There’s an angle on the Sarah Palin Thomas Muthee witch hunting scandal that I haven’t yet written about, although it’s been on my mind for many days. It has to do with the real witches that are vulnerable to the likes of Palin and Muthee.
When I say “real witches”, it’s a bit tricky, because while I do believe that there are real witches, I don’t believe that there is any real witchcraft. I’m not talking about the pointy-hatted witches of old European folklore, either.
I’m talking about Wiccans, who are among those in the larger neo-Pagan community who refer to themselves as witches. The Wiccans claim to be in touch with natural powers of the Earth, sacred powers of pre-Christian traditions. I’m not sure I buy that – Wicca seems to be a thoroughly modern reinterpretation of Pagan traditions to me, and the witches I’ve known live more like June Cleaver than priestesses of ancient times. For all their talk about the Craft, I don’t believe that Wiccans have anything more than symbolic, metaphorical powers either.
One other thing these witches are not is evil. They’re not worse than any other people, in my experience of them, although they do have an annoying habit of conspicuously saying “blessed be” or “so mete it” or “an ye harm none”.
From what I’ve seen of Wiccans, they’re really trying to make a statement of stepping away from the Christian approach of hierarchical, judgmental, authoritarian spirituality. They’re making a quest toward personal freedom, and trying to get apart from the restrictions of industrial civilization, at least symbolically (ever met a witch without a microwave).
These Wiccans are real witches in the sense that they are real people who call themselves witches. However, they are not at all real witches in the sense of the way that most people think about witches. Wiccans pose witchcraft – they don’t really cast magic.
The trouble is that people in the Assembly of God tradition that people like Sarah Palin have grown up in tend not to understand the distinction. They believe that Wiccans are agents of Satan who commune with demons. Of course, these same people believe that Harry Potter is a tool of Satan, even though it is clearly labelled as a work of fiction. Evangelicals tend to take things very literally, and so when Wiccans say that they’re witches, most evangelicals plug Wiccans into the concept of witchcraft that they’ve already got in their heads. That is, they think of Wiccans as like the fairy-tale witches of Halloween, with warts and green skin and broomsticks.
When a church like the Wasilla Assembly of God church brings in a witch hunter like Thomas Muthee, it tends to encourage weird superstitious fears and hatred against Wiccans. If I were a Wiccan in Wasilla, I’d feel very uncomfortable with having someone like Thomas Muthee, who has sent angry mobs against women he accuses of witchcraft, coming to town. Let’s not forget that Muthee has advocated violence in the name of God.
You may scoff, and say that there aren’t any Wiccans in a town like Wasilla. You would be wrong to do so. I’ve been able to find several Wiccans and neopagans living in and around Wasilla. Looking at the pagan and witches brings up a handful right there – easy as pie.
Sarah Palin doesn’t seem to even want to acknowledge the problem she has created by saying that a witch hunter of Thomas Muthee has anointed her to the position of Governor of Alaska. I don’t expect that Palin will repudiate Muthee. Given the existence of Wiccans and neopagans in her own home community of Wasilla, however, I would think that Sarah Palin might get it through her head that she needs to address the issue of religious diversity in the United States, and make a clear statement that she does not support discrimination against non-judeo-christian religious minorities.
After all, if Sarah Palin thinks that she’s an expert on Russia because Russia is 750 miles away from Wasilla, then you’d think Palin might be inclined to say something on the role of new spiritual alternatives like Wicca, given that Wiccans are living and working right in her home town.