Auburn witch makes a plea for understanding

Retired Congregational Church minister writes book based on his own experiences
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
-A +A
AUBURN CA - Enter the world of Auburn witch Richard Kuykendall and it’s not what you may think. While the entertainment industry churns out horrific images of devil-worshipping, baby-sacrificing evil incarnate, the truth is, being a witch and practicing Wiccan beliefs is more about harming no one while following your own personal ethics structure, Kuykendall said. “Witches are normal people,” Kuykendall said. “I would just like to see people be more accepting and not be judgmental.” Being a witch – Kuykendall said that the term “warlock” for a male witch isn’t normally used – is an easy path to follow. Kuykendall said he’s followed the Wiccan religion for 30 years, including the years between 2003 and 2011 when he was with Auburn’s 1st Congregational Church as an ordained minister of the United Church of Christ. “Christianity is focused on Jesus and I feel he is the only way,” Kuykendall said. “As I see it, you can have any god you want. I chose Jesus. I don’t see it as a conflict.” While balancing his Wiccan and Christian beliefs, Kuykendall kept the fact that he was a witch a secret. But he said that he did hold classes on Wicca and other faiths that met every week in Auburn. Now retired and with two books published by Trafford Publishing, Kuykendall said he’s willing to more freely share his Wiccan beliefs – and perhaps even start a coven in the Auburn area. Kuykendall said he grew interested in witchcraft after leafing through several volumes on the subject that his father-in-law had in his library. Initially fascinated by the subject, he delved further into Wiccan beliefs while studying for his theology doctorate under Starhawk, a leading Wicca authority. “At that time, the whole environmental movement was becoming big and Wicca is tied to the earth and the changing seasons,” Kuykendall said. “It seemed to me to be an environmentally friendly religion. And I didn’t see any conflict between practicing Wiccan and Christian religions.” Allie Thompson-Ray, of Ancient Ways in Oakland, said that while the Bay Area may have a higher degree of acceptance, it’s common for Wiccans to be discriminated against in other areas and feel a need to keep their beliefs a secret. Established 24 years ago, Ancient Ways is a leading Wicca book and supply store in the region. “I’m from Virginia and people can lose their job, housing, even their kids, over the Wicca faith,” Thompson-Ray said. “It’s not particularly legal to discriminate but people can run into problems by openly practicing.” Thompson-Ray said that she chooses not to wear any symbols when she goes home to Virginia, including a pentagram. “Even family members don’t know (her beliefs) because they are devoutly Christian or conservative and don’t understand,” she said. “People may believe a pagan like me worships the devil. But I don’t believe in the devil so how can I worship?” Kuykendall has recently published two fictional accounts he has written – “A Dishwasher’s Diary” and “Even Witches Have Names.” While “Dishwasher’s Diary” details a fictionalized diary of a minister who takes a job as a dishwasher, “Even Witches Have Names” deals with a Christian minister who is also a witch, teaching the reader many of the rituals of witchcraft, or Wicca, as it is more commonly called today. Kuykendall said both books have been based on many of his own experiences. They’re available online through Barnes & Noble and Kuykendall said that while there is a coven as close as Nevada City, there is none in Auburn. Instead, he’s one of the Wiccans dubbed “solitaries” who practice on their own. And with the desire by many to keep secret, Kuykendall said he knows others are out there but not making their beliefs known. How many witches are there in the Auburn area? “Who knows?” Kuykendall said.