If you see a ferryboat full of women donning black robes and long, conical hats arrive at the Gateway of India on October 31, don’t be scared.
They are witches. But of the harmless kind. In the wake of the gang rape of a photojournalist in Shakti Mills, a group of them will unite to perform witchcraft for the safety of women in India on October 31, as part of the witches’ celebration of New Year or Samhain. The ritual, they say, will send out ‘positive’ vibrations. Explaining why safety of women was chosen as the theme for their ritual, ‘witch’ Swati Prakash claimed the theme was ‘revealed’ to her while she was performing the last Samhain ritual. So, ‘Shakti’ was chosen for this year. In a country where witches, known as ‘dayaans’, are traditionally considered evil with their supernatural powers, the group is not wary of coming out in the open.
They subscribe to the Wiccan philosophy, founded in the 1950s in Europe. Wiccans worship and celebrate the different cycles of nature such as solstices and equinoxes by performing rituals on those days.
Prakash claimed that people have nothing to fear as her school of witchcraft cannot be used to harm anybody. “Ancient stories have developed this notion against witches,” she said.
“Witches are women who perform magic. Contrary to the widespread misconception, Wiccan witchcraft has nothing to do with black magic. If wizards are considered good, why discriminate against witches?” Prakash said.
Pooja Jhawar, 22, a financial analyst by profession is also a witch. A trainee in the occult, she was always fascinated by it but took it up seriously when she felt that her mother’s energy field was under attack by some force. “It was a difficult time. However, we managed to send that force back to nature,” said Jhawar.
Kareena Khawani, another Wiccan witch, will not be physically present for the ritual, but will connect with the group the astral way (through energy) to join in the ritual. However, the ‘powers’ wielded by witches are often seen as a good source of business. “The money we charge is in exchange for the services and in this case it’s energy,” said Khawani.
Senior international members of the Wiccan community have appreciated the efforts of the group.
Rev Don Lewis, first priest and chancellor of Correlian Nativist Tradition — a branch of Wicca faith — said the efforts of this group are commendable. “When we study magic, we are learning to utilise the powers inherent in the soul, and to draw upon the power of the divine,” he said in an email from the US.
Anti-superstition activists, however, labelled the entire concept a hoax. Avinash Patil, chairperson of the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti, founded by slain anti-superstition activist Narendra Dabholkar, termed such rituals ‘irrational’. “This whole idea of witches casting spells by chanting something is an entirely metaphysical concept. If such things could cure problems, then many other industries would have perished by now,” said Patil. He, however, said labelling women as ‘witches’ and killing is a serious issue in Maharashtra.
But are the witches feeling the heat of the anti-superstition ordinance? Prakash claimed that even if the ordinance becomes a bill and then an Act, it wouldn’t be effective in India, a country of rituals and beliefs. “Whether it is a Ganpati immersion or animal sacrifices during Eid, all are based on belief. Similarly, we have certain beliefs in Wicca and witchcraft is one of them,” she said.