The Bulletin – Religion & Faith
Religious Commentary: Halloween conjures up a witchcraft conversation
By Kristin Deasy
As Gonzaga students prepare to open their doors and dorms to little witches, ghosts and ghouls this Halloween, perhaps it is an appropriate time to examine what magic really is and its effect on the Spokane community.
On Oct. 8, 2002, two practicing witches founded “The Spokane Witches Meetup Group.” In only three years, it gained 124 members and helped organize 23 events. Spokane resident Phoenix Springwater wrote on the Witch meet-up Web page, “Merry meet! I’m an intuitive-elemental Witch living in Spokane. Hosting the radio show Pagan Uprising on 92.3 FM on the 1st, 3rd and 5th Tuesdays of each month.”
Witches and witchcraft are an increasing presence, both worldwide (statistics vary from thousands to millions) and in the Spokane community.
But what is witchcraft? The word connotes both harmless concoctions as well as more serious superstition and worship. According to the Encyclopedic Dictionary of Religion, the word “witchcraft” is rooted in the Old English wicceraeft, the translation of which is an ongoing debate. It might derive from “soothsayer” (low German “wicker”) or “wise man, prophet” (low German “witega”). Whatever the roots, the term is generally used to mean “the exercise of human powers in league with spiritual forces to produce effects outside the ordinary run of things and therefore deemed to be preternatural and usually claimed to be magical.”
There is an important distinction to be made, however, between “The Craft” and “Wicca.” The former denotes the direct manipulation of spiritual forces, while the latter refers to the personal spirituality. “The confusion comes, understandably, because both practitioners of Wicca and practitioners of The Craft call themselves witches. In addition, many, but not all, Wiccans practice witchcraft and likewise not all witches are Wiccans.
From a neopagan perspective, Wicca refers to the religion, the worship of the God (also known as the Consort) and the Goddess (or just Goddess), and the Sabbat and Esbat rituals. Witchcraft, on the other hand, is considered the craft of magic. Practicing The Craft involves the conscious manipulation of energy to manifest desired results. This practice can be learned and perfected separate from any religious ideology, and thus requires no belief in specific gods or goddesses. It is a learned skill, not a spiritual path, according to Encyclopedia Wikipedia.org.
So there are witches, and then there are witches. And then there is Halloween. And there is more. Behind the Wiccan-Craft confusion, there is also an older and more fundamental distinction that must be made regarding magic. “Note the distinction drawn by popular estimation, between black magic and white magic: the former is used for a maleficent or offensive purpose and proceeds from ‘one that hath conference with devils’; the latter is defensive and has harmless or even beneficial effects, such as charming away or, as commonly in Italy, casting a love-spell, and it proceeds from ‘one of good disposition, or ‘that pretends to deal only with good angels,” according to the Encyclopedic Dictionary of Religion.
Broomstick-carrying visitors aside, it is important to be informed about witchcraft, particularly for a Catholic institution – for purposes of clarification, Catholicism contends “that God is to be neither tricked not tempted, and that we should be content with the loving economy of his salvation, and not seek to go outside it, rather than horror at a pact with the devil, lies at the heart of the Christian rejection of magical thinking or practices in religion and in a community,” according to the Encyclopedic Dictionary of Religion.
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