During my 28 years as a practicing Wiccan, or "witch" if you prefer,
I have had occasion to ask myself this difficult question many, many
times. With the recent political controversy over the United States
Army permitting pagan services to be held on military bases in Texas
and around the world, the question suddenly has more than its usual
immediacy for me and for my brothers and sisters in Wicca.
First, let me get the usual questions out of the way. Wicca is a real
religion, born in the 1950s as a recreation of the Old Religion of
Northern Europe, which some believe dates back about 25,000 years. In
the mid-1980s, the U.S. Courts accepted Wicca as a legitimate
religion and granted us 1st Amendment rights and freedom from
taxation. So the point is moot, really. The same U.S. Constitution
that protects Christianity protects our religious freedom - and a
good thing, too. We are the fastest growing religion of the 20th
We do not believe in an evil deity, and would not worship one if we
did. We do not practice human or animal sacrifice. The most sacred
commandment our religion demands of us is to harm no one. If you
think about that last statement carefully, it pretty well covers most
of the Biblical Ten Commandments - the important parts, anyway. Even
more important, we do not attempt to convert our friends and
neighbors to Wicca. Our faith teaches us that when they are ready for
what we have to teach, they will seek us out.
What about me, personally? Am I a New Age nut? Well, that depends on
what you mean. I'm an environmentalist, certainly. I am also a
feminist. On the other hand, I do not do illegal drugs of any kind. I
am a computer technician working for one of the largest employers in
the United States. I am a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer. I am
an aspiring science-fiction writer and screenwriter, actively
peddling stories and novels to the publishing industry in New York
and motion picture scripts to Hollywood. I am a licensed pilot and a
licensed aircraft mechanic. I am a licensed private investigator. My
favorite hobby is reading physics textbooks, and I apply such
knowledge to my science fiction. I am a veteran of the United States
Air Force, the United States Air Force Reserve, and the Texas Army
National Guard, and during the time I served, I held a top-secret
security clearance. I served my country well and was honorably
discharged. I've been arrested only once in my entire life, as a 17-
year-old runaway, and I've had a grand total of three traffic tickets
in almost thirty years of driving. In what way am I such an evil and
Why have I been forced to practice my religion in secret for most of
my life? Why, during my active duty years (early to mid 1970s), was I
forced to record "No Pref" on my dog tags? Am I a pacifist? Hardly!
Women have never been drafted in the United States, so why would I
have enlisted voluntarily (and during the Viet Nam war!) if I were a
Why does publishing my real name on this article cause me to risk the
loss of my job, vandalism to my home and my car, harm to my animals
(and children if I had any)? Does this make any sense to a rational
Where does the knee-jerk hostility to the word "witch" come from?
Not from the word, certainly. "Witch" is a corruption of "witcraft,"
or "craft of the wise." In fact, my religion is sometimes called "The
Craft of the Wise," or just "The Craft." There is nothing sinister
there. Do we practice magic? Yes, most of us do. Do we have
supernatural powers? Of course not. Oddly enough, those who believe
the practice of magic is so evil are often those who most sincerely
believe in faith healing. Just think about that honestly for a
moment, and try to explain the difference to me. I'm waiting . . .
Let's get back to the Craft of the Wise. During the Christian
Inquisition, nobody really knows how many accused witches were burned
at the stake. It is known, however, that a number of village wise
women were accused of witchcraft and burned for curing fevers with
nasty stuff like moldy bread. Were they followers of the Old
Religion? Probably - although I wasn't there, and I honestly have
idea. Were they wise? You bet they were! Did you ever hear of
penicillin? How many centuries of medical knowledge were lost because
of a bunch of frightened priests?
So where did the idea come from that we were (and are) Satanists?
The most obvious answer is that the moldy bread cure worked, and was
unexplainable. A number of other herbal and common sense remedies
were surprisingly effective, as "alternative" medicine is re-
discovering today. The only way the church could admit these cures
worked (and it was a little too obvious to deny) without admitting
this was a really good thing was to make the claim that the women
practicing these cures had made a pact with the Devil. Heavens, they
couldn't be physicians! Medicine was firmly in the hands of the
priests, and the practice of medicine was expressly forbidden to
women. At the time I write of, formal medicine consisted mostly of
applying leeches to the sick.
Were the village wise women the only problem? No. During this early
medieval period, when the Christians were converting Northern Europe
at sword point, a lot of dirty tricks were played. The country folk,
whom we believe to be the ancestors of modern Wicca, worshiped a
Goddess we consider the Mother of Life, and a God we call the Horned
Hunter, or God of Death. For us, death is merely a door to rebirth,
so there is nothing at all fearful for us in a God of Death. In an
effort to make non-Christianity something horrible, the monks who
drew the medieval Biblical illustrations "borrowed" our Horned Hunter
when they drew depictions of the Christian Devil. You needn't take my
word for this. Any educated person knows that the Greek Pan predates
Christianity by some considerable period of time. Take a good look at
a drawing of Pan in your nearest encyclopedia. Look familiar? He
should. You've been looking at him in biblical illustrations dating
back to your first Sunday school. Pan is the Greek form of our Horned
Hunter. They are one and the same god. Read your mythology. Pan was
never evil, just playful.
If all that weren't enough, Exodus 22:18 was horribly mistranslated
in the King James Version of the Christian Bible. The
original "Suffer not a poisoner to live among you" became "Thou shalt
not suffer a witch to live." Some pretty bloodthirsty fundamentalist
preachers want to enforce that mistranslation literally, even today.
In August of 1999, Rev. Jack Harvey of Killeen, Texas, was quoted as
stating publicly that all witches should be killed. He organized
a "March Against Wickedness" for that Labor Day Monday in
(which flopped pitifully), and I believe he was hoping and praying it
would erupt into real violence, because he advised members of his
congregation to carry guns, in case some of us witches decided to
snatch his kids.
Can you spell "bizarre?" We would never, of course, kidnap
but could someone please explain to me why we are supposed to want
them? And, in particular, why we would want his offspring? I thought
the idea of sacrificing Christian babies was discarded when the Nazis
falsely accused the Jews of it. This is more of the same bigoted
In terms of our current century, Hollywood hasn't helped us much,
either. Sick, twisted individuals who worship evil have always
existed, and sadly, I'm afraid they will for a very long time to
come. They pervert the Christian cross by inverting it, and
sometimes, they invert our sacred symbol, the pentagram, as well.
Hollywood directors just can't seem to get it right, though. They
consistently show evil ceremonies prominently displaying the
pentagram right side up.
When the pentagram is displayed properly, the symbolism is that of a
man standing upright within a circle, meaning uprightness and spirit
over flesh. In other traditions, the five points represent the four
elements (fire, air, earth, water) surmounted by aether - or
In any case, spirit is on top. Needless to say, the symbolism of an
inverted pentagram is obscene to us, just as the symbolism of an
inverted cross is obscene to you if you are a Christian. Because most
Christians have seen movies in which evil ceremonies were presided
over by an upright pentagram, they are upset and frightened when they
meet a Wiccan wearing one. That's understandable enough, but it
should be corrected by education.
Other reasons for fear again date back to medieval times. The reasons
have mostly been forgotten, but the fear remains. During medieval
times, life was unpleasant. In fact, it was downright horrible for
the peasants. Christianity taught the peasants that it didn't matter,
that the material world was to be shunned in favor of a reward in the
Christian Heaven. Wiccans did not, and do not, agree. I can still
remember my first teacher telling me that it would be difficult to
cultivate my spiritual nature until at least my basic physical needs -
as in food, shelter, warmth - were met. We are taught that achieving
success at another's expense is wrong (remember we are permitted to
harm none!), but success in itself is actually a virtue. In medieval
times, daring to hope and work for success was dangerous thinking. It
might even have led to a collapse of feudalism. So the Christian
hatred of that tenet of Wicca was one part envy, one part fear.
Another envy/fear combination had to do with the fact that Wicca is
fun. The Old Religion is filled with laughter and playfulness. Our
ceremonies are wonderful parties, full of happy tipsiness and
flirtation. By comparison, medieval Christian practices were rather
grim. Somehow, the Christians who were trying to convert us had to
convince us that slipping off into the woods for a bonfire and a
roaring good time wasn't such a good idea. Do what they would,
though, they couldn't get us to give up our fun. Quite logically
under the circumstances, they "borrowed" from us. The use of song and
chants in ritual (although why the church couldn't manage happy
I can't say), incense (borrowed from Mithraic ritual)- even
actual elements of ritual itself. You can hear echoes of our cakes
and ale ceremony in Christian Communion. Oh, I don't doubt that Jesus
of Nazareth had bread and wine during his Last Supper! That's as may
be, but I don't think the contents of his last meal became a central
part of Christian ceremonies until Christianity clashed with the Old
Religion in Europe.
Where did Jesus get the idea in the first place? Mithras, who died
following a ritual meal of bread and wine? Or the cakes and ale of
the Old Religion? Scary question, isn't it? For the record, I believe
it was Mithras, as he was the secret god of many of the Roman troops
occupying Palestine at the time of Jesus of Nazareth. Nevertheless,
enough Roman troops were European "barbarians" that it is
possible that some elements of our faith were known to Jesus himself.
20th Century Christian practices never struck me as being a barrel of
laughs, either. Wiccans are still having fun. So there is bound to be
some ongoing envy, if not outright fear.
Please do not misunderstand. I am not bashing Christians! Those who
practice their faith honestly have no part in this hatred and
fanaticism. Most are decent men and women, and I am proud to call
many of them my friends. When the Rev. Jack Harvey called for a
Christian boycott of the Armed Forces over this pagan worship
controversy, Rev. Pat Robertson had the courage to publicly withdraw
from the boycott and state it was wrong. I refer only to the
dignified lack of humor in the Christian faith as it has been
practiced down through the centuries. It does not speak to my heart
Also, if I am to be completely honest, I must admit that pagans
aren't completely innocent in the dirty tricks department. The so-
called Cult of Mary, which existed within Roman Catholicism for so
many centuries, was actually a secret form of "safe" Goddess
I wonder how many Christians know how many of their holidays were
Samhain, our New Year celebration, when the walls between the worlds
are at their thinnest and our beloved dead walk and feast among us,
became Christian All Hallows or Halloween. One ceremony used by
pagans to encourage a rich crop (although not at Samhain, which is
after the harvest) was the sweeping of brooms over the planted
fields. To early Christians watching from a distance, it must have
looked like the witches were riding on the brooms or trying to do so.
Since Samhain was known to be the witches' most important
witches riding on broomsticks became the symbol of Halloween. Not so
surprising at all.
Yule, or the winter solstice, when we celebrate the birth of the Sun
God to Mother Earth and Father Time, was borrowed for the birthday of
the Christian Jesus. Most Christian scholars agree that Jesus was
actually born in the spring. The Yule log, the tree, and even the
Nativity Crèche were originally pagan customs. If you have Wiccan
friends, and you thought they were only protecting themselves by
displaying a Nativity Crèche at Christmas, you were wrong. We had
Nativity Crèches long before you came along to convert us!
Imbolc, our festival of light, when we celebrate the start of the
Mother's return to us, along with the birth of new lambs and flowers
awakening under the snow, became Christian Candlemas.
Beltane, our famous (and infamous) fertility celebration when we leap
the bonfires in joy at the arrival of summer, became May Day, famous
for playful fertility celebrations throughout the Christian world.
Lammas, or August 1st, when we celebrate the fruitfulness of the
land - well, how many Christians have celebrated the rich harvest to
come down through the centuries?
There are many, many more examples of "borrowing."
And therein lies the real root of the problem.
The thing a few fanatical Christians fear most of all is being forced
to admit our kinship, because after nearly 2,000 years of borrowing,
we aren't so very different anymore.
At a tiny 5'1", Kathryn A. Graham is a licensed private investigator,
pilot, aircraft mechanic and handgun instructor in Texas. Also a
prolific author, she has written numerous articles, short stories and
a science fiction novel. You can visit her website KathrynAGraham.com