One of my friends is a witch—and I didn’t even know it.
Wait, back up a second. How did I not know? Isn’t that something that would be pretty obvious? Wands, robes, cauldrons and the like? Aren’t witches merely characters straight out of a Halloween tale? People who claim to be witches have got to be a little touched in the head. We all learned that after talking to that one scary girl who always dressed in all black in middle school.
So how is it that this fun-loving fashionista chatting about Bastille’s latest album to me across the room is a witch? She seems to have her sanity completely intact. There are no sketchy-looking bottles labeled “eye of newt” or “essence of troll” on her desk.
So…can witches really exist?
If you’re thinking of a stereotypical, cackling, green-skinned witch, then your answer is no. But if you’re talking about a perfectly normal Wiccan citizen, then, yes—witches most certainly can, and do, exist.
21-year-old Lindsey Berlin has identified with Wicca, a modern pagan witchcraft religion, for her entire life, since her mother put her through a “Wiccaning” as an infant—which simply means she is blessed and protected, even if she ends up choosing another religion. Though her mother no longer actively practices, Wicca is a large part of Lindsey’s life to this day.
Wicca was started in the 1960s in England as a new wave form of Paganism. Though it can be practiced in a coven, Wicca is mostly practiced by solitary witches, like Berlin. “It’s a very liberal religion because there isn’t something like a papacy of Wicca,” says Berlin. “You can do whatever you want. If you want to join a coven and you feel that your energy is better served with others, then you can, but you don’t have to.”
The core belief of Wicca is based around good energy—respecting people and the planet. “The main rule of Wicca is the Law of Three, which is basically karma: whatever you put out into the world, you get back threefold…you can’t do anything for direct personal gain,” says Berlin.
The one overpowering deity in the religion is not God, like in many religions, but The Goddess. “It’s a very feminine religion,” says Berlin. “One of the reasons I’m so drawn to it is because every idea of Catholicism and every representation of God is always a big white man with a huge white beard.” Though women mainly practice Wicca, there are also men—but they are called “male witches,” rather than “warlocks,” which is a term associated with dark magic. “If you curse someone, or if you do a spell for direct personal gain, then you’re a warlock,” says Berlin.
However, “spells” are not what comes to mind—a waving of the wand, a big sparkly poof. As Berlin relaxes on her bed across from me, she recalls a weight-loss spell she once cast by carving a spell into a candle and burning it for half an hour every night for a lunar cycle. “The weight loss spell obviously doesn’t work because The Goddess tells you that it works,” said Berlin. “It works because you’re reminding yourself every day that you’re trying to do this, and you’re focusing your energy.” Berlin also uses a spell for clarity to “calm down and refocus things,” but spells tend to take an entire lunar cycle, so they take a lot of time and energy.
In fact, Wicca as a whole takes a lot of hard work and dedication—after all, there are about fifty holidays scattered throughout the year that Wiccans must observe. To observe holidays, altars are built out of different herbs, crystals, gemstones, fabric, candles, etc. “It depends on what you want to evoke out of it…for example, if you wanted clarity, you would use mint,” says Berlin. “And most witches have a solid quartz stone because it helps focus energy—and helps with scrying.”
Scrying? I couldn’t help but ask; it sounded fascinating. “Scrying is where you ask the spirits to help you do something,” said Berlin. The most typical form of scrying is to help you find something—generally done by using a silver chain with a quartz pendant at the end. “I’ve done this when I lose my keys,” says Berlin. “You pull the pendant down until it stops moving, and you ask the spirits, ‘Okay, where are they?’ The pendant will start moving directing you to where it is…it does work, and it freaks people out when it works.”
Berlin also uses tarot cards to center her energy, but warns that they shouldn’t be used by anyone who hasn’t educated themselves on them first. “I don’t recommend anyone mess around with things like tarot cards and Ouiji boards. I don’t recommend anyone to mess around with anything in the Occult if they don’t know how to use it,” says Berlin. “It is a very spiritual religion and it is based on energy, and you can attract bad energy if you don’t know what you’re doing and I don’t recommend that for anyone.”
“Energy” is a common theme in Berlin’s answers—not “magic.” This is the most common misconception of the religion due to the connotations of “spells” and “witches.” “I don’t wander around in a cape. And I don’t carry a wand,” said Berlin. “That’s another thing, you can make a wand. But again, that’s just to focus energy. And to bring another element of nature into your spell. It’s not like, this is magic.”
Berlin highlights that there are certainly people who practice the religion in seemingly odd ways. “I mean, there are people who go run around in bushes in capes. If that’s what they want to do, if that’s how they feel they commune with nature, fine,” Berlin muses, then jokes, “Personally, I feel like I can commune with nature capeless…I think it helps that I’m not completely batshit.”
However, Wicca is not all that different from other beliefs and faiths. “Just like any other religion, it’s centered around something,” says Berlin. “For example, instead of us thinking that some man gave up his only son to be our lord and savior, we’re in tuned with the earth, and we feel like that’s more important.”
Negative stereotypes and assumptions about her religion are common, according to Berlin. “When you tell people, ‘Hey, I’m actually a witch,’ you get some stares,” she admits. “It also happens when you tell people you cast spells, but you just need to explain that the spells are more like how we pray—it’s not like we think some magical force is going to do this. It’s just how we commune with our god rather than asking an angel for help.”
When Berlin faces any adversity about being Wiccan, she simply faces it head on. “You just need to explain it calmly,” said Berlin. “If you actually practice, and you care enough about the religion and what it means to you, then someone can say something and you can just say, ‘No, that’s wrong. If you want to learn what’s right, then I’ll explain it to you, but if not, you can remain ignorant.’”
But who would want to remain ignorant about a religion that celebrates femininity and putting good energy and happiness into the world?
Someone touched in the head, that’s who.