From Abracadabra to Zombies
reader comments: Wicca
22 Feb 2009
Your entry on Wicca is very gracious and non-hostile considering how un-skeptical we Wiccans tend be. Given that all Wiccans are to some extent magicians, I presume a Skeptic could write quite a tome delineating our apparent foolishness, so thank you for your restraint . Thank you also for the whole of your interesting and informative dictionary and website.
When I was initiated back in 1973, my tongue was planted pretty firmly in my cheek. No one could have been more surprised than myself when a middle-aged lady, badly informed on European history and pre-history, did a few things I deemed impossible. I have since, with the techniques this lady taught me, on a few occasions beaten the odds so astronomically that I am compelled to think magic sometimes works. You must think me gullible, but I regard myself as a realist for admitting that what I had considered preposterous, sometimes happens.
I *wish you health and prosperity,
International New Wiccan Church
*Even though you think wishes are powerless, at least accept these words as expressions of my friendliness and neighbourliness.
reply: Even the ordinary seems magical when things go your way.
18 Oct 2005
I have to say that I'm rather annoyed at how eager some Wiccans are to do to Satanists what the right wing Christians do to Wiccans. One of your responders, Caillean Grey, wrote: "Yes, there *are* Satan worshipers in this world, and they do perform terrible things."
Excuse me? As you yourself are well aware (see your own articles on the "Satanic Ritual Abuse" scare, for example), the alleged crimes of Satanists have been greatly exaggerated. And, although there do exist sick individuals who commit violent crimes in the name of Satan, they should not be seen as representative of Satanists or even of "Satan worshippers."
The best-known form of real-life Satanism is LaVeyan Satanism, which does not believe in or "worship" Satan as a literal entity, but sees Satan only as a symbol. And there is now, especially within the past several years, a growing movement of theistic Satanists too. I myself run some of the largest Yahoo groups for theistic Satanists, listed on here:
For some basic information about theistic Satanism, see the following articles of mine:
What is Satanism?
Satan and "Evil" in Christianity (and Satanism)
Feel free to publish this message, in whole or in part, if you wish.
I'm not going to insult you (I hope). I am, however, going to use the word 'nature' a lot, for which I apologise - but I assure you I mean it in as scientific a sense as I'm able to understand.
In fact, I wanted to thank you for treating Wicca - among other topics - with the respect you have. As a sceptic (sorry, I'm British!) it must be all too easy to find yourself frustrated by the idea of people building their lives around what seem like nonsensical ideas. It's a tribute to your objectivity that you've been able to comment on a religion which often incorporates other concepts that you've dealt with ('energy', and so on) without simply rubbishing it.
For what it's worth, as a Wiccan I don't hold with much of the rather New Age-y concepts that many include as 'part' of it - but of course as you've rightly said, Wicca doesn't really consist of a single specific set of beliefs. I consider 'magic', for example (I refuse to use that extra 'k'), to be nothing more than the application of focus and willpower to make changes in one's own life.
However, you've no doubt guessed that there is one small point I'd like to mention about the entry: the statement that Wiccans, like Christians, consider natural disasters 'good'. I don't think we do, in general - I know I don't. I can't speak for Christians, of course, although I think very few Christians, proportionally, would jump around shouting 'hallelujah' at every flood, volcano or earthquake. Those who do are, in my view, generally more interested in making a point about their own self-righteousness than in magnifying their god. Of course, quite HOW they reconcile the notion of an all-powerful and all-loving god with a god who allows such catastrophes, I don't know. I can only assume that they are able to sort this out in their own minds.
But as for Wiccans, well, again in my experience, Wicca doesn't present the notion of 'all-loving gods' as certain other religions do. Our gods are Nature itself - the faces we put on it are merely a way of allowing us to address it and relate to it at a spiritual level. Hence the startling array of different gods bought, begged and borrowed by Wiccans everywhere. We worship these deities only as representations of certain aspects of nature - whether it be to appreciate nature's ability to nurture us, to feed us, to warm us, or to express respect for its power, whether or not we like what that power might occasionally do to us. Nature has its own purposes, and we humans are simply a part of whatever they might be. Nature does not love us, but it does not hate us. It allows us to survive on this planet for the moment and one day it may choose to exterminate us, as it exterminated the dinosaurs before us.
And many Wiccans are scientists themselves, or at least enthusiastic amateurs like myself. I have an amateur's understanding of how things work. So I know, for example, that earthquakes are due to plate pressures and so on, why volcanoes happen (roughly), why people get struck by lightning or have their homes destroyed by tornadoes. And I don't praise the gods for visiting these things on us, or for causing suffering. They're just natural processes, and all we can do is ride them out and hope for the best. I don't, never did, and would never, attempt to 'cast spells' or any such nonsense to 'make' the gods do things differently. Shouting at a hurricane will not make it change its course, however much magic jewelry you wear or ancient deities you invoke.
But at the same time, nature bestows a lot of benefits on us, and I think a lot of Wiccans feel we should show some appreciation for these good things, even if it's only by saying a prayer or performing a ritual to mark something special. Many of us - most of us, I think - are no nearer 'the land' than anyone else living in the 21st century. We have no greater understanding of natural rhythms, or the harvest, or ancient cultures and beliefs than our neighbours do. All we try to do is acknowledge the presence of these things, and try - in our necessarily limited way - to attune ourselves to them; to get a 'feel' for them - even if we know that, eventually, we'll still have to take the bus or the train or the car to the office and do the photocopying.
I hope you don't mind me sending you this, and I hope it didn't sound too preachy. I assure you the main intent was to show my appreciation for the fact that you offered a pretty balanced description of Wicca.
Thank you for your time.
Stuart Derbyshire, United Kingdom.
reply: All I have to say is that nature doesn't care about any of us and we waste our time either thanking or cursing nature.
29 Dec 2000
You briefly make mention of the Inquisition's role in persecuting witches in your article on Wicca. This is a myth carried over from 19th century scholarship. I mention the mistake only because it perpetuates an inaccurate picture of the Catholic Church during medieval times. True, "witches", or people accused of witchcraft, were condemned at times by Christians, but mostly post-Reformation and by non-Catholics. The greatest numbers of executions occurred in Germany, Switzerland, and eastern France. The usual official Catholic position was that there are no such thing as witches and would be more quick to condemn the accusers than the "witches." For more information, see Those Terrible Middle Ages : Debunking the Myths by Regine Pernoud or here is a web-page.
(According to Pernoud, the number of people executed by the Inquisition ever, for any reason, is much less than the number of "witches" put to death by post-Renaissance secular courts.)
reply: Interesting. Sounds like Pernoud is doing some revisionist history. What next? A denial of the Inquisition?
The two of you might want to reflect on the following, taken from the Catholic Encyclopedia entry on "witchcraft."
In the Holy Scripture references to witchcraft are frequent, and the strong condemnations of such practices which we read there do not seem to be based so much upon the supposition of fraud as upon the "abomination" of the magic in itself. (See Deuteronomy 18:11-12; Exodus 22:18, "wizards thou shalt not suffer to live" — A.V. "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live".) The whole narrative of Saul's visit to the witch of Endor (I Kings 28) implies the reality of the witch's evocation of the shade of Samuel; and from Leviticus 20:27: "A man or woman in whom there is a pythonical or divining spirit, dying let them die: they shall stone them: Their blood be upon them", we should naturally infer that the divining spirit was not a mere imposture. The prohibitions of sorcery in the New Testament leave the same impression (Galatians 5:20, compared with Apocalypse 21:8; 22:15; and Acts 8:9; 13:6). Supposing that the belief in witchcraft were an idle superstition, it would be strange that the suggestion should nowhere be made that the evil of these practices only lay in the pretending to the possession of powers which did not really exist....
...after the middle of the thirteenth century, the then recently-constituted Papal Inquisition began to concern itself with charges of witchcraft. Alexander IV, indeed, ruled (1258) that the inquisitors should limit their intervention to those cases in which there was some clear presumption of heretical belief (manifeste haeresim saparent), but Hansen shows reason for supposing that heretical tendencies were very readily inferred from almost any sort of magical practices. Neither is this altogether surprising when we remember how freely the Cathari parodied Catholic ritual in their "consolamentum" and other rites, and how easily the Manichaean dualism of their system might be interpreted as a homage to the powers of darkness. It was at any rate at Toulouse, the hot-bed of Catharan infection, that we meet in 1275 the earliest example of a witch burned to death after judicial sentence of an inquisitor, who was in this case a certain Hugues de Baniol (Cauzons, "La Magic", II, 217). The woman, probably half crazy, "confessed" to having brought forth a monster after intercourse with an evil spirit and to having nourished it with babies' flesh which she procured in her nocturnal expeditions. The possibility of such carnal intercourse between human beings and demons was unfortunately accepted by some of the great schoolmen, even, for example, by St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure....
...there can be no doubt that during the fourteenth century certain papal constitutions of John XXII and Benedict XII (see Hansen, "Quellen und Untersuchungen", pp. 2-15) did very much to stimulate the prosecution by the inquisitors of witches and others engaged in magical practices, especially in the south of France. In a witch trial on a large scale carried on at Toulouse in 1334, out of sixty-three persons accused of offences of this kind, eight were handed over to the secular arm to be burned and the rest were imprisoned either for life or for a long term of years. Two of the condemned, both elderly women, after repeated application of torture, confessed that they had assisted at witches' sabbaths, had there worshipped the Devil, had been guilty of indecencies with him and with the other persons present, and had eaten the flesh of infants whom they had carried off by night from their nurses (Hansen, "Zauberwahn", 315; and "Quellen und Untersuchungen", 451). In 1324 Petronilla de Midia was burnt at Kilkenny in Ireland at the instance of Richard, Bishop of Ossory; but analogous cases in the British Isles seem to have been very rare. During this period the secular courts proceeded against witchcraft with equal or even greater severity than the ecclesiastical tribunals, and here also torture was employed and burning at the stake. Fire was the punishment juridically appointed for this offence in the secular codes known as the "Sachsenspiegel" (1225) and the "Schwabenspiegel" (1275). Indeed during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries no prosecutions for witchcraft are known to have been undertaken in Germany by the papal inquisitors. About the year 1400 we find wholesale witch-prosecutions being carried out at Berne in Switzerland by Peter de Gruyères, who, despite the assertions of Riezler, was unquestionably a secular judge (see Hansen, "Quellen, etc.", 91 n.), and other campaigns — for example in the Valais (1428-1434) when 200 witches were put to death, or at Briancon in 1437 when over 150 suffered, some of them by drowning — were carried on by the secular courts. The victims of the inquisitors, e.g. at Heidelberg in 1447; or in Savoy in 1462, do not seem to have been quite so numerous. In France at this period the crime of witchcraft was frequently designated as "Vauderie" through some confusion seemingly with the followers of the heretic, Peter Waldes. But this confusion between sorcery and a particular form of heresy was unfortunately bound to bring a still larger number of persons under the jealous scrutiny of the inquisitors.
It will be readily understood from the foregoing that the importance attached by many older writers to the Bull, "Summis desiderantes affectibus", of Pope Innocent VIII (1484), as though this papal document were responsible for the witch mania of the two succeeding centuries, is altogether illusory. Not only had an active campaign against most forms of sorcery already been going on for a long period, but in the matter of procedure, of punishments, of judges, etc., Innocent's Bull enacted nothing new. Its direct purport was simply to ratify the powers already conferred upon Henry Institoris and James Sprenger, inquisitors, to deal with persons of every class and with every form of crime (for example, with witchcraft as well as heresy), and it called upon the Bishop of Strasburg to lend the inquisitors all possible support.
It is little comfort to know that one part of the Protestant Reformation by such men as Luther and Calvin included an even more vehement and violent attack on witchcraft and consorting with Satan. But to claim that it is a myth that the Catholic Inquisition persecuted witches is a bit much.
Of course, revisionist history is no stranger to Wicca. For those
interested in an article critical of Wiccan revisionism see "The
Scholars and the Goddess" by Charlotte Allen, Atlantic
Monthly (Jan 2001).
[thanks to Mary Fairchild]
October 30, 2002
The fact is that until the last few decades there had been only a smattering of scholarly research on the subject, and the recent surge in research has shown that much previous accepted knowledge on the subject is little more than myth.....The Catholic Encyclopedia paraphrases Jacob Hansen....Unfortunately, Hansen's primary source is "Histoire de l'Inquisition en France" (1829) by Etienne Leon de Lamothe-Langon. This work - which formed the foundation of much nineteenth century "scholarship" on witchcraft - has long been demonstrated to be a complete fabrication! (In fact no record can be found of any witch trials in Toulouse in 1275, and the sex-with-demons stuff is also anachronistic.) Thus we must suspect that "the Catholic Encyclopedia" article is rather out of date.
Anyway, to address the three particular points raised:
a) Chronology: Despite the common myth that witch trials were a feature of the Mediaeval period, in fact modern research has found that very few occurred in that period; the overwhelming majority of witch trials and executions were post-Renaissance . This surprises many people who think of the Mediaeval period as regressive and the Renaissance as enlightened, but the explanation is forthcoming when one looks at geography and chronology in more detail. For in fact the highest peaks of witch persecutions are at times of social chaos when local authority has broken down, such as during the German reformation, Thirty Years War and so on. For example, the only significant outbreak of witch mania in England was during the Civil War.
b) Geography: Once again, popular myth would associate most witch trials with Spain or perhaps France. In fact, by far the greatest concentrations occur in the German states , with high levels also in Switzerland and Scandinavia. Spain, Portugal and France all had relatively low levels. While it appears that one was more likely to be accused of witchcraft in a Protestant area than a Catholic one, this very likely has more to do with the chaos of change than Protestantism.
c) The Inquisition: No Hollywood witch trial would be complete without an Auto da Fe and a burning at the stake. Once again popular myth is way off mark. The Inquisition was a very real horror, but its mandate was rooting out heretics (especially Jews and Muslims), and this specifically excluded witchcraft: "The Inquisitors, deputized to investigate heresy, must not intrude into investigations of divination or sorcery without knowledge of manifest heresy involved." In fact the overwhelming majority of witch trials were conducted by secular courts, and of those conducted by the church only a tiny percentage were by the Inquisition. 
PS. For what it's worth, I am an agnostic from a Protestant background.
1. Cohn, "Three Forgeries: Myths and Hoaxes of European Demon-ology," Encounter 44, 1975.
2. Levack, Brian, The Witch Hunt in Early Modern Europe, Longman Group, New York, NY, 1992.
3. H.C. Erik Midelfort, "Heartland of the Witchcraze: Central and Northern Europe," History Today #31, p.30
4. Kors, Alan C. and Peters, Edward, Witchcraft in Europe 1100-1700: A Documentary History, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, PA, 1981, p. 79
5. Kieckhefer, Richard, European Witch Trials: Their Foundations in Popular and Learned Culture, 1300-1500, University of California Press, Berkeley, CA, 1976, pp. 105-147.
26 Jun 2000
I have been a Pagan for most of my life. There have been times when I would have considered myself a Wiccan as well. It works for me. And I guess that is what most religions are about. A matter of faith, a hope, a feeling that connects us to others so we do not feel alone.
I have ventured through many different religions in the hope of finding a purpose other than to trod upon this wondrous planet of ours and deplete its natural resources. I believe that it all boils down to what each individual is most comfortable with, and finding spiritual practices that feel in-line with one's personal spiritual goals.
Religion is a very personal matter. Unlike other religions, Wiccans and Pagans do not seek to convert others to their belief system. We do not say ours is the only way. Just as there are many routes to travel from San Francisco to New York, so too are there many paths to our "Glorious End". It is a matter of free will.
Your statement regarding Wiccan as not being a religion leaves me little nonplussed, for what is a "religion"? According to the New Heritage Dictionary of the English Language - ...3. The spiritual or emotional attitude of one who recognizes the existence of a superhuman power or powers. 4. Any objective attended to or pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion. 5. Sacred rites or practices. coming from the Latin word religio - a bond between man and the gods...
To my way of thinking, Wicca would then be a religion. Like Christianity that has many different facets (Baptist, Catholicism, Lutheran, and on and on) so too are there different facets of the Wiccan belief system.
Regarding your statement that Wiccans do not cast spells - well, some do and some don't. Just as not all Christians attend Sunday services and not all Jewish people attend Temple, not all Wiccans cast spells.
In my most recent past I have worked many spells, and all have worked, unfortunately so. I say unfortunately because the end was not always what I had expected. The goal was reached, but twisted a bit mainly because of my selfish nature coming through. And there in lies the rub. Any task or goal set upon with purely selfish intent is bound to "fail" or turn out differently than how one intended.
The axiom "And ye harm none, do what ye will" provides great freedom but also comes with a very high price tag and responsibility. One must clearly think through what it is they want, and make sure that no other being will suffer in the process.
It is true we build no temples or churches, for how could we possibly improve upon the wondrous surroundings that are here already - parks, gardens, forests - for these truly show the wonder and magnificence that is found in Nature, of which we are all a part.
The candles and incense we burn are used as visualization tools - as is seen in many other more widely accepted religions. Herbs and Charms and the preference for herbs over more traditional medicinal treatments are quite widespread among many different cultures all over the world. To wit - St. Michael's medals, crucifixes, rosaries, prayer beads and prayer wheels. Herbs (like St. John's Wart, Echinacea, Gingko Biloba) are being sought as alternatives to traditional medicine by those other than Wiccans. Herbs have been used as medicine for centuries, and not just by Wiccans.
It is true we don't pray for harm to our enemies. Another "golden rule" of Wicca is that what we do comes back to us threefold. Why set out to purposefully attract negativity in our lives? Surely it would be better to commit random acts of kindness and love.
In Nature one finds a very common denominator - abundance. There is
more than one Oak tree, and it has more than one branch, leaf or acorn.
There are many antelopes in a herd, many leaves of grass in a plain. So
too is there abundance for us humans. It is the way of Nature of which we
are all a part.
All That Is and Ever Will Be Bless your day with warmth and light
reply: Thanks. I hope you have a long and peaceful life.
1 Jan 2000
I have just recently visited your sceptical dictionary page. I applaud your writing skills; I applaud your sceptisim; I applaud your willingness to educate the public on little known facts; I applaud your ability to tell the truth with what seems to be a (mostly) unbiased slant, but (and I'm sure you heard that but a mile away) you are partially uninformed on the subject of Wicca. I am Wiccan, and I can tell you with first hand knowledge, Wiccan's cast spells.
reply: Well, of course, we all cast spells. But can you cast a spell that works? I doubt it, unless you can find some sucker who can be manipulated by the power of suggestion.
I plan on casting a spell tomorrow. The way that magick works is
none of my concern, if it works is none of my concern, but many Wiccans
will tell you that as a spell is cast the elements (earth, water, fire and
air), which are only aspects of the God and Goddess, will cause the
desired effect. Wiccan's are only pantheistic to the point that we call on
the names of different Gods and Goddesses. In Wiccan phylosophy all the
names of Goddesses belong to the one Goddess, and all the names of the
Gods belong to the one God. Wicca is not anymore friendly to women then to
men. Equality is a huge rule, strictly taught, as is the Wiccan Reed
("'An it harm none, do as ye will") and the Rule of Three
("Ever mind the Rule of Three, Three times what ye gives returns to
ye")(my assumption has always been that the "ye" in
replacement of "you" was for rythmic/asthetic effect). Wicca in
the 80's was shockingly feminist, but we are a changing people and have a
tendency to correct our hypocrisies, the original feminist wicca, Dianic
Wicca has taken a noticeably large drop in membership, and the number of
men professing to be Wiccan has doubled. To say that Christianity is not
woman friendly is not accurate either. Catholicism, which previously has
been very sexist has taken a radical turn, women may now (again) be Deaconesses,
and many say that Vadican3 [sic] may come hard on the heals of the
next Pope, and will allow women to be priests. One can only guess. I was
surprised that you quite so bitterly accused us as not caring about death,
or mass death. Perhaps if you understood our slant: Death is a natural
process in the cycle of life. As the mother kills the child, so the mother
kills the trees. In nature animals and plants are killed daily,
everywhere, but they will live again. The true tragedy is that we have
halted the process of natural death. No more do wildfires kill trees, but
in order to preserve the natural cycle we must clear cut. If you could
include this information on your web page I would be much obliged, as a
Wiccan I feel it is my duty to educate the world in our truths so that we
aren't cast in a bad light. And as a Wiccan saying goes: Merry Meet, and
Merry Part, and Merry Meet again.
reply: There are few who respond to the Skeptic's Dictionary entry who are more annoying than Wiccans or witches. They have no formal dogma or ritual, and they each proclaim like infallible popes on whatever subject pleases them. According to them, nobody ever accurately characterizes their beliefs or practices. How could they?
Here's a typical example:
Mr. Carroll, I am a Wiccan of 5 years, although I do realize that this is a skeptical page, I do wish that you would get your information correct. You information on witchcraft is all wrong! You are sending the wrong message to those who already have the wrong picture of my people. I do wish that you would post the correct info, when you skeptics do these sites. We need not your help in swaying the people to the wrong side of our troubles. Too many people already do not care to know the truth about us, and too many are trying to stop our practices. I do hope that you will correct your information or at least attempt to. May I ask where you got your information from?
06 Jun 1999
In the Skepdic's Dictionary you said that wiccans don't have a form of law. Yes, we do. To find some information on our law search the Internet. It will be under Wiccan Rede, 13 goals of a witch, Charge of the God, Charge of the goddess, The witches Rune,and The witches' creed.
Secondly, we do cast spells and make potions.
reply: Wiccans don't have a written creed that the orthodox must adhere to.
10 Sep 1998
I am a practicing Wiccan. While I was glad that your "skeptic's" article on Wicca did not classify it as a satanic religion, or blather about the inherent evil of witchcraft, I was disappointed that you portrayed Wicca as more or less a piece of fluff --"barefoot circle dancing," and whatnot -- and said that Wiccans worship only the "cute and fuzzy" side of nature with a "hug a tree" mentality, and are completely blind to the fact that nature can be a blindly destructive force. Wicca has a lot of depth to it. If you did your research thoroughly, you know that we worship, among other things, the Triple Goddess -- Maiden, Mother, Crone -- and the Dual God, the Horned God and the Hooded God. The Crone and the Hooded God are both deities embodying death and destruction, as well as rebirth. We do not deny that nature can be dangerous and destructive. However, we see this -- as you said -- as part of a natural cycle. If we learn to live in harmony with the earth, even the hard seasons can be survived. There are, I would remind you, Goddesses of volcanoes, Goddesses of thunderstorms, and Goddesses of earthquakes. It is a simple fallacy to assume that Wiccans are so blind as to deny the destructive side of the natural cycle. Of course, I would point out, this is a question that can be raised of any deity, not just the Wiccan one. We might just as easily ask how Christians or Jews can worship their god despite floods, tsunamis, tornadoes, and so on.
Wicca really isn't a religion designed for women's revenge, either. We stress EQUALITY of the sexes, not SUPERIORITY of women over men, or vice versa. And as for saying that Wiccan magick has never turned aside a hurricane or an earthquake -- well, there are some forces that are too great for us to handle. However, if you research "Weather Witches" I'm sure you will find some very interesting cases, that will give you pause in your skepticism, if nothing else.
One more thing. You say "They do not worship the mother of
Dionysus, seared to the soul with a lightning bolt."(Okay, so that's a loose
paraphrasing.) But in the cult of Dionysus, worship of Semele -- who was later led up from
the underworld by Dionysus, and made Queen of the Maeneads -- is quite common. She is seen
as an aspect of the Goddess; her death is the Descent of the Goddess, a common theme in
Wiccan thealogy. (Not a typo. Thea = goddess; thealogy = study of the goddess.) The
Descent of the Goddess -- a cycle of death, suffering, sacrifice, and ultimate rebirth --
also ought to give pause to your insistence that Wicca is an ultimately shallow religion
of blind, self-satisfying worship of only those aspects of nature that we choose to see. I
appreciate you doing your utmost to portray Wicca honestly. A skeptical view is always
welcome in any forum, though it may ultimately prevent faith, which, while not perfectly
"logical," can transform the world in many ways. You are a professor of
philosophy -- I am sure you are familiar with this quote. "There are more things in
heaven and earth, Mr. Carroll, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
reply: I've revised the "Wicca" entry regarding destructive natural forces. (p.s. Even professors of philosophy read Shakespeare. The quote is from Hamlet: "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.")
2 Jun 1998
The Skeptic's Dictionary is a simply magnificent work! I've been reading it voraciously, though surreptitiously (I'm at work). I hope you don't mind that I downloaded a few chunks of it to give to friends who send both "white light healing energy" and substantial sums of money to the operators of "positive, holistic chain letters."
I've come to skepticism in my late twenties, after a protracted and embarrassing adolescence in which I was enamored of any occult or magical theory to come down the pike. I just thought I'd offer you the benefit of my skeptical perspective on the Wiccan faith, as there's a *lot* more hooey out there than you expose in the current version of the article.
There's a "sacred history" in Wicca, which has about the same relation to empirical history that Genesis has; many Wiccan writers assert that
1) nature worship of the Horned God and Mother Goddess was universal throughout Paleolithic and Neolithic Europe; some Wiccan writers also insist on the universal peace-loving matriarchy pseudohistory.
2) this worship persisted into the Christian era as *deliberate and self-conscious religious activity*
3) the practitioners of this religion were considered "wise ones", and that this is the basis of the modern term "witch;" they are also asserted to be midwives, healers, and herbalists.
4) the witchcraft persecutions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were directed at the destruction of the old Pagan tradition; the term "Old Religion" used in post-Reformation English writings relates to Witchcraft or nature religion; nine million Witches (that is, Goddess-worshippers) were supposedly killed between 1485 and 1600.
5) modern Wiccan practice (as described by Gerald Gardner in the early 1950s) is a direct descendant of these preChristian practices. The five statements above are, in my opinion as a folklorist and a vaguely lapsed Wiccan, absolute and unmitigated hooey. Would you be interested in hooey sources and sound-fact sources, or both?
In my experience, the standard Wiccan doctrine -- the "sacred history" story -- is about as historically sound as Afrocentrism or other pseudohistories. One of the other writers mentioned Margaret Murray's Witch-Cult in Western Europe; around the time of its publication in 1921, it was a seminal source in interpretation of the witchcraft persecutions. Modern Wiccan myth-history owes a great debt to Murray's interpretation; I know of no sources prior to 1921 that equate witchcraft with nature-centered folk religion. The problem with this, which another reader commented on, is that Murray has been almost *completely* discredited within anthropological circles.
Wicca is based in a large part on etymological, anthropological, and folkloric research done between 1900 and 1940. The theories and approaches of those disciplines have evolved considerably since then; the Wiccan sacred history has not.
Thanks again for the wonderful contribution to the discourse on the Web.
Please don't post my name on the web page; I spend enough of my life arguing with Wiccans as it is.
27 Nov 97
An excellent Wicca page.. If only pages such as yours OPENED minds rather than incited the zealots, it would be a fairer world indeed.
20 Aug 1996
I've enjoyed browsing through your Dictionary. I especially appreciate your article on Wicca. Several of my friends are Wiccans and you've exactly described their religion. (Well, exactly as possible for what I call a disorganized religion.) Thanks for dispelling a few nasty myths. Hopefully the end result will be a few more people who don't automatically lump Wiccans in with Devil Worshippers.
19 Sep 1996
I stopped by to check out your excellent info on Landmark Forum -- a friend has been trying to get me involved, and I decided to learn more about it (now that I know Erhard is behind it, I'm staying away!) but as a Wiccan I thought I'd look over your piece on Wicca. You are dead-on with one exception -- I am at least one "barefoot Wiccan" who stands in awe before the lashing wind of the tornado, the baking drought Sun. Most sincere and knowledgeable Wiccans are well aware of the balance between creation and destruction. The Triple Goddess symbol, acknowledged by most of my co-religionists, is a representation of that very dichotomy. The Maiden is all that is new. The Mother is the Creator of Life. The Crone is endings, Death and Destruction. We see this in a cycle, a great circle. It is not "birth, life, death, full stop." but rather, "birth, life, death, rebirth, etc."
The awesome, powerful and destructive elements of the Earth, from volcanoes to tornadoes to wildfires to floods, are the natural processes of the planet, and we seek to find our place is that process. It is not all chanting and butterflies. There is also a dark half in the Yin-Yang symbol -- that balance is necessary. To ignore the shadow of a thing is to ignore half the thing itself. Isn't that why you do this page? To explore the shadow?
For whatever reason, I am glad you do it. Thanks for creating such a wonderful
reply: Some say I always find the cloud in the silver lining. But I sometimes think that the cloud's more interesting, if not more real.
25 Oct 1996
I found your dictionary via a link of criticism of the Celestine Prophecy - well done indeed - and I wanted to thank you for your balanced portrayal of Wicca. As a Wiccan myself, I must say that it is refreshing not to be called a "satanist" or to be accused of sacrificing small animals to dark forces (of course, as a vegetarian and animal rights supporter, I guess I'd have to sacrifice a *rubber* chicken, which would actually be pretty funny).
One bit of information you've gotten slightly wrong is that Wiccans are not all about light, sunshine, and joy. Our "religion" (although I hesitate to call it so) is about balance and cycles. Thus we honor the archetypes of the triple Goddess of Maiden (beginnings), Mother (fruition), and Crone (death and rebirth), and the God as divine sun child, lover/hunter/protector, and then king who dies that life may continue. The idea that life feeds on life is fundamental to many of our celebrations, and at each holiday there is the acknowledgment of the "opposite" holiday (for instance, at Beltane, the holiday at which we honor the fertility of the earth and her creatures, we remember Samhain, the holiday at which we remember and honor those who have passed over). The wheel of the year is about the cycle of light and darkness, of birth, life, death, and rebirth, of extroversion and action as well as introversion and contemplation.
My point is that we're not all a bunch of airy-fairy, white light optimists - we acknowledge and revere the dark side of life, nature, and the universe equally.
Blessings to you,
Elizabeth Weaver Engel
17 Dec 1996
I read your entry on "wicca" and can say that you have accurately portrayed our "religion" as it is. This, to say the least, is a great comfort, for many people not directly connected with the beliefs of wicca (whatever religion they themselves follow) many times take with them the ideas that society has presented to them since they were children. I mean, who wouldn't hear the word witch and see an old green-skinned lady with a black pointy hat and a broom. ( oh goddess, did i forget the black cat??)
However ( ah yes, there always is a however...) I *am* a person that worships all forces of nature, whether they be destructive or no. Every part of nature works together, and although they may not bring desirable consequences to humanity, they do shape the earth and keep it alive and well. That is, if one sees the earth as a living organism...it *is* a big rock..
If you could add one thing though about the "satan worshipping". It seems a surprise to many people that after we deny worshipping satan that we tell them wiccan's don't even *believe* in satan. But this is true. Satan, in my opinion ( needless to say there are countless others) is a creation of Christianity. God, being the all powerful, all *good* entity, needed a counterpart. So there is the Devil, all powerful, all *bad*. You can't have one without the other it seems.
When Wiccans worship, we don't usually have a very specific god or goddess we speak or pray to. There are, in many traditions, "deities for every occasion". These include all things that are "good and bad" ( put in quotations because that black and white saying is rather open for speculation itself. What *is* good and what *is* bad?)
Yes, there *are* Satan worshipers in this world, and they do perform terrible things. These many times are also people just looking for an excuse to commit crimes and say "oh hey, lets start a satanic cult so we can kill cats and stuff." The majority of "satanists" around today are adolescent boys. That ought to say something in itself.
I look forward to the day when the word "witch" doesn't bring up the picture of that old green woman again.
reply: As I was reading your note, I couldn't help but see the parallel between satanists and modern politicians. Of course, I just saw Tim Burton's Mars Attacks! and will have jaded perception for a week or so before I pretend again to see our political leaders as important players in the quest for world peace and good will toward humanity. Say, when are wiccans going to get their own TV show?!!
5 Oct 1997
I'm rather surprised that instead of adopting a skeptical attitude toward Wicca you chose to present it in such a positive light that the Wiccans have fallen all over themselves to congratulate you. You article seems to me more an attack on Christianity than a critical look at Wicca.
reply: I think the Wiccans were happy to be raked over the coals by a non-Christian for a change. They probably aren't as hateful in their letters as some from other religions (whose denominations shall remain secret) because I don't accuse them of devil worship or or of eating or sacrificing children.
You make no mention, for instance, of Dr. Margaret Murray's 1921 book The Witch Cult in Western Europe, which first promulgated the idea the witchcraft was an "organized" religion (loosely organized to be sure) that survived the persecution of a Christian patriarchy during the Middle Ages. This book has had many detractors among Medieval scholars.
If Margaret Alice Murray's The witch-cult in Western Europe : a study in anthropology (Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1921) has had many detractors among medieval scholars, why would you want me to mention it?
You make no mention of the controversy over the etymology of the word "witch."
reply: If this is so important, why didn't you share this knowledge with us?
You make no mention of the founder of Wiccan, Gerald Gardner, a man who can best be described as a plagiarist and a liar.
reply: Here I admit to failure. Perhaps I have been intimidated by the very vocal devoted fans of Aleister Crowley who have been relentless in their criticism since I accused him of much worse things than being a plagiarist and a liar.
You make no mention of pre-Christian views of witches in the works of Roman authors like Pausanius. Indeed you seem not to have done any homework at all on this subject.
Very soft skepticism indeed!
reply: Actually, Bob, Pausanius was the first thing I thought about when considering doing an entry on "wicca" but I guess I just got sidetracked on too many side issues. Maybe you can fill in the gaps and write the history of witches from Pausanius to Gardner from the perspective of a hard skeptic.
10 Jan 1998
I read with interest your article on Wicca/Witchcraft. As a practicing Witch for over 13 years, a legally-ordained minister, and the Nat'l VP of WADL (see below), I must admit that I was very impressed by your description.
The one thing I take exception to is your putting down of "magick". I hear the same remarks from "BURN Again Christians"! You are missing the point -- Wicca is a RELIGION, NOT a "Cosmic Santa Claus" that will grant our every desire by waving a magic wand! (I think you've watched too many movies!). It, like any other faith, is a way of THANKING the Creator for what It has given us in our lives.
You might just as well say that the "goal/purpose" of Christianity is to "get things thru prayer", and, unfortunately, that IS all it is to some/most people. I call this the "Aladdin's Lamp Syndrome".
(Novices come to me, asking how to attract "Mr. Right", and all that, and I tell 'em the SAME THING!).
Being a skeptic, you probably don't believe in a Creator, which is your right. But...WE DO!!!!
reply: Thanks for setting the record straight. By the way, many skeptics believe in a Creator.
10 Jan 1998
I just read your essay on "Witches". sigh. I really wish people would lose the "consort with satan" crap! WITCHES NEVER WORSHIPPED SATAN! NEVER! That was BS that was created by the Christian church to stamp out a rival faith (Witchcraft). Witches perceive the Male Aspect of Deity as having horns, and the early Christians said that "satan has horns" (although nowhere in the Bible does it say this); ergo, "witches worship satan". BS!
Why do you insist on explaining Witchcraft from a Christian standpoint, esp. since you
call yourself a "skeptic", and presumably don't believe in God in the FIRST
place! Tell what Witchcraft WAS and IS -- not something clouded by another faith!
reply: I think I make it pretty clear that much of what is believed about witches is Christian mythology. When you Wiccans are the victors, then you can rewrite history to your liking. But why pretend that most of what is believed in the western world about witches did not originate with Judaism and Christianity?