Oak Spirit Sanctuary provides a space for Wiccan worship in Mid-Missouri
Oak Spirit Sanctuary is the central place for practicing Wicca in Mid-Missouri. Members of the community are not usually vocal about their practices due to the stigmas and discrimination surrounding Wiccan practices. Slowly the perception of Wicca is changing as the religion is seen for what it truly is rather than the stereotype. The Wicca faith is centered around connection to the earth, fellowship and the wiccan rede, which states, "An it harm none, do what ye will."
President and priestess of Oak Spirit Kerry Lynn, left, and members of the Wiccan community cheer after putting together a broom stick to be used in the celebration of Imbolc at Oak Spirit Sanctuary in Boonville, Missouri on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017. Imbolc is the halfway mark between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, and is the celebration of the beginning of spring. Previously Ozark Avalon and now Oak Spirit Sanctuary, the house has served as a church and gathering place for the Wiccan community in Mid-Missouri since the 1990s. Members of the community are not usually vocal about their practices due to the stigmas and discrimination surrounding Wiccan practices. With the transformation from Ozark Avalon to Oak Spirit Sanctuary, the community is opening up more to the outside world.
A statue of an angel sits placed between two trees on Wednesday, April13, 2017 at Oak Spirit Sanctuary. Wicca doesn't believe in heaven or hell, but they do believe in guardian angels that are benign entities belonging and leading every person. "Oftentimes, visitors will place statues on the land. We don't always know who or why, but we know there was a purpose to the one who left it. This is somebody's guardian and it will be there the next time that person returns," Lynn said.
George Bunyea fills up his water bottle while working to install an outdoor shower at Oak Spirit Sanctuary on Saturday, April 15, 2017. George has belonged to the Oak Spirit community for the past 22 years and is a board member.
A worker mows the grass at Oak Spirit Sanctuary on Thursday, May 4, 2017. Community members partake in work days in order to upkeep the grounds and the buildings on the property.
George Bunyea sets up his tent on a portion of Oak Spirit Sanctuary's 160 acres in preparation for the fertility festival, Beltane, on Thursday, May 4, 2017. The sanctuary makes a large portion of its money from big festivals such as Beltane in the spring, and Harvest in the fall where participants pay an entry and camping fee. Bunyea thinks that the community welcoming outsiders is a positive and necessary step for the church. "We're moving toward inclusive and not exclusive. Exclusive was getting’ us broke. And it’s done that to every pagan place if they haven’t survived. And they did it for years because they’re afraid of the outside world," Bunyea said.
The Wicca belief system is based upon the seasons changing, the lunar phases and the cycle of life. Wiccans revere nature and celebrate their spirituality through it. Frogs are a symbol in Wicca, representing transition because of the frog's unique growth cycle. They also represent fertility due to the large amount of eggs that frogs lay.
Michael Carroll looks around at the shower house, dubbed the "frog bog" while fixing up the showers on Thursday, May 4, 2017. Not everyone in the community practices Wicca, but still come to Oak Spirit for the rituals and fellowship. Carroll suffers from fibromyalgia and spends extended periods of time confined to his bed, uses Oak Spirit to get out of the house. "They're some of the most accepting people I've ever met." Carroll said.
The moon shines through trees during a lunar gathering at Oak Spirit Sanctuary on Saturday, April 8, 2017. Community members celebrate the full moon every month, with each month's moon representing a different theme that corresponds with the season and connects the community with the earth.
Priestess and witch, Kerry Lynn, sways while singing chants during a lunar gathering on Saturday, April 8, 2017. Lynn grew up Catholic and similarities with Catholic traditions can be found within Wicca ceremonies since Christianity was adapted from paganism.
Johanna Givens and Badger Johnson lead the children in ceremony to bless the garden outside of Oak Spirit Sanctuary during Imbolc. The children drank goat's milk mixed with honey and then offered it in a communion to the rest of the community with the phrase of, "May you never thirst." Imbolic is a celebration of the early spring, when animals are beginning to prepare for offspring and produce milk. Milk, cream and butter is considered a treat because in past times they would not have had these through the winter months.
Clergy member Darcy Higgins leads a lunar gathering on Saturday, April 8, 2017. The April lunar gathering was the "egg moon," which is a reminder of the circle of life and fertility. It coincides with the Christian holiday of Easter. Higgins asked community members to write down their aspirations for the sanctuary and place it in the paper egg. The egg was then placed into the bonfire and danced around in hopes that their aspirations would come true.
Members of the Wiccan community gather around the fire before participating in the reawakening plunge into Lake Gaia, named after the mother of life. They lit a fire to keep warm after going into the lake and sang songs to celebrate Imbolc. The plunge is a spiritual experience that represents rebirth into the spring.
A bonfire burns at the edge of Lake Gaia on Oak Spirit Sanctuary's property. After the polar plunge participants warmed up, they walked back to the church and sang, danced and drank by the fire. Some even camped on the church grounds.