by Sara Olson, CCWF
Wicca is growing in popularity in the United States where there are now over a million practicing Wiccans. It is fluid in definition and decentralized organizationally. Solitary practice is common because of the undefined parameters of traditions. Wicca promotes ideals of quiet compromise, peaceful interaction with others and respect for the natural world, important qualities in the assaultive prison environment.
However, Wiccans are targets of human fears and ignorance that harken back to a time when great primeval forests covered much of the globe and humans cowered before a seemingly unexplainable, all-powerful nature.
The first Wiccan service at CCWF was held in November, 2004. It was the result of extensive lobbying by Wiccans Autumn Zuver, Shawna Hartmann (A.K.A. McCullough) and April ?Twin? Watson. Patrick McCollum, California?s prominent prison Wiccan chaplain, conducted the service with the aid of Fresno Wiccan, a High Priest known as ?Doc?. Although California men?s prisons have had Wiccan chapters for over a decade, the meeting at CCWF was the first Wiccan gathering in a women?s prison. Wiccan services continued regularly through 2005-2006. Two Fresno Wiccans conducted biweekly services and Patrick McCollum, accompanied by several others from the Bay Area, came quite often. They offered educational classes and led circles of worship that gave Wiccan prisoners a sense of solidarity. Then another staff member replaced the associate Warden who had been making Wiccan services possible. Thereafter, Wiccan observances went downhill.
There is much resistance to establishment of Wiccan chapters within California prisons. ?Witch? is a common epithet hurled at Wiccans. Rumors and accusations about the use of blood in rituals are spread even though this is expressly forbidden in the Wiccan religion. Despite these obstacles, more than 77 people attended Wiccan services held in June 2008 to celebrate the Midsummer solstice.
Patrick McCollum has a long-standing suit in court against CDCR for generally disallowing or interrupting the practice of the Wiccan religion in California prisons. The suit is based on thousands of pages of discovery from several prisons. At CCWF, Shawna Hartmann, aided by Moraga attorney Barbara McGraw, has filed suit against CCWF to request a Wiccan chaplain. She is currently seeking help from any non-profit, free world Wiccan organization or supporters that might be amenable to aid in financing Hartmann?s suit.