A little research on the Christian response to the rise of Wicca and witchcraft and their relationship to feminism and neopaganism reveals a little burst of writing in 1999. We don't know whether that is more a reflection of a collective recognition of, or the actual ubiquitousness of, all things occcultic beginning in the late 90s, but it does seem that the popularity curve, if you will, began noticably rising then. By 1999, Potter novels, like the latest hysteria-producing tome Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, had taken hold as perennial top-performers among New York Times bestsellers. TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Charmed and films like Practical Magic featured young females and their Craft in new and exciting ways and the whole enterprise of the occult seemed to spring from the dark basement to the mainstream of culture at the turn of the Millenium.
1999 is also the year when our lead author for this Special Focus collection, Linda Harvey, first penned Heresy in the Hood: Teen Witchcraft in America. Her follow-up article (featured here) reflects the need to update the original with cultural examples due to their sheer abundance. In its four years here, her original article evoked more feedback to this Web site - which boasts 8,400 resources and receives scores of feedback messages a month - than any other single title on our site. Her article samples the often-reactionary (when not incendiary) responses from Wiccans, many of them teens, defending their newfound faith against myths perpetrated against harmless nature-centered practitioners who have nothing to do with Satan or evil spells. This is in keeping with a concerted attempt by adherents of Wicca, reportedly the fastest-growing religion in America, to put the best foot forward with an increasingly aware public. (Perhaps that's why most of our feedback reads like identical, mass-produced talking points.)
Some confusion, it is true, persists regarding the relationship of Wicca, an amalgam of beliefs centered in a female deity-personification or Goddess and oriented heavily to nature, and traditional witchcraft associated with black magic and curses. Wiccans are fond of pointing this out and emphasizing the upbeat nature of the neopaganism they promote. Wicca's ties with feminism are hard to miss, as well. Charlotte Allen, in a review below, traces the intertwining of the two, writing, "Goddess worship is everywhere in the literature and praxis of feminism." Reverence for "the Goddess" and the heretical doctrine of "feminist spirituality" has even made its way into mainline Christian seminaries and churches. Thus, as Russ Wise writes in Goddess Worship below, "Whether the individual seeks the goddess through witchcraft, the feminist movement, the New Age, or the liberal church, he or she is beginning a quest to understand and discover the 'higher self'...often referred to as the 'god self." This is the original lie in the Garden of Eden: "You will be like gods."
Where does that leave the uninitiated, trying to understand a complex and overlapping array of religious and philosophical themes? For the Christian, recalling the biblical prohibitions against witchcraft and divination is paramount. Practically, this means that the pervasive appeals to personal and spiritual empowerment, earth-friendliness and meaning-laden rituals - especially for young girls who haunt Wicca sites and take in the books, shows and movies in increasing numbers - are competing against traditional worldviews like Christianity (and often winning, testimonies reveal). What are the stakes? Does a seemingly benign work like a Harry Potter novel create the risk of drawing kids into occultic dabbling and, eventually, full-on practice? That depends on the child and parents working with him or her using biblical discernment, according to Sue Bohlin (below). Christian English professor Alan Jacobs sees better questions regarding Potter. Regardless of this or that particular book or movie, the pattern seems to be a media- and profit-driven groundswell - not necessarily applauded in that sense by Wiccans - that takes advantage of Westerners' penchant for spirituality unfettered by doctrinal or traditional parameters. That is, neopagan witchcraft has made a real comeback, it would seem, on the coattails of the zeitgeist of the West - namely "I'm spiritual, but I'm not into organized religion."
Explore with us some of the surprisingly complex religious-philosophical underpinnings of this movement in our Special Focus so you won't get sucked in unawares. If you are a Wiccan or lean that way, test the waters with an open mind and let us know what you think.
—Byron Barlowe, Editor/Webmaster, Leadership University
Heresy in the Hood II: Witchcraft Among Children and Teens in America (updated)
Is witchcraft a valid way to raise kids' self-esteem? Is it a curious new hobby? These are some of the ways witchcraft is now presented to teens in books, TV, music - even in Christian churches. Is it positive - or are uninformed teens blindly jumping?
Wicca: A Biblical Critique (new article)
Gleghorn outlines the fundamental doctrines of Wicca, said to be currently the fastest growing religion in America, while critiquing them biblically. These doctrines include Watchers ("highly evolved spiritual beings"), magick (through which thought forms can allegedly become realities), an afterlife (Summerland, a paradise for the soul prior to reincarnation)- all in opposition to the God of the Bible, whose claims are backed up by Christ's resurrection.
Books in Review: Goddess Unmasked: The Rise of Neopagan Feminist Spirituality
Charlotte Allen, First Things
Davis, according to Allen, debunks the common belief that pagan feminist mythology sprang from prehistory. Rather, it is in all likelihood a product of the Romantic era of the 18th & 19th Centuries as brought together by 20th Century neopagan Gerald Brousseau Gardner. She criticizes Davis' methodology and style, but found that the book increased her interest in the subject.
Wise traces goddess worship through witchcraft, feminism, the occult or New Age and liberal mainstream Christian circles. Based on the notion that all life comes from a feminine source rooted in Mother Earth or Gaia, the upshot is a complete overturning of Scriptural revelation and doctrine regarding a masculine God.
Is Truth Just a Matter of Opinion? An Evaluation of the Ethics of Witchcraft and Pantheism
Rittenhouse explores the concept of absolute and relative truth specifically applied to pantheism and witchcraft. The major tenets of pantheism include moral relativism, reincarnation, personal autonomy and human divinity. Some popular expressions of pantheism include witchcraft, the New Age, Hinduism, the Star Wars film trilogy, and most occult-based religious systems.
Season of the witch: something Wicca this way comes (new article)
William E. Brown, World
During what amounts to Wicca's "coming out" in the U.S. in 1999, World magazine picked up on its prevalence in the military and popular culture. Though adherants' PR efforts have borne fruit, the ages old deification of nature and, ultimately, self at Wicca's core will only lead down a dead-end path.
Harry Potter (new article)
Bohlin, as a mother and Christian apologist, speaks to the disputable matter (among Christians, anyway) of whether or not it is good to expose one's children to the wildly popular Harry Potter novels. Many believe this will lead inexorably into dabbling in the occult, while others see no harm. Bohlin gives a qualified "okay" for those willing to actively guide their children with discernment.
Harry Potter's Magic
Jacobs, English professor at the evangelical Wheaton College, responds Socratically to Christian concerns regarding the prominence of magic and occultic powers in the Harry Potter novels. His retort: how concerned are you with the prominence of technology in our world and what its power over us portends? "The technocrats of this world hold in their hands powers almost infinitely greater than those of Albus Dumbledore and Voldemort [good and bad wizards in Potter novels]: how worried are we about them, and their influence over our children?" he asks.
In spite of its insistence upon cold, hard facts to support any belief, our moderin society is still influenced by myths. Here are three myths which serve to exalt secularism and denigrate Christianity: Galileo and the church, the purported oppression of people by missionaries, and the witch trials of the 16th and 17th centuries.