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Casting a Spell

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The Appeal of Wicca

October 28, 2005

On Halloween night, and in Salem, Massachusetts, revelers gather at Gallows Hill, the site of the infamous witch hangings of 1692. Today—three centuries later—modern witches arrange an altar, form a circle, and begin to chant.

"Hear us, O great Goddess! Thou Great Mother whom we adore, grant us our passions," one woman shouts. Four hundred witches then join in. They link arms and dance to the beat of drums, as wide-eyed sightseers watch.

Welcome to witchcraft, twenty-first century style.

It's not just on Halloween that witches come out. Wicca has become hugely popular in recent years, attracting hundreds of thousands of young people. Our culture drives this interest through TV shows like Charmed, about three witch sisters, and through films like The Craft and Bewitched. Many teen novels now feature witchcraft themes. Even pre-teens can get into the act through summer witch camps. The Internet makes it easy to seek out more information—or contact other witches across the country. And Wicca has been mainstreamed, with the military appointing Wiccan chaplains.

In her new book, titled Wicca's Charm, Christian journalist Catherine Edwards Sanders writes that Wiccans and other neo-Pagans draw on a range of symbols and rituals to create a personal spirituality. Most hold the pantheistic belief that all living things are of equal value. They believe that humans possess divine power unlimited by any deity, and that consciousness can be altered through the practice of rite and ritual. They believe that through the casting of spells, they can tap into the power and energy of the spirit world.

And shockingly, reports Sanders, many Wiccans grew up in Christian homes. Good grief! What was it about Christianity that led these folks to reject it in favor of such bizarre beliefs?

Spending a year talking with Wiccans all over America , Sanders discovered that many feel that Christianity, as practiced in the twenty-first century, failed them. For example, many Wiccans care deeply about the environment and believe that the Church has largely ignored the command to care for God's creation.

Second, women who embrace Wicca say that in churches, all too often, their gifts were confined to teaching Sunday school and making coffee. So they came to believe that Christianity was a patriarchal religion that demeaned the status of women.

Third, the followers of Wicca say that they are looking for a spirituality that is real. In their religious practice, they want to feel that a supernatural transition is going on. According to the book Wicca's Charm, spiritual seekers "not only want to know things intellectually; they also want to supernaturally sense spiritual truth." When churches ignore the reality of an unseen world or focus only on this world, the author warns, they lose people to alternative religions that do offer supernatural experiences. For many, "Wicca's emphasis on magic and altered consciousness fits the bill."


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