In a previous post, I began reviewing chapter one of Catherine Sanders’s book, Wicca’s Charm: Understanding the Spiritual Hunge Behind the Rise of Modern Witchcraft and Pagan Spirituality. In this entry, I hope to complete this review.
After discussing “Wiccans'” disbelief in Satan and the fact that they are not horrible devil worshippers, Sanders turns her attention to trying to explain the belief in magic and spellwork. This is no easy task for most Pagans and witches, let alone a Christian journalist, and I admire Sanders’s care and effort in writing about this topic. She begins this discussion by offering Starhawk’s definition of magic (personally, I prefer Crowley’s definition), as well as an example Starhawk has used to clarify and further explain her definition and how magic works.
One of the things that disappoints me is that Sanders does not discuss any Pagan beliefs concerning the source or nature of that power (hopefully, she will cover it in a later chapter). I believe this to be a fairly serious oversight, as I believe that the understanding of the source of the witch’s power — that the witch generates that power with her own body — is an essential key to grasping many profound truths within the Craft. Of course, not all Pagans and “Wiccans” agree with me on the importance of this understanding, and this may explain Sanders’s ommission of that particular point.
Sanders then goes into some of the common themse that most “Wiccans” will agree on, such as the perception of the Goddess as the Mother Goddess and the God as her Horned Consort. I do get the impression that her sources all tend to believe that “all gods are one and all goddesses are one,” and this shines through in her descriptions of the God and Goddess. She also mentions the eight Sabbats and thirteen esbats.
She also mentions the commonly accepted symbol of the pentagram. Unfortunately, she does propagate an incorrect belief that runs rampant in the Pagan community — another sure sign that all of her sources come from a closely related subgroup of the greater Pagan community. This is the belief that “Wiccans” and Pagans eschew the inverted (“one point down”) pentagram, indicating that it is a symbol of Satanists. While it is true that Satanists have often made use of the inverted pentagram, they do not have a monopoly on that form of the symbol. There are indeed magical and religious traditions outside of Satanism that make use of the inverted Paganism. Unfortunately, by propagating this particular falsehood, Sanders is unintentionally encouraging her Christian readers to jump to incorrect conclusions if they happen to run across a practitioner of one of those traditions who do make use of an inverted pentagram.
Sanders then goes into a discussion about the Wiccan Rede and the Threefold Law. This is of particular concern to me. Unfortunately, far too many people in the Pagan community think that these two items make up the sum total of Pagan ethics. This is completely untrue, as some Pagan groups don’t subscribe to either the Rede or the Threefold Law. Even among those who do subscribe to them, the way they are interpreted can vary greatly and widely. And many groups have further gudelines and factors to consider in their ethics. (Personally, I’ve always felt that the line in the Charge of the Goddess that calls for reverence, humility, compassion, and similar values was far more helpful in making ethical decisions than either the Rede or the Law of Returns.)
As an aside, Sanders paraphrases the thoughts of a Salem witch named Marisa concerning Osama bin Laden during this discussion of ethics. I found Marisa’s views on that particular topic dubious at best, and it concerns me that these views were presented as universal to all “Wiccans” — or even Pagans in general. While I may disagree with how our government officials are currently handling the “war on terror” to some degree, I do not endorse a course of action of “sending the terrorist positive energy and letting them be eventually punished by the Threefold Law.” I find such a suggestion downright preposterous, and I doubt I’m the only witch who does!
Sanders then describes some time she spent observing and talking with Laurie Cabot. I will not spend any time coveing that, but will merely point out that I’m not sure what Ms. Cabot practices, but it seems to bear little resemblance to the forms of witchcraft I or those I have come to know and personally respect happen to practice. And while I respect Ms. Cabot’s right to practice as she wishes, I wish she didn’t make such an effort in presuming to “represent” all of us.
Sanders closes the chapter with a brief description of a Samhain ritual on she observed on “Gallows Hill.” This ritual seems like the standard “open rite” performed for a general public: A bit showy, but very little depth. However, it’s vibrant colors and themes does provide a pleasant closing to Sanders’s first chapter.
One thing I will note on this chapter is that Sanders refers to “Gallows Hill” as the place where the witches of the Salem witch trials were hanged. I realize that she is merely repeating what tourists are told every year. However, I do find the fact that she didn’t look into the truth of this matter as a journalist a bit disappointing. Truth be told, there are no records that indicate where the historical Gallows Hill was. Danvers’s (formerly known as Salem Village — where the trials actually took place) best efforts to uncover this information has still born no fruit.