Netherlands, NOV. 26, 2005 Zenit. Witchcraft is moving into the mainstream in
the Netherlands. A Dutch court has ruled that the costs of witchcraft lessons
can be tax-deductible, the Associated Press reported Oct. 31.
The previous month, the Leeuwarden District Court confirmed the legal right to
write off the costs of schooling -- including in witchcraft -- against tax
bills. The costs can be substantial, according to one witch interviewed for the
Margarita Rongen runs the "Witches Homestead" in a northern province. Her
workshops cost more than $200 a weekend, or more than $2,600 for a full course.
Rongen claims she has trained more than 160 disciples over the past four
In England, meanwhile, Portsmouth's Kingston Prison has hired a pagan priest to
give spiritual advice to three inmates serving life sentences, the Telegraph
reported Nov. 1. The prisoners have converted to paganism and, according to
prison rules, are allowed a chaplain in the same way as those with Christian or
other religious faiths. Denying them a pagan chaplain would infringe their human
rights, said John Robinson, the prison governor.
Earlier, on Oct. 17, the London-based Times newspaper reported that pagan
priests in all prisons will now be allowed to use wine and wands in ceremonies
held in jails. The Times noted that under instructions sent to prison governors
by Michael Spurr, the director of operations of the Prison Service, inmates
practicing paganism will be allowed a hoodless robe, incense and a piece of
religious jewelry among their personal possessions.
The governors were given a complete guide to paganism, based on information
supplied by the Pagan Federation. Prisoners will also be allowed to practice
paganism in their cells, including prayer, chanting and the reading of religious
texts and rituals. It is not known how many pagan prisoners are in jails in
England and Wales, the Times added.
On the rise
The practice of witchcraft is attracting ever-growing numbers, particularly
among young women. A recent attempt to understand its appeal is the book
"Wicca's Charm," published in September by Shaw Books.
Authored by journalist Catherine Edwards Sanders, the book stemmed from a
magazine article she was commissioned to do. Initially dismissive of Wicca,
during her subsequent research Sanders came to appreciate that a genuine
spiritual hunger was leading people into neo-pagan practices.
Sanders, a self-professed Christian, defines Wicca as a "polytheistic neo-pagan
nature religion inspired by various pre-Christian Western European beliefs,
which has as its central deity the Mother Goddess and which includes the use of
The book, which is limited to examining the situation in the United States,
admits it is difficult to estimate the number of Wicca adherents. Sanders cites
an estimate from one group, the Covenant of the Goddess, which claims around
800,000 Wiccans and pagans in America. A sociologist, Helen Berger, in 1999 put
the estimate at 150,000 to 200,000 pagans.
Wicca is made up of many diverse elements, yet Sanders identifies some common
beliefs among its followers. They are: All living things are of equal value and
humans have no special place, and are not made in God's image; Wiccans believe
that they possess divine power within themselves and that they are gods or
goddesses; their own personal power is unlimited by any deity; and consciousness
can and should be altered through the practice of rite and ritual.
What is important to Wiccans, Sanders explains, is the experience of a spiritual
reality, and not truth or a body of knowledge. There is no orthodoxy, defined
text, or core beliefs. And, while it has ancient roots, Sanders notes it is
attractive to modernity since it can be freely molded to fit the spiritual
Spell-making is another key element of Wicca. But Sanders notes that of all the
Wiccans she spoke to, none entered it in order to use spells to harm people.
Most choose Wicca because they are dissatisfied with churches and organized
religion and are looking for a spiritual experience they are unable to find
Another common trait in Wicca is environmentalism. Modern life has lost its
connection to the land, Sanders argues, and Wicca, with its emphasis on nature,
seasonal calendars, and the celebrations linked to the changing of the seasons,
is both a way to recover this connection and also to spiritualize the
relationship with the earth. Many Wiccans also reject the materialistic (but not
spiritual) consumer culture.
Pagan and Wiccan groups, in fact, have been present at some of the
anti-globalization protests in recent years. Sanders describes some the
ceremonies she witnessed in 2002 during the World Economic Forum meeting in New
York. They drew attention to such matters as environmental damage, animal
welfare and preserving the purity of the water supply.
The ecological aspect of Wicca draws inspiration in part from the so-called Gaia
spirituality. Gaia was the earth goddess of the ancient Greeks and in neo-pagan
circles she is now transformed into the idea of the earth being one living
organism, also called Gaia.
Feminism is another important element attracting people to Wicca. Sanders
observes that Wiccan women feel as if Christian churches treat them like
second-class citizens, limited to teaching Sunday school.
Sanders estimates that around two-thirds of neo-pagans in the United States are
female. Many of them practice a form of goddess worship, commonly in the form of
a mother goddess who is a metaphor for the earth. The Wiccan rituals also
emphasize the concept of empowerment, and the female biological functions are
accorded a respected role.
Added to this is the belief that what today's goddess worshippers are doing is
reclaiming the heritage of a primitive world in which a peaceful matriarchal
society dominated. This "matriarchal myth" is short on any historical evidence,
notes Sanders, but is nonetheless an affirmation that is commonly repeated.
In fact, Sanders devotes a section of the book explaining how the Wiccan rituals
and spells have no roots prior to 1900, and are the result of inventions and
adaptations by a group of men, notably Aleister Crowley and Gerald Gardner. Far
from being a revival of some ancient paganism or matriarchal society, Wicca is a
modern, male invention.
The desire to experience spirituality in a more direct and intense way is
another factor attracting people to Wicca. Some teen-age girls, Sanders notes,
are unsatisfied with the superficial teen culture and are looking for something
to give a deeper meaning to their lives.
But, instead of turning to traditional religion to satisfy this need, an
increasing number experiment with Wicca. Sanders argues that in part this is the
fault of some churches, which have lost sight of the unseen world and the
reality of a relationship with Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit,
reducing their activities to just a social exercise.
Other churches provide little in the way of serious nourishment for inquiring
teen-age minds, particularly females ones. Another factor leading adolescents to
Wicca instead of Christianity is a desire for rituals and ceremonies. Modern
church culture, observes Sanders, has reduced the importance of religious
rituals and solemn celebrations, leading people to look for alternatives that
offer more tangible supernatural experiences.
In concluding Sanders affirms that her investigations made her more appreciative
of the spiritual hunger leading people to experiment with Wicca. At the same
time she argues that Christianity offers all of what neo-pagans seek: a message
true 2,000 years ago and still valid today.