A Catholic high school counselor in Pennslyvania lost her job after inviting three "witches" to speak to students, who gave them crystals that Wiccans believe have alleged special powers.
A career and college counselor at North Catholic High School was placed on leave and later resigned following an investigation by the school’s administration, Pittsburgh news outlet KDKA-TV reports, while not revealing the counselor’s identity.
According to Michelle Peduto, the director of Catholic education for the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, the students themselves expressed concerns about the planned visit by the witches before Christmas break and brought it to the attention of the school’s administrators.
“We followed our process and protocol and as of today, actually, a few days, she's not with the school anymore,” Peduto was quoted as saying.
Peduto said the school puts its faith in Jesus Christ, not in objects such as crystals.
"Rosary beads? Yes, but crystals, no," Peduto told KDKA-TV Investigator Andy Sheehan.
The three individuals who identify as witches were invited to speak to juniors and seniors about marketing. The women own a store called Elemental Magick, which sells crystals, skulls and scented candles that they claim possess special powers. They, however, emphasized they do not use or conjure any dark forces.
“No, absolutely, we don’t believe in that. We worship as Wiccans. We worship nature. So our elements — earth, air, water and fire — that’s what we worship,” Tabitha Latshaw, one of the three women, told Sheehan.
The women also stated that the students were told it was for increased concentration and would be helpful for studying, and they were allowed to choose their own crystals, like fluorite.
Latshaw said she was not raised Catholic and didn’t know that giving students crystals would be considered an offense. In a post on Facebook, Latshaw clarified that Wiccans don't worship Satan, who is part of a Christian belief system.
The counselor told KDKA-TV that she didn't intend to impart the women's beliefs to students. She maintains that while she was placed on administrative leave and then given the option to resign, there basically wasn't any alternative for her but to resign.
"I should have had more conversation with them specifically about the crystal situation, but again it didn't ping for me something that would be such a big issue," she said.
According to Helen A. Berger of Brandeis University near Boston, Wicca is part of the larger contemporary pagan movement whose adherents call themselves witches regardless of gender. The movement began in the United Kingdom in the 1940s.
The population of individuals identifying as witches has grown in the United States in recent decades as interest in astrology and witchcraft practices have become more popular.
In 2018, Quartz noted that while data was sparse, the practice of witchcraft had grown concurrently with the rise of the “witch aesthetic.”
Trinity College in Connecticut conducted three extensive and detailed religion surveys between 1990 and 2008, finding that Wicca experienced significant growth. In 1990, there were an estimated 8,000 Wiccans; by 2008, that number had grown to around 340,000 practitioners. Additionally, the surveys estimated that there were approximately 340,000 Pagans in 2008.
The rapid increase in the number of self-identified witches was not unexpected, given the philosophical and spiritual trends in culture, some said in response.
“It makes sense that witchcraft and the occult would rise as society becomes increasingly postmodern. The rejection of Christianity has left a void that people, as inherently spiritual beings, will seek to fill,” author Julie Roys, formerly of Moody Radio, told The Christian Post at the time.
“Plus, Wicca has effectively repackaged witchcraft for millennial consumption. No longer is witchcraft and paganism satanic and demonic," she said, "it's a 'pre-Christian tradition' that promotes 'free thought' and 'understanding of earth and nature.'"
Pew Research Center studied the issue in 2014, discovering that 0.4 percent of Americans, approximately 1 to 1.5 million people, identified as Wicca or pagan, meaning their communities continued to experience significant growth, according to Quartz.
Sarah Anne Sumpolec, a former self-described "teenage witch" who struggled with suicidal thoughts, later said on Billy Hallowell's “The Playing With Fire Podcast" that her life was transformed after she turned to Jesus Christ.
At the age of 15, Sumpolec began experimenting with witchcraft, visiting New Age bookstores, conducting seances and using Tarot cards.
In a blog post for CBN, titled “Confessions of a Teenage Witch,” she warned that while there is a “prince of the power of the air,” that’s not the end of the story. She contends that "any supernatural power that does not come directly from God comes from Satan."
“Since the power source that witchcraft taps into comes from Satan, a lot of stuff actually happens. I don’t even like to think about the things I saw,” she wrote. “Yet, just because ‘stuff happens’ doesn’t mean that it’s truth. Satan does have some limited power on Earth, so that’s why psychics are sometimes right and why witchcraft seems to ‘work.’ Don’t mistake Satan’s power for God’s. They can’t even compare!”