Idol Chatter

TLC premiered a new reality series this week, “My Unique Family: The Witches Next Door,” presumably because the very premise must sound weird (or even blasphemous!) to most viewers. “What?” you’re meant to wonder with confusion. “Witches? A family of them?”

Meet the Rev. Kendra Vaughan Hovey, High Priestess of the First Wiccan Church of Duxbury, Mass., and her husband Tim, her daughter Alana (8 years old), and her son Alec (11), also witches. For the last year, Kendra has been working full time establishing her church and building a congregation. She wears a collar every day, like any other clergy might, whether she’s doing official business or she’s off to meet her kids at the bus. She does this to make a point: that a Wiccan priestess should act no differently than any other minister, and that it is important for the public to recognize her role and status in the community.

Perhaps the weirdest part of show is how normal this “witch family” is–kind, well-mannered, happy, devout, and trying to reconcile their lives with their faith–in comparison to some of their neighbors, in particular the Christian ones, who live in the same town.

At one point in the episode, Kendra’s family and several others from their church take an afternoon hay ride on a beautiful sunny day, sing “church hymns” happily together as they bounce along, pick pumpkins, and endeavor to teach their kids to appreciate the earth and creation with some brief lessons from the Wiccan tradition. Pretty harmless, right? Well, as everyone is off frolicking among the pumpkins, the TLC people interview the tractor driver for the ride–who happens to be Christian–about what he thinks of Witch Kendra and company. His basic answer (I’m paraphrasing here) was that while he had to do his job for any paying customers–i.e., drive them around–he felt that “these people” were a blot on society, and that anyone who didn’t accept God’s son was damned to hell.

Zoom to the end of the hay ride when, like any other well-meaning, polite parents, the kids are encouraged to say “Thank you” to the hay-ride driver–which they do with great kid-like gusto. What’s funny/sad about this moment is that as the witch kids are shouting their thanks, Mr. Christian hay-ride driver is wincing, as if it’s not thanks they are giving to him, but evil, satanic spells that are pouring out of their mouths in his direction.

It’s hard not to like Kendra and her family–they are about as happy and well-adjusted as any family can be. The kids have lots of friends, they say please and thank you, they play nicely, and they seem pretty happy to be witches (especially the little girl, Alana, who you just want to hug every time you see her), eagerly participating in services, giving thanks at the table, among other devotions. Kendra is incredibly articulate, likable, and has a healthy relationship with her husband. The biggest problem this family faces is that the First Wiccan Church of Duxbury is growing so quickly that the kids miss mom, since she’s always on the phone doing “pastoral counseling” or writing at the computer.

Viewers who will not be offended by a family of Wiccans will certainly find learning about the tradition–its rituals, practices, and members–pretty fascinating. I’d say that so far, “The Witches Next Door” is a nice testament to a faith that many people have unjustified prejudices against. Once you get beyond the fact that its practices are unfamiliar–at least at first–Wicca doesn’t seem all that strange after all. They sing, pray, give thanks, gather for worship, and certain members wear robe and cape-like garments during praise. Hmmmm. I wonder what other traditions do that, too?

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