The term “witchcraft” is difficult to define in terms of organized practices and beliefs. In the United States, the most recognized group of self-professed witches are the Wiccans. While Wicca claims to be a recognized religion, they do not follow any one, unified text like other formalized religions. In fact, there is no single text or collection of texts that all people claiming to be practitioners of witchcraft would agree upon. Neither are there any holidays or rituals that are uniform across the board for so-called witches.
According to wicca.com:
“Wicca is a belief system and way of life based upon the reconstruction of pre-Christian traditions originating in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. While much of the information of how our ancestors lived, worshiped and believed has been lost due to the efforts of the medieval church to wipe our existence from history, we try to reconstruct those beliefs to the best of our ability with the information that is available.”
Wiccan beliefs are, by their own admission, based on obscured traditions from pre-literate cultures, about which there is very little historical detail.
Wicca.com describes Witchcraft thusly:
“Witchcraft is a spiritual system that fosters the free thought and will of the individual, encourages learning and an understanding of the earth and nature thereby affirming the divinity in all living things. Most importantly, however, it teaches responsibility. We accept responsibility for our actions and deeds as clearly a result of the choices we make. We do not blame an exterior entity or being for our shortcomings, weaknesses or mistakes. If we mess up or do something that brings harm to another, we have no one but ourselves to blame and we must face the consequences resulting from those actions.
“We acknowledge the cycles of nature, the lunar phases and the seasons to celebrate our spirituality and to worship the divine. It is a belief system that allows the Witch to work with, not in supplication to deities with the intent of living in harmony and achieving balance with all things.”
While Wiccans claim only a loose association with Witchcraft, there is much that can be drawn from the system that typifies Witchcraft as a whole.
Wicca hovers somewhere between Pantheism, the belief that the universe is identical with God and that all things within the universe are therefore divine, and Paganism, the worship of nature and of deities that embody aspects of nature.
Paganism and Witchcraft go hand in hand. Wherever Paganism is practiced both currently and in the past, Witchcraft is prevalent. An example of this would be Native American cultures from both North and South America. The trend in these cultures is to worship animal spirits and various aspects of nature including the earth, the sky, and the sun. These are coupled with shamanistic rituals associated with healing, bringing good crops or hunting, fertility, and sometimes cursing one’s enemies.
Vodou (Voodoo) is a religion that originated in Africa and has spread to Haiti, South America, and parts of Central and North America. In the Haitian version, the worshiper appeals to various loa, spirit beings that represent various aspects of life. These appeals frequently involve allowing the loa possession of their bodies.
While it is likely that neither the Shamanistic practices of Native Americans nor the practice of Vodou would be considered “Witchcraft” by their adherents, they do share many essential beliefs.
The first of these beliefs is that wisdom comes from the past. Wicca.com makes the argument that Wicca is the superior religion by virtue of its age:
“Thanks to archaeological discoveries, we now have basis to believe that the origins of our belief system can be traced even further back to the Paleolithic peoples who worshipped a Hunter God and a Fertility Goddess. With the discovery of these cave paintings, estimated to be around 30,000 years old, depicting a man with the head of a stag, and a pregnant woman standing in a circle with eleven other people, it can reasonably be assumed that Witchcraft is one of the oldest belief systems known in the world today. These archetypes are clearly recognized by Wiccan as our view of the Goddess and God aspect of the supreme creative force and predate Christianity by roughly 28,000 years making it a mere toddler in the spectrum of time as we know it.”
The argument here is clearly that because Witchcraft is the older practice, it is the better practice. There is an appeal to archeology and the reconstruction of ancient Pagan traditions in order to gain the wisdom that Witchcraft has to offer.
Similarly, Shamanism and Vodou looks to the elders to verbally pass down their secret practices to the younger generation.
A second commonality between these practices is that wisdom is intuitive rather than reasonable. That is to say what you feel reflects truth rather than what you are able to reason to logically. Wicca.com puts it this way:
“Wicca is a deep appreciation and awe in watching the sunrise and sunset, the forest in the light of a glowing moon, a meadow enchanted by the first light of day. It is the morning dew on the petals of a beautiful flower, the gentle caress of a warm summer breeze upon your skin or the warmth of the summer sun on your face. Wicca is the fall of colorful autumn leaves, and the softness of winter snow. It is light and shadow and all that lies between. It is the song of the birds and other creatures of the wild. It is being in the presence of Mother Earth’s nature and being humbled in reverence. When we are in the temple of the Lord and Lady, we are not prone to the arrogance of human technology as they touch our souls. To be a Witch is to be a healer, a teacher, a seeker, a giver, and a protector of all things. If this path is yours, may you walk it with honor, light and integrity.”
Again, this is also seen in Shamanistic practices wherein the practitioner is encouraged to partake of various narcotics or hallucinogens in order to have a “spiritual” experience, or to go on walks through nature in order to achieve enlightenment.
In Vodou, the practitioner has to let the loa “ride” (possess) them in order to achieve knowledge or power.
A third commonality seen in all versions of magic or witchcraft is that true wisdom is mysterious, hidden, or secret. This is most likely the chief reason that there is no standardized text for Wiccans or any other practitioners of witchcraft or magic. Individuals within these various practices are encouraged to participate in rituals, meditations, ceremonies, and other mystic experiences in order to discover truth.
In fact, this can be seen in the “personal responsibility” clause in the Wiccan definition of Witchcraft. Inherent in this is the idea that each person is responsible for their own quest for truth and how they choose to act upon this revelation.
This idea of a “secret knowledge” is something that cropped up in the early Christian Church. The Gnostic sect, which came about by the mixing of pagan beliefs and Christian teachings, believed that they were granted knowledge by some outside source or spiritual insight. They would claim that these insights came from the Holy Spirit.
In addressing Gnosticism, the Apostle John wrote:
1 John 4:1 English Standard Version (ESV)
1 “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
What John is calling for here is to hold any revelation that may come “spiritually” to some absolute standard of truth rather than simply trusting it intuitively.
What is the standard? John tells his readers:
1 John 4:2-3 English Standard Version (ESV)
1 “ By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.”
This same principle is seen in the Mosaic Law of the Old Testament. Moses says:
Deuteronomy 13:1-3 English Standard Version (ESV)
“If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”
Notice that in this text, Moses allows that “signs and wonders” may in fact be performed. Scripture does not exclude the possibility that there are supernatural powers that are contrary to God’s truth. Moses also explains how this can be: God allows it for the purposes of testing.
In an interview this writer did with a Christian and former practitioner of witchcraft, the person stated:
“It is something that I should avoid the way that other people avoid alcohol or pornography. The use of magic is addictive even though almost nothing in it is very large or impressive. The little things have the greatest effect and it always seems to create an imbalance. A small bit here and then the imbalance comes back to haunt you in another place, requiring something slightly larger. Then you look in the mirror and you do not recognize your own reflection. I hide it but I do not like to look directly into anybody's eyes for fear of seeing something that I do not want to remember.”
As this former practitioner points out, witchcraft is both addictive and has very little actual power. This is seen in scripture as well. In the book of Acts we see a magician named Simon who“…practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. They all paid attention to him from the least to the greatest, saying, ‘This man is the power of God that is called Great.’” (Acts 8:9, English Standard Version-ESV)
This man, upon hearing the preaching of Philip, was converted to Christianity, and was himself amazed by the power of God seen through the Apostles. He even attempted to bribe the Apostles to give him the power of the Holy Spirit. It is clear here that the power of the magic that Simon practiced was far less impressive than the power of the Holy Spirit. Again, we see this in the Old Testament when Moses confronts the Pharaoh’s magicians in Egypt. Pharaoh’s magicians were able to turn their staffs into snakes just like Moses, but then Moses’s snake ate up theirs. They were able to duplicate some of the plagues that God brought onto Egypt, but they were not able to stop these plagues or to duplicate all of them.
God’s power is consistently shown to be greater than the powers that work contrary to Him, which, as Moses explained, He allows for testing. Or, as the Apostle John put it,
1 John 4:4 English Standard Version (ESV)
4 “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”
And this is exactly what is behind witchcraft. “He who is in the world” is a clear reference to Satan. The “spirits” that John tells believers to test are lying spirits, contrary to God. The book of Acts describes a girl who had “a spirit of divination.” When the girl began following the Apostles around proclaiming loudly that they were men of God, Paul rebuked the spirit which left the girl (Acts 16:16-18). This is clearly describes the exorcism of a demonic spirit.
Paganism, which is always linked with witchcraft, was the dominant religion of the day when the early church began. When Paul talks of sacrifices made to pagan idols, he says:
1 Corinthians 10:20 English Standard Version (ESV)
20 No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons.
Scripturally, witchcraft is the appeal to demonic spirits for power or favors.
Why, then, does God allow such spirits to exist within the world and to act supernaturally against His truth? The answer to this is largely because of people’s stubborn insistence on disbelief and the desire to have personal power rather than to submit to God.
If God presents you with a truth, and you choose to disbelieve that truth, God will eventually bow to your disbelief with the consequence that truth itself is removed from you. In the absence of truth, all that remains is a lie. This principle of God “giving people over” to their self-deception is seen throughout the Bible, but it is best encapsulated in this statement of Paul’s:
Romans 1:18-24 English Standard Version (ESV)
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves,
An excellent illustration of this comes from 1 Kings 22. In this passage, King Ahab of Israel has made an arrangement with King Jehosophat of Judah to go into battle together against the troublesome Syrian army. At this time in Old Testament history, there was a split in the leadership of Israel after the death of King Solomon. The nation was divided into Israel to the north, composed of ten of the twelve tribes, and Judah to the South, composed of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin.
Since the split occurred, Israel remained in constant rebellion against God, worshipping whatever pagan idols the neighboring countries were worshiping. As bad as all the kings were, the worst of them was Ahab, who was militantly against God, and tried to wipe out all of his prophets and worshipers.
Israel and Judah did not typically get along, however in this instance, the Syrians were such a powerful threat, that they decided to join forces. This kind of action had previously been forbidden by the Lord, who did not want Judah to have anything to do with Israel.
As they are gathering to go up to battle, Jehoshaphat insists that they consult the prophets first. This is consistent behavior recommended by the Law of Moses, so Jehosophat is at least paying some lip service to God. Ahab brings in all of his prophets, who serve the idol Baal. Each prophet says the same thing: go up and fight the Syrians. You will be victorious.
Jehosophat quickly realizes that none of the prophets represent God, and so he asks Ahab if there is a prophet of the Lord available to consult. Previously in the book, Ahab has made it his policy to kill all the prophets of the Lord he can find, but he is able to find one named Michaiah. Ahab warns Jehosophat ahead of time that Micaiah never tells him what he wants to hear. When they ask Michaiah, the prophet responds “Go ahead and fight the Syrians, you will be victorious.” Ahab immediately recognizes that he is not being sincere with them, and threatens him if he doesn’t tell the truth.
At this point, Micaiah tells a very odd story about a number of spirits gathered together before God. God asks which one of them would be willing to go and be a lying spirit in the mouths of all the prophets to convince Ahab to go up to battle so that he might be killed. One of them steps forward and volunteers, hence the consistent message of all the prophets of Baal.
One of the prophets slaps Micaiah, saying, “Which way did the spirit go from my mouth to tell you this?” Then Ahab has Micaiah locked up and tortured. Then he goes up to battle and dies.
In this passage Ahab, a man who had been mercilessly killing prophets of God and had sought his council from false prophets worshiping idols was still offered the truth from God, and rejected it, instead following the word of a lying spirit. God offered Ahab the choice between his truth and a convenient lie, and Ahab chose the lie.
The enticement of Witchcraft is that it offers the adherent the illusion of power and control over his or her own lives instead of submission to a higher power. The witch attempts to become his or her own god and to create his or her own truth. In so doing, the witch becomes enslaved to the very power they seek to control, ultimately leading to their destruction.