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stepping out of the shadows
where we came from and where we're going
the wicked witch is dead
bad witches are out; good witches are in
Can you imagine Cybill Shepherd, Roseanne, Olympia Dukakis, Tori Amos, Stevie Nicks, Chrissie Hynde, Sarah McLachlan, Marianne Williamson, Deepak Chopra, Erica Jong and Camille Paglia standing in a circle together beneath a gorgeous full moon? I can.
Why? Because they are among some of America's most prominent celebrities, authors and performers who have discovered the Goddess. Goddess spirituality is now the fastest growing spiritual practice in America and popular artists are openly and enthusiastically bringing this ancient wisdom to the attention of the media and the American public. And where they go, their audiences are sure to follow.
Witches know that magic is not about commanding and controlling, but about consciousness and communion.
While Goddess spirituality takes many forms, the most popular is the contemporary revival of Witchcraft. America is discovering that behind the mask of the wicked Witch is the beautiful face of the Goddess. Witchcraft, also called Wicca, is actually the ancient, pre-Christian spirituality of the Goddess.
Unfortunately, the word "Witch" also evokes the image of a green-faced hag riding a broomstick and brewing evil potions, a stereotype vividly brought to life by actress Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz (1939), Bette Midler in Hocus Pocus (1993) and The Blair Witch Project (1999). This gender-based stereotype points us in the direction of the hideous hag's origins and her persistent presence in popular culture. We've all grown up with countless fairy tales about the wicked Witch with deadly powers. The hags of Shakespeare's Macbeth have convinced generations that Witches conjure our darkest natures with noxious eye of newt. Durer's woodcuts show her to be ugly and misshapen. But where did this vision come from?
In the late 1400's, worship of the Goddess was branded satanic by the Catholic Church. Though there is no devil in the Old Religion of the Goddess and Witches do not worship him, hundreds of thousands were tortured and killed. Almost 90 percent of these victims were women and those who survived lost nearly all legal rights, became chattel, and were prohibited from owning or inheriting property, receiving an education, practicing medicine or the Goddess's religion.
This prolonged period of persecution, known as the Witch craze, assured the domination of the stereotype of the wicked Witch. And over the centuries, the hag came to personify the culture's shadow and its fear of women – their powers to give birth, their sexuality, and their spirituality. Fairytales, plays, illustrations and sermons perpetuated this vision.
Times are changing and the Goddess is returning. In the past 40 years, pop culture provided at least one good Witch a decade: Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, Veronica Lake in I Married a Witch (1942), Kim Novak in Bell, Book and Candle (1958), and Elizabeth Montgomery in Bewitched (1964-1972). Today, good Witches are everywhere, with Hollywood at the forefront of a radical shift in public perception. Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock portrayed sister Witches in Practical Magic (1998), which captured the number one spot at the box office when it opened. When Sandra explains that "there is no devil in the Craft" and "there's more to magic than spells and potions," millions heard important messages that hopefully will enable real Witches to practice their religion in peace and safety and with public acceptance.
America is discovering that behind the mask of the wicked Witch is the beautiful face of the Goddess.
On television, two new shows, Sabrina, the Teenage Witch and Charmed feature strong, independent young women who are Witches; a character on an afternoon soap opera regularly exclaimed "Oh my Goddess!" and conducted charming Goddess rituals as part of the plot; and the NBC sitcom, Friends, devoted an entire show to the female characters discovering their inner Goddesses. But while these shows and films portray positive characters, they rely on silly special effects that perpetuate the stereotype of Witches having supernatural powers (like freezing time or making objects move). The powers that Witches cultivate are not supernatural; they are completely natural, divine gifts latent in all of us. From spiritual practice, Witches know that magic is not about commanding and controlling, but about consciousness and communion. They have discovered that by living in harmony with nature, they live in harmony with the divine, and that real magic flows from our connection to that divinity.
In television shows, including Picket Fences, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Judging Amy, that present Witches as sympathetic, realistic characters who practice a bona fide religion, a different problem arises. These Witches tend to fall into a gender stereotype; that is, they are exclusively female. In fact, there have always been male Witches (not warlocks), and their numbers are rapidly increasing.
Witchcraft is also increasingly receiving serious attention from the "hard" media. In recent years, the release of my first book, Book of Shadows, it's follow-up, Witchcrafting and the presence of Witches in the military prompted respectful stories about Witchcraft as a Goddess religion in every major daily newspaper, in major magazines, and on top television shows in the US and abroad.
According to the New York Times, Wicca is also the fastest growing, most lucrative subject in the publishing field. Witchcraft, at this moment, is undergoing a major transformation – stories about Witches are increasingly becoming stories by Witches. No longer confined to the broom-closet, Witches are increasingly public and confident in the exercise of their rights to express themselves and the truth about their religion. But more importantly, the Witch is once again retrieving her and his role as the culture's shaman, the teller of myths that are our collective dreams. The Witch is again telling sacred stories that chronicle and inspire our encounter with divinity.
witches, witches, everywhere
Marginal religions are no longer the territory of hippies and self-styled weirdos. Far from the days of dark, secret meetings in the shadows, today's Witches are roaming the halls of some of the country's biggest businesses. I personally know two Witches who work for magazines, one financial consultant, and one in a publishing house. A practitioner for over a decade, I can count lawyers, editors, computer technicians, social workers, and schoolteachers among my Coven-mates. Surprised? Don't be. Recent years have seen the Western world slowly swinging back towards its spiritual roots as its population feels more and more purposeless.
Since innovations in science began to replace Christianity as the explanation for why the sky is blue and where the rain comes from, our world has grown increasingly secular. Within the last century especially, the Earth has seen the biggest boom of technological advances and industrial growth in all of human history, and it isn't over yet. You can blame Darwin, but the outcome remains: people have learned that the Bible is not the answer to life's questions, and throwing the baby out with the bathwater has left us a mostly religious-less culture. We feel empty but Our Lady of Atoms lacks the means to tell us why.
Now, after decades of worshipping Science Itself, people are starting to feel their emptiness more acutely and have been actively searching to revive their starving souls. Take a look in your local bookstore – see the endless rows of New Age books on spirituality? The market is reacting to a huge demand for life-affirming knowledge and, more importantly, methods of practice.
People are hungry for something new, and Witchcraft is it.
Rather than moving backwards – a term that makes Westerners cringe and cower – the new trend has not steered us towards traditional religions but rather towards Neopaganism. Even Hollywood's fascination with Buddhism and other Eastern practices has not been powerful enough to capture the attention of the general public – just compare the racks of books on Paganism to those on Eastern studies wherever books are sold. The verdict is in: people are hungry for something new, and Witchcraft is it.
Why Witchcraft instead of a friendlier, more "PC" branch of Neopaganism? Perhaps because, while we crave nourishment for our souls, we also have an ingrained Western value of active living. One of the strongest Wiccan beliefs centers on the concept of magick, which at its best is about taking responsibility for your own life and happiness. What is more active than working with the forces of the universe to achieve your heart's desire?
Moreover, Witchcraft is highly fashion-friendly. One can actually dress like a Witch, and what's more, there are numerous accessories! Instead of wax pentacles made to melt in the Medieval hearth fire when the local inquisitor comes knocking, elaborate brass plates are on display in store-front windows, right next to athames and grimoires that weren't hand-copied from your great great grandmother. One can never own (or wear) enough pentacles and crystals, and incense and candles are extremely consumable and need to be replaced almost daily! Buddhism, on the other hand, can range from the usual Western style to Zen minimalism, a marketing nightmare.
Why else would Witchcraft be the spiritual path of choice for so many thinking citizens? I'd like to say it has something to do with intelligence level. Because of its lack of centralization, Witchcraft forces you to think independently, unlike majority religions that follow the sit-stand-kneel format and pray as you follow along. Whether you work in a Coven (a small, close-knit group which worships together and serves as a support base for everything from movie night to deaths in the family) or are a solitaire (single people practicing on their own or with a few friends informally), no one is telling you what words to use or how to ask the deities for help.
We are everywhere, and there are more of us than you think.
In fact, there is no one holy text in Witchcraft, as followers choose from a canon as colorful as the rainbow and growing every day. With no one telling you what to do, living as a Witch can be very difficult and often confusing. But, Witches say, the results are also the most rewarding. For example, Witchcraft encourages the writing of new prayers and rituals, believing that words from the heart are most powerful. This befits creative-types, and such artistic personalities are often drawn to Paganism and the trappings of Witchcraft in particular.
Beyond the business world, Witchcraft has attracted followers from many other professions. It has become more and more common to meet Witches who are teachers in our public and private schools. Education is vital to the Old Religion, as Witches consider themselves the inheritors of all the world's mystical wisdom. Witches are adepts at shamanism, divination, ritual technique, spellcraft, herbal lore, crystal healing, and many other fields of metaphysical science. They consider life to be an eternal classroom with Experience as teacher and master, and they continue to learn new skills throughout their lives.
As randomly placed throughout the culture as we are, aspects of Witchcraft are even more pervasive than the Witches themselves. Just the other day, my boss referred to a five-pointed star as a "pentacle," and May Day festivals are on the rise. Movies such as Practical Magic and shows like Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Charmed bring back the old friendly nose-twitching neighbor image, like Bewitched, instead of evil old hags cackling their way through a baby stew.
The bottom line: we are everywhere, and there are more of us than you think.
fire-light and moon-shadows
a summary of wiccan Lore
Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart
Witchcraft is a very ancient system which has its roots in the Paleolithic arts of the Shaman and the worship of the Great Earth Mother. Mother Earth, and all the other gods and goddesses of Nature, are not mere metaphysical abstractions dwelling in some nebulous otherworld. They are as real as you and I, and possess tangible physical bodies. The body of Mother Earth is quite literally the living biosphere of the planet Earth, including all the various collective life forms that inhabit Her. Knowledge of the aspects and purposes of the various Nature deities and the ability to communicate with them are at the very core of any school of Pagan shamanism, whether it be the Mysteries of the African Orishas, the teachings of the Hawaiian Kahunas, or the way of the Wicca. This is what is meant by the word Pantheism. It is as ancient as the Hollow Hills and as modern as tomorrow's starship.
Magick is simply coincidence control ...
Witchcraft can be defined as a survival or reconstruction of an order of fertility-based Pagan European Shamanism. Witches worship Nature and use their psychic talents as channels of power with which to work magick. Magick is simply coincidence control or, as Anodea Judith succinctly puts it, "probability enhancement" – the ability to shape Reality in accordance with Will by methods that cannot be explained theoretically by the modern scientific paradigm. A Shaman is a magickal practitioner who utilizes altered states of consciousness to control psychic phenomena.
Since the repeal of the Witchcraft Acts in England in 1954, many Covens have formed or gone public and a revival and reconstruction of the Craft has become a large and vocal part of the Pagan Movement as a whole. The word Witch does not mean "wise one" as it is popularly maintained. The Saxon word for "wise" is wys, and it is the root for Wizard. The word Witch can be traced back to the Anglo-Saxon verb wik, which means "to change, bend or shape." So etymologically, Witchcraft is related to wicker baskets! Wicce (feminine, and pronounced "witch" or "witch-eh") means "Changing woman." Wikccancraeften translates as "the craft, or art, of the changer or shaper" – and rightly so, because it is primarily concerned with understanding and controlling one's reality. The two main divisions of practical Witchcraft are Ceremonial and Operative.
Excerpted from POP! GOES THE WITCH by fiona horne. Copyright © 2004 The Disinformation Company Ltd.. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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