|THE WITCH NEXT DOOR|
|by Seamus Drew
Printed with Permission
Do you live next door to a witch? Could be. They’re everywhere. If you met one you wouldn’t know it. They look like you. They act like you. Their kids go to school with yours. They’re just like you except--they’re witches. Don’t be afraid. They mean you no harm. They’re neither concubines of Satan nor practitioners of the black arts. They’re followers of a religion called Wicca.
Wicca is a form of paganism that embraces ancient beliefs and is often referred to as "the Old Religion" or "The Craft." Centuries ago, when Christianity swept Europe, those who clung to the old beliefs were typified as evil. From this came the image of the wicked witch. Those who practice the craft today say that their intention is to "harm none." Wiccans, or witches, worship the earth. They celebrate the changing seasons and revere nature. They believe that man should live in harmony with the earth rather than exploiting it for personal gain.
Wicca, along with other forms of neo-paganism, is on the rise. People around the globe are returning to the old beliefs. What makes this religion so popular? The answers are as varied as the people you ask. Let’s take a look at Wicca.
An Interview with a Witch
Seated atop a small desk behind the counter of the occult shop in Houston, Connie answered my questions between phone calls. Wearing blue jeans and long hair past her shoulders, she was hardly the cackling crone one might expect a witch to be. She spoke in a quiet, easy, manner, pausing while I wrote down her answers.
"Wicca changed my life for the better," she told me. "I’ve learned to love myself. I’ve learned to love the world and other people also. People learn to respect themselves through Wicca. It helps them overcome things like drugs and alcoholism. It’s also used for healing. The purpose of Wicca is to help people."
Connie was introduced to the craft thirteen years ago by her mother-in-law. "Once I started, that was it, I loved it," she said.
She and her fellow witches belong to a "balanced tradition" having both male and female members. "That’s the way it is in nature," she explains.
Wicca doesn’t have denominations like Christian religions. It has traditions. A tradition is a set of beliefs and practices that witches follow. Often these traditions are handed down from generations before, but new traditions crop up frequently. "Our tradition was started by a Houston couple who have since passed on ," Connie says. "It’s similar to the ‘Gardnerian tradition.’ " The Gardnerian tradition has been the model for many neo-wiccan groups.
She pointed out the sign which said, "Anyone under 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. Identification required." She doesn’t want to cause a disturbance in the neighborhood by upsetting parents who may not want their children learning about witchcraft.
"There’s lots of weird people out there. You have to be careful." she warned. " Some times a person will come in here and want to know how to ‘Zap’ somebody. I tell them this isn’t what my religion is about."
"Herbs really do work," she told me. "They’re associated with science now. They didn’t used to be but you’re seeing more and more on TV about herbs. People are learning to benefit from them." Moon Circles, the shop she helps run, carries a large selection of herbs for treating various maladies and maintaining good health.
Connie believes that in the future people will better understand Wiccans and will no longer believe that they are mad or evil. She says that Wiccans and other Pagans are more accepted than they used to be. She told me about a tarot card reader who lay dying in the hospital. A Christian clergyman came by and asked if he could be of assistance. Connie told him that the man was a Pagan. The pastor found a Pagan priest and sent him to the man’s bedside. She said that the U.S. Army, hospitals, and prisons now recognize Wicca as a religion. However, acceptance is far from universal. "Many of us still remain underground," she said. "That’s because of problems with jobs and other things. People have lost their jobs when their religion became known."
She reports that there have been no problems with harassment even though the shop is known as an occult establishment. Other businesses have been plagued with spray painted graffiti but not Moon Circles.
What attracts people to Wicca? The answer’s not the same for everyone but here are some of the reasons.
1. Wicca has no rigid rules. People are free to find their own paths. Wiccans do, however, agree to a code of ethics called the Wiccan Rede. "An it harm none, do as thou will," is the guiding tenet. Another major guidepost, the Law of Three, says that whatever you do, be it good or evil, will return to you threefold. These principles make each individual responsible for her own actions. Many people find this more appealing than the codes of conduct found in other religions. Each person is a priest or priestess in his or her own right. No one acts as an intermediary between an individual and the gods.
2. The gods of Wicca include an eminent female deity. Women are revered as priestesses and take precedence in the Wiccan hierarchy. Two thirds of the clergy in The Covenant of the Goddess, an organization of autonomous witchcraft groups, are women. Many women are attracted to this religion because they identify with the Goddess as the mother of all living. They resent the accusations of impurity heaped on women in past centuries and haven’t forgotten the cruelties imposed on them by the Inquisition. The early church cast women as bearers of the original sin and burned many of them at the stake during the "Burning Times," the era of the great witch hunts in Europe. The remembrance of these atrocities has turned some women from Christianity to Wicca.
3. People desiring to "get back to nature" are drawn to Wicca. Wiccans feel that we are one with the earth and all living things. To them all things of nature, living or inanimate, are sacred. They like to hold their ceremonies outdoors because they feel that being with nature brings them closer to the divine force that created it. According to Wiccan teachings, celebrating the changing seasons, or turning the Wheel of the Year, attunes them to the Earth’s cycles.
4. Wicca is versatile. Some witches practice as "solitaries," others join covens. Since the advent of the Internet, cybercovens have sprung into being. Cybercovens fax or E-mail an agenda to their members who meet online in a private chat room at a prearranged time.
5. Wiccans don’t believe in Satan. They neither worship him nor recognize his existence. The absence of this evil character makes Wicca attractive to some people. Wiccans do worship a horned god. However, he is the ancient god of the hunt, not Satan. The pentagram, often associated with Satanism, is an amulet in Wiccan belief. Its five points represent the five human senses. It’s worn with the single cusp, which represents the spirit, pointing up. In some traditions it’s worn point down to indicate an advanced degree. Satanic cults display it point down, but they are not of Wicca.
From whither comes Wicca?
The origin of Wicca is a matter of debate. A popular belief is that Wicca began in the Stone Age and was passed down through generations by oral tradition. When Christianity swept Europe during the middle ages the "Old Religion" was forced underground. Kept alive by secret covens, it resurfaced in 1951 after the witchcraft laws were repealed in England.
Another idea is that a witch cult never existed in Europe, rather, it was a hysterical delusion based on an ancient fantasy. In the fantasy a small, secret society commits every vile deed imaginable against the surrounding larger society. This time the society was an imaginary legion of witches, paramours of Satan, who cast harm on innocent folks. Any misfortune that befell anyone was imputed to witchcraft.
A third theory is that witchcraft was concocted by the Inquisition for political and social gain. This newly invented demonology was used to destroy pagan worship.
The early Christian church sought to supplant European Paganism with Christianity. They assigned Christian holidays on the same day as Pagan celebrations. Those converted brought their pagan customs with them. Many are still evident in our traditional holiday celebrations. Halloween marks the start of the old Celtic new year. Wiccans believe the veil between the living and the dead is thinnest on this night. Those who died that year drop in to see their relatives one last time. From this belief comes trick or treat and jack o’ lanterns. Mistletoe and red candles at Christmas stem from old pagan ceremonies. May Day originated from the ancient spring rite for the fertility of crops and cattle.
Modern Wicca began in England around 1939. David Gardner, a retired Briton, claimed to have been initiated into a surviving British coven by a witch named "Old Dorothy." He and a few others founded Gardnerian Wicca. Gardner first published his beliefs in the form of a novel, High Magic’s Aid. After the repeal of the witchcraft laws, he published other books about his religion. Wicca was brought to the United States in 1964 by Raymond Buckland. He, and a few others, established the first Gardnerian coven in New York in 1964.Whether it’s the resurgence of an ancient religion, or a belief system established in the twentieth century, Wicca is flourishing today throughout the United States, Europe, and Australia.
Who is a witch?
St. Augustine believed that witches were the offspring of incubi, "demons of the air," who came down and had unlawful sex with women. Halloween portrays them as wretched old hags flying astride broomsticks. The Inquisition proclaimed them purveyors of wicked deeds.
Modern witches describe themselves as worshipers of the beauty of life and the earth. They believe the divine exists within themselves and in all the universe. Their religion teaches that all life is sacred and none should be harmed by another’s actions. They feel a responsibility to make the world a better place.
Some witches believe they’ve been reincarnated. There’s a saying, "A witch always finds her way back to the circle." It means, if a person was a witch in a former life they’ll always return to Wicca regardless of the faith they’re reborn in. Others say they know they’re witches because they feel like Witches. They say that being a witch is a matter of heart. Some people come to Wicca from other faiths. Organized religion doesn’t seem right for them, but "Wicca feels like home." Hereditary witches are born into the faith. Witchcraft is part of their heritage.
How Wicca affects society and the individual
Wiccans are active in government, professions, and the arts. Working through organizations such as the Witches League of Public Awareness (WLPA) and the Covenant of the Goddess (COG) they strive to improve the way society perceives them. COG participates in spiritual and educational conferences, interfaith outreach programs, and community projects. Wiccans are fervent environmentalists.
Wicca is gaining acceptance in several areas. Some covens are recognized as nonprofit religious organizations by the Internal Revenue Service. COG achieved this status in 1975. Neo-pagan organizations are endeavoring to repeal laws they feel discriminate against them and have laws dealing with religious freedom enforced. COG clergy perform legal weddings and preside at funerals.
Herbal medicine is an ancient Wiccan speciality. Herbs play a major role in holistic medicine today. What was formerly denounced as witchcraft is now accepted by many as good medicine.
Wiccans are spreading the word about their religion via the Internet. The Witches’ Voice, Cog, and WLPA publish pages on official doctrine and answers to frequently asked questions. Personal sites feature testimonials, poetry and artwork, and articles for those new to Wicca. Although Wiccans don’t recruit new members they willingly help "seekers" who may feel drawn to the craft. The Witches’ Voice Inc. operates an online Wiccan contact program for those wishing to correspond with a witch in their locality. Wiccans are striving to build a positive image and expunge old stereotypes. They want Wicca to be accepted as a religion. The motto, "Never again the burning times," expresses their aspiration that the old persecutions never return.
Recalling the witch in the interview; if you saw Connie on the street, or met her at the supermarket, you’d think her no different from anyone else. It’s only her religion that sets her apart. In fact, you probably wouldn’t raise an eyebrow or bat an eye if she moved in next door.
Copyright © 1999 by Seamus Drew All rights in the above article are reserved.
No portion may be reproduced in any form without the express permission of the author.
|Seamus Drew writes at night, mostly in hotel rooms. By day he works in the oil industry. He is an Alumni of the Long Ridge Writers Group. Feel free to contact him at: