No More Hocus Pocus: What It’s Like to Be a Witch in New York City

You thought they didn't exist, but Starr Ravenhawk says she's one of 1,000 NYC witches.

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Courtesy of Starr Ravenhawk

Just in time for Halloween I had the pleasure of speaking with Starr Ravenhawk, an Elder witch who runs the Wiccan Family Temple Academy of Pagan Studies, a New York City witch school. Here, she sets the record straight on cauldrons, pointy hats and why witches get a bad rap.

Q: Is there any aspect to the witch myth that has some degree of truth to it?

Oh definitely, we love our cauldrons, I’m sorry, we do. In olden times they used it for cooking regular food as well as cooking up their spells. But today we use it strictly for spellwork.

But cauldrons are hard to take care of, cause they’re very strong and heavy and you have to grease it so it doesn’t rust and stuff, so we don’t use it for regular food anymore. And we’re modern day witches, so we’ve got regular pots and stuff.

Q: What about the hat?

The pointed hat? That was more based on energy. They have it on the dollar bill, the cone, it’s like a triangle, and the point on the top is supposed to be energy. That’s all the witch’s hat is supposed to be, a cone of energy bringing down to the individual.

Q: And the broom?

I know people think we fly on brooms, I wish we did. I would love to fly by broom anywhere I want.

It came from a time when people used herbs for different types of things, and some herbs do make people feel like they’re flying. There are a lot of psychedelic herbs that are not chemically based but strictly an herb that will do that. And if they use that and they’re jumping around in a circle they could imagine many a thing, that doesn’t mean that they’re actually flying. That would be absolutely awesome, I’d love to do that.

Q: Are there any depictions of witches that you like?

I like all of it, except the one about us being  like gross witches with warts on our faces. I mean, get real.

I look just like anybody else, but there are [witches] who are not as pretty to the eye, maybe. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so it depends. But there are some of us that are beautiful inside and out. So it depends. But that is definitely a misnomer.

I don’t think we’re ugly.

Q: Why do witches get a bad rap?

I would consider Christians very smart, because the only way to conquer someone is to make them believe what they’re doing is wrong. And essentially that’s what they did for many centuries. They basically convinced the world that what they’ve been doing for all these centuries is wrong.

And if you look at the movies, witches are bad. It’s only recently, with Charmed and all these things, that a lot of it has been coming to life, and a lot of people have been like, “okay, here are what our misconceptions are on this.”

Q: What is the purpose of the Wiccan Family Temple Academy of Pagan Studies school?

The school was made not necessarily for the public, it was made for us. It’s for people who are out there saying, you know what, this is my religion, I would love to learn more about it, I don’t know enough and I want to learn it.

Years ago there wasn’t anywhere in New York that was teaching witchcraft. People were teaching it in their covens, but people tend to keep their covens secret so you wouldn’t know about it.

Q: How many witches would you estimate are in New York City?

You could be standing next to many in your office, and you would not know, because a lot of them are keeping it secret because of their jobs. They’re judges and lawyers and they’re everywhere. It doesn’t mean they’re gonna let you know because again, a lot of them are afraid of losing their jobs. So, when it comes to their financial livelihood, they won’t announce it to the world but to themselves and their groups of people they know they can be honest about who they are.

But if you go according to meetup, and a lot of other places where we have a large group of people, I would say maybe 1,000.