Harry Potter’s summer assignments included writing an essay on “why witch burning in the Fourteenth Century was completely pointless.” Not a bad topic, I thought, although author J.K. Rowling’s reasons amounted to a flight of fantasy, not the down to earth responses I had been thinking of.
For a while I was on the mailing list for the Wiccan Newsletter at the University of Iowa, as I was investigating the religious diversity of our area. My eyes were opened to the creative efforts poured into constructing a new faith in magic and witchcraft as an alternative to creedal and group religion. Their fellowship events and calendar of celebrations, promoted by the newsletter, looked like a bland reflection of many traditional congregations.
Muggles (for non-Harry Potter-readers, if there are any, those are people with no magical abilities or heritage) can also come up with good reasons not to join in efforts to eradicate witchcraft. Chief among them is the sordid history of persecution and depravity that includes witch-burnings, demonstrating how people delude themselves, act on prejudices, and harm others. We hope we are beyond that.
Witchcraft and magic have returned to the realm of religious options. And I thought the New Millennium would be a face-off of liberal Christianity and secular humanism. Talk about a bland and unimaginative confrontation! Instead we see a resurgent fundamentalism around the globe, spiced with reconstructed native, animistic, and Old Earth religions. What will people try next? Or revert to?
In ancient Israel witchcraft was a subversive activity punishable, according to the Levitical Holiness Code, with death, hence the medieval efforts to burn witches. It didn’t do any good. Intent on becoming pure and clean, communities became soiled with their efforts to eliminate alternative faiths. According to most of the New Testament we should leave the purification standards behind. We recognize our communities as impure and our own efforts to clean them up as tainted, unless we let mercy and compassion rule.
Instead we rely on a Deeper Magic, as C.S. Lewis called it, from before the memories of time, rooted in a loving God who places God’s own self-offering into creation. And we enjoy the fantasies of Harry Potter anyway.