WICCANS AND CHRISTIANS:
SOME MUTUAL CHALLENGES
Before we take the plunge and consider how Wiccans and Christians have valid challenges to offer one another, I would like to make a few preliminary comments, which should bring more clarity to the ensuing discussion.
Some readers may be very unfamiliar with, or even feel uncomfortable about Christians and Wiccans talking to one another. Wicca and Christianity are two very different faiths or spiritual pathways. Wiccans follow a nature-based approach, devoted to the Goddess and God. Christians follow Jesus' teachings, with devotion to God. So here we have two separate faiths and each has a distinct and different view about the Creator(s).
The purpose of dialogue between Wiccans and Christians is not to mix-and-match or amalgamate the faiths. To attempt an amalgamation would involve a serious distortion of one another's faith. Rather dialogue about each side gaining a clear understanding of one another's positions. Straw man pictures can be cast aside as each party is compelled to discover the truth about one another. So a dialogical exercise can help clarify what has been previously obscure or misunderstood by either party.
Another benefit of open and honest dialogue is that by looking at the other person's view, the contrasts between them bring your own beliefs into sharp focus. Sometimes that may underscore for both parties the need for more clarification on a given teaching. For example, in early church history some breakaway movements, like the Arians, developed views about Christ that highlighted the need for greater clarity. In responding to the Arians, the mainstream Christians arrived at a clearer understanding about Christ's nature. In the same way, Wiccans can benefit from seeing their own teachings in contrast to Christian ones, and vice versa.
I am certainly not saying that Wiccans and Christians teach the same things. What I am indicating is that there are areas where both Wiccans and Christians have mutual interests, even though their core teachings and values are quite different. Christians should be able to see that Wiccan views do indeed compel us to go back to scripture for a deeper look and in doing that we might rediscover some biblical truths we have overlooked. Likewise any Wiccans who read this, should be able to see how the message of Christianity presents some challenges for them to reflect on too.
The last decades of the twentieth century have unfolded with some tremendous upheavals in Western thought. The assumptions of modernity were grounded in an anti-supernatural bias with an overarching confidence in European based rationalism, science and technology as the pre-eminent tools for understanding reality. This system of thought brought many advances and powerfully shaped out technologically based way of life. Yet, its assumptions have proven inadequate in the context of an emerging global civilization. The modem era is passing away as another framework, known as postmodernity or globalism supplants it.
The postmodern mindset has offered some razor sharp insights into the shortcomings of modernity. The suppression or disparagement of spirituality has been quite rightly regarded as an aberrational outworking of Cartesian thought. Now the accent is back on the spiritual, with the grass roots emphasis on spirituality as a lifestyle issue. Indeed. seekers tend to favour spirituality expressed beyond the formal structures of church, temple and mosque.
What is Wicca?
One important spiritual pathway in our global civilization is Wicca. Wicca is an old word for witchcraft. As their Craft as a spiritual way of life that embraces natural magic. Wiccans celebrate the sacredness of life and seek to attune themselves with the natural world. An underlying theme in the term witchcraft has very pejorative connotations, contemporary practitioners prefer to call their craft Wicca. Wiccans see Wicca is that healing, transformation and personal empowerment can be achieved through the application of ritual magic. Wiccans may believe in and worship the Mother Goddess, while others may regard the Goddess as a mythic archetype of feminine empowerment. Some invoke a variety of pre-Christian pagan female deities such as Astarte, Gaia, Hecate and Isis. Male deities such as Pan and Woden may also be honoured. Some Wiccans may be pantheists. What must be underscored here is that Wiceans do not believe in the existence of the Devil, and contrary to much modern anti-Witchcraft literature they do not sacrifice humans or animals to Satan.
Wiccan practitioners may have generational or ancestral connections to the Craft, or be wholly new converts to it. The Craft has a wellspring of inspiration from Celtic, Egyptian, Greco-Roman, Native American Indian, Norse and Sumerian traditions. Modem Wicca offers a kaleidoscope of thought where some devotees adhere to a particular path whereas others may borrow liberally from several traditions. Twentieth century thinkers such as Gerald Gardner, Margaret Murray and Alexander Sanders have influenced many practitioners. Yet it must be emphasised that there is a diverse spectrum of views and practices, and there are practitioners who beg to differ with the views espoused by Gardner, Murray and Sanders. These differences in viewpoint should not be interpreted as akin to 'denominations' or 'sects', because this presupposes a standard creed as a litmus test for orthodox belief Wicca is not a monolithic movement where all practitioners uphold a universal creed or liturgy.
Wiccans may operate as sole practitioners of the Craft or work within a group. A group of Wiccans is known as a coven. A coven often comprises members of both sexes, but generally the leader is female. A subordinate male priest may also be appointed to officiate within the coven. Some covens have exclusive female membership, and some of these may be wholly lesbian. There are also some gay Wiccan covens, but heterosexuality tends to prevail in the Craft.
A coven normally meets on the new and full-moon (known as esbats), where magical rituals and ceremonies are performed. They also gather together for major festivals, known as sabbats, which relate to the cycle of the seasons. Celebrations vary between the northern and southern hemispheres owing to the seasonal differences. There are eight primary festivals:
Samhain October 31
Yule December 21
Oimelc February 2
Equinox March 21
Beltane April 30
Solstice June 21
Lammas August I
Equinox September 21
Ritual magic takes various forms, such as the casting of spells to promote healing and well being. Some rites involve forming a circle around a cauldron, mixing up a chemical potion of herbs and essences, and invoking a goddess or god for power or protection. All magic is governed by the Wiccan golden rule, 'That you harm none, do what you will. Such a rule would be incongruent if Wiccans were truly involved in sacrifices to Satan. The fact of the matter is that ritual magic is directed to harmony within oneself and harmony with nature. The casting of spells is intended to promote healing and well being, as well as protecting the earth from harm.
Some covens include a strand of sex magic where life partners either symbolically or literally have intercourse as a means to empowerment, and their union affirms both the goddess and the god. With the strong emphasis on empowerment for women in Wicca, many practitioners include ceremonies celebrating fertility, menstruation, menopause and post-menopause. As the bearers of offspring, female devotees affirm their fertility in these menstrual rites, and in a wider sense feel connected with the life-giving power in the natural world. In some rites menstrual blood may be saved for ritual blessings over plants or mother earth. In every respect, these rites speak directly to female sensitivities and are a means to affirming women. It should also be understood that whilst Wicca has great appeal for women, it should not be construed as simply an extension of the feminist movement.
Wicca and Holism
One of the appealing aspects of the Craft is its departure from the and rationalist, anti-supernaturalism that so characterised the modem era. Wiccans eschew the mechanistic mentality that regards the earth as a mere object for detached analysis or as something to be exploited. Wiccans have an acute sense of spiritual realities permeating our world. This is evident in their awareness of the Goddess being present throughout the whole planet. To use theological or philosophical jargon, Wiccans have a deity immanent in the world. Thus it is easy to see how they appreciate the sacredness of the earth and sense it is imbued with spiritual powers. Since the earth is sacred, Wiccans understandably have deep concerns for the environment. Some Wiccans choose to be known as eco-feminists.
Wiccans intuit that a unified or holistic understanding of reality is paramount. They recognize that we all define and categorize matters for the sake of a manageable study or discussion, but they rightly stress that the total picture must not be obscured by such mental abstractions. For Wiccans the whole of life can be approached from an overarching spiritual awareness and practice that has important outcomes in many different facets of living, from relationships, child rearing, education, health and well being, business activities and so forth. The spiritual, if you wish, is perfectly normal and not to be seen as something out of the ordinary. Indeed, the dichotomy between sacred and secular things is simply a product of hidebound rationalism. It is the sceptic and agnostic who are 'weird' not the one who accepts the spiritual as being normal.
Wiccans and Christians
The historic relationship between Craft and Church has not been a very good one. Wiccans have many justifiable reasons for being upset with and wary of Christians. There are two primary reasons. One is the way witches have been persecuted by the Church in Europe and North America. The other is that most Christian books about contemporary witchcraft badly misrepresent and distort it.
What most Christians fail to realize is that Wicca has something serious to say and indeed offers some significant theological challenges to the Church. Instead of dismissing Wicca as being devilish or humbug, Christians ought to take a first hand look at what Wiccans advocate. At a very basic level, Wicca is a mirror in which we can see ourselves reflected for all the things we have neglected. Wicca has a role to play that parallels what some ancient theological movements did for the Church in other eras. Movements like Arianism and Gnosticism, which are known in Church history as 'heresies', compelled the Church to take a serious look at what it really meant by its core teachings and to live by them consistently. Wicca is a goad to the Church to not merely assent to the person of Jesus, but to daily act on his teachings in every dimension of life and thought. Wiccans have perspectives on issues that resonate with today's seekers, and they flourish so well in the absence of any vital, articulated stance by Christians.
Whenever Christians write books or articles about witchcraft and the occult, one of the key litmus tests for its evidentiary value is what primary sources are cited. One of the most elementary principles of scholarship is that one always goes to the original sources before commencing any interpretation. Check the author's bibliography for books by Wiccans. Check the quotations for accuracy and context. Sad to say such lofty standards of truth telling have generally been lacking in Christian literature on the subject of Wicca.
If Wiccans are seen at the outset as 'the enemy', then the only question remaining is how seriously are they regarded? Has a straw man or a gross caricature been drawn? How careful has the writer been to correctly portray the views of those he or she disagrees with? If Wiccans are regarded like clay pigeons in a carnival side show shooting gallery, and then it is quite likely that a hatchet job will be the end product.
Part of the Christian hostility to contemporary Wiccans has been fostered by the naive acceptance of books such as Mike Warnke's The Satan Seller, Lauren Stratford's Satan's Underground, and Rebecca Brown's He Came To Set The Captives Free. In the 1970s Warnke built up a miniature ministry 'empire' based on his testimony of conversion to Christ out of southern Californian Satanism. He became a celebrity in evangelical circles for his often hilarious albums of comic skits and anecdotes, and his testimony was accepted at face value. Warnke spoke authoritatively about satanic cults, satanic conspiracies and witches. His reputation extended beyond evangelicalism into the role of media expert on the subject. His book became a textbook for many other pop writers. Two evangelical Christian journalists, however, finally exposed Warnke's story, as a fabrication in the 1990s. By then great damage had been done in evangelical circles by firmly imprinting in the minds of many a very scary and pejorative portrait of witchcraft. Both Lauren Stratford's book and Rebecca Brown's story have likewise had serious doubts raised about their authenticity and accuracy.
The other contributing factor is, as mentioned above, the persecution of witches in Church history. The negative image of the witch as an old hag, dressed in black, casting spells by the power of Satan, is a hand-me-down distortion. The appalling fact is that such a misrepresentation did not simply produce written polemics, but resulted in torture and trials where capital punishment was meted out all in the name of Christ the prince of Peace.
Wiccans surely need to hear Christians honestly tackling these matters and repenting of what evil has been perpetrated in the name of Jesus. These days non-Christians in general, and Wiccans in particular, will scarcely take seriously any Christian who tries to avoid or down play the hideous things done to people by the Church. We actually succeed in earning the right to be heard when we take the blowtorch to ourselves and honestly grapple with these matters.
A personal anecdote is perhaps worth noting here just on this point. I recall participating in an Internet chat-room sponsored by a Christian. The chat room was ostensibly open to all comers and on one occasion an Irish practitioner of Wicca dropped by. This person had no sooner identified herself as a practitioner when the regular Christian participants started shooting off quick one-liners about the devil, demons, hell and the like. There was no attempt by these Christians to become acquainted with her and treat her with respect. There was not the slightest effort made to discover what it is that she actually believed. Instead she was treated belligerently to the chat room equivalent of a space-invaders game where she was the target of invective and abuse. I was sickened and apologized to her, whilst vainly trying to inject some sanity into the chat room at the same time.
I cannot help but feel that Christians are at times the very worst advertisement for the teachings of Jesus. Indeed I feel that many Christians have the propensity for violating one of the Ten Commandments. No, not the one about adultery, even though many Christians seem skittish about the very word sex. The commandment often violated is the one about not bearing false witness against one's neighbour.
At a deep and sophisticated level, Wicca presents some stimulating challenges for Christians on some key theological and human rights issues. I propose to briefly outline what these entail.
1. God Language
Wiccans affirm a belief in the Mother Goddess. It is maintained by some that the Goddess was the primary deity of pre-historic European societies, and thus the Craft is a return to true primeval worship and faith. Wiccans understand the Christian God is a patriarchal one.
The universal Christian confession about God is one of a triune deity; that is, within the unity of the one eternal God there are three persons - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. These three persons share in the same nature and attributes. As a triune deity the three persons eternally exist in a relationship of unified love.
However, what must be underscored is that the Biblical texts employ a variety of images and metaphors to describe God. The Biblical language uses anthropomorphic imagery, but in context does not disclose a God who has male genitals. Jesus affirmed that 'God is a Spirit'. The image of God as Father is meant in the sense of a nurturing parent. Contemporary readers of these texts, if not mindful of this backdrop, may understandably feel uncomfortable with the expression 'father, particularly if their interpersonal relationship with a male parent has been abusive.
What needs to be brought back into focus is that the Bible presents both paternal and maternal images of God. For example, God is portrayed as a mother who nurses and comforts us (Is. 66: 12-13). God is likened to a midwife (Ps. 22:9), and as a seamstress (Luke 12: 27-28). God's wisdom is characterised as a woman (Prov. 8). The imagery of a female eagle is employed to show God's tender support for us (Deut. 32: 11), and similar bird-like imagery is employed in Psalm 91 with us sheltering under God's wings. In the New Testament Jesus likens his concern to that of a mother hen gathering in her chicks (Matt. 23: 37).
In Church history some leading figures, male and female, have not hesitated to refer to the motherhood of God. Such figures include John Chrysostom, Gregory of Nyssa, Venerable Bede, Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, Bernard of Clairvaux, Hildegard of Bingen and Anselm. Even the Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther, in his commentary on Genesis, spent time discussing the feminine images undergirding the Hebrew language used there. As God is a Spirit, both masculine and feminine elements are found. This does not mean that the Bible sets forth an androgynous deity. The creation narrative avers that in God's image both male and female are created (Gen. 1: 27), so that the two genders are equal reflections of the creator.
Wiccans therefore goad us into remembering the symbolic and figurative nature of language used in the Bible with respect to God. By way of reflection, Christians should be able to dialogue with Wiccans at this level, and not hesitate to affirm the maternal images found in the Bible.
On another level Christians should be able to stimulate Wiccans into some deep reflections too. Christians need to be sensitive to the dark history and maltreatment of Wiccans, as well as to the contemporary cultural pain felt about patriarchy and its abuses. With that backdrop kept in focus, Christians may ask whether Wiccans today are opting for a matriarchal deity in reaction to the excesses of a patriarchal society. To what extent is Wiccan language about the Goddess intended to be taken as literal, as symbolic, or as anthropomorphic? On historical concerns, it is a very moot point that pre-historic European societies were universally worshipping a female deity. Furthermore, even if that is conceded, does that piece of history therefore stand as revelatory proof that the creator of the universe is the Goddess?
2. An Immanent Deity
An important feature of Wiccan thought is the immanence of the Goddess or Spirit in the natural world. Here Wicca challenges Christianity to once again give full expression in its theology of God. In classic Christian thought God is affirmed as being both transcendent and immanent. By transcendence, it is meant that God is a being separate from the creation and is sovereign over it. By immanence, it is meant that God's being is present everywhere within the creation.
Christians have excelled in emphasizing God's transcendence, but often been slipshod in saying much about his immanence. The Bible, however, is very strong in affirming the presence of God's Spirit within the creation. The Hebrew word ruah appears more than three hundred times and is translated according to each context as spirit, wind and breath. God's ruab hovered over the earth in the act of creation (Gen. 1:2) and continues to maintain, sustain and renew the creation (Ps. 36:10; 54:4- 104- 139:7; Acts 17:28- Heb. 1:3). It was in this vein that Paul could share with the Athenian philosophers that God 'is not far from each one of us' (Acts 17:27). As Wiccans affirm the immanence of deity, we are compelled to refocus on this truth and redevelop a theology that seriously embraces it.
A case in point here is the evangelical apologist Craig Hawkins who has written about Wicca. Hawkins acknowledges that the Bible teaches God is both transcendent and immanent. He states, 'God both transcends and is immanent to us and all of creation. That is, God is both near to creation and he transcends it' (Witchcraft, p. 129). Amazingly he makes no further remarks about God's immanence other than to quote three Biblical passages in support. He does not seem to recognize that the Wiccan stance about the immanence of the Goddess is saying something back to Christians about how deficient our theology has become. We give lip service to the notion of immanence, but do not seek to clothe our theology in solid flesh on the matter. Hawkins' apologetic to Wiccans thus falls short on this point. He fails to treat immanence as a point of common ground for some effective dialogue.
For those Wiccans who affirm pantheism, we have an opportunity to present a challenge. One of the deepest, reflective features of the Bible is that God is a personal being who as a triunity of persons is eternally involved in relationship. One central affirmation is that God is love, and love is something expressed in relationships. The persons of the Godhead are in an eternal love relationship with each other. As the creator, God has brought the universe into existence and within it created beings that can enter into this eternal relationship too. The Biblical revelation emphasizes that God is present throughout the creation, but is a being to be distinguished from the creation. Jesus' teaching about God clearly presents the Father as a personal being, not as an impersonal higher consciousness. The early followers of Jesus, such as Paul and Bamabas, rejected the offer of worship given to them in Lystra (Acts 14), and they reiterated that God is a personal being. Pantheism and monotheism are mutually exclusive views.
3. Theology of Creation
Wiccans challenge Christians to have a deep understanding of God's creation and to care for the earth. Until very recently, Christians have had little to say on the subject. There are probably many reasons why this is so. One being that in the absence of a deep view of God's immanence in the world, the creation has simply been taken for granted. Another is that in Western nations many Christians have been preoccupied with other debates at the expense of the creation. Western churches have often aligned themselves with the capitalist industrialism that has so exploited the earth' s resources. Some Christians have presumed that such exploitation is part of our mandate to subdue the earth, and that in the long run it won't matter anyway because when we die we go to heaven.
Such notions are antithetical to Biblical revelation. First, the creation narratives make it clear that God placed the primordial humans on earth as gardeners to took after the creation. The first humans were appointed as stewards, ultimately responsible to God for looking after his creation. Their dominion over the earth was not, according to the text, to be a rapacious greedy justification for the rape and destruction of the earth.
Second, the creation is not a wound up clock left by God to its own devices. As we have seen before, God is immanent in the creation. God's Spirit is intimately involved in maintaining and sustaining all life. The earth belongs to the Lord (Ex. 9: 29). The New Testament depicts Jesus Christ as the Creator (John 1:3; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:3). The Christian's mindset is therefore to be transformed by recognizing that the entire creation was made by, through and for Christ (Col. 1: 16-17). If we devalue the creation, we devalue the very handiwork of God in Christ. Such an outlook is inconsistent with Christ's teachings.
Much more can be acknowledged and acted upon from the Bible. After the great flood, God's renewed covenant was made with Noah's family, the animals and all the creation (Gen. 9). This reiterates the importance of the creation in the divine economy. The creation is not some cosmic rubbish dump for humanity to destroy. Humans are again appointed to be custodians and stewards of the creation.
With the foundation of Israel, the divine law given to Moses set forth specific principles on which the earth was to be tended. The land was to be used for planting and harvesting for six years, with a seventh year Sabbath rest for the land. The sixth year was to be used for setting aside harvested crops to sustain human needs during the seventh year of agricultural rest. This also included a stipulation of provender for the poor and the refugee. Thus within the Bible one finds principles on which a Christian approach to ecology can be developed.
It is surely a poignant point that the Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer's plea for this in his book Pollution and the Death of Man (1970), was disregarded until it became approach to industrialism was the primary contributor to the ecological crisis and fashionable to be a greenie in the 1990s. Schaeffer also demonstrated how the humanist based clarified what the role of the Church ought to be. Unfortunately, as with so many contemporary cultural debates, the Church has ceased to have any cutting edge leadership or prophetic role, and instead waits in timidity until secular society has grappled with an issue before joining the bandwagon.
On another tack, it should be emphasized that J. R. R. Tolkien, who was a devout Catholic Christian, presented a breath-taking view of the splendour of creation and the pressing need to care for it through his marvellous mythology about middle earth. The Silmarillion offers a dazzlingly beautiful portrait of creation. In The Lord of the Rings we see Gandalf the wizard as a steward of the creation. Gandalf is a potent mythic figure who incamates the universal hero myth. An obvious parallel to Christ is seen when Gandalf dies, descends into the abyss with the Balrog, and rises again from the dead victorious. He also echoes the apocalyptic Christ when he is clothed in white riding the great white horse Shadowfax. The hobbits are gardeners who tend to the lovely Shire. The mysterious Tom Bombadil likewise was the first one to walk the earth and is master over trees and animals in the most genteel manner.
Tolkien's creation of the Ents as tree shepherds is a further example of his ecological concerns. Treebeard is appalled at the destruction of the Forest by Saruman and the orcs, and finally goads the Ents to act in the war so that the Forest may be saved. Another vision of the creation's splendour and preservation is portrayed by the elves dwelling in Lothlorien. By contrast the dreaded Land of Mordor is barren, coated in dust and ashes. We must recall that Tolkien's mythology was already being scribbled down whilst surviving the horrors of trench warfare in the First World War. The Lord of the Rings was released in the 1950s, and The Silmarillion released posthumously in the 1970s.
A final point is that Christians have lost sight of the fact that the Bible speaks of a coming new heaven and new earth (Is. 65; 2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21). The Bible shows that the Cross and Resurrection of Christ is not just concerned with the redemption of individuals, but sweeps up all of the cosmos (Rom. 8:22ff). The prophetic vision of a renovated world includes the animals (Is. 11: 6-8; 65: 25), for God will not discard his creation. Indeed, God as the judge of humanity will require of us an account of what we have done to his creation. Surely the Biblical revelation offers a grand picture of the creation, and this could become a great dialogue point between Christians and Wiccans.
4. Sacred Sites and Geomancy
Wiccans often gather together for ritual ceremonies in a forest where they can attune themselves to the forces of nature. Some Wiccans affirm that the earth has places of power where ancient pagan temples once stood, like Stonehenge. Other places of natural wonder may be imbued with power such as Uluru. Some Wiccans embrace geomancy where ley lines of power can be detected throughout the natural world. By attuning oneself with the ley lines or centres of power, harmony within and harmony without may be achieved.
I believe the Wiccan vision of Sacred Sites and the use of geomancy glimpses something of the power of the Spirit of God resonating in the creation. We need to expand our vision through both reaffirming God's immanence and in a theology of the creation to speak to this issue. The whole creation is sacred because of the ever present Spirit of God at work within it. This same sense is found in the Lord's prayer where Jesus prays, 'hallowed be thy name on earth as it is in heaven'. This prayer is affirming the sacred presence of even God's name in the earth. The incarnation of Christ likewise reiterates the sacred presence of God embodied in the person of Jesus. By his bodily presence in the world Christ sanctified the world, and this continues on with the giving of the abiding Spirit to believers.
The Bible also gives us instances of spiritual encounters related to geographical places. We see this with God walking in the Garden with Adam and Eve (Gen. 2:8), Moses at the burning bush (Ex. 3), and again on Mount Sinai (Ex. 19), Isaiah in the Temple (Is. 6), and when Jesus was transfigured (Matt. 17). However the fundamental point of the Bible is that God may be encountered anywhere in the world and can be worshipped. With respect to geomantic magic, Christians and Wiccans will beg to differ over its usage. However common ground can be seen in the mutual interest in the sacredness of the earth.
5. Sexuality & Spirituality
The upsurge of women participating in Wicca surely says something to the Church in its mindset over the role and ministry of women. it is clear that Jesus set himself against the patriarchal attitudes of his day and upheld the equality of women in God's sight (e.g. John 4). He offered empowerment for them to live in a society that denigrated females. His kingdom teaching encompasses the dignity and worth of all humans irrespective of gender.
One of the overlooked yet striking features of the Gospels is that they give prominence to the testimony of women in connection with the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is perhaps not appreciated these days that back in Jesus' time the testimony of women was deemed worthless. What is so provocative about the Gospel accounts is that each one features without embarrassment the testimony of the women as providing an unbroken chain of witness to the crucifixion, burial and resurrection. The spiritual sensitivity of the women to Jesus is home out in these narratives, whereas most of Jesus' male disciples go into hiding when he is arrested.
Elsewhere the New Testament affirms that every believer, male and female, is a priest before God (2 Pet. 2: 4-1 0). The New Testament bears out that women exercised spiritual gifts, such as prophecy (Acts 2:17; 21:9). The Apostle Paul counted amongst his Co-workers in ministry various women, such as those listed in his salutations in Romans 16. This same apostle likewise taught that there is neither male nor female in Christ (Gal. 3:281), for we are all one. Even in the patriarchal days of the Old Testament we find examples of women exercising spiritual gifts and leadership such as Deborah the judge of Israel (Judges 4:4ff), and Huldah the prophetess (2 Ki. 22:14; 2 Ch. 34: 22).
The Church has become polarized around the issue of ordination, but has not thoroughly addressed the wider implications of women exercising a ministry beyond the pulpit. The Church must repent of the misogyny and wife abuse that occurs within its ranks. As long as Christians pretend these things don't happen, we need not be surprised that honest seekers look elsewhere to find spiritual nourishment.
On another level, many Wiccans relate sexuality to spirituality, as seen in their sex magic rites. At times the Church has been so terrified of sex it has espoused celibacy as a virtue and denigrated the human body. The repression of sex inevitably erupts into abuse or promiscuity. The Biblical texts clearly uphold sex as a gift from God to be enjoyed within the bounds of marriage. The human body is God's handiwork and is to be enjoyed not escaped as if it were some sort of prison. To view the body as a prison for the spirit is to descend into Gnosticism. The Song of Songs in the Bible is entirely devoted to the celebration of sex.
The celebration of feminine empowerment through menstruation is another earthy instance of sexuality and spirituality being joined together. For too long menstruation has been seen as unmentionable subject or one where male jokes can be made at the expense of women. As males are biologically unable to experience the monthly cycle they lack any sensitivity to what menstruation entails for women. Whether it be the onset of period pain and the raw emotional tension women feel, or the potential social embarrassment caused by the discharge of bodily fluids and issues of personal hygiene, menstruation generally carries a stigma. Indeed menstruation has invariably been associated with notions of spiritual contamination and pollution.
Wiccans have found that patriarchal attitudes reinforce the denigration of women when menstruating, and has been used as a justification for isolation from spiritual rituals. Wiccans have inverted all this, and quite properly view menstruation as something to be affirmed not denied. Thus various rites of passage associated with menstruation, menopause and post-menopause have been developed. Male Christians need to recall how Jesus treated the woman who suffered with a severe menstrual problem (Matt. 9: 20-22; Mark 5: 25-34; Luke 8: 43-48). In the Jewish context, a menstruating woman was classified as unclean and spiritually polluting. To have contact with a woman during menstruation was to share in that contamination. Two striking points emerge from this narrative with Jesus. First, is that the woman receives healing from Jesus and is commended for her faith, The second point is that the woman touched Jesus. She did not contaminate him, but rather Jesus transmitted healing and purity to her. Jesus was not constrained by the patriarchal attitude towards menstruating women and disregarded the taboo of physical contact with the woman concerned. Surely there is a lesson here for Christians. Wiccans feel strongly about celebrating their fertility. Why do Christians seem to have nothing positive to say on the subject?
Finally, there are neglected questions for Christians to address. What is it to be a female or male made in God's image? In other words, no matter what our marital status happens to be, we are inherently sexual beings. Our sexuality is not confined to the act of intercourse, but rather is an expression of who we are. The Church ought to be able to say some very meaningful things about this.
The role of Wiccan practitioners as healers surely must goad us to return to a Biblical ministry of healing and to live by principles of well being found in Scripture. All healing is grounded in the nature and character of God, for he is the Lord God who heals (Ex. 15: 26). We see in the ministry of Jesus that healing was one of his pre-eminent activities in meeting human needs and bringing about reconciliation between God and humanity. Jesus announces his ministry in proclaiming the Gospel to encompass healing (Luke 4: 16-21). The apostles likewise had a ministry of healing, and the New Testament encourages Christians to anoint people with oil and pray for the sick (James 5: 14-15).
With respect to folk remedies, energy healing and complementary therapies, the challenge for Christians is to find the work of the Spirit of God here too and to avoid the tendency to simply debunk or demonize whatever is unfamiliar. Elsewhere I have written about the way such a positive theological understanding of energy healing could be developed.
7. Human Rights
With the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, a new movement in jurisprudence emerged concerned with the defence of human rights. The post-War reaction to Nazi atrocities stimulated the creation of both the United Nations (1945) and the European Convention on Human Rights (1950). Since then the expression human rights has entered into common usage.
It is interesting to note at the outset that several of the key architects for the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention were firm believers in a personal creator God: Rene Cassin (Jewish believer), Charles Habib Malik (Lebanese Christian), and Arthur Henry Robertson (Unitarian). Cassin, who won the Nobel Prize in 1969 and established the International Institute for Human Rights, maintained that the basis for the Universal Declaration derived from the Ten Commandments.
For Wiccans and Christians alike, the subject of human rights is important both retrospectively and in our contemporary circumstances. By retrospective, I mean honestly dealing with the violation of human rights in the persecution of witches hundreds of years ago. In our contemporary situation human rights questions about religious freedom, animal rights and environmental rights need to be tackled.
John Warwick Montgomery is a human rights specialist who served as Director of Studies at the International Institute of Human Rights, Strasbourg from 1979-81. Montgomery has written extensively in the field tackling such subjects as the Marxist approach to human rights, the philosophical justification for human rights, and right-to-life issues. Montgomery was in Beijing at the time of the Tiananmen Square massacre, and has written about the problem of human rights in China. Montgomery has also written about witch trial theory and legal practice. His scholarship on these many issues forms the basis of the following discussion.
(A). Witch Trials in Retrospect
In retrospect one can always benefit from hindsight and hopefully learn from the lessons of history. The witch trials are one of the many blights in the history of European jurisprudence. Judicial torture was a feature of ancient Roman law, but fell out of favour with the rise and spread of Christianity. Christians had been subjected to persecution and torture at the hands of the Roman Imperial legal system. In the fifth century, St. Augustine of Hippo wrote against the use of torture in obtaining confessions. Pope Gregory the Great echoed his stance in the sixth century and Pope Nicholas I did the same in the ninth century. In 928 AD 'good King Wenceslas' of Bohemia destroyed instruments of torture. In the twelfth century Decretum of Gratian likewise repudiated torture.
The reintroduction of judicial torture into continental law occurred in the later Middle Ages and coincided with the efforts of monarchs to create centralized states over against the local autonomy of feudalism. At the same time the Roman Church was centralizing its administrative controls. Lamentably, ancient Roman Imperial law became the model for both civil and canon law. The sad irony is that the very faith that had once been the victim of persecution, now approved of the very methods once used against it to now tackle non-orthodox belief These developments also coincided with the weakening and waning of the old social order in medieval Europe, and Witchcraft was not 'ust a rival belief system but also represented a genuine movement of social protest and reform.
In England, and later on in the American colonies, the legal tradition developed along different lines to those on the continent. The common law tradition developed out of Biblical principles of law, such as the Ten Commandments, and Jesus' Golden Rule that you do to others as you would be done by them. The Magna Carta, which also reflected Biblical truths, originated from the work of Cardinal Stephen Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The common law tradition prohibited secret trials and the extraction of confessions by torture. Yet civil rights were curtailed at times whenever the monarch sought to reassert absolute power, as was the case with the Tudor and Stuart monarchs. The Star Chamber these monarchs created and perpetuated was struck down by Parliament in 1641 as contrary to the Magna Carta. Thus the use of torture and the denial of civil rights to witches in England was not a product of the Biblically influenced common law, but rather arose when monarchs subverted it for their own gains. This, of course, does not excuse the witch trials themselves.
However small comfort this may be, Wiccans nonetheless need to be aware that not all Christians approved of judicial torture. During the anti-Witch mania Protestants such as Johann Weyer and Reginald Scot sought to have reason rather than torture applied in the Witch trials. On the Catholic side, Alonso de Salazar y Frias as an Inquisitor was scrupulous about the civil rights of the accused being properly observed. Augustin Nicolas, a French Catholic 'urist, in 1682 wrote a treatise opposing torture, branding it devilish and condemning it from the Bible.
The primary issue that needs to be faced is whether witchcraft should have been considered a criminal offence in the first place. Montgomery notes that 'the proper function of human law is to regulate conduct so as to prevent injustice among men; it is not to regulate ideas or coerce opinions' (The Law Above The Law, p. 77). Witchcraft entailed ideas and beliefs, more than it had to do with acts. If a Christian or a Wiccan commits murder, the offender should be prosecuted under the provisions of the law with due consideration for the evidence.
However to prosecute a Wiccan simply by virtue of being a devotee of the Craft was and remains a colossal miscarriage of justice. Unless it can be demonstrated that the Craft itself involves criminal activity and is a threat to the body politic, then the prohibition, persecution and prosecution of Wiccans cannot be legally justified. As we have already seen, the Craft does not involve the ritual sacrifice of humans or animals and thus poses no criminal threat to the body politic. The Witch Trials were a violation of human rights an dignity. Although the Christian prosecutors believed back then that they were opposing a genuine societal and theological evil, they assumed the role of God to act as judge on the matter. They achieved far more evil themselves than the good that Jesus taught his followers to do.
(B). Animal & Environmental Rights
In contemporary human rights both Wiccans and Christians have something to say about the rights of animals and the environment, and also on religious freedom. This is not the place to undertake a detailed discussion of these matters. However I would like to highlight a few salient points.
In human rights law it has become commonplace to speak of there being three generations of rights: (a) civil and political, (b) economic, social and cultural, and (c) solidarity. The question of animal and environmental rights comes with the third category of solidarity rights, whilst religious freedom comes with the first category of civil and political rights. Although there is much admiration for the concept of human rights. our global community nonetheless embraces a smorgasbord of theories and groups concerning the definition and justification of human rights.
The expression human rights by definition refer to titles or entitlements given. The concept is relational because it presupposes a source for the entitlement given. In our human relationships we must ask who has the authority or power to confer a right or entitlement on us. If we considered this point at length, I believe it can be argued that in order to both define and justify rights, we must defer to the transcendent. The fundamental reason here being that the One who created us is the only One who can tell us what our intrinsic worth happens to be. Also being transcendent, the Creator is not limited by our fallible perspectives and prejudices.
From a Christian standpoint, God's perspective on human rights can be grounded in Biblical revelation. Both the theology of the creation and the incarnation of Christ provide the grounds for justifying rights. The rights are entitlements given to us by God.
If we approach the question of animal and environmental rights, we find that both Wiccans and Christians have something to say. Wiccans affirm that the earth is sacred and they seek to do no harm to others. A Christian understanding of the creation should, as we have noted before, be based on the awareness that the earth belongs to the Lord and we have been appointed as stewards to care for it. With regards to animals, Christians need to reflect on their standing in the original creation, their inclusion in both the Noahic covenant and in the new heaven and new earth. Indeed, it is high time Christians reflected more carefully on the fact that Jesus was born and placed in an animal's feeding trough in a stable, and that animals were also witnesses to his birth.
Andrew Linzey has discussed animal rights at length from a Christian standpoint. There will be points of overlap and difference on these matters between Wiccans and Christians primarily on the basis of who has revealed the essential values - the Goddess or the biblical God.
As regards religious freedom both Wiccans and Christians have a keen desire to support this. The historical experience of the Witch Trials looms large in the collective memory of Wiccans as a powerful incentive to oppose religious repression. For the Christian the upholding of religious freedom is not alien to the proclamation of Jesus as the Saviour of the world.
First, both Christians and Wiccans need to recall the positive role of Christians in championing a variety of causes. Here is a small list to contemplate: support and shelter for widows, orphans and the destitute, opposing infanticide in the Roman Empire, the framing of the Magna Carta, the building of hospitals and the emergence of the nursing profession, the abolition of child labour by William Wilberforce, the abolition of slavery, the establishment of the Red Cross by Henry Dunant, outlawing widow burnings in India, the Afro-American civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King, and Amnesty International started by Catholic lawyer Peter Benenson to name but a few.
Second, Montgomery addresses the misconception that the Christian Gospel is opposed to religious freedom. He states, 'the scriptural gospel cannot be forced on anyone: if it is not freely accepted, it is not accepted at all ... Jesus never forces Himself on man, and the true Christian believer can hardly justify doing what his Master will not do. Thus, even viewed from the standpoint of the absolute truth of the gospel, repressing non-Christian beliefs is indefensible: in removing freedom of religious choice, one removes in principle the opportunity genuinely to choose Christ Himself (Human Rights & Human Dignity, pp. 171-172).
In an open and free society Christians should be willing to defend the rights of others to adhere to the beliefs they have, whilst at the same time encouraging dialogue and sharing about the unique claims and teachings of Jesus to those who want to listen.
8. Community of Hope
The old catechism avers that our chief end is 'to glorify God and enjoy him forever'. I would hazard to say that Christians have excelled on the glorification, but have lost all sense of how to enjoy God. This is in stark contrast to the enthusiasm, joy and sheer friendliness one finds amongst Wiccans. It is high time Christians bore witness to Christ by their love, which is one of the distinguishing marks Jesus spoke of about his true followers. If Christians continue to subsist within the ghetto of the Church, then we need not be amazed that spiritual seekers find spiritual fraternity elsewhere. The time has arrived for Christians to truly become the community that is built on faith, hope and love.
9. Christ as the Fulfilment of Wicca
Finally, are Christians convinced that Jesus Christ can transform lives and that his teachings work? Wiccans find fulfilment through earth magic and devotion to the Goddess. Are Christians positive that the risen Christ empowers lives and gives the spiritual fulfilment that we long for? If we are sure that Christ's message is 'good news', then we need to find that good news working in our lives before we invite others to share in its blessings. If we are sure that through the resurrection of Christ we are made whole again, then we have a very powerful message to offer.
The Apostle Paul was passionate in his efforts to share the power of the risen Christ. He shared with both Jew and Gentile the same message, but used a different method to reach the same goal. When he dialogued with his own Jewish people, he began with their sacred writings to disclose Christ was the fulfilment of their faith. When he approached Gentiles who had never read those books, he entered inside their culture and offered Christ as the fulfilment of their search for meaning.
Some Wiccans have had a background in the Church and sadly found it deficient. Other Wiccans have grown up outside the Church altogether. Wicca challenges Christianity to recover the heart and passion of its message. Fiona Home, a prominent Australian Wiccan, has said that she is frustrated by her childhood experiences with the Church, yet she 'digs Jesus'. It seems to me that we have put obstacles in the way of people seeking faith. If Wiccans cannot see the living Christ in us, then it is no wonder they dismiss the Church as utterly irrelevant.
When Jesus came to earth his purpose was to make people right again with God. Perhaps we have spent too much time telling people they are wrong, we have lost sight of Jesus' primary mission of enabling people to become right. Let us not bear false witness against our Wiccan neighbours by demonizing them or ridiculing them as being irrational. The basic game plan of Jesus has always been about healing people and reconciling them with God. Instead of debunking or deconstructing Wicca, why not share the riches of Christ as the fulfilment of the quest? Wicca challenges us to have the love and integrity Jesus had. Are we listening to the voice of the Spirit who guides and comforts the Church?
(1). Primary Sources
Margot Adler, Drawing Down The Moon, Beacon Press, Boston, 1986.
Zsuzsanna E. Budapest, Grandmother Moon, Harper, San Francisco, 1991.
Marija Gimbutas, The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe, University of California
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Fiona Home, Witch: A Personal Journey, Random House, Sydney, 1998.
Lynne Hume, Witchcraft and Paganism in Australia, Melbourne University Press,
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(2). Other Sources
David Bumett, Dawning of the Pagan Afoon, MARC, Eastbourne, 199 1.
Ross Clifford & Philip Johnson, Sacred Quest, Albatross, Sutherland, 1995.
Craig Hawkins, Witchcraft: Exploring the World of Wicca, Baker, Grand Rapids, 1996.
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