CHALK UP a success for the first season of "Kestryl & Company," America's first television talk show about witchcraft and pagan religions.
The weekly show, produced and hosted by two witches from Laurel, began this summer on Arlington Community Television, a public access station. It also aired regularly in Montgomery County and in Waterloo, Iowa. (It is not seen locally.) A new series begins production in January.
Reaction has been mostly favorable.
"We've gotten good feedback from people we know in the mundane community -- that's what we call non-pagans -- who have tuned in and said 'This is incredibly interesting.' We've also heard from people who say we're not showing our true face," says 39-year-old Cheryl Costa, a third-degree priestess in the Alexandrine tradition of Wicca who works as a computer consultant.
Modern witchcraft is rooted in various forms of the "Old Religion," a nature-oriented worship that predominated in Europe before the conquests of Christianity. The religion's followers believe in reincarnation and recognizing the Earth and the bounties of its seasons. Wicca calls for celebrating a god and a goddess; the religion has no devils or evil figures.
Shows have ranged from explaining rituals to exposing the links between Santa Claus and the Holly King. Kestryl Angell, the 26-year-old hostess, figures the most important show was "Pagans in Recovery," an episode in which she shared her own struggles as a teen-age drug abuser.
Also a third-degree priestess in the Alexandrine tradition, Angell makes and sells holistic bath salts and massage oils. She is expecting her third child.
"Our intent with 'Kestryl & Company' is not to bring people into the faith, but to show people what we are doing. . . . I feel we've really had the ability to contact an awful lot of people and re-educate them," she says.
Costa has packaged the series so that pagan associations and covens across the country can educate their communities without having to create their own local cable access shows.
The new season will include on-location features and interviews. The set has already gone through one make-over, however. Host Kestryl and her guests now sit in wingbacked chairs near a fireplace rather than communing on the floor. The altar is on the mantel.
"We want it to seem to viewers as if they are just sitting in a high priestess' living room, shooting the breeze," says Costa. "We try to make it very intimate."
Laurel witches are celebrating their cable talk show's first year