Book Review: Wicca’s Charm

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For background on my first impressions on this book and the author, check out these links from my archives:

Why Are We So Popular (09.08.2005)
Me And My Charms (09.20.2005)

“I wrote this book in order to foster better dialogue between Pagans and Christians.”Catherine Edwards Sanders

Dialogue (from the Merriam-Webster dictionary)

1 : a written composition in which two or more characters are represented as conversing

2 a :
a conversation between two or more persons; also : a similar exchange between a person and something else (as a computer) b : an exchange of ideas and opinions c : a discussion between representatives of parties to a conflict that is aimed at resolution

Catherine Edwards Sanders’ new book “Wicca’s Charm” succeeds as a dialogue between Christians and modern Pagans if you use the first definition (indeed, much of the book hinges on the conversations she has with Wiccans and Goddess worshippers) but fails, and is deeply flawed as a work that will heal rifts between conflicted parties, if you consider the second defintion.

It is somewhat sad to see so earnest an author come so close to understanding our culture and ideas, but missing the mark. I have no quarrel with the author’s love of Christ, but her impression of our faith(s) is so removed from the context in which we understand them, that it is almost like reading about some alternate-reality version of Wicca. It makes me wonder if a full and rich dialogue about each other’s faith can ever be engaged between a modern Pagan and a Christian, even a Christian as liberal as Sanders.

The bias in this book is subtle, but ever-present. She reminds us over and over again that she admires the strong personalities of the Pagan adherents she meets, while at the same time reiterating how flimsy she believes the worth of Wicca to be. She quotes Pagan writers and scholars, but picks and chooses what she wants them to say. She seems as obsessed with drug use within our community (and this is brought up often enough that I wonder if it was a stock interview question), as she is obsessed with the “spiritual” danger the use of magic(k) represents.

Surprisingly, one of her main criticisms of Wicca is that it isn’t “ancient” (as many Witches and Wiccans believe) – even though she claims to have read, and quotes from, Ronald Hutton’s “Triumph of the Moon,” which makes the case for Wicca being a dynamic, vital, unique, and deep faith without any need for it to be ancient.

Sanders states that that pagan feminists seek reassurance in the myth of a primordial matriarchy because Christian churches, which Sanders presumes they’ve turned away from, do not present a theology made in their own image. Ironically, she goes on to assert that myths don’t have to hold literal truth to be meaningful – failing to admit how problematic this idea is within her own spiritual tradition. Altogether, Sanders seems to believe that if she simply points out that the Emperor is skyclad, we will find Paganism hollow, and the myths of Christianity solid as a rock.

Sanders goes on to make bold, ahistorical claims about ancient Paganism (as distinct from non-ancient Wicca). She misrepresents the theology and history of Paganism both ancient and modern, regularly making claims that we place no more importance on our fellow humans than we do on rocks or grass. She claims that notions of charity and the “culture of care” developed only with the establishment of Christianity, and that an authentically traditional Paganism would strip itself of altruistic “Christian” notions and embrace a fatalistic worldview devoid of all morality. In this argument more than any other, Sanders’ tolerant attitude washes clean away and we get to see her unvarnished Christian triumphalism shine through.

In this “dialogue,” Sanders’ few criticisms of Christianity are superficial ones. She confesses that Christians have acted intolerantly towards other faiths, but fails to discuss the scriptural and structural underpinnings of that intolerance. When she discusses the Christian spiritual world, it is with nothing but the glowing naivite of a believer.

Finally I feel I must address the “dangers” of the spirit world that Sanders brings up again and again in her book. She takes great pains to point out that every Wiccan she has talked to speaks of the dangers of working with the world of spirit if you are untrained or unprepared. She hammers home how our circle-castings and quarter-calls are done to “protect” us from a dangerous world beyond this plane. She doesn’t mention that many of these beliefs are part of the Christian heritage she feels we would cast away if we were “true” Pagans. Many of the ritualistic “protections” we have incorporated were written by Christian men with a Christian sense of fear of the world of spirit. The problems the inexperienced adept encounters when working with magick is the same problem that fervent Christian converts have when they ask a loving God to grant them the destruction of enemies or great material wealth. They experience an ego death when they realize these wishes will never be granted. You can call this the “three-fold law” or “God’s grace,” but the results are quite similar. Either the convert or the adept will grow up, or they will remain delusional and jump to the next spiritual path they feel will grant them their wishes.

I can’t in good faith say that this book will bridge any gaps betwen Pagans and Christians. Compassionate triumphalism is little better than overt hatred. While the first is prettier, they both branch from the same plant. If you prefer the rose to the thorn, this book might please you, but it isn’t a dialogue. “Wicca’s Charm” is a tool to win souls for Christ. Catherine Sanders has cast quite a spell, but I can spot a charm of concealment a mile away.

ADDENDUM: For the record author Aidan Kelly who Sanders records as having left modern Paganism for Catholicism is still Pagan and in fact says that “I never stopped being a witch. I just didn’t practice for a while.”