Originally published in The Vancouver Courier
February 26, 2001
If you were to opine to almost any cop in the world that his wife is a witch, you’d likely be making a big mistake. But not if the cop is Det. Const. Charles Ennis. In fact, Ennis might just look you in the eye, smile and respond, “I know she is…and so am I.” Forty-six-year old Ennis is a 24-year veteran of the Vancouver Police Department. He’s also a Wiccan priest.
As the VPD’s “token pagan,” Ennis has responded to more than his fair share of strange reports. His expertise is highly sought after across the continent by fellow police officers handling cases with other-worldly elements. “I’ve had calls from all over. It’s usually something like, ‘I’ve got this weird case… can you help me? Because you’re weird so you must know about everything that’s weird,’” he says, laughing.
Several years ago he was called by authorities in North Dakota to analyze strange symbols carved into picnic tables in campgrounds around Montreal County. Fearing this was portentous of a Satanic uprising, the North Dakota authorities called Ennis who was, at the time, the only openly Wiccan cop on the continent—there are now more than 20 and five times that many aren’t yet out of the broom closet, according to Ennis. Ennis quickly surmised that the strange symbols were Viking runes and were, in all likelihood, the work of juveniles.
Almost any call to the VPD switchboard of an esoteric nature usually gets passed to Ennis, but he loves to tell the tale of one of the strangest reports he’s ever received. An elderly Dunbar woman dialed 911 when she noticed people in strange costumes flooding into her quiet West Side neighborhood. Clearly these strangers were Satanists. Probably from East Van. And they were obviously hell-bent on doing the devil’s work. Why else would they be scurrying in and out of a building abandoned by the Anglican Church some 13 years prior? “It turns out that someone had opened a ballet school and the people in ‘strange costumes’ were little ballerinas in training,” laughs Ennis. “People see things they don’t understand, think the worst and push the panic button.”
As a practising witch who has followed the pagan path for more than 30 years, Ennis can empathize with the plight of the ballet students—he knows all too well what it is to be mistaken for a Satanist. As well as being a Wiccan priest, Ennis is a member of The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a secret society founded in the 19th century by Freemasons and Rosicrucians. If the Golden Dawn’s roots don’t make you raise your eyebrows, consider that its most famous member was the 20th century’s most infamous Satanist and practitioner of the ancient art of sex magic, Aleister Crowley.
Now, before anyone gets the idea that the police department is infested with demented ghouls who get their kicks sacrificing cats under a full moon and that, as head of the Police Commission, Philip Owen is really Lord of the Underworld, it must be pointed out that The Golden Dawn long ago denounced Crowley for using his esoteric knowledge for sinister purposes, and that Ennis dabbles in what is commonly referred to, amongst witches at least, as white magic.
When Wiccans talk about magic, they’re not referring to people like David Copperfield making elephants disappear. In order to differentiate sleight-of-hand from what they call magic, Wiccans spell the word with a k at the end—magick. Stage magic is as different from Wiccan magick as night is from day. To a Wiccan, things as seemingly mundane as clothes or make-up can be magickal. If, for instance, you create a new physical image of yourself, a new “mask” if you will, to change the way people perceive you, you are performing magick. Music and poetry would be magick, as would more extreme forms such as plastic surgery and Neuro Linguistic Programming.
If you thought witches and magic were all about pointy nosed old Crones riding around on broomsticks or sinister looking characters trying to conjure up Satan, you can be forgiven. A long, long time ago leaders of the Christian faith set out on a campaign to demonize pagans and the stigmatizing stereotypes attached to the earth worshippers by the Son worshippers have stuck. Although those professing to be witches today are no longer burned at the stake, their spiritualism is often misunderstood and looked upon with a leery eye. Especially if you’re a cop. And doubly so if you’re working on cases of child abuse, as the VPD’s token pagan does.
VPD management was not immune from centuries of disinformation disseminated about Wiccans, and Ennis knew he’d have to be cautious about “coming out.” While he’d never hidden the fact he was a practitioner of Wicca, Ennis wasn’t exactly showing up for his shift dressed in the robe priests of the faith wear. Then, in 1988, Ennis took the first tentative steps to “come out.” “I recorded an interview with CKVU and rushed back to the station to see the reaction when the piece aired,” says Ennis, who’d insisted his face and voice be digitally altered to make him unidentifiable. Back at the station, “You could have heard a pin drop when the story ran. The silence continued for a while after the interview was concluded until someone finally said, ‘Well…how ‘bout that.’ And that was pretty much it.” Ennis knew then that coming out wasn’t going to be a problem.
Ennis’s father would just as soon his son had never joined the police force in the first place. The elder Ennis was a mechanic in the Air Force and hoped that his son would one day be a pilot. “I was studying at Royal Roads [military college] and was well on my way to fulfilling my father’s dream when I realized that it was his dream, not mine,” recalls Ennis. “My father wasn’t happy. In fact, he was pissed.”
When you consider that the Ennises are descended from nobility you can understand Ennis senior’s lofty ambitions for his son. The younger Ennis is an avid genealogist and he and his cousin Tim have traced the roots of their family tree back to Charlemagne, William the Conqueror and Lady Godiva.
It really shouldn’t have come as a surprise to the elder Ennis that his son would follow his own path. Ennis junior had started dabbling in Wicca at the age of 15 when he stumbled across the book Diary of a Witch by Mary Leek. “I was searching for something, although I was probably unaware of that at the time,” says Ennis, himself now the father of two children. Many parents would have been alarmed by the idea of their teenage son exploring witchcraft but Ennis senior was a long time Freemason and did not carry the spiritual baggage that parents who adhere to Christianity do.
While Ennis has successfully navigated the tricky waters of going public about his spiritual beliefs, other Wiccans in positions of authority are more hesitant to step forward. Jonathon Eastwick (not his real name), a municipal councillor in a small Vancouver Island community, is perfectly frank about his fears. “This is quite a religious area of the province and I’m not looking forward to burning crosses on the front lawn,” says Eastwick, now in his second three-year term of office.
Lest you think such a vitriolic reaction improbable in our enlightened times, you need only look east to the Fraser Valley to find strong evidence of deeply rooted medieval superstitions amongst devout Christians. In 1995, a Wiccan named Sam Wagar managed to secure the nomination as NDP candidate in a provincial by-election in Abbotsford—at least until it was revealed he was a practising Wiccan. The resulting brouhaha was so cacophonous, you would have thought Satan himself was running for office. Wagar was unceremoniously dumped by an embarrassed NDP.
The ongoing Wiccan struggle for acceptance in a predominantly Christian society is best exemplified by its plight in the United States. In the good old U. S. of A., members of the armed forces have been able to openly practice their Wiccan faith without fear of institutionalized discrimination since 1975. In fact, Ennis says many high-ranking officials in the U.S. Armed Forces are Wiccans. Yet, in many regions of the country, students are not able to access web sites that disseminate information about Wicca in their high schools. Christians have lobbied school boards to use Internet filters to prevent the words Wiccan, pagan or magick being entered as subject searches.
Although Wiccans date their traditions to ancient pre-Christian paganism, Modern Wicca emerged in the 1950s after the last British laws against Witchcraft were repealed. At that time, Gerald Gardner, claiming to be a witch initiated by a surviving coven, published several books describing the traditions, rituals, and lore of English witches. Despite questions concerning the authenticity of his claims, covens of witches sprang from Gardner’s inspiration throughout England, Europe, and then the U. S. in the 1960s. Gardnerian Wicca, the dominant tradition within modern Wicca for several years, combined elements of his own coven with aspects of Rosicrucianism, mythology, Masonry, folklore, and other sources.
Wicca grew rapidly in the 1960s—its focus on nature and inherent challenge to conventional religion and society matched the counter-cultural mood of the times. In the following decades, Wicca continued to attract adherents through the birth of the New Age Movement in the 1970s, the ecological and feminist movements, and pagan revivalism. The result was that Wicca began to evolve into forms that were looser in structure and practice.
The first and most important principle in Wicca is the Wiccan Rede which states: “If it harm none, do what thou will.” If it strikes you that it’s contradictory for an individual to espouse that principle and, at the same time, arrest people for engaging in illegal activities that harm nobody but themselves—such as drug possession, gambling or prostitution—you’re not alone. It’s a bit of a problem, but Ennis stick-handles his way through it. “As an agent of the authorities I have the power to arrest but I don’t have to automatically arrest someone. It’s not just black and white.” Pushed further Ennis admits, “If I ever got to the point where I was being asked, or forced, to do things that I felt I couldn’t live with, I’d probably leave the force.”
For now, as the first police officer in North America to go public about his unorthodox spiritual beliefs, Ennis often finds himself traveling to strange locales to dispel fallacies about Wicca. On one such trip to Arkansas a few years ago, Ennis had to be assigned two body guards to defend him against the wrath of locals, including other police officers.
“Three juvenile males who were reported to have been dabbling in some kind of ‘witchcraft’ stabbed some other kids to death,” remembers Ennis. “The local Unitarian Church and a number of Wiccan groups asked me to go down there to do a speaking tour to explain to the local authorities that Wiccans are not doing this kind of stuff.” At one town meeting, the whole police force was in the front row, glaring at him. Being quick of thought and nimble of tongue, Ennis managed not only to escape the confused Bible Belters unharmed but to metaphorically wrest the torches from their hands and assuage their hostilities towards witches.
Ennis has been called upon for his expert advice so frequently that in 1989, he wrote The Law Enforcement Guide to Wicca, published by Horned Owl Publishing and now in its third edition. Ennis, who writes under his Wiccan name, Kerr Cuhulain, has another title under his belt. WiccanWarrior: Walking a Spiritual Path in a Sometimes Hostile World, is published by Llewellyn and the second print run of the first edition was released last year.
Ennis hopes misperceptions about Wicca will be dispelled as we progress further into the age of communication and information. There’s evidence that’s starting to happen. Although its adherents don’t proselytize, Wicca is the fastest growing faith in North America—Ennis estimates the Lower Mainland and Victoria area are each home to more than 1,000 practicing Wiccans. “The first generation of Wiccans are starting to pass away and we are now starting to ask whether we should have our own graveyards and old age homes.”
Part of the reason for that growth is the fact that it’s not a dogmatic faith. Modern Wiccans draw freely on pagan traditions and religious influences, including practices and philosophies of Siberian Shamanism, Greek paganism, Egyptian magic, Hinduism, North American Native spirituality, and in some cases Christianity. “That’s natural,” says Ennis. “Religions borrow from each other all the time. They are, after all, human creations.” Wicca is also non-hierarchical, a fact that appeals to free-thinking west coasters. As our society becomes increasingly secular, Ennis says it’s no surprise that many are seeking spiritual comfort in non-traditional faiths like Wicca. “It’s important that Wicca is understood—otherwise it shall not grow and give spiritual satisfaction to those who can not find it elsewhere.”