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'I was tired of God being dead': How one woman was drawn to witchcraft

Writer Diana Helmuth wanted to learn what it means to be a practicing witch. So she spent a year delving into the occult.
Robin King
/
Simon and Schuster
Writer Diana Helmuth wanted to learn what it means to be a practicing witch. So she spent a year delving into the occult.

From the historic Salem witch trials to the teens in The Craft and Netflix's Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, witches have long cast a spell on Hollywood's imagination – but they're not just figments of our imagination.

People who practice witchcraft are everywhere. Just ask Diana Helmuth.

Who is she? Helmuth is a writer and aspiring witch.

  • She spent an entire year delving into the world of the occult and detailed that spiritual journey in her newest book, The Witching Year: A Memoir of Earnest Fumbling Through Modern Witchcraft.
  • Helmuth was a teenager growing up in Oakland, California during the early 2000s, when she first heard about witchcraft. Her friend was a Wiccan witch, and she introduced Helmuth to the religion, and its spells. 
  • Still, she was a skeptic. "It was very clear to me that if you were smart, you were an atheist ... that was the undercurrent of the philosophy [I grew up with]," Helmuth told All Things Considered. "And I wanted to be smart. I wanted to be thought of as intelligent, so I rejected most religion and most spirituality throughout most of my life."

Helmuth's memoir details her spiritual journey, and the earnest fumbling she did along the way.
/ Simon and Schuster
/
Simon and Schuster
Helmuth's memoir details her spiritual journey, and the earnest fumbling she did along the way.

What's going on? In the midst of COVID lockdowns, Helmuth decided to spend a year as a practicing witch, consulting primary sources and talking to witches who had been practicing a long time.

  • She began her journey with Wicca, a reconstructionist religion brought about in the 1950s by a man named Gerald Gardner. "It has structure to it, there are some steps. There are some rules," Helmuth says. "Wicca is very small, and witchcraft is very big."
  • Witchcraft is a practice, while Wicca is a religion. Many witches don't actually consider themselves Wiccan. "In fact, Wicca is starting to be a little, I would say, outdated for a lot of people," Helmuth says. "With that said, I think Wicca has still influenced the landscape of witchcraft, at least in North America."


What's she saying? Helmuth spoke with All Things Considered about her foray into modern witchcraft.

On why she began her journey in the first place, despite being skeptical of religion and spirituality:

On a moment in her witchcraft journey where everything finally clicked:

On finding her own way to practice witchcraft:

So, what now?

  • Helmuth hopes that her book will help outsiders understand practicing witches better. She says the mainstream tends to make fun of people in the subculture, and think practitioners are silly, maybe even a bit delusional. "And really, these are just people who are trying to be more comfortable in their own skin," Helmuth says, "and also, you know, they're adopting a spirituality that centers the Earth and personal growth. And I think those are two very good things, and we should not be making fun of them."
  • She also hopes that her earnest fumbling will inspire others to begin their own journeys. It's something of a "permission slip," she says. "It's OK to explore this stuff and feel like you don't know what you're doing and feel like you're probably doing it wrong and still have that journey be valid and worthwhile."


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