- Associated Press - Saturday, October 27, 2018

LINCOLN PARK, N.J. (AP) - Where is the next generation of witches coming from?

The Internet, mostly, according to Wiccan Niki Somers of Lincoln Park.

“A lot of people have contacted us through meetup.com,” Somers said in a recent interview. “People often ask, ‘Where do you find new people?’ But the reality is, we don’t go looking for them. They come looking for us.” (The site witchvox.com is another resource, although not all of its lists are up to date.)

Somers and two members of her coven - Michelle Sauer of Belleville and Colleen Trusler of Pequannock - had gathered in Trusler’s basement last week to create the tricky trays for their Nov. 3 Samhain masquerade ball and fundraiser.

Samhain, most commonly pronounced “sah-win,” is a Gaelic festival that marks the end of the harvest season. For Wiccans, it is also a celebration of dead ancestors and friends.

A precursor of Halloween, it is celebrated from Oct. 31-Nov. 1, and is observed by Celts, Scots, Wiccans and Neo-Pagans.

Wicca is often described as a Pagan “new-religious” movement, although some Wiccans, such as Somers, do not describe it as a religion. Wicca includes many sects and denominations, which typically recognize a god and a goddess and observes monthly festivals based on the cycles of the sun and the moon.

Trusler’s basement was strung with tiny white lights and scented with sage that she had burned earlier in the day. Depictions of various Egyptian deities - statues, tapestries and other artwork - were placed around the room and a CD of chanting, which Trusler uses for meditation, played softly in the background.

Witches, yes. Warlocks, no

Their coven, a core group of 13, is private - part of a larger circle, the Bergen Wiccan and Pagan Group, consisting of dozens of witches, male and female, from North Jersey. (Most males in these parts don’t use the term “warlock,” which Somers defines as “an oath breaker.” Some consider “warlock” to be pejorative; others feel the word, which was used to described sorcerers in the Middle Ages, could be reclaimed and rehabilitated with a bit of effort.)

Somers founded the coven in 2007. Sauer joined two years later and Trusler entered the circle two years after that.

The women don’t look very “witchy” and that’s something they enjoy joking about.

“People expect you to be a green-faced hag,” Tusler said, with a grin. “I was blue.”

Like Somers and Sauer, she is open about her beliefs, something many Wiccans were not, a decade or so ago.

“We’ve come out of the broom closet,” Sauer noted. Some are “out” to everyone. Some share their beliefs with a select few. Others will discuss it with friends and family, but not co-workers.

The women are not married to men named Darren, or plotting to kidnap Rosemary’s baby. They’re not after your ruby slippers, either.

And while some consider themselves exclusively Wiccan, others hold onto many of the religious traditions they grew up with and may describe themselves as Catholic or Jewish Wiccans.

Somers, a mother of two, grew up in Catholic household - “I even had an aunt who wanted to be a nun,” she said - and describes herself as a healer. And a pescatarian.

Trusler, also a mother of two, is vegan. Sauer, who has one daughter, describes herself as “half-vegan,” adding, “What can I tell you? I like cheeseburgers.”

Sauer grew up in North Jersey and went to Catholic school for 12 years. Trusler was raised in Seattle and didn’t move to the Garden State until 2003.

The 1960’s TV hit “Bewitched” starred Elizabeth Montgomery as the witch Samantha and Dick York as her mortal husband Darren, with Erin Murphy as their daughter Tabitha. Played for laughs, it helped clean up the craft’s image.

“My parents weren’t very religious,” Trusler said. “They joined a Protestant church, then became Presbyterians, but rarely went to church. I went and joined the choirs in both churches, but I knew I needed something more.”

She discovered Somers’ coven on meetup.com and immediately felt at home.

Sauer found out about it through a third party. “I basically came in kicking and screaming,” she recalled. “A friend of my daughter was involved and she said, ‘You have to come with me.’ I said, ‘No, I’m not into groups.’ I wanted to stay solitary.”

Sauer relented, eventually, and hasn’t looked back.

The moderator (aka High Priestess) of her coven, Somers prefers not to call Wicca a religion. “I prefer to call it a spiritual path,” she said. “Religions have dogma, they tell you that you have to do this and you have to do that. That’s not what we’re about, although there are plenty of Wiccans who would disagree with that.”

The lack of dogma is something that appeals to younger students of Wicca. Ditto for the interests of its followers, who, unlike the eccentric neighbors in “Rosemary’s Baby,” don’t worship Satan. (They don’t even believe he exists.) What they are interested in is holistic healing, meditation, essential oils, herbal remedies and issues relating to animals and the environment. …





Information from: The Record (Woodland Park, N.J.), http://www.northjersey.com

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