The Witch and The Christian

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The Salem Gazette has a nice profile of two religious figures in the “Witch City” of Salem, Massachusetts. The first is Christian Phil Wyman, head of The Gathering, a small congregation of 45 that practices an ethic of understanding and co-existence with the nearly 4000 Witches living in Salem.

“Christians have a National Enquirer view of pagans,” he says. “They think they must be worshiping Satan or sacrificing babies … or they view the pagan community as a well organized machine that’s after the church. That’s a sad picture. In turn, because a few Christians have taken advantage of that to make money in the ’80s and ’90s, the pagans have a bad view of the Christians. We want to break that.”

Wyman was famously “excommunicated” from his parent Church in 2006 due to his too-friendly relations with the local Pagan population, and continues to have run-ins with fellow Christians who disagree with his approach.

“Michael Marcavage, 28, is the founder of Repent America, a Philadelphia-based organization of missionaries that spent five days in Salem this October spreading their beliefs via brochures and amplified talks on the Essex Street Pedestrian Mall. This, Marcavage believes, is the proper way to go about spreading the gospel. “Jesus began his ministry by saying repent or perish,” he says, admitting that Wyman has spoken to him in the past to criticize his gloom-and-doom approach … Marcavage accuses Wyman of affirming the pagans’ beliefs. “Is he reaching out to them?” he asks. ‘He has no division from them … They’re so comfortable with what he’s doing they haven’t taken issue … The word of God invites confrontation.'”

The article then turns to Wyman’s friendship with local Witch and event organizer Christian Day (who my readers may remember from my coverage of the Salem “Psychic Wars”). Reporter Kristin D’Agostino attempts to draw parallels between the two men, by highlighting their ongoing friendship, and the troubles each have had within their own religious communities.

“It is easy to see why Day and Wyman get along so well. In addition to sharing a theatrical flare and offering the community psychic services (Wyman dream interpretation, Day psychic readings), both men have in the past two years had experiences that resulted in them being ousted from their spiritual communities. With Day, the schism came last year when he was accused by a fellow witch of planting raccoon remains at downtown shops, a false rumor that rippled through the pagan and Wiccan community. Because of these common experiences, perhaps, the two men have fostered a symbiotic relationship. Wyman donates dozens of church chairs to Day’s annual psychic fair on the Museum Place Mall. And Day offers the pastor free marketing advice for his church events. “If I can sell Jesus, I can sell anything!” he says. Recently Day admits, he donated $200 to The Gathering.”

While I would hardly call Day’s status within the Salem Pagan community as “ousted”, he runs one of the biggest Pagan-themed events in Salem, and is opening a new Witch shop in March, the two do seem to share a special bond. Day is even quoted as saying he often prefers the company of Christians over his fellow Pagans.

“I go to church to break bread with them,” he says, admitting he often enjoys the company of Christians more than his own community, which he considers “full of gossip and innuendo.”

This positive article about inter-religious friendship carries a subtext concerning two methods of interactions between Pagans and Christians. Wyman’s way, which involves dialog, co-existence, and Christian role-modeling (in the place of proselytizing), and Repent America’s methods, which involve megaphones, hellfire, and hostile attitudes towards Paganism. While neither can claim any significant numbers of converts, Wyman seems far closer to touching the hearts of Pagans.

“If ever there was a person that could make me want to become a churchgoing Christian it would be Phil,” Day says. “Not because he’s tried to convince me that witchcraft was evil, or hell is fire and brimstone, but because he leads a life of honesty. He’s one of the most honest people I know …”

As Paganism grows and becomes a bigger social and fiscal presence in cities beyond Pagan meccas like Salem, San Francisco, and Minneapolis/St. Paul (aka Paganistan), how Christians choose to interact with Pagans will become a very important issue. We can only hope that the fear and ignorance-based reactions don’t win out, and instead an ethic closer to Phil Wyman’s becomes the norm.