Witches have returned to the German forests, dancing naked in groups under the full moon and calling to their gods.
The covens vary in size and in how seriously they take their calling, but the numbers are rising, particularly amongst the young.
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In some cases this has led on to a belief in the natural powers of the forests. The women are convinced they can work magic.
“The witches’ scene is experiencing a powerful revival,” says Lutheran theologian Hansjoerg Hemminger. He says the covens range from “girlie witches” to the so-called “Wicca” covens. Wicca is an old Anglo-Saxon term for a group of witches.
Christian theologians are inclined to see the latter as a manifestation of a new heathen movement. The women tend to be members of associations like the Pagan Federation or the Stone Circle.
Maddalina, a 44-year-old witch, is high priestess of a witches’ coven in Berlin, who became interested in Wicca about 15 years ago.
The former doctor’s assistant, who declines to provide her real name, says she began looking around for women with a similar interest.
“Today you are just a mouse-click away from making contact,” she says, and she estimates that the number of witches has quadrupled in her time as a witch.
Conceding she is uncertain, she guesses there are several hundred Wiccans in Germany.
Maddalina is scornful of the teenagers interested in the witch cults. She gets e-mails daily from 13- and 14-year-olds, almost all of which she rebuffs.
Her own coven numbers just eight, with the youngest trainee witch 25 years old.
Most of the teenagers interested in witchcraft gain their information from the media, the internet or from books. Television series on witchcraft are currently popular in Germany.
These sources offer love potions aimed at curing shyness, or magical formulas spoken in the light of the moon to help with schoolwork.
Hemminger insists that these methods are never solutions to real problems.
But Maddalina is true to her beliefs. “We are heathens and believe in the power of magic,” she says.
She and her coven go into the woods around Berlin several times a year to stand naked in a circle and call to Baldur, the god of light.
Their requests are of a banal sort; wishes for a better job, a new flat with a balcony, for good health.
By contrast with the teenie witches, the Wicca covens tend to be older women with a background in the women’s movement.
Most commentators do not believe the groups have any links to Satanism and black magic. But Hemminger sounds a note of warning.
“Some of these circles operate in complete secrecy. We really don’t know what they are up to,” he says.
In general he regards the Wicca covens as a means to overcome personal crises that only cause concern once the cult begins to take over a person’s life.
Maddalina insists her coven’s activities are harmless. “We are not hurting anyone,” she says.
And the Berlin forest authorities are taking a similar view, allowing the witches to dance under the moon in their clearings.