New Zealand University Gets Class on Witchcraft, People Freak Out

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Massey University in New Zealand has introduced a new extramural class called Magic and Witchcraft to “show how magic and witchcraft illustrate the beliefs, values, structures, and social tensions within particular societies”. Naturally, it has made the news.

“Spells, magical curses and voodoo dolls are all part of a new paper being offered at Massey University. Magic and Witchcraft, is a 100-level extramural paper offered this semester at the university’s school of history, philosophy and classics. Senior classics lecturer Gina Salapata said the 120 students enrolled in the paper studied the use of sorcery in the classical world, medieval and early modern times and in colonial Maori culture.”

Despite the fact that the teachers state the class is “not advocating witchcraft”, that hasn’t stopped The New Zealand Herald from conducting a sensationalist poll of its readership on the issue.

“The 120 students enrolled in the paper studied the use of sorcery in the classical world, medieval and early modern times and in colonial Maori culture. For the first assignment students had to create a magical curse tablet or erotic charm – however, the fanciful assignments have to be backed up with research. Is ‘witchcraft’ a suitable syllabus topic for Massey University?”

The “reader’s views” question doesn’t really explain that the “spells” they are crafting are for the purpose of exploring different cultural and historical views of sorcery, and not a “how-to” for aspiring magicians and Witches. As a result you get responses like this…

“The witches are slowly taking control, This is the start of their revolution, they have secret candidates in the up coming election and soon they will control the government. Beware unbelievers as the witches will take over us all.”

“This witchcraft thing is a load of nonsense, and to think that students want money out of the public purse to study that crap.”

“There is absolutely no place whatsoever for encouraging involvement in the powers of darkness, no matter how good and harmless they might claim to be. Shame on Massey University for being so naive as to allow this sort of thing to be part of the curriculum.”

…and so on, and so forth (believe me, some of the comments are far worse). There are however the occasional voices of reason in between the paranoid Christians and militant atheists.

“Here’s a recap for those too busy revelling in their own indignation to bother with facts. This is an extra-mural (look it up) summer course. It is a 3-month paper costing $497 plus $111 for enrolment & student fees. Most attendees will be adults taking a ‘hobby’ course. The paper restricts its focus to Classical Greece & Rome, Medieval & Early Modern Europe and early post-contact Maori society, treating each from a historical perspective (Source: Massey Website). Your taxes have nothing to do with adults paying to take a paper that interests them. A paper which focuses upon socio-historical trends will not teach people how to be ‘modern witches’ nor how to “slain/burn their own children” (sic) ILNZ, I would suggest you read some proper history books.”

The manufactured controversy becomes clearer when you realize that the New Zealand Herald is a socially conservative paper. This is just a bit of red meat to throw to their readership, the sort of pandering one sees with ideologically slanted media outlets. Too bad really, the course sounded interesting, and there will no doubt be pressure on the university to drop the elective in the future.

Thanks to Judy Harrow for tipping me off to this story!