Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Nice reporting

Dis-spelling the images Wiccans conjure Wednesday,
June 18, 2008
STAFF WRITER North Jersey record

Are you a Wiccan?

If you plan to spend Saturday – the longest day of the year – in a comfy sofa in an air-conditioned room, drinking Coronas and watching the Yankees play the Cincinnati Reds, the answer is: probably not.

If, on the other hand, you plan to spend the coming summer solstice – which you call “Litha” – in a park or other leafy outdoor space, planting a tree and thanking The Goddess … well, you just might be a Wiccan, witches to the hoi polloi. And you just might run into Robert Vecchio of Totowa. He’ll be outdoors that day, doing much the same things.

“I’ll just sit down with nature,” Vecchio says. “Because it’s the longest day of the year, I would take full advantage of that. Appreciate the summer. And the full aspect of all the sunlight.”

Historically, witches have not been a popular bunch. They’ve been denounced by evangelists, demonized by the film classic “Rosemary’s Baby” and shoved into ovens by enterprising youngsters in fairy tales. Five hundred years ago, they were burned at the stake. But the 21st century, which has embraced the witches of “Harry Potter,” seems to also be developing some tolerance for the real thing.

Case in point: the Pompton Lakes store Practical Magick, run by Vecchio, 31, and his grandmother Annette Verra, 78, one of several “neo-pagan” supply stores in North Jersey. In the shop’s lavender-scented display room, you’ll find tarot cards, dragon sculptures, charms, bottled oils, candles, love potions, wreaths, masks and books. In the back room, Verra does card readings.

Wicca is still exotic to most people – and sinister to some. There’s plenty there to make Cotton Mather lose his lunch: pentagrams, pagan altars, spell-casting. A group of Wiccans is called – yes – a coven.

What there isn’t, says Vecchio, is Satan-worship (Wiccans don’t believe in Satan, or any evil being) or the working of harmful magic.

“We have the three-fold law,” Vecchio says. “Basically, whatever you put out there, you will receive it back three times. So if you put something bad out there, you’re gonna get it back three times. Basically, it’s karma.”

Wiccans like to trace their roots back to ancient Druids and pagans, but, in fact, the modern Wiccan movement is only about 50 years old. Gerald Gardner, a British antiquarian, popularized the word “Wicca” in the 1950s and synthesized several millennia of pagan lore – Celtic, Greek, Egyptian and so on – in books that became the cornerstone of the movement.

There are now something like 800,000 Wiccans, worldwide, according to, a Web site that tallies world religions. But the figure is probably larger: Many solitary practitioners don’t belong to any Wiccan group, and others shy away from going on record.

“Wicca is the most misunderstood religion,” says Verra, who counts herself as a fourth-generation witch (her great-grandmother in Italy was a practitioner, she says). “But we’re coming out.”

It helps that Wicca is a – perhaps the – green religion.

Whatever you may think of pagan altars, chalices and other witchy stuff that some adherents go in for, Wicca remains a supremely earth-friendly philosophy. Nature is venerated. The seasons are all hailed and farewelled. And all life – be it animal, vegetable or fairy folk – is respected.

If you’re concerned about global warming, or just pining to get out of your cubicle and smell the flowers on the longest day of the year, Wicca might just be your cup of brew.

“A lot of people don’t even notice [the solstice] is the longest day,” Verra says. “People go through life and they don’t even know the changing of the seasons means so many different things. But in Wicca, you appreciate that. It’s brought to your attention.”