“Witches don’t proselytize”, said Olivier Michaud, a 28-year-old male witch from eastern France. They do, however, get a load of publicity, in blockbuster films and at Halloween balls, though the tricks, treats and TV images of witchcraft are a far cry from the real thing.
Witchcraft today is nothing if not diverse, and perhaps the main link between hundreds of thousands of male and female witches is their participation in what some observers call one of the fastest growing religions in the West.
A witch today is more likely to sport a tattoo than a wart at the tip of the nose, more apt to champion the rights of an animal than to boil it down to the bone in a bubbling cauldron.
A Wiccan – the name for a revived and popular form of witchcraft – may also have more in common with TV star sensation Buffy the Vampire Slayer than with a hag whose wrinkles alone would send Hollywood denizens screaming in terror. So goes the unmaking of an age-old tale, the folklore of generations.
“It’s very eclectic”, said Michaud, alias Athenos, who leads a coven in the city of Metz. “Wicca isn’t just a bunch of sorcerers. Bringing back our ties to nature is very important to us.”
Like most new religions, traditional Wicca is crafted from different ancient beliefs, and shaped into structured tenets by a modern founder. Gerald Gardner’s post-war books are the modern witch’s canon, re-establishing the practice of coven groupings and initiations, or the individual teaching of witchcraft, by priests and priestesses.
Deeply opposed to religious hierarchy and gender inequality, Wicca ascribes divinity to both a God and Goddess — but witches can also believe in as many gods, local or universal, as they wish.
“You don’t have to be Wiccan to be a witch. You can be Buddhist! We have people in our community who are Jewish,” Traci Laird, part of a 300-strong witches’ group in Texas, said. “Witchcraft is a mystical side of religion, of spirituality.”
In the United States, 134,000 people identified themselves as Wiccans for a respected religious survey undertaken by the Graduate Center of the City University of New York in 2001.
With its decidedly 21st-century ethos and politics – not to mention its dabbling in rites from Celts, Druids, Ancient Egyptians, Paganism and Old Norse – Wicca sounds like a New Age mantra, but many witches reject the association outright.
“It’s a bunch of mish-mash,” Michaud said. “The French Wicca is much more realistic than that.”
The Wiccan coven, he pointed out, is a forum for serious teaching, describing the traditional three-step initiation from initiated member, to priest, to high priest, as a little like getting one’s driver’s license.
After three years of study, with very scientific, very rational instructors, Michaud has begun his own coven, which in turn focuses most of its efforts on initiating newer witches into secret rituals, including rites and spells that can heat up a love affair, or clinch a coveted business deal. —AFP