Pagans, witches and wiccans – oh my

Buffalo’s spiritual community is about love and understanding


Standing in the middle of Love Light & Magick, a Pagan, Wicca and voodoo store on Hertel Avenue, feels like standing at an entrance to another world. Shelves of chakra-balancing rocks, brightly colored aromatherapy candles and psychic tarot cards line one side of the store. Buddhist prayer bells, assorted herbs and Tibetan prayer flags hang on the other side.

Love Light & Magick is one of many spiritual specialty stores scattered around Buffalo, alongside Strange Brew in Kenmore and Spiritually Rooted in North Tonawanda. These stores form the core of Buffalo’s metaphysical community, often offering tarot readings, psychic development workshops and henna drawings. Pagan and Wicca communities, often misunderstood as “black magic” groups, are some of the most open-minded, accepting and peace-loving people around.

The dictionary definition of a “pagan” is a person who holds religious beliefs other than those of the main world religions. But in reality, it’s a little more complicated than that.

Kurtlyn Cunningham, 38, a Buffalo native and owner of Love Light & Magick, self-identifies with paganism, voodoo, Buddhism, Hinduism and even dabbles in Greek and Egyptian mythology. She says her religion is constantly evolving when she takes bits and pieces from other religions and incorporates them into her own practice.

“A big misconception is that Paganism is evil and everyone practices black magic and a devil worshiper,” she said. “But it depends on what form of Paganism you are talking about. And for Wicca, everyone practices magic – but its white magic, a healing art. The first rule is ‘harm no one.’”

Cunningham, who grew up on the east side of Buffalo and just opened her shop in January, said the true joy for her is being able to help her customers and friends. After recently moving store locations, Cunningham was overwhelmed with the amount of people who showed up to help her move into her new location.

“I just find it to be surreal because I’m so lucky that people put so much faith in me to help them out,” she said. “Just recently I had a friend of mine who asked me to bless a piece of his father’s gravestone. I just feel like I’m naturally a healer to begin with.”

It’s this universal theme of love and caring, perhaps, which makes the community within Buffalo so close-knit.

“I think what sets us apart is our inclusiveness,” said Pamela Brunf, the owner of Spiritually Rooted in North Tonawanda. “Whatever your belief system, you are welcome. Everybody is where they are supposed to be, and believes what they are meant to believe.”

Brunf, who has a Ph.D. in psychology, is also a practicing medium who gives tarot readings, psychic readings and healings as well as counseling and life coaching to her customers. She also helps run a local non-denomination church associated with Spiritually Rooted.

“We don’t try to say one [religion] is better than the other, traditional or otherwise. Most people in the new age metaphysical world started in organized religion, so we try to be understanding of everyone,” she said. “For me, I don’t think I had a choice – I always believed in what I did from a young age, for my own development.”

Many people come to Pagan or Wicca on their own, searching for their own belief system in life. Others are sent to the spiritual mediums for healing and soul-searching, to try and get past a rough patch in their lives.

Rachel Ackerhalt, an employee at Love Light & Magick, said she grew up in a Jewish background but never felt at peace with herself until she discovered Paganism while she was recovering from a drug addiction.

“Nothing felt right until I found this side of my spirituality,” she said. “I worked at SPoT Coffee across the street and when I came in the store it felt like home.”

Chelsea Carnahan, a junior German and linguistics major and founder of Pagan SA at UB, said the unique thing about the religion is the complete subjectivity of the practice – you can pick and choose to believe whatever you want to believe in.

“A lot of us were brought up in organized religion and we’re taught to not ask questions and to follow and obey,” she said. “If you don’t agree with a certain practice or ritual – don’t do it.”

Carnahan said she fell into Paganism after a long battle with depression. The practice, she said, helped her turn her mental battle around.

It’s a reoccurring theme among many practitioners – the initial draw is the healing aspect. But for some, leading, not seeking, healing is their calling.

“I want to heal as many people as I can through the shop,” Cunningham said. “I’ve been told through various part life readings that I was a healer in multiple different forms throughout history. I just want to help people and help the earth and heal her as much as possible – I want to see what I can do.”

Love Light & Magick is holding its grand re-opening event on Oct. 30. The Spiritually Rooted church holds services every Thursday.

Brian Windschitl is the senior arts editor and can be reached at