With Halloween just around the corner, Newsy’s Noor Tagouri took a trip to Salem, Massachusetts ― home of America’s 17th century witch trials ― to chat with a real witch about the misunderstood religious minority.
Teri Kalgren didn’t always identify as a witch, she explained to Tagouri. It was an distinction that evolved over time, closely connected to her budding feminism as a young woman.
Now, the Salem herbalist and self-identified witch has made it her mission to educate others about the maligned group. After all, she said, the notorious Wicked Witch of the West isn’t exactly the best spokesperson.
“What do the witches [in most popular culture] do to the little children? Eat them,” Kalgren said. “We don’t eat children.”
Kalgren noted that parents are often lax about plopping their kids in front of movies like “Hocus Pocus” and “The Witches,” even though those films tend to depict witches in a frightening manner.
To combat those stereotypes, Kalgren runs a group called the Witches Education League that hosts workshops for children and families to learn more about the craft.
“We try to tell them what witches do and what they don’t do,” Kalgren explained in a 2015 podcast. By the end of a workshop, she said, she asks the kids to do her a favor:
“When you go home and people say things bad about witches, that they’re green or mean or they eat little children, will you tell them that you have a friend in Salem, Massachusetts that’s a witch?”
Being a witch in the world today can entail anything from being a practitioner of Wicca, a religion founded in the 20th century, to practicing any number of neo-pagan traditions. Not all self-identified witches are Wiccan, and not all Pagans would describe themselves as witches.
Kalgren identifies as a high priestess in the tradition of Celtic witchcraft, which she described to Tagouri as “an Earth-based religion” akin to Native American spiritual traditions.
What most people might not know, Kalgren explained, is that being a witch means taking responsibility for your actions and following the two golden rules of the craft: “Do what thy will and harm none,” she told Tagouri.
It’s a life path she has found to be empowering since the day she first decided to call herself a witch.
“I liked the empowerment. I liked the freedom,” she said. “A lot of the times, you get to the point where you just want to embrace who you are, and the word doesn’t matter. You’re not going to change your name and stand in fear. I think at some point, you have to stand up for something and who you are. I’m a witch.”
Check out Newsy’s interview with Teri Kalgren above.