An ongoing complaint concerning the mainstream coverage of Wicca and other modern Pagan faiths is the lack of actual attention to what the adherents in the story actually believe. Generally we get defined by what we are not (the Christian conceptions of devil-worship) and then the article moves on to what people really want to know about. Casting spells. Take for instance this article concerning a new Wiccan-owned beauty salon in Scotland. Much is made of the spell-work, but little of the the theology underlying it.
“In establishing her beauty salon, Reid, originally from Ayrshire, is following a career path very much in the witching tradition: one that dates back hundreds of years to when wise women, learned in herbs and the powers of nature, first started to offer poultices and potions to tackle problems – all wrapped up in a tidy little spell. But can witchcraft really have a place in 21st-century beauty? Passionate as Reid, 35, is about witchcraft and the efficacy of spells, she does not aim to magically turn Ugly Betty into Kate Moss. “Love. Most people are looking for spells to find love,” says Reid, who adds that, generally, her customers are seeking to become more attractive rather than a future as a supermodel.”
While the article itself is positive and cheery (downright fawning one would say), it portrays modern Witchcraft as little more than a spell-casting club, no mention of what the shop owner or her coven believes.
“Dressed in black, but a smart salon tunic rather than the flowing robes of witchy stereotypes, Reid proudly shows me round her salon, which has three main treatment rooms, each with a specific theme – sun, moon and stars. The salon has already recently been blessed by her coven, and the rest of her staff and business partner, none of whom is a practicing Wiccan, but all took part in the ceremony.”
When you do a story about Christianity or other well-known faiths, a certain amount of knowledge can be assumed. But the same assumptions can’t be made with stories on modern Paganism, where beliefs and traditions can vary wildly. Does the store owner worship the gods? Is she a polytheist? A monist? Is she a traditional Witch or an eclectic Witch? What does the local Pagan community think of her shop? Questions like these could have truly informed the reader about what Wicca is (or at least what her conception of Wicca is), instead of focusing on the use of magic and spells to the exclusion of religious beliefs. Talking about spells and potions may get us press, but they do nothing to foster understanding or dispel misconceptions.