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"The Preachers chiefly shall take heed that they teach nothing in their preaching, which they would have the people religiously to observe and believe, but that which is agreeable to the Doctrine of the Old Testament and the New, and that which the Catholick Fathers and Ancient Bishops have gathered out of that Doctrine." A proposed canon of Elizabeth I, 1571

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Location: Bedford, Texas, United States

I am a presbyter in the diocese of Fort Worth, Texas (Anglican Church in North America). I serve as Chaplain at St. Vincent's School and as a canon of St. Vincent's Cathedral Church in Bedford, Texas. In addition to my parish duties and teaching Religion classes in the school I am also the Middle School Social Studies teacher.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Wicca and Paganism Growing

Zenit has an interesting report on the growing influence of Wicca in Europe and America. If Ms. Sanders' conclusions are correct, the Church is largely to blame for this growth. We are failing to take the Good News to teens and young adults effectively, especially when it comes to young women. Anglo-Catholics will note with particular interest her conclusion that "Modern church culture ... has reduced the importance of religious rituals and solemn celebrations, leading people to look for alternatives that offer more tangible supernatural experiences." The report makes for sobering reading. It notes, for example:

The practice of witchcraft is attracting ever-growing numbers, particularly among young women. A recent attempt to understand its appeal is the book "Wicca's Charm," published in September by Shaw Books. Authored by journalist Catherine Edwards Sanders, the book stemmed from a magazine article she was commissioned to do. Initially dismissive of Wicca, during her subsequent research Sanders came to appreciate that a genuine spiritual hunger was leading people into neo-pagan practices.

Sanders, a self-professed Christian, defines Wicca as a "polytheistic neo-pagan nature religion inspired by various pre-Christian Western European beliefs, which has as its central deity the Mother Goddess and which includes the use of herbal magic." The book, which is limited to examining the situation in the United States, admits it is difficult to estimate the number of Wicca adherents. Sanders cites an estimate from one group, the Covenant of the Goddess, which claims around 800,000 Wiccans and pagans in America. A sociologist, Helen Berger, in 1999 put the estimate at 150,000 to 200,000 pagans.

Wicca is made up of many diverse elements, yet Sanders identifies some common beliefs among its followers. They are: All living things are of equal value and humans have no special place, and are not made in God's image; Wiccans believe that they possess divine power within themselves and that they are gods or goddesses; their own personal power is unlimited by any deity; and consciousness can and should be altered through the practice of rite and ritual. What is important to Wiccans, Sanders explains, is the experience of a spiritual reality, and not truth or a body of knowledge. There is no orthodoxy, defined text, or core beliefs. And, while it has ancient roots, Sanders notes it is attractive to modernity since it can be freely molded to fit the spiritual consumer's desires.

Spell-making is another key element of Wicca. But Sanders notes that of all the Wiccans she spoke to, none entered it in order to use spells to harm people. Most choose Wicca because they are dissatisfied with churches and organized religion and are looking for a spiritual experience they are unable to find elsewhere.

Earthy

Another common trait in Wicca is environmentalism. Modern life has lost its connection to the land, Sanders argues, and Wicca, with its emphasis on nature, seasonal calendars, and the celebrations linked to the changing of the seasons, is both a way to recover this connection and also to spiritualize the relationship with the earth. Many Wiccans also reject the materialistic (but not spiritual) consumer culture. Pagan and Wiccan groups, in fact, have been present at some of the anti-globalization protests in recent years. Sanders describes some the ceremonies she witnessed in 2002 during the World Economic Forum meeting in New York. They drew attention to such matters as environmental damage, animal welfare and preserving the purity of the water supply.

The ecological aspect of Wicca draws inspiration in part from the so-called Gaia spirituality. Gaia was the earth goddess of the ancient Greeks and in neo-pagan circles she is now transformed into the idea of the earth being one living organism, also called Gaia.

Feminism is another important element attracting people to Wicca. Sanders observes that Wiccan women feel as if Christian churches treat them like second-class citizens, limited to teaching Sunday school. Sanders estimates that around two-thirds of neo-pagans in the United States are female. Many of them practice a form of goddess worship, commonly in the form of a mother goddess who is a metaphor for the earth. The Wiccan rituals also emphasize the concept of empowerment, and the female biological functions are accorded a respected role. Added to this is the belief that what today's goddess worshippers are doing is reclaiming the heritage of a primitive world in which a peaceful matriarchal society dominated. This "matriarchal myth" is short on any historical evidence, notes Sanders, but is nonetheless an affirmation that is commonly repeated.

In fact, Sanders devotes a section of the book explaining how the Wiccan rituals and spells have no roots prior to 1900, and are the result of inventions and adaptations by a group of men, notably Aleister Crowley and Gerald Gardner. Far from being a revival of some ancient paganism or matriarchal society, Wicca is a modern, male invention.

Spiritual hunger

The desire to experience spirituality in a more direct and intense way is another factor attracting people to Wicca. Some teen-age girls, Sanders notes, are unsatisfied with the superficial teen culture and are looking for something to give a deeper meaning to their lives. But, instead of turning to traditional religion to satisfy this need, an increasing number experiment with Wicca. Sanders argues that in part this is the fault of some churches, which have lost sight of the unseen world and the reality of a relationship with Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, reducing their activities to just a social exercise.

Other churches provide little in the way of serious nourishment for inquiring teen-age minds, particularly females ones. Another factor leading adolescents to Wicca instead of Christianity is a desire for rituals and ceremonies. Modern church culture, observes Sanders, has reduced the importance of religious rituals and solemn celebrations, leading people to look for alternatives that offer more tangible supernatural experiences.

8 Comments:

Blogger Julian said...

It's interesting how at the same time, certain conservative Christians are complaining that Christian ministry, liturgy, etc. have been "emasculated" since Vatican II... There's this (IMHO, rather disturbing) magazine in our library called "The Latin Mass" which regularly features articles on how girly it's all become :-) e.g.
"The Emasculation of the Priesthood" (I obviously don't endorse this...but it's here for your perusal) which is at their online site. Seems like there's a huge gulf between the perceptions of certain types of "conservative" men and certain types of "liberal" women...

2:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One might also note that this sort of religion is harmful in reinforcing the Enlightenment divide between spirituality and reason, insofar as these wicca practice magic and have erroneous notions of the past.

Which is not, of course, to suggest that superstition and historical errors are not to be found among Christians as well; but the resources are present for a significant rapprochement between reason and spirituality, so that the whole person can engage in worship.

Nevertheless, the point about womens' involvement stands. A more traditional, ritualized Christianity would probably reinforce the sense of subordination that sends some young women in search of matriarchal religions. I hope that wouldn't be necessary, but it would require a careful approach.

Ian

5:38 PM  
Blogger Leah said...

This is pretty much a daily reality for us in our context. People show up to bible study fresh from having their Tarot cards read, carry neo-pagan "daytimer" planners, etc. I enjoyed reading about Greek myths as a child but it never occured to me that people might still believe in them. In fact, I think it was stated quite clearly in the book that people had stopped believing in them as a result of Christianity. And now I live in a world where people are as likely to have a personal relationship with Persephone as with Jesus.

3:57 PM  
Blogger James the Thickheaded said...

I'm less bothered by the Wicca because I think time and truth will break through to show this movement for what it is...and it's basis on a couple of hot looking movie stars...and ultimately it's barren prospects. I'm more concerned with the prospects of letting the orthodox faith have a fair and balanced hearing in today's secular culture. Tradition without condecension or sexism is a tough tightrope to walk....and yet the rewards are soooo great if it can be done. Failure is not an option, as in the end civilization depends more on breathing life into these traditions in such a way that a new generation can wear them as their own. I suspect few of us are willing to admit our dependency or be a part of such a program....but would like for someone else to do the spade work. Think that fits me, too. Yep. I'm uncool.

10:12 AM  
Blogger benjamin said...

One must wonder, though: if the Church would truly teach the incarnational faith, would this not be far less of a problem? "We live in a sacramental universe", but we don't teach this (and Protestants eschew the very notion!). Christendom is so divided that it cannot stand as such, and divided over the most essential of issues (ie, baptismal regeneration).

Of course, there is also the whole phenomenon of those who simply do not want to yield themselves to any type of authority - and Wicca lets you be your own authority. It is the spiritualization of American individualism, which is the secularization of Protestant individualism, which is something from the late medieval era that was rejected by Rome.

Anywho, let's teach the true faith: Councils, Sacraments and Scriptures.

Blessings,
Benjamin

4:40 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

I would strongly suggest that as with everything, people find out what Wicca is about before making generalizations about it. I hasten to add that it is definitely not for me, but I do know some Wiccans who would not recognize their religion in what's been written here about it. Not advocating Wicca nor defending it here, just calling for comments based on what it really is. I suspect that few of us really have in-depth knowledge or experience of it.

10:49 PM  
Anonymous CleanPianoKeys said...

Well I am a Wiccan and I am going to tell you, the system never disappeared entirely despite the systematic and very long lasting purges you Christians and Muslims carried out over a very long period of time. Satisfies me to no end your day is setting and ours is re-emerging. I bring people into our fold all the time. I laugh when I see who is entering the Christian churches. The old, the ill, the dying. Our new members are mostly young women and with the women you can be sure the men will follow. Personally, I think the new discoveries in the sciences, especially the science of Quantum Physics is reinforcing our world view and not yours. Christian arrogance, finger pointing and judgemental behavior is what is turning these people off. Keep it up and pass some more anti-abortion laws!!! Love it. One last note, It is impossible to distinguish you all from your Muslim cousins. Two peas in a pod I say, and face it, you are.

12:20 AM  
Blogger keir said...

Wicca is deeper then this article and the comments would lead you to believe. Unless you study a religion in depth, unless you live your life by it.. you do not know what it is. You know what it seems.
If I had not been born into a Christian family and if I had not gone to church and sunday school I would not know that you do not really drink blood or eat flesh.

I decided after seeking within the Christian sexts that that is not what I am..it made me sad, I did not know where I belonged. I did not have a name for the religion. I have been an initiated Wiccan since the 70's. This is not a religion of young women..it is a religion for the young and old and for all colors and races. It is passed down through the teachers. You do not know Wicca, what it is unless you have studied it.. for a long time. There is no book, their is thought and what has been passed own. If something no longer works for the time we do not hang on to it. People change, the world changes..we do not hunch over a camp fire for food and warmth..and we know people are more complicated then people thought 6000 years ago.

So no, this report or what ever it is supposed to be is so wrong, it barely has anything right. Yes,what Cleanpianokeys is right the more discoveries are made about quantum physics the more we are right.
I am 65, a High Priestess and a teacher.
Blessed be

11:58 AM  

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