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Suffering a Witch

When I lived in Ohio, I knew this guy named Eric. Eric was a goth, Eric was also a self-described witch. This was troublesome to me at the time, not because it offended my waning religious belief but because when anyone describes themselves as a witch my brain files them in the “don’t talk to” category. They get filed this way not because I think Wicca is a bullshit religion…at least not anymore bullshit then all of the others, but because these people are always insufferable about how persectured their people were. This is ironic because in order to believe this they have to believe the Christian narrative about them since it’s the only reason that they would have been persecuted to begin with.

Eric described his people as having been burned for being witches at some point in the past. As a historical note witches in the new world weren’t burned, they were hung. He’s making a persecution claim based on a myth. Even in Europe during the Inquisition the witches weren’t normally burned. Heretics were burned, Catholics burned Protestants for denying the authority of the Pope and transubstantiation, Protestants burned Catholics, Christians burned members of other faiths, etc.–it all depended on who had more authority in any particular region. Not to say that no witches were ever burned at the stake, but that for any clear amount of witch burnings there would have had to be a lot more witches than there were. It also makes the assumption that Wicca was an ancient religion and that these people were part of an oganized mass group that was being stomped out. None of this is remotely true, but that didn’t stop Eric from claiming that it was.

The real question that I want to address today is: what is a witch? Let’s dispose of the self-described witches and the mean lady with a cat. Let’s figure out what exactly it meant when the bible says in Exodus 22:18 “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”

So what is a witch? Is it someone that casts spells, talks to animals, speaks with the dead? Because if that is the answer then aren’t all religious followers witches? I find no concrete difference between casting a spell and saying a prayer. They are both equally effective in that they are both completely ineffective. What is going to happen is going to happen, no amount of words said is going to change the events of the world. It doesn’t matter if the words are said in a kneeling position or over a silver plate with the entrails of a frog. The adherent still hopes their words are going to change reality. The only real difference is in the accidental features of the action, otherwise in essence it is the same thing.

The Bible condemns astrology, divination, and enchantments; but then goes on to use those same things in its heroes. Unless, of course, that the terms mean different things. In both Leviticus and Deutronomy it condemns those who are “observers of times” (Lev. 19:26, Deut 18:11) which we are taking to mean astrologers which makes perfect sense. I have my own problem with astrology (as in it’s utter garbage) but the act of looking into the heavens to figure out the future isn’t condemned by the Bible outright. Jesus tells people to look to stars in order to figure out when the end of the world is going to happen (Luke 21:25) and even in Genesis (1:14) the stars are set so that we can determine the passage of time as well. I’m quite confused since god is later condemning the very thing He created for that very purpose? I suppose if I wanted consistency out of this book I should never have read it.

Necromancy is literally speaking to the dead. I don’t suppose the Bible is saying that we should murder all of the people that speak to the dead because that would be just about everyone who has ever lost another person. I am going to take the meaning here as one who speaks to the dead and then claims that the dead speak back. This type of person is clearly a con-artist or suffering from some kind of delusion. The first is committing a crime, and should be punished, but perhaps not executed. The latter person is in need of care. However, neither of these people are really speaking to the dead so why address it in the first place? Make the command from the perfect, omnipotent being “thou shalt not pay attention to the necromancer and they shalt go away.”

The real problem is that there are no witches and there are no people communing with the dead, those aren’t things that actually exist. Unless of course we are labelling intent as action. Someone may sincerely believe that they can speak to the dead or cast spells but there is no justification for this either. Again, it’s another in a long line of divine commands that are silly, unjustified, and contradicted in other parts of the perfect word of god.

The only assumption I can make about this command is that people thought these witches and wizards were legit. Otherwise there is no harm being done. I’ve asked before, if psychics were real, shouldn’t they be our priests? The same thought applies here: if these people were really seeing the future in the stars, entrails, tea leaves, or whatever their method was, why aren’t they in charge? The story of Exodus has this very problem, the priests of the pharoah perform a bunch of magic then Moses does the same magic, does this mean that the Egyptians have the same abilities as a person hand picked by god? If this is the case then the god being should stop their abilities and watch the faithful of these magicians dry up.

The real issue though is in the perception that this kind of stuff works. It’s a problem I deal with in my skepticism and conspiracy theory course: the theorists often give way too much authority to groups that simply don’t have it. The Free Masons don’t control the world bank because they don’t have the power to control the world bank. Witches shouldn’t be feared because they commune with the dead, because they simply don’t have that power. If they did, then they should be in charge given that they are in a unique position to learn first hand from the past. It’s just fear of the unknown and tribalism. The other people pretend to speak to the dead and read the stars so kill them lest their ways corrupt ours, now sacrifice me a goat so sayeth the Lord.

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