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Witchcraft and sorcery are illegal in the United Arab Emirates, but unlike their neighbors in Saudi Arabia they treat the matter as a fraud and nuisance, rather than a grave crime that can earn you the death penalty.

“Witchcraft and sorcery is strictly illegal in the UAE and most Gulf countries. In Saudi Arabia, it is a crime punishable by death. However in Dubai, authorities have treated it largely as the purview of scam artists and confidence tricksters. In the United Arab Emirates, and Dubai in particular, authorities take a more liberal stance. However, because of the large number of scam artists posing as sorcerers and exorcists in Dubai, police have set up a special task force to crack down on so-called ‘magic-related crimes.'”

Despite this no-doubt impressive task force, it was UAE’s airport security who caught two Asian men trying to smuggle over a thousand items related to sorcery and magic into the country.

Seized occult haul. Image Credit: Dubai Police

Seized occult haul. Image Credit: Dubai Police

“Ali Al Maghawi, Dubai Customs’ Director of Airport Operations Department, said the two men were apprehended after their bags were scanned. “Two Asian passengers were suspected when their bags passed through the internal inspection machines,” he said. “Their bags were scanned and searched manually. Inspectors found out a great number of wicca literature, talismans and items which are usually used in witchcraft and sorcery work.” Al Maghawi pointed out that the 1,200 seized items fell into 28 categories used for black magic, sorcery and incantation.”

Did you catch that? “A great number of Wicca literature.” Later in the article, while listing what was seized, an official simply says “magic teaching books,” by why say “Wicca literature” in the first place unless there are actually books that say “Wicca” on them? Sadly, though I searched, there isn’t a clear picture of the seized books (Imagine the marketing coup for the company that published the titles!). So my question is, are there Wiccans in the UAE?

Certainly most of these items, including the literature, are being used in syncretic or indigenous magical systems, but even the most utilitarian Western Witchcraft spell-books usually have some information about Wicca and its beliefs in them. If the “great number” of Wiccan books seized here are simply the tip of the iceberg, as is the case with most black market busts, then it stands to reason there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people reading about modern Pagan faiths in the UAE. Does that mean there might be modern Pagans and Witches in the country as well? It’s not so far-fetched an idea. Wherever Western literature and Internet access has become easily accessible, small pockets of Pagans have also emerged. There are Pagans in Lebanon, and in Israel, and the country of Jordan has welcomed Patrick McCollum as a guest, so these materials can’t all be mere fodder for scam-artists.

Modern Paganism is now a global movement, and has been so for some time. While our critics would like to believe that Wicca, Druidry, and other faiths under our umbrella are merely the passing fancy of bored teenagers, radical feminists, and aging hippies, the truth is that the underlying appeal of reviving pre-Christian religion has sparked something far larger than even we could have anticipated. The harder the dominant monotheisms grasp, the more people start looking for alternatives. What’s truly exciting is to see how the ideas and concepts of modern Paganism change and grow in places like India, South America, Africa, and the Middle East. Books on Wicca may be inadvertently helping to revive polytheism without a single missionary uttering a single word.