I slide into Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal as day sags into night on this Friday evening. I set sail for Victoria, and not for the reasons most would expect. With attractions like a bug zoo, miniature world, and butterfly museum, you would think I am crossing the Georgia Straight to make my smarmy 5’7” self feel like a Giant. Giants are not the mythical beast I chase this weekend. I am on a witch-hunt.
Rumours tell of a culture of modern witchcraft lying hidden beneath the surface of Victoria’s Victorian society. Online forums discuss webs of underground tunnels forming pentangles underneath the city grid. I can only assume this is where the witches perform their pagan rituals. I fantasize about cackling old ladies with pointy black hats, stealing children at night. I imagine them brewing a large black cauldron of children stew, stirring with the same brooms on which they flew.
I feel justified in my quest as I step onto the passenger level of the Coastal Renaissance. The first sight that greets my eyes is a bone-chilling image of the prey itself, a witch! I am on to something. Even the realization that this was just a portrait of the queen fails to dull my enthusiasm.
I head to Victoria’s Fan Tan Alley. The 5 foot wide alley boasts the record for being the narrowest in North America. I calculate this to be the perfect width for a two way street, if your car is a broom. I find my destination three doors in and step inside Triple Spiral Metaphysical Store. The lady behind the counter, Jennifer, greets me with a warm hello rather than a cackle. I see no pointy hat adorning her head. However, her features appear Celtic. The Celts are famous for their pagan roots, worshipping deities through their druid priests. Jennifer confirms that she has both Scottish and Irish Celtic roots. I ask the question I am dying to ask. Well, are you a witch? She responds, “I call myself a witch because it’s easier for people to understand, but I’m more into Druidism.” She reacts to my revealing question not as I would expect. She refrains from waving a wand and casting a spell to turn me into a mute goat. Instead, she explains that Wicca, or modern witchcraft, is growing in popularity especially with the rising popularity of spiritual pursuits such as yoga, herbal remedies, and meditation.
Feeling content that I had found a witch yet dejected at the lack of boiling cauldrons, I amble over to Victoria’s Market Square. Hoping to find a tunnel entrance or two, I descend into the lower courtyard. I do indeed find them. These tunnels, formerly used to transport coal in from the harbour, are now long bricked up. However, to my delight, also in the courtyard I find Avalon Books Metaphysical Centre. The witch behind the counter in this shop seems less inviting than the last. She appears disgusted when I raise the subject of witchcraft, and even claims that she is not a witch at all. I reason that this is surely a sign she secretly is a witch.
Perusing the aisles, flipping through tarot cards, inspecting gemstones, and something catches my eye. Aha! It is a witch’s broom. A cartoon label instructs the user how to fly with it. I try it out, but land on my ass. I direct my girlfriend to attempt flight, secretly suspecting her of being part witch. However, the only flying coming out of her is the verbal abuse flying out of her mouth as she plops to the ground. I quickly dismiss the broom as a fake.
I need some inside knowledge, so I have arranged for Ivan Leung, a local civil Engineer, to meet me for coffee at the Bean Around thee World on Fisgaard street. Over an americano and gingersnap, I ask him about the tunnels. Ivan claims, “The city does have a network of underground tunnels, and only Engineers seem to know about them.” This puzzles me, as I wouldn’t expect witches to be Engineers, despite their amazing ability to somehow make innate brooms soar to the heavens.
The District of Saanich engineer, who has seen plans of the tunnels, tells me that the city of Victoria is also riddled with secret passages of a different kind. Walking back through Fan Tan Alley, Ivan explains that many of the buildings here including the one housing Triple Spiral Metaphysical, once housed opium dens in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The store ‘fronts’, were secret back rooms to the stores fronting Government street, allowing the opium den patrons to escape out Fan Tan Alley in the event of a police raid.
Seeking to further my knowledge on Victoria’s underground, I take a peak at the forums at Infiltration.org. I find a wealth of information from other curious minded tunnel seekers. Previous attempts at accessing the witch infested tunnels have found nothing more than abandoned buildings housing crystal meth users. Could the modern witches of Victoria’s recent history just be dope heads, whose magical potions are nothing more than drug cocktails?
I prefer to think of Victoria’s witches as more like Jennifer, the kindly druidess. She is more likely to perform yoga, then a satanic ritual. I would imagine tea at her house, would include more of the herbal variety, than a magical concoction. And when she flies her broom, it is to attend the local wiccan 13th House Mystery school, not to steal children. Jennifer contends that Wicca is the fasted growing religion in the world. From what I have found, I wouldn’t mind a few more witches in yoga pants flying about the place.