When Denise Zimmermann and Carol Swartz opened Bell Book & Candle in a Belair Road shopping center last June, they didn't predict the overwhelming response to their fragrant emporium of oils, texts and birthstones, where customers can experience past-life regression or have their Tarot cards read in a candle-lit chamber. "I thought we would be OK, but I had no idea we would be this welcome," says Zimmermann, a practicing witch with a broad sense of humor.
Not only did nature-worshiping Neo-Pagans flock to the new store to peruse crystal balls, caldrons and books like "A Kitchen Witch's Cookbook," but about 50 people also signed up for Zimmermann's course on becoming a witch; professionals, truck drivers, teen mothers and women in their 70s among them.
Zimmermann's contention is not easily proved. One conservative estimate puts the population of Pagans, of which Wicca and witchcraft are rather like denominations, at 150,000 to 200,000; author and Wiccan high priestess Phyllis Curott places it in the 3 million to 5 million range. But on the eve of Samhain, the Celtic New Year holiday that witches celebrate, also known as Halloween, finding examples of witchcraft as a hot topic across the popular and high culture spectrum is as easy as winning a Quidditch match with a fleet of Nimbus 2000s.