Monday, April 19, 2010

Witch Museum Opens in Salem...There's Just One Problem...

...there's no such thing as a witch.

Actually, the biggest problem is that there is another witch museum already in Salem, so there will be a lot of conversations like this:

"Let's go to the museum."

"Which one?"

"Yes, that's a good museum."

"I didn't name a museum."

"Sure you did. You said 'witch' museum."

"That's not a museum."

"Yes it is. You haven't been there?"

"Which museum?"


But seriously, there's a problem at the outset of this thing. Here is what the museum has to say:

We are looking to create a series of exhibits that express the Witch Community, historically and as a modern movement as well. This is something that does not exist currently in this form, and it will be a way to show a different history than what most of us been taught...

There is no historical witch movement. Many, many accusations of witchcraft were made, but always fraudulently, and the fact that any modern person would believe that those accused were actually witches proves the effectiveness of those old lies.

Let's walk through history, just a bit.

In the first century A.D., the Romans defeated and completely destroyed the Druidic movement. All documents were burned and almost no trace of them exists, today. Many modern day "witches" claim to practice their art in the Druidic tradition, but the religion of the Druids is completely unknown (as is everything else about them). The Romans were busy persecuting the church at this time, and had little ideological reason to dislike the Druidic religion (unless they were Christians); the attack was motivated by the Druid's revolution against Rome.

In the 11th century, Guibert of Nogent wrote in his memoirs that Jews were skilled in witchcraft and caused local problems through their magic spells. Guibert's knowledge of Jews and Judaism, however, was (obviously) very limited, and medieval Jewish witchcraft movements are unknown to us outside of such silly accusations.

In the 14th century, King of France, Phillip IV, put the Templars on trial for worshiping a demon named "Baphomet." I wrote a paper about this, years ago, and I was terribly disappointed to learn that the charges were made up and did not reflect any actual Templar practice - that would have made a much more interesting paper. Phillip IV had used the same trick to put the previous Pope on trial and have him deposed. To this day, people associate the Templars with Devil worship even though they were totally innocent of this.

In the 17th century, we have the infamous Salem Witch Trials. The accused were put on trial by their political opponents to took their land and money after the accused were killed. In studying these trials, we see that every accuser was part of the same political/social scene using these trials to exercise their power. There is no indication of an actual movement of witches, only of innocent people being accused and bullied into a torturous death.

We should be learning from all of this. There are no witches. Never were. Every record we have of witches is either a fraudulent court case or a spook story/urban legend. We don't have records of witches writing down lists of spells or courting demons. Witches are not a historically undermined group of people who were supressed; they are a non-existent group that only existed when someone was being falsely accused. Modern types who wish to reclaim the culture of witches are actually starting something new with an attempt to make it appear to be an ancient culture, but it is not. Witchcraft is, historically speaking, simply a lie.

(I realize that some of you are bound to assume that I wrote this because you think that a Southern Baptist must protest Witchcraft. That's not it. I am just responding to some faulty history.)


  1. Outside of the Western cultures you traced, witchcraft has historically been a very real part of many cultures. What I mean to say is that people in these cultures very much believed in witchcraft and used the concept as an integral part of ordering their world, and there were individuals attached to these cultures who very much believed themselves to be witches (or whatever local term you want to use). Interestingly enough, I can't think of a single instance where such individuals were/are socially acceptable; they were/are feared pariah, as witchcraft was/is seen as selfish and dangerous threat to the community.

    However, it seems that you are arguing against a historical stream of Euro-American witchcraft in which modern practicioners can rightly say they are immersed. If that is the extent of your claim, then you know the history in question better than me.

    For my own studies I read a FASCINATING work on the Salem witch trials called In the Devil's Snare. The author tries to tie the trials to the horrific Indian raids and marauding happening further north of Salem on the Maine frontier. She traces the accusers back to the frontier as those who suffered tremendous and terrible shock because of what they witnessed/endured. Interestingly, many of the accused also had ties to the Maine frontier, mainly as those who could have been expected to protect the settlers, but failed to do so. This is a very rough synopsis, but it was a very good read. I think I still have it if you want to borrow it sometime.

  2. But the Which Wich is for real, right?

    One of my favorite C.S. Lewis books, That Hideous Strength, takes an interesting stab at the Druidic side of this. One of the characters in the book is Merlin (yes, THE Merlin) who, in this book, turns out to be a Christian Druid. They explain this as being possible through a very Dispensationalist like argument, ultimately saying, "well, [his Druidic magic] never really was alright" In the end, of course, it's fiction, but it's a fun read. (the book itself is fantastic and one of my favorites of all time)

  3. I was going to ask you to respond to the several mentions of "witchcraft" and the one Witch of Endor in the Bible, for me. I ask, not to argue anything you've written, only to help explain that bit to me in conjuction with what you're sayign.
    Though it feels like the last reader might be touching on this.

    I can only assume it is one of those lost-in-translation things where perhaps the current understanding of that word was a bit different to the people it was written for, in the original language it was written.

    Thanks, Adam. I hope my query makes sense.

  4. Good question about the Witch of Endor that we read about in the Old Testament.

    The witch was as surprised as anyone that the ghost of Samuel appeared before her and Saul. We don't have evidence of any real witchcraft, but fortune telling and such has long been a tradition. However, these individuals don't really form a culture.

  5. Oh yes, Kelly reminds me of 2 other lesser points I wanted to mention.
    Adam, your first silly bit of dialogue up there reminded me of a little word game my Grammy Wight played with me as a tiny girl (around the time my baby brother was born), called "Which Witch is Which." Hadn't thought of that in a while; so thanks.

    And, Merlin, (though I don't believe ever proved to be an actual person), would have been my one example of someone seemingly accpeted for his responce to JG up there.

  6. Merlin was not a real person. He doesn't show up in the oldest legends, and a legend about him does not constitute a culture of witches being suppressed.

    Some countries have witches in their history...but they are hard to find. It often turns out that the situation has been exaggerated and we really have a few people claiming to read fortunes or talk to animals. I'm not sure if I'm familiar with any social group/movement of witches that is not a group of frauds or the object of persecution. It seems like it's usually individuals trying to link themselves to a dubious heritage of witchcraft.

  7. Ok, so as I suspetced the "witchcraft" in the Bible is just supposed to refer to pagan 'spiritual' stuff like fortune-telling.
    And I had always been taught the Witch of Endor wasn't the one with any real power there. But I guess she being called a witch at the time still referred to what's going on now, with people falsely praciticing any sortof actual witchcraft?

  8. I don't know why she's called a witch - she may have actually believed herself to be one, I don't know.

    What is relevant to the article is that she doesn't represent a culture of witches that any current "witch" could associate themself with.

  9. Of course, when we see a word like "witch" in the bible, it is a case of the best modern word to bring across to the English reader the meaning of the original word used. That doesn't mean that the word is perfect.

    To presume that a witch mentioned in the bible is the same kind of witch that we see in Western culture is probably a mistake. It might be better to compare a 'biblical' witch to a shaman or a person involved in sorcery and divination.

    Of course, for a Christian, there's absolutely no reason from scripture to believe that things like magic and sorcery are fake at all. We simply relegate that to the realm of demonic power, which is real and evil. As such, there's no reason we have to assume that there can not be modern day (or historical) witches with real power. Such people would simply be in communion with dark and subversive powers. A Christian is not to engage in such things.

  10. Thanks, Kelly, those were pretty much the same notions I was trying to confirm, but I failed to express that nearly so eloquently :} Well put.

  11. Indeed, we could wrap up those witches we hear about into a group of Devil worshipers. However, we would still lack a culture of these types of people. All we have are individuals who are not part of a social movement - maybe. Most likely, we have frauds and hearsay. I've never seen evidence of successful demonic mysticism.

  12. It's already been addressed, but specifics help me out:

    1 Samuel 15:23 (KJV) "For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft..."

    Also translated as:

    1 Samuel 15:23 (NAS) "For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry..."

    Churches often define witchcraft as: Wanting to be a spiritual "mover and shaker" without submitting to God. Witchcraft is rebellion coupled with a desire to "stay in the game", to be a spiritual player.

    Therefore, I believe that witches actually exist (they just aren't the people who actually claim to be witches). But historically speaking our ancestors have really botched it up with all these ridiculous witch hunts.

  13. Pre-Christian religious beliefs in Europe often came to be seen as diabolical by the Christian Church. Those who practiced the 'old ways' were labelled as Satan worshipers or witches. Many of these pagan beliefs continued to be passed on despite this and the modern Wiccan religion identifies itself as belonging to these ancient pre-Christian European traditions. It is in this sense that there were and are 'witches' (i.e. pagans). In other words there were and are people who were labelled as witches by certain Christian authorities because their beliefs did not conform to the ideal of Christianity as it was understood at a particular time in history. The dominant Church's representation of pagans was that they were witches.