Did they care he was a Wiccan? Nope. Did they care that he was, in fact, a Covenant of the Goddess priest? Nope. Did they care that he wears a pentacle around his neck and calls himself a Witch? Not at all.
It turns out, in fact, that acceptance by mainstream religious leaders, says Frew, "has never been an issue." That was not always true for Wicca, the faith that Frew follows. In the last 20 years, some Wiccans have lost custody of their children, their jobs, their homes after their faith became public.
But today, as Wiccans celebrate Samhain, the new year and one of their most sacred holidays, their spiritual path is enjoying vast popularity and widespread acceptance. This weekend, Samhain celebrations and rituals will happen all across the country-and many Wiccans expect record turnout.
"I am glad that the religion is thriving," says Selena Fox, high priestess of Circle Sanctuary, a Wiccan organization near Mt. Horeb, Wis. Her group's Samhain event has grown from 12 people in 1974 to a three-day gala of 200 people, most of them Wiccans. In addition to a healing ritual, a purification ceremony and a sacred walk through the woods, there will be music, dance and pumpkin carving for the kids. "Spiritual needs are being fulfilled," says Fox. "We are not only keeping alive the old traditions, but also working with those traditions in new ways."
Wicca--or witchcraft, or simply "the craft"--is a modern faith with roots in the past. While Wiccans may trace their religious heritage to a variety of sources, most generally agree the faith was founded in the 1940s by a British man who drew on pre-Christian European practices. Today's Wicca is goddess-based and earth-centered, revering the divine in nature and in human beings.
In Wicca, there is no centralized religious authority, no creed or dogma to which Wiccans must ascribe. Some Wiccans worship together in covens, though scholars estimate half worship alone, as "solitaries". It is a religion of self-realization and self-responsibility. Wiccans have only one rule--the Wiccan Rede - "An thou harm none, do what thy will."
As more people embrace Wicca, the religion has become more visible and, to some extent, more mainstream. Wiccans like Frew and Fox now sit on interfaith councils in cities from Seattle to Orlando, and from New York to Los Angeles. Wiccan characters have popped up in television shows like "JAG" and "Charmed" and even in children's videos like "Scooby Doo and the Witch's Ghost."
Wicca may, in fact, be the fastest growing religious movement in the United States. According to the 2001 American Religious Identification Survey, the number of people who identified themselves as Wiccans grew from 8,000 in 1990 to 134,000 in 2001--a growth rate of 1,575 percent.
And many scholars believe the numbers are actually much larger. Dr. Helen Berger, co-author of "Voices from the Pagan Census: A National Survey of Witches and Neo-Pagans in the United States" (University of South Carolina Press, 2003) puts the number of "serious practitioners" at 250,000. But when she reckons the number of dabblers--people who take a little Wicca with their Christianity, Judaism or other tradition--the number could be much higher.
That growth has brought both challenges and opportunities. As Wicca sits on the cusp of broader acceptance, its practitioners have some serious questions to deal with. Can a religion that recognizes no religious authority organize itself enough to handle its growth? Can a religion that emphasizes personal spiritual experience maintain its authenticity? Can Wicca as it is practiced today survive its own success?
Here are some signs of Wicca's acceptance: