Witches Should Hit the Brooms

"But are you a good witch or a bad witch?" Glinda asks Dorothy upon the latter's arrival in the Land of Oz. Laurie Cabot, official witch of Salem, (by the grace of his flakiness, former Gov. Michael Dukakis) is neither. She is merely a very silly witch, hawking her pantheistic placebos.

It's that witching hour again. Once, all we had to worry about on Halloween were kids soaping our windows and trimming our trees with toilet paper.

Now there's a gaggle of New Age nincompoops running around calling themselves witches (or neo-pagans or followers of Wicca), kvetching about society not understanding them and how warty-nosed hag masks are religious defamation.

Enter Cabot — "an ordained High Priestess of Witchcraft" — with her new book Celebrate the Earth: A Year's Holidays in the Pagan Tradition. I half expected a forward by Al Gore.

I decided the chapter on "Samhain" (which coincides with the Hershey/Mattel holiday upon us) would be an appropriate point of departure. Cabot explains that Samhain has nothing to do with evil, but is a Celtic holiday "infused with positive energy and filled with hope for our planet's future."

"On Samhain, Witches (always capitalized) cast spells to psychically contact our deceased forebears and retrieve ancient knowledge," Cabot writes.

Reminds me of the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. Rocky, gazing intently into his crystal ball: "Eany-meany, chili-beany, the spirits are about to speak!" Bullwinkle: "Are they friendly spirits, Rock?"

The volume is a witch's brew of pagan rituals, spells, potions, "magickal stones" and cauldron cuisine. No powdered toad here, but Laurie does lament the difficulty of finding wild boar at local Stop N' Shop.

Welcome to the era of total tolerance, where any belief system is deemed as good as any other, where to question someone's "spirituality" (however zany or far removed from genuine religion) is considered impolite if not downright bigoted.

In this climate, the must outrageous claptrap flourishes. The Rev. Shane Buras, of the Los Angeles coven, United We Circle, informs us that Wicca is the nation's fastest growing faith.

Moreover, Burras points out, it has the U.S. government's seal of approval — via tax-exempt status. Given that a federal judge in Denver just ruled a Satanist doing time for kidnapping could conduct rituals in his cell, under the protection of the First Amendment, Washington's sanction is of dubious value.

As the title of her book implies, Laurie is an Earth-hugger. The bond with "our Mother, the Earth" is "all-encompassing, always renewable, life-sustaining, meeting all our needs and answering all our questions," Cabot proclaims.

Does Earth worship really meet all our needs? Answer all our questions? It's a cheap and beguilingly easy form of ersatz piety. Nature is magnificent. It's all around us, constantly tugging at our consciousness. God is invisible, perceived not with the senses but the heart and mind.

The Jewish prophets were particularly vigilant against this heresy. The Hebrew Bible has no word for nature. That would imply that all of the elements encompassed by the designation can somehow be welded together into an entity existing independent of the Creator.

My take on modern witchcraft is different than that of some Christians. I don't think Cabot and company are casting evil spells or raising demons — though Laurie does have a wicked money potion (that can be dabbed on bank deposit slips and job applications), as befits a witch who drives a Mercedes.

I have a more prosaic concern. Real religion fosters moral behavior. You don't get goodness from Earth worship. Nature's ethical lesson is sovereignty of the strong and utter indifference to suffering.

You don't get morality by standing in a mystical circle, taking warm, candle lit saltwater baths (recommended by Cabot), handling magical stones or playing Merlin.

All this does is allow the devotee to feel spiritual without absorbing the moral lessons of traditional religion or practicing sacrifice and self-restraint.

Witchcraft is a prefect faith for a generation with flaccid metaphysical muscles — no Bible, no hierarchy, no Decalogue, no source of moral guidance, other than one nebulous admonition: "Do as you will, but harm none." Space does not suffice to consider where this folly leads. Quagmire city.

Laurie, take the first broom out of town and take your mumbo-jumbo theology with you. Be off, before someone drops a house on you.

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