THE GREETER AT GRISWOLD’S PUB seems a little disinterested.
“I’m meeting people,” I tell him.
It’s a Tuesday night, and the Bay Ridge tavern is mostly empty.
“How many people?” he asks.
“I don’t know, exactly.”
Nor have I ever met the people I am meeting, so I can’t really say what they look like.
“Do you mind if I look around?” I ask. He shrugs indifferently.
I wander around the dim, sprawling pub a little nervously. I see two raven-haired women nestled into a corner table.
“Excuse me,” I say. “Are you with the meetup?”
They smile and shake their heads.
I ask the same question at the remaining tables and get similar responses. So I take my place at the bar, order a drink, and wait.
I don’t have to wait for very long.
“May I help you?” the greeter asks a young, bespectacled woman who entered the pub.
“Yes,” says the young lady, “I’m here for the witches meetup.”
The greeter isn’t so disinterested anymore. Suddenly, he stiffens. One can almost see the inner-workings of his mind silently processing what had just been said. “Oh,” he says quietly.
He shouldn’t have been so surprised. It’s not the first time the Brooklyn Witches Meetup has met at Griswold’s.
“Right here,” I say, waving to the witch.
I am not a witch. Nor, to the best of my knowledge, have I ever met a witch before. And I know embarrassingly little about witchcraft, or Wicca, as it is known to its practitioners. (As described on Wicca.com, it’s a pre-Christian pagan religion that reveres the moon, the sun, the snow, and autumn leaves, among other things.) A few days earlier, my editor had been prowling around the meetup.com Web site and stumbled across an announcement for the Brooklyn Witches Meetup. He knew I was interested in offbeat topics. Indeed, I was quite curious to see what such a gathering would be like.
My new friend is named Wendy, just like the “good little witch” character from the old Casper cartoons. Aside from the pentagram medallion dangling from her neck, Wendy doesn’t look particularly strange or exotic. Indeed, it turns out, she’s a 22-year-old student at Berkeley College in Manhattan. Over beers, she tells me how she found her way into Wicca.
“My parents are Seventh Day Adventists,” she says. “It’s very binding; it’s very strict.”
About five years ago, she discovered Wicca almost by accident when someone in school mentioned something about it to her. She headed to the library and raided the shelves for books about Wicca. She found she admired its affection for the earth and its rich mythology.
Not everyone approves of her newfound faith. “One of my friends is very Hispanic and very Catholic,” Wendy says. “She doesn’t like the fact that I’m a witch.” And, she admits, she hasn’t told her parents yet. Otherwise she has found great comfort in Wicca.
It isn’t long before Wendy and I are joined by a young couple. The young man has a wedge of a beard sans mustache. The young woman has brown hair and bright eyes. Both are dressed entirely in black and wouldn’t look out of place in a downtown Goth club.
A middle-aged woman who calls herself “Shadow” arrives next. She is followed by others.
Smiles and handshakes are exchanged.
Within a few minutes, the group’s leader arrives. She is a vampy, middle-aged woman with long, black hair and eyelashes that look as if they were the victim of some growth hormone gone terribly awry. She introduces herself as Lady Morgana.
“Welcome,” Lady Morgana says to the witches at the bar. Even though she has been hosting this meetup for a couple of years now, almost all of the faces are new to her.
“Shall we all sit down?” Lady Morgana asks.
I sit next to her at the end of a long table, and we each go around and tell why were drawn to this meetup.
When I explain to the table that I am a reporter and not a witch, nobody seems nervous or put off. In fact, almost everybody seems even more eager to speak—determined to dispel the popular notion that witches are evil.
Over burgers, plates of pasta, and many glasses of booze, the witches open up.
“I network with about 800 witches. There are about 500 in New York, about 100 in Brooklyn,” says Lady Morgana, who, in addition to hosting monthly witches’ meetups, owns the Magickal Wonders Emporium in Park Slope, where one can purchase herbs, oils, jewelry, and even toys to satisfy any Pagan/Wiccan need.
When Lady Morgana started the meetup a few years ago, she called its meetings in Manhattan. She moved it across the East River because only Brooklyn witches were showing up.
After an hour or two, I am struck by how, well, normal the evening seems.
The conversation ranges widely. The nearly dozen witches speak seriously about Wicca, the larger Pagan community, and the differences between witches and warlocks. (Lady Morgana, for one, does not take kindly to warlocks.) There is plenty of joking and the occasional disdainful remark about President Bush.
At one point, I leave briefly to use the bathroom. When I return, a nearby table of well-dressed and drunken young men is laughing raucously. Apparently they had found out that this was a meeting of witches.
Lady Morgana handles the situation with dignity, smiling and joking with them good-naturedly.
“To be very good, you have to work very hard and be very bad,” says Lady Morgana, speaking to our table, with one eye on me. “I was bad—well, not bad—but I was a wicked witch. Black magic is a lot easier to do than white magic.”
The assembled witches nod their heads in agreement.
“You have to redirect black magic,” Lady Morgana says. “When you change someone’s will” through invoking a spell, “that is no longer a shade of gray.”
There is more agreement. Shadow remarks that she once tried to cast a spell to make a man fall in love with her—and it backfired horribly.
“I haven’t had a man since then,” Shadow says.
Max Gross is a staff writer at the New York Post.