Commonwealth Witchcraft: Meet the Coven of the Appalachian Mountains

by | Dec 13, 2022 | RICHMOND NEWS

Virginia has become a more diverse state in all sorts of ways over the past few decades, and this definitely includes diversity of religion. Indeed, recent years have seen a significant increase in the amount of Wiccan, Pagan, and witch communities in particular. The commonwealth has become a “melting cauldron” of people, according to Brandy Morris. She would know — as President of the Coven of the Appalachian Mountains, she has done a lot of hard work over the past couple of years in order to provide a space for this community.

The process started in 2021, when Morris started her search for others who involved in witchy and pagan practices around Virginia. Like most people looking for relationships during the pandemic, she turned to the internet. The Melting Cauldron community began as a Facebook group, one that helped start many new friendships. But over time, Morris saw the need for something that could transcend the internet and create a cohesive community among Pagans in Virginia. She saw that creating an official organization with the same religious freedoms as other mainstream religious practices was a necessary first step. Group chats turned into long conversations about the legal channels Morris and her compatriots would need to navigate in order to become a state-certified religious order.

The process to gain the Religious Non-Profit Identification in Virginia is as long and complicated as it sounds. In fact, the state actually requires that applicants go through the federal government for certification first, then come back to apply with the state after they’ve received federal recognition. All the navigation of state and federal bureaucracy can easily stretch out for months. Thankfully, according to Coven of the Appalachian Mountains Vice President Jason Birckhead-Nicholson, it only took a couple of weeks.

“The credit goes to Brandy for making it a well-oiled machine and getting it to go through,” says Birckhead-Nicholson, “She did the paperwork and got it through in no time flat.”

Regardless, Morris feels that it still took longer than it should have. During the process, paperwork was returned to her three different times for corrections of tiny details throughout the documents. She refused to let this discourage her, though, and soon enough, the state government accepted her application, making her an officially ordained High Priestess for the Coven. Since then, Morris, Birckhead-Nicholson, and the other members of the Coven’s High Council have been working tirelessly to spread the word about the Coven, doing outreach at markets and festivals and trying to let people know that there is a safe place where they can practice without judgment.

This is a mission near and dear to the hearts of the Coven’s board. Many of those involved did not previously have spaces like these to be themselves and practice their beliefs. Morris found herself isolated due to her beliefs, shunned and called a “devil-worshipper” by the church she once attended. As for Birckhead-Nicholson, he considers himself to have been “blessed” to grow up in an environment of Appalachian Root-Workers, practicing Heathens, and a church that did not question his family’s magic. Though his practice was second nature to him by the time he reached adulthood, he knows that not everyone receives this type of love and understanding as they engage in their spiritual search. This is why he and Morris feel the Coven is so crucial to the community.

Brandy Morris and Jason Birckhead-Nicholson of the Coven of the Appalachian Mountains. (Photo via Coven Of the Appalachian Mountains/Facebook)

Despite its name, the Coven isn’t restricted to the mountainous region of Virginia. Instead, it spreads across the state, having found members in the Hampton-Roads, RVA, and NoVA regions. This necessitates the Coven continuing to exist in online spaces, for all to see. Sometimes this leads to malicious interactions, but the group has taken these attacks in stride, ignoring the hate and deleting it when they can.

“It’s not worth it,” says Morris. “It’s not worth the argument, because they’re always going to believe what they believe, and we’re going to believe what we believe. And it’s okay!”

Looking toward the future, the Coven of the Appalachian Mountains is working hard to branch out from the digital realm into the physical world. As they continue to meet new practitioners and establish a history of certified activity, they are building the background infrastructure in order to get a physical space. They have also worked to connect with other like-minded groups, and have founded their own chapter of the Black Hat Society, an organization dedicated to creating a safe space for all faith backgrounds. As the Coven expands, its structure has also developed to create an inclusive environment for the new members they hope to gain. They’ve established an Inner Circle for those interested in leadership roles, and an Outer Circle for those who simply want to be a part of the organization. Whichever circle that a new member is interested in, they are welcome to practice what they please, be it Paganism, Wicca, or other religious backgrounds.

“Our doors are open to you,” says Birckhead-Nicholson. “We are all-encompassing. We want people to feel welcome, no matter anything.”

Top Photo by Jr Korpa
Second Photo by Mark Tegethoff
Third Photo by Aaron Visuals
Bottom Photo by Wes Hicks on Unsplash.

Savannah Ritter

Savannah Ritter

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