DIANE MAKAR MURPHY Local witches sit down and talk a spell

Jason Hay is a witch. He does not worship Satan; he doesn't even believe in him. He doesn't cast evil spells or ride a broom -- as some of his less tactful acquaintances have suggested. What he does do is practice a religion that predates Christianity, a pagan religion the Celts were persecuted for -- Wicca.
"Witchcraft is the practice, and Wicca is the religion," said Jason, 19.
"Wicca is very structured and good," said another Valley witch I'll call Mary, in her early 20s, because she fears persecution. I spoke to Jason in his Youngstown home and met Mary in Boardman.
Tuned to nature: "Wicca is nature oriented," Mary said. Wiccans often wear a pentagram for this reason. The five-pointed symbol, so often maligned and often misaligned with Satan worship, represents the four elements -- air, earth, water, and fire -- below a point representing human spirit.
"It means spiritual concerns should be above material ones," Jason said. "Satan worshippers have inverted the symbol."
Wicca has two Gods, one male, one female, both equal in importance, which is one reason Mary is a follower. The Wiccan creation myth, Jason said, "is that one consciousness split into two, so not only is everything on earth sacred, but humans have the spark of the divine and can aspire to divinity."
Mary demonstrated by holding her hands apart, one above the other. "In many religions, God is up here and humans are down here," she said. Then she moved her hands so they were level to each other. "In Wicca, the God and Goddess are here and here, and humans are in between them."
Karma: Like Hindus, Wiccans believe in karma -- the idea that "the universe will dole out what you give," Jason said. "Some Wiccans think that if you do wrong, it will come back to you in equal measure, others three-fold, and still others 10-fold."
Likewise, good action is rewarded in karma. The basic commandment of Wicca is: "An harm none; do what thou wilt." Animal and certainly human sacrifices (another popular misconception) contradict the commandent, which prohibits harm.
Wiccans suffer in some measure from guilt by association. Movies portray witches as evil. Also, according to Jason, many self-described witches are there to create an image, not follow Wicca. "For every one like me, there are 25 saying: 'Hey, look at me! I'm in style with my five-pointed star. I'm casting spells!'" he said.
It doesn't help that Wiccan terminology has also been saddled, via literature, movies, and even centuries old anti-pagan propaganda, with negative connotations. Terms like Magick, covens, casting spells, and the wearing of black or meeting for rituals raise the neck hairs of the uninformed.
Wiccan covens are groups of worshippers who meet to practice their religion. Spells are a cross between meditation, aromatherapy (inhaling herbal scents) and positive visualization and prayer -- all fairly accepted by the mainstream these days. "Spells are not meant to manipulate. Again, it goes back to karma," Jason said.
Going through elaborate rituals is "all about raising energy and creating a focus," he added.
And black is simply a nod to the fact that black absorbs more energy than other colors, and Wiccans find that a positive. "I refer to Magick as what a person can do for themselves using their own energy field, focused within or without," he said.
Why, one wonders, faced with such misconceptions, wouldn't the Wiccans just change all the terminology. Said Jason, "Well, people are learning there is a difference. Just sticking with it is educating people."
It's a long row to hoe, though. "I've had friends ask me laughable things," Mary said. "Do I have a broom, frogs ..."
A little fun: Of course, even Jason isn't above having fun with all the misinformation. "For a couple of years in high school [at Austintown Fitch], I wore a pentagram on the outside of my shirt, and a cape to get a reaction," he said.
Not convinced yet? Maybe this will help. When asked what she'd be doing on Halloween, Mary said, "Probably handing out candy."