Tag Archives: Wiccan

Magic And Miracles (3)

I remember when a former colleague first came to our campus to interview for a position in Sociology. I had noticed in her curriculum vita (that’s academic for “resume”) that her dissertation topic was on magic and witchcraft, so I asked her about it. Her response: “I’m not a witch if you’re worried about that.” I wasn’t, and she went on to explain that she was studying it as a sociological phenomenon. All the while, I was thinking of that scene from Monty Python (those of you who have seen it know which one).

The Sorceress (2002) from the He-Man/Masters of the Universe series

In later discussions, as I remember, she explained to me that most Wiccans were women and that many of them had been physically or sexually abused. Wicca appealed to them as a means of empowerment in the face of some very unpleasant circumstances in which they felt otherwise powerless. Note that she did not say this applied to all Wiccans but that it was a prominent trend among those practicing this religion.

The Sorceress Greek by John William Waterhouse

We have a prestigious lecture on our campus which is given every two years. She was awarded this lecture by vote of our faculty and chose this area of interest as her topic. I remember that during the talk she blurred the boundaries between magic and other religious faiths, and that got me to thinking. Are those who pray for divine intervention, sometimes in the form of miracles, doing essentially the same thing as those who recite incantations or pronounce spells?

Medea by Anthony Frederick Augustus Sandysk (1866-1868)

To answer this question, I narrowed it down to a comparison between belief in magic and the one religion with which I am most familiar: Christianity. So what is the difference between spells and prayer for miracles?

Sorceress by Rafaella Picca

I can see now that this is going to require more explanation than I originally thought, so I will continue this discussion next week.

Magic And Miracles (2)

I can’t say whether the above picture is genuine or whether it’s been altered, nor did I find any credits for the image. Probably fake if someone held a gun to my head and made me guess. It does, however, provide an example of a modern trend: the alleged return to pagan worship by various groups of individuals.

Return of the Hellenes devotees (photo not credited)

Let me offer a few examples. In Greece, The Return of the Hellenes “worships” the twelve main gods of the Greek pantheon and was founded by Tryphon Olympios, a philosophy professor. In Iceland, the Asatru Fellowship similarly uses members of the Norse pantheon. Both groups have revived certain rituals and traditions from these ancient religions, but they see their “gods” more as metaphors and ideals than as deities. Wicca not only features an odd collection of beliefs and practices borrowed from various sources but also shows what I would call considerable internal variety and inconsistency depending on where it is practiced.

Asatru Fellowship procession (photo by Eran Livni)

Some may see it as a matter of degree, but generally missing from the above examples are the true worship of supernatural deity and the adherence to historical canon and doctrine which are characteristic of major religions. These modern phenomena are more like a customized re-invention of older systems of thought, and they tend to cherry-pick various beliefs and practices. There is a modern tendency to go cafeteria-shopping for a religion that satisfies one’s desires and expectations, but this practice begs the question of how anyone can worship something they made up themselves. The same can be said for the redefinition of older faiths, the “now it means this” phenomenon.

apotheosis
Apotheosis of Homer by Jean-Auguste-Dominique- Ingres (1827)

I wonder how many people who refer to themselves as pagans have actually studied the pagan philosophers, learned the tenets of pagan religions, or even familiarized themselves with such works as the Edda, the Iliad and the Odyssey by Homer, the Aenid by Virgil, or The Metamorphoses by Ovid. I’ve known a few people who have done these very things, but there are posers in any religion.

Ulysses_and_the_Sirens_by_H.J._Draper
Ulysses and the Sirens by Herbert James Draper, c. 1909
athena inspires odysseus for vengeance
Painting by Jan Styka in which Athena inspires Odysseus to take vengeance

Then, of course, there is the issue of intellectual sincerity. What do the adherents of these modernized, ancient beliefs actually believe? Are they  genuine, or  are they participating in pseudo-intellectual forms of cosplay? These are fair questions to ask anyone who professes a belief in the supernatural, myself included.

muse
The Muse (1895) by Gabriel de Cool

Perhaps this is what one of my former students meant when she said something like, “I wanted to deal with people who knew what they were talking about,” when explaining to me why she had decided against the Wiccan religion after looking into it. Let me add that I have had a number of students who were Wiccan and that we got along well. I found them to be creative, intelligent, and likeable people. Some were even very studious in learning more about their beliefs, and one of those later converted to Christianity. Please don’t think that I’m trying to be insulting or derogatory when I point out differences between modern religions and those which are more traditional.

herbert-james-draper-lament-for-icarus
The Lament for Icarus by Herbert James Draper

Next week, I’ll continue with a more direct discussion of what the title of this series actually means.