You are in a circle. Protection from the Goddess or various spirits is invoked. The elements of earth, fire, air and water are called in. You begin to dance slowly around the circle, then faster. There is chanting. The pace increases; the group is "raising energy." Everyone is prepared for whatever ritual will be performed, whether to call for protection, healing, world peace, a special favor, etc. This is a composite scenario of the pagan rituals participated in by the writer during her years as an astrologer. The rituals vary from group to group, even person to person. Based on the writer's contact with witches and Neopagans until her salvation in Christ in late1990, and her contact with witches/Wiccans through her ministry, the information provided here is not a scholarly analysis or history, but rather seeks to give the flavor of contemporary witches and their world view. Although the writer was not part of a coven, many witches and pagans belonging to different covens and traditions were her astrological clients and her friends.
Wicca is the name for a contemporary pagan revival of what was presumed to be ancient witchcraft, a movement credited to Gerald Gardner in 1940s England. Basics of witchcraft, Wicca, and most Neopaganism include the beliefs that nature is sacred (sometimes seen as our "Mother"), nature is our model, and worship of a goddess and her consort or many gods (including goddesses). The goddess and gods may be seen as symbolic, as representative of forces of nature, as real, and/or as parts of our inner selves and inner power.
The goal is to connect with the rhythms of nature and work in concert with it by calling on nature spirits, gods/goddesses, and inner power, which is usually seen as natural, not supernatural. Spells and potions are based on these ideas.
There is no central creed in witchcraft but there is one basic principle most witches and Wiccans subscribe to. It is called the Witches' or Wiccan Rede, "An' it harm none, do what ye will." This creed is said to be derived by Gardner from ritual magician Aleister Crowley's "Do what you will is the whole of the law." Wiccans and witches usually also believe in the law of threefold, that whatever one does will come back to them three times. They claim these ethics prove that Wicca and witchcraft is good.
Paganism (or Neopaganism to denote the modern revival) is an umbrella term which covers witchcraft, Wicca, Druidry, Asatru, Odinism and other pagan movements. Many consider witch and pagan to be interchangeable terms while others disagree. Witches and pagans actually do not even agree on what a witch or pagan really is. There are also disagreements on whether there are differences between Wicca & witchcraft. Witchcraft & Neopagan groups vary widely from each other in rituals, techniques, some beliefs and purposes.
There is no monolithic organization with a stated creed or dogma. In fact, it is precisely this lack of structure that draws many to these groups. These pagan faiths attract very bright people who feel different or special, those who have had bad experiences with mainstream religions, those who feel abandoned by God, free spirits who dislike structure, the rejected (by family or society), rebels, and those attracted to occult or mystical experiences.
Some witches do not call themselves witches, but refer to themselves as Wiccans, white witches, or pagans. Wicca is supposedly an old English term for witch and is used by some as an alternate name for witch. Often witches will refer to witchcraft simply as "the Craft" or sometimes as "the Old Religion." The term 'Earth Religions' is also used for witchcraft and pagan beliefs.
Do not try to categorize or stereotype these people into one group or another, but rather discover what brought them into Neopaganism or witchcraft. There is often a strong emotional need behind the desire to reject the Judeo-Christian God and to embrace witchcraft.
Witchcraft/Wicca is a combination of many beliefs, some of which may include:
-Everyone has the divine (or goddess) within.
-One should develop natural gifts for divination or occult magic (often spelled 'magick' by occultists).
-Divine forces or nature spirits are invoked in rituals.
-The Goddess, as either a symbol or a real entity, is the focus of worship.
-Nature and the earth are sacred manifestations of the Goddess.
-Everyone has his or her own spiritual path to follow.
-Rituals and celebrations are linked to the seasons and moon phases.
Meditation, visualization, invocation (calling on forces or gods/goddesses), chanting, burning candles and special rituals trigger a sense of the mystical, thus reinforcing the core belief system. Practicing these techniques over a period of time usually leads to ecstatic or paranormal experiences because 1) of the subjective expectation, & 2) there are forces that will respond.
Pagan groups often combine their beliefs with or base their beliefs on cultural mystical traditions such as Celtic or Norse paganism, the Greek/Roman goddesses, ancient Egyptian spirituality, Eastern shamanism, or Native American spiritual practices. The writer knew one group that was very involved in Native American practices (or what they perceived to be) such as vision quests, sweat lodges, the wearing of a medicine pouch, ritual dancing, having a totem animal, etc.
Witches and Neopagans claim they practice white magic, using their power and abilities to bring about good. They revere nature, support peace, & believe society cannot be at peace if we are out of harmony with nature or are mistreating our mother, Earth (also known as Gaia, the name of a pagan goddess given to Earth). Divination techniques (gaining information & advice through occult techniques & esoteric symbols or omens) such as tarot cards, astrology, runes (stones with symbols connected to Norse pagan religions), the I Ching (from Chinese Taoism), clairvoyant or psychic readings, candle magick & other occult practices are not only common but encouraged as well (though not practiced by all).
There are ritual magicians who cast spells & practice sorcery, but they follow another esoteric system & do not normally align themselves with witchcraft.
Symbols such as the pentagram and pentacle (5-pointed star used for protection, spells, conjuring, etc.), the Ankh (Egyptian cross-like symbol associated with the worship of Isis, topped by a noticeable loop), the crescent moon (symbol of the Goddess), and crystals (believed to contain healing and spiritual properties) are often worn on jewelry or clothes. The serpent is believed to be originally a symbol of eternal life and female spiritual awakening or power. In Hindu yoga and meditation, enlightenment results from awakening the kundalini, a power known as the serpent power, believed to be coiled at the base of the spine.
The horned god is the male principle of the creative force, perhaps best known in his manifestation as the mythical Greek god, Pan. With the head and torso of a man but the legs and horns of a goat, he is a forest god, a creature of earthy passions, representing sensuality and the untamed woods and wildlife. Pan, when in a wicked mood, is known to bring chaos and disorder. According to myth, Pan liked to scare travelers in the woods, giving rise to the word 'panic.' He is the consort to the Goddess, sometimes called the Great Mother or Queen of Heaven.
Many witches revere what is known as the Triple Goddess. She is maiden (or virgin), mother, and crone, the 3 aspects of the Goddess and the feminine nature, often corresponding respectively to the new, full and waning cycles of the moon. As maiden, she is youth, vitality and pleasure. 'Virgin' in this case is not sexual purity but rather that she is not possessed by anyone. The mother aspect is in her prime as nurturer and protector. This archetype is often related to the veneration of Earth as our mother, nurturer and healer. The last stage of crone is considered the culmination of wisdom, representing independence and power. The stereotyped witch of an old woman with pointed chin and wart is, according to witchcraft, a perverted version of the crone. The Triple Goddess is a counterfeit of the Christian trinity, and some witches may even claim that the Trinity was copied from the Triple Goddess.
Witches and Satanists are two different groups. Although there can be a crossover for individuals from witchcraft into Satanism, and some Satanists might call themselves witches, these two groups are usually completely separate. The line between the two groups becomes more blurred among those under age 20 who may dabble in and mix several belief systems. However, one should never assume witches to be Satanists! This is quite offensive to witches since they do not believe in Satan. They link Satan with Christianity, which they believe their religion predates, and believe Satan to be an imaginary creation of the Christian church.
Most witches do not accept absolute good or evil. Rather, they often have a New Age worldview which allows for a belief in negative and positive forces that must be balanced, or a belief that the negative can be transmuted into the positive (a basic belief of medieval alchemy). Witches resent Satanists for giving them a bad name. Satanists look down on witches as people who do not have the courage to be true non-conformists, rejecting all moral standards of society, which is the Satanic ideal.
Witches may claim the Bible does not condemn witchcraft, since they assert that the real interpretation of the Hebrew word for "witchcraft" should be sorcery, divination and those who practice such things.
Response: The Bible does strongly condemn divination and sorcery which are practiced by witches.
They may argue that sorcery is black magic used for evil, and that they practice white magic, magic for good.
Response: The Bible makes no distinction between "good" or "bad" magic or sorcery. All sorcery has the same source and is abhorred by God. (See verses at end of article).
Witchcraft is sometimes a veil for feminist anger. Witches claim that historically witches were women healers who did not submit to the male authority of the Church and were therefore persecuted for their unorthodoxy. They assert that the original religion was centered on the Goddess, and that Christianity, being a patriarchal religion, suppressed the Goddess religions like witchcraft.
Response: Archeological & historical research show that although many cultures worshipped goddesses, the goddesses were consorts or counterparts of male gods. However, it may prove fruitless to debate this point as some feminist historians have asserted otherwise. A better point to make is that although God is Spirit and neither male nor female, He makes it clear in His word that He desires us to think of Him as Father when we come to Him through faith in Christ. Actually, it is the Christian scriptures which speak of women as equals to men as opposed to most other cultural and religious teachings or practices. Jesus talked to the Samaritan woman at the well, an astonishing thing for a Jewish man to do in that day and in that culture (John 4). Not only did Jesus talk to her, but He revealed Himself as the Messiah to her, and she, the immoral woman of the village, was the one to take the news to the men. It was women who discovered the empty tomb. Scriptural passages teach different roles for men & women, but also teach men to love their wives as their own body, and to love them as Christ loves the church, which is pictured as His bride in Scripture (Eph.5: 25,28). There is no Biblical endorsement for male superiority or abuse.
Witches and Neopagans may claim that theirs is an ancient religion which predates Christianity.
Response: Christ, being the Son of God and God the Son, is eternal, which means He has no beginning. It is Christ Who predates all religions (Jn. 8:56-58; Col. 1: 15-17; 1 Pet. 1:19-20; Rev. 1:17; 13:8).
Witches and Neopagans do not usually know the true gospel; their opposition is to organized religion, which they see as an oppressive system of control and rules.
Response: It is true that religion is often just that! But Biblical Christianity is a relationship with the Person of Christ, not a system of rules or rituals, or a philosophy. Many Neopagans & witches have had hurtful experiences in churches. Response: we all fall short of the standard -- which is God (Rom.3:23-24); the standard is not man or other Christians. This is why Christ came (Rom.8:1-4).
Often pagans and witches are willing to have spiritual dialogue. Christians should pray for an open door & remember that dialogue means listening as well as talking. Pagans, like many others, are seeking spiritual answers; they may hide a wounded spirit and heart beneath a confident or worldly-wise exterior. Those in the pagan community need the gospel as much as anyone else. Did not Christ die for them, too?
Don't be anxious about your responses; the most important thing is to listen to the other person with genuine interest and to see them as Christ would. Also, be prepared to answer their questions gently & with grace (Col. 4:5-6), including objections to Christianity and/or Christian behavior.
Selected scripture verses on divination, sorcery & magic: Ex.22:18; Lev.19:26,31, 20:6,27; Deut.18:10-12; 1 Sam.15:23a; 2 Kings23:24; I Chron.10:13; Is.2:6, 8:19-20, 47:13-14; Ez.13:20-23; Dan.2:27-28, 5:15-17; Acts 13:7-10a, 16:16-18; Gal. 5:19-20; Rev. 22:15
You have probably taken up a Neopagan religion after much reflection. You may have had negative experiences in Christianity, or are just seeking a spiritual connection or fulfillment through a less organized structure. I wonder if you are willing to put aside your negative "Christian" experiences or impressions for a few moments to take a fresh look at Christ. It is possible that you were never taught the truth about Christ, or about what a Christian is.
These things do NOT make a person a Christian:
Following rules to be "good"
Being "good" to get into heaven
Attending church and performing rituals
Doing good works
Some of these, such as praying, attending church, and doing good works, are a part of being a Christian, but they do not make one a Christian. A person can attend church their whole life, pray, give to others and still not be a Christian. That is because, despite their actions, there may be no Christ in their life.
Christianity is NOT:
An organized religion
Wait, before you jump on the statement that Christianity is not an organized religion, let me say that some who call themselves Christians treat it as such and often themselves believe it. Some denominations are structured in order to administrate the affairs of the church; but that is just the exterior part of it. The shell is not Christianity. In fact, you can have a complex hierarchy and structure and not have Christianity at all, even though it may be called Christian. Who should define what Christianity is? What Christ says is what defines it, and he made it clear that
A living relationship with the immanent, transcendent God through his son, Jesus, the God-man.
The Christian God, rejected by many Wiccans/Witches/Pagans as stern and unloving, is a God who made the world in a beautiful and perfect state. There are many places in the Bible where we see how much God cares for his creation, such as these words God spoke to Job:
"Does the rain have a father? Who fathers the drops of dew? From whose womb comes the ice? Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens when the waters become hard as stone, when the surface of the deep is frozen? Can you bind the Pleiades? Can you loose the cords of Orion? Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons or lead out the Bear with its cubs?"
And later, God asks Job, rhetorically: "Do you know when the mountain goats give birth? Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn?" And, God asks, "Who let the wild donkey go free?...I gave him the wasteland as his home, the salt flats as his habitat. He laughs at the commotion in the town; he does not hear a driver's shout. He ranges the hills for his pasture and searches for any green thing."
Here is God talking about his creation in an intimate way. God even speaks of goats and the doe giving birth, and the joy of the wild donkeys that God placed in their habitat, outside the "commotion" of the towns. It is this same God who sent Jesus as the bridge between fallen man and God.
Jesus, who claimed to fulfill the law and the prophets, and who came so that we might "have life, and have life more abundantly," was not just an ethical teacher. He claimed to be THE way, not just show a way. The pain, suffering, alienation, and longings in men and women cause us to search for that healing connection with the divine. Jesus is not an energy or part of nature, something that we must align and re-align ourselves with in order to experience a healing of this alienation. Jesus IS the divine healer, not a mere healing energy or force.
Our alienation comes from the broken relationship with a holy God that results from sin. I know Pagans do not believe in sin. But why then is there a need for the Wiccan Rede? Why encourage pagans "to do no harm," and to not do magick with wrong intentions? The very existence of the Rede indicates a belief that men and women can do bad things, that we are not good all the time.
God is a personal being who created us, His creatures, as personal beings. Everything in us longs for personal relationships, on earth and beyond. Jesus said that if we open the door to him, he will come in and dine with us, and us with him. That is the picture of an intimate relationship and communion. This communion came at a great cost to Jesus, who took on the sins of the world on the cross, and who suffered beyond our understanding, so that our relationship with God could be healed when we open that door, and rest completely on what Jesus did on that cross.
In other words, the burden is off us to heal that relationship because we can't do it. Jesus already did it and now all we can do is accept that and believe in Jesus. What does that mean? To intellectually believe that Jesus lived or that he died on the cross? No, it means to believe in his claims, in his work on the cross, in your need for him, and in his bodily resurrection three days later. On the cross, Jesus healed our breach with God; in the resurrection, he conquered death and offers eternal life with God.
The ultimate love is in the Triune God ? God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, who are distinct persons in the one Godhead. God sent Jesus who willingly lay his life down for us, and when Jesus ascended, the Holy Spirit comes to those who have trusted in the name of Jesus and transforms from within by the power of God. There is no separation for the believer in Christ from the Triune God; he/she is constantly connected -- indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and going before the throne of God through the mediation of Jesus Christ.
The insatiable thirst and hunger for divine connection is quenched and satisfied forever by he who offers himself as the living water: "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty." (John 6:35)
"For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." (John 6:40)
Selected Printed Sources: Margot Adler, Drawing Down the Moon (Beacon Press, 1986); Scott Cunningham, The Truth About Witchcraft (Llewellyn, 1994); Jan and Steward Farrar, A Witches Bible (Phoenix Publishing, Inc. 1984/1996 edition); Rosemary E. Guiley, The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft (Facts on File, 1989); Graham Harvey & Charlotte Hardman, Paganism Today (Thorsons/Harper Collins, 1996); Teresa Moorey, Paganism, A Beginner's Guide (Headway; Hodder & Stoughton, 1996)
Recommended: Craig Hawkins, Goddess Worship, Witchcraft & Neopaganism (Zondervan Guide to Cults & Religious Movements, 1998); Craig Hawkins, Witchcraft (Baker House, 1996)