© 2024 WMRA and WEMC
WMRA : More News, Less Noise WEMC: The Valley's Home for Classical Music
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Greene County coven marks its first Samhain

Mathias Erhart

Long before anyone donned a costume or carved a pumpkin for Halloween, this time of year was known to the ancient Celts as Samhain, and there are some who still observe that holiday. WMRA's Randi B. Hagi reports.

In the small community of Dyke in Greene County, a new religious organization formed last year: The Coven of the Appalachian Mountains. It serves those with pagan beliefs and practices who are –

Stuart Birckhead-Nicholson is a member of the coven's high council.
Stuart Birckhead-Nicholson
Stuart Birckhead-Nicholson is a member of the coven's high council.

STUART BIRCKHEAD-NICHOLSON: … coming out of the broom closet, so to say.

Stuart Birckhead-Nicholson is a member of the coven's high council. He grew up attending a Christian church, but became interested in finding a different spiritual practice because of the church's anti-LGBTQ beliefs. Then, in a world history class –

BIRCKHEAD-NICHOLSON: We started talking about ancient civilizations and ancient religions, and something about the religion of ancient Greece just lit something inside of me. It felt familiar.

Their members come from a variety of traditions.

BIRCKHEAD-NICHOLSON: Our high priestess, Brandy – she works primarily with the Egyptian deities. … Our vice president, and one of our priests, Jason – his original background is in the Norse, but he also … grew up in the mountains of Appalachia, so he's got all of that folk magic background.

Many of them have also been influenced by Wicca, and observe the ancient festivals – such as Samhain – that were popularized by the mid-20th century Wiccan writer Gerald Gardner.

BIRCKHEAD-NICHOLSON: This time of year is when the veil, or the boundary between the land of the living and the spirit world, the world of the dead, is at its thinnest. This makes it easier to communicate with our deceased loved ones. Divination, or fortune-telling is said to be more accurate.

To learn more about the organization, visit covenam.org.

Randi B. Hagi first joined the WMRA team in 2019 as a freelance reporter. Her writing and photography have been featured in The Harrisonburg Citizen, where she previously served as the assistant editor; as well as The Mennonite; Mennonite World Review; and Eastern Mennonite University's Crossroads magazine.