Wiccans Don’t Cast Spells…
by Ruby Sara
Jason at The Wild Hunt recently reported news of the recent firing of a Wiccan employee by the TSA. And while I, like others, believe that this is indeed a case of discrimination, and the MSN article communicates that pretty fairly, and even does a decent job of discussing Wicca…I can’t help but cringe at some of the comments made by Smith herself:
“I was dumbfounded,” Smith said. “I told him, that’s not what Wicca is. We don’t cast spells. That’s not witchcraft. That’s black magic or voodoo or something else.”
Really? Well, color *me* dumbfounded. I had no idea Wiccans didn’t cast spells. Oh wait, that’s because they unquestionably and undeniably DO. So…um…what?
Also – a good rule of thumb when decrying religious discrimination is not to disparage other religions or practices, especially when you don’t understand them yourself. I think it’s safe to say that practitioners of Vodou and other African Diasporic Religions have plenty of their own discrimination to deal with and definitely don’t need the members of other misunderstood religions to dump on them in order to “prove” to the media that they are not religiously motivated by any law, doctrine or teaching to perform arcane acts of diabolical evil on hapless others.
Yes, it certainly is possible that Smith is being egregiously and woefully misquoted (I wasn’t able to watch the video so I am only going by the written material in the article) – and for damn sure that happens and happens often, though in an article that seems fairly hellbent on giving even shakes to Smith’s religion and the situation she’s in, I find it rather more likely that she actually said these things. And if she is not being misquoted, this means that Smith is either seriously uninformed as to the details of her own professed religion, or she is hedging in order to paint Wicca in the best possible light. And both of these bother me, but the latter bothers me the most, as it is a particularly glaring example of something I’ve seen before in interfaith dialogue when it comes to conversations between orthodox and accepted forms of religiosity and the religious Other.
Generalizations and simplifications of religions are bad enough, but they are almost unavoidable in the age of the soundbite. And being careful and thoughtful with one’s words when discussing commonly misconstrued aspects of one’s religion is important – yes. Sugarcoating, on the other hand, can and should be avoided as much as humanly possible. It *is* possible to avoid becoming mired in the swampy complexity of explaining one’s religion while still being honest. Wiccans most assuredly do cast spells, but magic is a vast and complicated subject, and Wicca also posits an ethical system that is applied accordingly. Though of course some of them even cast nasty spells on occasion, despite the Wiccan Rede. And why is this? Because individuals, even those who ostensibly share the same ethical system, make different ethical choices. I shouldn’t have to even mention that this goes for all religions everywhere.
Of course…yes, we’re talking about magic, and the World Outside, no matter how post-enlightenment rational we’re all supposed to be, still harbors a major superstitious squick factor when it comes to spellcraft, with no distinctions made between benign and baneful. Lots of folks get squirrelly if we talk about making a simple herb charm for employment or getting a tarot reading, let alone mentioning the Goetia or even a simple poppet spell (due to decades of Media Hype, poppets really seem to freak people out). So conversations about this aspect of some Pagans’ practice will get sticky because of this cultural unease, absolutely. But that only means that we are required to become at the least versed enough in the subject to portray it candidly and with an eye towards acknowledging the vast diversity in every religion and religious practice. Making weird blanket statements about Wiccans “not casting spells” when anyone can do a two nanosecond Google search and come up with a billion references that disprove them complicates the issue, and buys into the cultural unease that undergirds discrimination against magic-practitioners in the first place.
Of course, Smith shouldn’t have to defend her religion or the practice of magic at all, and it is obvious enough to me that the TSA has plenty to own up to, and I sincerely hope for justice for Smith with her case. And certainly there is more to say about discrimination, spellcraft, ethics and interfaith dialogue that I haven’t addressed. But comments like these do bother me, as I worry that they do little to move us all towards the fair and just treatment of those practicing a religion outside the mainstream.
ETA: I have read comments from others speculating that Smith could have simply misspoke, and meant to say that Wiccans don’t, as a rule, run around casting malicious spells on people. Certainly that could be the case, and I don’t want to be read as accusing her of being deliberately misleading because I don’t really think that’s the case. But the wording did strike me as bizarre, and reminded me of instances of sugarcoating I’d heard in the past. It’s a tricky playground, all this religious identification and explanation, and especially when discrimination comes into play, and then especially especially when the media takes a hand, absolutely.