Pop culture has been shaping Millennials' perceptions of witches since birth. Our bedtime stories were tales of old women with candy houses and magical pasta pots. We practically wore out the VCR watching the Wicked Witch chase Dorothy through Oz and a variety of Disney princesses be rescued from jealous crones over and over again. We saw late-night reruns of the nose-wiggling Samantha on Bewitched and crushed on Harvey Kinkle from Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. In school, we studied 1692 Salem and toiled and troubled through papers on Macbeth.
But even with witchcraft's permeation into mainstream culture, we've never really been taught the truth about it: who witches are, their beliefs, and what their lifestyle actually entails.
Witches -- or Wiccans, to be exact -- are a subdivision of what is usually referred to as paganism, a blanket term for a multitude of earth-based spiritual belief systems, said practicing Wiccan Therese Pendragon. But in the logic problem from you-know-where, not all pagans are Wiccan, not all Wiccans are pagan, and there are any number of variations in practice. It's easiest to think of the categorizations in the same way that Christianity is an umbrella term encompassing Methodist, Lutheran, and so on, she said.
A Salem native, Pendragon was raised Catholic but had a lot of paranormal experiences beginning at a very young age. They seemed normal to her, she said, because children are naturally more open to spirits, as they have not yet been conditioned by society to lose their connection to the spiritual world. As she grew older, Pendragon also discovered she had the abilities to read people’s thoughts by looking into their eyes and see their auras.
“It’s like opening a window,” she said of her abilities. “We live in a chemical sea of energy around us….A sensitive person can be overwhelmed if they don’t have a screen to filter out all that cosmic debris.”
For years, Pendragon practiced in secret because of the misinformation and prejudice surrounding the craft. But when world-famous witch Laurie Cabot brought witchcraft “out of the broomcloset,” so to speak, she became a member of the first coven, The Black Doves of Isis, and appeared with Cabot in National Geographic in 1979. It was the first time American witches were recognized internationally.
Today, witchcraft is alive and well, and a new generation of witches is emerging. Danielle Young, 24, was raised Jewish but has considered herself a Wiccan for 10 years now. She's a priestess at the Temple of Tituba and offers tarot and rune readings at the World of Witches Museum, both located in Salem’s Pickering Wharf area.
Everything from rocks and herbs to dance and cooking is inherently magical, Young said, and the power is taking the bits and pieces and mixing them together in the right combination to create what you desire. “It’s about intent: picking a goal for yourself that you believe can come to pass and letting the universe know about it," she said.
"The simplest form of magic that just about everyone performs is making a wish on a birthday candle or a wish on a star. Even prayer is a form of magic," Young said. “We use it not only to communicate directly with a divinity, but we pray for someone’s healing, or we pray to win the lottery -- for many things. It’s just another form of magic.”
Young is also a member of the Young Witches of Salem, which documents the lives and experiences of 17-24-year-old witches as they balance jobs, school, and everyday life with learning the craft from the coven’s Elders, including Pendragon. The project's goal is to bring knowledge and awareness of Wiccan culture to the community through a series of online reality shows and interviews and a Sunday evening blogtalkradio program.
“This isn’t your grandmother’s witchcraft,” said Young.
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About Rachel -- I'm a tiny gal with big ideas who's always on the move. One day I'm going to use my vast amount of otherwise useless trivia knowledge to beat Ken Jennings' Jeopardy score. Likes: hula hooping, all things involving the 80's, delicious martinis, sunshine, proper grammar, baby animals. Dislikes: math, being cold, spiders, most vegetables, things in places I can't reach.
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