Witches, Pres­by­te­ri­ans and the Booger Man

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - BY WES­LEY PRUDEN

The Booger Man’s gonna get you if you don’t watch out. That’s the me­dia’s mes­sage in the find­ing that at last there are more witches and wic­cans than Pres­by­te­ri­ans out there, wait­ing to pounce. Pres­by­te­ri­ans are no longer the tar­gets of the witches, who fly to earth on any run­way and park their broom­sticks against what­ever church or con­ven­tional in­sti­tu­tion lies at hand. The sta­tis­tics of church mem­ber­ship lend them­selves to be eas­ily dis­torted by me­dia an­a­lysts who don’t know much but are re­luc­tant to let slide an op­por­tu­nity to wish church folk ill.

As me­dia con­tro­ver­sies go, this one is thin soup, but in­flat­ing the num­ber of pa­gans, wic­cans, hea­then and the un­godly is great click-bait for In­ter­net news sites. A lurid head­line is about as deep as many In­ter­net read­ers are will­ing to go in pur­suit of knowl­edge and learn­ing.

The me­dia is par­tic­u­larly adept at find­ing surges and tsunamis against the con­ven­tional and the tra­di­tional that no one else can see. Com­par­ing the num­ber of for­mally en­rolled Chris­tians to the num­ber of es­ti­mated Mus­lims is fa­vorite me­dia ev­i­dence of a surge of Is­lam in Amer­ica, like the sup­posed surge in witch­craft cited by Newsweek as ev­i­dence that “Num­ber of Witches Rises Dra­mat­i­cally Across U.S. as Mil­lenials Re­ject Chris­tian­ity.” Bre­it­bart finds “Witch­craft Boom­ing in Amer­ica, More Witches Than Pres­by­te­ri­ans.” The Lon­don Daily Tele­graph re­ports that “Witch­craft Moves to the Main­stream in Amer­ica as Chris­tian­ity De­clines.”

The Pew Re­search Cen­ter has es­ti­mated that only four-tenths of 1 per­cent of Amer­i­cans iden­tify them­selves as wic­can or pa­gan. This is about the num­ber of trans­gen­dered Amer­i­cans, but witches and wic­cans make far less noise and are not as in-your-face as the LGBTQ folks are.

The me­dia is for­ever on the scout for fads, fan­cies and crazes, so the idea that the mil­len­ni­als are surg­ing to swell the ranks of wic­can­hood, par­tic­u­larly at the ex­pense of a Chris­tian de­nom­i­na­tion with a rep­u­ta­tion for rec­ti­tude and con­ven­tional right­eous­ness, is a fancy too good to be true. It neatly fits a nar­ra­tive.

There is no of­fi­cial ac­count­ing of how many witches fly across the night sky, nor the num­ber of wic­cans stir­ring the pot while chant­ing “Dou­ble, dou­ble, toil and trou­ble/Fire burn and caul­dron bub­ble.” Boil­ing and bub­bling is ex­actly the rep­u­ta­tion and im­pres­sion the witches and wic­cans of Amer­ica are try­ing to over­come. What­ever else they’re try­ing to over­come is not clear. Wic­cans are fond of say­ing they “have no high au­thor­ity, no sin­gle leader, no prophet and no bi­ble,” which makes witch­craft, a do-it-your­self re­li­gion if re­li­gion it is, per­fect for a do-it-your­self age of mil­lenials and me­dia that be­lieve in noth­ing but their own wis­dom and good­ness.

Wic­cans, whose be­liefs orig­i­nated in the last cen­tury in Eng­land, once tried to de­fine enough tra­di­tions and be­liefs and or­ga­nize them­selves into the Coun­cil of Amer­i­can Witches. They met in Min­ne­ap­o­lis to “at­tune our­selves with the nat­u­ral rhythm of like forces of the moon and the sea­sonal Quar­ters and Cross quar­ters.” You might think this would be just what El­iz­a­beth War­ren needed when she was all but evicted from her tribe (if any).

The witches and wic­cans want to sep­a­rate them­selves from voodoo, shaman­ism and nut cakes, of whom there is no short­age, and “dis­pel many myths about witch­craft, dis­tin­guish it from Satanism and other mis­con­cep­tions in the eyes of the gen­eral pub­lic, such as pro­lif­er­ated in the gen­er­als press me­dia.”

Well, good luck with that. So now they’re even go­ing af­ter Hal­loween. Is noth­ing sa­cred? One of the “13 Prin­ci­ples of Wic­can Be­lief” is that witches and wic­cans “con­ceive of the Creative Power in the uni­verse as man­i­fest­ing through po­lar­ity, as mas­cu­line and fem­i­nine, and that this came Creative Power lies in all peo­ple and func­tions through the in­ter­ac­tion of the mas­cu­line and fem­i­nine.” This was in that un­en­light­ened day when there were only two sexes, be­fore the idea of sex was dis­carded and we all be­came en­gen­dered, like it or not. Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe and Jayne Mans­field were re­duced from sex­pot to gen­der­pot, and life has rarely been the same since.

The witches-in-pur­suit of Pres­by­te­ri­ans story started in an ob­scure jour­nal that com­pared an es­ti­mate of the num­ber of witches against the num­ber of en­rolled mem­bers of one of the sev­eral fla­vors of Pres­by­te­ri­ans. The num­ber of self-iden­ti­fied Pres­by­te­ri­ans is ac­tu­ally five times the num­ber of self-iden­ti­fied witches and wic­cans.

“Witch talk is fun,” says Mark Too­ley (a Methodist), who con­ducts the widely read In­sti­tute of Re­li­gion and Democ­racy blog, “and spu­ri­ously claim­ing that witches out­num­ber Pres­by­te­ri­ans was too de­li­cious to avoid. That, along with hy­per­bolic as­ser­tions about Chris­tian­ity’s im­plo­sion and pa­gan­ism’s surge.”

That’s not a Booger Man out there, any­way, says Mr. Too­ley. “Much more nu­mer­ous Chris­tians in Amer­ica likely cause more trou­ble than witches.” Wes­ley Pruden is ed­i­tor in chief emer­i­tus of The Times.

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