Watch out, Wiccans; the Catholics are after you


Photo by Flickr user Fernando Gonzaga.

Once again, the Catholic Church is worried about the souls of teenagers. Apparently the idea of teens turning to Wicca (prompted, allegedly, by too much Harry Potter) is so abhorrent that the church in Britain has published a guide to converting witches to Christianity.

The guide, called Wicca and Witchcraft: Understanding the Dangers, is written by Elizabeth Dodd. Alas, Amazon isn’t offering a “look inside this book” feature for the title, but other news outlets have quoted a few handy phrases from the book, such as:

Recognition that Wiccans are on a genuine spiritual quest can provide the starting point for dialogue.

Okay, so far, so good. She also claims that 70 percent of Wiccans are young women seeking some form of spirituality. I’m not sure where she gets her statistics, but she doesn’t sound off the mark. But at another point, she says:

Whether spellwork is effective or not has no bearing on the psychological damage that can be done to a young person who is convinced that they have summoned the dead, or have performed a spell that has hurt or injured another.

Wait, what? Wiccans don’t typically summon the dead, and their core tenet is the threefold rule, which staunchly discourages people from casting harmful spells, specifically because the effort will come back upon them three times over.

And then, according to the Daily Mail:

Behind the glamour there [are] ‘grave dangers’ because of its link to the occult and the sinister movement championed by satanist Aleister Crowley, she said.

There are so many things wrong with this statement I don’t know where to begin. Crowley wasn’t really involved with the creation of Wicca, nor does Wicca really draw much from Crowley’s work. I’m not sure what “sinister movement” Crowley championed exactly. And he wasn’t a Satanist. The only semi-truthful statement here is that Wicca and the occult sometimes go hand in hand, but the only reason that would be seen as a “grave danger” is because divination and the like are forbidden by the Catholic Church.

So then we come to:

The use of magic, the practice of witchcraft, offends God because it is rooted in our sinful and fallen nature. It attempts to usurp God.

Well, at least that’s consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church, and it explains why, even if they recognize Wicca as a “spiritual quest,” they view it rather differently than, say, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, Sikhism, and so on. Those faiths don’t involve the use of magic, so the Catholic Church isn’t out to convert their followers necessarily. Wicca doesn’t get that kind of respect.

Unfortunately, such a guide is presumptuous. It assumes that conversion is the right thing (and that Catholicism is preferable). It’s true that many Wiccans are looking for spirituality. They’re often looking for a spirituality that gives them hands-on experience with the divine, rather than the mediated, top-down dogma they find within the Catholic Church. They may also be looking for a celebration of the feminine beyond the (admittedly very important) Virgin Mary. Teens, in particular, may break away from the church because they see it as hypocritical or judgmental. They want something welcoming and empowering, not harsh and off-putting.

Maybe it’s time to put away the how-to-covert guides and just sit down and listen to teens who are questioning faith. And give them real credit for that questioning — rather than blaming it on a fictional wizard.

Did you break away from the church you grew up with? If so, why? Where did your explorations lead, and how did your parents react to them (if they knew about them at all)?

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14 responses to “Watch out, Wiccans; the Catholics are after you

  1. I was raised Catholic and left the church when I left home, basically. It had nothing at all to do with Harry Potter, I promise. 😉

    I had felt uncomfortable with Catholicism on some fundamental level for as long as I can remember, really. As a small child, I had obsessive-compulsive behaviors that revolved around praying and sin and guilt, and I carried guilt and fear into my teenage life. Those feelings didn’t come entirely from the religion I was raised with, but it was a major source of them. That combined with my general disagreement with many of the positions of the Church and their attitudes about women, etc. etc. led me away. I also just felt like I didn’t quite fit there, that so much of what I was doing there was forced…

    Anyway, it’s true that I did explore Wicca. In a way I think of that as a stereotypical thing for someone to do in my position, but here’s the thing – Wicca does offer young women estranged from organized religion a comfortable, safe space to explore a religion that isn’t so suffocating. Wicca never made me feel like I would be judged for deciding it didn’t fit for me, or that I wanted to practice or explore my spirituality in a different way. Nothing I read about as part of the Wiccan belief system struck me as immoral or amoral the way that elements of Catholicism did. Wicca represented an accessible branch of Paganism for me to start from. For me, it wasn’t what fit, and I never really practiced, just dabbled. But it started me down a path that helped me a lot. Catholicism started me down a path that hurt me – it took me years to recover from it. And perhaps I’m off-topic now, but…yeah.

    Lastly, my parents’ response was minimal because I didn’t feel capable of leaving the Church until I left home. My mom has made a few comments of a semi-snide, semi-sad nature, but mostly she doesn’t ask because I think she doesn’t really want to know. If I had been living at home and decided to stop going to church, it would have been a Huge Problem. Fights and tears and guilt and all of that. So…I waited, basically. I regret that my wedding had to be in a Catholic church to accomplish that, but otherwise it seemed like the only possible way at the time.

  2. As I indicated on Facebook, my father left the Catholic Church a couple decades before I was born, so I was spared that upbringing. As a character of mine put it once, “I don’t believe in god. I’m a good Italian girl, but I’m afraid my father is a bit of a free thinker, so I wasn’t raised Catholic. Thank god.”

    So, I was raised Quaker (that’s where my mother ended up — my father was pretty much a textbook agnostic), but Quakerism is not stressful to leave. 🙂

    My mother was working on an art project once about images of women in the Metropolitan Museum in NYC (mostly religiously-inspired, some more than others). I think she’s put it aside (she is 94 and tries to focus on things she will be able to finish — and this is a huge question with a lot of possibilities). She eventually left the Quakers, too, at least partly because even there the attitudes about women and gays were too influenced by the Bible.

  3. (Methinks I would not mind seeing this guide! LOL!!!) Maybe they should tell the dangers of child molestation in the Catholic church!?

    Thanks to my mother, who did not believe in dragging me into church on a Sunday, I was never really r…eligious as a child, more like going through the motions. As I grew up and discovered things like Fields of the Nephilim, Aleister Crowley, witchcraft, Wica, etc, I realised that there is more to heaven than earth than was told to me in bible classes.

    And I hate Christians who believe in the death penalty, love guns, hate socialism, hate homosexuality and bisexuality, etc, etc, etc. Not very Christian methinks! I like the late Jesus of Nazareth, but some of his followers are a bit potty!

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  5. Jesus, save me from your followers!!!

    I live in the Bible Belt in the southeastern USA and churches are honestly hell for me to go to, for personal reasons. I chose Wicca because I’ve always been very close to nature, to the point that I sometimes suspect I’m not a human at heart. (Before you laugh, it’s mainly because of my observations of human arrogance and ignorance. It kills. Literally.)
    Churches creep me out because down here, there are too many plain, white walls that make me feel like I’m sealed in. It’s too artificial. I can’t take it.
    I have read some of the actual Bible, and it was disturbing and made little sense (besides the Old English, I mean). The Adam-and-Eve story arc looks to me like the Serpent was just making conversation, for crying out loud! And then they all went and blamed each other! And besides: snakes don’t even need legs to hold their heads up.
    Why are humans stupid enough to live by inaccurate historical records that were written decades (if not centuries) after the events they tell of occured?

    As William Shakespeare once wrote:
    “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

  6. I know somebody who lives in Georgia, and she says the fundies are so dominant that everybody else (jews, wiccans, quakers, unitarians, etc.) has banded together. They have a little church together way off in the woods where they all worship (with a lot of respect for each other and their differing beliefs), very quietly, hoping nobody notices.

  7. The catholics are so backward, that is why.

  8. Who’s the girl in green in pic ? anybody knows ?

  9. I was baptized and raised Catholic – began questioning my faith around age 12 and wandered far away from it since.

    I read many books on theology, such an interesting concept. I’ve probably dipped in most of the main ones at some point of my teenage years but Wicca was the one that awakened some inner light. A lot of it made sense to me and felt right. After some darker years (depression from major illness) I got back into reading up on Wicca and Neo-paganism in general during my freshmen year of college. I practiced some basic ritual work when I was 13/14 and started practicing basic spellwork not too long ago. In regards to my personal scope of the world, I can’t see why anyone would want to bash a religion that truly respects our shelter (the world we live in) and illuminates acceptance of humanism and diversity. There are so many fallacies within the Catholic faith, and while paganism doesn’t necessarily have a pretty history (referring to the ancient times) neo-paganism is able to take some ancient practices and mix it with contemporary views, whereas Catholicism hasn’t changed as much (bloodshed is still spilt today in the name of Christianity, hate still promoted).

    I respect people for their different perspectives, and I have no problem with a person believing in God and jesus, and taking some of the biblical’s text as a guidance in morality. But those who live strictly by the book with a rigid moral code forget that the book was created by man, an imperfect being thus creating another imperfect religion.

  10. Pingback: New Yorker cartoon: the pagan version of blackface | Backward Messages

  11. I left christianity when I was 6, for the simple reason that it made no sense. I dabbled in magic then, only to annoy my devoutly christian primary school teachers at that time. At about 9, I found out about evolution- and pretty much understood the whole aspect by age 11. I turned to Wicca because I agreed with the principles after 1 year as a buddhist, which I had issues with (no fun!), I love wicca’s more fulfilling and interesting perspective, and links to ancient religion 🙂

  12. I am personally Wiccan and a teenager. The author of this book clearly has many misconceptions about Wicca, which is unfortunate. Wicca is a peaceful, nature respecting religion. To harm another being is to go against the Wiccan rede.

    As much as I try not to be “politically incorrect”, think of what all the Catholic church has done throughout the ages . . . All the atrocities throughout history. It is rude to judge and ridicule other religions/people/races, regardless of what your views are.

    If you disagree with a religion, or even a person, simply ignore him/her/it, and move on.

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