A new view of witches

Instead of flying on broomsticks, they’re honoring Mother Nature

The author is a nondenominational minister, freelance writer and student of comparative religions.

When you think of witches and witchcraft, do you think of healthy, normal teenagers, rural moms and dads, educated and progressive adults exercising a constitutional right of freedom of religion, or do you think of green-skinned, cackling freaks, flying on broomsticks and worshipping Satan on Halloween?

Currently, Merriam-Webster defines “witch” primarily as “one that is credited with usually malignant supernatural powers; especially: a woman practicing usually black witchcraft often with the aid of a devil or familiar,” and secondarily as “an ugly old woman.”

Let’s look at the Republican candidate for Delaware’s Senate seat, Christine O’Donnell, and her admission that she once dabbled in witchcraft. First, let’s give her credit for owning her curiosity about the ancient craft, though she really had no choice, since Bill Maher owns the footage of her admission. And let’s recognize that, as a news item, it went over relatively smoothly, considering that she’s been endorsed by Sarah Palin, who famously had Pastor Thomas pray that she rebuke witchcraft.

This could be a major step forward toward accepting witches, or Wiccans, and witchcraft as a viable belief system, all sermons about hellfire and brimstone notwithstanding.

According to a Gallup poll conducted in 2008, approximately 76 percent of U.S. citizens identify themselves as Christian, down from 86 percent in 1990. In 1948, when Gallup began tracking religious identification, Christians were 91 percent of the populace. Currently, there are more Americans who say they are not affiliated with any organized religion than there are Episcopalians, Methodists and Lutherans combined.

Though “it is hard to come out of the broom closet,” as Chicago attorney and Wiccan minister Paul Larson says, an American Religious Identification Survey out of Trinity College in Connecticut reports that those calling themselves pagans increased from 140,000 to 340,000 between 2001 and 2008. The number of Wiccans grew from 134,000 to 342,000.

The current movement is more than just a trend that rebukes patriarchal depictions of evil women riding brooms. Its focus on honoring powerful women and respecting the environment as “Mother Nature” indicates a healthier, more balanced society. The abuse of power in organized religions, from pedophile priests to declaring another war in the name of god, has injured faith. Perhaps it’s time for some natural healing.