By Kumkum Bhandari May 1997 There is magic, mystery and power in the way of the Wicca, but not as commonly understood. Ipsita Roy Chaudhury personifies it. Three years short of the 21st century, I find myself seated opposite a modern day witch. The lady is attired in black and silver. “Black,” she explains with a sweep of her manicured hands, “is an important color for witches. It is the color of absorption and therefore of inscrutability and mystery, of women and of thunderclouds. of things said and unsaid. The woman,” she says in that smoky, power driven tone,” must never make herself absolutely clear. The mystery must remain.” A bit of the mystery unfolds as we settle down in a cool quiet room in Ipsita Roy Chakraverti’s South Delhi apartment. The drapes are drawn, shadows lurk, but there is no evidence of cobwebs, cauldrons or cats. Instead, in an ambience of rather mystifying normality, the door is firmly shut on a frisky white pooch and the wholesome aromas drifting in from a kitchen nearby. One thing is amply clear being a witch is serious business. Every witch is serious business. Every witch has a personal diary, aptly called The Book of Shadows, in which she notes her experiences, her discoveries and what she considers magical. She knows all about the curative properties of certain sounds and she uses ancient chants for rituals and therapy, connects deeply with nature; learns to harness energy from earth, water, fire and air; knows how to renew herself; has the ability not merely to draw energy from the elements, but also project it; knows how to be centered despite her tumultuous environment; develops her intuitive abilities hones and refines her sensibilities. Life and magic course through and around her. Being a witch is about ripping away layers of social conditioning, gender limitations and protective shields. It is, in a sense about moving towards being the complete and total woman. There is intensity, conviction and passion in the way Ipsita talks about witchcraft, or Wicca—the Craft of the Wise—and its relevance throughout history. She enumerates some of the incredible similarities between Old Wiccan findings and the discoveries of modern physics and parapsychology. Traditionally, Wiccans were the fledgling social community’s first healers and counselors, spiritually and intuitively strong women who became too powerful for the comfort of the male leadership. At one time Wiccans were burnt at the stake. It was said the witches were into black magic. Now, may be partly due to my work or to the New Age movement, witchcraft and Wicca are no longer dirty words in India. The fact is that simple village folk to members of society’s highest stratum approach me for Wiccan therapy, crystal therapy, energy transmission, observes Ipsita. When she first publicity declared her ‘witchness’ in 1986 and offered Wiccan therapy in India, she was vulnerable. ‘The New Age movement, as it is now, didn’t exist then’, she says. ‘I don’t want to sound boastful, but I was a pioneer. Remember, call someone a ‘witch’ and you could be in for slander. Legally.” But she was easily accepted. Partly because of her packaging and presentation—she is elegant, articulate and poised. People listen when she speaks. “If I had come from a different rung of society, or was illiterate, the reaction wouldn’t be the same. I have observed that it is always the person they will accept, and then the word Wicca. Witches are not born, they are made. Or perhaps they sculpt themselves.” Ipsita’s background is commendable but unexceptional: her father was a career diplomat, her mother was from an aristocratic Bengali family of Calcutta, India. Both were of the Brahmo Samaj calling. Was she the black sheep in the family. Not really, she replies disarmingly but you could say I brought some non-conformism into the family. So where did it all begin? In Montreal, where she was educated. An only child, she shared her father’s passion for reading and devored books on Indian mysticism and traditions partly because people were always asking questions about India and one does not like to appear ignorant. This led to a chance invitation to participate in a study circle where women members of a worldwide organization met every week to talk about ancient cultures and civilizations. Ipsita was irrevocably drawn by the way they conversed about diverse things like Taosim, Sufism, old Egyptian magic, the Dianic cult of Greece. They would also experiment with ancient rituals and ceremonies to test their relevance and efficacy. Ipsita’s road to witchdom became clear. Three years of poring over books and manuscripts, and studying for informal weekly tests added breadth and depth to her knowledge. Alcohol, close friendship or anything that distracted from the prescribed hours of study, solitude and meditation, were taboo. Practical training in witchcraft followed. It included learning varied techniques of self-development and understanding the significance of ancient chants, movements, symbols, gestures, invoking energy from the elements, and training in the use of the apparatus integral to the craft. At the end of the road, the guide gave each new initiate witch certain implements: symbolic gifts of Mother Goddesses who are worshipped by Wiccans. The Goddesses—both eastern and western were generous. From Athena, Ipsita received the black cloak, which conferred majesty and regality on herd. Diana blessed her with independence and thinking. Among other gifts were the crystal skull of Kali, the silver bowl from Venus, to be filled with water and used in particular rituals. But the glowing amber ball of Hecarte which confers vision and is used not for crystal gazing but for toning up the electro-magnetic system of the body eluded her. Her guide told here. If you have been and are a true Wiccan, the ball will come to you in some part of your life. Prophetic words. Call it magical coincidence or divine blessing, she recently chanced upon the object in an antique shop in Darjeeling, India. An old lama needed cash for his journey to the plains. The selling price was Rs.35,000—cheap for an amber ball that size. Since she didn’t have that kind of money with her, she left an offer with the shopkeeper intimating that she was leaving the next day. Barely an hour before her departure, he showed up with the item. Goddess Hecarte had finally delivered. After her return to India, impelled to experience the school of life, she taught, wrote and experimented with art. Wicca, she says, is just one compartment of my life, but it has seeped into her writings and, more recently, into her paintings, These she says, of the 20 canvases she displayed at a solo show, were Wiccan paintings based on the theory that through the juxtaposition of certain colors, forms, shapes and symbols, you can transmit energy and healing to others. People respond to the idea. Her canvases are dominated by blues, browns, oranges and yellows. For many years, Ipsita was involved in Wiccan therapy. People from all walks of life, from peasants to prime ministers, have benefited from Wicca. Now she feels neither the inclination nor the necessity to offer therapy or interact with people. “ I really feel that I have no more obligations to society anymore. I have done what I could or can, for it. No one should approach me for therapy. No one should approach me for working miracles, as people are apt to do. I am not a god woman and I should do my own work at my own energy,” she says firmly. “You could say I am more into studying, painting, writing, reading, even documenting old cases,” she continues. She draws on facts, figures, experience for the articles she writes about Wicca. There is also the occasional workshop on Wicca, for women who want to live the Wiccan way. They include 25 to 30 women in Calcutta and about a dozen in Delhi, India. For Ipsita, there is a definite ennui. A sharp cynicism that swaddles society. Rigidity exists. The magic is not allowed to enter, the minds are closed. She says:“ Most people are like vegetables.” She is emphatic in her denunciation of society being motivated by lucre, lust, ambition: “As an individual, break away from it as much as possible. Stand-alone. Say this is what you are. To a certain extent, yes, may be, you will have to play certain games that society plays, but beyond that do your own thing. And if you are strong enough, society comes to you, you don’t have to go to people.” Her winning formula is simple: ‘From the practical point of view, your ambition must not be inordinate, for then you are at a disadvantage. The other thing you must know is the art of letting go. If someone or something comes to you, well and good. But if you feel that your pride and self-respect are compromised, let go. These are two things that I have lived by and I would recommend to others. Cultivate the ability to be with people and the ability to withdraw. It is essential not to be dependent on anybody. Whether it is your close family or friends, that dependence must not be there. When you recognize the essential transience of all things, you will not get bogged down in happiness or unhappiness.” Her actions are never guided by conventional notions of good or bad. She has no wish to hurt anyone physically, emotionally or spiritually, but beyond that, she says ‘To me life is free I have lived it to the less. And that I find give me a lot of energy. Today, someone might ask me: ‘Where do you get your energy from? Do you sit down to a ritual, do you invoke energy?’ The point is, if I do a ritual, I could formally invoke energy, otherwise it is all round me. Energy flows when you live freely, witho
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