This story appeared in the May 19, 1993 issue of the _Columbus Guardian_ newspaper

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This story appeared in the May 19, 1993 issue of the _Columbus Guardian_ newspaper and is reproduced here with the permission of the Editor. Note: Obetz Ohio is a very small town southeast of Columbus. ================================================= _The Witches of Obetz_, by Andrea Simakis. Maybe it's Jack and Dot's Ruby Hill Bar. Or Hamilton's Gun Shop. Or Possum Holler Pizza. There was some flap over the sale of rolling papers and nudie magazines at the local market, and people were none too thrilled with the blue films available at the video store. But nothing riled the townsfolk like when the witches set up shop across the street from Dairy Queen last month. Salem West, a Wiccan book store, opened April 5. That same night, after a village council meeting, the Dairy Mart next door received a bomb threat. "The good Christian" employees of the convenience store were told by the caller they'd best get out of the way so they didn't get hurt, because the blast was meant for the witches. The next day, when the new shop's phones went in, "Burn witch burn!" came crackling over the line. A gasoline can with a note attached - "Burn Witch Burn" - was later deposited at the back door. Salem West is zoned as a book store and gift shop - which is exactly what it is. The new age baubles sold there - sterling silver unicorns, crystals, bells, candles, beads and incense sticks, along with Wiccan literature, runes and tarot cards - represent nothing racier than what you'd find at a summer fair. You can even get pentagrams like the ones A.J. Drew and his wife Bunny sell at the Zucchini Festival. Two guys drove in from Westerville just to see the "devil- worshippers," and were disappointed. The shuffled around the store for 10 minutes, then walked back to their car, grinning. They think all the fire-andbrimstone rhetoric getting broadcast from the town is a riot. One of them just got back from L.A., where he'd seen "the real thing. There's nothing in that store that even resembles anything I've seen out there." Despite what Wiccans refer to as "300 years of bad press," witchcraft and Satanism are not synonymous. Witchcraft (derived from "wicca- craft" or "craft of the wise") is a nature-based, Goddess-centered philosophy that predates Judeo-Christianity by hundreds, if not thousands, of years. And no, they don't suck blood or sacrifice small animals. But villagers say they know better. Ask around. "Satanic hardware is what A.J. is peddling and that kind of commerce brings with it 'orgies,' 'sexual involvement with children,' 'sacrifices of children' and 'devil-worshipping.' "This isn't the community for that kind of activity" is the line most often heard from the fathers, mothers and teens stalking Salem West's parking lot. People who live around here figure that even if the store isn't satanic by design, dabbling in witchcraft is the interstate to hell. It's Reefer Madness logic plain and simple - once you get hooked on weed, you're more likely to crave bigger and better highs, eventually winding up a hopeless junkie. A few tarot readings and quicker than you can say Mephistopheles, you're in a cornfield burying burnt goats. Steve McSurley comes hustling out of Salem West. His wife, who wouldn't enter the store, waits in their van. On the rear door is a bumper sticker reading, "Caution: Christians on Board." McSurley, a born again, says he was a Satanist for 15 years before giving his life "wholeheartedly to God." "The say they're not into Satanism over there. Well, they're just openin' doors. Once you get into witchcraft, you want more power and then you go into Satanism. See, I was into witchcraft myself [how often have we heard THIS lie from Christians?! -- dr] and I wasn't satisfied with that - I wanted more power, I wanted to get to the heart of it - and the heart of it was Satan." It's the little ones he worries about, although he doesn't think anybody - not kids, grown-ups or old people - should be exposed to Salem West. "It's the kids. They're opening different doors to these kids that listen to Motley Crue and all them. It's for real and it all leads to one thing - once they get to seekin', wantin' power, witchcraft ain't gonna be enough - you got murder and everything else, sacrifices. It's real. It's real." While he was in the store, McSurley told Bunny he was praying for here. He promised she'd never see him outside her place with a gun. "Yeah, like all these good Christians that are talking about bombing us," Bunny says. "I didn't read in the Bible, 'Thou shalt firebomb new age stores.'" A.J. and Bunny have lived in Obetz for about six years. They met in Germany while A.J. was still in the army, married, and moved back to his home state. Since a motorcycle accident, A.J. hasn't been able to stand without pain for more than 15 minutes at a time. Holding down a job wasn't easy after that. Owning his own business was the way around his injury. "People are saying we opened up here just to piss of the town. Like that's profitable. This is my community. It is the American Dream - or at least my version of the American Dream - to live in your community, to open your own shop in your community, to be active in your community." He originally wanted to call his place "Needful Things" after the Stephen King novel, but never heard back about securing the rights. A.J. would've liked that name, since he believes Obetz needs Salem West. "At least 20 Wiccan's have come into the shop that I never knew were here, that are either from Obetz or the surrounding area." Another couple, who'd recently moved out of Columbus because of the crime, moved into Obetz for the shop. They figured since A.J. and Bunny were making so much noise, they'd just kind of blend in. Of course it's not just Wiccans who visit the store. Townies have come asking if the robes hanging in the window can be converted to Ku Klux Klan whites. Odd, since somebody at the first village council meeting suggested they should import some Kluxers to run the witches out of Obetz. They can laugh off some of the Halloween typecasting. When Bunny offers "Witches Brew Coffee," shoppers ask her if "regular people can drink it." A.J.'s Harley touched off the "Satanic Bikers From Hell" rumor. What's more, they heard they sold prostitutes, that's how they got the money to open the store. They even got used to the phone calls, for or five a day, where somebody would yell the standard "Burn Witch Burn", or any variation on that theme, and hang-up. But some of the harassment just gets to be too much. Channel 4 came out a while back to film a ritual being held in celebration of the Wiccan holiday Beltane. The next day, the fire department paid a call to A.J. and Bunny. Seems someone had complained about the "bonfire" they'd seen in the TV footage. A.J., normally serene, just blew up. "No, there was no open fire, there were five candles on an alter with 12 people watching with a fire extinguisher handy!" What looked like a roaring blaze was the light from the TV camera. No one expected the bible thumping to get so loud. Least of all A.J. When he attended his first village council meeting and heard neighbors calling him and Bunny devil-worshippin'-baby killin'- pedophiles, that was enough. "People who are killing babies and stuff, people who kill animals and kill babies, you know what you call them? Now this is really intense. This may shock you. They're called criminals." A.J. has a 40-page FBI report debunking the popular link between ritual child abuse and any organized pagan group. A.J. won't eat meat, let alone offer up any live and clucking sacrifice. He became a vegetarian after studying the Wiccan Rede, a code to live by for most witches. The tenets of his faith are belief in the Rede and the attempt to adhere to its teachings. The most important of which is, "And you harm none, do as you will." But Convincing village government and Christian mommas and daddies of that is the trick. Michelle McCoy, a 15-year-old at Hamilton Township High who works as a brazier girl at D.Q., has actually gone inside. She's seen "a lot of Satan stuff" for sale. "It's a witchcraft store, but they're sayin' it's not a Satan store and it is. Like kids will come to school with upside-down crosses and necklaces with little balls wrapped in claws and stuff." She thinks it's disgusting. "Most of us go to church, and just seein' that over there and seein' all those people go in there - it makes us wonder, you know? It's bad enough all these killings and everything goin' around. When you see that in your neighborhood, you really wonder." Michelle's coworker, 15-year-old Kelly Dean, leans out the tiny window, pushing her face into view. "I go to church and my religion is against it, and I don't think it should be there. Like what kinda people are gonna come through here now just to go to that store?" Michelle says just last week she and Kelly saw a "carload of guys" drive up to Salem West in robes. "I think it's scary," Kelly says. "That kind of stuff gots to do with spirits, and we don't need spirits around here." Michelle thinks the store could brain wash kids, make them believe in Satan. "I think they should blow that place up," says Jared, a 14-year-old. "Instead of bringing their religion to Obetz, why don't they take it somewhere else? If you ask me, I think someone should throw a bomb in that window." Why? "God created us, the devil didn't," says Jared's friend, Mike, also 14. "They got pentagrams and stuff in there, voodoo sticks, what else? Tarot cards! Tarot cards tell your future - that could mean that you die tomorrow. Who the heck wants to know their future? Plus, I watched the news, that guy, the owner, he said he was a witch." Jared can't seem to shake the cleansing-by-fire motif: "They found a gasoline can behind that store; someone's gonna burn it down." Jenny, 15, sits and listens to her friends talk, twisting and twisting an "energy ring" she bought at Salem West. "It's supposed to remove false energy," she says. Jenny doesn't see anything wrong with the place. "They're not hurtin' no one." "There's a bunch of devil-worshipping people over there!" Jared says. "How do you know they're devil-worshippers?" Jenny shoots back. "Who else goes in there?" Jared wants to know. "I go in there," she says. "I'm not a devil-worshipper." The rumors going around Hamilton High are that a "cult" operates Salem West, and somebody is going to firebomb the place if their parents don't get the store closed by petition. Students warn each other to stay away from the area, "otherwise, basically anyone who's in that block at the wrong time is dead," says Lacey, a high school senior. She thinks the threats are serious, "because people around here are closed minded." She's one of the few people who's glad they opened. It gives the place some culture. She's fighting for the store. And for A.J. and Bunny. "They're sweet. They'd do anything in the world for ya. They're that kind of people - come on in, sit right down, take a load off and shoot the breeze. It's really a home-like atmosphere, and that's what they were striving for with the shop." They took in an 18-year-old recently after his parents threw him out. Ed had been in the store when Channel 4 came to cover the witches of Obetz, and neighbors saw him on TV. That didn't sit well at home. "My parents turned against me for a while," Ed says. They started getting a lot of criticism from "fellow Christians," especially members of their church. People would call his house and put his mom down. "Like, 'Oh my god, I seen your son on TV with that devil-worship shit.'" His parents told him he was embarrassing the family, then told him to get out. He's living in a homeless shelter now, but he says he's getting back on his feet. Ed doesn't really blame his parents. "What I didn't feel was right about the whole situation was that fellow church members were turnin' against them because I'm their son, and it was causing them havoc. That was dead wrong." For an outsider, it's hard to imagine what growing up in Obetz must be like. To always worry that something wicked will come to town and steal something away. Never sure what. Do kids sitting in the sun, bending red plastic spoons in their mouths, giggling in front of Dairy Queen, really believe it's better to blow difference to kingdom come? Or don't they have a choice in the matter?


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