Titania ThunderLily, center, holds the maypole as Pagan revelers wrap red-and-white ribbon around it for a Beltane festival in May 2023, at the Aquarian Tabernacle Church in Index, Washington. Beltane celebrates the height of spring. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Titania ThunderLily, center, holds the maypole as Pagan revelers wrap red-and-white ribbon around it for a Beltane festival in May 2023, at the Aquarian Tabernacle Church in Index, Washington. Beltane celebrates the height of spring. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Pagan church finds ‘sacred space between the worlds’ on Index riverfront

At the Aquarian Tabernacle Church, rituals with ancient roots celebrate Pagan gods, the Earth and “the smell of smoke in our hair.”

INDEX — You don’t convert to being a witch.

“You just wake up and realize that’s what you’ve always been,” Archpriestess Bella LaVeau said. “And now you have a name for it.”

Bella LaVeau, 58, leads the Aquarian Tabernacle Church with Archpriest Dusty Dionne, 40. Based in Index, the duo guides a congregation of about two dozen Pagans in person, with hundreds more online. On the first and third Saturday each month, the riverside grounds adorned with Greek statues and wood carvings come alive, as Pagans stream in from all around Puget Sound.

The church headquarters sits along a gated gravel road, in the shade of mountain peaks and mammoth cedar trees. You can hear the buzz of electrical lines and the hum of the church’s beehives. A few hundred feet from “The Mother Church,” the Skykomish River roars.

In the back of the campus, Pagans often gather around two circles — one grass, another cobblestone. Here, the sound of rushing water is replaced by laughter, sea shanties and a call to form a circle so the evening’s ritual can begin.

Pagans from around Puget Sound break bread during the Lammas and Wicker Man ritual at the Aquarian Tabernacle Church in Index, Washington, on Aug. 5, 2023. According to the church, the bread signifies an abundant harvest, and that the gods will ensure their needs are provided for if each person does their part for the group. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Pagans from around Puget Sound break bread during the Lammas and Wicker Man ritual at the Aquarian Tabernacle Church in Index, Washington, on Aug. 5, 2023. According to the church, the bread signifies an abundant harvest, and that the gods will ensure their needs are provided for if each person does their part for the group. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Since 1979, Index has been home to the Pagan church founded by Pete “Pathfinder” Davis. Under Davis, the “Tab” achieved federal recognition as a religion and tax-exempt status as a church. Bella LaVeau doesn’t know exactly why Davis chose this spot, as a move from Seattle predated her joining the church.

In 2012, as Davis’ health declined, Bella Laveau stepped into the role of Archpriestess.

According to the Pew Research Center, roughly 6 in 10 American adults hold at least some “New Age” beliefs — such as reincarnation, astrology, psychic abilities and the presence of spiritual energy in mountains or trees.

“What we really want to do is live off the land, and camp and drum and have fires — the smell of smoke in our hair, you know?” Bella LaVeau said. “Wake up out in a tent where the dew has fallen on you. … We’re really children of the Earth. That’s what we want to do. And so we live differently, and we have different values.”

N’Mier LaVeau, left, and Jesse Sterland, right, start a fire for the Lammas and Wicker Man ritual while Mydnyte Windham, center, drums at the Aquarian Tabernacle Church in Index, Washington, in August 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

N’Mier LaVeau, left, and Jesse Sterland, right, start a fire for the Lammas and Wicker Man ritual while Mydnyte Windham, center, drums at the Aquarian Tabernacle Church in Index, Washington, in August 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

‘I had a calling’

In the late 1980s, a friend left a book on magic at Bella LaVeau’s house in Texas. She peeked inside and found a spell on how to meet a wizard. Curious, she recited it.

The next day, she said, she met a man who described himself as a wizard from the Sons of Light organization in England. He told her he had a vision of meeting a priestess in Dallas who was going to become the leader of a “great house” one day. Bella LaVeau was initiated into a group of Gardnerian Wiccans, where she learned witchcraft.

In her earliest memories, before going “Hard Gard,” Bella LaVeau recalls “receiving direction and information from Spirit.” She was raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormon church. However, as she grew older, she found LDS ideals hard to believe.

When she took over Aquarian Tabernacle, some rejected Bella LaVeau as a leader, she said, simply because she was a woman and not Davis.

“It was really hard, because when you have a church, people really are attached to the person, not the institution,” Bella LaVeau said. “I had a calling, and the Goddess was with me, and so I just kept following Spirit and doing what she asked me to do.”

She aimed to make the church a safe space.

The famous Marie LaVeau was a spiritual worker known as the Voodoo (or Vodou) Queen.

“That is the name the Goddess gave me,” Bella LaVeau said. “I was completely unaware of who Marie LaVeau was when I took the name.”

Considering Bella LaVeau a spiritual mother, many in the church adopt her last name. On her forehead is a tattoo of a crescent moon, identifying her as a priestess. It also signals to Pagans she is a judgment-free person they can confide in.

Isadora LaVeau, left, and N‘Mier LaVeau, right, cast a Circle at the start of Beltane in May 2023, at the Aquarian Tabernacle Church in Index, Washington. Beltane celebrates the height of spring. According to the church: “A Circle cast is to create a sacred space between the worlds, neither on this plane or the other, and to protect the space from outside, unwanted energy.” (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Isadora LaVeau, left, and N‘Mier LaVeau, right, cast a Circle at the start of Beltane in May 2023, at the Aquarian Tabernacle Church in Index, Washington. Beltane celebrates the height of spring. According to the church: “A Circle cast is to create a sacred space between the worlds, neither on this plane or the other, and to protect the space from outside, unwanted energy.” (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Bella LaVeau and other members of the church still feel Davis’ presence in Index. He died Oct. 31, 2014, exactly 35 years after founding the Tab. His final resting place is on the church grounds at the Hekate Shrine, named for the Greek goddess of magic, witchcraft and necromancy who is the “Patron Goddess” of the Tab.

Bella LaVeau said Davis was “charismatic, strategic and unwavering.” He could command the attention of a room. Known as the “man with the steel spine,” he showed Bella LaVeau how to run a business and the church.

Davis led a decade-long fight for the right to allow the Wiccan pentacle on veterans’ headstones. Thirty-eight religious symbols were allowed at the time, but the federal Department of Veterans Affairs ignored petitions to include the pentacle. The star in a circle has five points that represent earth, wind, air, water and spirit — a Wiccan symbol often conflated with Satanism, despite being unrelated.

Davis was instrumental in founding Panegyria Magazine with the goal to “bring the (Pagan) community together through news, voice and fellowship” and the creation of SpiralScouts, an alternative to Scouts BSA.

Both the scouts and magazine remain active today.

‘Protect this space’

Sam Inman moved to Index in 1979, where he leads a Sunday congregation at the Index Community Christian Church.

“At least once a year,” he said in an email, “I set up a PA system outdoors in Index, crank it up, and lift the Spirit of The Lord for five to six hours in deep passionate worship. Those who come during that time experience The Presence of The One and Only Holy Living God as He pours out His love.”

Despite their ideological differences, Inman has interacted with Tab members often over the past 45 years: hiking, celebrating birthdays or fixing appliances. Everyone in town knows members of the Pagan church, but might not know about their religious beliefs, Inman said.

“We experience life together,” Inman said. “Some are real good longtime friends.”

Neo-Paganism draws from a rich history of polytheistic religions in Europe, North Africa and Asia — often a mix of Celtic, Greek and Slavic traditions, along with other beliefs that are unique to each devotee.

Some local Pagans practice witchcraft, which is also seeing a rise in interest in the past decade, a cultural moment dubbed “Peak Witch” by The New York Times.

Aedis LaVeau, left, listens to a message from Demeter, the Greek goddess of agriculture, through Archpriestess Belladonna Laveau during the Lammas and Wicker Man ritual at the Aquarian Tabernacle Church in Index, Washington, in August 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Aedis LaVeau, left, listens to a message from Demeter, the Greek goddess of agriculture, through Archpriestess Belladonna Laveau during the Lammas and Wicker Man ritual at the Aquarian Tabernacle Church in Index, Washington, in August 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Wicca, a religion centered on witchcraft and “magic,” has no central text or authority. It’s often considered the largest sect of Paganism. Introduced to the public in the 1950s by Gerald Gardner, Wicca follows the seasons, as well as cycles of the sun and moon by conducting specific rituals during the year. According to Bella LaVeau, within the religion there are stories guiding Pagans on when to plant metaphorical and literal gardens, when to harvest and how to worship the dead.

Not all Wiccans are witches, but usually, self-identified witches practice Wicca.

A short walk from the Hekate Shrine, rituals usually start with setting “the Circle,” where practitioners can evoke Goddess, the central deity of Wicca, and others.

“A Circle cast is to create a sacred space between the worlds, neither on this plane or the other, and to protect the space from outside, unwanted energy,” Dionne said in an email.

Other rituals call for invoking. One person becomes a host for an entity, such as Spirit or Goddess, and they speak through that body. After invoking, Bella LaVeau says she can usually only remember bits and pieces of the experience, if anything at all. Messages vary depending on the ritual, but often include words of encouragement during hard times and also celebration of current prosperity.

“Evocation is a prayer that brings Deity into the room,” Bella LaVeau said. “Invocation is a prayer that brings Deity into the body.”

Invoking takes preparation by first researching and establishing a strong relationship with the deity. This is done by wearing specific clothes and giving offerings, Bella LaVeau said.

Cassandee Meter invokes the Roman god Mercury during GodCon in Index, Washington, on July 22, 2023. Invocation takes preparation: wearing the right clothes, researching the spiritual entity and making proper offerings. A host then interprets messages. From Krampus to Zeus, to depicting major arcana of the tarot, all interpretations are fair game at the Aquarian Tabernacle Church. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Cassandee Meter invokes the Roman god Mercury during GodCon in Index, Washington, on July 22, 2023. Invocation takes preparation: wearing the right clothes, researching the spiritual entity and making proper offerings. A host then interprets messages. From Krampus to Zeus, to depicting major arcana of the tarot, all interpretations are fair game at the Aquarian Tabernacle Church. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

It’s like “if you want your grandmother to come over, and you know she smokes cigarettes, you might have some cigarettes available for her,” Bella LaVeau said.

When the moon or sun is at specific coordinates in the sky, the church performs rituals to keep Pagans in tune with natural cycles. Different rituals call for different outfits: Robes, dresses and ropes range in colors from red to white, while necks and wrists are adorned with pentacles and crystal talismans.

‘I felt the revelry’

Dionne jokingly breaks down the Pagan worldview into simple terms.

“We worship a big clock,” Dionne said, laughing.

The sun, he said, is the biggest analog clock in existence.

Dionne has been a Pagan since he was 5.

A fellow kindergartener named Collin told him about the faith and invited him to an equinox celebration. Dionne has a vivid memory of walking through Towner’s Woods, Ohio, to a place called “The Bowl” at 4 a.m., to meet with Pagans to sing and drum.

“We sang up the sun,” Dionne said. “It was beautiful, and I felt the revelry.”

Dionne’s pastor and Lutheran parents supported him exploring Paganism.

“They were so happy that I found God, that they just wanted to support me in finding God,” he said.

Archpriest Dusty Dionne leads the Circle during the Lavender Wishes ritual for Litha, another name for the summer solstice, at the Aquarian Tabernacle Church in Index, Washington, in June 2023. Litha marks the beginning of summer. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Archpriest Dusty Dionne leads the Circle during the Lavender Wishes ritual for Litha, another name for the summer solstice, at the Aquarian Tabernacle Church in Index, Washington, in June 2023. Litha marks the beginning of summer. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

When he turned 21, Dionne sought a Pagan spiritual mentor to teach him how to use magic with purpose, but couldn’t find a good fit. At a Pagan gathering in Ohio, Dionne called out loud to Goddess at the crossroads of the festival. He said he’d become a Taoist monk if he couldn’t get a teacher. Moments later, Dionne met Bella LaVeau.

“You might have people you share the path with, but Dionne’s path is different from mine and we’ve spent every day together for 20 years,” Bella LaVeau said.

While the Tab brings people together, Pagans often practice individually.

“You walk your path alone,” Bella LaVeau said.

One member of six years, N’Mier LaVeau, values the church’s inclusion of all members.

“The ease of staying connected, particularly through the pandemic, due to their regular schedule and various engagement options, has been invaluable,” N’Mier LaVeau said.

‘Beliefs they hold sacred’

Bella LaVeau has authored two books: “Accelerated Wicca” and “Between the Worlds,” both guides for practicing magic. They are used for introductory classes at Woolston-Steen Theological Seminary, a school for Wiccan clergy created by the Tab, the first to gain recognition by the state of Washington in 1999.

The online school can grant degrees in Wicca Theology. Since Bella LaVeau became the dean in 2008, the school has granted about 100 degrees.

Many alumni still work in the Tab. Others have gone on to become chaplains and built their own ministries or churches.

The seminary enrolled 12 new students in January, bringing the student body up to 74. Terms run for three months.

Breanna Grace serves as dean of ministry for the seminary. She was raised Roman Catholic, but found being told exactly how to practice her faith constraining. With Paganism, she experimented and found a path that felt right.

“The seminary was one of the best things I have ever decided to do,” Grace said. “It was the first thing in my life that I decided to do that wasn’t something I was expected to do, like go to college and get a job.”

She earned her bachelor’s in journalism with a public relations concentration at Western Washington University, where she minored in religious studies.

“In Paganism, it’s much more of a personal practice,” Grace said. “We have covens and groups, but most people also have their own beliefs they hold sacred.”

On its website, the Index church sells Wiccan books and magical tools.

And much of a modern Pagan priestess’ work happens online.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Bella LaVeau and Dionne concentrated their efforts on Facebook and TikTok, like many other churches.

Aquarian Tabernacle Church leaders post videos introducing the cast of deities at upcoming festivals, inspirational quotes and Pagan-themed memes.

“What do you call a bee with a spell on him?” one post reads. “Bee-witched.”

On his personal TikTok, Dionne gives anecdotes from his life, like a recent trip to Paris with Bella LaVeau. He also shares content from the church’s account.

“May the God or Goddess that you seek and seeks you, find you and that you find them. So mote it be,” Dionne says, a ritual phrase akin to, “Amen,” in a video where a TikTok user asked for him to light a prayer.

The church doesn’t seek out converts, but anyone is welcome to see if it’s a good fit for them.

“All are welcome until they prove to be intolerant towards others,” Bella LaVeau said. “… We call out racism, sexism, and bigotry of all kinds. We believe silence is consent, so we speak out against the things that would make it unsafe.”

Nikodaemus Shadowsky lives in Federal Way. The drive is long, he admitted, but he feels it’s worth it every time to convene with fellow members.

“It is beautiful and away from a lot of the artificial light and bustle of the city scene,” Shadowsky said, “so it really feels like returning to a more natural setting.”

One core belief of the church is ecospirituality, Bella LaVeau said. Members of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church want to understand the rhythms of the Earth and help the planet by eating locally and making sustainable choices.

“We lost that knowledge,” the Archpriestess said, “and now it’s reawakening in us.”

Want to know more?

The Aquarian Tabernacle Church hosts major festivals throughout the year.

“Spring Mysteries” traces its roots to a series of rituals from Ancient Greece known as the Eleusinian Mysteries, honoring Demeter, the goddess of agriculture, and Persephone, the goddess of the underworld and spring growth. This year, it’s being held March 28 to 31 at the SeaTac Hilton Convention Center, 17620 International Boulevard.

GodCon, previously known as The Lammas Monologues, brings together Pagans from around Puget Sound who want to invoke — or connect with and have a spirit speak through you — in a group setting. It’s held in summer. Registration has not opened yet.

Hekate’s Sickle Festival celebrates Samhain, the end of the harvest season and start of winter. It honors the dead. Last year’s festival was held in early October.

Find out more about the Tab at atcwicca.org.

Church leaders are also on Facebook, X, TikTok, and Instagram.

Annie Barker: annie.barker@heraldnet.com; Instagram: @annaleigh_marie.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Traffic idles while waiting for the lights to change along 33rd Avenue West on Tuesday, April 2, 2024 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Lynnwood seeks solutions to Costco traffic boondoggle

Let’s take a look at the troublesome intersection of 33rd Avenue W and 30th Place W, as Lynnwood weighs options for better traffic flow.

A memorial with small gifts surrounded a utility pole with a photograph of Ariel Garcia at the corner of Alpine Drive and Vesper Drive ion Wednesday, April 10, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Death of Everett boy, 4, spurs questions over lack of Amber Alert

Local police and court authorities were reluctant to address some key questions, when asked by a Daily Herald reporter this week.

The new Amazon fulfillment center under construction along 172nd Street NE in Arlington, just south of Arlington Municipal Airport. (Chuck Taylor / The Herald) 20210708
Frito-Lay leases massive building at Marysville business park

The company will move next door to Tesla and occupy a 300,0000-square-foot building at the Marysville business park.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Snohomish in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
1 dead in motorcycle crash on Highway 522 in Maltby

Authorities didn’t have any immediate details about the crash that fully blocked the highway Friday afternoon.

A memorial with small gifts surrounded a utility pole with a photograph of Ariel Garcia at the corner of Alpine Drive and Vesper Drive ion Wednesday, April 10, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett mom charged with first-degree murder in death of son, 4

On Friday, prosecutors charged Janet Garcia, 27, three weeks after Ariel Garcia went missing from an Everett apartment.

Dr. Mary Templeton (Photo provided by Lake Stevens School District)
Lake Stevens selects new school superintendent

Mary Templeton, who holds the top job in the Washougal School District, will take over from Ken Collins this summer.

A closed road at the Heather Lake Trail parking lot along the Mountain Loop Highway in Snohomish County, Washington on Wednesday, July 20, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Mountain Loop Highway partially reopens Friday

Closed since December, part of the route to some of the region’s best hikes remains closed due to construction.

Emma Dilemma, a makeup artist and bikini barista for the last year and a half, serves a drink to a customer while dressed as Lily Munster Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022, at XO Espresso on 41st Street in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
After long legal battle, Everett rewrites bikini barista dress code

Employees now have to follow the same lewd conduct laws as everyone else, after a judge ruled the old dress code unconstitutional.

The oldest known meteor shower, Lyrid, will be falling across the skies in mid- to late April 2024. (Photo courtesy of Pixabay)
Clouds to dampen Lyrid meteor shower views in Western Washington

Forecasters expect a storm will obstruct peak viewing Sunday. Locals’ best chance at viewing could be on the coast. Or east.

AquaSox's Travis Kuhn and Emerald's Ryan Jensen an hour after the game between the two teams on Sunday continue standing in salute to the National Anthem at Funko Field on Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019 in Everett, Wash. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
New AquaSox stadium downtown could cost up to $120M

That’s $40 million more than an earlier estimate. Alternatively, remodeling Funko Field could cost nearly $70 million.

Downtown Everett, looking east-southeast. (Chuck Taylor / The Herald) 20191022
5 key takeaways from hearing on Everett property tax increase

Next week, City Council members will narrow down the levy rates they may put to voters on the August ballot.

Everett police officers on the scene of a single-vehicle collision on Evergreen Way and Olivia Park Road Wednesday, July 5, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Photo provided by Everett Police Department)
Everett man gets 3 years for driving high on fentanyl, killing passenger

In July, Hunter Gidney crashed into a traffic pole on Evergreen Way. A passenger, Drew Hallam, died at the scene.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.