Witches—the demise of Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz notwithstanding—do not melt when doused with water. They rarely wear peaked black hats and are quite unsuccessful at turning people into toads. When preparing a witch’s brew, they’re more likely to use bouillon cubes than the eye of a newt or the tail of a rat. Most surprising of all, some witches choose to live in Wisconsin.
So it is with Jim Alan, 28, and Selena Fox, 30, husband and wife, legal ministers, voting citizens of Sun Prairie and believers in almost every kind of psychic phenomenon known to man. As high priest and high priestess of the Church of Circle Wicca, they are among the few national figures in neo-pagan witchcraft, which emphasizes self-help and ceremony, and limits spell-casting pretty much to attempts to heal. They have published a book of songs of Wicca (witchspeak for “wise one”), a Who’s Who of witchdom and The Circle Guide to Wicca and Pagan Resources, a kind of witch’s Whole Earth Catalog, which tells where to find charms, herbs and greeting cards. “Pagans,” says Selena, “are coming out of the closet.”
As image-conscious as any Rotary Club, Alan and Fox also host cable TV and radio shows in Madison and even operate a public relations center from their farmhouse church, which is incorporated by the state.
The farm is overrun with pets—cats, snakes, a horse and, until recently, a tarantula—and a sign on the toilet reads: “Don’t flush without plunger handy.” The most magical apparatus around is a Cuisinart, handy for quick meals when other witches visit for workshops in dream dynamics, trance writing and Kirlian (or “aura energy”) photography, among other subjects. Jim and Selena often preside over pagan weddings, which are called “handfastings.” The ceremony begins with conjurings of earth, wind, fire and water, and concludes with the couple jumping over a broom. To trip is a bad omen. “The Wicca handfasting is at harder to undo than a piece of paper,” says Selena, who fastened herself to Jim in 1974. Handfastings are considered bona fide marriages in Wisconsin.
“We only use our spiritual energies to heal and would never interfere where we’re not wanted,” Fox explains. Indeed, Methodist minister J. Gordon Melton, who heads the Institute for the Study of American Religion, calls Wicca “one of the healthiest religions, thanks to its positive support. Wicca traditionally inherits the outcasts of society, but Jim and Selena offer a most mature sense of leadership.” Melton estimates there are 40,000 practicing pagans in North America.
Alan and Fox spend considerable time with skeptics. “We know at of witches who get into jams because they don’t have a knack for PR,” says Jim. He acknowledges that witches often believe in reincarnation, astrology, psychic healing and levitation, but points out that the ancient Egyptians, Romans and Greeks and American Indians did too—not to mention the occasional modern Christian.
Jim and Selena met mystically, of course. “We know we have been together in past lives,” he says. In his current one, he was born in Chicago to an Episcopal family. But, he adds, “My mother had personal questions the church couldn’t answer.” His three brothers and one sister eventually became a born-again Christian, a psychiatric social worker, a Buddhist student of alchemy and a jazz guitarist. Jim picked up a ham radio license when he was only 9, and taught himself guitar, piano and flute—he still moonlights as a music teacher—while reading science fiction and studying magick (the Wiccans spell it with a “k” to avoid confusion with show biz).
At the University of Wisconsin Alan dabbled in seances and Ouija boards and qualified for Mensa—the club whose members must score in the top two percent on any recognized intelligence test. Then he delved into psychic witchcraft, a skill he believes he inherited from ancestors who were Scottish witches. “My friends were scared I’d put a whammy on them,” he recalls. “But the only concrete thing I ever did was cause a rainstorm so one of my friends could get out of painting a house.” (Witches dislike talking about the Rosemary’s Baby kind of black magic. “Our craft,” Alan says, “has only one law: ‘Harm none and do what you will.’ “)
Settling in Madison, Jim organized psychic fairs, and was advised by his Ouija board that A Woman would soon arrive. It was, of course, Selena. She discovered her own psychic gifts in Arlington, Va. at 2 by experiencing astroprojection, when her spirit seemed to leave her body. “I was flying around the house,” she says. “I thought it was really neat.”
Like Jim, she had religious misgivings; hers originated in the Baptist Church. “I was disturbed that there were no female preachers, but also by the Christian mission to convert others,” she says. She earned a psychology degree at William and Mary, but after a year’s graduate work at Rutgers left to follow “a spiritual quest.” It ended in Madison in 1972.
A year later she was meditating in her room, “when I received a strong message saying there was a sign waiting for me outside on a telephone pole.” It announced a psychic gathering. The next morning when she attended, “I saw a flash over a woman’s head who was teaching automatic writing. Behind her was Jim.”
She says, “I wasn’t into being matched up.” But she had an erotic dream about Jim—”I felt it was real and filed it away.” Their friendship blossomed seven months later. “We were on top of a mountain,” she recalls, “and it was as if dark veils between us had parted.” They becamevers a week later and handfasted after a month. (Both she and Jim have changed their names. “People would seek out my parents,” Selena explains. “My lifestyle shouldn’t interfere with theirs.”)
Besides trips into the subconscious, Alan and Fox face mundane responsibilities. They share farm and kitchen chores plus the mail-order duties and PR that support their church.
Selena says, “I often take on more projects than he feels comfortable with.” When that happens, Jim retreats to his science fiction books, but they rarely quarrel. “We try to keep our egos in perspective and not let them carry us away,” he says.
They also strive to be discreet in public, which is not always easy. At a pagan festival in Elkhart, Ind. in 1977, some unbewitched townspeople showed up brandishing a crucifix. Jim and Selena marched stolidly through the hostile crowd while one quavering believer cried, “They’ll burn us!”
At home, Alan and Fox get on fine with their neighbors and act like any farm couple—except when they talk to the “little people” (elves and fairies), dance around the maypole or, on October 31, celebrate witches’ new year by offering food and drink to the spirits of the dead. “On Halloween,” says Jim, “the spirits just hang around. We don’t have to call them.”