve come across that has welcomed me with open arms and makes sense to me,” Reichert said.