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)?