A friend, “Penny,” recently informed me that she follows the Wiccan faith. I invite you to be aware of your emotional response as you read that first sentence.
That response quite possibly has negative connotations. It is for this reason that Penny tells few of her spirituality. She doesn’t need the grief.
Wicca has its ancient roots in Celtic culture. I will leave it to the reader to google the word and form or confirm opinions. My comments and viewpoints are based almost exclusively on an extended conversation with Penny.
The Wiccan faith is one of empowerment. Because of that empowerment, it has historically been hugely threatening to the Christian faith. Penny suggests that the images of evil, of satanic connections, were created by Christians as a way to legitimize a brutal response. As a result, the word “witch” was tied to darkness, and we have heard the chilling historical stories of fevered and violent responses to strong women.
And yet, Penny talks of balance, of responsibility, of negative energy coming full circle to revisit the sender of that negativity. “We don’t put a face, or a name to the dark side, like Christians might use the name Satan. As soon as you give evil a name and a face, you can point to it, locate evil as ‘over there.’ We suggest that the only evil that we need to be concerned about is our own.”
I recalled, years ago, being in extended conversation with a man, a Christian. I remember my frustration as he blamed all of the wrong doings in his life, and there were many, on Satan. Satan had made him be a violent and hurtful person. Any attempt on my part to invite this person to take responsibility was met by that same almost frantic response, “It was Satan!”
Penny acknowledges that her spirituality includes spell casting. “But we use that term in much the same way that you might use the word ‘prayer.’ We would never use spells to try to control another person. That would be wrong. Besides, to try to control the actions of another, or to call for harm on another, that always comes back to convict the sender of that dark energy. I’ve experienced that personally.”
Penny described her choice to be a vegan as a spiritual choice. “We call animals ‘familiars’ because we believe that they too have spirits, that those spirits may have at one time been human. In fact, we believe that everything has spirit, including plants and rocks and trees. It is a way of understanding that challenges us to live with respect toward everything.”
I questioned Penny whether my involvement in a Christian church was threatening to her. “Not at all. We are not taught that our path to spirituality is the sole path. There are many paths to enlightenment. We don’t have a missionary zeal to convert anyone, that feels arrogant, disrespectful. This is the path that we are on, and I just ask for equal respect.”
I learned about worship, about altars, candles and incense. I learned about creating space where gods and goddesses could be encountered. I learned about practices that had to be carefully and fully understood before they could be entered. “Much harm is done by understanding only partly. We are taught to ask, to question, to challenge. It is imperative that we understand what can happen when the spirits are summoned.” Penny added that same imperative to question, to challenge, needed to be part of any full and well lived life.
Penny has lived with more than her share of bumps and bruises. Yet I was moved by her determination to live well, to seek out contentment, to let go of blame, to live fully and respectfully towards all.
Does it become blasphemy on my part to suggest that I sensed something holy in our conversation?
A recent book discovery is “The Rise and Fall of the Bible,” by theology professor Timothy Beal. I admit that the book was purchased mostly because it was on sale. Beal suggests that the Bible has been absconded by those who use the word “inerrant” a lot, absconded and then “adjusted” to say what folks think it should say. He points to the prolific sales of so-called “Study Bibles,” which devote most of their space to editorial opinions, because folks don’t generally read that confusing text, they just want to know a simplified version of what it means. However, Beal suggests, the Bible didn’t really come into any form of existence until centuries after Christ, after various authoritative smart folks had tendered opinions on what was, in fact, “holy” and what was decidedly not. Inerrancy falls flat, Beal suggests, as evidenced by the many and glaring contradictions.
And yet, Beal is a man of faith. He has been challenged many times, by many students, how this can be. He offers this observation, and this is in my words. (The book has been passed on to the next reader.) If you insist that the Bible is the infallible, the untouchable word of God that answers any question you might encounter, then you are doomed to live your life as an immature Christian. If, however, instead of a book of answers, you approach the Bible as a collection of work that will suggest new and important questions, then it will be life giving and transforming, leading you away from fear towards curiosity, towards an appreciation of awe and mystery.
I’ll wonder again, can I sense holiness in Penny’s story? She was after all, created in God’s image. The Bible says that.
Are there more important questions than “right or wrong?”