Life is full of challenges but if you live in Santa Cruz, you’re in luck; there’s a spell for whatever ails you and two stores in town that can equip you with the tools and knowledge to cast it. Both can also help cleanse your spirit, reconcile you with dead ancestors, or give tarot card inspired insight into the future.
The younger of the two shops is the Serpent’s Kiss, located downtown across from the clock tower. For those interested in a less eerie experience, or at least one devoid of the fear-inspiring organ soundtrack of The Sacred Grove, Serpent’s Kiss is the way to go.
Enter between 12 p.m. and 7 p.m. any day of the week, and you will be greeted by either Doreet “Dede” Gordon, a person whose title “employee” leaves much of her involvement in the store untold, or Susan Diamond, the owner.
Diamond started Serpent’s Kiss in 2004, focusing primarily on collecting and selling various Pagan-associated herbs, but has expanded each year.
Serpent’s Kiss feels almost like it belongs at a Renaissance Faire, its walls and shelves filled with products from an earlier time, when more people called themselves Pagans and worshiped the earth, the seasons, and the cycles of the moon.
Now, perhaps, it is a better time than ever to be a Pagan, because residents of Santa Cruz, unlike medieval villagers, are far less likely to burn patrons of the two local stores at the stake. In fact, the most common threat to Paganism is Santa Cruz is the occasional repent-or-else pamphlet stuffed in the mailboxes of the two stores. Once, The Sacred Grove had its sign stolen, but Police apprehended the thief after a low-speed chase that ended in Capitola.
For Diamond, and those who hold similar beliefs, the Pagan rituals are just a serious and effective as the ritual and prayer found in more mainstream religion. This dedication is quite apparent in the work put into to the various spell components, both Diamond and Birch Tree, owner of The Sacred Grove, make a majority of the products in the store.
According to Diamond, the manufacture of spell components is just as important as proper execution of the spell itself. “I make most of the ritual products in the store,” Diamond said, displaying a rack of nail polish sized bottles of essential oils, “to ensure they are made appropriately, and also that they are prayed over, and have the right intentions for their use.”
Tree echoed this sentiment. “Most things (made) in China, probably bad working conditions, maybe even a sweatshop, we think that workers in bad working conditions are going to effect the stuff they make,” he said. Many Pagan rituals deal with energy, and the purity and intention of that energy is critical.
Essential oils, like most other items in the store, are an important part of many Pagan rituals, and purity is tantamount to success of the ritual. Essential oils and candles make up an important part of the world of Pagan rituals, but there is so much more to be seen in both stores. More so than The Sacred Grove, Serpent’s Kiss has a sizable selection of rocks and minerals with different magical effects.
Carnelian, a reddish brown mineral sold as a polished sphere at Serpent’s Kiss, can enhance the sense of self, or increase creativity, sexuality, and love. Carnelian is a large, expensive specimen, but Serpent’s Kiss has spell components for those with lighter wallets, too. Unakite, a mineral that promotes cardiac health is sold in much smaller and rough pieces.
If minerals seem mundane, Serpent’s Kiss has a collection of phallic objects, some more anatomically overt than others, for use in spells requiring use of “masculine” energy. Representation of the feminine is not quite as obvious; often oysters or rocks (like the one pictured to the right) are used to call upon the necessary spirit.
One will notice, reflecting on the contents of both stores, that Pagan equipment, the things needed to successfully practice Paganism, are quite small and portable. This is especially apparent when compared to a Judeo-Christian church, replete with ornate representations Christ, art, and whatever else churches contain.
Paganism evolved without the luxury of dedicated temples. Instead, followers were forced to set up sacred space, to create their own temporary place of worship, because the general lack of acceptance towards their belief system often had unpleasant consequences.
“Historically our ancestors were hunted and persecuted, and out of that came a lot of rituals for setting up sacred space temporarily,” said Tree, “we traditionally didn’t have churches, so we kind of make hallowed ground wherever we go.”
For those interested in a more sensory experience, The Sacred Grove is not far away in the 900 block of Soquel Avenue.
The Sacred Grove is noticeably more open, the store is quite bright relative to Serpent’s Kiss, and is sandwiched between Ernies Liquors and Offshore Music. Tree, who opened The Sacred Grove 13 years ago after moving to Santa Cruz, keeps incense burning at the doorway, and organ music playing in the background. Despite being considerably brighter than Serpent’s Kiss, the music creates a more sinister environment—appropriate music perhaps for a movie scene depicting some ancient Pagan ritual.
Tree, however, is not scary as his music might imply, rather, he is quite friendly and interested in answering questions and teaching about Paganism. He also uploads instructional videos to a YouTube channel he started called WitchSkewl, which currently has 137 videos and 825 subscribers. He started The Sacred Grove after discovering a large Pagan population with no organization or permanent gathering place. “No Shops, no groups, no organization, nothing for anybody to do, so we wanted to organize,” said Tree.
The Sacred Grove sells many of the same products as Serpent’s Kiss, but both stores have struck a friendly balance, each different enough from the other to attract a unique set of customers. “I don’t view them as competition really, they’re in a different field of magic than us,” Tree said, “and we tend to have different clientele.”
Every once in a while, kids will come to the shop looking for Harry Potter-type stuff, but according to Tree, its mostly local Pagans, tourists, and UC Santa Cruz students who seem to come in groups when classes begin each year.
Diamond says that a large part of her job is dealing with parents who come to her store after discovering their child is practicing Paganism. “It’s about how you diffuse those situations,” Diamond said, people usually have serious misconceptions about Paganism and witchcraft.
Both shops see an increase in business during the Halloween season, when “more people that are not necessarily Pagans” come by, according to Diamond, and there “is an impromptu party in-store” on Halloween night. For Diamond, Halloween is less about costumes and candy and “more about communicating with the ancestors.” Diamond and her partner sleep in the store on Halloween, and people drop-by into the early morning.
Where The Sacred Grove provides extensive opportunity for learning how to do magic, Serpent’s Kiss has Pagan-influenced belly dance classes taught by Gordon. Though belly dance is not traditionally a Pagan activity, “The relationship between Paganism and belly dance can be a direct spiritual relationship,” according to Gordon, and “many Pagans have found belly dance” thanks in part to Gordon’s classes.