This morning I saw two sad stories online: one about a mother who killed her 6 year old daughter, believing she was possessed by the devil, and the other — from a few months ago — in which a man explained the killing of his two stepdaughters as the consequence of a “spell gone bad.”
Both of these tragic stories remind me of the horrible Burning of Bridget Cleary, a notorious 1895 murder in rural Ireland where a man attributed his wife’s illness to the malevolent influence of the fairies, and burned her alive in the belief that holding her over the fire was what it would take to have the fairies restore her to health.
Of course, news reports are dangerous because you never get the whole story, and I’m sure a host of forces may have been at play in each of these slayings, ranging from mental illness, domestic violence, addiction, poverty, and superstition. But it’s the superstition that gets talked about, and makes the headlines. Perhaps this is because we’re fatigued by all the murders that arises out of substance abuse or domestic violence.
It’s not about any one religion. A spell gone wrong sounds like a perversion of Wicca, while seeing the devil in a little girl smells like a perversion of Christianity. The key word here is perversion: but of course, the opponents of religion in general (or of either of these religions in particular) could use these stories as evidence of the inherent dysfunctionality of either (or all) spiritual belief systems. Of course, both Christianity and Wicca have strong ethics of love and compassion as well as advocating nonviolence, so one of the issues here is the question of how poorly people understand what religion has to say.
Please join with me in praying for these families that have been forever traumatized by such unspeakable atrocities. And no matter what your faith may be, let’s all think about big and little things we can do to nudge our world away from violence and superstition, and toward a more integral culture of compassion and care.