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ARE ALL WITCHES EQUAL?

INTRODUCTION

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Topics in this essay:

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Mistaken linkages among forms of Witchcraft

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Definitions of 17 types of Witchcraft

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An example of garbled thinking

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Mistaken linkages between forms of Witchcraft:

Some conservative Christians, and others, have concluded that two of the many forms of witchcraft are related -- or even identical. This is not true.

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Some people assume that Biblical witchcraft in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures are in some way connected with the Neopagan religion Wicca. Since the King James Version (and some other translations) of the Bible calls for the extermination of "witches," these people may be motivated to oppress Wiccans. In one recent case, a Texas pastor demanded that the U.S. armed forces napalm Wiccans in his area. In fact, Biblical witchcraft and Wicca are not only unrelated, they are completely opposite from each other. Biblical witchcraft involve spoken curses or poisoning in order to kill or injure others. Wiccans are prohibited from harming others.

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Some people assume that the imaginary witchcraft in the Harry Potter books is similar or identical to Wicca. They feel that a public school teacher reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in class may be violating the principle of separation of church and state, as defined in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Again, the two forms of witchcraft are unrelated. This author has read the first Harry Potter book. The book contains no usage of Wiccan beliefs, rituals, tools, symbols, practices, principles, or sayings. There is absolutely no Wiccan content in that book at all. 

The only religious references in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone were:
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Recognition of Christmas, a Christian holy day.

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A reference in the fourth book to "Yule," a term used by both Christians and Neopagans.

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The use of the term "Transfiguration". This is a Christian term that describes Jesus' appearance on one occasion when he was said to be in the company of Moses and Elija. Rowling uses the term in an entirely different sense to refer to shape shifting. e.g. the conversion of a match into a needle.

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A brief mention about a Wizard and his wife who were anticipating death as the next "great adventure." But there was no indication whether he was referring to a destination or state after death in the form of the Christian Heaven/Hell, or a Wiccan reincarnation, or Nirvana from various Eastern religions. 

Similarly, there is no Harry Potter content in Wicca: no dragons, trolls, unicorns, three-headed dogs, flying broomsticks, talking hat, owl mail service, transfiguration, cloak that grants invisibility, wands that shoot stars, flying keys, etc. The only significant factor that Harry and Wicca share is the word "witchcraft." 

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Definitions of 17 types of Witches/Witchcraft:

The following 17 common meanings have been derived from our glossary of religious terms [W]. Some are positive; others neutral, many negative. 

"Witchcraft" can be:

  1. In the Hebrew Scriptures and ancient Native American usage: an malicious person who secretly uses evil sorcery (black magic) to intentionally harm others.
  2. In the Christian Scriptures: a criminal who murders people by administering poisons.
  3. A Gothic Satanist; a worshiper of Satan who, during the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, was believed to use black magic to harm others, by involving the aid of Satan and his demons.
  4. A Wiccan; a follower of Wicca, a benign reconstruction of an ancient European Celtic religion. Wiccans are prohibited from using magic to harm others. No all-evil deity -- called Satan, the Devil, or by any other name -- exists in their hierarchy of Gods and Goddesses.
  5. A follower of modern-day Religious Satanism who recognizes Satan as an earthy, virile pre-Christian, pagan concept.
  6. A wizard who inhabits an alternative world of fantasy and magic, filled with good and evil people with magical powers, flying broomsticks, dragons, talking animals, magical quills, etc. e.g. in Harry Potter books.
  7. A person, usually a woman, who was born with supernatural abilities and is capable of performing miracles by waving a wand, wiggling a nose, etc. This is often seen in TV programs, like Bewitched or Charmed.
  8. A woman of such incredible beauty that she bewitches others
  9. A woman of incredible ugliness; a hag.
  10. Followers of a group of Caribbean religions which combine elements of tribal African religions with Christianity; e.g. Santeria, Vodun.
  11. In some African Aboriginal religions, a person who unknowingly has supernatural powers capable of hurting others. Witch doctors attempt to counteract these evil energies.
  12. An expert; e.g. "She is a witch of a writer.
  13. A person who uses a forked stick or other instrument to locate sources of underground material -- typically water.
  14. A woman who is not submissive to her husband.
  15. A general "snarl" word for a nasty, vicious person, typically female.
  16. A follower of any religion other than Christianity (e.g. of Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Native American Spirituality, etc.) The Christian Scriptures state that people who pray to other Gods are in fact worshiping Satan or demons. Many conservative Christians, believing in the inerrancy of the Bible use this description of non-Judeo-Christian religions. 
  17. A ceremonial magician with unusual knowledge who can apparently perform miracles during magic/magick rituals.

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An example of garbled thinking:

The two main publications of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania (the Jehovah's Witnesses) are the Watchtower and Awake magazines. Their articles about non-Christian faith groups and about religious history have an excellent reputation for accuracy. However, they were victims of semantic confusion while writing two articles on Witchcraft for their April Fool's day edition of 2000.

bulletTheir article "What do you know about Witchcraft" denigrates Wicca. 1 It begins by repeating some of the beliefs and myths about evil sorcery. "...more than half the world's population believe that witches are real and can influence the lives of others. Millions believe that witchcraft is evil, dangerous, and to be greatly feared." It then suddenly switches to modern-day Wicca, defined as: "a pagan nature religion having its roots in pre-Christian western Europe and undergoing a 20th-century revival." They do not mention that evil sorcery (sometimes called Witchcraft) and Wicca (sometimes also called Witchcraft) are unrelated to each other. They are, in many ways, opposite from each other. The article also deviated from the normal practice of showing respect for religions by capitalizing their names. They spelled "Pagan" and "Neopagan" in lower case letters, while capitalizing "Christianity."
bulletTheir article "What you should know about Witchcraft" confuses the nature of truth and the meaning of Witchcraft. 2 
bulletThey criticize the broad spectrum of beliefs between different traditions of Wicca, which are sometimes contradictory. They state that "truth is fact, that which is real." The implication is that if two beliefs contradict each other, only one can be true. They then give an example from medical science to illustrate that some beliefs can be proven to be untrue. They fail to realize that religion and medicine use the term "truth" in different ways. Medical truths can be analyzed scientifically and incorrect beliefs disregarded. For example, it has been shown that sacrificing chickens in order to cure pneumonia is an invalid treatment. But many religious truths are not open to to scientific analysis. They are not "true" in an objective sense, but only in relation to a religion's fundamental assumptions.  Many Christians believe the Bible when it says that a sick person anointed by elders from their congregation will be healed. Wiccans generally believe that rituals inside a Neopagan healing circle are effective against disease. These are religious truths, accurate with respect to the religions' fundamental beliefs. But, they are not necessarily objective truths.
bulletThe article continues: "Many people in both ancient and modern times believe that the magic practiced by witches is performed to bring harm to others. Witches are credited with the power to inflict severe pain and even death by means of magic. Traditionally, witches have been blamed for an almost limitless array of misfortunes, including illness, death, and crop failure." As in the previous article, the author is confusing evil sorcery (sometimes called Witchcraft) with modern-day Wicca (also sometimes called Witchcraft) -- two unrelated practices and belief systems. 
bulletThe author quotes an unidentified "promoter of witchcraft" without identifying which variety of Witchcraft that the latter represents. The "promoter" apparently believes that some mental illness can be caused by indwelling demonic possession. This is not a belief generally held by Wiccans.

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References:

  1. "What do you know about Witchcraft?," Watchtower Magazine, 2000-APR-1. Online at:  http://www.watchtower.org/library/w/2000/4/1/ 
  2. "What you should know about Witchcraft," Watchtower Magazine, 2000-APR-1. Online at:  http://www.watchtower.org/library/w/2000/4/1/ 

Copyright 2000 & 2001 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-JUL-7
Latest update: 2001-DEC-26
Author: B.A. Robinson

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