I read a lot of religion news and commentary. Of course I grab every Pagan and Pagan-adjacent piece I can find, but I also look for things from any and every religion in the world. Let’s face it – I’m a religion nerd.
What I generally don’t do is get involved in the internal debates of other religions. Sometimes I have an opinion (of course Baptists should ordain women) and sometimes I’m not invested enough to form an opinion (are Catholics right about transubstantiation?) but ultimately the internal workings of a religion I don’t practice are not my concern. I have enough to do serving my Gods and my community in my own religion.
Sometimes, though, I come across something that is relevant to me, and to the wider Pagan, polytheist, and witchcraft communities.
Last week I came across this post on the Patheos General Christian Channel titled A Journey to Freedom from Witchcraft by Dr. David K. Ewen. Of course “witchcraft” got my attention and I read the post. I had low expectations going in – they were pretty much met. You can read it yourself if you like, but there are better uses of your time. This is something I would expect from someone like book burning pastor Greg Locke, or from a part of the world where Christianity and Islam are still trying to wipe out what remains of indigenous religions.
That Ewen writes this just as fundamentalist Christians attempted to disrupt a major witchcraft conference in London is disturbing. That he discusses counter-witchcraft practices in Africa without even mentioning the people murdered there because they’re thought to be witches is journalistic malpractice (blogging isn’t necessarily journalism – and this piece certainly isn’t – but telling the whole truth is still important).
I’m not going to rebut Ewen’s post on a point-for-point basis – I’m not going to debate him on his own terms. I’m simply going to offer an alternative view. Ewen is promoting “freedom from witchcraft.” I say he has it backwards.
Witchcraft IS freedom.
Gatekeeping to keep people in
From time to time we talk about the problems with gatekeeping – when people try to keep others out of their traditions for irrelevant and mean-spirited reasons. But gates work both ways, and Ewen’s piece is trying to close the gate in his own Christian sect to keep people from leaving.
He’s not trying to convert me or Jason Mankey or Heron Michelle or the people attending Witchfest International. He’s trying to keep people in his own tradition – especially women, especially young women – from looking outside the doors of his church and seeing what else is out there.
We live in a marketplace of religions. People have options, and they’re increasingly choosing to leave conservative, restrictive, and fundamentalist traditions.
Ewen is trying to close the gate. He’s trying to scare members of his own sect into fearing witchcraft and promising them “deliverance” if they’ll only do what he says. He and people like him manage to win a few battles here and there, but they’re losing the war.
A difference of worldview
Ewen’s arguments against witchcraft are not new. His use of the Bible as a source of authority demonstrates the weaknesses of those arguments in contemporary society. The Bible is a set of writings by and for a particular group of people in a particular place and time. While parts of it can be inspiring, it is not a source of Universal Truth – as is clearly demonstrated by its condoning of slavery and genocide.
Conservative Christians such as David Ewen have a very different worldview from witches and Pagans – different foundational assumptions about the world and the way it works. Because our wider society is still dominated by Christianity, these arguments convince some people who haven’t done the hard work of examining what they really believe and why they believe it.
I just finished teaching a 7-week course in Modern Pagan Metaphysics, where we started with the question “how do we know what we know?” and built a robust Pagan worldview based on reason and experience. The course is on-demand, meaning you can take it any time you like. I’m not trying to sell classes, but I am encouraging everyone to examine your worldview and consciously decide what makes sense (rationally, spiritually, ethically) and what doesn’t.
Those who are selling “deliverance” from witchcraft are counting on people not being able to separate assumptions from facts. Freedom requires the willingness to do the hard work of thinking for yourself.
You probably haven’t been hexed
Why would anyone think they need “deliverance” from witchcraft, anyway? You probably haven’t been hexed, or cursed, or attacked by spiritual forces. Most people who would hex you don’t have the necessary skills to do it. Those who have the skills have better things to do than to spend their time hexing you.
Most people who think they’ve been hexed or cursed are just having a run of bad luck (i.e. – random chance is not in their favor), or they’re suffering the consequences of their own bad-but-ordinary choices.
Now, they may be under attack by the forces of late stage capitalism. Sometimes the problem doesn’t have anything to do with you personally – it’s the system you live and work in. Witchcraft can be an effective response to late stage capitalism, but that’s another topic for another time.
Still, hexing and cursing does occasionally happen. Prevention is the best cure. If you have a solid, consistent spiritual practice that includes regular cleansing and warding, you’ll deflect all but the most skilled and determined attacks. I wrote What To Do When You Think You’ve Been Hexed for those times when things go beyond that.
David Ewen is selling an ineffective cure to a problem that for the vast majority of people simply doesn’t exist.
What is witchcraft?
We’re living in a golden age of witchcraft and magic. Margaret Murray’s theory that medieval witchcraft was the remnants of an ancient Goddess religion turned out to be historically wrong but mythically very, very right. Today, more and more people are embracing the archetype of the witch.
For some, it’s about religion – worshipping one or more of the many Goddesses and Gods instead of a sole (supposedly) patriarchal God. For others, it’s about the mystical and healing aspects of Nature. It can be about political liberation and empowerment – something the promoters of fundamentalist religions are always against. There are many kinds of witches and many ways to be a witch.
For me, it’s about magic – especially the kind of magic we’re told not to do.
Every society has authorized magic: what the priests and politicians do. They may not call it magic, but that’s what it is: creating change in conformance with will. These practices are closely guarded – they’re restricted to authorized people doing officially sanctioned things.
But there are always those who work magic outside of official boundaries. Those who know the power of herbs and stones. Those who consort with spirits, who know what can be done with blood and piss and graveyard dirt. Those who know the magic of words, both spoken and written.
And they use these skills for their own reasons, in support of their own goals.
Which is not to say “anything goes.” The witches I know are some of the most ethical people I know. But they live by their own ethics, not by someone else’s rules.
Especially not the rules of anyone’s fundamentalist religion.
Witchcraft is freedom
Sadly, “freedom” has become a loaded word in our contemporary society.
For too many, it means the ability to force others to conform their own religious and political views. It means the privilege to never have to see people who worship different Gods (or no Gods), or whose orientation and ideas around sex and gender are very different from their own. It means never having to recognize the impact their lust for power and control have on other people, especially people with less money, especially people in other lands.
Witches are having none of that.
Witchcraft is the knowledge, skills, and practices that enable the witch to live as they see fit and not as they’re told. But before that, witchcraft is the mindset that reclaims the sovereignty of the witch, that says “I will not live by your arbitrary and oppressive rules.”
Witchcraft says “as I will it, so mote it be.”
If someone is trying to sell you “freedom from witchcraft” ask yourself what they’re really selling. Also check the price – it’s your soul. Not your immortal soul in some Faustian bargain (that’s not possible – the essence of who and what you are can’t be bought or sold), just your dreams, your desires, your ethics, your values.
Nothing is worth that price – especially something you don’t want to begin with.
Witchcraft is not for everyone. But for those who are called to this path, and for those who choose this path, witchcraft is freedom.
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