In the superstitious backwoods, certain old women are still mumbling incantations as they dispense herbs with supposed magical properties, although they may use antibiotics themselves.
The change, though, which has come about in the last five or ten years, has moved witchcraft out of folklore into the sophisticated big time. The new practitioners of the magical arts are respectable housewives, professional people, intellectuals, and businessmen.
Some meet in covens - chapters of 12 with one leader - to celebrate secret rites of witchcraft as the Old Religion.
In San Francisco, the Satanist congregation gathers for an elaborate ritual in worship of the devil.
In New York, groups of disenchanted young people try to use the power of magic to create a new consciousness and a new community.
Some of the new converts are looking for kicks, others want something new and different and a little daring to believe in. Some are bored with their comfortable routine; some don't know what to do with all the extra time technology has given them and find bridge clubs or Rotary too tame.
One knowledgeable source says there are at least twenty thousand people in the United States in specific covens. Sybil Leek, the British witch who now makes her home in America, adds:
"I personally know of covens that exist in Boston, New York, Washington, D.C., Cincinnati (very strong in Cincinnati), Baltimore, Memphis, two authentic ones in California and at least twenty non-authentic.
"In fact, there are hundreds of pseudo covens starting up around the country with no connection with the Old Religion."
"Sordid little clubs!" she hisses scathingly.
Witchcraft practiced as the Old Religion, explains the kindly, highly respectable, middle-aged Mrs. Leek, has its own rites and forms of ceremony that existed long before Christianity came along and drove it underground."
Mrs. Leek is a white witch, that is, one who seeks and uses occult knowledge for good. She feels black witches and warlocks, who use occult power for personal gain or for destruction, give witchcraft a bad name.
Anton Szandor LaVey, high priest of the Satanist church in San Francisco which he started a year and a half ago, sneers at the white witch groups.
"They're tea shoppe witches, plump little women sitting around threatening to turn each other into toads. Most of them are neo-pagan Christians and they toy with the same notions other religions have, skulking around under a burden of guilt and afraid of being called evil."
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