A young witch opens a Richmond store for pagans, selling spells, herbs and broomsticks. 

Charmed Life

It's not what you'd expect. There are no dim, shadowy rooms. No wrinkled crone dressed all in black tending the shop. No heavy fog of incense casting a hazy glow on eerie statuary. In fact, Richmond's only pagan shop, The World Tree, completely breaks the proverbial broomstick on the common perception of witchcraft.

Owner Cynthia Shaven opened The World Tree in September, realizing a longtime dream of owning a pagan-inspired shop.

"I've been in retail since I was a teen-ager," Shaven says. "I always wanted to own my own store, and this is my area of expertise." She gestures to the dried herbs, candles and books that line the shop's sunny yellow walls. "This just fell into place," she says.

Shaven has been a practitioner of witchcraft since her teens. Now 28, her fresh-faced, natural appearance is in complete contrast to the Halloween image of the old, wretched, warty witch. Hair pulled back in a low ponytail and dressed in a loose, flowing fuchsia dress, Shaven is more reminiscent of a late 1960s hippie than the stereotypical image of a pagan. The only thing that gives her away is the heavy silver pentagram adorning her throat.

Pagan communities are now gearing up for their new-year festival known as Samhain, celebrated on Halloween. Long before Oct. 31 was a time of trick-or-treating, ghosts and ghouls, the day was a sacred pagan holiday. For centuries, Samhain has been a celebration of the last harvest and a time to honor those who have passed into the other world.

If Shaven is a contradiction to the common image of a witch, then so is her shop. A scent of a blend of mint, lavender and patchouli essential oils wafts through the shop, immediately calming the soul. "Witchy" items of all kinds are displayed on wooden bookcases. Clear glass apothecary jars filled with herbs line one large case. The herbs have been cultivated and harvested by pagans, so whatever properties they hold are still intact. Tradition says that herbs must be harvested according to the moon's cycle, and they must never touch the earth or their power is lost.

Shaven's inventory of valerian, coltsfoot, lavender and brimstone is a reminder that today's interest in herbal medicine has ancient roots.

"We believe everything on earth is made by God, Goddess, Deity — whatever you call it," Shaven says. And each herb, she explains, is attributed to one of the four elements: earth, water, fire and air.

Each element is then associated with a particular result. For example, patchouli and cinnamon are thought to increase wealth.

In paganism, every natural object has a meaning, a purpose. Even Shaven's shop is laid out with the earth elements in mind. The walls are bright yellow to symbolize air; the carpeting is green to mimic the earth. The back room is red for fire. Shaven plans one day to paint the ceiling blue for water.

The belief that witches ride broomsticks is another common canard. But pagans do use brooms as a symbol of protection. Shaven carries handmade brooms, made from birch twigs that are ritually used to sweep away negativity.

Essential oils, pagan jewelry and ritual tools are displayed in a shiny metal-and-glass, department-store-style display case. Specially made herbal blends are tucked away in little wicker baskets. Handmade Renaissance-style robes adorn empty spots on the walls. Altar cloths in every color, speckled with gold moons and stars, sway slightly in the breeze each time the shop's door opens. Books, dealing with witchcraft, Native American, Buddhist and New Age themes, surround the store's perimeter Candles are arranged in little white boxes on one bookcase. And heavy black cauldrons stand ready to cook up a powerful brew. A large, purple tapestry, depicting the Triple Goddess — the female's life cycle of maiden, mother and crone — covers the shop's back wall.

People often associate witchcraft with Satanism. The use of magic is sometimes linked with the Christian belief in demonic forces. Shaven says these are common misperceptions found among those who are not familiar with pagan beliefs.

"It's important for people to know that there is nothing dark or evil or sinister about witchcraft," she says. "It is completely natural, earth-based. We don't even believe in the existence of a devil."

This year, Shaven will share a silent feast on Samhain with her coven. The group will remember their ancestors who have passed on by setting a place for them at the table. Samhain is a spiritual time, she says, a time for reflection on the past and to look toward the future. She knows there are many people who disbelieve paganism's seemingly mystical mix of rituals, spells, herbs and charms.

To that, Shaven says: "It works just as well as you believe it will. There are tools and symbols that we use, but the bottom line is that you must use your thoughts to create your reality. Visualization is a powerful tool in magic. It's mind over

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