Using Tragedy as a Bludgeon

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  May 22, 2011 — 73 Comments

At the end of April a Colville, Washington man and his 14-year-old stepdaughter were found dead, the seeming results of a murder-suicide or mutual suicide pact. The two admitted in letters left behind that they were in love, and much was made of the fact that both allegedly claimed to be adherents of Wicca.

“Ann Lykke, 36, said she found letters after the two disappeared that indicated they were having a romantic relationship. “I didn’t believe it until I found the proof when she was gone,” Ann Lykke said in a brief telephone interview Thursday from Colville. Lykke said her husband and daughter practiced the Wicca religion, and shot themselves because they believed they would spend the afterlife together. Lykke, a hypnotherapist, said she is a Christian.”

At this point we know almost nothing about the two, what their beliefs actually were, or what exactly happened that led to their deaths. There is certainly no teaching within Wicca advocating, or even mentioning, the benefits of suicide. The investigation into what happened is ongoing. However, none of that stopped the Canadian-based National Post from highlighting a truly offensive and grotesquely distorted anti-Pagan and anti-New Age screed published by MercatorNet that uses these deaths as a bludgeon to paint these belief systems in a negative light.

“The recent case of an apparent double suicide in Washington state by an English man and his 14-year-old stepdaughter is a stark reminder of the risks involved in neo-pagan worship and certain New Age practices. The pair were involved in a romantic relationship and both were Wiccans. Their Christian wife and mother, the real victim of this horrifying incident, believes they took their lives in the hope of spending eternity together. Wicca is a revival of pagan beliefs and rituals which emerge in the 1950s and 60s. It does not endorse murder, suicide or underage sex, though it does list ritual sex as a “magickal practice”. It could be argued, not without reason, that the ill-fated pair were mentally ill. But it would be wrong to conclude that their practice of Wicca was merely incidental to their actions.”

This offensive attack was written by Sue Alexander-Barnes, a Catholic convert who admits to spending a “couple years” exploring “Eastern and New Age religions.” Like many converts, she has a zeal that seemingly blinds her to the massive planks and logs within her own faith tradition. Hilariously, MercatorNet claims to be above the political fray, that they “respond with logic and evidence” and “do our best to be civil and courteous.” Yet, these ideals don’t seem to stop them from publishing an article that positively quotes a Christian scholar who calls the New Age movement a “spiritual version of AIDS,” ironically grabbing the quote from an article that debunks its fear-mongering.

I could stoop to their level and talk about the massive problems the Catholic church has with sexual abuse, despite its (allegedly) theoretically superior ethical framework. But instead let me point out why I feel Sue Alexander-Barnes has done us an injustice.

  1. She provides no evidence that Wicca condones, encourages, or  accepts murder, suicide, or underage sex. In fact, she even admits this point in the article.
  2. She provides no evidence that the fact of some Wiccans consensually engaging in “ritual sex” in any way promotes illegal or harmful acts. She simply says it “could be argued,” but anything “could be argued,” I could argue that the author’s lifestyle will lead to horrible things but I wouldn’t be right simply because I’m capable of arguing it.
  3. She wrongly conflates New Age and New Thought belief systems with modern Paganism. This is a common rookie mistake (perhaps she should read some academic material that doesn’t come from the Vatican). There may be overlap on certain topics, and some Pagans may exist within both cultures, but they are very different and very separate movements. The fact that she veers so quickly from Wicca to The Secret undermines any real argument she may have had against the religion. It would be like me criticizing Catholicism by invoking the New Apostolic Reformation.
  4. By wrongly conflating the New Age movement with modern Pagan religions she makes sweeping statements that have no foundation in fact. To apply the claim that Pagans have “little time for reason, science or technology,” for instance, shows a massive misunderstanding of our faiths, which largely embrace modern technology and scientific advances.
  5. She cites no credible evidence for any of her claims against us. The only Wiccan document she cites is the 1974 American Council of Witches’ “Principles of Wiccan Belief” to supposedly bolster her assertion that we “encourage the cult of the self” (which then leads to murder-suicides). Yet that very document consistently undermines the idea of a “cult of self.”

In short, it’s a hit-piece, and a sloppy one at that. If that’s the route MercatorNet wants to go down, fine, but it’s sad that a supposedly mainstream journalistic outlet like the National Post would promote it at their religion blog. Using a tragedy in this manner undermines the credibility of both outlets, ensuring that we should not put any weight into their views regarding modern Paganism, or indeed any topic dealing with non-mainstream permutations of faith or belief.

Jason Pitzl-Waters