Witchcraft: Warm, Not Wicked
Pointy black hats, evil cackles, and wickedness – all clichés that come to mind when we hear the word ‘witch.’ Really, most who practice witchcraft today do not fit the stereotype. Rather, they focus on paying particular homage to the natural world we all inhabit.
Covens and independent practitioners alike worship the divine and the earth as they go through the wheel of the year, or the cycle of witch holidays. For each tradition, comparable to a denomination in more organized religions, procedures are unique.
City of San Francisco College anthropology professor, Natalie Cox, teaches a course entitled
Witchcraft, Magic, and Religion. She said a number of practitioners take on a “holistic,
non-industrial perspective on the world.”
For centuries, witchcraft has been deemed inherently evil. “Anything outside of the [Christian]
church’s magic was in competition with God and Jesus, so it was evil,” Cox said. Charles Harrington is the first high priest of the Order of the Sacred Grove (OSG), a San Francisco coven. He said, “witchcraft has a relationship to nature, the cycles of nature, and all
According to Cox, assumptions otherwise are due to a “fundamental misunderstanding.” Even
with witchcraft becoming more normalized, many are still ignorant about its inner workings.
Jenett Silver is a high priestess, or leader of her own coven, Phoenix Song, in Arlington,
Massachusetts. She compared witchcraft to a “whole ocean,” though the majority outsiders will only be exposed to the surface.
She recalls the moment she realized, “there is something real here and I want to know what it is now.” A culture of secrecy historically accompanies witchcraft and practitioners say, with good reason. Becca Lawrence, a social media influencer on witchcraft, said their parents thought they were signing their soul away to the devil. Even today’s witches struggle with the stigma surrounding what they love most.
Glen Fairen, professor of Religious Studies at Okalohama State University teaches a course
called Magic, Witchcraft, and the Occult. “If people knew what it was about, they wouldn’t fear
it,” he said. Those opposed are found to largely lack information, Fairen said.
Silver said there is something special about belonging to a coven. “You can’t sing harmony with yourself,” she said. Harrington said the group environment is validating and stimulates personal growth. Cox said many today “[reclaim] witchcraft as a form of empowerment.” Witches typically redeem their power as both feminists and rejectors of societal norms.
Finding solace in the community, it has been both, “healing and affirming,” Lawrence said. Their background involves belonging to a church but enduring repeated, negative occurrences that “pushed [them] away forever.”
The Significance of Stereotypes
Discrimination runs so deep that some witches will live a double life to avoid real consequences. “It is very possible to kind of, get started in this world without anyone knowing about it,” Harrington said. Silver is public about not using her legal name for witchcraft purposes. She explained an encounter at her previous job where she took the risk of being open about her practice. “The way my boss reacted to me changed,” she said.
Similarly, Lady Salome, who founded the OSG in the 90s, was a preschool teacher in California and would be shunned by parents if they were aware of her craft, Harrington said.
The Root of the Fear
The coven’s birth coincided with the height of the satanic panic, a moral panic surrounding
supposed satanic ritual abuse. Today, the sentiments of this period are alive and well. Again, Fairen said there is this, “willful misunderstanding,” that people have about the practice. Cox said, grouping satanists and witches together is quite the common offense even today. Meanwhile, “most practitioners do not believe in the Christian devil,” Harrington said. Rather, he said they treasure the “sacredness of life” when it comes to our environment and existence.
Harrington said, the idea of eternal damnation is largely the root of hesitance for many who want to begin practicing. Even so, Lawrence said witchcraft’s popularity has surpassed what they “ever believed possible.” There is nothing sinful about “wanting that connection with the divine,” Silver said, “we havebeen doing this since the caves.”
“Once I found out I wasn’t going to be smited from the heavens above for learning about plant magic, that encouraged me to keep going,” Lawrence said. Lunar Spell, a blog about witchcraft, defines the green practice as “using certain herbs and plants that contain magical properties medicinally and within spells and rituals.”
“It is okay to be scared, it is okay to be fearful,” Harrington said. In reality, magic is a universal concept no matter the religion. It just depends on perception. “Why does Jesus do miracles, not magic tricks?” Fairen said. The change in terminology is solely to, “dissociate it from witchcraft magic,” Cox said. The deliberate distinction emphasizes how deeply rooted negative viewpoints go.
Fairen said witchcraft only seems outrageous to those newly encountering the practice. It is not more radical than any other religion, he said, it simply lacks “antiquity” to critics. In actuality, mention of witches dates back to B.C. books in the bible.
Ultimately, pushing past preconceived notions proves rewarding for practitioners. Collateral
damage is likely, but that can be integral to your spiritual awakening. Silver said her tradition centralizes the phoenix because it “goes through its life span and burns up and resurrects itself.” “It has been so fulfilling for me spiritually. I finally feel like I understand how Christians feel,” Lawrence said.
Jenett Silver – High Priestess of Phoenix Song Coven (Arlington, MA)
Charles Harrington – First High Priest of the Order of the Sacred Grove (San Franscisco, CA)
Natalie Cox – Professor of Witchcraft, Magic, and Religion at City College of San Franscisco
with a PhD in Anthropology
Glen Fairen – Professor of Magic, Witchcraft, and the Occult at Oklahoma State University with a PhD in Religious Studies
Becca Lawrence – Witchcraft Influencer