New York State: America’s Witchcraft Capital

By Susan D. Harris

According to the TV news in Westchester County, Wicca is “one of the fastest growing religions in the country,” and “New York might as well be its capital.”

Westchester, NY news reporter Tara Rosenblum “spent four months exploring and gaining access to” a “thriving underground community of witches.”  Her investigative piece debuted on Tuesday, August 29, and continues Wednesday night.  In her promotion for the piece, Rosenblum promises it will “take everything you think you know about witches and turn it upside down.”

Most of us know the drill — we’re all supposed to be surprised (again) that witches do good and never do any harm.  They’re nature-loving do-gooders that happen to be more in tune with the earth than the rest of us muggles (non-magical people.)  After watching people who’ve sworn an oath of secrecy chanting in hooded robes — which in today’s climate many might see as scarily reminiscent of KKK gatherings — we’re shown pentagrams, tarot cards, a voodoo doll and skulls on display at a witches gathering.  During the intro, one host says that mentioning the word “witch” conjures up pictures of “black cats, broomsticks and bubbling cauldrons,” while the next host quickly adds that “doesn’t necessarily describe the modern Wicca.”  Later, a self-described witch jokingly tells us “we don’t boil anybody in our cauldrons,” as those around her cackle with laughter.  We’re subsequently shown a ritual of these modern-day witches chanting as they boil something in a black cauldron.  In short, it becomes knee-slapping laughable to be told that we need to throw out our old “witch” stereotypes.

The promo says we’ll be meeting, “some of the most powerful witches in New York,” as if there had been a competition and this was a documentable fact.

According to one witch, the modern day Hudson Valley (known to many for being home of the Clinton family compound), is on top of a giant quartz crystal, “so all the energy is radiated through (there.)”

A Wiccan high priestess tells us, “There are people that are very, very dedicated witches in all walks of life…your ER nurse, your lawyer…who knows?”  (This begs the question ‘What constitutes very, very dedicated?’)

“It becomes a way of life,” she says, “You start honoring nature; you start having a connection with the sky.”  (One assumes the John Muir Society isn’t gratifying enough for them.)  Yet another one tells us she knows witches that even go to church.  They’ve agreed to be interviewed, they say, because they want to help people, teach people, and preserve their path.

An on-screen graphic tells us, “There are nearly 1 million Wiccans in the United States.  More than 20% of them live here in New York.”  Apparently, they’re also going public in a bid to grow their ranks.  Still, it’s good to shine a light to see who — or what – is hiding in the darkness.

The news piece teases that we will see them perform a “white magic ritual and summon sacred spirits” in an upcoming segment.

The witches are afraid to come out and expose themselves for fear of persecution; but they bravely say their “passion for the occult is unwavering.”  Rosenblum says, “It’s a mysterious, feminist and nature-focused religion that rewards faith and patience…with magic.”  She asks the Wiccan high priestess, “What is your faith capable of?”  The reply, “Anything that you can think, you can be.”  The purposely evasive answer sounded more like an inspirational speech to a group of fifth graders.

They have no Bible but claim a strict moral code which is similar to Karma.  They talk to an antler god and then ask the moon goddess to cast a protection spell “shielding them from those who wish to do harm.”  The narrator tells us “witches of course have faced a long history of persecution.”  What?  All that stuff we learned about innocent women being put to death was a lie?  Does that mean all the accusations of paranoia and injustice that history lobbed at the witch trials were a mere ruse for covering what were truly occult practices?  Apparently so, as one witch who claims to be descended from British witches shocks the audience by admitting, “We kept it a secret.  We were persecuted.  We were actually burned at the stakes.”

Part two of the series promises to take us “deep into the woods of Orange County to witness a candle magic ritual.”

If you’re not in the Hudson Valley, you can check out the Church of the Knotted Ash which begins their Wicca 101 courses in Western NY in September; the upcoming 18th annual Pagan Pride Day in Syracuse, NY (you have to check out their attractive feminist symbol here);  the Albany area Capital District Witches Meetup; and if you’re planning way ahead – check out WitchsFest USA in Manhattan next summer.

The News 12 Now report comes on the heels of my sharing my own devastating experience working with a Wiccan.  The irony is I was destined to work with yet another witch in the job that followed.  One sunny day in May I touched the witch statue on her desk and said, “That’s kind of cute you keep your Halloween decorations up all year.”  She growled back, “That’s not a Halloween decoration.”  And so began my next career struggle.

I used to think my experiences were the same as thousands across the country; little did I realize New York State seems to be ground zero for every conceivable occult-based affront to Judeo-Christian values.