Witches don't ride on broomsticks across the moon each Oct. 31. Nor do all of them have black cats as pets, for familiars. The many myths about witches often haunt those who practice witchcraft or Wicca. That's one reason Norman Vogel, an ordained Wiccan minister, created a Web site to explain the differences and the beliefs of the two religions.
While the words Wicca and witchcraft are often used interchangeably, there is a slight difference between them, according to Vogel. Wicca is a contemporary neo-pagan religion and witchcraft is the practice of natural magic. Not all Wiccans are witches and vice versa, but many people practice both, including Vogel, who lives in New Jersey and has been a witch for 17 years. In addition to his regular job as a shift supervisor in a computer center, he does public relations work and is a past director of several anti-defamation groups in New Jersey.
Wicca's sources are pre-Christian earth religions. It is a celebration of the life forces of nature as personified by the Goddess and her consort, the God. Its premise is a deep respect for nature and not exploiting it for individual gain. Wiccans are concerned with conservation and ecology, and believe all objects possess a spirit. This spirit, as a Wiccan views it, is not the same sense as a "ghost," but rather that essence that links everyone and everything to nature and the universe as a whole.
Witchcraft actually means "craft of the wise one," and it is known as the "Old Religion." In its earliest times, the witch was the local attorney, psychiatrist or doctor. In fact, the origins of modern medicine can be traced to the herbal medicines of the witch.
The practice of Wicca may include magic--the process of causing change through the focusing of natural, not supernatural, powers. Tools such as spells, chants, candles and meditation help Wiccans focus their power, which they believe comes from within the human body.
Wicca is often called a cult, but cults are generally groups of people who follow a central figure whose word is absolute truth. Wiccans are usually highly independent people who seek truth from within themselves through rituals, meditation, magic, study and communion with nature. People often believe Wicca is synonymous with Satanic worship. However, that concept is foreign to Wiccans because few even believe Satan or the devil exists. Many people also believe Wiccans do evil. But they follow their own "golden rule" that says, "If it harms none, do what you will."
Vogel said the myths of witches flying on broomsticks originated from several rituals. In various parts of Europe, some people run across their fields astride a broom, in hopes of coaxing the grain to grow. They sometimes jump over a broom handle asking the grain to grow as high as their highest leap. Another common ritual involving a broom is to use one to sweep away negative forces from an area.