Tis the season of the green-faced, wart-sprouting, cauldron-stirring witch. She is everywhere in October: on television and decorations, in advertisements, on that hand towel you got from the Dollar Store. But she is not the witch we are talking about here.
More then one million Americans identify as Pagans or Wiccans, two often-misunderstood religions whose practitioners often identify as "witches." Both are nature-based, peaceful, spiritual practices that have nothing to do with Satanism.
In recent years, more and more people have understood the difference between the wicked witch of the west and a man or woman who identifies as a witch. So much so that being a witch has become more mainstream, and in some circles, fashionable. #witchesofinstagram is a thing.
Personally, I was in a coven for 10 years, one I started with Luna, a now 50-year-old Milwaukee woman. I am no longer a member of the coven, but I have carried with me some beautiful practices from that time in my life, such as the only "rule" of Wicca which I strive for every day: "Harm none, do what you will."
Luna is still practicing and the coven has dozens of initiated members and friends who stop in from time to time when they feel the desire for spiritual connection. I first sat down with Luna 12 years ago to ask her the following questions, and recently posed them to her again.
OnMilwaukee: What does it mean to be a witch?
Luna: A witch is one who follows nature's seasons, cycles of the moon and works with the earth's elements (earth, air, fire, water) as well as their own spirit (self), to shape his or her life.
How does one become a witch?
Other witches initiate you, usually after studying for one year and one day. Then there is a ceremony and a celebration. Witchcraft is an oral tradition, and most witches are willing to teach anyone who is truly interested.
I recently had the opportunity to teach a friend about the religion. We met every week on the same night for a year, and I taught her everything I knew from books and from the stories and teachings of other witches.
Because witches were persecuted in history, we have been secretive about our religion and until the '50s, very little was written down about it.
How did you decide to become a witch?
When I was 23 years old I owned my first business, a salon, and the other owner and I got readings from this woman. We both liked her a lot and asked her to come to our salon to do a day of readings. During my reading, she told me that because I touch people's hands during manicures, that I could be in tune with their energy, and I should learn palmistry. She said she would teach me. So, I eventually moved upstairs from her and became her apprentice. She taught me palmistry, astrology, tarot, numerology, cooking and gardening, and I am forever grateful to her for that.
Why are witches so misunderstood?
Mostly due to fear and lack of knowledge. Some people have seen our religion as a threat to Christianity, but it's not. I was raised Catholic, and it provided me with a good spiritual base, but this religion is more for me because it recognizes both men and women as the divine. We worship both gods and goddesses.
It's a very "freeing" religion, with only one rule, really. The Wiccan rede is "Harm none, do what you will."
Where do witches worship?
The prime spot is outside, but in the winter, we worship indoors, usually in the high priest's or priestess's home. Many witches, however, are not in a coven and they worship alone.
What constitutes a coven? Are you in one?
A coven is a group of two or more witches practicing together. I am in a coven that is made up of three women, but we invite guests. We're pretty flexible, because life is too busy not to be, and we like to informally involve our friends in celebrations, even though they aren't part of the coven.
Celebrations? What do those constitute?
Good food and drink, music, usually a craft or game and at some point a circle. It's pretty much like a regular party, except at some point the group might join hands around a fire and say a few things or we write down our wishes for the time and burn them in a small fire. And no, we don't usually get naked.
Do you really cast spells?
Yes, we cast spells for special occasions, protections, prosperity, to get a new job, to attract love, etc. You can follow books or make up your own spells, but the most important thing is to have good intent.
So you never put bad spells on people?
Never. That's not to say you can't protect yourself with magic. For instance, if you need someone to leave you alone, to stop calling you or something, you can put their picture in the freezer and this will make them stop trying to contact you. But it doesn't cause any harm to the person.
What type of person becomes a witch?
Anyone. There are people of all professions who are witches. It's just about having an interest in the sun, moon, stars, nature and wanting magic in your life.
What kinds of rituals do you perform?
You can do a ritual anywhere, you just need to create a sacred circle. To do that, we sprinkle salt around the circle, and say, "We cast a circle of salt to keep all the good within and all the bad without." We acknowledge all the elements: earth, air, fire and water and call their earthbound symbols. (Gnomes for earth; fairies for air; dragons for fire; mermaids for water.) Then we call up a god or goddess, depending on what we are celebrating, followed by a spiritual discussion, a little eating and drinking, an energy exercise and finally we thank the elements and the god and goddess for their energy and close the circle.
What is a bad witch?
A bad witch is anyone who practices black magic. (A good witch practices white or green magic.) Black magic has malicious intent. This magic usually works faster than white or green magic, but the consequences are far worse. Witches believe that when you cast a spell, you get back nine times what you send out. It's like karma.
Why are brooms associated with witches?
Traditionally, most witches were female and the broom is a common tool of domestics. Women would prop a broom outside their door or up a chimney to let people know they were away. They would also "ride brooms" in the field because they believed it would make their crops grow. Many witches have an upside-down broom hanging in their house because it brings good luck.
What is the difference between "Pagan" and "Wicca?"
Wicca is the name of a nature and goddess-based spiritual path. "Wicca" actually means "witch" and therefore, if you're a Wiccan, you're a witch who practices witchcraft. Witchcraft is a contemporary Pagan religion and witchcraft (with a lowercase w) means folk magic. There are both good and bad witches and witchcraft, and most of us are good.
What holidays do witches celebrate?
Holidays are called Sabbats or High Holidays. We celebrate Yule, December 20-23, honoring the sun king and the return of the sun. Candelmas, February 2, celebrates Brigid, the goddess of inspiration and healing, because the days are visibly longer. The Spring Equinox, March 20-23, celebrates Eostre meaning rebirth, and that the days and nights are equal. Beltane, the eve of May 1, celebrates fertility and seed sowing. The Summer Solstice, June 20-23, celebrates the goddess Litha, the longest day of the year, and abundance. Lammas, August 1, celebrates Lugh and the harvest. Mabon/Fall equinox, September 20-23, is a time of thanksgiving for the harvest, and celebrates the equality of days and nights. Samhain/All Hallow's Eve, October 31, is the New Year and a time for honoring our passed loved ones. It's also a time when the veil is the thinnest between the material and the spirit worlds.
What does being a witch offer you personally?
It fulfills my life. I feel like I'm living everyday for a purpose. And, watching the seasons makes life so much more fun. My mentor told me "once you live your life this way, you live the ordinary life in a non-ordinary way" and she was right.
How is the moon significant in your practice?
I follow all of the moon's phases on a daily basis. The moon resides in each sign of the zodiac for about two and a half days. As it passes through each sign, I believe that the moon affects us in different ways, curiously linked to each sign and their characteristics. For example, I find that people are headstrong during an Aries moon, emotional during a Pisces moon, picky and perfectionist on a Virgo moon, active and conversational during a Gemini moon, etc.
Also, the new moon is a time for renewal spells: starting new projects, planting seeds and starting over. As the moon gets closer to full, it is considered "waxing." This is a good time to build momentum, gather information, or work spells to increase love, wealth and good luck. (Remember that most witches only cast good spells!)
During the full moon, it is a strong and intense energy time so you should be cautious, meditate, focus on good health and have fun! As the moon goes from full to crescent, it's called a "waning" moon. This is a good time to finish existing projects, take time to relax or tie up loose ends. The moon can also be useful to "recharge" oneself, especially during a full moon.
To gather the moon's energy, I stand in the moon's glow, arms outstretched with palms upwards, and imagine my palms absorbing the moon's rays. I acknowledge the goddess Diana (one of the moon goddesses) and ask to be rejuvenated by her essence. This is called "drawing down the moon."
Do you worship gods and/or goddesses?
I believe in only one, called the Higher Power, the Great Spirit, or My Creator. I also believe that this Being has a feminine as well as a masculine side – much like the yin-yang principle. I use the names of gods and goddesses in my worship as a representation of this one Great Spirit. So, during a ritual, I will choose an appropriate god and goddess to worship who represents the season or time of year.
Does being a witch have anything to do with Satan?
No, absolutely not. In fact, most witches do not even believe that such a character exists. Sometimes, our symbol – an upright, five pointed star – is mistaken for the Satanic symbol, which is an upside down, five-pointed star.
As a city person, how do you incorporate nature into your life?
I camp. Garden. Have a lot of indoor plants.
What's the best part of Wicca for you?
I never feel alone. Even when I am alone, I feel an incredible connection to the universe.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.