Laura Wildman-Hanlon, a practicing Wiccan, is not your Hollywood witch. She doesn’t wear a pointed hat or have green skin, and she certainly doesn’t turn men into frogs. This she says, is not at all what real Wicca and witchcraft are about.
“Wicca is a modern form of witchcraft,” said Wildman-Hanlon, office manager for the psychology department at the University of Massachusetts. “It’s more of a religious component. It is earth-based spirituality that acknowledges the divine in many forms.”
According to Wildman-Hanlon, not all witches are Wiccan, which is a branch of Paganism or neo-paganism. There are, she said, a wide range of people who are “magic-workers.”
Those magic workers are often portrayed in the movies, she says, as cauldron-stirring, black-robe wearing, incantation-chanting enchantresses like in the TV drama “Charmed” and the 1996 movie “The Craft,” which showed a quartet of teenage witches casting disfiguring curses on their enemies.
“We don’t do that,” said Wildman-Hanlon. “We don’t have special powers and we are not going to cause harm to people. Magic does not create major changes. It’s about a minor poking of the web, minor shifts in perception, minor changes that end up creating other kinds of waves.”
Wildman-Hanlon added that as a Wiccan, she along with many others believes in the threefold law, also known as the rule of three. According to this law, whatever energy a witch puts into the world, positive or negative, will return to them three times.
Witches and Wiccans, according to Wildman-Hanlon, rarely try to invoke change unless they have “a darn good reason to.”
Wicca is a religion, she explained, and like in any religion, there can be people of questionable intent. The majority of Wiccans, she says, take it seriously as a belief and many do not work magic at all.
Along with the misconception of gothic, black-makeup-wearing witches, some people fear that Wiccans are Satan worshipers, a misconception Wildman-Hanlon said she is glad to see has decreased in recent years.
“We do not worship Satan,” said Wildman-Hanlon. “That is actually more of a Christian concept than a Wiccan one.”
Wildman-Hanlon says that people are beginning to understand that, though there are Satanists in the world, they are not Wiccan. That said, though, Wildman-Hanlon has encountered her share of discrimination.
“Some people of conservative faiths … consider me an abomination,” said Wildman-Hanlon. “They’ll pray for my soul and as far as they’re concerned I’ll burn in hell because I’m not following their particular beliefs. That’s very sad. I don’t believe any of that. I give honor to their deity forms. I have no problems walking into a church or a Mosque or any religious place as long as they will allow me to be.”
Wildman-Hanlon has been employed at UMass for 14 years and is a mother of three. She says she is raising her children as Pagans, though she encourages them to explore other religious possibilities.
Wildman-Hanlon grew up with Christian parents, her mother belonged to an Episcopalian church. She has been practicing Wicca since the 1980s when she first came across a name for her beliefs in a book. Instead of her choosing a faith, she believes Wicca “chose” her.
“My beliefs and the way I look at the world affect my life every single day,” said Wildman-Hanlon. “I look at things as having shades of grey as well as light and dark. I try to look at the interconnectedness of everything I’m doing and everything I’m seeing.”
Wildman-Hanlon, who marries Wiccan couples, has encountered many different responses to her faith, she says, including a mother who panicked when she found out her son was partaking in a traditional Wiccan wedding.
“A couple I was marrying neglected to tell the mother that they were having a Wiccan Ceremony with a priest and a priestess, casting a circle and inviting the elements. The mother shows up at the wedding and when she was told the wedding was a Wiccan ceremony, she turned pale and started to shake. She looked around asking, ‘You’re not going to kill an animal are you?’”
Along with that reaction, there were others who chose to mock her faith. She said one person asked her, ‘Are you a good witch or a bad witch?’ in a condescending voice, while others will roll their eyes, laugh or say, ‘No, you’re not actually a witch.’
This confusion surrounding witchcraft and Wicca, she said, can be attributed to fear – fear of curses and black magic, which she says is not what Wiccans are about. Wiccans cannot snap their fingers and make something happen or change their circumstances in the blink of an eye. It is not fantasy, she says, but spirituality.
Steffi Porter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org