Students express spirituality through ancient, secret practice of witchcraft
“I who am the beauty of the green earth, and the white moon among the stars, and the mystery of the waters, call unto thy soul: Arise, and come unto me … And therefore let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you.” — Doreen Valiente’s “Charge of the Goddess”
Wicca teaches personal aspects of life. It teaches discipline, responsibility, kinship with everything, open-mindedness and diversity.
“It’s a religion and a way of life,” Leah Diehl, freshman in anthropology, said.
Religion is personal, Holly Mayland, graduate student in entomology, said.
It depends on where you learn things, she said.
“When it becomes personal, it becomes more complex,” Mayland said. “There are people who talk about it, and there are others who keep it inside because it is private and personal and can be hard to explain to an outsider.”
There are a lot of negative beliefs about people who are non-Christian, Diehl said.
“Most witches are quite careful to keep their identity a secret,” Robert Linder, professor of history, said. “Because of the past, they are paranoid of misunderstandings and prejudice.”
Diehl said many are reluctant to talk about their religion because of negative feedback they may get later on.
Also, it is common courtesy.
“You just don’t go asking people you don’t know about personal stuff,” Jason Nation, sophomore in German, said.
Nation became interested in Wicca because to him it is an incredible source of wisdom. It is a way of understanding the world and how it works, he said.
“I knew plants and trees lived, but I didn’t know they were alive,” Nation said.
Nation said he learned from a book by Scott Cunningham, “The Truth about Witchcraft Today.”
“I never found anything that made more sense,” Nation said.
Wicca shows a respect for nature. All living things — including stars, planets, humans, rocks, animals, plants — are thought of as having spirit.
Linder said there is a lot of ritual in witchcraft. “The Book of Shadows” is one of the oldest books of rituals written by a witch.
“Usually people who practice Wicca call it the Old Religion,” Linder said. “The real name is a very well-kept secret.”
The affairs of Wicca are private, but once in a while someone writes or talks about it, Linder said.
“They are very careful about who they let in,” Linder said. “They are not evangelistic. They don’t recruit.”
Witches tend to be individualistic.
“Witches meet only for coven rituals,” Linder said. “A coven is never more than 13.”
There are two main covens in the Manhattan area, Nation said.
“I’m a solitary,” Diehl said. “But I know of several covens from all over.”
Nation would rather belong in a coven than be solitary.
“I just don’t want to get into a flaky coven,” Nation said. “I don’t want to be in with a bunch of airheads. I want to be with someone who knows. I want to be in a responsible, fun-loving but mature group.”
Nation said he has done some stuff solitary, but he definitely prefers being in a coven.
“In a coven, I can meet people who are eager to talk,” he said. “There are those who are eager to talk about the experiences and make the whole thing more meaningful to me.”
Diehl said she can talk about it because she is not worried about what others will think or say.
“I do practice Wicca,” she said. “But I don’t mind talking about it to people. I’d be happy to dispel the myths and to point people in the right direction. I feel I should do that at least.”
Diehl said she talks about it to people she trusts and people she knows.
“But I’m not going to give away any secrets,” she said.
Nation said he can talk about it because he wants people to understand Wicca.
“We are not evil in any way,” Nation said. “There is one law we live by. It is ‘An it harm none, do what thou wilt.'”
This is from the Wiccan Rede. It means people should feel free to do what they want to do, as long as it does not harm themselves or anyone else, Nation said.
“Cursing and black magic may be possible, but it makes no sense,” Nation said. “It is completely contradicting the beliefs of true Wiccans. Everything we do to others comes back to us three times stronger.”
This is the Threefold Law, which states, “All good that a person does returns threefold in this life. Harm is also returned threefold.”
One common ritual for Diehl and Nation is the Full Moon Ritual.
“It’s done on the night of the full moon,” Diehl said. “The basic element for the Full Moon Ritual is to do some kind of magic, such as asking for healing for a friend who is sick.”
Nation said it is a time for goddess reverence.
“It is a time when the natural energy that surrounds everything is at its strongest,” Nation said. “It is a great time to do magic.”
Sometimes Diehl doesn’t ask for anything.
“Sometimes I just do magic,” she said.
“In order to do this, you must raise energy from the universe for the thought to come true,” Diehl said.
Diehl said she does the ritual every full moon.
“There are 13 full moons in a year,” she said.
Diehl said she sometimes does ritual with others, but she has talked to people and learned from them.
“Sometimes I do things of my own making,” Diehl said.
Diehl said when she was young, she didn’t know other people were like her.
“I think I always was Wiccan,” she said. “I just didn’t know what to call it.”
When Diehl was young, she said she would get into trouble in her Bible school.
“I’d ask questions that they didn’t know how to answer,” Diehl said. “They would tell me to look it up in the Bible.”
One book recommended by Linder to look things up in is “A History of Witchcraft, Sorcerers, Heretics and Pagans” by Jeffrey B. Russell.
Linder said there really are not many witches.
“Only about 20,000 identify themselves as witches in the United States,” Linder said, “out of 260 million people.”
Witches seem to move a lot, Linder said.
“I don’t know much about their travel habits,” Linder said. “But they seem to move and shift around a lot. They seem to not settle down for long periods of time.”
Universities tend to get many covens, he said.
Today, many modern witches prefer rural areas, Linder said.
“The Great Plains and the mountains have more witches than the coast does,” Linder said.
Linder said they are less encumbered by urban mechanical and electronic devices when they are out in the country.
“There are fewer power lines,” Linder said, “and more access to the open sky, which is important for their rituals.”
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