Kami Landy found her bright yellow dress just in time for the spring equinox.
It was a floral robe she made with fabric she bought from a garage sale months ago. But that night, her forgotten passion project was perfect for the night’s spiritual occasion.
Yellow represents air, the east and spring in Pagan traditions — and at the ceremony that evening, members of different pagan groups met over Zoom to celebrate Ostara, the season’s equinox.
Kami Landy and her husband Nelson Boon are Odyssean Wiccans who currently live in Alachua. Their practices are more than tradition — it’s a way of life. It’s a part of almost everything they do, from teaching Zoom classes on using herbs in spells to taking care of their horses for Kami’s horse riding business.
Usually, Kami and Nelson are the ritual leaders for a small local group of Odyssean Wiccans, but that night, they were congregants to celebrate change, balance and rebirth.
Nelson lounged on a couch in their living room, separated from Kami by a table adorned with candles. She swayed and tapped her foot as the priest and priestess sang:
“Let those love now who have never loved. Let those who have loved love again.”
The ritual was much like any other religious holiday service. Leaders give blessings using traditional tools. Congregants join in to say prayers. They sing, connect with their gods and tell a story about what they celebrate.
For Ostara, that meant they cast a circle to conduct the ritual by blessing each cardinal direction with a ceremonial blade and a wand. Then, they invited the god and goddess of spring, Angus Og and Brid, to join them. One attendee acted as Caileach, goddess of winter, as she told the story of the holiday. They gave thanks for spring overcoming winter, but also asked the Caileach for forgiveness. Balance is integral to all of their practices.
After the ceremony, Kami and Nelson chatted and laughed. None of the friends had been able to see each other for a while. It had been a tough winter, with the pandemic making it hard to enjoy. Spring looked more hopeful — and laughter, after all, is a characteristic of air, Kami said.
But Wicca isn’t all grand ceremonies and rites. For the Kami and Nelson, it’s everything from making small charms for the health of their horses to feeling the energy in the world around them every day.
“I don’t know that I could call it a religion,” Kami said. “Wicca is a way of working.”
How Kami and Nelson Found Odyssean Wicca — and Each Other
Neither Kami nor Nelson grew up practicing Odyssean Wicca, a Wiccan sect focused on opening the practice to the public instead of keeping it behind closed doors. But both would eventually find it in Canada, where the tradition was originally born in the late 1970s.
As a child in Miami, Kami was raised under Reform Judaism. Her mother believed in seeing God in everything and in talking with him any time.
“I remember being 4 years old and mom taking me out on the balcony,” she said. Kami recalled that she asked her mother, “‘How big is our world?’ And the answer she taught me was: all that I can see and touch and everything I can love.”
But Kami was a fanciful child. She recalled talking to critters in the woods and seeing imaginary things in the corner of her eyes, she said. When she attended Oldfields School, an all-girls boarding school in Maryland, in eighth grade, she felt that the land was alive beneath her feet. This is where she first learned how to ride horses, a passion that would lead to her current occupation.
At school, friends taught her Gregorian chants for meditation and how to read tarot cards, things she practiced throughout high school and college. It would eventually lead to Kami being introduced to the Wiccan Church of Canada, or Odyssean Wicca.
Kami spent years driving back and forth from the United States to Canada to participate in the church. That’s how she met Nelson, who came to Odyssean Wicca from a completely different path.
Nelson’s grandmother was a folk magic practitioner in England. When the locals needed help, she was the one they came to.
“It was sort of a family tradition,” Nelson said. “I grew up with the notion that you could make things like lucky charms and make things to cure people or prevent some curses. That was not strange to me at all.”
But when Nelson moved to Canada at 10 years old, he was exposed to Wicca. He read book after book on the subject until he was in his 30s, and then he took free classes at the Wiccan Church of Canada to conduct research on the tradition. That’s where he met Kami.
The two fell in love and were betrothed, or engaged, for two years. Nelson traveled from Canada to Kami’s ranch in Alachua County for a routine visit in March 2020 — and then the pandemic began.
“I’ve been trapped down here for months,” Nelson sighed. Then he laughed. “So we got married.”
A Business and Passion: ThumbsUp Riding School
In May 2010, Kami moved to Alachua County from Miami-Dade after her father passed away. She didn’t like the cold of the North, and she knew there were some pagan groups in the area, so Alachua it was.
One year later, she purchased the property that would become her riding school.
At the front gate, between two black wire pentagrams, a sign welcomes guests to ThumbsUp Riding School. The property is 75 acres of pastures, wetlands and woods. It’s home to endangered gopher tortoises, spatting alpacas, friendly family dogs and stables of horses.
On the ranch, there is little barrier between the wildlife and the human residents. Friends and employees live in trailers or small houses, and Kami and Nelson constructed their blue two-story house right at the edge of the woods. Within a 30-yard stretch, the forest has hundreds of different species of shrubs, vines, trees and herbs. Kami, Nelson and the other residents walk through it each day to carve horse trails and collect plant life for rituals.
Kami’s Wiccan faith has informed how she instructs and interacts with other people. “Religion is so much part of being human,” she said.
She said she loves the concept of the cowboy church — “Just people, on their horses, connecting to their sense of religion.”
But the couple’s spirituality is not typically advertised to their horseback riding students.
“When I teach riding, I teach riding,” Kami said.
Kami teaches a practice called centered riding, which focuses on connecting the rider’s mind and body to the horse’s. It is based off of the teachings of Sally Swift in her book, “Centered Riding.” The teachings use elements of body awareness, and it incorporates balance and bits of yoga.
On a Tuesday morning in March, Danielle Leonard, 33, brought her 8-year-old daughter Mia for a lesson with Kami. Mia had only had a few lessons so far, but she had big dreams of being a competitive equestrian.
Leonard said she did extensive research before deciding where to bring her daughter for riding lessons and does not regret eventually deciding on ThumbsUp Riding School.
“Kami is amazing,” Leonard said. “She focuses on relaxing Mia and having her think about the horse’s body. She has her students close their eyes and really feel the connection.”
Mia sits on top of Myla the horse and Kami takes hold of the lead attached to Myla’s halter. Kami instructs Mia to do various balancing tasks: “Play the drums on your belly! Hands to the sky! Hands on your hips!”
Outside the riding ring, Charles “Doc” Baillie, 76, emerges from a trailer. At the time, he had been living on the property for about four months. Baillie started his career as a chiropractor until he decided to switch from working on humans to horses. Now, he has been in the profession for over four decades, and he met Kami and Nelson through the horse business.
On Baillie’s first walk in the woods surrounding the riding school, he said he could “feel the connectivity.” Baillie does not believe in organized religion, but he said he is very spiritual.
“I saw some things in the forest that I think are burial mounds,” Baillie said. “You can feel that Native Americans have been here.” He spoke about wanting to live out in the woods, and then went to treat another horse, Norman, for lameness.
A Community Grounded in Inclusivity
Peggy Macdonald, public historian and adjunct professor at Stetson University, is not surprised a Wiccan community would seek a home base near Gainesville, in the outskirts of Alachua County.
“Wicca is really the only organized religion where women tend to have a greater representation in the race of leaders,” she said.
Gainesville was one of five epicenters that pushed for women’s suffrage throughout the 1960s and ‘80s alongside Seattle, Boston, New York City and Chicago. The feminist connection within the history of Gainesville, she said, could explain why members of minority religions such as the Wiccans would feel safe congregating in and around the city.
According to Macdonald, Gainesville played a central role in the origins of the Women’s Liberation Movement, which would be appealing to any practitioners of a Wiccan sect.
“With the University of Florida being here, you have a population of people who are young and more receptive to different views and exploring other religions,” she said.
One example is the Hare Krishna religion, which has been serving vegetarian meals on the University of Florida campus for decades. They chant and dance in public spaces around town.
The growth of the Krishna community, Macdonald believes, is a testament to the free-spirited nature of the city, which has been home to people who practice a more communal form of life.
For Kami and Nelson, the Krishna Temple’s presence in the community gives them some level of comfort for having a non-traditional way of life, even on the fringes of Alachua County.
The couple live in conservative territory. They are a 30-minute drive from the progressive bubble that college students inhabit, and are sometimes concerned their neighbors would judge them if they knew about their Wiccan traditions. They don’t want to ruffle any feathers and know that their practices make some people uncomfortable before they understand, Kami said.
But within their close circle, they try to make the space as inclusive as possible. Kami is on the autism spectrum and grew up with people making her feel like there was something wrong with her, she said. One of her children is nonbinary and faces others not understanding their gender identity. Kami and Nelson don’t want anyone to feel like that within their practice.
They have a nonbinary person in their Wiccan group now, and Kami and Nelson let them choose which of the traditionally “masculine” and “feminine” roles they want to fulfill during rituals.
“Wicca is not Orthodox,” Kami said. “You can roll with the differences, and you’re good to go.”
When it comes to the future, there are dreams and there are realities, Kami said.
Kami would love to create a public Wiccan church in Gainesville — similar to the Wiccan Church of Canada. Her original idea was to call it the Wiccan Temple of Florida.
In her head, the church would be established in an old house currently on sale off of Highway 441. As a former garden store, it features a wraparound veranda and hardwood floors. Every time Kami drives by it, she sees the building being renovated into a pagan community center where weekly classes are taught, independent pagan sellers market their products and massage therapists or other practitioners rent out space.
“That’s my impossible pipe dream,” she said. “To make that happen, you’d have to have a large enough community of nascent leaders who want to be there.”
And that just isn’t the reality in Alachua County. She and Nelson believe the lack of interest has to do with students’ transitory nature.
Nelson has a different approach. After he and Kami retire, he wants to travel the United States and Canada in an RV, teaching classes on Odyssean Wicca. With Kami’s help, he also wants to publish a book codifying how to teach Odyssean Wicca, as the practices vary.
But most of all, they just want to exist without judgement or ridicule.
“We are normal people who put on our magical robes one leg at a time like anybody else,” Nelson said.
Correction: An original version of this article referred to the couple as Kami and Nelson Landy, which was incorrect. Both Kami and Nelson retained their surnames. The article has been corrected to name them as Kami Landy and Nelson Boon. The original version also incorrectly referenced the goddess Caileach as “Celiac,” which has also been corrected. It also stated Nelson moved to Canada as a teenager. This has been updated to correctly state he moved there at age 10. Ostara was incorrectly referred to as Imbolc in the initial version, this has also been corrected.