Witches face centuries-old stigma

By Bridgette Perrott

Opinion Staff Writer
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As October rolls in, the excitement of Halloween or as the pagans would call it, Samhain, fills the air with pumpkins, candy and costumes — including my favorite, the witch.
Every time I tell someone I am a witch I get strange looks followed up by a question as to whether I worship Satan, hex or curse people frequently or if I have experienced the light and savior of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Margaux Allen is a practicing witch and former UNC Asheville student who now attends Montana State University at Bozeman. She said the stigma surrounding witches stems from sexism.
“Since forever, women have been shit on, especially those who claim their autonomy and ownership of self,” Allen said. “I think there is still this negative connotation for anyone practicing witchcraft, especially women, because society sees us as freaks or not intelligent people just because we find strength in looking for more in our lives.”
Although these questions tend to be quite tickling, there is a really harmful image surrounding witches. When Googling witches, images of women dancing in the woods with ominous horned creatures pop up. Believe it or not, the word “witch” is gender-neutral.
Lisa Anderson, owner of Raven and Crone, a witchcraft store in Asheville, said she noticed young women tend to be attracted to Wicca and other forms of witchcraft and paganism because it empowers all.
“I think we’re seeing so many younger women drawn to a pagan witchcraft religion because it’s empowering of women,” Anderson said. “But it’s the type of spirituality that is equal between men and women. There’s not a lot of hierarchy.”
Anderson said she loves witchcraft because it is an earth religion. Witchcraft and paganism worship the Earth by venerating the four directions — north, south, east and west— the four elements — wind, water, fire and earth— as well as the phases of the moon and the cosmos. The whole idea of observing these different facets of the Earth adheres to reconnecting to yourself and going naturally with the cycles and the elements of the Earth in a society where we have become so detached from it.
After nine long years of Catholic school and a period of being atheist, I started researching other religions. I noticed each god and goddess in witchcraft fulfilled different archetypes to pray to and strive to be much like Catholic saints.
I also noticed that all the gods and goddesses fall under one power that unites every living thing — ranging from gods to humans to trees. In the English language, we do not have any one word to describe this power. In Islam and Judaism, it’s known as Bakara or Bakarah. In witchcraft, we use this to connect us to the earth and Her magic.
Just like other religions — including Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Christianity —  we use incense and candles, make offerings and celebrate holidays.
“If you look traditionally at the holidays that are celebrated by the Christian church, there are great parallels to Pagan holidays as far as time goes and traditions are very similar,” Anderson said.
For example, Catholics celebrate All Souls Day on Nov. 2 — a day to honor the dead. This is eerily close to the Pagan holiday, Samhain — better known as Halloween. Samhain marks the end of harvesting, the beginning of the darker months and the day the veil between the dead and the living is thinnest.
The difference between All Souls Day and Samhain is some witches tend to be more interested in contacting the dead than Catholics. While some witches swear off any type of contact in fear of attracting something more sinister, others do not mind appreciating the darker side of the practice, provided they have properly protected and grounded themselves.
Grounding and protecting yourself goes for all types of spell work as a rule of thumb —- even love spells.
Nico Lanier said he’s been interested in the occult for years.
“I would say yes, according to the way I view it, it is dangerous from someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. There are people who say, ‘Don’t dabble,’ which is true,” Lanier said. “I don’t fear it, but if someone else fears it, I can’t change that.”
To me, working spells is like an amplified prayer like it would be in a church. We bless some wine, light a couple colored candles, of which have different meanings and intentions — for example, red and pink symbolize love and relationships, light some incense, my favorite just so happens to be the Catholics’ favorite — frankincense and myrrh and we repeat some well thought over and written words.
Before we do all of this, we cast a circle of protection around ourselves because we believe our words hold so much power and magic it might attract the wrong things.
“Witches exist and it’s not as outlandish as you think,” Lanier said. “Witches are here and they aren’t going to go away and they’re very dedicated people.”
Though there is still a stigma around witchcraft, it is becoming increasingly more accepted and valued.
“I’ve found since opening the store that people are a lot more open than I believe they were in the past,” Anderson said. “There will alway be some religious groups that have been taught to not suffer a witch and to destroy them.”