Metro Detroit Wiccans dispel common seasonal misconceptions

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published October 18, 2017

 Crystals are a more common accessory for true witches than flying broomsticks, said Heatherleigh Navarre, owner of the Boston Tea Room.

Crystals are a more common accessory for true witches than flying broomsticks, said Heatherleigh Navarre, owner of the Boston Tea Room.

Photo by Tiffany Esshaki

 Spiritual supplies for true practice — or just for fun — can be purchased at the Boston Tea Room and other metaphysical stores.

Spiritual supplies for true practice — or just for fun — can be purchased at the Boston Tea Room and other metaphysical stores.

Photo by Tiffany Esshaki

 While Wiccan beliefs are far from the common “evil” misconceptions we see around Halloween, many practicing witches have fun with the cliché this time of year.

While Wiccan beliefs are far from the common “evil” misconceptions we see around Halloween, many practicing witches have fun with the cliché this time of year.

Photo by Tiffany Esshaki

METRO DETROIT — Long before she took her coven name of Raven Spiritdancer, the Monroe resident knew she was a witch. 

After all, back in grade school, while other kids were on the swingset or kicking around a ball, she was holding séances on the playground.

“I was always fascinated by (witchcraft) and interested in the occult. I was raised in a very strict Christian household, but one thing my family did give me is confidence in the fact that women had strong insight and prophetic dreams; I knew things were going to occur before they did,” said Spiritdancer.

When she finally bought a book about witchcraft in her early 20s, Spiritdancer said, it was like she was reading about things she already knew to be true — things she had believed her whole life. It was clear: She was a witch.

“(I learned) the difference between witchcraft and satanism,” she said, explaining that the two are often wrongfully thought to be connected.

“Using your mind to manifest changes in your life, and recognize being a part of nature,” she said. “And being attracted to Greek mythology and Norse mythology, and seeing them not just as myths but as stories that are real to me.”

Heatherleigh Navarre, owner of the Boston Tea Room in downtown Ferndale, said about 10 percent of her customer base at the spiritual and metaphysical shop consider themselves witches.

“A decade ago, few of those (people) would have actually identified themselves as a witch. Most were simply practicing the kind of work that gets passed down as a family tradition or gets suggested by a friend or something they read about somewhere,” Navarre said.

What makes a witch? It’s certainly not a pointy hat or a broomstick, though those cliché symbols do have their place in witch traditions.

“Broomsticks are very commonly used in witchcraft. We call it a besom, and it’s used to cleanse and purify an area before you start a ritual, just as you’d sweep your house before guests came over,” Spiritdancer said. “The riding around in the sky on broomsticks just came from stories of witches gathering around a bonfire and hopping around on broomsticks kind of like they were hobby horses.”

The hats, she added, come from styles founded generations ago by practicing wizards, as a way of funneling the energy of the universe down through a cone to one’s head. 

And trick-or-treating has its witchy roots, too.

“Halloween comes from the Celtic name Samhain, which signals the end of the agricultural year. Halloween was thought of as the last day to harvest the produce, and whatever was left over belonged to the gods,” Spiritdancer said. “So after that harvest, people celebrated by sharing their produce with those in the community who were less fortunate, going door to door to share their food.”

But every witch’s beliefs are different, she said. Navarre agreed, saying the common thread most Wiccans share is a concern for the environment.

“They’re interested in working with the elements of earth, air, fire and water, and sometimes spirit, and strongly believe in the law of cause and effect,” Navarre said.

And you certainly won’t be able to spot one on the street based on their appearance, she added. Sure, a few witches might wear what we think of as “traditional” garb, with black lipstick and dark clothing. But most just look like people — because that’s what they are, after all.

“The guy doing your taxes, the bank teller at your local branch, the mom at your kid’s school who seems to volunteer at every PTA event, are all perfectly likely candidates,” Navarre said. “It’s a misconception that witches are somehow connected with satanism, or obsessed with the ‘dark arts’ and seek to harm others. On the contrary: Witches seek to heal, balance and restore, not harm or cause damage.”

So if the kiddos are itching to dress as a witch for Halloween this year, you can go ahead and indulge in the green makeup and black raggedy dress — that old platitude isn’t particularly offensive to real witches, Spiritdancer said. But for a more authentic look, you might want to grab some crystals, herbs and candles.

“(Witches buy from us) candles, books, incense, jewelry, stones, tea, music and clothing. The divination tools — like tarot decks, rune sets, crystal balls and scrying mirrors — are also popular,” Navarre said. “Of course, every one of these items also gets bought by Christian, Buddhist, Muslim and humanist customers, so it seems the line has truly blurred over the years.”