NEW PALTZ, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — At a time when participation in traditional religions is declining among Americans, the practice of witchcraft is said to be on the rise.
CBS2’s Ali Bauman went inside the secret world of modern-day witches to explore why so many say they’re falling under its spell.
“I am the high priestess,” Lisa Stewart said.
“To be a witch is incredibly relevant in today’s society,” Anton Stewart explained.
Nestled in the heart of the Hudson Valley is the Church of the Eternal Circle, the only legally recognized Wiccan Church in the state of New York.
“We follow the tradition of the craft of the wise — witchcraft — and we are witches,” Stewart said.
For the first time, members invited CBS2 to attend their services.
“The time is right,” Lisa said.
Stewart and her husband Anton are the founders of the church.
“There are definitely more of us than you think,” she said.
It’s estimated that as many as a million people identify as being a witch in the U.S. with 20 percent of that population said to be in New York.
“We have professionals of all kinds,” Lisa said.
Including a librarian, a computer scientist, a nurse, and a homemaker or two.
“Very normal people are part of this religion,” Dr. Davis Sprague said.
In addition to practicing witchcraft, Dr. Davis Sprague — a former Methodist — is a practitioner of internal medicine.
Joe Laudati, a sculptor, converted from Catholicism.
“Keep an open mind,” he suggested.
Unlike its pop-culture portrayal, members say witchcraft is actually grounded in love and spirituality.
“The green skin came from the fact that women who claimed to be witches were abused and their faces were bruised,” Lisa said.
They say magic is simply the belief that you can make anything happen.
“It’s kind of like prayer,” Lisa explained.
There is no devil worship, only a love for the goddess of creation and inspiration along with the antlered god of all things wild and free they say.
But what about the broom?
“It’s for sweeping your circle, and clearing the energy,” Lisa said.
A somber celebration marked the start of winter. Known as the night of souls, it’s when witches honor their ancestors.
“When I tell people that I’m a witch, I’m met sometimes with abject horror,” Anton said.
They say it’s a misconception based on old myths that the modern day witches want to dispel.
“It’s really a beautiful way of life,” Lisa said.
With a strong belief in what goes around comes around, Wiccans say there’s never a need for black magic.