Spirits lingering, dead bodies in the backyard, witch hunts — think “Paranormal Activity,” “Psycho” and “Season of the Witch.” Every year, millions of Americans flock to movie theaters in search of the best horror flick that amps up their “screamometers.” Now eliminate all the special effects, bogus storylines, cheesy acting and predictable plots. You’ll find people in real life who value supernatural elements as integral parts of their lives.
When I was sent to the tiny island of Tonga for my senior year of high school, I thought I knew my culture well. On my first night there, the rain beat down hard from the black skies. I ran around with my little cousins in my grandma’s backyard while the farm animals paced the thick green grass. Large brown bats circled the trees, ravaging the wild fruits.
When I ran underneath the mango tree, I gashed my foot on a large cement block. As I cleared the grass off, I saw my great-grandmother’s name engraved. I asked my grandma if it was a memory plaque, and she said it was a tombstone. Her mother was buried in her backyard.
As an American obsessed with film, the first thought I had was the movie, “Psycho.” She explained that in our culture, people keep deceased family near to watch over us and guide us throughout our lives.
“I still talk to her,” she said.
For some people, supernatural practices are what make life meaningful.
Yvonne Conway cringed when her cousin, who is a student at UAA, called and asked her to cast a spell on an enemy. Conway is an ordained elder high priestess of the Wicca religion. She is a witch who practices white magic.
She made an appearance on the WE TV series “Secret Lives of Women” to educate people like her cousin and encourage other witches to “come out of the broom closet.”
“There’s been a misconception of witches for centuries that still exists today. We still get death threats. Some witches got their children taken away. We get refusal of service in public establishments,” Conway said.
Wicca is a religion recognized by the United States government with members who are men, women and children. They are witches in touch with the forces of nature and earth. They celebrate life and fertility and practice polytheism. They practice good magic and witchcraft. They harm no humans or animals.
When referring to their religion, some Wiccans use words like “pagan” and “Celtic.”
Conway speaks at universities around the nation to educate the public about the misconceptions of witchcraft that is portrayed in our societies.
While Conway is celebrating life, others are welcoming spirits of the dead.
Rosa Choi, a marketing student from Korea, said she has a great respect for the spirits of her ancestors. She said although she is a Catholic now living in Alaska, she feels it is still important to stay true to her cultural beliefs.
“We honor our passed on ancestors in rituals by leaving food and drinks out for them during Korean holidays such as Thanksgiving and New Year,” Choi said. “We leave our doors open to invite the spirits into our homes.”
Choi said in Korea she was taught that ancestors visit in forms of dreams to forewarn of good and bad things to come. She also said Koreans who convert to Christianity typically do not practice this ancient belief but that it is still strongly held even by young Koreans today.
“Their spirits are our protectors,” Choi said.