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Witchcraft and Halloween

October 30, 1997

By KATE COLEMAN

Staff Writer

Halloween conjures up images of jack-o'-lanterns, black cats and witches.

Witches typically are portrayed as ugly old hags with pointed hats and noses, either flying through the air on brooms or stirring bubbling cauldrons of dark, magic potions.

A different image is presented by a nonprofit organization headquartered in Massachusetts. The Witches' Voice Inc. declares via a Web site at (http://www.witchvox.com) that it is organized to promote understanding of those who follow the religion of Witchcraft or Wicca.

Witchcraft has been a legally recognized religion in the U.S. since 1985.

A witch is someone who practices a "nature-based religion which recognizes the feminine in divinity and follows the seasonal cycles," according to information on the Web site.

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Frequently asked questions about Witchcraft are answered:

* Witches believe that Deity is present in everything, including themselves. Spells, the channeling of the divine self or energy, are used much like prayers, to create needed change in one's own life or the life of a loved one. But spells usually are not done for others without their permission.

* Wiccans do not believe in an outside force such as Satan. In Wicca, human beings are responsible for their own actions.

* Witches believe that trying to convert others to witchcraft would be a form of religious bigotry. They don't try to force their religion on anyone.

* Many witches are not public about their religion because of fear of persecution.

Witches have been persecuted to the point of torture and death in some times and cultures.

Halloween or Samhain, the Gaelic word pronounced "Saw-win" or "Saw-vane" - which means summer's end in Scotland - originated in the British Isles.

Trick-or-treat developed from customs brought to the U.S. by Irish immigrants in the 1840s, according to The Witches' Voice.

The day has the agricultural significance of the harvest and also was regarded - because it lies between the autumnal equinox and winter solstice - as a potent time for magic and communion with spirits of the dead. It is the "hallowed" - or holy - evening before the Christian holy day, All Saint's Day.

Nineteen-year-old Wiccan Holly Koppel of Chambersburg, Pa., is "new to the craft."

Koppel says she was fed up with organized religions. She finds appealing symbolism in Wicca and appreciates that it allows for the feminine aspect of divinity, a sort of "great mother" figure.

Koppel will celebrate Halloween by going to a witches' ball in York, Pa. Candles will be lighted in remembrance of deceased loved ones. Koppel will light a candle for her mother, who died about four years ago.

There also will be a Samhain celebration in Washington, D.C., beginning with opening ceremonies at the Jefferson Memorial at 8 tonight.

Activities include an all-weekend food drive and "blood sacrifices" - donations of blood at mobile sites near the Mall. Participants are asked to bring flowers which will be gathered in bouquets and delivered to hospices and hospitals.

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