Thu Oct 12, 2006 4:42 AM BST171
By Bappa Majumdar
KOLKATA (Reuters) – Followers of a global pagan witchcraft movement plan to introduce their beliefs in India to curb the persecution and killing of hundreds of witches every year. Witchcraft has been practised by women in rural, isolated communities in India for centuries but in recent years witches have become ostracised. Many have even been murdered by neighbours or family who blame them for doing the work of evil spirits.
In the past five years, police say they have reports of more than 700 women being killed as witches or witch doctors in eastern India alone. But the real figure could be many times higher, they say.
Now, followers of the Wicca faith from the United States, Britain and India plan to introduce their religion in the eastern city of Kolkata to promote awareness of witchcraft and provide support for harassed witches.
“People from different walks of life and even governments had asked me to institutionalise Wicca, but I was waiting for the right moment,” Ipsita Roy Chakraverti, a prominent social activist who practices Wicca, told Reuters.
“Now is the time we stood up against people who persecute and kill innocent women,” said Chakraverti, adding that the Indian “Wiccan Brigade” would also register complaints of persecution and coordinate with police to ensure cases were brought to trial.
Around 100 people have already signed up to take a training programme in Wiccan philosophy, literature and psychology and the students will also set up a grievance cell where persecuted women can register their complaints, she said.
Like many Pagan religions, Wicca practises magic and witches believe that the human mind has the power to effect change in ways that are not fully understood by science.
In their rituals, as well as honouring their deities, witches also perform spells for healing and to help people with general life problems.
In India, many witches practise the Dakini Vidya form of witchcraft, where women invoke the Mother Goddess to draw spiritual strength, a belief which has similarities to the Wicca faith in a Great Mother.
In remote India, where literacy is low and lives are governed by superstition, villagers often persecute witches and blame them for natural disasters or for illness, death or theft in a village.
“They cannot afford medicines for ailments and often put the blame squarely on innocent women and later kill them,” said Chakraverti, who studied the Wiccan faith at a chalet in Canada’s Laurentian mountains.
Chakraverti has also written two books on Wicca — one of which, The Sacred Evil, was adapted for the big screen earlier this year.
witchcraft across the world is experiencing a renaissance of sorts after centuries of bad press, led by television characters such as Buffy, Sabrina and the ladies from Charmed.
Internet sites have also encouraged pagans — worshipping as wiccas, druids, or shamans — to come out of the broom closet.