The Modern World of Witchcraft:
by Craig S. Hawkins
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ALSO SEE The Message of the Bible and The Warnng of The Bible
A threatening storm is brewing on the religious horizon: the winds of occultism are blowing ever more strongly across the land. In the past two to three decades, America and much of Western Europe have seen a resurgence of paganism and witchcraft. Paganism is attempting a resurrection from the dead, a revival of the old gods and goddesses of pre-Christian polytheistic nature religions and mystery cults (e.g., Celtic, Norse, Greek, Egyptian, Roman, and other traditions of the Western world). Additionally, Sumerian mythologies, extant tribal religions (e.g., Native American religions and shamanism), new religions largely inspired by science fiction and fantasy, and amalgamations of diverse occultic traditions join the list as well. Astaroth, Diana, Hecate, Cernunnos, Osiris, Pan, and others are being invoked anew, feeding an intoxicating discovery of and journey into a universe inhabited with gods and goddesses.
Glossary of Key Terms
Divination: The attempt to obtain information regarding the past, present, or future through occultic methods, such as astrology, channeling, crystal balls, tarot cards, and so forth.
Magic: The ability, real or imagined, to cause changes to result in conformity with one's will or desires by invoking or utilizing mysterious and/or invisible forces, and thereby influencing, controlling, or manipulating reality for one's own purposes. Magic is synonymous with sorcery, and, as used here, is to be distinguished from mere sleight-of-hand. In some occultic circles, it is frequently spelled "magick" to distinguish it from sleight-of-hand.
Coven: Sometimes also referred to as groves or circles, a coven is the basic social unit of witches who regularly meet in groups (as opposed to solitary witches), numbering anywhere between 3 and 30, with 13 being the ideal.
Metaphysics: In the philosophical (not occultic) sense, metaphysics pertains to questions of ultimate reality -- in both the sensible and insensible realms. Such questions include: What actually exists? What is its nature or essence? What is its origin?
Occult: From the Latin occultus, meaning secret, hidden, or esoteric knowledge and practices. It is comprised of three basic categories -- divination, magic or sorcery, and spiritism. Though there are many theories today as to how or why it works, according to biblical theology it originates from, and constitutes interaction with, demonic spirits. Hence, it is expressly condemned.
Sex Magic: The use of sex (e.g., intercourse -- actual or symbolic) within a ritual or spell-casting session to facilitate or augment the efficacy of a given magical rite. That is, sexual activities are used to accomplish the desired goal of the occultist.
Although their practices and beliefs diverge significantly at points, many of these individuals and groups proudly identify themselves as pagans or neopagans. Among them can be found a diverse group of people who style themselves as witches or wiccans: followers of the "Old Religion" of the great Mother Goddess and her male consort, the Horned God.
THE PAGAN NEXT DOOR
Many of today's witches want to remove their traditional cloaks of secrecy, dispel the confusion that surrounds their religion, and address the hostility and suspicion they perceive as directed toward themselves and their craft. They desire that their views and practices be considered an alternative religion, a viable world view. At the very least they seek the right to follow their chosen path without being hindered, harmed, or discriminated against.
Indeed, with increasing vigor, witchcraft is coming "out of the broom closet." Many witches are actively seeking public understanding and acceptance, cultivating an image as the "pagan next door." After all, they claim to embrace a life-affirming, family religion. From media materials to books for children, such as The Witch Next Door and The Witch Family (which portrays witchcraft in a positive family setting), the campaign is on. The cover of one book on witchcraft has an attractive female witch dressed in a fashionable, well-tailored business suit -- as if she were walking down Madison Avenue. This is far removed from the stereotypical image of witches as ugly old hags with warts on their noses, decked out in black capes and cone-shaped hats, riding their favorite broomstick on a moonlit night.
This two-part series is presented with a view to (1) understanding, analyzing, and critiquing contemporary witchcraft, and (2) promoting biblical and thoughtful evangelism of people involved in this religion. It is not presented as a complete treatment and refutation of witchcraft, much less of the larger and more diverse neopagan movement. However, much of what is said about witchcraft herein can also be said of the neopagan movement as a whole. Likewise, the refutations applied to witchcraft doctrines apply to neopaganism as well. (The differences between witchcraft and the various other religions within neopaganism are important, but not so significant as to negate most of the critique presented here.)
The background information on modern and contemporary witchcraft that will be found in this article is necessary because so few "outsiders" understand what it is. This material should clear away many misconceptions and help bring the issue into proper focus. We will not spend time on the disputed ancient or medieval history ("herstory," as most witches like to call it) of witchcraft, as this will not necessarily promote an accurate understanding of contemporary witchcraft. Besides, there are numerous works available touching these concerns, and a world view's validity does not depend on its longevity (this is the fallacy of argumentem ad antiquitum); it depends on whether it is internally consistent and "fits the facts." After giving a brief history of modern witchcraft, we shall proceed to examine its contemporary expression.
WHICH IS WITCH?
It is extremely difficult to define with precision the beliefs and practices of contemporary witches. This is because of the elasticity of the terms "witch" and "witchcraft" as they have been applied to people and practices both today and throughout history. It is also due to the great diversity that exists within the contemporary movement itself. Witches disagree among themselves as to what constitutes a witch. Muddled thinking, misunderstanding, and confusion have been the result of Christians, witches, and others not adequately defining their terms. For instance, it is not just believing in and practicing magic and divination (the occult) that makes a person a witch. There are millions of people who do this but are not witches. Contemporary witchcraft involves these practices, yes, but others as well (e.g., the invocation and worship of the Mother Goddess).
An oft-suggested definition for what constitutes a witch is, Anyone who is involved in some form of the occult (e.g., palm or tarot card readers, ritual magicians/sorcerers, Satanists, Voodoo practitioners -- everything from alchemists to xylomancers and astral projection to visualization). The primary reason for this is that the English words "witch" and "witchcraft" are variously employed in the most commonly used English translations of the Bible to designate different types of occultists and occultic practices. However, in accord with the meaning of these words in the original languages of Hebrew and Greek, and in light of the changing definitions of these words throughout history, we shall use the terms "witch" and "witchcraft" only for the particular religiomagical belief system delineated below. (This should in no sense be seen as an endorsement of other types of occultism, as they are equally condemned in God's Word, the Bible.)
Witchcraft (also known as wicca, the craft, or the craft of the wise) is a generic term covering differing approaches to the subject. And the terms for followers of witchcraft -- "witch" or "wiccan" -- apply to both genders. The widely believed notion that a female is a "witch" whereas a male practitioner is a "warlock" or "wizard" is a misnomer.
To help set the stage for our discussion of contemporary witchcraft, it will be beneficial to take a brief tour of the modern history of this fascinating phenomenon.
ONCE UPON A TIME
Many people contributed to the growth of modern witchcraft in Western Europe and America, such as folklorist and occultist Charles G. Leland (1824-1903) and novelist and occultist Robert Graves (1895-1985). As much as we might like to discuss these interesting personalities and their part in the forging of contemporary witchcraft, space compels us to limit our consideration to a few key individuals.
The Murray Myth
The ideas of anthropologist, Egyptologist, and occult dabbler (and perhaps witch) Margaret Murray (1863-1963) were popularized in two of her better-known works, The Witch-Cult in Western Europe (1921) and The God of the Witches (1933). The latter eventually became a best seller in England.
The "Murrayite theory" stated that witchcraft could be traced back to pre-Christian times, having been preserved through the centuries by witches. Not only does witchcraft predate Christianity, Murray affirmed, it was once the ancient pagan religion of Western Europe. It supposedly survived in small scattered groups who practiced the "Old Religion." But by this time it was fragmented due to persecution from the dominant Western religion -- Christianity. Thus, the "Old Religion" was the surviving pre-Christian religion of Western Europe, still practiced by the faithful -- but only clandestinely.
The history of ancient witchcraft and witchcraft in the Middle Ages (and Satanism for that matter) is a very convoluted and confused subject. Still, there is little doubt that small pockets of various types of paganistic beliefs and practices persisted up through the medieval period, particularly in rural regions. Thus, by way of local familial agricultural/fertility traditions and superstitions, numerous folks really were involved in forms of occultic beliefs and practices. However, these medieval remnants of pre-Christian paganism were not the remains of an elaborate, matriarchal Mother Goddess mystery religion, as many contemporary witches would have us believe. The Murrayite theory is thus unsupported by the facts.
Contemporary witchcraft is quite different from its medieval and "enlightenment" period counterparts. That is, the agricultural/fertility traditions that survived from ancient times through the Middle Ages and into the early modern era are not the same as modern witchcraft, except that they are both forms of the overarching category of occultism. Nonetheless, Murray's views influenced many -- including one Gerald Gardner, to whom we now turn our attention.
The Gardnerian Garden
Gerald Gardner (1884-1964) almost single-handedly revived (invented) and popularized witchcraft for the modern world. Based on his associations, experiences, extensive occultic background, studies, travels, and familiarity with magical texts (grimories) and Margaret Murray's works, he "crafted" modern witchcraft.
Indeed, Gardner was a man with many occultic connections. He was a member of Freemasonry, the Rosicrucians, and a VII degree initiate of the Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.). He was an acquaintance of Mabel Besant-Scott (daughter of leading Theosophist Annie Besant) and of the infamous Aleister Crowley. [What Is Theosophy?]
A British civil servant, Gardner spent much time in Ceylon (modern Sri Lanka) and worked and traveled throughout India and Southeast Asia, as well as visiting the Middle East. While in Ceylon he was initiated into Freemasonry and became a nudist. An accomplished amateur anthropologist and archaeologist, Gardner's interests gravitated toward the religions and religious paraphernalia of native societies. He even wrote a book on Malaysian ceremonial weaponry, and participated in an archaeological excavation in Palestine of a center of worship of the goddess Astaroth.
Upon his retirement and return to England, Gardner became involved with the Corona Fellowship of Rosicrucians, founded by Mabel Besant-Scott. Here he contacted numerous occultists and allegedly some witches, including Dorothy Clutterbuck ("Old Dorothy"), who supposedly initiated him into witchcraft (the "Old Religion"). He revealed some secrets of the coven to which he claimed to belong and its Mother Goddess in a novel entitled High Magic's Aid in 1949. This was written under a pseudonym (i.e., his magical name, "Scire").
Gardner's Witchcraft Today was published in 1954, after the witchcraft laws in England were rescinded (in 1951). The Meaning of Witchcraft followed in 1959. In Witchcraft Today Gardner further unveiled his Goddess religion as he described the survival of this "old pre-Christian religion" (Murray's theory) and his initiation into it.
In his writings Gardner drew upon his occultic experiences, travels, the writings of Murray, the help of Aleister Crowley, and his knowledge of Freemasonry, Rosicrucianism, Theosophy, Western ritual/sex magic, magical texts (e.g., the Greater Key of Solomon), and various native Asian and near Eastern religions and their occultic paraphernalia. Borrowing from these and other sources, Gardner invented his own religion -- founding it upon the Mother Goddess. To this witches' brew he added the doctrine of reincarnation. Thus, rather than merely revealing and reviving an ancient Goddess religion as he claimed, the resourceful Gardner actually created modern witchcraft.
Ironically, the purported purpose of Witchcraft Today was to describe an allegedly dying Goddess religion. Instead, it birthed one, resulting in the rise of a generation of would-be witches who looked to Gardner for initiation. A new form of "Goddess worship," modern witchcraft (wicca) grew as people became familiar with and initiated into the teachings and rites of this exotic faith. From this concoction sprang what is now known as Gardnerian witchcraft, and with it all or nearly all of the contemporary witchcraft movement.
Among the early converts who fell under Gardner's spell and who became influential in their own rights were Alex Sanders (d. 1988), Sybil Leek (d. 1983), and Raymond and Rosemary Buckland.
Witchcraft Goes West
Sybil Leek was greatly influenced by Gardnerian witchcraft, although she modified his rituals and teachings. She brought these with her and popularized them when she moved to the United States in the late 1960s.
The persons primarily responsible for the introduction and growth of modern witchcraft in America, however, were Raymond and Rosemary Buckland. They traveled to England during the mid-1960s to be initiated into Gardner's Goddess religion, and after obtaining their desire, brought their religion back to America with them.
THE CONTEMPORARY CRAFT
Stemming from the ideas and persons described above (and, of course, other relevant persons and factors), witchcraft has proliferated into the variegated expressions and traditions that comprise the contemporary scene. It is a highly decentralized, eclectic, creative, mix and match (use what exists or make your own as you go) movement. This is evidenced by the numerous covens, associations, and types of witchcraft to which individual covens belong: Algard, Alexandrian, the American Order of the Brotherhood of Wicca, Church and School of Wicca, Church of Circle Wicca, Covenant of the Goddess, Cymry Wicca, Dianic (feminist), Gardnerian, Georgian, Seax-Wica, and the Witches International Craft Associates. Some of these covens are feminist, others lesbian or homosexually oriented, and still others a mixture of males and females. [See Feminism and The Bible]
The major spokespersons for witchcraft today are even more diverse than the types. Besides Raymond Buckland, predominant voices in the witchcraft (and neopagan) world include Margot Adler, Jim Alan, Jessie Wicker Bell (Lady Sheba), Zsuzsanna (or simply "Z") Budapest, Laurie Cabot, Scott Cunningham, Selena Fox, Gavin and Yvonne Frost, Judy Kneitel (Lady Theos), Leo Martello, Miriam Simos (Starhawk), and Doreen Valiente.
Aside from the various covens and solitary practitioners of witchcraft, there are too many of the following to list individually: associations, centers, festivals and gatherings, newsletters, magazines, journals, books, bookstores, and shops. All of these are devoted to teaching, defending, and networking the ideologies of witchcraft (and/or neopaganism).
For various reasons, it is difficult if not impossible to assign a number to the witches in North America. "Ballpark" estimates on the conservative side, however, would place the figure approximately between 5,000 and 10,000. More liberal estimates range between 30,000 and 50,000 for witches, and upwards of 70,000 to 80,000 for all neopagans. The actual number is probably at the lower end of the conservative scale. But witchcraft is growing at a steady pace, and unless something drastic happens to reverse the spiritual climate in America and the trend toward occultism, the witchcraft community will become an increasingly significant minority -- a sobering possibility the church cannot afford to ignore.
Witches do not view their religion as a reaction to or reversal of Christianity, as is the case with much of Satanism. Rather, they prefer to see it as an independent tradition, an alternative religion or faith -- like Hinduism or Taoism. Indeed, they see witchcraft as being pre-Christian and not arising as a backlash to it. Witches view themselves as fun-loving, life-celebrating and affirming folk who worship the Mother Goddess (in all her many facets of revelation via creation) and her consort, the Horned God.
Contemporary witchcraft is so diverse and eclectic (as we shall see presently) that it is extremely difficult to accurately identify and define. In fact, it is almost impossible to state that all witches believe "this or that." No sooner will this be uttered then someone will speak up and assert that they are a witch and "do not believe what you just stated." There are, however, commonalities shared by most who appropriate the word "witch" for themselves. It is important to keep in mind that the following tenets do not necessarily apply to all witches, but on the whole they are valuable general guidelines for defining witchcraft.
The Creed of No Creed
First among the beliefs of witchcraft is the "creed of experience." Experience is exalted dogmatically above, and often set in opposition to, creeds or doctrines. In short, experience is superior to doctrine. Aidan Kelly, who was formerly involved in neopaganism, noted: "What really defines a witch is a type of experience people go through. These experiences depend on altered states of consciousness. The Craft is really the Yoga of the West" (emphasis in original). The witchcraft experience is often expressed as a mystical experience, "that feeling of ineffable oneness with all Life." Witchcraft is therefore a religion based first and foremost on the sense of being one and in harmony with all life.
Tolerance is another highly-touted value among witches. Diversity of belief and practice is viewed as not only healthy but essential to the survival of humanity and planet earth, and to spiritual growth and maturation as well. Independence, autonomy, and the freedom to experience, believe, think, and act as one desires are defended as if they were divine rights. Witches do become intolerant, however, when they perceive intolerance and authoritarianism in other individuals and faiths (which they would term "religious imperialism"). So we have statements like number 10 of the Council of American Witches' "Principles of Wiccan Belief": "Our only animosity toward Christianity, or towards any other religion or philosophy-of-life, is to the extent that its institutions have claimed to be 'the only way' and have sought to deny freedom to others and to suppress other ways of religious practice and belief."
(See The Gospel.. A Hate Crime? Welcome To The 21st Century
These beliefs stem from the notion that ultimately there is no right or wrong religion or morality. Relativism in all areas of life, including ethics and metaphysics, is the rule. Truth is what is true for you; right what is right for you; but neither are necessarily so for me. The only absolute is that there are no absolutes. Thus, all have the right to believe and practice "what they will." In this context, one often hears the story of the three blind men who have all grasped different parts of an elephant (tusk, trunk, and tail), and, in describing it, each man thinks he alone has the truth.
This view of life derives from an "open" metaphysical concept that "reality is multiple and diverse." There is no single logic or view that is complete or adequate to handle the complexity and multiplicity of reality. Therefore, we should not limit ourselves to the narrow purview of one person or religion, but be "open" minded and tolerant of differing views. This understanding of reality is closely associated with three key concepts: animism, pantheism, and polytheism.
World Alive: Three Pillars of the Witches' World View
Animism is an important pillar of the witches' world. As used by them, the word means that the "Life Force" is immanent within all creation: rocks and trees, deserts and streams, mountains and valleys, ponds and oceans, gardens and forests, fish and fowl; from amoeba to humans and all things in between. All is infused with and participates in the vital Life Force or energy, and therefore the entire earth is a living, breathing organism. All is sacred; all is to be cared for and revered. The earth is a (or the) manifestation of the Goddess (and God). "Sacredizing" the world and animating nature, witches view all reality as a continuum of consciousness and being. Thus, they seek to live in harmony and be psychically in tune with nature. (Incidentally, whatever else witches may believe and do, because of these views they are not involved in animal or human sacrifices.)
For many witches, the second pillar of their world -- implicit in their version of animism -- is pantheism. Not only is the Life Force pervasive throughout our world, but all the world is divine. Divinity is inseparable from, and immanent in, nature and humanity. Since most witches teach that we are divine (or potentially so), it is clear why someone like Margot Adler, a witch herself, approvingly quotes a particular neopagan group's greeting to its female and male members respectively: "Thou art Goddess," "Thou art God." Most are not this brash but nevertheless hold that we, like nature, are divine.
The third pillar is polytheism. As defined by many witches, however, polytheism is not merely the belief in multiple deities -- a pantheon of gods and goddesses -- but also the belief that there are multiple levels of reality (i.e., the "open" metaphysics referred to earlier). According to this view, there are an infinite (or at least incomprehensible) number of levels of meaning and explanations about our world. These allow not only a multitude of gods, goddesses, and religions to exist simultaneously, but also views of reality that would otherwise appear to be mutually exclusive; all are true as far as they go. Hence, witches can align themselves with a particular Goddess and/or God, or group thereof, and still grant the validity of other "alternative" religions.
The Mother Goddess and the Horned God
Most witches experience, believe in, invoke, or worship the Mother or "triple Goddess" and her male consort, the Horned God. Both are believed to be immanent deities accessible to humanity.
The Mother Goddess -- whose three primary roles are mother, maiden, and crone -- is represented by and associated with the moon and its three phases: waxing, full, and waning. She is invoked by a variety of names: Aphrodite, Artemis, Astaroth, Astarte, Athene, Brigit, Ceres, Cerridwen, Cybele, Diana, Demeter, Friga, Gaia, Hecate, Isis, Kali, Kore, Lilith, Luna, Persephone, Venus, and more. She is believed to be eternal. [See Goddess Worship]
The Goddess's consort, the male Horned God, is associated with the sun. According to most witches, he dies and is reborn every year. He too is called and invoked by many names, including Adonis, Ammon-Ra, Apollo, Baphomet, Cernunnos, Dionysius, Eros, Faunus, Hades, Horus, Nuit, Lucifer, Odin, Osiris, Pan, Thor, and Woden.
Different witchcraft traditions and solitary practitioners diverge in the importance they attach to the Mother Goddess and the Horned God. Some emphasize the Goddess, some the Horned God, while many seek a balance between the two.
Differing Views of the Goddess(es) and God(s)
How do witches themselves view and experience the Goddess(es) and God(s)? Do they really believe they exist? As one might expect from an eclectic religion that highly values autonomy, there are multiple views as to who or what the Goddess and God are. Be that as it may, there are some commonalities. Let's look at the six primary views.
First (but not foremost) is the idea that the deities of witchcraft are simply symbols: the personifications of universal principles, or of the life forces and processes of our world (e.g., the ebb and flow of life as seen in the seasonal changes), and nothing more. They are symbols used to help conceptualize the cyclical pattern of birth, life, death, and birth again.
Second, they are Jungian archetypes: universal symbols of processes and events of nature and of actual potentialities within all humans, springing from the common pool of the "collective unconsciousness" from which we all allegedly drink. Therefore, they exist in the sense that any archetype exists. They are more than "just" symbols, but do not exist externally to, or independently of, humanity.
Third, they are dissociative or dislocative psychological states. That is, they are a split or spin-off from a person's own psyche or being (like a multiple personality state). They have a "life of their own" in that sometimes they can seemingly manifest themselves outside of the person: reason, talk, give advice, travel about, and so on. However, they are dependent on a given person's psyche for their existence.
Fourth, and apparently the most predominant view, the Goddess and Horned God and/or other gods and goddesses are personifications of the monistic, genderless, universal, and eternal Life Force -- the divine primal energy or principle. This source of all life and consciousness, which in this life and mode of existence is unknowable and incomprehensible, is personified by the Goddess and Horned God. They are myths, legends, or metaphors that are used in an attempt to explain or grasp the ineffable absolute One that is all, and gives life to all. This ultimately indescribable Force is primarily manifested in polarities -- female and male, light and darkness, Goddess and God, and so forth. Scott Cunningham tells us that "in wiccan thought the Goddess and the God are the twin divine beings: balanced, equal expressions of the ultimate source of all....They are dual reflections of the power behind the universe that can never be truly separated." Thus, according to this view, they can be described either as personifications of the ultimate Life Force or emanations from or manifestations of it, but they nonetheless can be literal conscious entities. (That is, as literal as you or me.)
Fifth, multiple combinations of the above views are often held, depending on the individual's orientation. For example, some believe that the above four views are all true at one time or another.
Sixth and lastly, we have the agnostic "who cares" view. That is, in working magic or just in everyday life, invoking the Goddess and God seems to work. Thus, because of pragmatic and aesthetic reasons, some who are skeptical about (or even flatly deny) the Goddess's and God's existence still practice witchcraft.
In addition to these varying views of the Goddess and God, some witches believe in good and bad extra-dimensional or intermediate beings, including other goddesses and gods, higher life forms, spirit guides and teachers, elemental spirits, and departed human beings who exist as manifestations of the One and/or are individual literal entities in their own right.
While some witches may be skeptical about the existence of the Goddess and God, they all emphatically deny the existence of the Devil and hell. Therefore, they vigorously reject the charge that they worship the Devil, which many Satanists would admit to.
MAGIC MAKES THE WORLD GO ROUND
Magic is another key component of the witches' world. The working of magic and diverse techniques of divination are part-and-parcel of their religion. Astrology, astral projection (out-of-body experiences), incantations, mediumship (channeling), necromancy, raising psychic power, (for many) sex magic, spell casting, trance states, and so forth, are all tools of their craft. Indeed, "psychic" development (i.e., training for proficiency in magic and divination) is a critical concern.
Altered states of consciousness are another integral part of many witchcraft practices and rituals; these are induced to facilitate the working of magic and divination. Much of a witch's training is with a view to enabling him or her to enter these states at will. This is done by means of chanting, (for some) drugs, ecstatic dancing, hypnosis, meditation, rituals, sex magic, visualization, or a combination of these and a host of others.
For many witches, trance states are the high point of their religious practice. Especially important are the type termed "drawing down the moon [Goddess]" or "drawing down" the Horned God. These involve the Goddess or God entering or possessing a priestess or priest respectively during a ritual with mediumistic utterances given or magic worked.
As elsewhere in the kingdom of the occult, the old occult has been given a new face-lift in witchcraft. The occultic realm is now described as simply beyond-the-physical, but still a part of nature. Thus, Sybil Leek is able to affirm: "I can see little difference in Magic and science, except to have the opinion that Magic is one step ahead of science." Leo Martello says that as a witch he makes no claims to "supernatural powers," but he does believe in super powers that reside in the natural. Many witches share this view: divination and magic are not "supernatural," but supernormal or paranormal, because the processes by which they work are contained within the nature of the universe. This is as opposed to the view that occultism works through the intervention of supernatural beings -- the Devil, demons, or spirits. The current sentiment is conveyed in the attitude that "yesterday's occultism is today's science."
Moreover, witches maintain that magic is a "neutral" power. Like electricity or a gun, it is not morally good or bad in itself. Its moral quality depends on how or for what purpose it is used -- good or evil.
Just as there are many explanations as to who or what the Goddess and God are, so there are various views among witches as to how and why divination and magic work. We'll survey the four most common.
First is the belief that the ability to work magic or perform divination is due to latent psychic abilities or powers that we all have. Some either have more of these natural gifts than others, or else they have developed them to a greater degree. Others may not even realize they have them. But they are nonetheless inherent within us all.
The second view of magic appeals particularly to those who espouse the fourth view about the Goddess and God mentioned above (i.e., the view that the Goddess and God are personifications of the monistic Life Force). It holds that the working of magic is much like tapping into an electrical current. The "current" is the monistic universal energy or Life Force. Since this primal energy composes, interconnects, and flows through all (though manifested in myriads of forms), one merely has to learn how to "plug into" and harness some of this power for his or her own purposes. Thus, it can be manipulated toward the desired goal of the witch.
The third view is that divination and magic are accomplished by the intervention of interdimensional entities such as gods and goddesses, higher life forms, spirit guides, departed humans, and so forth. They can be communicated with, and will supposedly aid us in our quest for "spiritual" growth, knowledge, and all things occultic.
Fourth, the above theories can be found in varying combinations, such as one and three; one, two, and three; and so forth.
In the second and concluding part of this series, we will look further at the beliefs of witches, including reincarnation, their view of sin, and their ethic or "Wiccan Rede," "An it harm none, do what you will." A critique of the witches' world view and practices -- on biblical, metaphysical, logical, and ethical grounds -- will also be presented. (PART II BELOW)
1 See Raymond Buckland, Buckland's Complete Book of Witchcraft (St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 1988), 210.
2 Scott Cunningham, The Truth About Witchcraft Today (St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 1988).
3 References concerning this point are available on request.
4 See, for example, Margot Adler, Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today, rev. and expanded ed. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1986), 66-72, 99-107; J. Gordon Melton, "Witchcraft: An Inside View," Christianity Today, 21 Oct. 1983, 24; and Marcello Truzzi, "Towards a Sociology of the Occult: Notes on Modern Witchcraft," in Religious Movements in Contemporary America, ed. by Irving Zaretsky and Mark P. Leone (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974), 633-45.
5 Alleged by Leo Martello in Witchcraft: The Old Religion (Secaucus: Citadel Press, n.d.), 59.
6 Actually, she was not the first to formulate and advance this thesis, but her views had the most impact.
7 For information on the background and development of witchcraft and Satanism, see J. Gordon Melton, Encyclopedia of American Religions, 3d ed. (Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1989), 142-47. Though we do not endorse all of his conclusions, he provides valuable background and bibliographical material.
9 See Adler, 45-56, for a refutation of, and specific information on, Murray's theory; and 45-72 for other theories and general information on the history of witchcraft. For additional argumentation against Murray's theory and other pertinent information, see: Norman Cohn, Europe's Inner Demons (New York: Basic Books, 1975), 107-20; Mircea Eliade, Occultism, Witchcraft, and Cultural Fashions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976), 57-58, 71-73; J. Gordon Melton, Encyclopedia, 142; Elliot Rose, A Razor for a Goat (Canada: University of Toronto Press, 1962), 14-21, 40-53, 56-79, 130-31, 200; Jeffrey B. Russell, Witchcraft in the Middle Ages (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985), 36-37.
10 Doreen Valiente, An ABC of Witchcraft: Past and Present (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1973), 184-89.
11 Melton, Encyclopedia, 144; see also Melton's Biographical Dictionary of American Cult and Sect Leaders (New York: Garland Publishing, 1986), 96-97.
12 See Adler, 62-66, 81-85, 93, 560; T. M. Luhrmann, Persuasions of the Witch's Craft: Ritual Magic in Contemporary England (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989), 42-43; Martello, 69-71; Melton, Biographical Dictionary, q.v., "Gardner, Gerald Brosseau," 96-97; Melton's Encyclopedia, 144; and his Encyclopedic Handbook of Cults in America (New York: Garland Publishing, 1986), 212; and Truzzi, 636-37. For even stronger charges, consult Francis King, Modern Ritual Magic: The Rise of Western Occultism, revised (Dorset, Great Britain: Prism Press, 1989), 179-80.
13 Melton, Encyclopedia, 144-45.
14 Ibid., 144, 789; Encyclopedic Handbook, 212.
15 For additional information on various types of witchcraft, see Adler, 68-80, 113-30; Melton, Encyclopedia, 777-801; and Buckland, 225-28.
16 For a detailed list, consult Adler, 475-544.
17 See the author's article, "The Many Faces of Satanism," in Forward, Fall 1986, 17-22. For instance, if a Jehovah's Witness believes what the Watchtower teaches, they cannot be saved. Likewise with a Mormon who subscribes to what Mormonism teaches. Nonetheless, the Mormon does not believe what the Jehovah's Witness does, and vice versa. The same is true with witchcraft and Satanism and/or other forms of the occult.
18 Aidan Kelly, quoted in Adler, 106. For further material on this point and other beliefs, see 99-135.
19 The Covenant of the Goddess information packet, Northern California Local Council Media Committee, n.d., "Basic Philosophy."
20 See Adler, 25, 29, 172.
21 Ibid., 25, 166.
22 Ibid., 24-38.
23 Ibid., 20, 112.
24 Ibid., 28, 160, 172.
25 Cunningham, 76, 117. Also see 4, 62-64, 69-77.
26 See Adler, e.g., 169, 173.
27 See, e.g., Buckland, 101-34, 155-74; Justine Glass, Witchcraft, The Sixth Sense (California: Wilshire Book Co., 1974), 20, 94; Starhawk, The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1979), 37, 108-58.
28 See, e.g., Adler, 106, 153-54, 157, 163; Starhawk, 7, 18, 46-53, 110.
29 See Adler, 109, 142, 166, 168-69; Buckland, 101; Cunningham, 91; Farrar, 67-68; Leek, Diary, 151, 159-60, 202-206; Starhawk, 46-54, 139-58.
30 Sybil Leek, Diary of a Witch (New York: Signet Books, 1969), 144.
31 Leo Martello, 12.
32 See, e.g., Adler, 7-8, 102, 153-75; Cunningham, 23-24; Leek, 13-14; Truzzi, 630-32, 635-36; Simos, 132.
33 Buckland, e.g., 101; Cunningham, 19.
34 See, e.g., Cunningham, 3, 17-25, 105, 109, 111; Simos, 108-38.
35 See, e.g., Buckland, 155, 157; Stewart Farrar, What Witches Do: The Modern Coven Revealed (London: Sphere Books Limited, 1973), 81-84, 141-43, 151-52, 156, 158-63; Leek, The Complete Art of Witchcraft (New York: Signet Books, 1973), 43, 45; Valiente, 152-58.
The Modern World of Witchcraft: Part Two
In Part One of this series we briefly examined modern and contemporary witchcraft, discussing some of the major beliefs of this syncretistic movement. The present article will further expound on witchcraft, and also critique it from a biblical, metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical basis.
It is essential to keep in mind that this movement encompasses a wide range of practices and beliefs. Consequently some of the critiques presented in this article may require some adaptation or modification in order to be applicable to certain variations of belief within the broader system of witchcraft and neopaganism. Nonetheless, the body of critiques presented here apply substantially to most witches and neopagans.
epistemology: The study of the origin and nature of knowledge. Deals with questions like: What can we know? How do we know it? How do we know it is true? To what extent can we know it? And so forth.
ontology: As used here ontology is a branch of metaphysics (which in turn is a branch of philosophy -- see Part One) and, more specifically, is the study of the nature or essence of Being -- the One -- and its relationship to creation and vice versa.
panentheism: The view that the world is contained in and is a manifestation of the divine. Although the divine is immanent in and to the world, it still transcends the universe to some degree. As the human body is to the soul or mind, so the universe is to the divine.
problem of evil: The origin and existence of evil in the world. Traditionally, there are three main categories of evil: metaphysical, moral, and physical or natural. Blindness, deafness, and lameness are examples of metaphysical evil; cruelty and malevolence are examples of moral evil; and earthquakes, droughts, and tornados are examples of physical evil. All moral evil is the direct or indirect result of moral agents' free wills or ability to choose. Physical and metaphysical evil may or may not be the result of moral agents' choices.
syncretism: The combining or merging and synthesizing of religions or religious beliefs, practices, and philosophies. This results in new or hybrid religions that are composed of diverse elements of the religions from which they were derived.
Many witches do not believe in spirits, and most if not all reject belief in a literal Devil or demons. Naturally, therefore, they reject the idea that sorcery and divination are accomplished by the agency of evil spirits. Many offer naturalistic explanations for the working of magic and divination and other "psychic technologies." On the whole, the occult community today has expanded its definition of "the natural" to incorporate elements that were earlier considered supernatural, placing them in the category of the super- or paranormal instead. Yet, they are still involved in the "old ways" -- that is, the occult.
Now You See it, Now You Don't
What has happened in the occult world in the past two or more decades is just what C. S. Lewis described in his classic work, The Screwtape Letters -- which portrays an experienced demon (Screwtape) writing letters of advice to a novice demon (Wormwood):
I have great hopes that we shall learn in due time how to emotionalize and mythologize their science to such an extent that what is, in effect, a belief in us, (though not under that name) will creep in while the human mind remains closed to belief in the Enemy [i.e., God]. The "Life Force," the worship of sex, and some aspects of Psychoanalysis, may here prove useful. If once we can produce our perfect work -- the Materialist Magician, the man, not using, but veritably worshipping, what he vaguely calls "Forces" while denying the existence of "spirits" -- then the end of the war will be in sight.
Lewis's insights on the insidious strategy of Satan -- the archenemy of our souls -- appear to have been right on target in regard to modern occultism.
When observations like Lewis's are made, however, it is not uncommon to hear remarks to the effect that Christians attribute to the supernatural everything they cannot comprehend -- if it cannot be understood, it must be the Devil. However, this charge is unwarranted.
While it is unfortunately true that some Christians tend to hyperspiritualize events and exclaim "the Devil did it," or "the Devil made me do it," this is certainly not the case with all. Many Christians have pointed out alleged demonic (or divine) occurrences which were -- in fact -- instances of fraud, anomalies, psychosomatic phenomena, auto- or heterosuggestion, and so forth. Such Christians have demystified baffling occurrences and accounted for them by their natural causes.
Black, White, or Neutral?
The critical question is, What is the actual source or causal agent(s) of the occult (i.e., of divination, sorcery, and spiritism)? Some witches like to make a distinction between black and white magic/sorcery and divination. They claim that sorcery or divination performed for unselfish and/or "benevolent" purposes (to help others) is good. Thus, magic done with good intentions and desired results is classified as white magic. Conversely, sorcery performed with selfish and/or malevolent motives and means (to harm others) is classified as black magic.
Other witches deny the validity of this distinction or find it useless. Since they regard magic as a natural force they view it as morally neutral (i.e., not intrinsically good or evil). Like electricity, some say, magic can be used for good or evil -- but just as one would not speak of black or white electricity, one should not do so with magic either.
Christians too deny the validity of a distinction between black and white magic or divination, albeit for entirely different reasons. Whether called black, white, negative, or positive -- any such distinction is illegitimate. Where the Christian and all witches disagree is on the ultimate source, the actual identity, the who or what behind the scenes of the occult.
It is the Christian's conviction that despite all their magical theories, witches (and all other occultists) have failed to grasp the true source of the occult. I therefore offer the following biblical perspective on their beliefs and practices.
WHAT SAYS THE WORD?
Since witches do not generally accept the teachings of the Bible, we will not spend much time on a biblical critique. However, even a cursory review of Scripture is enough to demonstrate that the beliefs and practices of witches are utterly incompatible with the Bible. Witches who honestly examine the Scriptural testimony will have no choice but to admit that the Bible condemns their beliefs and practices.
In fact, Scripture gives a blanket condemnation of all forms of the occult -- divination, sorcery, and spiritism -- in diverse passages throughout the Old and New Testaments. For instance, in Deuteronomy 18:10-12 God's view of occultism is expressed in the following warning: "Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD..."
If this were the only biblical passage dealing with this issue, it would be clear that all forms of the occult are denounced by God. Yet, this is only one of many condemnatory references (see, e.g., Lev. 19:26, 31; 20:6; 2 Kings 17:10-17; 21:1-6; 23:4-7, 24-25; 2 Chron. 33:6; Acts 13:6-12; 16:18; Gal. 5:20; Rev. 9:21).
Moreover, numerous forms of god and goddess worship are explicitly condemned in Scripture. There are, for example, a multitude of denunciatory references to worshipping or invoking the various gods and goddesses of the Near Eastern religions: the Assyrian and Babylonian Ishtar, the Ashtoreths of the Canaanites (e.g., the Sidonians and Phoenicians), and so forth (e.g., Deut. 16:21; Judg. 2:10-14; 10:6-16; 1 Sam. 7:3-4; 12:10; 1 Kings 11:33; 2 Kings 23:13-15). Ashtoreth is described in 2 Kings 23:13 as "the vile goddess of the Sidonians" (NIV), or -- as the KJV and NASB translate it -- "the abomination of the Sidonians." The Bible speaks out not only against worshipping, invoking, and consulting pagan gods, but also against the idea that human beings -- individually or collectively -- are divine.
In one sense, witches are right about the antiquity of some of their beliefs and practices. The belief that human beings are or can become divine is a good example. In the first book of the Bible (Gen. 3:5) we find the original proposal -- made by the serpent -- of the idea that we could become "like God." But Scripture emphatically states that there is only one being who is God (Deut. 6:4; 32:39; Isa. 43:10-11; 44:6-8; 45:5-6, 14, 22; 46:9; Jer. 10:10-11; Mark 12:29-31; 1 Tim. 2:5; James 2:19). Though there are many so-called gods or goddesses -- in the sense that people worship entities conceived by their imaginations -- there is only one God by nature (1 Cor. 8:4-5; 10:20; Gal. 4:8). As one astute observer remarked: "There are two foundational facts of human enlightenment: (1) There is a God; and (2) You are not He."
Humankind has not only demonstrated a great proclivity towards self-deification, it has also been strongly inclined to confuse God's creation (or His creative process) for the Creator Himself (Rom. 1:21-25). This is certainly the case with those entangled in the teachings of modern witchcraft.
Some witches have actually tried to reconcile the above passages and others with their own practices. Nonetheless, the Bible -- particularly in the original languages -- renders any such maneuvering futile. We therefore ask that witches at least acknowledge that the Bible in no sense condones their practices, but rather expressly condemns them.
The Source of the Force
Like a drunkard who continually returns to the bottle, so mankind's bent toward self-deification and creation worship has been irrepressible, as has been its blindness towards its own deplorable predicament due to the ravaging effects of sin. To wit, witches are deceived not only about the inherent falsity of their often sincerely held beliefs (see Prov. 14:12), but as well about the source of their misguided belief system. Despite what witches claim, witchcraft originates from Satan -- the "father of lies" and the "god of this world," and from man's corrupt nature. Thus, though witches do not acknowledge the Devil's existence, they are nonetheless (all the more so) trapped in the talons of his tyrannical grip (2 Tim. 2:25-26).
To witches who believe that magic is a natural, neutral force or power, Christians reply that it is rather empowered by "the prince of the power of the air that now works in the children of disobedience" (Eph. 2:2).
As such, whether witches acknowledge it or not, all occultism involves interaction and trafficking with demonic spirits (see Lev. 17:7; 20:6; Deut. 32:17; Ps. 106:36-39; 1 Cor. 10:20-21; Rev. 9:20-21). As W. Foerster comments, "For Paul witchcraft is meddling with demons....But there can also be intercourse with demons in the normal heathen cultus (1 C. 10:20f.)....While idols are nothing...demons stand behind paganism." Or, as Bietenhard informs us, "Since dealing with demons lies behind sorcery...it is rejected (Gal. 5:20)....Heathen worship brings men into contact with demons (1 Cor. 10:20f.), for demons stand behind paganism in general (Rev. 9:20)."
This is why occultism in all its forms is condemned in the Bible. Occultists therefore fall under the judgment of God for participating in such inexcusable activities (Rom. 1:18-25; Eph. 4:18-19; Rev. 21:8; 22:15).
Since witches generally do not accept the Bible, and because there are other inherent weaknesses and failings in their world view -- metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical -- we can and should critique witchcraft in these areas as well. This I shall do in the remainder of this article.
In Part One I discussed the importance of polytheism as understood by witches and the related concept of an "open" metaphysic -- that is, the position that there are multiple levels of and meanings to reality. This is expressed in the belief that there is "no one way or right religion for all," and no "one truth." We are told by witches that all religions lead in the same direction; they simply take different paths to get there.
Witches further believe that everything one experiences is in some sense real and therefore true. Since reality is multiple and diverse, and since the possible levels or planes of meaning are infinite, there is always more to experience. We should therefore remain open-minded and tolerant of differing views.
Witches who think along these lines hold that everyone has a part of the truth, for every person operates from a limited subjective perspective of the world. And since no one has an absolute knowledge or perspective of reality (ultimate reality is inaccessible to us), all views and experiences must be seen as equally valid. One view is as good or true as another (minimally, it is true for that individual). Reality, then, is a matter of perspective -- and everyone has a different one.
Christians certainly grant that witches have the right to believe whatever they choose, as much as we might disagree with their views. However, we reject that logic and reason should be ignored when we encounter two different views that are obviously incompatible.
We also grant that life is complicated and diverse, and that people can and do have an incalculable number of experiences. However, this does not prevent us from knowing many significant truths and facts about ultimate reality. We need to distinguish between knowing all about life or ultimate reality, which no human being is capable of, and knowing some true things about it. These are two different issues. Without this distinction, we could not make any meaningful statements about reality.
Experience and Truth
Many witches fail to recognize a key distinction regarding the validity of experiences. Over and over again, one finds a failure on the witches' part to distinguish between real experiences that people actually have versus experiences that are true. For instance, a man could have an experience or sensation of falling. The feeling might be quite intense. Upon awakening from his sleep, however, he realizes that he was not falling at all but lying on his bed. Did he have the experience of feeling like he was falling? Yes. Was he really falling? No! The latter question is not "Did he have this experience?" but "was he really falling?" These are two entirely different issues. To confuse the two is to commit the fallacy of equivocation.
We do not dispute that witches have many experiences that may appear to support their religion, but we must ask: Do these experiences really prove their assertions or only prove that they had some type of experience? Appealing to experience only establishes that one might have had one, not that one's world view is true.
The idea that each world view is like one more flower in the garden of life is a nice sentiment, but it does not fit the real world. In fact, it is nothing short of metaphysical madness. To paraphrase and adapt a quip by Edgar Sheffield Brightman, "In a world where Christianity and witchcraft are both true, we do not have a universe, but a cosmic nut house!"
As we shall see presently, the metaphysical framework of the witches' world has important implications in the realm of testing truth claims.
With their emphasis on experience and their belief in the intuitive and existential nature of truth, witches fall into diverse epistemological sinkholes on the road to truth. One finds a consistent appeal to "knowing" not by the intellect but by experience and "intuition." One also finds an implicit or explicit depreciation or denial of the principles or laws of thought.
For example, Starhawk -- a popularizer of the witchcraft/neopagan world view -- disdains what she terms "any beliefs which would...deny the authority of experience...," thus reinforcing what she calls "the lie that there is only one truth." In the same way, Margot Adler -- another popular neopagan writer -- argues for the superiority of experience over dogma, and metaphor and myth over theology, doctrine, and creed.
Although one often hears witches downplay or outright deny doctrines, dogma, and beliefs -- still, they too vehemently champion their beliefs. To say that experience and ritual are more important than doctrine is itself a doctrine. Besides, how is it possible to have rituals in the first place if there are no beliefs to give them meaning? In short: no beliefs, then no rituals. Additionally, one must assert doctrines or beliefs and use logic to even refute the idea of doctrine.
Is Logic Necessary?
Many people berate the use of logic and talk as if they could think and do without it. The fact is, however, that it is impossible not to use logic. Should a person attempt to refute logic, he or she must use logic in the very process of refuting it -- thereby refuting his or her own argument. Let us be clear on this: one must use logic to disprove logic. For instance, suppose someone asserts that magic and experience are beyond logic and reason (i.e., logic does not apply to these realms). The person making this assertion has failed to note that this statement is itself predicated upon the use of logic -- that is, logic had to be utilized to even formulate it. Logic therefore does apply.
Due to limited space, we will consider just one of the primary laws of thought -- the law of non-contradiction. This principle affirms that a statement cannot both be true and false (A cannot be non-A) at the same time and in the same sense. For example, it cannot be the case that one both can and cannot (at the same time and in the same manner) safely cross a busy street. It is one or the other, but not both. If one says it is both and attempts to keep his (or her) actions consistent with his words, he will end up being run over. When people fail to yield to logic, they will also end up being run over by their own arguments (i.e., they assert false, self-defeating, and/or meaningless statements).
Some (many?) witches try to avoid the anvil of logic, but to no avail. A case in point is Stewart Farrar, who approvingly quoted C. G. Jung's assertion that "everything human is relative." To which we respond: Is this statement relative too, since it was uttered by a human? If it is not relative, then the statement is not true. But if the statement itself is relative, that would mean there are times when it is not true -- when some things human are not relative, and are hence absolute But this would contradict Jung's original statement. Thus, it is both false and self-defeating. Clearly, the sword of logic cuts both ways.
Witches often attempt to defend their magic castle from the battering rams of logic by erecting supposedly impenetrable walls. Different explanations and rationalizations are offered to protect their views. These include the aforementioned depreciation, denial, or alleged inapplicability of logic and objective standards for discerning truth; postulating diverse planes or levels of reality and meaning; dichotomizing between emotions and the intellect, or between normal versus altered states of consciousness; and a number of other distinctions. To be fair, many of these attempts are simply sincere efforts to understand the mysterious world of the occult. Nonetheless, such attempts appear to be cases of special pleading and of employing double standards -- resulting in an assumed immunity from the normal criteria of truth-testing used to verify or refute a world view.
No matter what explanations and defenses are used, however, experience and intuitive feelings are often an essential element of the witches' world view validation -- "It feels right; I have truly experienced it." Witches "know" via powerful spiritual and emotional experiences that their views are true. Therefore, they can at times affirm apparently contradictory assertions.
Again, regardless of which of the above distinctions are used to advance or protect the witches' world view, the distinctions themselves are based upon the validity of logic. Try as they may, witches simply cannot not use logic.
Our pagan friends are, so to speak, "up the metaphysical creek," without a trustworthy epistemological "paddle" -- and are caught in a whirlpool of subjective circularity that makes one's head spin. Witches cannot appeal to logic when it suits them and ignore it when it refutes them and still expect to be taken seriously.
As we shall now see, the use of logic in the categories of "both/and" as opposed to "either/or" have implications not just for thinking but for ethics as well.
Witches do not believe in the concept of sin as defined by orthodox Christianity. Sin is viewed as an outdated concept that is "only a tool used to shackle the minds and actions of people." The only "sin" or evil is that of being unbalanced and out of harmony or estranged from oneself, others, the varied life forms, and Mother Earth. As there is no sin or divine retribution to be saved from, "salvation" has only to do with attaining and maintaining harmony with the above.
To their credit, many witches consistently appeal to their ethical code -- the Wiccan Rede: "an it harm none, do what ye will." They further claim not to use their occultic abilities for malevolent purposes since they believe (1) that any evil done to another will come back upon the perpetrator threefold or more, and (2) in some form of reincarnation (and the moral law of karma which governs it). Some, such as Donald Frew, incorporate other guidelines to determine the rightness of an action, such as the general consensus of the witchcraft community, common sense, the laws of the state, science, and pragmatic considerations.
While the aforementioned is true, the Wiccan Rede is not consistent with -- nor does it logically or ontologically follow from -- the world views most commonly held by witches: pantheism and panentheism. It must derive, then, from someone or something external to or independent of the universe or Goddess/God or Life Force itself. But how can this be? In both pantheism and panentheism, nothing is outside or independent of the One, and even death and evil are an intrical and necessary part of reality. The witches' ethical code is therefore inconsistent with their metaphysical world view.
This dilemma is reflected in the teachings of Starhawk. For example, though she does not think destruction is necessarily evil, she states: "The nature of the Goddess is never single...She is light and the darkness, the patroness of love and death, who makes all possibilities. She brings both comfort and pain." Elsewhere she says, "As Crone, She is the dark face of life, which demands death and sacrifice...In Witchcraft, the dark, waning aspect of the God is not evil -- it is a vital part of the natural cycle." This aspect of the divine manifesting itself in polarities is echoed by almost all (if not all) witches. Erica Jong tells us that "Satanists...accept the Christian duality between good and evil; pagans do not...Pagans see good and evil as intimately allied, in fact, indivisible. They conceive of deities as having several aspects -- creation, destruction, sustenance -- rather than externalizing all destruction and destructiveness ('evil') in the form of devils."
The Problems of Life
Whether witches realize it or not, these views raise some very problematic ethical issues: (1) Where does the Wiccan Rede derive from? (2) If there is "no one right religion, way, or truth for all," then why is this rule (the Wiccan Rede) universal? How do we know that witches are not just trying to impose their rule on us to "shackle our minds and actions"? (3) How do witches account for the origin and existence of evil and suffering?
Space forbids us from addressing each of these questions, but the third should -- indeed must -- be addressed.
In Dreaming the Dark, Starhawk attempts to grapple with ethical issues and the problem of evil: "Evil is a concept that cannot be separated from the stories of duality. Power-over, violence, coercion...are not evil in the sense of being part of a force in direct opposition to good. Instead, we can see them as mistakes, processes born of chance that spread because they have served their purposes....The problem of evil is really a problem of randomness." Other witches appeal to reincarnation and the law of Karma to explain the existence of some evil and suffering. Raymond Buckland asserts, "For its own evolution, it is necessary that the soul experience all things in life. It seems the most sensible, most logical, [sic] explanation of much that is found in life...Why should one be born crippled, another fit and strong?...if not because we must eventually experience all things" (elipses in original). Sybil Leek offers similar reasons for the existence and necessity of evil in the world.
The above two explanations create more problems than they solve. For instance, if one must experience all in life (as Buckland suggests), does this include being abused, tortured, and so forth?
It logically follows from such a view that whatever is, ought to be. This is known in ethics as the naturalistic fallacy, as it confuses "the way things are" with how they morally should be. Hence, what about the child born with crippling birth defects who dies an agonizing death within two years? Should we respond, "Oh well, whatever is, ought to be" and thus just accept it as the way things are? No, even a witch could not consistently live by this approach. The witches world view logically and ontologically justifies any condition or conduct.
This results in an inability to morally distinguish between good and evil, right and wrong. With such a naturalistic approach one can only describe the way things are (e.g., the drink is hot or cold). One cannot make a moral evaluation. If life and death, comfort and pain, joy and sorrow, are inherent to the very nature of the world, then how can one call any action morally wrong, including burning witches? It can't be done. But witches do say some actions are wrong. Or are they simply saying that they do not prefer certain actions? Hardly! Intuitively, they/we know certain things are wrong -- such as torturing witches, confiscating their property, abusing children, and so forth. They do not say these things are merely unpleasant or inconvenient; they insist that they are wrong.
Christians, then, have every reason to ask how witches answer the problem of the existence of evil. This is a perplexing problem, and merely dismissing it will not solve it.
The Problem of Evil
There are conspicuously few in-depth discussions of the problem of evil in neopagan literature. Many witches seem ignorant of this issue, or -- for a number of reasons -- do not believe it applies to their particular world view. For these, the existence of evil is not a problem, because they do not conceive of the Goddess/God or Life Force as being omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent. These witches explain the problem of evil in one of three ways: (1) they deny that evil exists; (2) they appeal to finite godism (or goddessism); or (3) they appeal to humankind's free will. Let us briefly consider each of these.
Does evil exist? Is evil only an illusion? Or is evil not really evil but just unfortunate circumstances? These views are delusions. To say evil does not exist is to be blind to reality, for evil not only exists -- it is all around us. From cruelty, corruption, calamity, flood and famine, disease and drought, hatred, war, suffering, misery, pain, injustices, rape, murder, and on and on -- evil exists. Evil is a fact of life. And it is not just a case of "unfortunate" circumstances or the "breaks of life." It is unfortunate when one gets a flat tire at night on a country road in a rain storm. It is rank evil to kill six million Jews as Hitler did. The death of human beings is the epitome of evil and is not "natural" but is the greatest nemesis we face. The existence of evil delivers a debilitating blow to the witches' world view.
But, some witches counter, the Goddess/God and/or Life Force is/are finite -- that is, not omnibenevolent, omniscient, or omnipotent. Thus, they/it cannot be held responsible for evil.
The defense of finite godism, however, is wishful thinking. Even finite godism/goddessism must grapple with the existence of evil. If the Goddess and/or God are finite, this does not excuse the evil it/they have birthed. Do we hold a finite inflictor of suffering upon humanity -- like a Hitler, Stalin, or Mao -- any less culpable simply because they were not infinite in their abilities? Clearly, the finite godism appeal will not exonerate the Goddess and God.
At this point, some will answer that evil derives from humanity's failure to live in harmony with nature and/or from exercising free will. But this cannot be the answer either. Since the Goddess/God or Life Force itself contains or causes both life and death, good and evil, how can it be said that one is not in harmony with them/it if one commits or causes suffering or death?
We acknowledge that free will might account for some of the evil in the world. At best, it might explain evil that derives from one human being forcing his or her will upon another. But it certainly cannot account for physical or natural evil. [Also See The Problem of Evil]
Where, then, does evil come from? What is its origin? According to the witch's world view, it can derive logically and ontologically only from the Goddess/God or primal Life Force. Are not they (or it) the ultimate source of all? If they (or it) created everything, and everything is a part or manifestation of them, then they are the source and origin of evil. If one says that the Goddess/God are not ultimate, then where did they come from? Who created them or gave them their free will or nature?
Depending on whether a witch is a pantheist, panentheist, and/or polytheist, there are only so many possible explanations for the origin and existence of evil. The problems inherent in a polytheistic, pantheistic, or panentheistic perspective on the problem of evil are too numerous to list. However, we will address some of the more significant ones.
In a pantheistic or panentheistic universe, witches must realize that, ontologically, evil emanates or flows naturally and necessarily from the very nature of the ultimate Life Force. Creation and the existence of evil are synonymous and simultaneous. This entails that suffering, death, evil, and so forth are part of the Goddess/God's very essence or nature. Good and evil are both aspects of the One. All is contained in, arises out of, or is a manifestation of the absolute universal Life Force or principle. Evil is ultimately and necessarily part of the One which is all. Therefore, in one sense or another, the universal Life Force is responsible for all the pain, suffering, and evil that has, does, or ever will exist.
In a polytheistic framework, the Goddess(es) and God(s) are no more praiseworthy. From a brief survey of history and the evidence around us, we would have to conclude that these divine beings are blithering, bungling idiots -- sort of the Inspector Clouseaus of the cosmos. They are either unwilling or unable because of their limitations to eliminate evil. They should be held in contempt inasmuch as they are responsible for much of the evil of our world which they supposedly created.
Whether in a polytheistic, pantheistic, or panentheistic universe, we can have no assurance that the Goddess/God or Life Force can or wants to defeat evil. Nor can we be sure that this is even an appropriate question, since in the latter two worlds evil is part of the One's very nature. Therefore, evil will no more cease to exist than these entities or the Life Force itself. In other words, evil is eternal -- it will always be with us. It is eternal because it is either an aspect of the very nature of the "divinity" which creates and composes all (pantheism, panentheism), or these deities are too limited to permanently accomplish the task (polytheism). Only an infinite and benevolent personal God could and will banish evil from the universe.
See How can A Good God Allow Evil?
This alleged Goddess/God or Life Force is not worthy of reverence but of our rage. It is responsible for all or nearly all the pain, suffering, and sorrow that has existed or ever will exist. Who would want to worship or admire such a Goddess/God? This is an affront to our moral sensibilities. The optimism of witches and neopagans is not justified; despair ought to be their response, and a longing for the death of this alleged Goddess and her tyrannical rule.
The problem of evil is an acute dilemma -- indeed, an Achilles' heel for witches and neopagans. In light of this issue -- and the witches' emphasis on the joyful celebration of life -- we must ask: Do they simply ignore evil because it is not joyous? Remember, the goddess is not only mother and maiden, but crone as well.
POSTSCRIPT FOR PAGANS
The world is full of wonder, beauty, and joy. This same world, however, contains paralyzing heartache, agonizing pain, misery, and the stench of death. Let us experience and appreciate the joys of life. But let us view the whole panorama of life and not just a postcard picture, nor turn a deaf ear or blind eye to the suffering of humanity and creation -- which is bleeding to death from a fatal wound unless a divine physician can administer a healing touch and save us.
The witches' world is fraught with problems, and we have attempted to point out just a few of the pitfalls in the interest of their finding life -- and that more abundantly (John 10:10).
1 C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1975), 33.
2 For striking examples of this, see note 32 in Part One of this series, and T. M. Luhrmann, Persuasions of the Witch's Craft: Ritual Magic in Contemporary England (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989), 202, 279-96.
3 See Norman Geisler, Signs and Wonders (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1988), 47-81; See also Danny Korem and Paul Meier, The Fakers (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1980); and Danny Korem, Powers: Testing the Psychic and Supernatural (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988).
4 See The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (DNTT), ed. Colin Brown (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1980), vol. 2., s.v. "Magic, Sorcery, Magi"; The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, rev. ed., ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1980), vol. 1, s.v. "Divination"; Ibid., (1986), vol. 3, s.v. "Magic, Magician"; Ibid., s.v. "Medium"; and The New Bible Dictionary, ed. J. D. Douglas (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978), s.v. "Magic and Sorcery."
5 These attempts and the arguments which counter them are available upon request.
6 See the DNTT, vol. 1, s.v. "Demon, Air, Cast Out." For the definitive treatment, see the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT), ed. Gerhard Kittel, trans. and ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978), vol. 2, s.v. "daimon, daimonion...."
7 TDNT, vol. 2, 17.
8 DNTT, s.v. "daimonion," vol. 1, 452.
9 See Margot Adler, Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today, rev. and expanded ed. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1986), 23-38, 169, 172, 299, 455; Raymond Buckland, Buckland's Complete Book of Witchcraft (St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 1988), 99; Scott Cunningham, The Truth about Witchcraft Today (St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 1988), 66-67; Sybil Leek, Diary of a Witch (New York: Signet Books, 1969), 14; Starhawk, Dreaming the Dark, new ed. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1988), 37-38; Starhawk, The Spiral Dance (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1979), 188-89.
10 See, e.g., Adler, 172.
11 See, e.g., Luhrmann, 290-93.
12 Starhawk, Dreaming, 22, 41.
13 Adler, 27-36, 169-73, 441-42, 455.
14 See, e.g., Starhawk, Spiral, 190, 197; Adler, 20, 169-73. 15 Consult Irving Copi, Introduction to Logic, seventh ed. (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1982), 306-8.
16 See, e.g., Starhawk, Spiral, 188-90.
17 Stewart Farrar, What Witches Do: The Modern Coven Revealed (London: Sphere Books, 1971), 43.
18 See, e.g., Adler, 36, 43, 86, 164-65, 169-73; Starhawk, Spiral, 188-92; Luhrmann: 274-96, 301-3, 335-36.
19 For some good treatments on logic and adequate criteria to test truth claims, see Edward J. Carnell, Introduction to Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), 45-62; Norman Geisler, Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1978), 141-47; and Norman Geisler and William Watkins, Worlds Apart: A Handbook on World Views (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989), 105, 262-69.
20 See, e.g., Starhawk, Spiral, 11-12, 14.
21 Despite the claim that witches never use their real or imagined abilities to harm another, there is ample evidence to the contrary. References are available on request.
22 B. Alexander and D. Frew, Christian/Pagan Forum, audio cassette (A 010), (Berkeley: SCP, 1986), October, 19.
23 Space does not permit a thorough discussion of these points. However, they are discussed at length by Geisler and Watkins in Worlds Apart, 75-146, 239-53, 255-69; and Geisler, Christian Apologetics, 173-213.
24 See note 22.
25 Starhawk, Spiral, 80.
26 Ibid., 29.
27 Erica Jong, Witches (New York: Harry N. Abrams Publishers, 1981), 52.
28 Starhawk, Dreaming, 43.
29 Buckland, 17.
30 Sybil Leek, The Complete Art of Witchcraft (New York: Signet Books, 1973), 146-47.
31 See note 28 for the horrific results of this type of belief. For some critiques of reincarnation, consult Mark C. Albrecht, Reincarnation: A Christian Critique of a New Age Doctrine (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989), 51-111, 127-30; and Norman Geisler and J. Yutaka Amano, The Reincarnation Sensation (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1986), 57-86, 99-102, 107-9, 112.
32 See, e.g., Norman Geisler and Winfried Corduan, Philosophy of Religion, 2d. ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988), 297-98.
33 Ibid., 299-300.
34 See notes 22 and 35.
35 Albrecht, 106-9.
36 See Albrecht, 106-9, and note 22.
37 For a full discussion of this issue, see Norman Geisler, The Roots of Evil (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1979); and Geisler and Corduan, Philosophy of Religion, 293-385.
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