Archives For S.A. Tower

Before we start today’s post I’d like to wish safety, security, and good health to all those in path of the Hurricane Sandy. If you’re a reader of The Wild Hunt, please check in at the comments and let us know you’re OK.

Now then, Samhain. Or should I say Halloween? Because while the two holidays are distinct, their connections and associations have reporters heading out to find some real-live Witches and Pagans to interview each October. While it’s not as bad as in times past, there’s still a flood of stories each year; some good, some bad, and some that just make you scratch your head. So here’s some selections from the Samhain Silly Season.

  • Every Halloween has to have a story from Salem, home to so many real-live Witches, and this year is no different. However, this year the East Coast is contending with Hurricane Sandy, so we get a “how’s the Halloween tourist industry doing in the inclement weather” story. Quote: “To me, the entire season this year has seemed a little quiet,” said Lynn Lazdowski, co-owner of Bewitched in Salem. “I don’t know if it’s the economy; gas prices are still high, after all. So for me, evaluating the crowds today are a tough call – it does seem down from previous years, but I don’t know what to attribute that to.”
  • What do you do when you’re a Christian media outlet but you want to have a Witch-themed story in time for Halloween? Interview a Christian ex-Witch of course! Christian Today Australia interviews S.A. (Seleah Ally) Tower (who I’ve reported on before) about this dangerous, dangerous holiday. Quote: “Putting on a costume is like temporarily putting on the persona of the costume so I would suggest using discernment in the costume choice. I would certainly not encourage a witch or sorcerer costume, but I don’t think a parent should overreact to a child’s choice of one either. It can be a great learning experience and help the child make another choice on their own.”
  • However, Henry Brinton a pastor of Fairfax Presbyterian Church, writing for USA Today, says that Christians shouldn’t fear Samhain (or Halloween). Quote: “…the ancient Celts were right to focus on “summer’s end.” Halloween is about the transition from summer to winter, from life to death. Even young children are beginning to wonder about mortality, so what is the harm in having them dress up as ghosts or skeletons? As Christians, we believe that God is with us in both life and in death. Bioethicist George Annas says America has a “death-denying culture that cannot accept death as anything but defeat.” This attitude makes it hard for us to prepare for death. But Halloween reminds us that we all must die.”
  • Canadian paper The Province interviews Witch Sarah Lawless about Samhain and Halloween. Quote: “The biggest pagan celebration of the year is Oct. 31. Most people know it as Halloween. “This is the one time of year when magic is acceptable. It’s okay to be a pagan,” says Sarah Lawless, 28, a Maple Ridge native who got into paganism 10 years ago as a way of celebrating the natural world. She says it’s fun being scared, but most of the time there’s no reason to be.”
  • Meanwhile, in Poland, the growing popularity of Halloween has got Archbishop Andzej Dzięga very, very concerned! Quote: “It is with growing sadness that we see in the last few years a trend of so-called Halloween celebrations growing in Poland. I am particularly concerned about such initiatives [being introduced] in school, where only mature attitudes should shape the social, intellectual and spiritual growth of the younger generation,” writes the archbishop […] Halloween is also the “promotion of paganism” and a “culture of death” he claims.” Sorry Archbishop, but when you get rid of totalitarian government, you have to deal with the messiness of actual freedom.

That’s just a selection, there’s more, of course. A Witches Ball in Toledo, Unitarians considering the thinning of the veil, eclectic Pagans in Framingham, speaking with the spirits in Salem, and all the occult origins reporters can dig up on short notice. Why not share your favorite Samhain-themed stories in the comments, I have no doubt there’s plenty I’m missing.

There must be something uniquely unsettling to certain factions of Christianity about the existence of modern Pagan religions, something that makes them over-react. It can’t be our sheer numbers, despite consistent growth Pagans account for only 0.4% of the population (around a million people) in the United States. No matter what the odd conspiracy theory might say, Pagans don’t pull the strings of any powerful politicians, and there is no Pagan lobbying organization in Washington DC. Despite these reassurances of Christian dominance, a good number of Christians are preoccupied with us to the point of distraction. How has this strange state of affairs come about?

My personal theory is two-fold: First the Satanic Panics of the 1980s ramped up fears of an (imaginary) murderous occult underground network, one that the media was all too happy to feed, giving the impression that “we” were everywhere and were possibly dangerous. Secondly, I think the re-emergence of Paganism feeds into an atavistic primal fear in the Christian mind. Pagans were the original and long-vanquished enemies of Christian dominance in the West, our defeat enmeshed in the very core of their understanding of the world. Christ came and defeated the old gods, “the great god Pan is dead,” that’s how it was supposed to work. It was a version of this view that enabled the Doctrine of Discovery and the horrors that followed it, and continues to influence how many Christians encounter other faiths. So to see the vanquished rise again must be uniquely disquieting, a symbolic blow that undermines two thousand years of propaganda.

The conservative (largely evangelical) Christian obsession with the “occult,” modern Pagan religions, and especially Witchcraft, is best exemplified by the “ex-witch.” The saved Witch, the former sinner who turns from the old gods (who are all controlled by Satan, obviously) and embraces the light of Jesus Christ. Almost every modern book written by Christians that deals with Wicca or modern Paganism drags one out (or is written by one). “Wicca and Witchcraft: Understanding the Dangers,” “Generation Hex”“Wicca’s Charm”, “Dewitched”, and the granddad of them all: Bill Schnoebelen’s “Wicca: Satan’s Little White Lie” (Schnobelen’s work was expertly demolished by former student and coven-mate Frater Barrabbas). Each pledge to give you the “true” story of Wicca/Witchcraft/the occult, often with horrifying revelations once you get “deep” enough. The books have gotten more nuanced in the post-panic era (no more human sacrifices), but they all still try to evoke enough drama and lurid occult phenomena to rake in concerned Christian dollars at Christian book stores.

The latest entry into the “ex-witch” genre is by S.A. (Seleah Ally) Tower, author of “Taken From the Night,” which  documents her journey from Christian, to “initiated” Wiccan of ten years, to born-again Christian.

Her 10-year experience in witchcraft that began in 1989 came to an end through divine intervention, she said. “It came to a point where it felt like God had intervened and literally came down and took me back.” In addition to the book, her testimony and insightful revelations in the spiritual realm have been told on several Christian radio programs. Tower said she shied away from writing a typical book on the subject of witchcraft that might paint a stereotypical picture of gory sacrifices and “what the Bible says about it.” “To someone who is wavering or looking into Christianity a little bit, not yet 100 percent sure, those types of books can be very frustrating,” she said. She explained that when she was moving away from witchcraft she was looking for stories about someone who had just left the cult. “I just wanted to hear the facts of what happened,” she said.

Here are her not-at-all sensationalized and overly dramatic promo videos for the book.

and

Nothing about what I see here, or at her web site, say that these are books written to reach Wiccans. “Taken From the Night” is just another book written by a Christian for other Christians, marketed on Christian radio programs so everyone can feel good about themselves. Tower may gently criticize those other ex-witches who “stir the church with false witness and fear,” but she’s just the kinder, gentler, version of Bill Schnoebelen.

“During my Wiccan years, I remember them… I call them the E’s (exaggerators and embellishers). Mind you, those that put on the face of a witch may actually have dabbled in some form of witchcraft and have an honest heart for those involved. However, their exaggerated tales need self-examination. While it’s nice to rally the crowd, we have a greater calling. Jesus gave us a commission to reach the world with His love, not stir the church with false witness and fear. God has placed on my heart a desire for His love and light to be revealed to those that don’t know him, not widen the gap. Believe me, the real witches can see the face behind the mask… so take it off and show the true nature of God. Be content with His story in your life, whatever that may entail.”

Let me reiterate again, these books do absolutely nothing to engender understanding and communication between Pagans and Christians, no matter how they like to dress it up. They are books that must end with a victory for Christ, and must, no matter how diplomatically, portray Wicca as at least somewhat demonic. We may have evolved from murdering Satanists to deluded troubled souls looking for self-empowerment, but the underlying script remains unchanged. They are a far, far, cry from recently published books that actually work to end misconceptions like “Connecting Christ”“Jesus Through Pagan Eyes”, and “Beyond the Burning Times”. Whatever the criticisms and flaws of those books, they at least treat Wicca and modern Pagan faiths as religions that must be engaged with like any other religion.

If Christian-Pagan dialog is to move forward, if there is to be real understanding and communication, then the “ex-witch” meme must be done away with. They aren’t “ex-witches”, they are Christians, hoping to make a buck and score some notoriety from their past dalliances with our faiths and traditions. Ms. Tower may have been “one of us” for a decade, but she obviously learned nothing about how actions have repercussions. She has chosen to make herself a part of a publishing legacy that has done nothing but lie and defame us, no matter how reformed the genre claims to be now. They dare pity us, and call us damaged or lost. They are nothing but non-fiction dramas for bored Christians looking for a bit of frission, and to dress it up as anything else is an insult to the real interfaith and dialog work being done by Christians and Pagans.