In April of this year, witches gathered in Salem (yes, that Salem) for a convention. Workshops devoted to “magick, ritual, and spell work” weren’t unexpected. What might have caused a few eyes to widen though was that these witches gathered during Holy Week—complete with a final “Resurrection Sunday” service on Easter Sunday—and identified as Christian. Their leader, the Rev. Valerie Love, a one-time Jehovah’s Witness who was disfellowshipped from Kingdom Hall, wrote a “creed” for Christian witches that starts off affirming the self rather than the one true God:
I am a Witch,
and proud of it,
free to be
as God created me,
Living my Soul’s Destiny…
I am Love, exceedingly.
Reaction to the idea of “Christian witches” among pagans has been mixed. Some shrug and say, “Why not?” Others point to the inherent contradiction between Judeo-Christian monotheism and the polytheism of many modern witches.
But what would the Catholic Church have to say about Christians participating in witchcraft? I wrote about that in Catholic Answers’ booklet, 20 Answers: Witchcraft & the Occult.
We should begin by noting a distinction between ideology and methodology. Marian Singer, a teacher and lecturer on issues relating to witchcraft and Wicca, explains the difference between Wicca and witchcraft this way: “Witchcraft implies a methodology … whereas the word Wiccan refers to a person who has adopted a specific religious philosophy.”
Because witchcraft is often defined as a methodology and Wicca as a religious ideology, a person who considers himself a witch but not a Wiccan may still participate in many of the same practices as a Wiccan, such as casting spells, divining the future, and venerating a personal pantheon of gods and goddesses, but not share the same religious beliefs. In like manner, someone who is a baptized, practicing Christian may decide to dabble in sorcery and divination while not adhering to the same beliefs as Wiccans or other witches.
The Church for its part forbids the practice of witchcraft and warns against the dangers of engaging in both sorcery and divination. The Church also teaches the fundamental incompatibility of believing in multiple gods, even if someone claims to believe in both the one true God of the Bible and other gods.
The primary source of doctrinal teaching from the Church on witchcraft and its associated practices can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) in its treatment of the commandment “You shall have no other gods before me.” The primary temptation that can lead people into witchcraft is identified as a desire for control over the future. Although healthy provision for the future is commended as an act of responsibility, Christians are warned that they cannot know the future unless God chooses to reveal it:
God can reveal the future to his prophets or to other saints. Still, a sound Christian attitude consists in putting oneself confidently into the hands of Providence for whatever concerns the future and giving up all unhealthy curiosity about it. Improvidence, however, can constitute a lack of responsibility (CCC 2115).
All of the methods used by pagan practitioners in their attempts to reveal and to control the past, present, and future, or to reveal hidden knowledge, are condemned by the Church because they are offenses against our obligations to serve the one true God and him alone:
All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead, or other practices falsely supposed to “unveil” the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone (CCC 2116).
Much of the practice of witchcraft involves invoking spirits to aid the petitioner. Whether the person is seeking his own benefit or is attempting to help another, the Church issues grave warnings against invoking the aid of spirits, both because such invocations are contrary to “true religion” (meaning those practices of worship that connect us to the one true God) and because such practices involve attempting to gain power over another (whether it is the spirits being summoned or the human person one seeks to assist). If the goal is to cause harm to another, the evil of the occult practices is compounded:
All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one’s service and have a supernatural power over others—even if this were for the sake of restoring their health—are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion. These practices are even more to be condemned when accompanied by the intention of harming someone, or when they have recourse to the intervention of demons. Wearing charms is also reprehensible. Spiritism often implies divination or magical practices; the Church for its part warns the faithful against it. Recourse to so-called traditional cures does not justify either the invocation of evil powers or the exploitation of another’s credulity (CCC 2117).
It should be noted that most pagan practitioners do not consciously seek to cause harm by their invocation of spirits or their attempts to influence outcomes. Pagan manuals will caution that permission should be sought and granted before casting a spell for someone else’s benefit. Pagans also often warn against attempting to inflict harm, often on the grounds that the harm sought will return to the person attempting to harm another. Even so, the Church’s prohibition of occult practices applies even when a good outcome is sought.
If you have a friend or family member who is a Christian, and who is dabbling in witchcraft or the occult, thinking that the practice is compatible with Christianity, show them the Catechism’s warnings on the subject, which reflect the teaching of the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments (e.g., Lev. 19:26, 1 Sam. 28:9, Gal. 5:19–21). If your loved one is Catholic, urge him or her to go to confession.
Legend has it that when St. Boniface (c. 675–754), missionary to the Germans and whose feast we celebrate on June 5, learned that those to whom he preached could not entirely give up their pagan ways—some still took part in pagan sacrifices; others refused to give up their magical practices—he decided to prove to them the power of the one true God. He took an ax to a huge tree held sacred by the local pagans. He had barely begun the task when the tree miraculously fell. In thanksgiving, St. Boniface used the wood to build a church.
Whenever you are tempted to put trust in superstitions, or personal intuition, or in any occult practice, ask St. Boniface for the courage to set aside the idols of your own making, to root them out of your heart and life, and to offer, instead, over the remains of those false gods, your own life to the one true God.