Waves of incense wafts out of Ancient Ways, a metaphysical and pagan store on Telegraph Avenue and 41st Street, and the sweet smell mixes with the aroma of food simmering at the Café Eritrea D’Afrique restaurant next door. Much of the window space of the shop is covered up by white posters from Occupy Oakland, advertising the general strike in November and Move-in Day in the spring. The inside of Ancient Ways is still visible through white metal bars, though—rows of wooden bookshelves with spell books and books relating to Celtic, Qabalah and Tarot practices. There’s a long counter where different varieties of spice are stacked, and a rotating display of incense near the door, with a lit stick usually nearby.
What can’t quite be seen from the outside is the reading room—a small square walled-in area in the back of the shop, behind a bookshelf and a framed display of “Keys of Solomon’s Talismans” and underneath its own small shingle roof. It resembles a small cottage. The inside of the reading room is lit dimly by a lamp with a red fringed lampshade, which is hung over a round table where there’s a stack of Tarot cards. This is where Glenn Turner, who has owned Ancient Way for 24 years, does Tarot, Rune and palm readings. Turner has long grey hair, lightly flushed cheeks and blue eyes that peek out from behind rimless oval glasses. “Usually, they want to know about love or money,” Turner said of her customers.
That has been especially true during the economic downturn—money and job candles are some of the best-sellers among all the items in the shop, and many people come in regularly to buy “boxes and boxes” of candles, Turner said. Even with the economy struggling, Ancient Ways is doing “actually very well,” said Turner.
“One of the things we do is we provide hope for people,” Turner said, “and very personalized customer service. When people come in here, frequently they want a candle that will bring money or love to them. We help them focus and understand how to focus their intent to bring these things into their lives.”
Knowing how to focus life goals helps bring results, Turner believes, and she uses the shop and her neo-pagan beliefs to try to help customers find happiness and satisfaction, and to develop their spiritual beliefs. “I don’t know if it’s been scientifically proven that this kind of thing works,” Turner said. “But in my mind, it’s been proven.”
Turner, who is in her 60s and is a fifth-generation San Francisco native, has been interested in mythology and spirituality since an early age. In 1968, a friend of Turner’s was auditing a film class at San Francisco State, and one of the assignments was to “do a ritual,” Turner said. “We’d been reading this book called The White Goddess and decided we’d do a ‘Witches Sabbat,’” Turner said.
“We all felt like something had happened,” Turner said of practicing her first sabbat. “So we kept doing them.”
The problem was, Turner remembers, back in the 19060s there weren’t many—if any—witches or Wiccans practicing in the Bay Area. “So we just had to do it ourselves,” she said.
Turner and her group started holding Sabbats in the Bay Area eight times a year, and her knowledge of paganism and witchcraft grew. When she opened her shop in the 1980s in what was then a quiet corner on a fairly dilapidated block, surrounded by the boarded up windows of former shops nearby, the idea of neo-paganism was just beginning to catch on. She now teaches weekly classes on witchcraft from the shop, and for the past 18 years has also run a large conference in San Jose on neo-paganism that’s attended by thousands of people.
Turner calls “paganism” a “huge umbrella word” that includes religions outside the Judeo-Christian-Islamic mainstream. Those “underneath the umbrella,” she said, include native and indigenous religions like Santeria and voodoo.
What many neo-pagan practitioners have in common, Turner said, is that they didn’t like having a “heavily patriarchal god,” like many other religions do. Those seeking this type of spirituality typically are “educated people looking for something that’s not materialistic and science [based],” said Turner, who has a biology degree from Sarah Lawrence. She calls them “Earth religions.”
“I think because so many of us have scientific backgrounds and education, people seek out something spiritual, but they’re not really wanting a list of ‘thou-shall-not’s,’” she said. “They want something that connects them back to the Earth.”
Interest in neo-paganism has “increased dramatically” in the years since she’s opened the shop, she said. Turner said she hopes to continue to running the shop as she likes it—doing readings and teaching classes when she can. Spirituality and mythology interest her as much as ever, and she plans to keep exploring.
“I’ve studied all kinds of spiritual paths, and that’s always new and interesting to me,” she said, “because there’s always something that I haven’t thought of.”