NEW YORK (PIX11) — When you hear the word witch, you might picture Samantha Stephens from “Bewitched,” moving things around with as little effort as a nose wiggle.
But real-life witches need more than that to cast a spell. Starr Ravenhawk, the head witch of The Wiccan Family Temple in Manhattan, said TV and movies often get it wrong.
“When I watch series or movies about Witchcraft, I just laugh. I think they’re funny,” Ravenhawk told PIX11 News. “When people watch any movie, they know it’s not real. But for whatever reason, when they watch movies about Witchcraft, they believe it’s real.”
For hundreds of years, imagination has played a significant role in how society perceives those who practice Witchcraft. Ravenhawk knows this, but after decades of being a witch, she said it’s become more challenging to muster up the energy to try and change people’s understandings of her practice.
“When I was younger, it bothered me a lot when the first thing out of their mouth would be, ‘oh so did you cast a spell on me?’ And I would say ‘why would I waste it? No, I will not put a spell on you,” she said. “When you’re young, certain things do bother you, but as you grow older, you don’t care as much. I’m in my 60s now, so I know every person’s journey with their religion is different.”
‘We don’t believe in Satan’
It was an unwanted brand – the idea that those who practice Witchcraft made pacts with evil forces, allegedly selling their souls for power and material gain, was developed without any input from actual witches, according to Ravenhawk.
“I have been harassed – in fact very recently at an event – by people who say we are the devil worshipers,” said Ravenhawk. “But we, as witches, we don’t believe in Satan or the Devil. This doesn’t exist for us; it’s not part of our religion. We didn’t create this, so you cannot make me worship or fear something that’s not part of my belief system.”
Despite public scrutiny, the number of Americans who self-identify as pagans, witches, or Wiccans has skyrocketed over the past two decades. Nearly 2 million people in the United States self-describe as Wiccans or Pagans, according to the latest data released in early 2022 by Pew Research Center and Trinity College. In 2001, about 34,000 Americans self-described as Wiccans or Pagans.
“I think people are questioning things, and they’re not getting the right answers,” said Ravenhawk. “People are tired of being told ‘this is how it is,’ and maybe they’re looking for answers themselves.”
What is Wicca?
The Wiccan Faith is considered a new approach to Witchcraft. The practice is largely based on the studies of English author Gerald Gardner. For many, he is regarded as the father of modern-day Witchcraft, and his publications such as “The Book of Shadows” and “The Meaning of Witchcraft” became a reference for individuals starting their journey in the religion.
However, Wicca is not the only path. Just like the Christian faith and its variations – Baptist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, etc. – Witchcraft has other segments, too, including several variants derived from Paganism.
Misconceptions of Witchcraft
One of the many misconceptions surrounding witches has to do with gender. Throughout history, the practice has famously been tied to women, which is not necessarily accurate.
“We see it really as our religion,” said Casey Giovinco, Chief Elder of the Gala Witchcraft tradition.
In his practice, most members are men.
“I see us as a specialization within the larger religion. Let’s say Witchcraft is college. What Gala is doing is picking a major,” Giovinco added.
When it comes to the actual use of the term, according to Giovinco, oftentimes, practitioners prefer being called Witches despite their gender identity.
“I prefer the term witch. I have never been a fan of names like wizard or warlock. Each of those has a different meaning associated with them,” said Giovinco. “I believe ‘witch’ is a gender-neutral term, so it can be used for everyone and empower everyone as well.”
Over the years, Giovinco has published books with the hope of spreading the word about Witchcraft; not necessarily to bring more members to the Gala Tradition but to help avoid misconceptions that have been harmful to millions of people over centuries.
“I think the most common is that witches are evil or we want to hurt people,” said Giovinco. “It is no different from having a friend who goes to a different church than you – or if you’re Catholic, having a Jewish friend. The witch is not the Disney villain. The witch is somebody who is trying to get by in life with as little disharmony as possible.”