don't have brooms or hook noses, but modern-day witches are out there"
(AFP, November 2, 2003)
Halloween has come and gone, but modern-day witchcraft is alive and well in the
"A little bit of pagan folklore, masonry, magic, worship of nature,
sorcery, some naughty fun, some humour, and you create a religion from
that," says self-styled warlock Joe Zuchowski of Manhattan, obscured by a
cloud of home-made incense.
He is fashioning a bi-color candle, "red for power, grey for
Inspired by pre-Christian pagan religions, 20th century witchcraft, or Wicca,
was invented by Briton Gerald Gardner in the 1950s, but has flourished since
the late '90s when it was classified as a religion.
Although it's difficult to pinpoint just how many wiccans are actually out
there, a study of American religions by the City University of New York turned
up some 134,000 of them in 2001, up from 8,000 a decade earlier.
Followers, most often from large cities and careers in the arts and letters,
have grown in number exponentially with the advent of the Internet.
Brooms and hook noses are not in evidence.
Kostas Kalogerogiannis, a 23-year-old sociology student at New York's Columbia
University, where a Pagan Club has just been formed, wears the jeans, pullover
and tortoise shell glasses of your average young man.
He tells of his childhood in a Greek Orthodox family.
"I was unhappy with going to the church," he says. "I grew up in
the 90's, I saw the influence of new age, yoga... also at home my grandma was
superstitious, she would burn things, talk about the evil eye, black cats. I
feel it's been around forever."
Wicca, he says, "allows you to be more free. I like the non-organized
aspect, the solitary aspect of it. It's simple, I light up a candle, that's
In fact, with the exception of a calendar and a few loose principles, like the
"law of three" - whatever you do, good or bad, returns to you
three-fold - there is little dogma in this science of the occult.
Practitioners practice it as they see it, alone or in groups, or
"covens," and choose their own deities. There is no structure, no
clergy. Each is his own high priest.
Jezabell, a dancer who declined to give her age or family name, came to Wicca
through an interest in "history and mythology."
"I like the rituals, the ceremonies, the meditation, it's a very creative
art," she says.
Some, like Zuchowski, confess to a fascination with magic.
"My grandmother used to tell me stories of her homeland, Poland at that
time, now Ukraine. The fascination grew in me, until I met my first teacher,
Daniele, who initiated me 27 years ago."
He has since learned about herbs and powders, how to recognize bad vibrations,
to invoke divine spirits.
His shop is filled with amulets and candles, herbs and horse shoes, and each
day brings new customers seeking the existential, even miracles.
"You have to keep on repeating, 'We can't put a spell on your fiance or
your boss,'" he sighs. "I listen to people, I make candles for them.
It's psychology with props...
"We are all humans of great powers," he says. "I'm a non-theist,
I don't think there is a God. I'm a humanist. I feel the earth is our home, our
Dagonet Dwerr is vice-president of "Pagan Pride," which, modeled
after the Gay Pride movement, seeks to fight prejudice against Wicca by
organizing public events and charitable activities around the country.
"We have two major concerns, two common misrepresentations: the fundamentalist
Christians, who think we are satanist, and Hollywood, who teaches people that
there are easy answers," he said by telephone from Indianapolis, Indiana,
pointing to films like "Charmed" and "Buffy the Vampire
"We have to take away the mystery around us," he added.
Wiccans are in fact generally discreet people, like Kostas Kalogerogiannis, who
hides his five-point star pendant under his pullover.
"I used to have a friend," he says. "Until his priest advised
him to stay away from me."