The Daily News Transcript, Oct. 29, 2002
By Carolyn Kessel
Spells, full moon circles and tarot cards are not the realm of cloaked women performing in dark secrecy, and they are not merely for Halloween either.
The religion of Wicca, or paganism, now draws thousands of teenagers who say it is a healthy, individualistic faith that brings them closer to nature.
Sarah Bernardi, a junior at Marlborough High School, was always intrigued by astrology and psychic powers. Bernardi is one of many local teens who has immersed herself in the study of Wicca by taking correspondence courses in Wicca, reading Web sites like www.americanwicca.com, www.witchvox.com, and e-mailing other witches.
“I love it. It makes me a feel a part of things, it’s just amazing,” said Bernardi. “Witches try to lead overall good lives. … It’s an excellent religion.”
Many Wiccans follow common beliefs, such as a balance in all things, adhering to the golden rule, and a belief in dualities such as male/female and active/receptive.
Bernardi said she chose Wicca as her religion, because “there are no strict rules. It’s free. It’s open to interpretation. There are no limitations.”
Bernardi has tried to use magic to do spells to improve her health, to try and project herself out of her body, to analyze her dreams, to see into her future with tarot cards and to induce sleep.
“Once or twice, it has worked,” she said. The more she reads, the better at spells she will become, she said. She celebrates the seasonal holidays, including Samhain, which falls approximately at Halloween.
About 600,000 people in the United States call themselves Wiccans, according to Fritz Jung, co-founder of the popular Witches’ Voice Web site, www.witchvox.com, which gets nearly 250,000 hits a day. Many local teenage witches have accounts on the site and try to connect and form covens – groups of 13 led by a High Priestess.
For seven years, Martha Tudgay has owned the Village Tea Shoppe in Natick, which sells items such as pendulums, salts, purification candles and spell candles.
Tudgay has seen the number of teen witches coming to her store increase, and she thinks they are just teenagers trying to rebel against their parents.
“I’ve seen a lot of kids dabble in (witchcraft). I think it’s because it’s not mainstream,” she said.
Wicca is exciting, like buying off the black market, she said. Youths are also attracted to paganism and Wicca because it’s not an organized religion, she said. “It’s more laid-back. It’s more earthy and individual.”
Teen witches have also taken control of the television waves with programs such as “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer” and “Charmed.”
Bernardi said she enjoys “Buffy,” but “witches in daily life don’t go fighting evil.”
The few friends who know she is Wiccan will sometimes ask her, “Can you move a pencil like (Buffy’s witch friend Willow) did?”
Bernardi has never felt threatened at high school, but also keeps her religion to herself.
“You want to tell the world, but on the other hand, a few schools suspended people for wearing a pentacle,” she said, referring to a Wiccan symbol.
Marlborough High School Principal Mary Carlson said she has no way of knowing who is Wiccan or pagan at her school.
“That’s not something that would be openly discussed,” she said.
Framingham High School Principal Ralph Olsen said all types, including Wiccans, attend his school.
“Framingham is a very unique school – we have a genuine eclectic mix” of ethnicities, beliefs and sexual preference, he said. “I think there is more acceptance of differences. We try to promote respect for one another.”
Anthony Morreale discovered Wicca three years ago when he was 13.
He is convinced it’s not a passing phase.
“I think if it was a rebellion, it would have ended by now,” said Morreale, who attends Assabet Valley Regional Technical High School.
Morreale, who lives in Hudson, is an artist, musician, writer and witch. The practice of Wicca suits his personality.
“I’ve always felt the connection to nature. It helps me bring that out,” he said. There is nothing satanic or evil about the seasonal celebrations he observes or the books he reads.
The misunderstanding, believers say, stems from the fact that many Wiccans, wear a pentacle or pentagram – a five-pointed star, point up, surrounded by a circle. The symbol commonly associated with Satanism is a pentacle, point-down, surrounded by two circles, the innermost touching the points of the pentacle.
“Paganism and Wicca is not anything out of the ordinary. It’s just another religion,” Morreale said.
Morreale’s parents have supported his choice, although they do not share his belief. He has seen the beliefs become popular, especially because of the Internet, but he practices alone.
He tries Wicca meditation or ritual when he feels stress.
“I do a ritual if I need guidance in my life,” he said. “Sometimes things just feel really hectic. I feel really anxious. (Wicca) makes me feel there’s something else helping me through life.”