Tag Archives: Book review

Raised Right: Chapter 1

humanity. love. respect.

Image by B.S. Wise via Flickr

Chapter 1 of Harris’s book, Raised Right:  How I Untangled My Faith From Politics, bears the title “Flesh and Blood.”  I assume it was chosen for the chapters attempt to show the need to see not issues, but people.  Harris starts the chapter by describing a scene where she, her parents, and her younger siblings picketed an abortion clinic together.  After describing that scene, she speaks of her past, offering the following insight:

I had been picketing since before I could walk.
Understanding that statement and its significance reveals a great deal about those of us who were raised as conservative Christians.  In a sense, I think it makes it easier to understand us — whether speaking of those of us whose politics and/or faith have changed or those who remain a part of the movement — as flesh and blood people.  Our understanding of the religio-political views we were meant to adhere to was formed very early in our lives.
As I mentioned when I announced I’d be reviewing this book, I was not raised with the direct activism as Harris.  I never picketed before I could walk, or even after.  However, the messages about what I was supposed to believe started when I was young.  Perhaps nothing about the political topics that seem to make up most of the Religious Right’s platform, but there were still those subtle messages that set the stage for me to understand what “good people” believed and did versus what “bad people” said and did.
Subtle is a key-word here.  While Harris’s own childhood experiences were direct and explicit, my own (and I suspect others’) was more subtle.  Things got implied more than said.  Or certain things were said and I inferred.  To be honest, I don’t remember ever hearing a sermon about the evils of homosexuality.  I’m not even sure where I first learned that homosexuality was supposed to be wrong, or even that there was such a thing as homosexuality.[1]  But I certainly picked that message up from somewhere.
When we read Old Testament passages like the story of Rahab and I asked my mom what a prostitute was, she said, “Women that men paid to act like their wives,” which conjured confusing pictures of paid cooks and housekeepers.  When I asked how the single mom in our church had a baby without a husband, she said the mom “acted like she was married.”  Apparently, I was too young to know how people made babies, but not too young to know how they killed them.
Harris’s statement above is something I can totally appreciate.  Sex was something that simply was not discussed.  I remember spending the night with one (male) cousin and sharing a bed and wondering if it was okay, because that’s something only a husband and wife do.  I did not understand there was more to being a husband and wife (or lovers) than merely sharing a bed for actual sleep.
I don’t think my own parents meant to keep me naive about sex.  Looking back, I think that if I had asked about it, either of them would have answered me honestly.  They simply weren’t going to volunteer the information.
However “sinful sex” or the consequences of it did tend to get a bit more attention, from other sources if not directly from my parents.  And that strikes me as quite common in conservative circles.  In many ways, the discussion of sexual sin[2] seems to be the only discussion of sex that goes on in many such environments.  This tends to lead to a rather grim view of sex in general.  I know I tended to think of it as a mostly dirty thing, despite my eighth grade science teacher’s occasional declaration to the contrary — a declaration he made the few times the subject came up in his classroom at all.
Harris goes on to describe a protest held in front of New York Governor Paterson’s Manhattan office which she covered as a journalist.  This protest took place when the state’s same sex marriage legislation was waiting to be approved by the State Senate.  Harris describes the shouting, the anger, the jeering, and the rebukes offered up during the protest.
As the crowd yelled, I would at times forget that these were supposed to be prayers until I would catch an “Almighty God!” or “Lord we pray!”
I have seen these kinds of public “prayers” before.  In fact, I recall participating in a few of them during my college years.  The ones I was involved in were not as heated, aggressive, or condemning as the ones that Harris describes in her book, but they were surely sham prayers meant for public piety and acts of showing others our (my) own superiority.  They were the same in spirit, even if not the same in degree or volume.  I think Harris remarks upon this practice when she writes:
I couldn’t help but think of the kind of ostentatious prayers Jesus chided:  “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men.”  He must have meant, Pray to Me and not to the cameras.  When you pray, talk to Me.
Harris describes talking about the importance of love and her own struggle with the idea that these protestors would insist that they “loved” the homosexuals and that they merely wanted to help them “out of their sin.”  She thought of how they would compare themselves to a parent correcting a child.  Harris then goes on to share her own revelation in response to that claim:
Then I realized why these efforts at love sounded hollow — because this love was not the way I experienced love every day.  Even setting aside the arrogance suggested by viewing all other sinners as children and saved sinners as the world’s in loco parentis, I know my parents love me because they sacrificed to feed and clothe me every day.  In the end that burden of labor and sacrifice is what gives them any right to be heard or believed when they say “I love you” after they say “you’re wrong.”
I don’t believe I’ve heard anyone express this as eloquently as Harris did here:  If you want to correct people out of “love,” then you first need to show those same people love in other, tangible and edifying ways.  That may mean meeting other needs they might have — which might actually mean learning what those needs are in the first place.  That’s something that many conservative Christians are not good at.  I know I wasn’t.
Unfortunately, my former self and many conservative Christians come to “sinners” with pre-conceived notions about what they are like and what their needs are.  And they act on those pre-conceived notions, never questioning their accuracy or relevance.  This often leads to offering help that is unneeded, unhelpful, and even insulting.  And then the “helpful” person wonders why they get such a negative response.  Their premise for action is completely wrong.
The problem is, learning people’s real needs and responding to them can get messy.  There are rarely prepackaged slogans, ready-made signs, or “witnessing tools” that covers those needs.  And that can be scary.  But I think that’s exactly what Harris is calling for in this chapter:
Unless you are smuggling soup to the Jews in your attic, I think a political act can’t be an act of love.  It can be a good act, even noble and heroic, but love is not something that takes place behind a barricade;  it happens in the breaking of bread and the passing of cups.  Political love is theoretical, directed at some vague “humanity,” and Jesus didn’t say to love humanity, but to love your neighbor.
May God bless her for it.
[1] I do, however, remember when I first learned what it meant for two guys to “screw.”  It was during my ninth grade English class, and a classmate explained it to me in a tone of complete and obvious disgust.
[2] Let’s face it, too:  The two biggest issues in conservative Christian politics are still homosexuality and abortion, meaning it’s mostly — or even all — about sex.
Other posts in the Raised Right series:

Reading a great bear book

The other day, I picked up a rather interesting book at Borders. The book is Among the Bears and is written by Benjamin Kilham and Ed Gray — though I get the impression that Gray’s contribution was more editorial while the bulk of the content is Kilham’s. It’s a fascinating story about Kilham’s experiences rehabilitating wildlife cubs near his New Hampshire home.

The book starts with the story of LG and LB (short for “Little Girl” and “Little Boy” respectively), two cubs whose mother abandoned them before they even left the natal den. LG and LB were the first bear cubs that Kilham is asked to care for. Kilham relates his experiences how he worked through the process with very little information to go on — and the looming knowledge that no one had yet managed to rehabilitate black bear cubs to the point of being able to successfully returning them to the wild. In the process, he makes some fascinating discoveries about black bear behavior and the development of cubs.

Currently, I’m only on chapter 5 and into Kilham’s first summer with LG and LB. So in the great scheme of things, I haven’t read but a small part of the story. I still have the rest of his experiences with LG and LB as well as the subsequent cubs he’s raised to read about. But if the rest of the book is like the chapters I’ve read so far — and I suspect there may be even bigger discoveries ahead — it will be a most interesting book.

As an aside, I’d like to point out the idiot who gave this book a bad review on Amazon. This is clearly a case of someone brainlessly adopting a cause without understanding the issues. Which is a shame, because it’s quite clear that they were so focused on their anti-hunting rhetoric that they missed an excellent opportunity to learn about the animals they claim to love.

Thoughts on “The Visitation”

This weekend, I ran to Blockbuster and rented a copy of “The Visitation,” a movie that is “loosely based” on the novel by the same title, written by Frank Peretti.; I originally started reading Peretti’s novels when I was in high school. A good adult friend from my little hometown church recommended them to me, and I was hooked. Even now that I don’t agree with the author’s theology, I can still enjoy many of his works.

Unfortunately, I was dismayed by the changes made when transforming this book into a movie. This was particularly dismaying as Peretti was listed as one of the producers, suggesting that he had (though limited I’m sure) some say in these changes. Primarily, a number of characters were changed, merged, or just plain deleted. A prime example of this was the circumstances surrounding the death Travis Jordan’s wife. This had the effect of transforming Jordan from a man mourning the loss caused by a disease he and his church couldn’t “pray away” into a man who was bitter do to an unsolved murder.

Normally, I can be fairly understanding when things are changed in order to make a book-based movie “work.” Books and movies are completely different media, and what works in one doesn’t always work in the other. But the changes to the characters and plot-lines in this case represent a change to the entire theme of the original book.

The Visitation” was a rather unique book amongst Peretti’s writing experiences. It was different in that it was about something Peretti doesn’t often write about. Unlike books where he’s focused on the spiritual or supernatural — like “This Present Darkness” — or some particular issue of religio-political significance — like “Prophet” — this book focuses on people, as well as people’s experiences with “church stuff.” The supernatural “miracles” of the man who would be the new Jesus take a secondary role to the people who are reacting to him, or to Travis’s painful memories of his memories — both pleasant and unpleasant — of life in the church. It is these things that made me appreciate this book most out of all of his other novels. And I was saddened to see all of this missing from the movie.

The movie itself was pretty good for a movie. But I think that everyone did both the movie and an excellent novel a great disservice by associating it — even “loosely” — with Peretti’s awesome book. And I’m disappointed that Peretti would not only allow it to happen, but appears to have been at least partly involved in such a travesty.

Changing gears in the realm of reading

I suppose as the month of January is almost half over, it would prudent of me to post a first blog entry for January 2006. I know it’s been over a month since I posted anything, for which I apologize. December was a difficult month for me on a personal level. Part of that was due to craziness at work. Another part was due to the fact that it was my first Christmas alone after ending a long term relationship with a man I truly loved.

Another part was that my main focus in the past few entries, a series of entries reviewing Catherine Sanders’ book titled Wicca’s Charm: Understanding the Spiritual Hunger Behind the Rise of Modern Witchcraft and Pagan Spirituality, has hit a bit of a roadblock. I won’t get into too many details at this point, as I would rather cover them in future entries in that series (assuming I ever “pick up the trail” again). However, suffice it to say that I’m struggling with Sanders’s incomplete research and tendency to focus almost entirely on the most superficial aspects of the Pagan movement. (Also, her chapter covering the “history of Wicca” is full of the same misconceptions, straw men, and other flaws as most treatments of the subject, and that’s something I’m getting tired of even trying to address.) So I’ve decided to put that process on hold.

However, I recently obtained another book which I’d like to cover in my blog. This one is by Robin Wood, a artist that is fairly well known in the Sci-Fi communities and probably most famous in the Pagan and Occult community for her tarot deck. (It’s certainly one of my favorite decks.) However, the book I’ve just finished reading is her less known introduction to “Wiccan” ethics, When, Why … If. It’s a relatively small book, being about 175 pages long without the appendix, glossary, and recommended reading list, so it makes a relatively quick read. Of course, you could spend a good bit of time thinking about what she has written, and Ms. Wood includes a number of “exercises” at the end of each chapter to encourage exactly that.

I will start out to say that this is by no means an exhaustive and complete discussion of ethics, Wiccan or otherwise. But then, that’s not what the author set out to do. She makes it quite clear in the introduction that her intent was to write a book to start the Seeker out on thinking about what it means to live an ethical life, and I think she more or less achieves that goal. I particularly like the fact that the first topic she covers in the book is the topic of honesty. Ms. Wood posits that it’s only when we learn to be honest with ourselves that we can truly begin to live ethically. If we continue to make excuses for our behavior, rationalize a poor decision, or even beat ourselves up for a poor decision rather than doing what we can to rectify things and learn from our mistakes, then we will continue to be lost.

The rest of the chapters cover such topics as love, helping others, harming others (or more accurately, avoiding harming others), sex, and the difference between wanting and willing. Each of these topics are covered quite well (though I still get the impression that like many “eclectic Wiccans,” Ms. Wood falls prey to forgetting that the Wiccan Rede has six other words besides “harm none” and that those words and their arrangement bear consideration). There was very little I could disagree with.

My issue with the book falls more to the fact of what was missing. Personally, I think that any book on Wiccan ethics should include solid discussion on beauty, strength, power, compassion, honor, humility, mirth, and reverance. After all, these are the very values that the Goddess of Wicca herself calls for after telling her adherents that all acts of love and pleasure are her rituals. The author covers a good number of these virtues implicitly in her book, but it seems to me that a more explicit and substantial exploration would be in order. One can only hope that Ms. Wood or another author will consider doing so in a follow-up book.

Book Review continues with Chapter Two

It’s been a while since I started my book book review of Wicca’s Charm: Understanding the Spiritual Hunger Behind the Rise of Modern Witchcraft and Pagan Spirituality by Catherine Edwards Sanders. As such, I decided to take the time to read through and review chapter two of the book, which the author gave the title, “Tired of Sitting in Pews.” In this chapter, Sanders attempts to look at the reasons that so many people are looking to find spirituality in Paganism rather than seeking it through Christianity. The four reasons that she compiles are as follows:

  1. Concern for the earth
  2. Empowerment for women
  3. Frustration with consumer culture
  4. The draw of the supernatural

What interests me here is that Sanders does not try to dismiss these reasons. In fact, she shows a certain amount of sensitivity towards these sentiments. She even goes so far as to admit that many Christians and churches do seem to ignore these matters, and can even be antagonistic towards them.

Once acknowledging these differences, she speaks of the complaint of hypocricy within “the Church” that many Pagans complain about. Again, she does not shy away from this and does not deny that these things happen. However, she does rightfully point out that not all Christians play the part of the hypocrite. She also rightfully points out that there are some less-than-perfect people within Paganism.

As she discusses the tensions between Christians and Pagans alike, as well as the preconceived notions each side has about the other, Sanders makes what is both one of the simplest and one of the most important observations about the whole affair:

Sadly, many Christians don’t take the time to get to know people like Ginny [one of the witches the author interviewed for this chapter]; instead, they judge her from afar. And, like Ginny, many Pagans judge Christians from afar. This only alienates neo-Pagans from Christians. It would be better if Christians defied the stereotypes by getting to know neo-Pagans, as the apostle Paul did.

I would add to Sanders’s thoughts that it would also be helpful if more Pagans took the time to temporarily “forget” the stereotypes when meeting a Christian for the first time and got to know that individual as a real person. Until we’re willing to stop filtering every experience through the stereotypes and our past experiences, no sincere attempt by Christians to get to know us better is likely to be all that successful.

One of the specific incidents that Sanders mentions where Christians have generated some “bad blood” involves an incident that happened three and a half years ago. (Incidentally, this is another area where Sanders demonstrates a need to be a bit more exacting in her research. The incident that she is describing did not occur at Midsummer, but during a ritual honoring the Spring equinox.) A small group of overly-zealous Christians attempted to interrupt a rite being performed outside a Craft store in Lancaster California and generally harassed those in attendance. This is one of those cases where Sanders certainly shows her willingness to look critically at some of the things adherents of her own faith have done.

Overall, I felt this chapter was a bit short and more than a little superficial. The author certainy did not cover the widh and breadth of reasons why people might leave Christianity, or what theological issues individual Pagans might have with Christianity. For example, she did not consider the fact that many Pagans question the need for “salvation,” or the fact that many find Christianity’s all too common focus on the afterlife to be rather life-negating in nature. It’s not clear to me whether Sanders just picked the “top four” reasons she ran across and chose to focus on them, or whether she really believes those four reasons actually “cover all the bases.”

Wicca’s Charm: Chapter 1 Review, Part 2

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.

Reviewing Wicca’s Charm: The Inevitable Salem Stop

During this past Halloween season, I ran across an article by a woman named Catherine Edwards Sanders. In this article, she wrote a few comments on the growing interest in “Wicca” (she uses the term in a broader context than I do) and Paganism, as well as explaining how this growing interest represents a failure on the part of “the Church” as a whole. As part of her by-line on the article, she mentions that she also wrote a book on the same subject, whose title is Wicca’s Charm: Understanding the Spiritual Hunger Behind the Rise of Modern Witchcraft and Pagan Spirituality. Being the curious sort, I decided to order a copy. It came today, and so far I have torn through the preface and first chapter.

So far, I think the book deserves a fair amount of praise. This is not to say that I agree with everything the author says, mind you. Indeed, I think there are some points that need to be criticized. But so far, I think that the woman deserves a great deal of credit for setting her personal and religious views aside as much as possible and trying to understand the practices of those she observed and interviewed. As such, I feel it only appropriate to take a close look at her book and investigate both those areas where she made some excellent observations and those areas where her information, presentation of that information, or both are weak or faulty. It is my intention to do this in this blog — both this entry an future ones — as I read through the book.

The first thing I notice in chapter one is that it seems to me that the majority of her “sources” are from the “eclectic Wiccan” camp. (Even the one interviewee in this chapter that identifies as having become a Gardnerian says some thign I’d consider uncharcteristic of most Garderians, and I’ve met more than a few) I’m not sure if this is just the nature of this chapter — after all, it focuses mostly on her encounter with and investigation of the “Pagan” side of Salem around Halloween — or will continue through the book, but it does raise a bit of concern to me. After all, it raises a strong risk of painting all Pagans with the same broad brush. And even among the “Wiccans,” the image she’s portraying will not remain accurate for long.

Sanders actually opens chapter one by describing a “spell performed for spectators” that she witnessed. I must say that I admire Sanders for her even tone in the description of this rite. She neither tries to make it sound more sensationalistic than it is nor tries to deride it as a bunch of “nonsense.” Instead, she gives a matter-of-fact, clearly descriptive account. This account immediately demonstrates her sincerity in wanting to represent the subject of her books fairly and kindly. Truth be told, I felt she gave a much kinder description of the rite than i would have been inclined to offer, myself. After all, I’m inclined to call into question the very idea of doing a spell “so that spectators can watch” (and charging them for the privelege, no less!), whereas Sanders is willing to let such a dubious activity pass without challenge.

She then gives a brief “history” of Wicca, repeating the commonly held — if not entirely accurate in my opinion — view that Gardner and his colleagues cobbled the religion out of a number of sources. While she doesn’t come right out and say that she disbelieves the stories of Gardner’s involvement with New Forest Coven (or NFC’s very existence), she does seem to hint that she’s of that mindset. Of course, given her sources, that’s mostly understandable.

Sanders then offers four basic points that she considers to be common threads in the various practices of “Wicca.” I think that these four points deserve special consideration and examination, as they again demonstrate the kinds of “Wiccans” she was observing and interviewing. As such I shall take each point as she writes them. The first point, she summarizes as follows:

All is one — Wiccans hold the monistic and pantheistic beliefs that all living things are of equal value. Humans have no special place, nor are they made in God’s image. They have, for example, the same value as flowers, trees, or grass. The cosmos is undifferentiated universal engergy, and everything is one vast, interconnected process.

Based on the Wicca I know, I find it difficult to comment on how accurately it reflects their practice. It is neither entirely accurate, nor entirely inaccurate. Furthermore, it is rather difficult to point out to specific points within this statement and say “this is true, but that isn’t.” While it is true that the Wicca tend to believe that many people in our society tend to over-emphasize the value of human beings in comparison to the value of non-human life (or even those things that we don’t generally view as alive), I would not say go so far as to say that they see everything as being “the same” or “undifferentiated.” In fact, I’d argue that it’s quite the opposite. They see the individual and unique beauty of both humans and all other parts of the world around us, and they appreciate each one for its own greatness. In this sense, there is this idea of thigns being “valued differently,” which must be honored in it’s own right. Contrast this with the idea of being “less valued” or “more valued,” and you get a more clear idea.

Point two reads as follows:

You are divine — Wiccans believe they possess divine power within themselves and that they are gods or goddesses.

To be honest, I wonder how much of this point comes from Sanders’ communications with “public witches” like Laurie Cabot and those who follow them. Most of the Wicca I know — as well as most other witches and Pagans — hold no such belief. While it is true that the Wicca believe that each individual is a reflection and representative of the gods and that the gods can be seen within each individual, this is a far cry from actually believing one is a fully fledged god. It seems to me that Sanders has either met some rather unusual witches in her studies or she is misunderstanding what is actually believed by most.

The third point is as follows:

Personal power is unlimited — Wiccans believe that their power is not limited by a deity, as in Christianity.

This is the first point I think the Wicca I know might actually agree with her on. But to be honest, I’m surprised most of the “Wiccans” she spoke with also believe this. In my experience many people still have this idea that magic is still “asking” or “getting” the gods to do something for them, much as Christians see prayers of petition.

The fourth and final point reads as follows:

Consciousness can and should be altered through the pracice of rite and ritual — Wiccans believe in the supernatural realm and the practice of altered consciousness through rite, ritual, and spell-casting in which they tap into the power and energy of the unseens spirit world.

This is fairly accurate, though I might personally eschew the use of the word “supernatural.” Personally, I’m inclined to view the “spirit world” as natural as the “physical world,” just of a nature we can’t quite understand in the same way at this time. Indeed, I think that this constant tendency to separate the “physical” and “spiritual” or “supernatural” into two neat packages that have nothing to do with one another to be an area of concern. And unfortunately, it’s a tendency found in various forms of both Christianity and Paganism.

I think that Sanders next hits upon a goldmine, but then glosses over it too quickly. She mentions that “Wicca” seems to delight in having no orthodoxy (quoting what is probably one of the few actually useful things Aidan Kelly has ever said on the topic of Wicca in his entire life). She points out that rather than focusing on doctrine, direct experience seems to be important. This is something I personally do not believe that can be emphasized enough, as the proper performance of certain rites and the internalization of the resulting experiences is the heart and soul of Wicca. Unfortunately, this heart and soul is too often lacking in eclectic circles. In her own way, Sanders points this out as she goes on to say that “Wicca” is instead defined “in opposition to issues such as environmental degradation, the perceived patriarchy within Christianity, or monotheism in general.” If this is truly how the “Wiccans” Sanders interviewed see Wicca, then I am inclined to suggest that they “missed the boat” in that regards. Unfortunately, Sanders seems to be equally unaware of that state of affairs.

Sanders next tackles the question of Satan. In this area, Sanders deserves more praise. She again states clearly and almost emphatically that “Wiccans” do not believe they worship Satan. Moreover, she presses the issue by stating that she considers it inappropriate for Christians to accuse them of being Satan worshippers. In this, she does draw the fine line that there is a difference between believing that Pagans are “unwittingly” worshipping Satan in disguise (a position she implies that she holds herself) and believing they knowingly and explicitly worship him. It is the latter she is decrying in this part, and she makes a strong case for her views.

One thing that I do note about this part of her discussion is that she brings up that “Wiccans” don’t believe in Satan and the fact that they don’t believe in “absolute evil” in the same paragraph, suggesting the two are somehow linked. I find this curious, as it again suggests a belief on her part that Satan is the absolute source of evil (for more thoughts on this topic, I refer the curious reader back to an earlier entry I posted that touched on that line of thinking.

This chapter review has grown long. I think I will leave my remaining thoughts for another entry on another day. In the meantime, I hope my readers will find this review informative.