Witches, warlocks, candles and spells are the stuff of Halloween and nights at summer camp for most of us, but for a select group of New Yorkers, it’s more than fun and games—it’s a lifestyle.
They’ve been hunted, burned at the stake, and lampooned by others, and yet, each year, the pagan population around the globe increases its numbers and visibility.
The practice of Wicca is still relatively small compared to other religions, and practitioners are far from the extremists popular media has made them out to be. In 2008, The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life conducted a survey in which they found that .3% of the U.S. population identified as Wiccan, meaning there are fewer than one million self-identified Wicca practitioners currently living in the United States.
While there was once a time when a Manhattanite would have to take two subways and a bus to find a prayer candle in the city, it now seems like you can hardly stop into a supermarket without finding an aisle dedicated to them. The growth of the out-and-proud Wiccan population in the U.S. may mean that the trend extends to accessories for practicing Wicca in the near future.
From tarot cards and cauldrons at Lower East Side witch paradise Enchantments to amulets at hole-in-the-wall Botanica Girasol in Sunset Park, Wicca suppliers are popping up to cater to the increasing demand.
While lighting some incense and popping in “The Craft” may be the start of the Wiccan lifestyle for some, at a time when people around the world are still being persecuted for allegedly practicing witchcraft, it’s more important than ever for actual practitioners to clarify their beliefs. Wiccans are not the menace lurking in the woods, nor are they the Manson followers once vilified by the media. They’re a bunch of like-minded people getting together to talk about shared interests or goals with the occasional candle-lighting—more like a religious service than a satanic cult ritual.
Mark Eadicicco, a witch and third-degree Cabot Priest from Staten Island and owner of Practical Magick, has been working to fight some of the lingering stereotypes about just who practices witchcraft and why. “The most common misconceptions of Wicca are that we are a cult, or a group of people who worship the devil, and eat children… the evil green-faced witch, who has warts on her face, rides a broom and grows poison hemlock in her garden. We are a group of smart, educated and professional individuals who come from all walks of life—and are in all areas of industry. I have members of my coven who are lawyers, bankers, teachers, police officers and fire fighters.”
Unfortunately for the Wiccan community, much of what is communicated to non-practitioners about their beliefs is either inflated for TV or altogether wrong.
Eadicicco says that many of the modern misconceptions about Wicca are particularly in line with the current trend toward supernatural themes in popular culture.
“Most of the curious young people that come into my shop to do spells and incantations get their ideas from popular televisions shows—that witches can do anything, control everyone and place evil spells on our enemies. This cannot be further from the truth! Especially this year on ‘True Blood’—with their portrayal of witches as a crazy group of people out for revenge set us back a couple of steps. I have to keep telling people that the television show is make believe—and reminding them exactly what witchcraft is about.”
Eadicicco, who trained under Laurie Cabot, the “Official Witch of Salem,” says that many people in the Wiccan community don’t even consider their practice a religion, rather believing it to be a “philosophical approach to life… [through] which we can honor and respect the world around us—and each other.”
As for how beginners can get into the practice, just like any other activity, it’s easiest—and most fun—to start with some good accessories and a group of friends. Eadicicco says, “I would suggest that people who are newly getting acquainted with witchcraft and Wicca [use] ritual tools to connect with the god and goddess around them… [including] candles, oils, incense to perform their magick—and altar tools, most importantly a chalice and an athame. Coming out of the broom closet will be a lot easier when you find a group of people who have similar interests.”