The Dark Side of Wicca’s Mainstream Appeal

The other day I pointed out how surprised I was that Wicca is now relatively mainstream (whether or not its popularity is a recent fad or a long-term trend remains to be seen). There is of course a downside to that — the more exposure Wicca gets the more I see articles that are part of a backlash against the religious movement.

For example, a lawsuit by a young Oklahoma woman whom school officials believed was a Wiccan has been covered widely because of the preposterous nature of the charges — allegedly she was suspended because her principal became convinced she cast a spell that caused a teacher’s illness. Unfortunately state laws prevent the school from commenting on the particulars of the case so we’re only getting the young girl’s side of the case, but there have been similar cases, including more serious ones involving child custody cases.

One of the things the young woman alleges is that officials saw a five-pointed star within a circle that she drew on her hand and told her she couldn’t display such occult symbols. It shouldn’t be forgotten that with the big Satanism scare propelled by some Christian fundamentalists and publicity seekers like Geraldo Rivera, some people urged even things like the Star of David be banned as an occult symbol (fringe fundamentalist Bob Larson recommended this in his book Satanism).

Maybe there is more to the story than the young woman is letting on, but the alleged behavior is hardly inconsistent with some of the more hysterical reactions to Wicca.

A common place I see anti-Wiccan articles are in conservative publications who are horrified at the rise of Wicca on campuses and see it as part of a general anti-Christian and/or anti-Western civilization trend. I think these arguments are largely misguided. One of the things a lot of conservatives forget is that, at least on college campuses, the Christian ministers are as likely to be far left wing activists as are anybody else. The most radical pro-socialist anti-Western civilization person I’ve personally met was a campus minister. On the other the basic underlying philosophy of Wicca is very much a pro-freedom ideology, even if the particular views of particular Wiccans definitely aren’t (like many religious people I’ve met, many of the Wiccans I’ve met tend to have a lot of moral distance between their professed moral outlook and their actual particular views which, in general, are very statist).

Another problem with Wicca is that some Wiccans complain about Christianity’s ahistoricism (such as the problem with Halloween I pointed out yesterday), but then perpetuate their own myths as encapsulated in this excerpt from a Reuters story on the Oklahoma case,

The lawsuit alleged Blackbear’s civil rights also were violated when school officials prohibited her from wearing or drawing in school any symbols related to Wicca, a religion that dates back to pre-Christian nature worship.

There is simply no basis in fact for claiming that Wicca is in any way a continuation of pre-Christian pagan religions. Aside from the fact that such claims absurdly oversimplify the incredibly broad range of practices that fall under the title of pre-Christian pagan religions, Wicca is, in fact, very much a creature and product of the 20th century. To say it is a continuation of ancient traditions is deceptive in the same way that the claims of 19th century pseudo-religious movements that they were a continuation of ancient Egyptian religious practices was deceptive (and in much the same way — the claims by those groups created a vast array of misconceptions about ancient Egypt that still persist in the same way that Wicca’s claim to be an extension of pre-Christian pagan religions is creating a series of myths about those ancient religions). In fact one of the things that always strikes me about Wicca is just how dependent it is upon cultural strains that are in many respects Christian in origin (especially it’s individualism).

The lasting impression of Wicca and its practitioners that I have is just how ordinary the religion is. Most news coverage, whether positive or negative, really plays up the exotic aspect that comes with calling oneself a witch. But after you scratch below the surface, Wicca’s pretty much like any of the other countless new religious movement that’s sprung up in human societies for millennia.

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