Remarks to the


On Witchcraft

June 5, 1988
Milanville, Pennsylvania

opening words

Since the start of the persecutions in the middle ages, Witchcraft or paganism has been one of the most seriously misunderstood lifestyles in Western society. Its tenets are fundamental, and quite in accord the foundations of other major religions.
For example, the Wiccan rede: "An' if it harm none, do as thou wilt," is perhaps analogous to such injunctions as: "Hear oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one;" or "There is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet." Each of these statements sum up, in a few words, the essence of the religion they represent.
However, there are major differences between wiccan concepts and patriarchal Christian dogma. Wiccans worship a goddess and a god, who together embody and rule all that exists. Christians, on the other hand, are traditionally monotheistic, worshiping a trinity or trio of male Personages who will judge us at "the great and dreadful day of the Lord."
Pagan thought contrasts our deepest existential fears and accepting them as groundless, versus allowing ourselves to be driven by a divinely inflicted sense of guilt. Divinely inflicted, that is, by gods created by some of the baser aspects of humanity creating a schizoid culture where nature must subjugated and supplanted with patriarchal dominion and the land and rivers raped.
According to one Pagan writer: "The gods are really the components of our psyches. We are the gods, in the sense that we, as the sum total of human beings, are the sum of the gods. And Pagans do not wish to be pinned down to a specific act of consciousness. They keep an open ticket" (Drawing Down the Moon, p. 31).
Another writes: Monotheism, "far from being the crown of human thought and religion as its supporters have claimed for several bloody millennia, is in fact a monstrous step backwards--a step that has been responsible for more human misery than any other idea in known history" (ibid, p. 35).
For hundreds of thousands of years -- as long as humans have hunted and farmed the earth or gazed at the moon -- there have been those who acknowledged the goddess and god, under varied names. Some wiccans view the objects of their worship as aspects of themselves and of all humanity. Although many wiccan rituals are of comparatively modern origin, the feelings, concepts, and archetypes they generate and represent are ancient and present in the group consciousness.
Wiccan religion also seems to bear resemblances to modern psychology, even aside from Carl Jung, the theoretical soundness of which could be documented in professional literature. But wiccan religion fills a spiritual void which seems to be present in many theories of the mind.
A while ago (actually, the weekend of the May new moon, last month) I attended a party with some people in the Philadelphia area who impressed me as loving, independent, and emotionally and cognitively healthy a group as I have come across in recent memory. One of them alluded to "witch wars" or doctrinal, liturgical or leadership-type power games which occasionally occur between denominational leaders, but I saw no evidence it in my interactions that weekend. I came away deeply affected.
Allow me to share a letter addressed to the Wiccan priestess who invited me to the party (a masters level state youth service worker with two children and an Air Force husband who co-hosted the gathering), written a few days afterward:

May 18, 1988

Dear Domi, et al.:

In going through the book you provided (I'm presently about a third of the way through, reading during lunch hours and evenings), I have had strong feelings which are difficult for me to describe, except to say they are from the heart.
Late Saturday night, before retiring, Erica was questioning me on matters of spiritual base, etc. I told her at one time I considered psychology to be my religion, but it no longer seemed "complete" or "enough."
"And you're looking for the 'why'?" she asked.
"I've about concluded that there are no reasons," I replied. She paused before telling me I could be correct.
Since that moment, it has occurred to me Erica may not have been asking about quite such broad existential terms as I originally interpreted.
The theory of the Craft seems to embody the very basic truths on which group and individual psychological counseling practice are based. A coven seems [loosely] comparable to Rogers' description of the "basic encounter group", centering around such concepts as unconditional positive regard, acceptance, tolerance, [confidentiality of group content,] and the value of human wisdom.
Of course there are also many differences, but other conceptual similarities seem to include the idea of maintaining a closed energy flow within the circle or room; emotional openness, vulnerability, and struggling for a fullness of self.
I don't know if this was what she meant, but Witchcraft does seem to provide a deeper sense of spiritual contact and meaning than psychology alone; and in this manner, some of the "whys."
This may also relate to the point you made about the ratio of human service professionals who are Witches.
Thinking back on the dialog, perhaps Erica understood my search better than I did.
Again, I thank you for the book and the weekend.
I made it home Sunday morning precisely at 11:00 a.m., just on time to hear Phil Neurenberger, a director of the Himalayan Institute in Honesdale, speak to the Unitarian fellowship about Eastern concepts of transcendental meditation.

A large chunk of what appears be traditionally Unitarian-Universalist seems to me to be extremely cognitive in nature, to the near exclusion of the spiritual. This is probably based on healthy skepticism and sound empirical thinking. However, in the tradition of Michael Servetus, who was burned at the stake as a witch in 1553 by John Calvin, we are one of the few "mainline" American denominations which tolerates, and even at times embraces life-affirming wiccan practices.
This morning our speaker is Daniel Cohen, author of 138 books, including many on aspects of our nature referred to generally known as the occult; former managing editor of Science Digest. Although Dan says he does not consider himself a pagan, he has studied and written about the history of some of the Craft's varied forms. I am interested in his views.

The Wayne Independent, Honesdale, Pennsylvania
Weekend edition June 3-5, 1988, p. 3A

Daniel Cohen to speak on witchcraft June 5

Daniel Cohen, Port Jervis, N.Y., will address the Upper Delaware Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Milanville on Sunday, June 5, at 11 a.m. Cohen will discuss the history of modern witchcraft, known in some circles as wicca, and other phases of contemporary paganism.
Former managing editor of Science Digest, Cohen is author of 138 books on topics including the occult and the supernatural. He emphasized that, while he is a journalist and a student of paganism, his views are those of an outsider to the craft and what some adherents describe as the accompanying life-affirming philosophy.
Cohen became the focus of controversy in Orange County, N.Y., last winter when a student at Warwick High School objected to the presence of one of his books in the school library. Nearby Walkill Elementary School officials then deleted Cohen from a list of writers scheduled to speak on "Author's Day."
He was restored to the speakers' list when other authors threatened to withdraw as well, objecting to what some viewed as the heavy-handed attempt at censorship.
The Unitarian Universalist fellowship meets at in the Innisfree recreation hall on River Road, near the Skinners Falls bridge, Milanville. Refreshments are served at 10:30 a.m., and child care can be arranged.