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Review of two versions of an article on Wicca
published by the Watchman Fellowship, Inc.

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About the Watchman fellowship:

The Watchman Fellowship Inc. is a conservative Christian counter-cult group. 1 They have described themselves as a:

"... ministry of Christian discernment."

It is:

"a nonprofit educational organization headquartered in Arlington, TX, with additional offices in Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee. Watchman Fellowship is an apologetics and discernment ministry that provides research and evaluation on cults, the occult, and new religious movements from a traditional Christian perspective." 2

By "traditional Christian" they appear to mean fundamentalist or other evangelical Christian perspective.

Their web site refers extensively to "cults." They are not using the most common definition of the term -- i.e. a high intensity, dangerous, destructive, doomsday faith group that places their members' lives in danger. Rather, they define "cult" as any group whose beliefs are:

"... a counterfeit or serious deviation from the doctrines of classical Christianity."

They have referred to some large, well established faith groups, such as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons), the Jehovah's Witnesses, some Pentecostal groups, etc. as cults. 

The biography of their President, James K Walker states:

"Because of his background and love for those lost in the cults and alternative religions, James Walker has invested his life into reaching them with the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. His desire is to work together with local churches to evangelize those in the cults and to bring them into healthy, Bible-centered churches."

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Rick Branch's essay on Wicca, as published circa 2000: 

The essay was reasonably accurate, particularly when compared to many other attempts by Christians to describe Wicca. 3 Still, it had a few deficiencies. It is no longer available on their web site:

  • At the beginning of the essay, the title "Witchcraft/Wicca" implies that the terms "Wicca" and "Witchcraft" are synonyms. In fact, "Witchcraft" has many different, meanings -- some mutually exclusive. The terms have been used to refer to such unrelated groups as Satanists, African aboriginal traditional healers, persons engaged in black magick for the purpose of harming others, as well as followers of Wicca. We recommend that the terms "Witch" and "Witchcraft" be only used if they are very carefully pre-defined to avoid confusion. On the other hand, "Wicca" and "Wiccan" have well defined meanings.

  • The essay lists two Llewellyn magazines (Llewellyn's New Worlds of Mind and Spirit and Llewellyn New Times) as two of Wicca's key periodicals. A better reference might be to "Circle Magazine" 4 published by Circle Sanctuary, or  "Green Egg" originally published as a magazine by the Church of All Worlds and now appearing online. 4

  • Branch's essay emphasizes the various traditions within Wicca: Gardnerian, Alexandrian, etc. But it overlooks the fact that the largest group is commonly called "eclectic Wicca." These are solitary practitioners and local covens who create and follow their own path, rather than adopt one of the Wiccan traditions.

  • The essay emphasizes the belief that Wiccans are members of covens. This overlooks a very large number - perhaps the majority - of Wiccans who are solitary practitioners.

  • They refer to Wicca as a "cult." Our belief is that the public and media have so many hateful association with this word that it should almost never be used, except perhaps when referring to dangerous doomsday, destructive faith groups. The Watchman Fellowship does define "cult" elsewhere on their web site as any religious group that deviates from historical Christian belief. However, this is not the most common usage of the word. in use today. The meaning generally attributed by the public is quite different and extremely negative. They will probably associate "cult" with groups like Heaven's Gate, the People's Temple, the Solar Temple, etc.   
  • The essay states that "Wiccan groups do not accept the existence of evil." This is a confusing statement. In practice, Wiccans are very concerned with matters of ethics. They very carefully analyze the potential future implications of any decision, in order to avoid hurting others and the environment. A better wording might be "Wiccans do not believe in the existence of an all-evil deity, similar to the Christian and Muslim Satan."
     
  • Under the "History" section, they imply that Wiccans were victims of mass murders during the Christian Inquisition and Salem tragedies. That is not a valid linkage. The Christian Inquisition and Salem murders targeted groups that were perceived to be Satan worshipers, not Wiccans.

  • Their references to blood control through binding with cords, and to flogging with a scourge may have been true of Wicca in the very early years and may even be still practiced by some very orthodox Gardnerian covens. But it is not at all typical of Wicca today. Including these references may well create unwarranted disgust towards, and fear of, Wiccans.
     
  • Under "Biblical Response," they state that the Bible condemns Witchcraft. However, the original Hebrew text in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) which are often translated into English as "Witch" really refer to "women who issue verbal curses to harm other people." Meanwhile, passages in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) which are translated as "Witch" generally refer to homicidal poisoners. Neither of these practices are related in any way to Wicca and Wiccans.
     
  • Perhaps the main deficiency in the essay is that they do not mention the Wiccan Rede or the Threefold Law. These are absolutely key foundational beliefs of Wiccans:
    • The Rede, which may be written in modern English as "As long as it harms nobody, including yourself, do what you wish." Wiccans are forbidden to use magic in a way that harms anyone, including themselves or in a way that manipulates others.

    • The Threefold Law states that any good or harm that a person commit returns to them three time over.

Overall, we feel that the Watchman Fellowship had written one of the more accurate and balanced description by any conservative Christian group about Wicca that we have seen. However, it appears that the essay was never critiqued by person(s) who is a Wiccan or who is familiar with the Wiccan religion. It is almost impossible for a person to write about a religion that is not their own and produce an essay that is balanced, accurate and clear.

On a positive note, the Watchman Fellowship does encourage visitors to its web site to Email them comments on errors and oversights in their essays. We did just that on 2000-MAY-29. We did not receive a response.

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Rick Branch's revised essay on Wicca, as of 2014-AUG: 

The essay has been rewritten and relocated on their web site. 5 It retains the same title: "Witchcraft/Wicca" which equates Witchcraft -- a term that has about 20 distinct meanings -- to Wicca, which refers to the modern-day Neopagan faith that follows elements of Celtic Pagan beliefs.

Concerning the essay:

  • When discussing Wiccan organization structure, he still refers only to individual autonomous covens. In reality, many -- perhaps most -- Wiccans are solitary practitioners; they are not affiliated with a coven.

  • The author appears to refer to "Neopaganism" as a separate religion that differs somewhat from Wicca in its theology. However the term "Neopaganism" (a.k.a. Modern Paganism, or contemporary Paganism) 6 is most commonly used as an umbrella term that refers to any modern faith group that is considered by its followers to be a reconstruction of an ancient Pagan faith.

Examples are:

  • Wicca, a modern day faith reconstructed from elements of ancient Celtic belief.

  • Neo-Druidism, based on Druidism,

  • Jewish Paganism, a.k.a. Semitic Neopaganism, based on the polytheistic beliefs of the early Hebrews. 7

  • Heathenry, a.k.a. German Neopaganism 8

  • Nova Roma, based on ancient Roman Paganism 9

  • Greek/Hellenic Reconstructionist Paganism based on the original Greek Pagan religion. 10
  • The sections on Wiccan history and doctrine contained in Branch's essay are relatively accurate. He refers to "some Wiccan covens" as worshiping "a masculine deity" -- a Horned God. In reality, the concept of duotheism -- a religion believing in two deities -- is nearly universal within Wicca:

    • Some Wiccans recognized the Goddess and her consort, the Horned God, as two actual deities.

    • Others view the two as simply two aspects of a single deity -- often called The One or The All.

    • Still others view the Goddess and God symbolically and not as actual living entities.

  • The section on Biblical Response appears to link the terms "witch" and "witchcraft" -- as seen in many English translations in the Bible -- with Wicca. However:
    • When "witch" or "witchcraft" appear in English translations of the Hebrew Scriptures (a.k.a. Old Testament) they generally refer to a female who uses verbal curses to injure, generate illness, or cause death among animals or other humans. This obviously has no connection to modern-day Wicca whose members follow the Wiccan Rede.

    • When "witch" or "witchcraft" appear in English translations of the Christian Scriptures (a.k.a. New Testament) they generally refer to a murderer who uses poisons to kill people. Again, such behavior is forbidden by the Wiccan Rede.

"Evil sorceress," "evil sorcery," or "black magic" would be preferable terms to translate the Hebrew and Greek terms in the Bible that are often mistranslated as "Witch" or "Witchcraft." Some Bible translation are now using these terms.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. The Watchman Fellowship's home page is at: http://www.watchman.org/
  2. A biography of their president, James K. Walker, is at: http://www.watchman.org/ 
  3. Rick Branch, "Witchcraft / Wicca," The Watchman Fellowship, version as of the year 2000 at: http://www.watchman.org/witchpro.htm (No longer online)
  4. Circle Magazine is published by Circle Sanctuary. Their home page is at: http://www.circlesanctuary.org/circle/
  5. Green Egg has a home page at: http://www.greeneggzine.com/
  6. "Modern paganism," Wikipedia, as on 2014-AUG-20, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  7. "Semitic neopaganism," Wikipedia, as on 2014-AUG-09, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  8. "Heathenry," Wikipedia, as on 2013-JAN-10, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  9. "Nova Roma," at: http://www.novaroma.org/
  10. "Greek/Hellenic Reconstructionist Paganism" at: http://www.ecauldron.net/
  11. The World Pagan Network has a list of U.S. Pagan periodicals sorted by state at: http://www.geocities.com/

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Copyright © 2000 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance 
Originally written: 2000-MAY-29
Latest update: 2014-AUG-28
Author: B.A. Robinson

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