Mindful magick

The Witches of Siam share their thoughts on their craft and an upcoming workshop about their way of life

Clad in a denim skirt and Harley Davidson T-shirt, the webmistress of the Witches of Siam website looks like any other teenage Thai girl just back from Siam Square.

Thai Web witches

Do you believe in magick?

People increasingly do in the US, where, by some counts, Wicca is the fastest growing religion in percentage terms. The belief system incorporates Celtic mythology, environmentalism, meditation and magickal practises focusing on the power of the mind.

It’s particularly the magick – spelled with a “k” by some Wiccans to disassociate themselves from magic tricks – and Wiccan witchcraft that have inspired a handful of Thais to join the Witches of Siam, an online group for exchanging ideas about this alternative form of spirituality. It’s a world apart from boy wizard Harry Potter. The group’s witchcraft is based on what is possible – unlike the stereotypical witches of fiction. And unlike many of these negatively portrayed characters, Wicca enthusiasts in Thailand and elsewhere are expected to adhere to the religion’s number-one rule of not harming anyone.

Judging from the four members of the group who recently spoke to The Nation, the opposite is true, on all accounts.

These highly ethical, studious, mentally balanced young Thais talk about why they are interested in the world of Wiccan witchcraft.
– Source: The Nation

Following a shopping spree there, she arrived for an interview with three other casually-attired young members of the Internet-based community – none sporting a pointy black hat.

The catalysts that brought together the members of this website for local Wiccan witchcraft enthusiasts were the stereotypical witches of television and movies, but what sets them apart from the legions of Harry Potter fans is their leap from fiction to inspired spirituality.

“It started with TV shows and then I went to Kinokuniya [bookstore],” says Kitty the webmistress. She co-founded the Witches of Siam (WoS) website – www.witchesofsiam.cjb.net – in 2001, when her childhood fascination with witch characters whose names she no longer even remembers was transformed into a deep commitment to studying the world of Wiccan witchcraft.

Instigated by 20th-century neo-pagans, Wicca is based on the nature-respecting practices of the Celts of ancient Europe, and today is by some counts the fastest growing religion in the United States in percentage terms. Many adherents, looking for something beyond the complex dogma of organised religions, find freedom in a system in which about the only absolute is the Wiccan Rede: “And it harm none, do what you will.”

In reading dozens of books on Wiccan witchcraft, Kitty – an 18-year-old communication arts student at a local university who was raised as a Catholic – says she has “become more open-minded about religion” while learning about the system’s approach to living life well and solving problems. Wicca focuses on meditation, maintaining mental balance and respecting all forms of life. Casting spells, she emphasises, is a last resort, and she has never performed any herself.

Wicca enthusiasts in Thailand are particularly interested in the belief system’s association with “magickal” practices, says Kitty, who started the website to explore “Wicca from the Thai prospective”. It’s not quite a cyber coven though – WoS members prefer to be called “a student of the Craft” rather than the complicated term “witch”, and those members who practice witchcraft generally do so in solitude, not in rites or in groups.

Many Wiccans add a “k” to “magic” and “magical” so as to differentiate their practices from the parlour tricks of magicians.

Not fully out of the broom closet – whether for parents, friends or society in general – WoS members interviewed for this article preferred that their real names not be used.

They are concerned about widespread misunderstandings about witchcraft, especially after a front-page headline in a popular Thai newspaper a week ago. The headline proclaimed that the “crazed” members of the WoS “cult” was a “wave” that was “hitting” Thai teens. This prompted the four WoS members who had already been interviewed by The Nation to express disappointment with what they felt was a sensationalist and misleading impression of their group.

Kitty says the group has only 19 members – mostly female Thai university students, although there are also males and a few foreign members. About half are active contributors to the site’s message boards to exchange their experiences involving the craft. The small number of members reflects how only serious Wicca students are admitted to the group, which has no hierarchy and is based on mutual learning.

About 70 people have signed up for the group’s upcoming Magickal Workshop, says Kitty. Because of worries about adverse publicity, however, the group is rethinking whether this is the right time to hold their seminar.

One psychologist quoted in another recent newspaper article said that if the workshop included drinking of magical water, this could be compared to Muslim kids in the South who went on violent rampages.

A visit to the WoS website, though, reveals the true intentions of the group and its commitment to exploring spirituality while adhering to the Wiccan Rede, which it calls “the most important rule of all”.

“Real witchcraft is not hocus pocus, it’s just an alternative path on a spiritual journey. We recognise the power of nature, combined with the power within oneself, to create change through magickal form of practices such as meditation, divination, and spells,” the WoS website states in explaining the goals of workshop.

The psychologist was also quoted as saying that the existence of such a group may indicate that some Thai youth are searching for something exciting and trendy to fill their time with, that they are lacking in self-confidence or direction in life, and are unable to rely on their families for support.

Those WoS members who met with The Nation all expressed a high degree of self-confidence as well as an easygoing nature and obvious mental balance, and said they lived with good families who brought them up in such religions as Buddhism, Christianity and Sikhism. They described in detail why Wicca is an important part of their lives, and not a fad.

Nestled among the many Harry Potter fan club websites that turn up when doing a search for “witch” in the search engine of the popular Thai website Sanook.com, the WoS is a surprisingly cerebral find.

As the average Thai youngster is much more likely to be enchanted by the trickery perpetuated in films than visit a bookstore’s New Age section, many who contact the website inevitably inquire about impossible special-effects magic and, as Kitty says, “think you just say some words and something happens”.

As one WoS rule admonishes: “Do not ask us stupid questions such as how to fly on broomsticks or how to turn your boyfriend into a toad. We only accept those who know what Wicca/Witchcraft really is.”

A highlight at the workshop will be a seminar touching on meditation, crystal healing and “Connecting with Your Spiritual Nature” led by Grey Wolf, a spiritualist minister in Wicca from Great Britain who holds a doctorate in theology.

“The fundamental principles [of Wicca] are that everything living has a spirit be it animal, vegetable or mineral,” says Grey Wolf, who received his name from a Native American medicine man.

He describes the WoS as “a group of open-minded people, dedicated to sharing knowledge with each other, and anxious to dispel the myths created by films like ‘Harry Potter’ and the charlatans trying to popularise the ‘Dark Side’ through chaos magick.

“The principles of the Witches of Siam are pure, and direct people to work in ‘The Light’ and have faith in nature and in themselves. As Wicca is an officially recognised religion and has the support of international law, [Wiccans] throughout the world have the right to practice their religion.”

University student Nam first caught the term “Wicca” on a TV documentary a few years ago. After typing it into an Internet search engine she came across WoS and later joined the group.

“I’m kind of a bookworm, and I like unexplainable things,” she says. The third-year student of industrial design at a Bangkok university, she proudly shows a swatch of woven fabric she designed that was inspired by the clothes of Native American shamans.

As a Buddhist as well as an eager explorer of other belief systems, Nam is particularly keen on the Wiccan Rule of Three which, like karma with a kick, states that whatever that you send out will come back to you threefold.

“It makes you more calm,” the designer says about the rule which helps her accept life’s setbacks, while fingering the tiger-eye pendant she wears for its believed creativity-enhancing properties.

For Areena, an Indian-Thai raised in a Sikh family and a devotee of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi, becoming intrigued with the goddesses of old Europe respected by Wiccans was just one more fascinating step on a path of spiritual discovery.

“I know it’s silly, but I believe in fairytales. But I really didn’t like Cinderella or Snow White. I liked the Witch [in ‘Snow White’],” says Areena, who sensed there was something more meaningful to witchcraft beyond negative portrayals, and whose online searches a few years ago led her to WoS.

An undergraduate studying hotel and tourism management, Areena explains how she appreciates the aspect of sexual equality among gods and goddesses that attracts some to Wicca, while presenting her well-read copy of “Spells for Teenage Witches”. She’s also been motivated by the environmentalism encouraged by Wicca. “I’ve started planting trees around my home,” she says.

Areena takes a cautious and ethical approach to casting spells and having visualisations – meditative-like periods of thoughts concentrated on desired future events. For example, she says it’s not good to do a spell to increase of your chances of getting a job if you know someone else is more deserving of the position.

“I would explain that a visualisation is a subset of a spell. Without it the spell wouldn’t work. It’s like you’re sending power to your target goal. Nothing really happens unless I connect with my higher self.”

She characterises visualising not as supernatural but simply imagining that which is possible. She explains a visualisation she once had for a friend who had been suffering from arthritis in hopes her thoughts would contribute to his recovery.

“I visualised his leg being cured and him getting back to normal. After a few weeks I heard from him that he was better.”

She says that while her friend was receiving medical care, she hopes her positive thoughts also played a role in his recovery.

Nikki, 24, ultimately found WoS after doing Web searches for “astral projection”, a type of out of body experience. She says that as a student of Wicca over the past three years, she has learned much about the value of meditation.

She has also performed three visualisations, and says that after each time she believes all contributed to what she desired. During each 10-to-20-minute visualisation, Nikki burned essential oils such as lavender, geranium and rosemary, while focusing her attention on the lit flame of a candle, and held in her hands an amethyst crystal, thought of by many to have healing properties.

For a thesis she wrote at her university, she analysed the healing benefits of aromatherapy. Nikki also describes herself as “a normal person” who likes to go out at night, and she appreciates the non-judgmental aspect of the Wiccan Rede.

“I’m a Buddhist. I still make merit. But my friends say I’m a little mysterious,” she adds with a wry smile.

“Sometimes we talk about opening our own shop to sell crystals, incense, aromatherapy products and oils, and books on witchcraft,” says Nikki, who wears a pentacle bracelet she found on what is probably the closest Bangkok comes to having a New Age centre – Khao San Road.

“You don’t actually know that it works,” Kitty says about visualising. She sums up the practice as “praying with props”.

Then she stresses again that this is not the primary focus of Wicca.

“What Wicca teaches is that there is energy within living things, such as yourself,” she says about the way of Wicca which she is committed to keep following.

“If you feel you have this energy within you, you feel much more comfortable being yourself, and you have more confidence.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
The Nation, Thailand
May 23, 2004
Carleton Cole

Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday May 26, 2004.
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