Witch vs Christian

From the Christian Research Institute about witchcraft, The Modern World of Witchcraft: Part One of Two (an article from the Christian Research Journal, Winter/Spring 1990, page 8) by Craig S. Hawkins.
— The Editor-in-Chief of the Christian Research Journal is Elliot Miller.

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

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.
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. magick 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.
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.
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?
From the Latin occultus, meaning secret, hidden, or esoteric knowledge and practices. It is comprised of three basic categories — divination, magick 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 Magick
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 magickal 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.

Pagan PR

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 1understanding, analyzing, and critiquing contemporary witchcraft, and 2promoting 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 magick 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 religiomagickal 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 magickal 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.

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 magick's Aid in 1949. This was written under a pseudonym (i.e., his magickal 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 magick, magickal 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.

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.

Pagan Principles

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."

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.

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