You see it in Newsweek, CNN, and other news websites that report on spirituality and esoteric culture like Quartz and Gaia. You see it through phenomena such as Instagram’s 300k+ subscriber feed to Hoodwitch, Youtube’s explosive growth of tarot readers, and gray or shamanic witches offering online tutorials and looks into their family traditions of Celtic witchcraft, and Wiccan seasonal ceremonies. Wicca, witchcraft, and paganism have long had an important perch within Crazy Wisdom Bookstore’s book sections, and local Wiccans, witches, and pagans have long been written about in The Crazy Community Wisdom Journal, but all these related areas are experiencing exponential growth, both locally in earth-religion-friendly Ann Arbor and on the national scale. It is not difficult to join witchcraft groups on social media or find books on the topic, which have also had enormous popularity growth in recent years. Everything from reading runes to Christian witchcraft (a path in which people often believe in Christianity’s tenets of love and forgiveness but also practice magic to venerate nature and don’t believe the Bible’s historic ban on witchcraft applies to working with light or natural healing manifesting energies but rather harmful workings) is on the shelves and easily accessible today to inquiring minds.
Recently a Pew Research study estimated 1.5 million Americans identify as Wiccans, which is the religion sometimes associated with witchcraft that involves venerating the earth through worship of a male and female god and goddess aspect. This means there are now more Wiccans in America than mainline Presbyterians, and that’s just the beginning. This number does not take into account the many witches and pagans who are not Wiccan at all. In fact the only thing seeming to grow faster than Wicca in the U.S. is the variety of types of paganism or witchcraft.
Witchcraft, which is the practical side to using natural energies to cast spells for manifestation, and tarot card readings have become so popular among young people that beauty retailer Sephora recently drew fire for selling a “starter witch kit” for dabblers, offending the increasing number of serious witches in American culture. Facebook groups for witches, Wiccans, and pagans of every stripe are now often very public and very large. It’s not hard to find a discussion online any given day about the Rule of Three, which some, but not all, witches abide by to govern their magic. The Rule of Three means that what you put into the world you get back three-fold, so watch what you do and create positive karma and workings, not ones that harm others. It’s not hard to explain how Evangelical Christianity jumped the shark in American culture in recent years by siding with toxic political candidates, or how Catholicism has suffered under the burden of the priest pedophile scandals, but the witchcraft movement is unexpected to a lot of people, especially those who were taught that witches and tarot card readers work with demons.
For many, from aging hippies and baby boomers who are still young at heart to the millennials looking for a spiritual path to replace the decline of Christianity, witchcraft has proven an unexpectedly intuitive choice for continuing along a spiritual path of personal growth without the baggage of out-of-date theology or the dogmatic rule of religious traditions. It seems to be that the freedom and eclectic nature of modern witchcraft itself is the draw. Witchcraft isn’t one thing. It isn’t even a dozen things. And as mentioned before, witchcraft in particular can combine with other religions, so often witchcraft has the appeal of being a stepping stone into other spiritual studies without a person having to abandon another path whose traditions are important to them.
Many people say that it is problematic to paste together a hodgepodge of beliefs and traditions, which in some ways had to be done to rediscover Druidic paganism after the traditions were destroyed during the Roman occupation of the Celtic lands. For a generation that feels more comfortable following what feels true to them, this is also part of the draw. Right or wrong, or somewhere in between, as is usually the case with any movement, this trend toward choosing your own spirituality is on the rise. Because people within witchy circles are so eclectic, running the gamut from witches who have traditions passed down in families to pagans who are recreating ancient Celtic or other cultural seasonal ceremonies to commune with nature, the easiest way to understand the growth of witchcraft and paganism is not to sort it out end to end, which takes years of research, but to hear people’s stories from within the movements. I pursued some time with three people who were generous enough to give me a peek into their world, two of whom are local to the Ann Arbor area and one I met online in mystical circles.
Spirituality of any kind is a journey and a voluntary one. So, I hope that the following interviews don’t do the impossible task of answering all your questions or convincing you what to think about any spiritual tradition, but rather provoke more questions.
Glenda Bartel, An Intuitive Witch
Laura K. Cowan: How did you get into witchcraft and intuitive work?
Glenda Bartel: I was within the religious practice of Wicca (unknowingly) for approximately 20 years, starting at the age of 38. As a child, I can remember talking to the moon and knowing that she was talking back. My intuitiveness has always been there. It isn’t something that I got into. It’s just a part of who I am. I “knew” things at a very young age. I knew when my great-grandmother was going to pass when I was 12 and she did, two weeks later. My mediumship came into effect at the age of 14 when I saw her standing in the kitchen of her house!
I didn’t know what being intuitive or being a medium was until I was in my early 30s…. When I discovered that my chart had Scorpio in my Sun and Moon with a Cancer rising, it all made sense to me. Water signs are susceptible to being highly intuitive. In my case, I have water across the board!
LKC: What does this path mean to you and how did you choose which way was right for you?
GB: Wicca felt right for me at the time. It was the stepping stone that led to where I am today. The practice and belief of respecting all living things and “worshipping” nature and Mother Earth? It wasn’t hard for me to choose this at all. It gave me an opportunity to learn my own ways and have my own faith, while following the law of harming none. I’ve incorporated a lot of paths to form my own. For instance, I love certain aspects of the Hindu faith, and I use a lot of their beliefs in my practices.
LKC: What is it that interests you about witchcraft?
GB: In all honesty, freedom of faith—having the ability to follow the ways you want —whether it be walking “in” the dark or walking “with” the light. Unfortunately, I can’t say it’s without judgment. You’ll always have those who feel a person’s path isn’t the right one.
LKC: Can you explain the difference between Wicca and witchcraft for readers?
GB: Wicca is a religion. There are rules to follow just like any religion. Witchcraft has no rules. Some would say it isn’t a religion. Witchcraft has no boundaries, if you will.
LKC: Are there any other differences you want the readers to understand, such as grey versus green witchcraft, any herbalism you’ve studied, and so on?
GB: I don’t like titling a witch by what kind of work is practiced. To me a witch is a witch. For example, some gravitate toward working with herbs, while others prefer candles or stones.
All witches are herbalists, in my opinion. Some witches may be more proficient with them, that’s all. Take me for instance: I love, love, love candle work. I have a friend who loves working with herbs. And another friend enjoys incorporating ribbons into her work! It’s all about what resonates with you, I guess.
LKC: What myths would you like to bust about witchcraft and its history?
GB: Oh, I’ve got several I’d like to share, but we’ve only got so much time in a day so I’ll just share the main ones!
The pentacle and the pentagram are not symbols of Satan. The five points of each star represent the five elements, which are highly respected in the Craft. These are, in order, starting from the top and then clockwise: Spirit, Water, Fire, Earth, and Air. The difference between the pentacle and pentagram is the circle, which embraces the pentagram with its protection.
Which brings me to the second myth: those who practice witchcraft worship the Devil. The Devil is a Christian belief. Those who practice the Craft aren’t Christian, therefore are not worshipping a Christian deity. However, this doesn’t mean that all witches practice within the light.
Another myth I’d like to squash is not being able to believe in Jesus while practicing witchcraft. Just for the record, Jesus didn’t have a religion. Jesus’ practice was love and respect for all living things. If love and respect is the focus of your Craft, then yes, you can believe in Jesus, and that’s all I’m gonna say about that. I could go on all day!
LKC: Why do you think women were persecuted as witches historically and the Craft demonized?
GB: In three words: power, greed, and fear. Women have been oppressed for thousands of years. Women who showed any signs of power were condemned as being a witch. Take healing with herbs for instance. If a woman healed someone with herbs or was even suspected of working with herbs, she was labeled as a witch and executed. If a woman was outspoken and challenged a man, she was labeled a witch and executed. If a woman was a free thinker, she was labeled as a witch and executed. We’ve come a long way since then, thank the Goddess!
LKC: What’s your favorite intuitive tool for a reading?
GB: Meditation! I don’t use divination tools because being a Clair with all five senses, including mediumship, I have a direct connection with Spirit.
LKC: How do you decide to work with a client when they come in?
GB: I’m told whether or not I work with them—that decision isn’t mine. Spirit will also tell me how the message needs to be delivered, whether that is bluntly or carefully. Sometimes I’m told to deliver the message comically, which can be hysterical to say the least! When I made a connection with a loved one for someone, I actually had to get up and do the dance for “Can’t Touch This” by MC Hammer! Ya, good times! My client loved it!
LKC: Can you teach us anything about how to do proper research into witchcraft, intuitive work, and the like if readers are interested in learning more on their own or joining a coven?
GB: I’m a solitary, so I’ve never worked within a coven setting. I’ve “worked” with close friends though. One of the things I learned quickly in the beginning is to never believe everything you read. Do what makes you feel good. Never participate in the workings with another if they don’t tell you what they are doing. Take the “Law of three” seriously because it’s real. Don’t allow someone else to make you feel bad about what you’re doing. Enjoy yourself and have fun!
LKC: Do people visit covens these days or are they generally private for most events?
GB: Covens are very protective, yet welcoming to people who want to join. Not too many will simply allow someone to come in and “observe,” however. A proper coven is sacred and will be treated as such by the High Priestess.
LKC: Do you stay connected with other witches locally or online and how?
GB: Being a solitary practitioner, it’s not a norm for me to gather with others. On occasion I will have a gathering of like-minded individuals at my home, partaking in shenanigans though!
LKC: Is community important to you as a witch?
GB: I think community is important to a witch or any other faith-based practice, especially to those starting out. I’ve taken a few under my wing over the years, guiding them, making sure they have the correct information in order for them to move forward on their chosen path.
LKC: Do you like your solitude?
GB: Yes! Absolutely without a doubt, I need it. Doing what I do has turned me into a full-blown empath, so I need solitude more often than not. It also allows me to recharge.
Glenda Bartel is the tender young age of 47 and lives in Hartland with her husband. She has two children who have recently left the nest. She has recently developed a passion for making garden sculptures with a metaphysical origin. You can contact Glenda at firstname.lastname@example.org or Find her on Facebook @thedancingcrowgb.
Rob Henderson on The Druids
Laura K. Cowan: What led you to the pagan path, and why does it keep you coming back? What do you find most meaningful?
Rob Henderson: I’ve been practicing for 28 years now, so “coming back” feels like an odd way to describe it!
I had friends in college who were pagans and they seemed to be decent people who had their lives pretty well together, so I asked them about it, got some books, and went from there. In terms of ADF Druidry [“A Druid Fellowship” emphasizes veneration of nature, ritual practice, honoring the Earth Mother, and respect and service to others], I joined the local Grove in 1996 as I found their polytheistic devotional practices more compatible with my way of thinking than the usual energy work that some other groups did.
The most meaningful aspect of our practice to me, is the connection to the Kindreds (our term for the Gods, Nature Spirits, and Ancestors), and to each other, through ritual and celebration. Viewing my place in the cosmos in terms of the relationships I build with others strongly appeals to me.
LKC: What myths would you like to bust about the history of your practice?
RH: I guess the usual answer people give to this is that we don’t worship Satan? But lately I’ve found that very few people really think that about us. One falsehood about us that I do see circulating is that all Druids are men. I know that some of the older British orders were men only, but even that has fallen out of favor. Most American Druid groups have been inclusive since their very beginnings. Most of my Grovemates are women, and most of the priests of ADF at the international level are also women.
LKC: Do you often run into misunderstandings or misconceptions about your faith or practice? How do you handle this? Did it take you a long time to publicly identify with paganism or Druidism?
RH: This rarely happens to me these days, though that’s most likely because of my disability, and the travel issues that arise from that. I rarely interact with anyone who isn’t a pagan. And nearly every non-pagan I interact with lives in Ann Arbor, which is about as tolerant a place as you can find in this country.
When I came out to my family and my boss in the 90s, it was a little scary, but they were supportive. I’ve been very fortunate in that respect.
LKC: What’s your favorite part of paganism? Do you have a favorite holiday, ritual, or time of year and why?
RH: High Day rituals where I can get together with friends and fellow practitioners to celebrate in the Old Ways. I live for that.
Samhain is certainly my favorite time of year, and arguably my favorite ritual, though as a priest I feel like picking a favorite High Day is like picking a favorite child. I love all of our holidays for the very different celebrations that they are.
LKC: Where do you see paganism going on a local and national level in the near future?
RH: That’s hard for me to say. I’ve definitely seen a shift away from face-to-face gatherings and more toward online interactions, partly because it’s just easier for most folks (hey, I’m the guy in the wheelchair, nobody needs to explain travel difficulties to me) but also in part because our culture as a whole has become more argumentative, and people aren’t as comfortable gathering with others who may have different political views. Will that change in the future? A lot of that depends on whether tensions in the U.S. get better, and I don’t have a good sense of where we’re going in that respect. As long as I’m able, and as long as people keep coming, I will keep offering public ritual here in the Ann Arbor area, because that’s a commitment I’ve made to my Gods.
LKC: What else would you like to share with our readers?
RH: That our rituals and other meetings are all open to the public, and we really want you to join us! Too many people are intimidated by the word “Druid” and assume that they need advanced training to be allowed to attend, when in fact we go out of our way to design the rituals in a way that everyone can get something out of them, whether or not they understand the nuances of our tradition. ADF is very much about public worship and public service.
LKC: Is there anything you would like to tell readers about your practice and faith to give them more of an idea of what it consists of?
RH: We’re an ADF Druid group, which is a bit different from most Druid groups in that we’re not exclusively Celtic in our practice [historically the Druids were the priests and wisemen and poet bards of the Celtic people], but instead look to all of the various ancient Indo-European cultures (including Greek, Norse, Roman, Vedic, and many others) and their common practices as an inspiration to developing a modern tradition. Our rituals are devotional, and involve making offerings to the Three Kindreds (Gods, Ancestors, Nature Spirits) and asking for their blessings in return, following the ancient tradition of reciprocity and the exchange of gifts. Like all ADF Groves, we hold eight open public High Day rituals each year: the solstices and equinoxes, plus Imbolc, Beltaine, Lughnasadh, and Samhain. We also have monthly study group meetings for the ADF’s training program for those interested.
Rob Henderson lives in downtown Ypsilanti. He is 50 years of age and works as a computer scientist writing Android apps for various divination systems. You can contact Rob at email@example.com. To find more information about the Shining Lakes ADF Grove visit www.shininglakes.org.
Diane Horton on The National Witch Scene
Laura K. Cowan: How did you come to this path? How would you describe your path and what would you like people to know about it?
Diane Horton: I came to this path through the routes of shamanism and Goddess worship. As I developed my own healing abilities, my interest in shamanism and healing led me to be very attracted to Native American spirituality and its many branches, but I felt uncomfortable pursuing it further because I didn’t want to co-opt what wasn’t mine in heritage. I was discussing this with a shamanic healer I had consulted for myself and things I was going through, and he suggested I pursue shamanism and spirituality through my own heritage.
Every part of the world has had shamanic healers, spiritual leaders, and Gods and Goddesses worshiped for countless centuries. Now that seems like a simple idea, but to me it was brilliant and immediately made perfect sense. My heritage is Celtic—Irish, English, Scots. So what was the old pagan spirituality for the Celts? That which has come down to us in the form of modern witchcraft. It dovetailed comfortably with my being called by the Divine Feminine and Her re-emergence on the earth as a spiritual path and the force of those who were similarly responding.
My path is certainly eclectic. I have been drawn to Goddesses of different parts of the earth, which are definitely in different pantheons. On the outside they may seem to not be connected, but they are. As surely as they are separate entities and powers, they are also all One in the Great Mother Goddess Creatrix, like different facets of a globe-sized diamond.
The Divine Feminine, or Great Mother Goddess, is returning and growing more and more in the global consciousness. For too long, three or four millennia, the prominence of the male God has conducted bloody conflicts, repressions of women and children, and the firm embrace and spread of patriarchy through the prominent religions. It has wreaked havoc and brought a brutal imbalance on the earth, including the horrifying disregard of our Mother Earth herself. We find ourselves at a crossroads now, and the Great Goddess who birthed us all will re-create balance. I have no doubt.
If you do any amount of research on witchcraft, you will see how it incorporates shamanism, drumming, chanting, dancing, trance, and personal contact with the Goddess or God that is being venerated, called upon, or invoked, in the form of ritual and ceremony. It is deeply connected to the earth, the heavenly bodies, and the seasons. Most of the witches I know are empathetic, loving, wise women (and a few men) who seek to use their craft both for the benefit of others and the world and to empower themselves. Self-empowerment is the essence of the Craft. Being able to change, and have power in regards to one’s own life and experience, is the essence of spellcraft. And having personal spiritual experience is the essence of witchcraft. There is no book, no writings, no scriptures that are definitive to all. It is a spiritual path of experiential wisdom.
What I would most like to communicate to those unfamiliar with witches is that the word witch comes from the Old English or Anglo-Saxon word wicce, which means wise. These are people seeking to know and live in the ancient wisdom of the earth. They do not have a connection to any evil entity, and the vast majority would tell you that Satan or the Devil is a character invented by the original Catholic church with which they have no connection.
LKC: Are there any myths about witchcraft or paganism that you would like to bust? Do you deal with any pushback or misunderstandings over your practice?
DH: Yes. Forget Hollywood and every depiction of witches you have seen in that venue. Of course there are many, many people who misunderstand my practice. They have no real knowledge of it, they have no experience with it. They don’t know people who are pagan. And therefore, there are not that many people who know me that even know I call myself a witch. If they ask, I evaluate in that moment how I will answer because there is so much misunderstanding surrounding this spiritual path. The stigma surrounding the pentacle makes thousands of people recoil at the very sight of it. They associate it with evil. It’s the same for the word witch. If you put yourself out there as identifying with the word witch, many people immediately have a pre-set idea of what that is—a very mistaken pre-set idea. However, I would say that most of the people I know personally would be puzzled and draw a blank, not understanding what was even meant by the words pagan or witch in a modern context.
I would add here that the pentacle is representative of the Great Elements: Air, Water, Earth, Fire, and the top point is Spirit. Nothing freaky there at all. The circle around the five-pointed star represents eternity.
LKC: To what would you ascribe the growth of witchcraft in the U.S. in the past few years? Where do you see it going?
DH: I think the people in the U.S. are responding in the same way people are all over the earth. Witchcraft is creating a greater connection between people and how they relate and care for the earth. They are also seeking a greater spiritual balance, removing themselves from the shackles of the “power-over” structure of the patriarchal monotheistic religions and the religious incorporated belief that humans are basically evil and sinful. They are seeing a future where humans realize the truth of the oneness of all beings and things, seeing that the force of life and Spirit exists in all the world around us as well as in ourselves. I think that truth is not something which can be suppressed forever, and it is growing now. I think it will bless the whole earth.
Diane Horton is 66 years of age and lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico where she works as a concierge at a large downtown hotel. She has a daughter who lives with her family in New York. She feels passionate about sharing the knowledge that all things and beings are alive and have spirit and are intertwined with the scientific knowledge of quantum physics and that everything is vibration and energy and movement—in essence, alive. She also reads and teaches Tarot professionally. If you have questions she may be contacted by email at CeresLMT@yahoo.com.