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This week's Chicagoan: Marty Couch, Wiccan 

"It was like I was able to see energy."

A first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford.

"If I ever write a book, it's going to be called Free and Cheap Wicca, because it's a religion that people can spend a lot of money on. You can buy everything from robes to crystals to cauldrons—all these things people think are going to make everything that much more magical—and for the most part, they're just making revenue for the source. You don't need to buy anything at all. The god and goddess are everywhere. I mean, at the Center of the Elemental Spirit, we use an altar we got at Anna's Linens for $9.99.

"I initiated into a coven back when I was 19. I was always a very spiritual person, and a friend called me up and said, "We should go check this group out. They're having an open ritual." I went, and I was hooked. I do remember what it entailed, but I can't disclose it—it was a private ritual. Halfway through it, everything just looked different. It was like I was able to see energy.

"Our center isn't a coven; it's a congregation of solitary practitioners. Covens can be controlling. There's a high priest and a high priestess who run everything, and some people don't like the hierarchy—that's why they left organized religion to begin with. But covens are great for working in a group. The energy is much different. It's easier to make the commitment to worship on the new and full moon when you know there's going to be a group getting together, as opposed to being in the middle of a TV program and thinking, "Do I really want to pull out all my ritual stuff?"

"Magic is the ability to work in harmony with natural energies to bring about a needed purpose. In our group we had a situation where one of the member's sisters found out she had an ovarian cyst that was literally the size of a baseball. They were gonna do surgery to take it out, and we did a ritual to help ease whatever she was going to go through. When they went in to do the ultrasound before surgery, the cyst had disappeared. The doctor said that happens once in a blue moon, and the ritual we had was on a blue moon.

"To do a spell to make somebody fall in love with us—well, the manipulation of other people is something we generally discourage. Not that it isn't done, but it certainly isn't done by the more ethical crowd. We tell people instead to do a spell to fall in love with yourself, and then you can do a spell to bring the ideal person into your life if you want to, but without trying to get a specific person.

"There are a lot of people still in the broom closet hiding their religion, which is a shame in this day and age. I don't bring it up at work, but some of the people at work are Facebook friends with me, and it would take you about two seconds on there to figure out I'm Wiccan. I've talked to my mom about it, and she's been to some of the rituals. My dad passed away a couple of years ago. I never did tell him."

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