NEW ORLEANS, October 31st, 2013— The spookiest season of the year is never completely underway without its villainess— the green complected, broomstick-toting crone, ridden with facial moles and fleas from her black cat. Apart from crude plastic yard decorum and children’s holiday films, however, the concept of witches has all but vanished from today’s society.
The general assumption may be that the sorceresses perished with the trials in Salem, Massachusetts, but the correct explanation is that they never left.
Modern day witches are nothing like the commonplace Western notion. Most are believers of Wicca, an age-old religion from the Celtic region, dating long before Christianity. Appreciation of the Earth and nature is a profound element in the faith, as is balance between masculine and feminine energies.
Dr. Holly Stave, an English professor at the Louisiana Scholars’ College and High Priestess of Wicca, elaborated, “We worship nature in its male and female aspects, and we anthropomorphize those energies as God and Goddess. Our ‘God’ is identified with the seed that is planted in the earth (the ‘Goddess’) and the grain that is cut to sustain us, but many also see him in the large animals—the stag, the hawk.” Though Wiccans are often referred to as “Followers of the Goddess,” only some believe that the effeminate power is the more vital of the two; others consider the Triple Goddess and Horned God as ruling equals, both necessary throughout the processes of life.
In shocking contradiction to stereotypical sorceresses, the Devil is not a key component in worship simply because he does not exist in the faith. “Witches do not recognize Satan,” Dr. Stave explains, “We believe there are dark forces out there, but we never speak of them, because to do so gives them power. We NEVER summon them.” The popular image of witches as Lucifer’s handmaidens is nothing more than a blatant falsehood and black magic is denounced as detrimental in Wiccan culture.
In fact, Wiccans strongly believe in the concept of not harming anyone. Their Law of Three also acts as a code of conduct against such behavior. The rule resembles the notion of karma— the resulting energy of inherently good or bad actions will eventually return to the source, except threefold. So, injury upon another individual will affect the person of its origin in due time, but much worse.
Wiccans are organized into different covens, which are groups of practitioners with a strong spiritual bond to each other and their religion. More intimate than a church community, covens do not believe that any certain individual has a closer connection to the higher powers; instead, high priests and priestesses in each coven act as instructional leaders, steering others toward enlightenment in Wicca.
While the element of individualism is strongly encouraged, covens gather to partake in a plethora of religious traditions. Along with folksongs and chants, several rituals take place in celebration and memory of just about everything. The eight Sabbats, for example, follow the Wheel of the Year, an agricultural cycle, and are festivities in honor of the equinoxes and solstices of the seasons.
Meditation acts as a crucial exercise to fulfill as a Wiccan and is included in a quantity of practices, from full and new moon gatherings to basic self reflection. Dr. Stave affirms the usage of spells, but not for what most imagine: “Yes, we ‘cast spells’ sometimes— Christians call that praying. We do healing spells, spells for prosperity, for safety. If you can pray for it, we’ve got a spell for that!” However, a fundamental precedent in the faith is recognizing and grasping the energy in oneself, the Earth, and from the higher powers.
The importance of Halloween to Wicca stretches far beyond trick or treating and costume contests. The holiday originates from Samhain, a Sabbat in honor of those close to the heart who have passed. Comparable to the Feast of All Saints and the Day of the Dead, Samhain is an evening to tend to the memories of ancestors.
Along with a shrine to the deceased, Dr. Stave describes other customs included in the ritual: “We believe it is the time of the year when the veil between the world of the living and the dead is thinnest, when the spirits of the dead can come back. Many covens and practitioners will set up a ‘dumb supper’— a place setting at the table (or a bowl on the floor for a beloved pet who has passed over).” Additionally, the coming of winter signifies the transition to masculine energies in nature, as the hunt becomes necessary over the harvest.
The New Orleans area of Louisiana is home to a broad portion of covens, but an abundance of solitary Witches practice in all regions of the state. The first place to look as a prospective Wiccan would be the vast source of knowledge called the Internet. “New Age” book stores are the next step in finding expansive amounts of information about the religion.
The Covenant of the Pentacle Wiccan Church, located at P. O. Box 23033 in New Orleans, offers to include the public in their Sabbat celebrations. Both solitary Witches and covens can engage in classes and seminars, ranging in course subjects and levels of the participants’ expertise. For more information, the CPWC can be reached at (504) 828-7169 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Some pagan organizations also offer public rituals; just scour the World Wide Web to find out the when and where.
Do witches use pentacles? Yes. Ritual robes? Yes. Wands? Yes. The tools of the trade have come to define the religion of Wicca, however, and given the public a narrowed and close minded view about practitioners. Dr. Stave sums it up best, asserting that, “One doesn’t become part of a religion to get back at one’s parents…Being a witch means living attuned to the laws of nature, understanding the eternal circle of death—life—death—life, etc.” This Halloween, appreciate that there is more than meets the eye to the inspiration behind the store-bought witch costume— a beautiful and intense culture thrives behind the scenes and it’s far more complex than the short skirts of a sexy sorceress costume.
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