The Wheel of the Year has once again rolled around to July 4th; Independence Day in the United States. Despite the fact that freedom of religion was written into the First Amendment of the United States Constitution in 1791, some Wiccans, Witches, and Neopagans still experience discrimination. In fact, there are incidents of witchcraft-related killings (of individuals accused of practicing) as recent as 2017 in Africa! (Scary, right?!) Thankfully, the United States has come a long way in learning to accept us as compared to those African cousins. So, for this Independence Day I wanted to spotlight on the history of religious freedom and witchcraft laws so the next time you are faced with some nasty close-minded bigot trying to act like they have a right to treat you poorly, you can tell them exactly how wrong they are.


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The History of Witchcraft in America

I am fortunate, in a way, to live right in the heart ofc America’s first historic witch trials and killings which took place not in Salem, MA like most often thought, but in Windsor, CT in 1662. This was before the founding of the Constitution and the First Amendment which is what now guarantees us religious freedom to believe as we so choose. The witch trials in Connecticut laid the groundwork for those in Salem, later in the late 1690s. The Salem Witch Trials actually only took place over the course of approximately one year, but the hysteria that resulted left an indelible mark on the cultural mind due to the creation and publishing of a document called the “Malleus Maleficarum” or the “Witches Hammer” which was created as a sort of guidebook to help witch hunters identify witches for persecution. The image of witches that was painted in this text continues to inaccurately color the defining characteristics in witches in the popular media even today, in the modern age. (Such as witches having “familiars”, making pacts with the devil, etc.)

In 1735 the UK passed The Witchcraft Act which made it illegal to accuse a person of practicing witchcraft, but the idea and fear of witchcraft still persisted for many years to come. In fact, the last witch trial in the United States was as recent as 1848. The fascination, fear, and (finally)“normalization” of witchcraft has been a long road that we are still traveling.


In 1791 the ubiquitous “Founding Fathers” created the First Amendment which is the one cited as giving us religious freedom. The religious freedom part has two “clauses” which are of great interest to us: The Establishment clause and the Free Exercise clause: “Congress shall make no law respecting (1) an establishment of religion, or (2) prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . . .”  -
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In 1791 the ubiquitous “Founding Fathers” created the First Amendment which is the one cited as giving us religious freedom. The religious freedom part has two “clauses” which are of great interest to us: The Establishment clause and the Free Exercise clause: “Congress shall make no law respecting (1) an establishment of religion, or (2) prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . . .”

The Establishment Clause is what assures us that all religions shall be considered valid. But how does one define “religion”? The best explanation I could find in relation to the legal freedoms to believe as we see fit came from a landmark case (United States v. Seeger) in which Seeger described it as, “the test of belief ‘in a relation to a Supreme Being’ is whether a given belief that is sincere and meaningful occupies a place in the life of its possessor parallel to that filled by the orthodox belief in God.” With this legal precedence behind us for reference, the spiritual practice of Wicca, Witchcraft, or various forms of Reconstructionist Neopaganism (i.e. Asatru or Hellenism) absolutely apply.

The Free Exercise Clause is where things could, theoretically, get a little hairy. Legal precedence shows that we are protected to practice and “exercise” our religio-spiritual beliefs as we see fit, but ONLY where it does not impinge on the liberties or safety of others. Although, any ethical practitioner I should hope would find great solace in this law. When you think about it, the Wiccan Rede of “An’ Harm it None” is really the same statement: Do as you will as long as it harms no one knowingly.

Between the late 1800s and the 1950s Witchcraft went underground. In 1951 the UK repealed their archaic anti-Witchcraft laws and in 1954 Gerald Gardner published his first book about Wicca/Witchcraft. Although the laws in the UK don’t directly affect those in the U.S., it changed the overall atmosphere so that suddenly those that had been practicing underground cold finally feel comfortable making themselves publicly known.


The Salem Witch Trials became a point of shame for the inhabitants of Salem, Mass, But a big shift happened when witches hit the popular media in the form of Bewitched. The hit TV show sparked an explosion of witch-related business and tourism to Salem, MA.  (So monumental was this shift that they even put up a statue of the main character in the middle of the city!)  -
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The Salem Witch Trials became a point of shame for the inhabitants of Salem, Mass, But a big shift happened when witches hit the popular media in the form of Bewitched. The hit TV show sparked an explosion of witch-related business and tourism to Salem, MA. (So monumental was this shift that they even put up a statue of the main character in the middle of the city!)

In the 70’s authors like Doreen Virtue and Margot Adler even published books about witchcraft claiming a long-buried tradition that had survived through history which further lead to the mass resurgence of Wicca and witchcraft that we are seeing today.


In the modern day, the First Amendment ensures our right to believe and practice as we see fit (within reason, anyway), but it’s good to know that there are still some states that have laws designed to prevent charlatans who purport to read tarot, crystal balls, palms, etc. from swindling the general population. So, if you have or are considering a business as a healer or diviner, you might find that could be a bit of a hiccup! States with laws that attempt to regulate or outright prohibit the practicing of “fortune telling” for pay include New York, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, and North Carolina. (Ever notice websites like mine often carry the disclaimer, “For entertainment only?” — these laws are the reason why!) -
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In the modern day, the First Amendment ensures our right to believe and practice as we see fit (within reason, anyway), but it’s good to know that there are still some states that have laws designed to prevent charlatans who purport to read tarot, crystal balls, palms, etc. from swindling the general population. So, if you have or are considering a business as a healer or diviner, you might find that could be a bit of a hiccup! States with laws that attempt to regulate or outright prohibit the practicing of “fortune telling” for pay include New York, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, and North Carolina. (Ever notice websites like mine often carry the disclaimer, “For entertainment only?” — these laws are the reason why!)

Moreover the point of this is that this Independence Day we should be celebrating the strides that have been made through the amendment of law and the actions of pioneers in occult like Gerald Gardener, Doreen Valiente, Aleister Crowley, etc. In a way we should also be grateful for the men and women that died during the Witch Trials. Whether they were truly witches or not, their deaths laid the groundwork for the current reality we live in that affords us the freedom to be our magickal, witchy, authentic selves! Let us always remember where we came from and honor the memories of those that have gone before us by letting our light shine bright.

Have you ever faced discrimination for your religious or spiritual beliefs? Tell me about it in the comments below!

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