This last Mabon we had guests at the ritual on campus.  It was the members of the Magic and Religion course taught in the Anthropology department.  Their attendance was required as part of the course; they were to observe at a minimum, they were invited to step in circle and participate if they would like.

For the last however many years I have been a guest in the Magic and Religion class, spending a couple of hours talking about paganism, neo-paganism, witchcraft, etc.  In that brief time I get to talk about the origin of stereotypes, misconceptions that have been created by our society, the fear of “witches”, and answer any questions that I can.  I must say there are times when I just don’t know the answer which I freely admit that fact.  The rules for my time with the class are simple:

  1. It is interactive – students need to engage the subject and ask questions or make comments
  2. The students can ask any question they want – I will try to answer and let them know when I can’t
  3. I won’t be insulted or offended by any question, this is about learning
  4. Students won’t be offended by answers.  Once again, this is about learning.

Simple rules to live by.

Once everyone knows the rules I begin with a word association game.  I start with the word “Witch”.  I ask students to tell me what they think of, the first thing that comes to mind, when they hear this word.  At some point both “magic” and “spells” are added to the list.  I pull those two out and we begin again with words/thoughts associated with these two.  This is the method I have always begun with in order for me to better understand where the students are coming from.  This year was no different from any other; all three words were on the board and being worked with.  However, this year there was something different: I noticed that what this class associated with these words was very different from what the first class years ago had associated. 

I don’t know if it is a generational change, a product of education and recognition in our culture, if it is a phenomenon of “times are changing”, or what.  But the overtly negative images of the past and the belief that the movie The Craft is a true representation of a witch were gone.  What had replaced those ideas were thoughts of Wicca, religion, ritual, healing, nature, spiritual, goddess, and a myriad of others.  We talked about what their thoughts were, they questioned what they didn’t know, and listened as I spoke of the wheel of the year, of being outside to do ritual.  They were attentive regarding the reclaiming of the title witch and where the images came from and were curious about meditation and journey work.  Interestingly they wanted to know about if we convert to paganism or if you need to be born into the craft.  They were interested in speaking to the ancestors and if time is a continuum or if there was no past or present but if it all mixed together.  The questions were different from the past, there was no fear, there was only a desire to understand.

After the class I had several come and thank me for coming and asked if we could continue the conversation.  In the time since that day I have had a few come to see if they could attend the student meetings and learn more or if I could help them find resources that could help them develop “gifts” that “run in the family” but aren’t really spoken too much about. 

I am still amazed by all of this, but not because of the changes.  I’m amazed because the change happened so subtly that it was imperceptible while it was taking place.  But now that I look back and see the difference in understanding and tolerance between the first and last classes that I spoke to I just have to smile.  At the University things are changing a little at a time.  I wonder how much change has happened outside of this environment that we haven’t really noticed because it was slow and subtle.  Maybe we should step back and take measure of those around us and how they view us and our paths. 

There have been set backs and prejudice still exists; it always will.  But maybe we have moved further forward than we think we have.