In many parts of the US, witches only exist in the Wizard of Oz; but here in Minneapolis / St. Paul, it’s a bona fide religious affiliation. With over 20,000 witches (or Neo-pagans as many of them prefer), the Twin Cities is home to perhaps the largest concentration of active covens of any U.S. city (with around 234). Strangely, we even have “witch” prison chaplains, homeschool groups – even pagan law firms, babysitting groups, and “addiction recovery groups for witches.” (for citations, see http://cityvisiontc.org)
Of course, this probably isn’t a shock to Minneapolis natives, after all, the city of Anoka, has been famously declaring itself as the “Halloween capital of the world” for almost 100 years. Even more, one of the largest publishers of occult books calls the Twin Cities home. And some of these witch groups even advertise on Minneapolis billboards.
So, for years I’ve wondered: how do they feel about Halloween? Do they even celebrate it? How do they feel about broomsticks and cauldrons of human-stew – made up of wayward children?
Keep in mind, neo-pagans are about as diverse as they come. There’s not a whole lot of “centralized orthodoxy” to it. So, they are a lot like the Southern Baptists in that, if you get 2 of them in a room, they’re going to leave with 3 strong opinions. (sorry, I couldn’t resist). Honestly, most Neo-pagans are quite tolerant of diversity. So, when I researched this question, I definitely realized that, no two witches practice the same.
However, most of them DO celebrate Halloween or more specifically the ancient celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced SOW’en). In some ways, it’s considered the Wiccan new year – the tapering off of Wiccan power – a time of the year when, they believe, the living and the dead can interact more easily.
Keep in mind, many of the traditions of modern Halloween (like trick or treating) were actually started by the Catholic church – which is quite different than all the scary stories of people “sacrificing to demons.” When I researched trick or treating, I quickly realized that many of the origin stories, which many Evangelicals perpetuate, aren’t very accurate (which I’ll talk about in another blog). But, it suffices to say that, most witches don’t see any of the contemporary concept of Halloween even remotely similar to Samhain. For some, they hate Halloween (just like some Christians hate Christmas) – as they see it as crass commercialism that twists the meaning and forces them to deal with irritating stereotypes. Others don’t mind the publicity at all. For some, it normalizes their beliefs.
Many covens celebrate with a simple bonfire or “dumb supper” – where they remember their loved ones. Some take it s step further by offering ritual chants to the “Lord of Death” (amidst a few other strange sounding gods) followed by wine and merriment. But it almost seems as though very few actually get “spooky” like we’d imagine — although, I’m certain that there are a few who do some really strange stuff. I suppose it’s quite similar to Christians in that, some are spooky and some are just dead-boring. (As for me… I like to imagine myself as entertainingly spooky; yet accessible ; )
Interestingly, most witches have no desire to “curse” people as many believe they “reap what they sow” (to use a Christian phrase). Indeed most of their “spells” aim for health, wealth and love. Yet again, like I shared in my book Pharisectomy, many people, including both Christians and atheists, can find ways to utilize their faith in hateful ways. (Pharisaism can be found in every religion.)
Interestingly, 2/3rds of neo-pagans are women. Many of them walked away from their Christian upbringings because they went to Christian churches which denied the role of women as spiritual leaders, or their churches’ denied “supernatural faith” – the idea that miracles still happen.
Sadly, the Bible talks A LOT about women doing ministry and the supernatural “gifts of the Holy Spirit” – like prophecy, gifts of faith, etc. However, the Bible recommends we receive such gifts from a singular HOLY spirit. Unfortunately, many churches settle for a powerless and theoretical Christianity – one that is reduced to theological tenets and rituals – and then we wonder why spiritually hungry people leave to satisfy their spiritual hunger in witchcraft?
Even though the Apostle Pauls commands us to “eagerly desire the spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy” (1 Cor 14:1), many churches prefer to totally ignore the prophetic – out of fear of people getting spooky. (And yes, some people DO get spooky and carried away : ) Yet, as the Apostle Paul ALSO said: “Do not put out the Holy Spirit’s fire. And do not treat prophecies with contempt” (See 1 Thess. 5:19-21).
Even more, the Bible refers to significant “prophetesses” and other prominent positions for female leadership; yet again, many churches rip those pages out of their Bibles to substantiate their narrow patriarchal interpretations.
Quite often, most neo-pagans have never even heard of charismatic theology. When you study many of the tenets of witchcraft, they’re not altogether different than the tenets of prayer, faith and prophesy. (Obviously, they differ in terms of their source of power). However, I’m convinced that if Christians simply exemplified the supernatural foundations of Christianity (as taught in the Bible), many Neo-pagans would happily abandon their weak chants once they see the surpassing power of Almighty God. (And, if that’s you, and you’re interested, here are a few video-casts that address a few of the supernatural topics you might like : )
Over the years, I’ve seen a good number of neo-pagans undergo demonic deliverances. In fact, we’ve had a few demonic deliverances over the past couple months. (And once you see a few of these, I guarantee you, you’re not going to mess around with fortune tellers and other neo-pagan rituals!)
I realize that there’s a lot of hokey stuff associated with witchcraft too (like Ouija boards and tarot cards). And it’s ALSO true that there’s a lot of hokey stuff associated with Christianity too – (just think about all the websites devoted to “holy water” or shofar horns). And please don’t misunderstand me to be ripping on them. Rather, I’m simply acknowledging that, every religion has a few people who take things too far. Every religion has a continuum of adherants who go from boring to spooky.
That being said, there can still be real power behind these things, as well as real demons. There’s a reason why God forbade these practices. (Deut. 18:10). And even more, why would we need to when God has given us many of the same powers through prayer? So, I certainly wouldn’t be messing around with any forms of witchcraft – even the ones that seem primarily for entertainment purposes.
However, it still begs the question: Should Christians be celebrating Halloween? I’m going to deal with this question in another blog!
But my point here is this: Witchcraft is real. It’s actually a fast-growing religious affiliation here (it’s tripled in size over the past 20 years). Many of these people are delightful individuals who genuinely want to help others; yet, they’ve never encountered the true power and grace of God taught in scriptures.
So, when you see all of the kitchy Halloween decorations depicting witches and warlocks, remember, to pray for these people. Christ died for these precious individuals. And if we want to be like Christ, we need to understand them more so that we can think of new ways to serve them with the love, grace, and supernatural power of God.