She does get the occasional person looking to cast a spell to turn her ex into a toad, but for the most part, Amy Mokricky’s Wicca students are looking for a balanced religious path, with spells and magic only a small part of the picture.
“Most of them have felt a calling for a while,” Mokricky said. “They want to be able to commune with the divine in a sacred manner, to manifest spirituality in their lives.”
As the biggest day on the witchy calendar approaches, the nature of both witchcraft and Wicca — not interchangeable terms — remains misunderstood by most people, said Mokricky, who teaches Wicca classes at Moonstones in Dormont.
The simple explanation is that Wicca and witchcraft are pagan religions, among many earth-based spiritual paths. Some define paganism as any religion or spiritual tradition outside of the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Mokricky holds up her thumb and index fingers about a half-inch apart. “Magic and spellcasting is about this much of what Wicca is about,” she said.
Kali, a pagan who goes by only one name, owns Hocus Pocus in Oakland. She explains magic as being rooted in science.
“Whenever you’re working with energy and trying to direct its flow, that’s just quantum physics,” said Kali, who’s working on a cable-access show to educate people about pagan and Wiccan practices. “When people use essential oils to create potions, that’s what we now know as aromatherapy, If you’re making a love potion, for instance, it’s well-known that certain herbs and flowers affect the nervous system and can create an arousing effect.”
Mary Dale of Oakland considers herself a witch. Her car has a bumper sticker that reads, “My other car is a broom.”
On Samhain (or Halloween, as most of us call it), Dale said she plans a ritual at home to honor her ancestors and bless her sacred space. She will light candles and meditate, she said, and doesn’t plan to turn anyone into a toad, or to sacrifice any virgins.
“It’s a really beautiful, female-centered religion,” Dale said. “If more people took the time to learn about it, I don’t think there would be so much fear around it.”
Popular culture can both harm and help in the public’s understanding of Wicca and witchcraft, Kali said. She pointed to the 1996 movie “The Craft,” about four girls who form a coven, as one not-quite-accurate depiction of magic.
“People will come in after watching ‘The Craft’ and say, how can I change my hair color?” Kali said with a chuckle. In one scene, a character in the movie becomes a blonde with a flick of her hand. “I tell people to go buy a box of Miss Clairol — that’s the fastest way I know.”
But there are pop culture depictions that are less objectionable to pagans, Mokricky said, like the Harry Potter children’s novels about a boy who attends a school of witchcraft and learns spells (although some Christian groups have voiced objections of their own).
Now, as the days shorten and the harvest season comes to a close, Wiccans and witches celebrate Samhain, the time on the calendar when contact with ancestors and the recently departed is most likely.
“The whole idea of trick-or-treating, of scaring off the ghosts and goblins probably came from the thought of confronting ancestors who might not be too happy with us,” Mokricky said.
But that shouldn’t discourage pagan or Wiccan parents from taking their wee ones trick-or-treating, she adds.
Witchcraft is the practice of a nature-based or folk belief system, art or religion. Not all witches follow the same belief system. Some practice what is called the “Old Religion,” which has its roots in pagan traditions and beliefs, following seasonal agricultural cycles (i.e. the harvests). Many witches believe in multiple gods and goddesses (polytheism). Witches may practice as solitaries, or in covens. Some witches trace their practice across several generations. Some consider witchcraft a religion; others practice witchcraft as a magical art.
Traditional Wicca is a modern witchcraft religion, based on the teachings of Gerald Gardner, which is built around the principle of a coven, or group. Other forms of Wicca include eclectic and solitary Wiccans, who may follow a mixture of varying pagan beliefs. Many formulate their own personal rituals as solitary practitioners.
The basic tenet of Wicca is the Wiccan Rede: “if it harm none, do as you will.”