Nothing Says Springtime Like a Coven of Witches Chilling in the Park

We attended the seventh annual May Day celebration with New York's Grailwood Coven, a group of witches who honor female energy with their craft.

by Hannah La Follette Ryan
May 4 2016, 4:00pm

All photos by Hannah La Follette Ryan

On Saturday, April 30, the witches of NYC's Grailwood Coven turned out for their 7th annual May Day ritual in Central Park. One of the first to arrive at the Faerie Grove was Gaby, a longtime member and coven treasurer (craft name Lady Hecate). Slung over her shoulder was a tote bag that read "Carry Yourself With The Confidence of a Mediocre White Man." This elicited whoops and cheers from the assembled pagans, many of whom have known each other for years.

The Grailwood Coven came into being seven years ago when its founding members splintered from a larger NYC pagan community. High Priestess Silkie O-Ishi (craft name Silkie Lyrazel) explained that the Grailwood Coven is in the Faerie tradition, organized around the female spirit. O-Ishi, a Japanese-British transplant, has been a pagan practically all her life; her grandfather introduced her to Shintoism at a young age. According to O-Ishi, many modern pagans have overlooked the importance of female energy, an error that the Grailwood Coven attempts to rectify. "We believe everything is imbued with that sacred spirit," she said. "Everything should be treated with honor and reverence, we are all connected to everything else. We too are pieces of nature that the sacred spirit has imbued. That connection is what we emphasize."

The energy was joyful and infectious on Saturday. May Day's roots are in pre-Christian European pagan tradition; the event announces the arrival of spring and the union of sun and earth. A May Queen is chosen, who, in a demonstration of female autonomy, chooses her own king. The maypole symbolizes the phallus, and the practice of dancing around the pole celebrates the earth's fertility. "Ordinarily, the maypole would be inserted into the earth, but that isn't allowed in Central Park," O-Ishi said, laughing and acknowledging their maypole, which hovered above the ground in a Christmas tree planter.

"This is a new season of life and philosophy," O-Ishi announced during the ceremony. "This is the time for the celebration of life and its manifest physical union. Today, as in the before time, we dance around the phallus of the God as represented by the maypole symbolically held in a womb of Earth. May the Earth be fertile! May the harvest be rich!" So mote it be.

All photos by Hannah La FolletteRyan.

The May Queen and her king

Nancy, priestess (craft name Amarys)

High Priestess Silkie O-Ishi (craft name Silkie Lyrazel)

Gaby, priestess and coven treasurer (craft name Lady Hecate)


Alexa, priestess (craft name Bramwyn)

May Day