All the flack that my WorldNetDaily colleague, Jon Dougherty, caught
for his article yesterday on Wicca reminds me of a column by author
Michael Kilian of the Chicago Tribune about the cultural resurgence of
As evidenced by the Pentagon’s recent condoning of Wicca and detailed
in Kilian’s column, gone are the days when the closest we came to
genuine hocus-pocus was the wiggle-nose variety of the sitcom
Bewitched. Witches are ingraining themselves in the culture like the
claws of a black cat. Movies like “Practical Magic” and “The Craft,”
sitcoms like “Sabrina” — they all point to one thing: the “Old
Religion” has found a new flock of believers, or at least a decent level
I remember sitting next to a girl in college biology a few years
back, telling me she was a “born-again pagan.”
“A what?” I asked — my Christian vocabulary telling me that the
expression “born-again” belonged to guys like Chuck Colson and Billy
Graham, not the defendants in the Salem witch trials.
Sensing my minor confusion, she attempted to enlighten me:
“Basically, I’m a witch.”
“Oh,” said I, “that’s nice.”
I wouldn’t have expected it. She wore a lot of black, but then so
does Johnny Cash. I never saw her lugging around a 300-year-old book of
spells, and she never had any straw sticking to her pants from the
broom-ride to class. Apparently, the new breed of witches thrives on
being plain — kind of like Baptists from the Dark Side.
Witness one Phyllis Curott, a woman cited in Kilian’s column. Curott
received her degrees from Ivy League schools, has a husband and a pet
dog. She is currently a real estate lawyer and formerly a lobbyist for
Ralph Nader. Though the last part’s a bit shady, there’s nothing
overtly demonic here.
Yet Curott is also “High Priestess of the Covenant of the Goddess of
the Wiccan Tradition of the Old Religion.” In other words, she’s no
Baptist. Her title sounds almost as grandiose as a KKK moniker, but
she’s no Kluxer either. She’s a witch, but perhaps not so obvious about
it. Take it as you will, but Kilian suggests that Curott even appears
“as normal as Hillary Rodham Clinton.”
The connection shouldn’t be overlooked. Part of Hillary’s tremendous
fame comes from her desire to be seen as a “’90s kind of woman,” in
charge of her own destiny, independent, and fully capable of chucking an
ashtray at her husband as easily as making public apologies for him. In
this, Thoroughly Modern Hillary stands hand in hand with
Wicca and goddess worship fit soundly under the umbrella of the
modern feminist movement — many of its adherents would happily classify
themselves as such. For whatever else this might mean, the most obvious
problem is that modern day Wicca is subject to all the same major flaws
of modern feminism — most notably, it is stuffed to the bulging bodice
with divisive female/male dichotomies.
“Femininity” as a concept is fundamental to witchcraft. To explain,
Curott and modern day adherents to “goddess spirituality” talk about
their faith in terms of harmony — like Zen Buddhism with a dose of
estrogen. “Everything is sacred,” says Curott, “and our lives are meant
to be lived in harmony.” Connecting the ideas, she says also, “The very
first depictions of the divine that human beings attempted to create
were female figures. … It was female because it bore life.” It is the
feminine expression of life that is the most pure.
Mixing in a bunch of talk about a living earth and female divinity,
Curott goes on to explain in the Kilian piece that patriarchal forms of
religion (e.g., Christianity and Judaism) began to arise and supplant
the matronly forms. Figuratively speaking, the boys put mom in the old
folks’ home, and the line of thought (if you can call it that) says that
this move ripped life out of harmony. After all, women are by nature
harmonious and gentle, while men are just barbaric cusses.
But the fact that a faith is somehow “feminine” doesn’t make it
harmonious and gentle, nor prove that masculine faith is somehow
uncivil. Men are crass and rude. So is Roseanne. Men are crude and
base. So is Madonna. Men start wars and drop bombs on innocent
people. Hello Madeleine Albright! Let’s not also forget that Janet Reno
torched the Branch Davidians and killed scores of runny-nosed children.
Then again, and pardon me, but words like feminine and female hardly
come to mind when thinking of women like Reno.
Yet, Wiccans make a huge fuss about feminine deities coming before
patriarchal fuddy-duddy deities like Yahweh, the God of the Bible. Well
and good, but being older doesn’t make one correct, as any discussion
with a senile grandparent will demonstrate.
And to digress on the subject of senility, for what it’s worth, in
1673 the witch Anne Armstrong of Northumbria claimed to have been turned
into a horse and carried her mistress on her back to an important coven
Various goddess traditions hold the horse in high esteem. So high in
fact that, to quote from Robert Graves’ classic The White Goddess, they
“presumably used two products from the horse to stimulate their
ecstasies: the slimy vaginal issue of a mare in heat and the black
membrane … cut from the forehead of a newborn colt, which the mare …
normally eats as a means of increasing her mother-love.”
See, it’s just like Kilian suggests about witches in his column;
they’re just as normal as the rest of us.
The Wiccan gospel is certainly appealing — well, everything except
the part about mare vaginal issues. Wicca and goddess spirituality
promise a gentle, purposeful life with little in the way of bad news,
unlike we Christians who have to mention things like hell and damnation
on occasion. As Curott was previously quoted, “Everything is sacred,
and our lives are meant to be lived in harmony.” Mmm, goody. Who could
disagree with that sentiment?
Me, for starters. Genuine goddess worship is not all that cute.
This isn’t Sandra Bullock acting pretty for “Practical Magic.” Goddess
worship is not “harmonious” — except in the sense that Stravinsky’s
“Rite of Spring” is.
There is a part of the goddess tradition not often discussed in
Wiccan evangelism. Anyone familiar with Celtic mythology will recall
that most goddesses come in the form of violent creatures. Macha and
Badb are both known for their connection with war and destruction. Medb
was vindictive and cruel. Morrigan was the goddess of war, death, and
slaughter; when she’s represented in animal form it’s a carrion bird,
the raven. In fact, Morrigan was such a hit in the nasty category that
she made an encore showing as the primary bad gal in the Arthurian
myths. Even the goddesses not strictly bad are still given to deception
Sometimes it is bluntly animalistic and brutish — violent religious
hysteria, in the original sense of the term. Graves points out some
goddess traditions are known for things like the eating of children.
Fertility goddesses often required human sacrifice for the promise of
good crops — sort of like killing your younger brother on the off
chance that you’ll get a bigger Christmas bonus from your boss this
The Indian goddess Kali was a loving mother, granting fertility and
goodness. But that’s just side one of the Kali LP. Flip the record and
you get a goddess who wears human skulls in her necklace, is called a
fury and an ogress, and is best know for her demands of ritualistic
murder. Gives all new meaning to terms like “sudden mood swings” and
“hot flashes,” doesn’t it?
Writes Graves about the goddess in all her many forms, “As the New
Moon or Spring she was girl; as the Full Moon or Summer she was woman;
as the Old Moon or Winter she was hag.” If the witches of the New West
want to address the murdering hag part of their religious tradition, I’d
be pleased. All the talk about friendly harmony and togetherness is
swell, but neglectful. What about the ladies who use the horse parts
and eat kids? That’s the real question.
Without addressing the dark side of witchcraft and goddess
spirituality, adherents are really only confessing their desire to
possess a generic New Age faith — just people creating whatever
religious tradition suits their sensibilities and makes them feel good.
I find no reason for enthusiasm there. These days, everyone does that.
So what? Big deal.
I find the Christian tradition far more interesting and compelling.
And, whatever its supposed faults, at least I know that Billy Graham
won’t turn me into a toadstool.
Joel Miller is assistant editor of