You would not believe the number of questions I've gotten asking very specific questions about my life as a Witch, how it happened, what I do, what I believe and so forth. Some of the reasons it's a treacherous road is that because (I'm about to sound all conspiracy theory here, but sadly, it's true) there is a huge push to spread lies and prejudice against Witches to the point that a lot of us just figure "Why bother?" We know that a lot of what the general public believes are blatant lies, used by the media and other folks with agendas to further the hatred, the persecution and the ignorance. Most of the people who believe bad things about Witches, do so because someone who is not a Witch told them that it's true. Then, when someone who is a Witch attempts to explain that it's simply not true, they are accused of being deluded themselves (YOU don't even know what you're doing with your "religion" and this guy over here who's not in your religion does because someone else who's not in your religion told him so) or of intentionally hiding or veiling the "offensive" bits. As I said, it gets to the point that you just don't bother explaining any more. The problem with that is that then people who do want to be educated and have the myths dispelled don't have that opportunity.
Persecution still exists. People still have their children taken from them by ignorant judges who refuse to hear the truth. People are still fired from their jobs for being Witches under the guise of contrived reasons. People are scorned and ridiculed for what they believe... here in America. It's all a big joke to most people. How often is it that we hear a woman who is a bitch instead referred to as a witch because it's "nicer?" Every time I hear that, it hurts. We work hard to be good, decent people and then we have to deal with that bullshit. I've written 2-3 columns about it in the time I've been a soap journalist and invariably, I get a hoard of letters from people telling me how ridiculous it is that Witches (who aren't real anyway) would be offended that a woman who is considered evil is called a Witch. That's just part of our language, right? Get over it! I think the people who are maligning us should "get over it." We are here. We were here before most other mainstream religions ever surfaced. We deserver better treatment. We were the midwives, we were the healers and we were the counselors before we became the ones who were ostracized and killed for knowing how to heal with herbs and how to move energy with our hands. We were revered, then we were hated. In many ways, we are still hated on a very personal and private level. That's why I was hesitant to write this column.
My relationship with Craft and with Deity is very personal and sacred to me and totally putting it out there is a risky thing, but when I started this journal, I vowed I was always going to be completely honest. That's why the Witch thing ever came out in the first place. I debated it a lot. I could just skip that whole thing, stay in the broom closet, never mention it at all and thusly ensure that every single person was comfortable reading what I wrote without every having to get into stuff that could make people queasy. Then I realized that if I didn't ever talk about it, I would be guilty of continuing the need to hide in the dark and pretend like we're doing something bad when we aren't. Craft is such a big part of my life and about who I am and how I move through the world that I knew if I denied it or ignored it, I wouldn't be my whole self in this journal and I wouldn't be able to be fully truthful as I planned, so I just went for it and let the chips fall. It's who I am and it has caused such major personal evolution that I couldn't leave it out if I tried, I don't think. I say that in retrospect, hindsight and all.
Anyway, so here is the Witch FAQ, circa Katrina. It's important to know a couple of things before diving into this:
1). I am sharing this NOT by ANY means to attempt to convert anyone. One of the main premises of Craft that first attracted me and is most important to me is that we do NOT proselytize. You will not find us witnessing, trying to tell anyone our way is best or attempting to convince a person to do what we do. We fully and completely believe that anyone who is meant to be Craft will be drawn to the Craft and when they find it, will have a feeling as if they are spiritually "coming home." It's very similar to the feeling of being saved when you are a Christian, except without all of the guilt and regret connotations associated. No one convinces a person to be a Witch. It's something that comes from within, like a calling, and when you find out about Craft, it's as though the calling is answered. This doesn't account for the fad Pagans and Witches who do so just to upset their parents and make old ladies pass out. Those people we just tend to ignore like the David Koreshes and Grand Dragons and Aryan Nation folks who call themselves Christian. I'm talking about the real deal. So no, none of the info provided here is an attempt to convert, but to educate.
2) I cannot speak for all Witches any more than one Christian can speak for all Christians or one Jew can speak for all Jews. When I tell you about my life as a Witch, I would hazard a guess that the very, very vast majority of Witches live and believe as I do, although sometimes with tiny tweaks here and there. When I was a Christian, I experienced a number of different denominations. I went to Pentecostal churches, Pilgrim Holiness churches, Baptist churches, Church of God churches, Church of Christ churches, Methodist churches, interdenominational churches and several other protestant faiths. All addressed the same key beliefs (Jesus is the Son of God, the Bible is God's word, Jesus born of Mary in a virgin birth, etc) but there were differences along the way. Some of the churches I attended denounced drinking alcohol or smoking, while others took a routine smoke break between Sunday School and Preachin' where the full adult congregation would flood out onto the front lawn to talk and smoke together while the kids ran and played and burned off some energy before an hour of sitting and singing and praying. Some churches I attended only recognized the New Testament to the exclusion of the Old. Some pooh poohed those who went the full recognition of the Pentecost, speaking in tongues and "getting the spirit," favoring a gentle nod when they agreed with what the preacher said. Those who "went the distance," so to speak, thought the quiet ones were light-weights and that it just wasn't church (and definitely not camp meeting!) without roof-raising "Amens" and "Praise Jesus" and "Glory to God's." So what I'm illustrating here is that there are differences of practice and subtle differences in belief between the differing traditions of most widespread religions, Christianity included. That being said, my point is that there will be some Craft folk who believe and practice slightly differently than I do, but overall, we work about the same.
3) I am not putting this out there to be subject for debate. I am definitely not looking for anyone to "show me the way," convert me to a religion that is working for THEM and therefore, must be just what I'm looking for or otherwise open a door for anyone to get up my ass about this. As you may have noticed if you've read the Nonsoapy Journal for any length of time, I am very wedded to my religion and it works exceptionally well for me. I'm not in the market for a new one. The only reason I'm doing this is at the request of several readers who asked me to fill in some of the blanks. It's not a attempt to convert or an invitation to be converted. This column is for all those who worked up the nerve to write and ask and for all those who didn't and still want to know.
The Witchy FAQ (via Katrina)
How many Witches/Wiccans are there in the US?
Numbers compiled by the ARIS study (American Religious Identification Survey) indicated that more than 400,000 people in the United States identified themselves as Wiccans (that doesn't count the ones who identify themselves as Pagans rather than Wiccans). If one considers the children of those who identified themselves as Wiccan, the number rises to just at 750,000. When both mother and father are Christian, the family and society usually considers themselves to be a "Christian" family. Ditto Catholic or Jewish families, so I feel it's fair to give the children due consideration. If the children are not considered, the actual records of 408,000 Wiccan adults nestle Wicca in as the 7th largest organized religion in the United States and 10th largest religious "grouping." A grouping is a path of religion that is not recognized as a valid religion, which Wicca is. There is a near constant wave of action through congress to have Witchcraft made illegal to practice or to at least remove its recognition as a religion. Fortunately, to date, this has been shot down at every turn.
What is the difference between a Witch and a Wiccan?
A Witch is a person who reveres nature, honors the energies inherent therein and works in accord with them. A Witch is kin with the earth and all of its creatures. A Witch may or may not be a Wiccan, but a Wiccan is pretty much always a Witch. I am both. A Wiccan is a person who follows specific rituals to more closely attune themselves to the energy of nature and to Deity. Don't freak at the word "ritual." Church services are also rituals. It's simply an organized method of connecting spiritually. Being a Witch is a way of life; being a Wiccan is a choice of religious practice. Not all Witches use rituals or spell work (basically, our form of pro-active prayer). Some simply live their lives with an acute awareness of the energies in the world and work to live in sync with those. For the purpose of convenience, I'll address these questions from a Wiccan perspective since it covers both bases.
The word Pagan or Heathen is something different altogether. "Pagan" simply means "people of the earth," meaning those who live close to and work closely with the land (as opposed to the upper class who lived in castles and never worked in their own gardens or fields). The Pagans became known as "godless" and nonChristians because they held on to their own pre-Christian beliefs for the longest time and continued to worship the pre-Christian interpretations of God, refusing to be pounded into following the Christian beliefs. Part of the campaign to convert the Pagans to Christianity involved the destruction of the Pagan temples, immediately followed by the construction of Christian churches on the same sites, with the idea being that since the Pagans were accustomed to coming to these places to worship, they would continue to do so out of habit, only to hear a different message and eventually adapt. Christian holidays were set to correspond with traditional Pagan holy days (March 21 being Spring Equinox, a time to celebrate rebirth and new life, a time that honors the Goddess "Oestara," pronounced esTARa, the Goddess of Fertility - represented by eggs and rabbits ... December 21 being Winter Solstice, the time when we celebrate the birth of the Sun (son) as the days become longer).
Those who did not attend the services at the new temples and churches, were ridiculed at best and tortured or killed at worst. This began the tradition of Pagans meeting in the woods under the dark of night, clothed in black. "Heathen" refers simply to "people of the Heath" which is a stretch of land that is not particularly fertile, usually populated by the poorer folk, who were also Pagan. This is how the word "Heathen" also came to mean "godless" and "non-Christian."
Don't Witches worship the devil?
I think this is probably the most vicious (except for the whole baby killing myth), hurtful and by far the most popular lie that has been propagated over time. It's amazing how many people believe it and this is one of the points that if we bother to refute it, or assertions are dismissed entirely, accompanied by a sad look and "Poor things, they just don't even know who they are really worshipping." Nothing is more offensive than a group of people who know nothing about what you do telling you what it is that you really do. *sigh* It never ceases to amaze me how much more people know about what we do than those who actually do it.
To address the issue head on, NO, Wiccans do not worship anything even close to the devil. In fact, the devil/Satan/Lucifer is a Christian concept and since the practice of Craft pre-dates Christianity, we don't even have anything close to that concept involved with what we do. Satan was first created and identified by the Christian church. One of our representations of God (more on that later) is that of a Horned God, who is the male aspect of the stag, being that which is the male part of nature. When the Christian church became determined to convert all countries and all people to their faith, they used the image of our Horned God as the pattern after which to model Satan. They then imbibed him with the essence of all that is evil, pointed a finger and shrieked, "SEE?? They are evil! They worship Satan." The Horned God has absolutely nothing to do with evil, tempting anyone to the dark side or any other characteristic that remotely, even under the closest scrutiny or stretch of the imagination, resembles the idea of Satan or the devil. No, we do not worship the devil, not the Christian devil or any other devil. That whole "and then the black devyle deed bid us to kiss his arse and so did we" crap was all invented and instrumented by the inquisitionists. Innocent people were then tortured and had their families tortured in front of them until they would admit to just about anything to make it stop.
As a side note, that whole Baphomet, Goat God thing (left) is a Satanist thing that has nothing to do with Wicca or Witchcraft. We don't do the Black Mass, have inverted crosses on our walls or say the Lord's Prayer backwards. Satanists again. Satanists were started as a direct result of Christianity and do not predate it as we do. Frustrated with the moral restrictions imposed by Christianity, a group of people decided that if the puritanistic restraints of Christianity (at that time, it was freaky strict, such as you could only have sex twice a year or so with your spouse, then it had to be for procreative purposes only, etc, etc) were going to be so restrictive, they were going to do the exact opposite, turn everything upside down, pray to Satan instead of God, etc, etc. Again, something in no way associated with Wicca, Witchcraft or Paganism. It's its own ball of twine.
If Witches don't worship the devil... and they sure don't worship "our" God, who or what do they worship?
Given allowances for the aforementioned differences in interpretation, I feel confident in saying that the majority of Wiccans believe like this: There is a force, an energy, an essence that is what is commonly thought of as God. We believe that it is the Wiccan God, the Christian God, the Jewish God, the Catholic God and so on. It is... God and God is not restricted to one interpretation, one face or one definition. It is that Unknowable that is bigger than we are, better than we are and far more powerful than we are. God is such a small word to put on something that is so immense and so far beyond our basic understanding as human beings. It is the purest form of that which is spiritual and the souls we possess, which are in and of themselves defiant of our human understanding, are just a tiny reflection of That Which Is God. This force is The Creator, The All, The Universe...God. It is the driving force that gives us life and takes life from us. It is the Glory and it is the essence of all that is Divine.
Now, that being said...
Wiccans believe that it is natural for humans, in our innate curiosity and drive to better ourselves, to attempt to understand this amazing power. The easiest way for us to do this is to humanize the energy. How common is it that Christians, particularly children, imagine God as an old man? A paragon of wisdom and attentiveness, his hand cupped to his ear to hear our every prayer? From the earliest times on, our natural tendency is to make what we wish to understand more like us. Because the Christian Bible tells us directly "God made man in his own image," it is natural that the Christian faith assigns a male gender to this energy. Prior to that, the Pagans felt that since all things in nature have both a male and female gender, the energy that is thought of as God would also have both a male and female aspect. That is how they came to worship the All by dividing it into two sides, the male and the female, the God and the Goddess. Most Pagans/Wiccans today continue to recognize the duality of Deity and worship the All as both God and Goddess.
As time progressed, the effort to humanize the All even further resulted in different cultures creating stories/mythologies around and giving names to what they perceived to be different personalities of the God and Goddess, making Gods and Goddesses plural now. The Romans, the Greeks, the Celts, the Egyptians and pretty much all places that, amazingly and of their own volition independent of other influence, came to recognize and worship a Higher Power, all developed stories to humanize these different faces of Deity, all still facets of that one Creator power. They felt they could distill their prayer and obtain greater focus if they appealed to a piece of the Creator that was specifically directed to the goal of their prayers and offerings. Hesta is the Greek Goddess of Home and Hearth. A woman might pray to Hesta to keep her home safe and bless the food she serves. Still reaching the Great All, but doing so through an image that is familiar to her and specific to her need. Herne is the Celtic Horned God of the Hunt and a group of hunters might appeal to Herne before going forth to hunt for the village, asking that He offer up His stags and beasts of the wood to feed their families. It was simply a way of taking something that is so immense and powerful and breaking it down to a more specific and approachable form of Deity.
Pagans/Wiccans today continue to embrace the different faces of Deity, usually spending time working with one at a time to better understand and appreciate that particular facet as a means of furthering an association with The Whole. It also brings the relationship with Deity to a closer and more intimate level because we are able to approach a part of Deity that is more sympathetic to the prayer being offered. If I am praying for my menstrual cramps to subside or for my lover to return safely to me, it's easier for many people to pray to a nurturing, female image. If I want my car to be fixed or my husband to get a job, I might feel more comfortable asking a more technical, male aspect for help. This preference, of course, is solely dictated by personal and societal preference, but it's nice to have the option.
This breakdown of the "God" energy (I use the word "God" not to denote "male," but to refer to "The All," "The Creator" because it's the way most people think of that immense power) into several Gods and Goddess is similar to the recognition and intercession of Saints in Catholicism. Different Saints govern different feelings or goals and act as intermediaries to God. Individual Gods and Goddess work in a similar fashions, but are actually perceived as individual parts of God rather than a separate energy.
Although a need to be the "only ones," the "only way" and to refuse to believe or acknowledge that anyone else can be holy or spiritual or in contact with Deity often drives other faiths to condemn what we do, Wiccans know intimately that we are feeling, talking to, interacting with and worshipping the same God that all other faiths are feeling, talking to, interacting with and worshipping. As my son so wisely put it, "Different taps on the same keg of beer."
My own personal interpretation is this: I feel that just as there are many different languages spoken in this world and many different spiritual needs among its people, there are also many different paths that all lead to That Which Is Holy and Sacred...to that which we call God. I think that each one of us has a "language" or path that we best understand that leads us to our most sacred selves. I am grateful that there isn't just one "right way" and that there are so many paths to help us to be our best and most holy selves.
Don't Wiccans and Pagans hate all Christians?
I can say with assuredness that all Wiccans and Pagans do not, although some certainly do. Many are embittered by the way they have been treated by Christians and basic attitude of intolerance the church endorses. The Bible directly calls for Witches to be ostracized at best and tortured and killed at worst. Since many Christians take the Bible as direct orders for living, there is plenty to fear. Some Christians work aggressively to ensure that religious rights are revoked for non-Christians, particularly Pagans. Many Christians are very pro-active in their attempts to convert us to their own religion, certain that we are just misguided and ignorant, lost in sin and unable to make a rational decision for ourselves. Some feel that raising a child as Pagan is a form of abuse. Christian leaders have blamed Pagans and homosexuals for everything from hurricanes to earthquakes to the 9-11 crisis. That is extremely hurtful. Having lies spread by those who know nothing about what we do is hurtful and damaging. Some Pagans find it difficult to look past that and hate the people who do those things, sometimes even grouping all Christians with those who are the persecutors, feeling that since it's impossible to know which Christians really feel that way about us, it's easier to just reject them all. Considering that the vast majority Christians follow the Bible as God's living word and specific directions for living, it is sometimes hard to know who's taking the whole thing literally (sell your daughters into slavery, kill all the Witches, abandon uncircumcized children and execute all who are homosexual) and where their devotion to its instruction begins and ends. That often makes us... wary. I believe that very few Wiccans or Pagans actually carry this caution into outright hatred.
I, personally, do not hate Christians and judge each person by their own individual merit or lack thereof, regardless of their religious affiliation. I am grateful that there are so many paths to spiritual enlightenment and if there are elements to Christianity that elevate a person to their best spiritual self, then I'm all for it.
It sounds as though you do not honor the Bible as God's word.
Before I go into explanations of my feelings on this subject, it's important to know that I have studied the Bible extensively. When I was a Christian, I read it voraciously and did a cover to cover three separate times. Since leaving the church, I have also studied the circumstances surrounding the compiling, editing and translations of the Bible from a very objective, historical standpoint. Often, when a person chooses to research the historical facts, indisputable facts surrounding something as faith-based as the Bible, they are seen as heretics and blasphemers. For me, it's a matter of having a rounded perspective around which to form an educated opinion.
I feel that the Bible is a remarkable piece of historical documentation. It is very much an important piece of history. I believe strongly that people need ethical guidelines by which to live as a standard for acceptable societal behavior. As most people know, the standard of behavior for a society is most commonly dictated by its government. Remember that.
If one traces the history of the Bible, they will see that it has gone through a few different translations to reach the forms that we now use, not just the standard King James version, but the many other versions as well. The King James version is the translation from which a good 99% of the versions currently used are derived. The King James version is called the King James version because in 1611, King James 1 commissioned, basically, a whole new Bible to be written, cover to cover, with re-translations done by 50 different translators. King James had very specific thoughts and agendas concerning the treatment of women, homosexuals and anyone basically not like him and these ideas were known to have been integrated into the translations of the Bible that occurred at that time in order to provide a holy directive to back up his own governmental policies. The same was done by other regimes in prior translations and that, along with the difficulties inherent in translating a text of this size and importance from Greek and Hebrew into English accounts for many of the inconsistencies and direct contradictions in the Bible. Additionally, in its purest form even, you're talking about the accounts of many different people, written years after the fact. The books of the New Testament, written allegedly by a few of the apostles of Jesus Christ, were known to be written more than twenty years after the experiences they report. It's also noteworthy that the practice of the time was to commit word to print for the purpose of telling the story rather than as a journalistic nod toward historical accuracy. In other words, the writers of that time did not have a mindset prone to getting the details right, but more of just telling the story.
The bulk of the New Testament, beyond the accounts of the apostles in which Jesus' words and actions are documented as well as a progression of events immediately before and for some time after his death, is comprised of the letters St Paul wrote to different cities, telling them how to behave themselves with he himself acting as an agent of God to relay the info. After a great deal of study of the man and his writings, I have come to the opinion that after his remarkable encounter on the road to Damascus, Saul, who would become Paul after his transformation, simply found a new target for his mission of hate and persecution. Previously, the tormentor of the Christians, he simply became an arrogant blowhard who used (and I mean "used" in the most negative of connotations) God to further his own agenda and sense of self-importance. Most of what he writes is directed toward the subjugation of women (who have evidently nothing positive to offer the world) and ostracizing and destruction of those who are not Christian, not to mention the complete degradation of all things of a sexual nature. I think that if Jesus were to ever truly meet Paul/Saul, he'd likely smite him a good one.
That being the case, beyond the amazing preservation of historical documentation, I feel that very little of God's word that might have been in the Bible at one time has been so diluted with man's word and man's political agenda that one has to sift through the bull to find the diamonds.
So what is your take on Jesus Christ? Do you believe He existed and do you give any credence to His teachings?
I absolutely do. I believe the words and actions that are reported by witnesses to be those of Jesus are the most holy parts of the Bible. I believe he walked this earth. I believe he was a Messiah. I believe he came into a world of hatred, war and intolerance to bring a message of peace, love and gentleness that was likely a foreign concept to world he entered. I think that is the main reason he was killed. It was just too weird and threatening for the warmongers to have this Messiah who was gathering a following of hundreds and hundreds of people to be publicly decrying the marauding and persecuting nature of the Roman government. When I was a Christian and now as a Pagan, I am amazed by the grace and holiness with which He moved through a very violent time. If you were to take all of the red words out of the Bible and build a religion around that alone, it would be an amazing force of love, peace, tolerance and self-betterment. Unfortunately, power mongers like Paul got in the way and screwed it all up. (We're just going with my own opinion here, folks) I believe that Jesus was a Son of God and was sent to teach us the way of peace, love and tolerance. "Love your neighbor, as yourself." It doesn't say, "...provided they believe and live exactly as you do." I believe that since we couldn't keep the word of Jesus as a sacred policy for living, getting all convoluted with who we should ostracize and who we should condemn to death, we have been sent other holy messengers of love, peace and tolerance since Jesus was here.
Those who are CHRISTians, as in follow the teachings of Jesus, are in complete tandem with what I believe and practice for the most part. BIBLIcans, those who follow the teachings of the Bible, scare me a good bit.
So what is YOUR standing or place in Wicca?
I am a fourth level/degree Wiccan High Priestess. My husband is a third level/degree High Priest. I have led Wiccan rituals and groups (called covens or circles - a coven is closed, as in the same people meet each time and a circle is open, as in there is a main group and visitors may also participate by invitation) since 1990 and Eric became a High Priest in 1997. We now work in and lead a circle of wonderful people, although we were a coven for many years. I have been Wiccan since 1986.
So what are the basic beliefs that you practice?
You know many of them from my mention of them in my journal. The idea of planting in Spring and harvesting in the Fall, then taking the dark of the year for internal work is not unique to my group, but we do place a great deal more emphasis on the process than most groups. A lot of Wiccan groups seem more interested in creating a mini Renaissance Faire in their back yard than in using the energy toward any productive means of self improvement. We believe the whole purpose of spirituality in one's life is to create a forward evolution toward being the best person and spirit that we can be on this earth. Our group practices are detailed on our group page. Click here to get there. We have practiced in this particular way for six years and have definitely seen wonderful results.
What do all of the seasons, planting, harvesting and that business have to do with God?
A great deal, actually. In Christianity, the message is that God is present everywhere, in every flower, in the might of the ocean and in the sun that warms the earth. God is everywhere at once. We believe the same way, that Deity, The All, is inherent in nature and that this is the most obvious representation of God in our world. We have a saying that is "As above, so below," meaning, essentially, "On earth as it is in Heaven." We honor the part of God that is in the earth/soil, the air, the fire and the water around us. That is made manifest in the cycles of nature and the lives of the creatures on our earth. Most Witches are very ecologically minded and dedicated to the protection and upkeep of our planet and its natural resources. We feel that in caring for our planet, we are honoring the part of God that exists there. By closely attuning ourselves with the cycles of nature and the seasons, we feel we put ourselves into an energy cycle that is more closely aligned with the natural flow of life. By following the seasons to manifest positive change in our lives, we also honor the ancestors who have gone before us, which is our own cycle of life. They were forced by lack of technology to base the progression of their life on the rhythms of nature. They planted when the earth sufficiently warmed and the threat of frost was past. They worked the land and recognized when the frosts would come again and ended the harvest at that time. They were forced inside their homes by the elements when Winter came and used the time for planning, for storytelling and for contemplation. The men would hunt during that time to supplement the harvest that had been stored. When we follow that same cycle, we attune ourselves to the natural flow. Since we no longer physically harvest from the fields (most of us choosing to harvest from the grocery store instead), we instead harvest other benefits into our lives for long term, positive change.
Don't you use pentacles, a sign of the devil?
Yes and no, in that order. We do use pentacles, which have been bastardized by the media into representing all things demonic. In actuality, the pentacle is an ancient, sacred symbol that represents Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Spirit (the five points), all interconnected by the circle of life. It is also the shape of a person's body, standing upright with their arms outstretched. The triqueta, made popular on the show "Charmed" to represent "the power of three" actually does represent the power of three, but as "mind, body & spirit."
Don't Witches cast spells, make potions and use things like bat's wings, eye on newt and such?
We do cast spells and we do make potions. We consider spells to be "proactive prayer." Praying the rosary is a form of spell work: chanting and using tools to focus on the prayer. When we work a spell, the rhyming, the chanting, focusing on a candle or image of the person involved with our prayer is just a way of making us even more in tune with what we are asking or praying for. We believe there is specific energy in stones and plants, for instance. Witches have believed this for thousands of years. Now, we know that there is energy in magnets, which are stones. There are healing properties in herbs, which are plants. Finally, is science starting to catch up to what Witches have known forever. :) Witches, for instance, used white willow bark to ease pain and take away fever long before it turned into "aspirin."
When we do spell work, we often burn or wear plants or keep certain stones near us to release their energy and help our cause along. As far as the strange things that go into our potions, the ultimate joke on that is that the funky ingredients were folk names for common herbs. "Coltsfoot," "maidenhair," "dragon's blood," "boneset," and "semen of Hermes" were all names for herbs and roots. "Bone of Ibis" was buckthorn. "Cronos' blood" was cedar. "Titan's blood" is lettuce. (Have a little Titan's blood with your salad today?) "Bat's wings" was another name for holly leaves. "Sparrow's tongue" was knotgrass. "Graveyard Dust" was mullein. All were used for their healing properties or other other attributes sympathetic to different causes.
Do you put hexes on people?
Only if they need hexin'! Although energy can be felt, manipulated and directed, much as we direct and use the energy of electricity, utilizing natural energy to harm or negatively influence someone is a dangerous business. It can be done, but we believe that what you deliver out into the world comes back to you. Witches will not hex or harm anyone because it would then be revisited back upon them, some say three-fold. The only time this is ever really employed is in the situation of someone who is causing rampant harm to others. If a rapist is terrorizing a town, you might find a coven of Witches doing spell work toward a capture, just as you'd likely find a church of people praying for a capture. This is seen as protection rather than hexing.
So you do have rules to being a Witch?
Only one: harm none. The full of the rule is, "As it harms none, do what you will." This means that you are free to move through the world, experiencing everything it has to offer as long as you harm no one, on any level. It seems simple, but becomes more complex when you think of all the ways a person can be harmed. Although physical harm is what instantly comes to mind, we believe that there are five levels of existence on which a person can be harmed: physically, emotionally, mentally, sexually and spiritually. We also fully believe that you may not interfere with the free will of another. For instance, it's not considered ethical to do spell work to "make" someone fall in love with you if they don't want to. You can't force someone to hire you for a job if you aren't their first choice. That sort of stuff.
Do Witches perform animal and human sacrifice? Didn't they used to?
Pagans did used to perform animal and human sacrifices. So did Christians. It was part of most ancient religious practices to sacrifice. Remember when Mary and Joseph were taking two doves to Bethlehem when Joseph was registering for the census? Those were not to being taken to the temple to be released at sunrise as a pretty surprise. In the Old Testament, the fact that Abraham was prepared to regretfully sacrifice his favorite son, Isaac, at God's behest, was proper at that time because human sacrifices were common, as were animals (remember the ram he was sent to sacrifice instead?). Sad, but true. The use of ritual sacrifice was ceased at around the same time across the board and now very few religions, Wicca and Witchcraft not being among them, use living sacrifice.
But what about the flying ointments and the fat of an unbaptized baby?
This was more slanderous propaganda spread by those who hated those who were determined to turn the public against Witches. Flying ointments traditionally contained lard and belladonna, which would be rubbed into the skin and got the user high, giving the sensation of flying. The idea of Witches stealing babies was used to fuel the fire of hysteria that enabled those who wanted to destroy practitioners of the Old Religion and have their cruel torture validated by the public at large.
You seem very down on the Christians. What's with that?
I'm not down on Christians at all. I don't feel we should have to pay for the sins of our fathers, so to speak. There is no denying the atrocities that were committed by the Christian church against nonChristians who refused to convert. That is a matter of historical record. The Crusades tell the tale, as do the horrors of the Inquisition and subsequent "Witch Trials." I don't have much patience for Pagans who harp on this constantly and insist on living in the past. The fact, however, is that these events occurred and are single-handedly responsible for myths and misconceptions (lies) that continue in our current society. I do not hold any living person accountable for the horrors that have been inflicted on Witches in the past. That karma lies solely with those who enacted and endorsed those actions. The only accountability in our day and time is for those who continue to perpetuate the lies and who refuse to believe the truth when it is offered to them. They are guilty of the crimes of enforced ignorance, bigotry, intolerance and sometimes, persecution, depending on how they conduct themselves as they believe the lies.
So what is a warlock? Is that a male Witch?
Bewitched got that all wrong. Warlock means "oath breaker" and is a term reserved for the most reviled of Witches: those who betray their coven-mates. This came from a time when to reveal a person as a Witch would mean their death. A male Witch is just... a Witch. Despite popular belief, Witch is not a gender-specific word.
You were once a Christian. What made you leave the church?
That was a very personal decision that came after a great deal of careful consideration. I was a very evangelical, dedicated Christian, immersed in my faith. I do not wish to go into the conflicts that I personally felt for the Christian church's practices, primarily because I don't want this to be a Christian bashing session. There are certain beliefs, specifically those dealing with intolerance and elitism, that were not conducive with who I am inside. Also, once I was saved and worked hard to develop a devout and very personal relationship with God, I found over time that the God I knew was not the vengeful, condemning God described in the Bible and purported by my ministers. This was the beginning and that, combined with several other issues, resulted in me making the choice to separate myself from the Church. I was raised in the church and so immersed in the church that I couldn't imagine being anything else; I just knew this place was no longer my spiritual home. In absence of the Christian church, I was... nothing. My husband was a dedicated atheist, so I just fumbled along with that.
Many years later, I met a friend who talked to me about Craft and the instant she mentioned it, to my horror (I was well-brainwashed at the time) I was enthralled. After getting past some prefabricated obstacles, I started my studies and haven't looked back since. It's now been 20 years since I first talked to my friend about Craft and it has been a wonderful and blessed home for me ever since. I've constantly been amazed by people who hear how I came to Craft and say, "Oh, but you'd LOVE my church" as though I just need to find the right Christian church to be happy again. The fact is that I am living a life I could not otherwise have imagined and I have a relationship with God and Goddess that is dearer and more intimate than I've ever experienced before. I am extremely happy being a Witch. It's not a matter of becoming this or that. It's a matter of being a Witch and having discovered that. It's what I am in my heart and in my spirit.
Don't Witches have orgies and have naked rituals?
Some do. I don't. Very nearly all Witches I know don't. Despite media and propaganda hype, ancestral Witches did not (most were European and it was damned cold). The nudity involved with Craft became popular because of the guy who re-introduced Witchcraft (and the word "Wicca") to modern society, Gerald Gardner. Gardner was a dirty old man who, in the 1940's and 50's, wanted to see the girls in his coven naked, so he pretended to have ancient Witch books and said, "Oh look! It says you have to be naked! Clothes off, ladies!" (Told you he was a perv). Another perv named Alex Sanders said, "Oooh. I quite like that" and continued the practice. Both also introduced ritual sex into the mix as well (imagine that). In the past, it's true the Pagans were far less, well Puritanistic, than the uptighties, so sex was much more present in their lives, but it wasn't a matter of Witches getting naked and slobbering all over each other and falling into a carnal, ritual daisy chain. Not then and not now. Again, some groups do work nude and do practice ritual sex, mostly for the same reasons that Gerald and Alex first started the practice. They're primarily using the Craft as an excuse to have an orgy rather than as a spiritual practice, falling back on the Gerald Gardner and Alex Sanders directives. When we meet new Witches who are looking for a circle to join, one of the first questions we usually hear is "You don't work skyclad, do you?" *wince* (Skyclad means "clad in the sky" or nekkies) Because Witchcraft and Wicca are not elitist and do not discriminate against any social class, sexual orientation or other defining characteristic of people, they are home to many varieties of folks. We are all tolerant of one another as far as group preferences and practices, as long as it honors the "harms none" law. Because of that, the groups that do practice naked and/or have ritual sex co-exist amongst us, but they are very much the tiny percentage and our approach is, "Hey, whatever floats your spiritual boat." Most of us prefer to remain dressed and preferably wear really cool robes.
What about your children? Don't they need spiritual guidance?
Absolutely! And they get it! Just as Catholic families raise their children as Catholic and Jewish families raise their children as Jewish, our children are raised as Pagan children. They are given a strong spiritual foundation in that faith.
You have talked a lot about the good of God and that you don't believe in Satan. Do you not believe that there is evil in the world?
Definitely. It would be foolish to look around us and pretend that there is no evil. Rather than attributing the power of evil in this world to a malicious entity who prowls the earth and incites us to do bad things, we believe that evil occurs when a person is not in touch with their spirit and has disconnected from that Divine energy known as God and Goddess. When people are not spiritually connected and instead are driven by their egos, their selfishness, their jealousies and their greed, evil is the result. When a person is spiritually well connected, these emotions are subdued in favor of faith, joy and peace. Wicca is very much a path of accountability. Without an evil entity around to blame your actions on, there is no one left but oneself. We believe that people are going to screw up because they are human, but when you do and recognize that, it's important to atone for your actions and make amends whenever you can do so. This is the first step to forgiving yourself and making peace with who and what you are. When you harm others, even inadvertently, you have violated the basic law of Wicca (harm none) and need to take responsibility for that.
But don't you believe in demons and such?
Some Wiccans do. I'm not sold on the idea. I think more often than not, the demons of the world are born of human intent rather than something otherworldly.
What is the difference between White Witchcraft and Black Magic?
Basically, a rather stupid media hype. Anyone who uses terms like "Black" and "White" to describe Witchcraft or magic (what we also call spell work) has immediately tipped their hand and shown that they haven't a clue what they are talking about. There are good people on this earth and there are bad people on this earth. Any of them are fully able to learn how to work with the energy that is present and available for channeling toward a goal (praying, spell work, etc). The only thing that is good or evil is the intent of the person wielding the energy. Anyone who is using the energy to hurt someone or for evil purposes is not a Witch or a Wiccan as they are violating the natural flow of things and the "harms none" law. They are just a rotten person who is harming someone. Anyone can call themselves a Witch or a Wiccan, but when they are violating the basic tenets of the Craft, they are exposing themselves as a fraud, just as those who harm others in the name of Christ are not truly Christians. There is nothing black or white about Witchcraft. Those are just colors to us. No true Witch would ever say, "I'm a White Witch" any more than a Christian would say, "I'm a good Christian." When you see a book called something like, "A Handbook of White Witchcraft" or "A Practical Guide to the Black Arts," it's a bunch of crap thrown together by media hounds looking to make a quick buck. They'll have you scooping up horse shit at a crossroads at midnight in no time. No need too, though. You've got plenty of horse shit right there in your hands in that book.
What about reincarnation or an afterlife?
The jury is out for me on that one. I'm still working on the idea.
What are Witches after? What do they want from society?
Simply the American right to worship freely without having to worry about "the burning times" returning. To be able to live in the world free from persecution, lies and continued attempts to be converted. We don't want to make new Witches unless they want to be made. We have no agenda to interfere with anyone else's freedom of religion and the pursuit of spiritual evolution and elation. I have read so many Christian ministers who have elaborated on the plots by the Pagans to kill all of the Christians and convert the world to our Pagany ways and honestly, they are no different than the ones who held the torches to the pyres that burned Witches not so long ago. They are a new breed of the same hysterics who said we steal babies and boil them down for their fat. One thing I cannot abide is a liar and particular, one who lies about ME.
All we want is to be able to be who we are and worship as we choose without ridicule or attack. In America, there is freedom to participate in whatever religion you choose as long as that religion is Christian-based. The general opinion seems to be that if you are not Christian, you should damned well be ashamed of yourself and by all means, know your place as a ridiculous and invalid religion. It doesn't matter if we have thousands of years of history behind us. It doesn't matter that we only wish to co-exist peacefully with our American brothers and sisters maybe even *gasp* illustrating some of our common goals and interests. Can you imagine if there was even one page of Pagan or Wiccan gatherings listed in the local paper? Absurd, isn't it? Yet having multiple pages of Christian events is the norm. Religious equality? I don't think so. Again, the consensus is that it doesn't really matter to society if you are a good person or not. If you are able to calmly and proudly claim affiliation to a NonChristian religion, you are not important and not worthy of religious validity, yet simultaneously, you are seen as an immediate threat to all that is really sacred and holy. Basically, you deserve any ridicule and persecution you get. Sad, but true, even in today's society.
I am very, very grateful for the progress America has made in the recognition of Pagan rights and I thank Goddess everyday that I live in a land where we can have a Pagan Pride Day celebration and I can welcome Spring with 50 of my nearest and dearest in a public park. If we could just get rid of the ignorance and the intolerance being spread in the name of God, I feel this country would be nigh on perfect. I also feel that if Jesus were here and knew what those guys were up to, he'd be dumping tables in the temple again and having a pretty explosive psycho fit.