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Shelly Wift laughingly describes herself as a "recovering witch."A plump woman in her early 30s with frizzy hair, she favors long cotton skirts picked up cheap at incense-heavy Indian shops in Manhattan."I'm kind of a cliché that way," she says. "What else would an ex-witch wear?"She used to belong to a coven that met monthly on the Friday closest to the new moon. In 1995 she and several of her fellow witches donned their Halloween finery and headed to (where else?) Salem, Massachusetts. The town is not the site of the witch hysteria that erupted in 1692—that distinction belongs to neighboring Danvers, which was known as Salem Village until 1752—but today's Salem capitalizes on the misconception. Halloween is an especially lively time in Salem, and Wift and her coven went there to meet up with other witches.It was early in the evening when Wift and her friends were approached by a trio of clean-scrubbed evangelical students."I think they were from Gordon [College]," she says. "They came up to us—it was rather bold if you ask me—and said, 'Excuse me, are you all witches?'"Her friends laughed at the evangelists and moved on, but Wift says she was transfixed by the students' message of faith and hope in Christ. At first skeptical and threatened, Wift could not pass up the chance to defend her right to practice witchcraft."I wanted to tell them that I really didn't need to worship their patriarchal God, and that I would never shove my faith down someone else's throat," she says. "So at first I argued with them. But then they said some really persuasive, powerful things. I found I couldn't argue anymore."Wift spent the rest of the night reading the Bible the students left with her, and she took a bus back to New York alone while ...

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October 23, 2000

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