When people think about Wiccans, they may imagine devil worshippers or evil witches casting spells, said Ian Policarpio, who identifies as Wiccan and is part of Chapman Wicca, a club on campus.
While some see themselves as witches, belong to covens and read from “The Book of Shadows,” Wiccans neither worship Satan, nor are they witches portrayed in films or television shows like “American Horror Story: Coven.”
“It’s not like Harry Potter. It’s not like, ‘Oh, I’m going to make this potion, boom, stupefy!” said Kaelyn Witherow, a ‘17 television writing and production alumna, who identifies as Wiccan. “They’re not trying to hex you. They’re sort of just hippies that believe in a little more in the crazier alternative theories of how powerful the mind is.”
At its core, Wicca is a belief in the importance of nature and being in tune with the earth, which includes following the stars and cycles of the seasons, said Policarpio, a sophomore music education major. While there are differences in how Wiccans follow their faith, there are a few unifying beliefs. Including, “An ye harm none, do what ye will.”
“You can do whatever you want, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else and it doesn’t hurt yourself,” Policarpio said.
Many Wiccans use sage leaves, meditate and take walks through nature to connect to the natural world.
On a physiological level, Wiccans often prefer ancient natural remedies over painkillers. Policarpio, who said he has obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety issues, uses herbal tablets given to him by his acupuncturist, in addition to doctor-prescribed medicine to balance his serotonin levels, he said. The tablets help teach his body to produce serotonin naturally, while the doctor-prescribed medicine provides immediate relief, he said.
To prevent sickness, Witherow said she uses herbs, like turmeric and ginger, in pill form and in cooking. Witherow said she became less invested in Wicca – which she views more as a way of thinking than a religion – in college, but still practices Wiccan spells and makes potions.
While some spells do have physical, tangible effects, Witherow said most Wiccan spells are based on intention and mentality.
“If I can get you to believe something, then it will happen,” Witherow said. “You can even go more metaphysical and say (spells work) because of other energies and things like that, or you can also just say it’s because of the placebo effect.”
Some Wiccans believe in the karmic rule of three, though it is unclear why the three is significant, Policarpio said. The rule states that whatever an individual puts out into the world is returned threefold, whether it is good or bad natural energy.
However, Adina Corke, a senior English and psychology major, said it is personal, and more about karma than the figure of three.
“It’s like karma on steroids,” Corke said.
These beliefs are cemented in the symbol of the Wiccan pentagram, the upward-facing five-pointed star surrounded in a circle. Often misconstrued to be the Satanist pentagram, which has the star pointing downward, the Wiccan pentagram represents the four elements of life: earth, air, fire, water, with the fifth and top point representing soul or spirit, Policarpio said.
The circle, which touches all five points, represents divinity, the energy force that connects the elements.
Corke said she wants to dispel misconceptions about Wicca.
“It’s not evil, I think, is No. 1,” Corke said. “I know a lot of people view it as being evil or worshipping Satan. It’s not about black magic and white magic. It’s more about worshipping nature and what’s around you and appreciating it.”
A crucial part of what separates Wicca from other religions is its adaptability. There is no holy text to follow or one correct way to practice Wicca, Policarpio said.
One of the most important Wiccan holidays is Samhain, which occurs during the last 12 hours of Halloween, and the first 12 hours of Nov. 1, Policarpio said.
Some Wiccans, like Policarpio, believe that spirits wander freely between realms during that period. Wiccans present offerings to the spirits to show respect.
Despite knowing that he didn’t believe in God when he was 6, Policarpio said he went along with his family’s “very Catholic” wishes until high school. When he told his parents he didn’t want to attend church because he didn’t believe in God, his mother assumed it was a phase and his father cursed him out in two languages and stormed out of the room.
Policarpio said his mother has become more accepting of his religion, but he hasn’t told his father.
After leaving the Catholic church in high school, Policarpio, who then identified as an agnostic, joined his friend’s coven.
“Things like ‘American Horror Story’ make you think covens are like a cult,” Policarpio said. “It’s nothing like a cult, at least in my experience. It’s Sunday school for Wiccans.”
However, covens don’t meet on specific days like traditional Sunday school, Policarpio said.
“It’s on your own accord,” Policarpio said. “You learn from whoever is senior to you. It works in the same aspect as Greek life, but instead of a social thing, it’s an educational thing, so it’s like a mentor-mentee relationship and you have this big family, this chain of succession.”
Witherow said she considered joining a coven when she was a teenager, but the idea didn’t have much appeal to her. Due to the niche and individual nature of Wicca, Corke said she hopes to make the Chapman Wicca club, currently a 42-member Facebook group, more inclusive. The members rarely meet due to the individualistic nature of the faith, Policarpio said.
Corke said she attended some Fish Interfaith Council meetings this year on behalf of the club and would like to make it a pagan, rather than solely Wiccan, club.
“Paganism is the umbrella and then underneath you have all these little raindrops,” Corke said. “Wicca is just one raindrop and you’ve got neo-Hellenism and Greek god worship, Egyptian god worship. From what I’ve studied, it really just means anything that’s not Christian or monotheistic.”
Corke’s goal is to make the club open for teaching and celebration.
“I want it to be a place where people can go to spend time on our holidays,” Corke said. “A lot of people have misconceptions about it or they just don’t know as much as they could. I’d like to see each meeting be a teaching moment and less about worship, because worship is very personal in Wicca.”