Ways of the Wiccans: Members try to dispel myths about their religion

Courtney Potts

When members of the Coven of the Crow gathered to celebrate the autumn ritual of Mabon, there were no dark robes, no drunken revelries and no animal sacrifices. But there were Oreos. And homemade soup.

Wicca has been a recognized religion for more than two decades and by some estimates is among the fastest-growing religions in America.

Wiccans around the world celebrate their most sacred holiday of Samhain on Halloween night, a time when they believe a veil between worlds is lifted.

Yet, despite their anticipation, many local followers say they and their beliefs remain largely misunderstood.

Members of the Crows and other Wiccans associated with them agreed to speak with the Observer-Dispatch recently in hopes of dispelling the idea that Wiccans are “Satan worshippers” or “kooks,” they said.

“There needs to be an educating of people, because Hollywood has really done us a disservice,” said High Priestess Janina Giordano, who regularly hosts rituals and get-togethers for the 13 members.

Locally, about two-thirds of the 50 people in the Mohawk Valley Pagan Network who regularly attend meetings identify themselves as active Wiccans, said Mistress of Ceremonies Katrina Schell.

The number of Wiccans may be as high as 900,000, according to a survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Another study by faculty at the City University of New York found that nationally, the number of Wicca practitioners grew exponentially — from about 8,000 in 1990 to 134,000 in 2001. By comparison, the number of Christians of all denominations grew by 5 percent during that period.

Energizing faith

Wicca, Giordano said, is “a new religion based on very old, ancient practices.” Although it formed in the first half of the 20th century, it incorporates various pagan beliefs that predate Christianity, such as goddess worship, holidays based on seasonal cycles and the symbolism associated with various plants and animals.

“Basically, it is the belief that there is a creator, a divinity, and that the divinity lives within us,” Giordano said. “And that the divinity lives within everything.”

In general, Wiccans worship a god and goddess representing the male and female energies of the divinity, and honor the natural elements of earth, air, water and fire, she said. Most believe in reincarnation, and many believe they can harness and redirect natural energy.

A thankful ritual

In September, the Crows began Mabon, known as “the witches’ Thanksgiving,” by sanctifying Giordano’s living room and inviting the four elements and the God and Goddess to join them there. A basket of apples and cornucopia of flowers and squash lay near the center altar, and altars to each of the four elements were arranged around the room.

The service itself included a discussion of the holiday’s significance, chanting and a craft project meant to promote introspection. Members also donated items for a local food bank.

At one point during the service, each member was asked to say what he or she was thankful for this year.

Whitesboro resident Sean Brennan’s answer?

“Patience, tolerance and understanding.”