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Ancient Craft Practiced in Hopkinton

Devil not a belief of Witchcraft


by Elizabeth Eidlitz


[Originally published January 2, 2007] — There are nine active witches, male and female, in Hopkinton and the local area. None is a warty, green-skinned misshapen old crone with a conical black hat. None wears ruby slippers or rides a broomstick. None belongs to a coven, conducts black masses, creates magical effects with a bewitching nasal twitch, or boils small children in a cauldron brew of baby fat, snakes, bat’s blood, with decapitated and flayed toad.

Because Halloween trappings and hocus-pocus are stereotypically associated with witchcraft, some prejudice against Neopagan practitioners exists. Thus the witch I interviewed asked not to be identified.

Essential to the belief in Witchcraft is an assumption of divine forces within oneself and in nature. There are no true distinctions between self and others, or between man and nature. A mystical oneness or life force connects us to nature, allowing us to call on and manipulate natural—not supernatural—hidden forces in the world around us.

Witchcraft, a combination of many beliefs, considers the Goddess, along with the God, either as symbols or as real entities, the focus of worship. Nature and the earth are sacred manifestations of them, and everyone has the divine God and Goddess within.

Divine forces or nature spirits are invoked at Sabbats, in rituals linked to the seasons and moon phase.

“The wheel of the year is a natural progressive way for people to celebrate their lives. Everything has to be in balance: Light and dark, Male and female. You can’t have ying without yang.”

Yule, the winter solstice, is celebrated on the longest night of the year, when the earth begins to tilt toward the sun. The custom of lighting bonfires on hilltops, beseeching fires to bring back the light, as well as decorating with fresh smelling greenery, is a common practice. Ceremonies include setting fire to brush piles, old furniture and wagon wheels.

At this festive time of indoor relaxation, the lighting of the Yule candle takes place at the last ray of setting sun, and all candles in the house are lit from it. The huge Yule log which burns throughout the holiday is lit with coal from a log of the preceding year.

Imbolc, on February 2nd, a festival in honor of the returning light of the sun, welcomes the coming of spring. The Goddess, recovered from giving birth to the God, is a Maiden once again and the God is a child.

At the Spring Equinox (Ostara) between March 20-23rd, night and day are equal. This is a Sabbat of balance, new life, the budding fertility of the Earth, and joy. The Goddess and God are both youths.

Beltaine on May 1st, the start of the fertile season of the Earth, celebrates the sacred marriage and union of the Goddess and God. This fertility dance with maypole ribbons symbolizes the union of the Divine from which all life comes.

The end of the waxing year and the beginning of the waning year are marked at the summer solstice, when the hard work is done, and the God and the sun are both at the peak of their power and strength. This is the longest day and a sun celebration.

Three harvest celebrations follow: at the Wiccan thanksgiving on August 1st, Lammas, (grain, corn, fruits, salad type vegetables), the Goddess is transitioning from Mother to Crone, and the God is beginning to lose his strength. It is a time of giving thanks for all the things that the Earth gives to sustain us.

The famous Abbots Bromley Horn Dance, a folk custom at least 900 years old, occurs in early September in preparation for the autumnal equinox, Mabon, when day and night are equal again. At this second harvest (apples, wine, nuts, bread and heavier vegetables), the growing darkness is welcomed. The God is aging and about to pass on.

On the third and final harvest (pumpkins, gourds, hay) on October 31, the veil separating our world and the world of spirit is opened . Samhain celebrates death and reincarnation and the universal cycle of life, death, and rebirth. It is considered the New Year.

“If everybody read Joseph Campbell’s Power of Myth, they’d see that many early Pagan traditions have been co-opted for the holidays of other cultures. The Christian celebration of Christmas incorporates decorating with greenery, caroling, and ornamental glass balls. The Beltaine ritual when men gift women with buried nuts and women gift men with buried eggs preceded Christianity and Easter egg hunts. Other customs became secularized, like the annual fall tradition of the county fair.

”Just as some religions have icons and statues of saints, witchcraft has totem animals, ritual dancing, and burning candles. Special rituals –when women sweep out a circle with a besom broom and men cut a pentacle (five point star) in the ground—trigger a sense of the mystical, thus reinforcing the core belief. Any ritual commemorates the season and honors your own spirituality.”

“You are in a circle,” as Marcia Montenegro describes it in Witchcraft, Wicca and Neopaganism. “Protection of the God and Goddess or various spirits is invoked. The elements of earth, fire, air and water are called in. One way to begin is to dance slowly around the circle, then faster. There is chanting. The pace increases; the group is “raising energy.” Everyone is prepared for whatever ritual will be performed, whether to call for protection, healing, world peace, a special favor.”

The spells cast are active prayers and invocations. They never hurt anyone in any way, or interfere with someone else’s free will. Spells ask for the help of Divinity. Some spells use candles, herbs, stones, and other natural objects, just as a Catholic prayer might involve the rosary and lighting a prayer candle.

During spring rites today, the cauldron, a female symbol of rebirth, can be filled with water and fresh flower petals. In winter, fires lighted within it symbolize the rebirth of the Sun.

The pentacle of modern witchcraft is revered as a religious symbol, like the cross in Christianity and the Star of David in Judaism. By conjuring helpful spirits, pentacles protect from unwanted and evil demons, consecrate the magic circle, and ground energy.

The witch’s ritual knife is never used for harm or to cut anything). Double bladed with a black hilt, it is commonly linked with the element of Fire used in ritual to direct energy, such as for casting and releasing circles and to summon spirits.

Most New Age witches do not accept absolute good or evil; they believe that negative and positive forces must be balanced, and that the negative can be transmuted into the positive (a basic belief of medieval alchemy). There is no Satan. Witchcraft predates the devil and holds that Satan is an imaginary creation of the Christian church.

The Hopkinton witch I interviewed, was raised in a Catholic family, and left the church as an adult. “I loved Celtic history. That, and personal feelings, made me look into other options.

“Witchcraft can be a solitary practice. It’s a way of living and celebration—not a religion as such, but an earthbound belief in love, kindness, helping others, and interconnectedness to all things.

“It brings me peace of mind. Connects me with the old—helps me project into the future and feel what’s important in a world which we  do not have dominion over, and are very much just a part of. We are only caretakers.

“Everyone has his or her own spiritual path to follow. When I walk my dog out in the natural world after work, my mindset changes. I feel meditative, vulnerable, and connected. Though originally, people went out to sacred spaces in the woods naked (“skyclad”) to be close to nature, today we’re more apt to be barefoot, and wear capes (any material is ok).

”I believe that we are free. If what you send out, via actions positive or negative, harms no one, directly or indirectly, physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, do what you will, but whatever energy you expend comes back to you three times as strong for better or worse. So try not to deal in negatives.

“I don’t proselytize but a lot of people out there are practicing witchcraft, though they haven’t a clue that that’s what they’re doing.”

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