Pagan movement steps in to help India’s witches

Bappa Majumdar, October 12, 2006, Reuters

KOLKATA (Reuters) – Followers of a global pagan witchcraft movement plan
to introduce their beliefs in India to curb the persecution and killing
of hundreds of witches every year. Witchcraft has been practised by
women in rural, isolated communities in India for centuries but in
recent years witches have become ostracised. Many have even been
murdered by neighbours or family who blame them for doing the work of
evil spirits.

In the past five years, police say they have reports of more than 700
women being killed as witches or witch doctors in eastern India alone.
But the real figure could be many times higher, they say.. 

Now, followers of the Wicca faith from the United States, Britain and
India plan to introduce their religion in the eastern city of Kolkata to
promote awareness of witchcraft and provide support for harassed witches.

“People from different walks of life and even governments had asked me
to institutionalise Wicca, but I was waiting for the right moment,”
Ipsita Roy Chakraverti, a prominent social activist who practices Wicca,
told Reuters.

“Now is the time we stood up against people who persecute and kill
innocent women,” said Chakraverti, adding that the Indian “Wiccan
Brigade” would also register complaints of persecution and coordinate
with police to ensure cases were brought to trial.

Around 100 people have already signed up to take a training programme in
Wiccan philosophy, literature and psychology and the students will also
set up a grievance cell where persecuted women can register their
complaints, she said.

Like many Pagan religions, Wicca practises magic and witches believe
that the human mind has the power to effect change in ways that are not
fully understood by science.

In their rituals, as well as honouring their deities, witches also
perform spells for healing and to help people with general life problems.

In India, many witches practise the Dakini Vidya form of witchcraft,
where women invoke the Mother Goddess to draw spiritual strength, a
belief which has similarities to the Wicca faith in a Great Mother.

In remote India, where literacy is low and lives are governed by
superstition, villagers often persecute witches and blame them for
natural disasters or for illness, death or theft in a village.

“They cannot afford medicines for ailments and often put the blame
squarely on innocent women and later kill them,” said Chakraverti, who
studied the Wiccan faith at a chalet in Canada’s Laurentian mountains.

Chakraverti has also written two books on Wicca — one of which, The
Sacred Evil, was adapted for the big screen earlier this year.

witchcraft across the world is experiencing a renaissance of sorts after
centuries of bad press, led by television characters such as Buffy,
Sabrina and the ladies from Charmed.

Internet sites have also encouraged pagans — worshipping as wiccas,
druids, or shamans — to come out of the broom closet.

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