By Kelly Burch
---- — Deborah D’Onofrio is the mother of a high school student, the wife of “This Old House” cameraman Steve D’Onofrio and an active member of the North Andover community.
She’s also a witch. However, you won’t find any black cats or cobwebs around her tidy North Andover home.
“There is nothing scary or odd or spooky about it,” D’Onofrio said of the practice of witchcraft. “If people spent the day with me, they would realize that. It’s very natural and instinctive.”
The stigma surrounding her spirituality is one reason that D’Onofrio likes to speak out about being a witch and educate those who are interested in learning more. For D’Onofrio, who is a green witch, practicing her spirituality is all mostly a matter of being in touch with nature.
“It’s about being connected to the earth first and foremost,” she said. “I treat the world as a sacred place. It’s simple. No toads and dragon’s blood involved.”
Her main belief is clear and succinct: “There is power in all living things. The earth, elements and creatures all have magic. They are our allies.”
She also believes in a plethora of spirit guides and deities, and in the inherent power of thought.
D’Onofrio’s whole practice is built around these notions. Yoga and prayer appear in her practice regularly, as does meditation.
The less mainstream details of her practice may garner a few raised eyebrows: She uses candles, minerals, herbs and other natural items to add power to her intentions, or spells. She appeals to a variety of deities and is a trained medium and reiki master.
Just like Christianity and other major religions, witchcraft can cover a wide array of belief systems. The individual-led practice that D’Onofrio follows is different from the well-known Wiccan religion.
“It’s like a tree,” she said. “The roots we all share. Yet, there are different branches at the top that break into tons of traditions.”
D’Onofrio realized when she began exploring witchcraft that the religion still generates strong opinions.
“I wanted to not be identified as a witch because of the stigma,” she said. “But it kept reeling me in. Finally, I had to accept what I was called.”
D’Onofrio had been interested in spirituality for a long time. When her son, Niko, was born, she began looking for ways to break the isolation that she felt.
“I think many young mothers can relate,” she said. “I wanted to connect.”
She happened across a class at the Unitarian Universalist Church called “Cakes for the Queen of Heaven.” The class explored goddess spirituality. D’Onofrio felt an immediate connection.
“It opened the door to a whole different way of thinking,” she said. “I thought, ‘Where has that information been?’ It’s not the traditional, patriarchal religion.”
Her new religion allowed her to delve deeper into beliefs that she had been exploring.
“It allowed me to understand the universe in a different way,” she said. “It added another dimension.”
D’Onofrio also was captivated by the history of witchcraft.
“It spans back much further than what we see,” she said. “Thousands of women were killed, and today we would consider them wise women.”
She said that some feminists consider the witch hunt the “women’s genocide.”
“It’s a big part of women’s history,” she said. “That compelled me.”
Although D’Onofrio was fixated by her new beliefs, her husband, Steve, to whom she has been married for 19 years, held to his traditional Catholic upbringing.
“I was walking a different path, and he was on a more mainstream path, but our common bond was our sense of spirituality,” D’Onofrio said.
Although her husband still considers himself a Catholic, he has been very supportive of her spiritual journey.
“He is open to seeing things on my side of the fence,” she said.
Their son, who is now 15, has been raised in both traditions.
“For him, it is a way of life,” D’Onofrio said. “It’s not about what I say, but mostly about how we live. He has cultivated it in his own way.”
At home, the D’Onofrios recycle, compost and garden, all of which are important to Deborah’s spiritual practice.
“For us, it’s casual,” she said.
D’Onofrio thinks that her beliefs have helped Niko develop a strong respect for women.
“He really understands things that other 15-year-old boys might not,” she said.
Likewise, she believes that witchcraft can have an especially strong pull for women, although many men practice the religion, as well.
“Most women have a cultural idea of what we are supposed to be,” she said. “Women aim to please, rather than aiming to be true to themselves. We need to not be what we’re told, but let out our wild, wise and sovereign natures.”
Witchcraft also appeals to people who are looking to get in touch with the earth, something that is becoming increasingly important in many families.
“More and more people want to connect,” she said. “People can’t deny that the earth around us is changing, and they’re thinking about how they can benefit the earth. They are awakening to the fact that we are not two-dimensional. We are spiritual, as well. The consciousness is being raised.”
Although she has been studying witchcraft for more than a decade, the more that D’Onofrio knows about the practice, the more she craves to learn.
“When you’re passionate about something you can’t contain in one lifetime everything you could like to learn,” she said. “I show up every day with my learning cap on.”
The ‘Secret’ behind spellcasting
When the best-selling book “The Secret” came out in 2006, the world was suddenly abuzz with phrases like “intention” and “the power of positive thought.” The book, which discusses the power of our thoughts, was eye-opening for many people, but not for Deborah D’Onofrio.
“The things that people do now, witches have done for ages,” Deborah D’Onofrio said. “A spell is just a very clear intention. We shape the life we want.”
Halloween vs. Samhain
Halloween falls at the same time of year as Samhain (pronounced “sow-in”), a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest and the beginning of the darker time of year.
“At this time of year, the veil between the worlds is thinnest,” Deborah D’Onofrio said.
For those who follow witchcraft, Samhain is the new year.
“We’re coming into dark times,” D’Onofrio said. “If you live close to the seasons, you go inward during a time of darkness. It’s also a time for us to celebrate and connect with our ancestors,” she said.
Just as there are many different beliefs about witchcraft, there are many different ways to celebrate the holiday. Many celebrations incorporate meditations, divination and tea cakes, also known as soul cakes.
Want to learn more?
During the holiday season, Deborah D’Onofrio will host a number of classes, covering everything from lunar cycles and giving gratitude, to building your intuition. For more information, visit circlemagica.com or call 978-873-1346.