the Spirit Watch
Out Of The Broom Closet - Witchcraft Today (Part 1 of 2)
by Rafael Martinez, Co-Director, Spiritwatch Ministries
We should educate people that 'Witch' is not evil but ancient and positive. The first time I called myself a 'Witch' was the most magical moment of my life."
Drawing Down The Moon, p. 461
All across Western civilization, a coming out party of epic proportions for occultic pagan traditions has been going on strong for the past century or so. Of them all, few are more vocal or visible than the celebrations of neopagan witchcraft across the Western world. From the furthest reaches of Northern Europe's Scandinavia to the heart of urban Australia, the practice of witchcraft has enjoyed the greatest success of the pagan traditions currently in revival today. Very generally speaking, modern witchcraft can be identified by the term "Wicca", a word used loosely to identify the principles and practitioners of the spirituality it involves. Its' growth has been nothing less than amazing, and its' core beliefs are far from being the outward manifestation of some cultic faddism picked up by bored teenage girls (even if some of them rise no further with it than that).
And Wicca - also called "the Craft" or "the old religion" by those who practice it - is truly a religion on the move: while estimates vary widely (supplied from both pro and contra pagan sources), all available information suggests a movement growing at a phenomenal rate. One 1991 estimate suggested that in 1982, there were around 40,000 pagans in the United States, and that a decade of growth brought this number to just under 100,000 (1), and another estimate in 1992 ranged from that latter number to 250,000 (2). Presently, it appears that anywhere from 750,000 to 5,000,000 people may be currently involved with it nationwide, depending upon who you talk to. This exponential growth of interest in witchcraft is reflected in the equally steady rise of the publication of witchcraft-related books found in places as obscure as mom and pop metaphysical stores or the bookselling giants Barnes & Noble or Waldenbooks. One of our associates found this interesting bit of research posted on a pagan newsgroup the results of an Amazon.com search engine's tabulation of how many of these books have been published in the last few decades, along with their own calculations:
"Amazon doesn't let you do between dates (1970-1980) so I just subtracted the previous decades results. Books published before 1970 = 55. Books published before 1980 = 223 - the 55 the previous decade = 168. Books published before 1990 = 456 - 55 - 168 = 223. For the last one, I searched for books published AFTER 1990. Total was 666 (but lets say 667 OK?). Of those books, over 200 were published in the last three years. So the numbers are steadily (maybe even rapidly) increasing. SOMEONE must be buying and reading those books." (3)
This bit of statistical tabulation is barely even the tip of the tip of the cultural iceberg that Wicca has become in the sea of humanity. In looking at the steady rise of Wicca's cultural presence, the decade of the 1990's will likely be remembered as the years in which Wicca began in earnest a quest for the mainstream, a journey that has introduced witchcraft to a new generation of spiritual seekers among Generations X and Y. As we have seen, Internet traffic involving witchcraft is astronomical and nonstop, with hundreds of websites and bulletin boards, and untold numbers of IRC chatrooms devoted to witchcraft. "Pagan aware" themes now figure prominently in many news and entertainment production circle: one can catch documentaries and talk shows exploring witchcraft by sending cameras to Samhain celebrations in the British Isles or soundstages in Hollywood which host a call-in talk show featuring Wiccan priestesses giving advice on relationships and self-empowerment. Popular series syndications often descend into fictionalized liberty of sensationalism that has little to nothing to do with Wiccan practice (like the TV series "Charmed" and "Sabrina The Teenage Witch," or the movies "The Craft" and "Practical Magick"), leading one Wiccan herbalist to bewail the flood of inquiries based upon "everybody see(ing) Sabrina or Buffy" (4). Newscasts with reports involving Wiccans are aired far more in mass media markets than ever before, usually to comment upon its' revival or some instance of local harassment. Gone are the days when the activities of local Wiccan covens are dismissed by a prejudiced press as the work of religious eccentrics. The networking of hundreds of thousands of pagans across the U.S. has been instrumental in the facilitation of their religions' continuing struggle to gain cultural legitimacy through public education, activism and even litigation when their civil liberties have been threatened. Military chaplains in the U.S. Armed Forces now must be ready to facilitate the spiritual practices of Wiccans serving in our armed forces.
Wicca is a literal religious movement that is showing no sign of retreat, a movement that is quite active across our nation and even here in the Tennessee Valley. A few years ago, the Bradley County Weekly's series entitled "The Ways We Worship" gave two local practitioners of Druidic paganism an opportunity in one article to share with readers about their religion and their thoughts about local discrimination they suffered for practicing witchcraft. For a local newspaper to so openly raise such an issue is rather extraordinary by local standards, due to the cultural dominance of Christianity here, and it illustrates clearly how Wicca's growth and influence has reached even a major bastion of the "Bible Belt" and can no longer be ignored or dismissed. Such growth can be seen in an occult bookstore's backroom in the Chattanooga metro area where "Wicca 101" classes are well attended. One class we know of is based upon the book A Spiral Dance, a basic tome on Wicca penned by the well known pagan writer Starhawk. Many solitary practitioners in the region quietly go about their business, invoking various gods and goddesses for good luck, healing and prosperity, celebrating an entirely personal connection with creation that they view as divine. Others are more daring and make public their adherence to pagan ways, asserting their rights to believe and worship as they will as young "teen witch" Danielle Hewitt made clear in a Fox News Channel report: "I'm a witch and I can say that quite openly. .. I have something I know is real and it's something that I can believe in and if there's no one else, you know, there's always my goddess, you know?" (5)
But this isn't news to the rest of the country: Wiccan culture has been a hub, if not a pillar of the community in many a region across the United States, let alone Western civilization. In Salem, Massachusetts, site of the infamous "witch trials" of 1692, Wicca is as American as Mom, apple pie and Chevrolet. Many practitioners of Wicca in New England call Salem their home, work for IBM and Honeywell and have brought their religion there into a degree of cultural integration and dominance that rivals Christian influences here in the Southeast. Wiccans and other neopagans can be found on the boards of many major corporations, in our military and local police forces, and on PTO's (to the horror of many Christians who cannot concede the possibility that they are perhaps there because they are trying to simply contribute to society and not take it over). They are doctors, educators, parents, and business people who do what they feel is what's best for them and who often can be found trying to better their community more often than not.
In many a college town, Wiccans have found soaring interest in the Craft being translated into lively covens and student organizations dedicated to it: a pagan student organization on the Middle Tennessee State University campus now has been successfully established for some time. California, long a haven for eclectic and free-spirited souls, has a flourishing population of Wiccans from many traditions, from Druidic to eclectic. Across the West and Midwest many Wiccan covens exist and have made their presence known - as most all of the others - through their peaceful participation in society. Enterprising covens of witches even go so far as to utilize the services of cable access channels to air programming they create to serve their own communities and provide their own perspectives on the Craft to the public, as seen here in this 1991 photo of a Virginia-area pagan doing some video engineering during the videotaping of a summer solstice ritual. And like most of the rest of the country, Tennessee's pagan activity is well advanced and established, and networked by the ubiquitous Internet; from Memphis to Johnson City and all points between, witch covens and "solitaries" of many different persuasions band together for fellowship through covens and groups across the state in a mutually supportive association of pagan society.
So, to use an overworked pun, we see that Wicca is indeed truly coming out of the broom closet.
In our two part series of articles on witchcraft, we want to examine what's behind the renewed fascination with witchcraft, why it has come about, what Wicca seeks to accomplish, and some suggestions on how to respond to it from a Christian perspective. Along the way, we hope to explode a few myths with solid reality while striving not to create others. The very word "witchcraft" sends shivers down the spines of too many people, blinds many others to sound discernment and civil discourse, and drives even more to a ferociously predatory rage (sadly, many a visit to a Christian chat room by many a Wiccan bears this out pretty quickly). We believe the time has come for this sort of knee-jerk reaction to cease and hope our contribution here provides many with food for thought and true understanding.
Wicca: Separating Facts From Fantasy
Along with the rise of any movement in society that fails to comply with the status quo comes the inevitable creation of many allegations and accusations against it, for many reasons. Wicca is no stranger to this purely human reaction to the unknown, and many a myth spawned from unreasoning prejudice has arisen because of it: we want to very briefly deal with three of the most common myths many people have about witchcraft."Witches practice Satanism and worship the devil!" This common claim is one of the most common and sensational, implying that Wiccans are involved in rituals of baby sacrifice and multinational conspiracies bent on Satanic global domination. Among the extremists of Christian extraction who have helped advance these claims are controversial radio commentator Bob Larson, whose blurring of distinctions between Satanism and witchcraft are patently dishonest. But the truth is not quite so lurid. Contemporary Wicca is a religion based on various elements of ancient pagan god worship that developed centuries prior to the birth of Christianity and does not even recognize the Judeo-Christian concept of Satan, much less actively engage in any literal or intentional worship of him. Contemporary Satanism is loosely based on a 16th century philosophy of rebellion against Church-sanctioned moral absolutes and is actually devoted not to Satan but to the lower carnal self, practically equating irresponsible abandonment to self-indulgence as "devil worship." Most Satanists can barely articulate their professed belief in Satanism except to bitterly harangue Christianity and Christians and to declare themselves as supreme in their own scheme of existence.
And many, if not all Satanists are actually atheistic in belief, which is in stark contrast to Wiccans who worship the deities of many pagan traditions. The Biblical revelation of Satan as the fallen angel Lucifer, the great opposer of God, is one that simply isn't accepted as a binding truth by most, if not all witches because of its origins out of an explicitly Judeo-Christian spiritual worldview. The only common thread that some Satanists have with Wiccans is an occultic belief in "magickal" access to supernatural powers by ritual and spells. In short, Satanism is secular humanism wearing a devil's mask that turns Satanists inward toward self-gratification, while Wicca is a religious pantheism wearing many hats from many pagan traditions that seek to connect pagans to the "divine" in all creation. The two are entirely incompatible belief systems; Wiccans are not Satanists and wouldn't want to be mistaken as one any more than you or I.
"Those Wiccans are evil people!" Another highly explosive charge made against Wiccans is that they are immoral, wicked people, and that their witchcraft is devoted to evil purposes. Wiccans readily and with some justification cite this prejudiced charge against them as the main reason for the antagonism, discrimination and even persecution they have endured since Wicca's reemergence in the twentieth century. They believe it to be a repeat of what pagans call the "burning times" in which supposedly thousands of witches died under Christendom's abuse of secular power in the Dark Ages. Yet here, the slippery slope of ethical dilemma gets very slick indeed for those who condemn witches as entirely evil people. While witchcraft is indeed a practice that Christian absolutes would firmly reject, it is an error hardly any worse than the prejudice, persecution and demonizing that many Christian people harass witches with (or any of their other sins such as gossiping, cheating, stealing or "white lying"). Indeed, the cycle of hatred, physical violence, and even the terrible murder of pagans is in our opinion a far more wicked thing, an abomination before God Himself.
In case witch-haters haven't noticed, evil and immorality are not weaknesses that pagans have an exclusive lock on. Some notable examples include the Islamic Al-Qaida terrorists who attacked the "infidel" U.S. on September 11, 2001 but could rationalize frequenting strip clubs to "cover" themselves and the scandals of televangelism in the late 1980's involving hypocrisy, carnality and outright larceny of the most sordid level. Most pagans are actually moral, upright people who treat others around them with a tolerant and courteous civility and mean only well to their fellow man, following a "golden rule" called the "Wiccan Rede" They are married couples with kids who try to raise families with some sense of decency. Their spells and rituals are actually attempts to do positive things like heal sickness, foster prosperity, personal empowerment and success - even if the spellcasting itself is forbidden by Scriptural precept (we'll discuss this later) and the motivations in some cases may be quite questionable. And while there are those pagans who do attempt to work magick that sets forth to harmfully manipulate others and witches who live generally unstable and sinful lives, they are actually an exception. Most pagans do their best to live morally upright lives. To be blunt, the hypocrisy, gross immorality, and general carnality of many (but certainly not all) professing "Christians" who fill many a pew is a fact of life that amply demonstrates just how "righteous" they are in the most lamentable yet stark comparison to many Wiccans, a sad truth I must shamefacedly confess as a Christian minister speaking from the Christian community. This is an important issue we will discuss in our second and concluding part."Those witches are a cult group!" This charge against Wicca ignores the far more grim reality about the social structure of those dangerous groups that society has labeled cults. In other sections of our site here, we have described cults and cultic movements as any movement - religious or not - that freely uses unethical and deceptive techniques to recruit and control members and whose practical and doctrinal positions contradict orthodox Christian teaching. We have asserted that such groups do not depend solely upon theological and spiritual persuasion to attract converts. Destructive cult groups utilize sophisticated techniques of actual and literal mind control to deliberately manipulate prospects and new converts to relinquish their free will and critical thinking to the authoritarian dictates of a central leader or leadership caste. Having accomplished this, they then exalt their perspective and worldview as the only truly logical, spiritual or philosophical absolute in the world, without which those outside the group are in darkness.
Wicca, by this definition, and the neopagan culture at large cannot be considered cultic. This is because witches are relentless in their anti-authoritarian individualism. They have always traditionally been free-thinking non-conformists who cheerfully follow their own personal spirituality, whether along a specific Wiccan tradition or in an eclectic synthesis of various pagan elements. They generally disregard the kind of dogmatically driven demands for personal submission made by any controlling authority figures or organizations. Aside from the mystical aura of the trappings, communal structure and ritual of paganism that suggests to the uninitiated to the contrary, paganism is a rugged bastion of personal spiritual autonomy. Such a militantly personal individualism, as found among pagans, would undermine any kind of cultic dynamic.
However, this is not to say that cultism is unknown among Wiccans. Witches are still humans whose communities of faith are subject to the foibles and factionalism of human weakness, particularly by those unscrupulous leaders there who may try to impose illegitimate control over impressionable followers. We've also contended on this site that the willingness of people to follow strong figures who represent themselves as wielding great power and promising its secrets to them for their loyalty is what is at the heart of cultism. Such abuses of power occur at all levels of human existence, and among some witches' covens, the same cultic lure can be replicated: this is a danger common enough among Wiccans to lead at least one well known pagan, Isaac Bonewits, to create his well known "Cult Danger Evaluation Frame."
We wish to make our position on Wiccan myths clear as well as make our own loyalties clear. We do not support and will firmly resist the demonization of Wiccans as subhuman monsters and believe that their right to worship as they would must be respected. However, we feel that while witchcraft is not Satanism, it is still Satanic in spirit. Wiccans may well reject any belief in Satan, which in no way dismisses his own actual existence and work which is still very real. At the core of Satan's resistance of God is his rejection of what God has revealed as ultimate spiritual truth, that being the revelation of the Gospel and Person of Jesus Christ and his ongoing attempt to encourage humanity to do likewise. Such rejection of this is undeniably, in our Christian perspective, a work of Satan. Wicca contains much that is appears to be spiritually appealing, personally affirming and anciently-rooted, yet while it may not "worship" Satan, it still stands as a deliberate tangent leading thousands (if not millions) away from the One True God who created them to exalt false deities that seek their worship. Wiccans may not have any animosity towards Christianity or Christians, but their choice in embracing their religion, we feel, is still essentially serving Satan, even if acknowledgment of his reality is never given in pagan rituals. We say this with no rancor towards Wiccans whatsoever, but must uphold what we believe is a truth that is consistent to Christian thought and practice, a conviction that many of them view as intolerant and somehow indicative of a "hate crime."
This is at the heart of what we believe to be a balanced, albeit controversial, approach by discerning Christians to the flood of myths and misinformation created not only by Christians but by pagans themselves. It is an affirmation of the boundaries of belief and conviction that orthodox Christianity has expressed in many ways since its first contests with paganism in the Roman Empire of the first century. If Wiccans truly wish, as this photo's sentiments expressed seem to imply, that mutual understanding is a need among both Wiccans and Christians (something we would wholeheartedly agree with), than pagans need to understand why the Christian faith is firmly opposed to the claims of paganism, and to distinguish such opposition from the undeniably offensive demonizing and harrassment some "Christians" . Our articles are an attempt to provide a Christian clarification of our opposition to paganism. But that doesn't mean we feel any justification to an "open season" on witches whatsoever - a conviction we trust Wiccans and their neophytes will also respect in regards to their own efforts to define the pagan-Christian tension.
What Is Witchcraft? The Wiccan Worldview
No greater source of potential misunderstanding comes in than considering what would seem to be a fundamental question: just what is witchcraft? What is Wicca? There is enormous diversity of thought among pagans on what witchcraft is. No one school of thought or pagan tradition is viewed as authoritative and supreme. Many forms of witchcraft exist for the neophytes of paganism to pursue, from folk religions based upon an identifiable ethnic or national tradition like European Druidism or Norse Asatru to the anarchy of eclectic solitary practioners who combine various occultic and pagan traditions (such as Egyptian mythology, Cherokee shamanism, and Chinese astrology) freely.
Still, there are some basic principles that help us see what it witchcraft, in a very general definition, would claim to be. One local coven leader spells these out this way:
Wicca .. is a positive, shamanistic nature religion with two main deities honored and worshipped in Wiccan rites: the Goddess (the female aspect and a deity related to the ancient mother Goddess in Her triple aspects of Maiden, Mother and Crone) and Her consort, the Horned God (the male aspect). Their names vary from one Wiccan tradition to the next .. (6)
For the average witch, the definition of their practice of the Craft depends entirely on their concept of deity: rejecting the Judeo-Christian belief in one sovereign and all-powerful Creator standing apart from creation, Wicca is generally concerned with worshipping and interacting with various gods and goddesses understood to exist in two major forms, the Horned God and the Goddess, although identified with often very different names and symbols, and worshipped in various ways. As Andrus Corbin Arthin, of the pagan Earth Spirit Community made clear, "most religions attempt to present us with a model of the sacred. In some ways I think a lot of us would say the ultimate arrogance is to believe that we actually know what God is or what lies beyond because who really can?" (7)
Despite this rejection of a universal definition of who God is, it doesn't keep witches from generally following their own model of the sacred that posits the existence of Horned God and Goddess. Craig Hawkins, a Christian researcher, describes concisely the relationship between these two forms of deity as paganism views it:
1. Most neo-pagans believe in, invoke, or worship the Goddess
Intervention of the power of these deities in the lives of those who worship them can be sought after by the use of magick, the practice of seeking supernaturally endowed blessings by the use of rituals, sacred objects and other means to invoke their power (in saying this, it must be emphasized that there are many pagans who reject any metaphysical supernaturalism altogether and believe that the magick they invoke is derived from the extension of latent psychic mind powers). Whatever their source, these powers can be focused and harnessed by various means by pagans seeking their help. In so doing, Wiccans believe they follow in the footsteps of the shamans, or “medicine men” of ancient pagans of antiquity. Also known as "wise women" or folk healers, their collective wisdom, nearly lost, is said to be preserved and still circulating - no longer limited to oral tradition but to the near-immortality that books and digital databases provide. And the views and concepts about the "Lord and Lady" are as diverse as any tradition might become, yet their existence is a fundamental in Wiccan thought - and out of relationship or interaction in some way with them by magick can pagans receive empowerment and strengthening.
Magick is Wicca’s most well-known trademark, from foretelling the future, healing the sick, and the soothing of one’s personal fears by spell-casting and other means. It is perhaps the most dominant practice and focus of attention given to it by Wiccans because of its most intimate practicality and flexibility. Hearing pagans casually mention their candleburning rituals for a favorable outcome in a lawsuit is just one of the many ways in which one can hear how practically it is applied. A local former Asatru practitioner (now a Christian) wryly noted that her ability to cast "love spells" to attract, enhance or even end romantic relationships brought her the greatest attention by many seeking her magickal assistance - from both non-christians and Christians alike. The power of the gods and goddesses also extends to personal protection, prosperity and contact with spirit guides for personal growth and empowerment as the local coven leader alludes:
Wicca often includes the practice of various forms of white magick (usually for healing purposes or as a counter to negativity) as well as rites to attune oneself with the natural rhythm of life forces marked by the phases of the moon and the four seasons (10).
The created order of nature as seen in the changing of moons and the seasons is seen as a manifestation of these deities. This belief is based upon pantheism, the view that God exists as nature itself, as creation one can experience. When one hears references to paganism being a "earth-based religion," it can be easily seen why when understanding that the earth, its wildlife and its cycles of the seasons in nature, all being a manifestation of divinity, is the logical focus of pagan worship. Pantheism is a firm foundation of many pagan religious systems as the leader further explains:
This God or Goddess – bearing different names at different times and in different places – can be found in nearly all the world’s historic religious systems. Paganism does not oppose nor deny other religions. It is simply a pre-Christian faith (11).
Many pagans believe that these concepts of spirituality really do pre-date Christianity. Many also hold that the manifold practices of many different cultures around the world that freely practiced magick and ritual in their own unique contexts formed the basis for a recovery of the "ancient ways", the "wisdom" of Wicca that now provides the standards for a completely pagan lifestyle as naturally and passionately lived out as any other. Some of these teachings that many - but not all - Wiccans have freely have accepted from other pagan belief systems is the belief in reincarnation (the belief of continual birth, death and rebirth by individuals), the Eastern “law of karma” (in which one’s actions in this life directly affect one’s standing in their next life) and various elements of worship such as the identification of the sun, moon and stars with various deities, offerings to the god/goddess and observation of holy days often called sabbats and esbats held throughout the year. Of these, perhaps the most universally present in witchcraft is the use of the ritual, which the Desert Wind Coven describes as "basic" to it:
The basic structure of Wiccan worship and practice is the Ritual. Ritual is the means by which we accomplish change in our lives ourselves and in our work. A ritual is a play, a structure in which we focus our energies and alter our awareness in order to facilitate change. The purpose of ritual is not only worship but growth and the ability to be balanced and happy in our lives. In ritual we consciously alter our perceptions so that we can find new paths for ourselves. Ritual helps to motivate us to do things in our lives, for instance ritual in the form of Rites of Passage help us to grow into life changes and to cope with and acknowledge changes. (12)
The flexibility of Wiccan thought and practice encourages modern witches to new heights of creativity in the practice of their rituals - they may be performed "skyclad" (in nudity) on a hilltop near Stonehenge during the spring equinox or they may be done before a small shelf-sized altar in the corner of a cramped Chattanoogan apartment next to the roar of I-75 just before catching a bus for work. Elements of the ritual involve the magick circle (a sacred space in a defined circular area - as seen in the above picture) and the altar, upon which libations and offerings to the gods and goddesses are made. Still, the rituals are meant to be drawn out in the full flow of life, to be practically applied in the personal weaving of one's lifestyle, and are intensely practical and fulfilling to the pagans who pursue them.
Although they often vary from person to person, the ritual is vital to the Craft. This spiritual pragmatism is one of the great attractions to Wicca as we will discuss in our next section. For now, it is important to understand that the ritual in witchcraft is not meant to be confined to the sacred space of the Wiccan home but should be applied whenever and where ever needed. As pagan author Scott Cunningham was told by a Hawaiian shaman, once one begins to think about doing a ritual, the ritual already had begun (13).
Three Draws Of Witchcraft Today - Why People Are Drawn To The "Old Religion"
Margot Adler's seminal 1979 book Drawing Down The Moon is a fascinating glimpse into the people and spirituality driving the re-emergence of paganism in Western society, and her researching journey in preparation to write it took her across thousands of miles in the United States and Britain to interact with and interview pagans and pagan communities. If there is any one observation that becomes clear in reading this work, now in revised and expanded editions, it Adler's recognition that the great draw of paganism's is that it taps into the deeply personal and heartfelt longing for a spirituality that fits, for a faith both drawn from antiquity and the present. Witchcraft has a powerful and compelling nature that strikes a spiritual chord in many a spiritual seeker, and we will see, from a highly generalizing perspective, that it has three essential attractions that ensure that it will have a place in the spiritual marketplaces of man until the End of time: it is experiential, personal and pragmatic in nature.
Experiential - Witchcraft is a religion to be primarily experienced. While the rational and objective is not absent from Wiccan belief, it is the involvement of the subjective, sensual side of one's spirituality that is at its' heart. The beliefs of witchcraft, freely reinterpreted by witches around the world in accordance with their own chosen spiritual bent, for all their diversity are meant to strike "deep chords in our emotional roots" as well known pagan Aidan Kelly reminisces (14). The touching, tasting, hearing, seeing and smelling of the various elements of Wiccan spirituality lead witches into the evoking of sacred spaces and occasions in which communion with the God/Goddess can occur.
While the quality and variety of these experiences is as diverse as those in paganism who encounter them, their very existence and occurrence become the verification for their validity. Many pagans, in essence, largely dismiss the faculty of rationality as a sterile, if not inadequate standard by which to define, express and describe a vibrant inner spirituality and perspective. And experiential spirituality has always been most attractive to those whose experiences in more traditional religious circles are perceived as dogmatically rigid, impersonal credos of irrelevant religion. One's being as well as their doing is the foundation for faith in the practices and principles of modern witchcraft, and this young witch and priestess, speaking in an Atlanta newspaper in the early 1970's, could have been interviewed yesterday:
"Witchcraft is a participatory religion .. (It) isn't a religion where you go somewhere and sit and listen to a sermon. This attracts the young person, because he or she is sick of the organized and recognized religions. They want to be active, to take part. Witchcraft offers them just such an opportunity. Witchcraft is actually a return to nature, a worship of the natural gods as opposed to the chrome and glass gods you find in society. We're more interested in finding powers within ourselves, in broadening our own minds." (15)
Accessible ritual and teaching that can be freely and individually interpreted can be found in a vast collection of books written for pagans now on the market. This personal quest for unity with the forces of nature by witches often leads to their “drawing down the moon,” in which the actual bodily possession of a witch by his or her god or goddess occurs, or as Adler observes "depending on your point of view, she evokes from within herself .. the Goddess or Triple Goddess, symbolized by the phases of the moon" (16). Such experiences being universally accepted as manifestations of the divine, Wiccans take pleasure in them, believing them to be positive and spiritually connecting.
Personal - As we have alluded to already, the practice of witchcraft is an entirely personal affair. There are no spectators in the Craft, and those involved with it wouldn't want it any other way. The flexible and synthesizing nature of the pagan mind often seeks ineffable contact with the pantheistic divine so as to incorporate it into the common life they live. Many people joining the pagan revival testify to the fact that witchcraft often best defines the private faith and philosophy they have held and are delighted to discover that others elsewhere share a common vision:
I'm 20 yrs old and just married. I've always been interested in the occult, metaphysical, etc. I've not begun practicing yet, however I am definitely interested in learning more. I have a couple of friends that are practicing wiccans and my younger sister is interested in the same. I've read several books on the subject and have found that a lot of the things in the book feel familiar to me. They make sense out of things that never did. After reading one book, I felt like I could truly feel a sense of belonging where I had never felt any before (source lost).
The personal aspect of paganism that can be applied to the pagan's life typically takes one of two forms in their lifestyle. On one hand, witches tend to congregate in covens and neopagan gatherings that foster supportive communities of faith and socialization which heighten personal growth as well as provide opportunities for pagan networking, caring and sharing. Such groups dot the land wherever you go, and all come together occasionally in the pagan festival, a time in which pagans of all persuasions will meet and learn from one another. Usually held on the "holy days" of paganism such as the summer solstice or Halloween, the degree of intense camaraderie found in these is vibrant, even electric. One pagan priestess perhaps summed it up best when she told Adler that "you find that you are not alone and you understand this three dimensionally. You have danced it, sung it, cried it, let it loose through every possible human sense. These large groups come together for such a short period of time, but that's when the gods dance. We meet the Goddess and the God in everyone and in ourselves" (17).
On the other hand, you will find the "solitaries" following their own path. These are Wiccans who choose to practice their faith in solitude and do not seek membership with any local covens, or who may initiate contact with other pagans infrequently. For any number of several different reasons, a growing number of people attracted to paganism are choosing to take this route and the rise of solitary Wiccan practitioners as still another subculture of the pagan world itself is well advanced. Perhaps part of that reason is that the deeply personal and flexible nature of witchcraft's ritual and practice appeals to the individualism that postmodernized Western social mores accept freely. People, in short, like to do things their own way, to pick and choose their belief system, no matter how eclectic or traditional it may be. And the very nature of personal spirituality itself tends to privacy and even secrecy concerning one's deepest convictions - and, sadly, fear of retribution and persecution also is part of this human equation. But whatever the reason, it is generally believed that solitaries following their own unique witchcraft path are far more numerous than believed.
Pragmatic - A third major draw (and by no means are these the only three) of witchcraft is that it is seems to "work." The practice of a personal spirituality that makes and retains followers is one that will have results that meet their needs and expectations. And many a pagan will testify to the power of Wicca in their lives that has been inspirational as well as practical. Their results are basically a personal empowerment by their manipulation of supernatural powers for their personal benefit through ritual, song, dance, and any one (or several) pagan techniques and practices. This empowerment, as we have touched briefly upon, ranges from a personal connection to an earth-based spirituality to profound personal insights derived from contact with the gods and goddesses, as Laurie Cabot explains:
Enjoy meeting the Gods and Goddesses. They are models of your higher self. They know their connections with the cosmos and the harmony of all created things. They understand their perfections and limitations, their strengths and their weaknesses. In rituals, you can meet these deities by working and playing with the physical elements representing their realms of power and knowledge. They may show you things about yourself you never dreamed existed or things you have always known, but have lost awhile (18).
The tools of pagan ritual, drawn from the mundane world itself, lend an even greater significance to their usage. Since witchcraft is a religion very much tied into the created order, the sanctification of common things like herbs, candles, cups and basins becomes seemingly so much more evocative and powerful. Cabot's book "Love Magic" takes the act of drawing a hot bath to a whole new level by incorporating it into a ritual "taken in the most luxurious manner possible" and made into a transformative experience, using special soaps, wine libations, candlelight and a "sweat-lodge" atmosphere. Such an act, she writes is to "luxuriate in the feeling of sovereignty. Reflect on the watery world as a kind of womb, like yours .. going back to the Great Goddess who birthed the universe into existence from her won divine womb. You share that power and honor with all women. You are a Goddess.. Let your consciousness sink into these primordial feelings of power, enjoy the sense of control, of being a priestess of the water." This is just one of the innumerable and creative ways Wiccan sages develop to provide for Wiccans tangible means of solving problems and meeting needs. Spells that provide an "edge" in a personal litigation case, raise sexual libido, and even end destructive relationships are legion. And ample testimony to the positive outcomes that arise after an intentional evoking of the power of the Old Ones exists among many a pagan community. Therefore, Wicca's legitimacy becomes based upon verifiable results which touch the personal life of the Wiccan:
People are generally drawn to Wicca and other pagan paths for several reasons. Many women feel left out of more mainstream religions because of the lack of feminine divinity. For them, the Wiccan concept of the Goddess as Mother of all Living fills an empty space in their spiritual search. As a nature based religion, Witchcraft also appeals to those who feel a strong need to "get back to the Earth" and places a major importance on protecting the environment, which we are a part of, not apart from. People drawn to the mystical find pagan belief systems much more accommodating as we do not see anything unnatural about psychic ability or the use of magic to create needed changes in one's life. It gives us the freedom to make our own decisions about what is best for us. (19).
Based upon age-old desire for harmony with nature and others and an equally age-old appeal for self-empowerment and fulfillment, the powerful draw of Wiccan thought and practice can now be seen for what it is and understood. The quest for a meaningful spirituality that meets the deepest needs of man is behind the seeking of those leaning to paganism. And as we have briefly discussed, the growth of the pagan community and pagan influence in society is an established fact and shows no sign of slowing down. Wicca's many practitioners here in the Tennessee Valley and beyond are here to stay.
As with the emergence of any religion that establishes a rival truth, Christians have many grave concerns with witchcraft that demand answers and response. We do not refer to the paranoiac and knee jerk demonization we have carefully qualified earlier in this article, but we are compelled by our desire to honor the truth found in the words of Jesus Christ Himself when He made abundantly clear how one may know God: "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me" (John 14:6). These words are the line in the sand between pagans and Christians, and are the basis for why Christians reject any involvement with pagan spirituality. For our pagan friends it is important that they understand this objection, as well as hear us out on related issues as well. If there is to be "mutual understanding" between pagans "coming out" and Christians who receive such news with alarm, both Christians and pagans would do well to consider these pages which we offer up as our own contribution to the task of communication and, yes, tolerance. .In part two of our two part series on witchcraft, we will set forth to trace out these concerns and a civil yet uncompromising response to the advance of Wicca in the Tennessee Valley as we feel our faith as discerning Christians requires us to.
(1) "Drawing Down The Moon", Christianity Today, April 29, 1991, p. 16
(2) "Neo-Pagans", The 700 Club, October 28, 1992
(3) alt.religion.wicca.moderated (posting on file)
(4) "The Witching Hour," Fox News,
(6) Handout for Wicca 101 class, conducted in Hixson, TN
(7) "Smithsonian World", WTTW, 6 June 1991
(8) Goddess Worship, Witchcraft and Neo-Paganism, Craig S. Hawkins, Zondervan, 1998, p. 32
(9) Drawing Down The Moon, p. 432
(10) Handout, ibid
(13) Wicca: A Guide For The Solitary Practioner, p. 95
(14) Drawing Down The Moon, p. 165
(15) "The Occult." The Religious Reawakening In America, p. 88
(16) Drawing Down The Moon, p. 19
(17) ibid, p. 430.
(18) Love Magic, p. 109