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Jamie Kimmel: A full time witch and student


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by Steffi Porter

Jamie Kimmel is an Anthropology major at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is a native Floridian, a huge fan of Britney Spears, and an avid belly dancer. She reads Tarot cards, celebrates solstices and other Pagan holidays, and believes in fairies, spirits, and magic. Jamie Kimmel is a witch.

When I first meet Jamie she is on her way to class in Herter Hall and I see none of the stereotypical characteristics of a witch: the iconic green-faced, wart-nosed woman wearing a pointy hat. Instead, she has long brown hair that falls in ripples down her back, wears ripped blue jeans over fishnet stockings, and a winter coat.

But witchcraft is a large part of Jamie’s social life and identity, and has been for three years. She invites me to a meeting of the UMass Pagan society SPIRALS, or Student Pagans Integrating Religion and Life Spiritually, that meets in the Campus Center later that evening.

***

Before the meeting, I don’t know what to expect. I ride the elevator up to the ninth floor, then walk into a small room with a long, rectangular table where ten people gather. Apple, the SPIRALS treasurer, leads the group in the first activity of the evening: finding a Spirit Guide. When I ask what that is, an undergraduate member with black hair, glasses, and red lipstick replies.

“It’s like a guardian angel, almost,” she says. Like Jamie, she is a member of the UMass Belly Dance club. The two have just finished rehearsal, and sit at the table in bejeweled bras, shawls and dramatic eye makeup.

When everyone in the circle has named their Spirit Guide, Astral Projection begins. The purpose of this Astral Projection, when the soul leaves the body and travels elsewhere while still attached, as if by a cord, is to meet Spirit Guides. For the next 10 minutes, the only sounds are a spinning ceiling fan and murmuring from the room next door. These young adults, in a world of almost constant stimulation by technology, sit in total darkness with nothing but their minds and spirituality. Most members say they wish the Projection lasted longer.

I am fascinated by the modern practice of witchcraft and Paganism, a polytheistic religion with worship of many deities, both gods and goddesses, and the Earth. Jamie is Wiccan, though she prefers to be called a witch. As she describes it, all Wiccans are witches, but not all witches are Wiccan. Wicca is a religion, a branch of Paganism, and is an earth-based faith that involves witchcraft. A primary symbol of Wicca is the five-pointed star in a circle, a pentacle, the equivalent to the Christian cross or the Jewish Star of David. The five points of the star symbolize the five elements in Wicca: Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Spirit. Members of SPIRALS vary in how they identify, all under the umbrella of Paganism.

***

Once the meeting has adjourned, Jamie and I bundle up. It is 9:15 pm and the temperature hovers around 28 degrees. We walk through campus and catch a bus into town, where we stop to pick up snacks before heading back to Jamie’s apartment.

She lives in a second-floor walkup in South Amherst. As I enter I find it is, as she said it would be, “pretty obvious that a couple of witches live [there].” First, the smell of incense. The walls are decked in string lights, the living room furniture an eclectic mix of thrift store and garage sale hand-me-downs, refurbished with paint and lavish tablecloths. There is a plush rug on the floor, paper flowers and leaves on the walls, and a sign that says “No Parking, Broom Lane.” 

Jamie has a sense of humor, but she defends witchcraft fiercely as her spiritual and personal belief system. People often ask if she is offended by popular culture’s representations of witches: Willow from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” the witches on the popular 90’s drama, “Charmed,” or the Disney Halloween classic, “Hocus Pocus.” Her response is, simply, “not at all.”

“We’re not old ladies who fly around on broomsticks,” she says while we sit on her couch eating pretzels dipped in Nutella. “I mean, I’m not old yet. Hopefully one day someone will invent a broomstick that I can fly on.” While we lounge, she dons a “Sexy Witch” tank top.

Jamie has a lot to say about common misconceptions of witchcraft, often judgments and assumptions.

“A common misconception is that it’s bullshit,” she tells me. “But it could be argued that a lot of religions are considered bullshit by other religions.”

The main misconception is that witches worship Satan. This is not true, as Jamie will tell you. Satan is a Christian belief, one that has no meaning or existence in Paganism. If you are a witch, she says, there is no God and there is no Satan.

“Oh, and we don’t really sacrifice babies,” she adds, casually popping a pretzel into her mouth. We both laugh.

These assumptions, Jamie says, contradict the final lines of the Wiccan Rede: “An Ye Harm None, Do What Ye Will.” In other words, as long as you are not hurting anyone or anything, do what you please. The Rede, also referred to as the Threefold Law, is a set of rules to live and practice by.

***

In early 2012 Jamie moved to Massachusetts from Tampa Bay, where she was raised Agnostic by her single mother. Her family’s responses to Wicca range from tolerant to clueless.

“My mom knows I’m a witch,” Jamie tells me. “She basically thinks I put a pointy hat on and wave a magic wand around. She doesn’t take it seriously at all. Like, okay you’re a witch, whatever. She knows I’m a good person and don’t hurt people. She just thinks I’m weird.”

Sometimes, when people find out she is a witch, they don’t take Jamie seriously. But that doesn’t stop her from embracing Wicca as her religion and way of life.

Steffi Porter can be reached at [email protected]

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Jamie Kimmel: A full time witch and student