UA witches reject Hollywood stereotypes
Hollywood has provided a stereotyped image of witches as old women with warts accompanied by a black cat - but UA witches say the image is completely wrong.
"There is no such thing as a warlock (a male witch), that's a Hollywood idea," said Sue Bond, a University of Arizona alumnus and one of the founders of UA's Pagan Association. "We don't participate in Satanism, that's a Christian problem not associated with Wicca."
The traditions practiced by Hollywood characters were based on the idea of magic and evil and could not be defined as religious.
In reality, witchcraft is a practiced pagan religion dating back 30,000 years. The word Wicca is derived from the word "wise." Members of Wicca were known to have followed the path of healing with a knowledge of nature and health, according to the organization's Web site, wicca.com.
An estimated 150 due-paying Wiccans belong to the Tucson Area Wiccan Network.
"It (the Wiccan religion) has a tremendous popularity because it is defined as a nature-based religion - attracting nature-conscious people," said Bond, the Tucson Area Wicca Network's secretary.
UA's Pagan Association has about 40 members, and about 10 identify themselves as Wiccans, said Melissa Andrews, the group's president.
"We don't really keep a record of whatever the members' religions are," said Andrews, an undeclared freshman.
Andrews said the Wiccan religion is a sect of Paganism, like Catholicism is a sect of Christianity.
"Paganism is really a general term," Andrews said. "It's very inclusive of all nature worship, as Wiccan has a specific doctrine with specified holidays and a creed."
But some Wiccans disagree, saying the religion lacks organization.
Jennifer McStotts, an interdisciplinary studies senior, still defines herself as a practicing Wiccan but has joined the Unitarian Universalist Church.
"I found that I wanted a stronger community and something more organized" she stated in an e-mail interview. "I found myself envying my friend who had weekly Bible studies."
McStotts said she attended Christian private school as a child and attended church with her mother once a week.
While attending public school in her later elementary years, McStotts began reading research materials her mother had collected for a novel she was writing.
"She had a lot of new age books and books on nature religions," she stated. "I became really interested as I began to read them."
McStotts said she identified with Wiccan ideas - like spiritual experiences involving nature - rather than what she had been taught about God in Sunday school.
A UA English professor, Greg Jackson, teaches a course on early American religious culture and history, which includes books written in the 17th century concerning witch trials and rituals in early New England.
"There are several scandalous conceptions and notions about witchcraft in these novels," he said.
He said these include stories of witch initiation as signing the devil's book.
Jackson agreed that Hollywood has adopted these conceptions with television shows like ABC's "Sabrina the Teenage Witch," and the WB's "Charmed."
"What is interesting is that these (television) characters identify themselves as descendants to New England ancestors," Jackson said.
While some students were attracted to Wicca's non-structured belief system, others began practicing the religion after a "life-changing" event.
Jonna Lopez, UA political science junior, said she was raised as an atheist and became a Wiccan after she and her girlfriend were involved in a car accident three years ago.
Prior to the incident, Lopez said she was having dreams about St. Barbara, the Catholic saint of explosions. She then began to worship female deities like St. Barbara and said she was drawn to the manner of polytheistic god or goddess worship, rather than the monotheistic approach Christian religions practice.
"I really liked the idea that what you get out of this world you put in," Lopez said.
Wiccans live by a law called the Three-Fold Law, said international studies sophomore Sarah Paige.
"The basic idea is, if you do something bad to someone, you'll get it back three times," said Paige, who identifies herself as a Wiccan but does not belong to the Arizona Student Pagan Association.
Paige, like McStotts, was drawn to the religion by reading.
"I was a really avid reader as a kid. Eventually, I got up to Pagan books in the Dewey Decimal System," she said.
Paige said she has been practicing for eight years but rejects the label of "witch" that many other Wiccans accept.
A portion of the religion is performed by practicing spells, but Paige said spells don't coincide with the Hollywood definition of witches.
"We can't practice harmful spells or love spells," Paige said.
But Paige said she sometimes uses the label when it's convenient.
"Most people don't understand fully, but when I am approached by a campus crusader, I say 'I'm a witch.'"
Lopez said Wiccan spell practice emphasizes her own will to do something.
"I direct my energy toward a particular goal, like bringing love into my life," Lopez said.
Paige said she incorporates humor into some of her spell castings.
"We (my coven) have a chocolate ritual, in which we honor the goddess Godiva," she said.
At the end of every spell casting session, Wiccans dine to a feast to thank the gods and goddesses, Paige said.
"We dine on chocolate cake and cupcakes," she added.
Others utilize specific imagery, like candles, in their spell casting.
"I cast a spell to boost my self-confidence before an audition," said music junior Colleen Theone. "I lit a candle with runes (carved hieroglyphic pictures), and said what I wished to happen."
Theone said she was drawn to Wicca after her boyfriend began to practice.
Wiccans can either practice in a group, called a "coven," or alone, called "solitary."
Lopez, Theone, McStotts and computer science senior Nick Palmer all practice "solitary" Wicca.
"I believe religion is a very intimate kind of thing," Palmer said.
Palmer said Wicca appealed to him because the religion does not use a single faith doctrine - like the Christian Bible - and no conversion attempts are made by current members.
But Bond said becoming a Wiccan isn't easy.
"Becoming a witch is not as simple as walking up to a local witch and saying, 'I want to be one too.' We don't recruit or convert," Bond said.
The process takes many hours of studying and developing personal classifications and practices, she added.
"We send protection and good vibes," Bond said.