This is a topic I do not write about very often. Supernaturalism. This topic is on my mind because of this crazy event that happened in my music class the other day. The class is a music and religious experience course, and it is taught by an openly Pentecostal professor. As such, many Christian students flock to the class because of the safe environment the professor creates for level-A type discussions of opinionated faith. This is a class dynamic that not many college classes allow. Usually you have to code your beliefs in some sort of intellectual, academic language so as to come across tolerant of all faiths. To alienate others or to imply that you hold an exclusive claim to the truth, whereas other beliefs are wrong, is to commit a heinous social sin in the UVA world of coexistence. But this class allows opportunities for those with religious faith to express their opinions and to make some sort of “line in the sand,” just as long as you are willing to listen to claims that disagree with yours. A very refreshing break from the typical, which I am glad for – because, let’s be honest, none of us hold objective beliefs. Instead, we just mask our subjectivity so we don’t offend other people.
The strange event was, on the last day of class, after all semester with the majority of the class expressing belief in the role of the Holy Spirit in religious worship, we had one girl begin to talk about Wiccan practice and going into detail about the rituals associated with casting spell circles and seances. A few in the class raised some eyebrows. She went on about the things involved with setting up the altar and how knives and dove’s blood can be involved in invoking the nature Goddess, and you could see many people getting uncomfortable. The professor made a disclaimer once she paused and said “And just to inform you all, [Ashley] is writing her final paper on New-Age and Pagan worship music and practice, which would explain, I think, why she knows so much about the topic, not, of course, to indicate that she…”
And then she interrupts him and says: “No, I am a Wiccan. I believe in the Earth Goddess, and I also practice witchcraft.”
We had an interesting moment on our hands. Especially since previously, some of the more conservative students had expressed interest in not even talking about the Neo-Pagan music and just leaving early (our professor can be a push over) because “it is just non-sense anyways.”
Then she continued, “Yeah, normally I don’t get such a warm reaction.”
There were two things that I began to realize as she kept talking about witchcraft and her methods for tapping into the great, transcendent, unknowable force that exists in nature. The first was that as Christians, we do great damage to our witness when we respond as many of my classmates did. There was no open antagonism or any sort verbal shunning of this student and her practices, but from my classmates’ expressions, postures, and intonations, you could easily tell that there was an attitude of – this girl is crazy, and her practices are probably of the devil. We went on asking candid questions about her faith, but still, the icy atmosphere persisted. It made me wonder how this girl had felt all semester when students kept saying things like “But when the holy spirit makes himself known to the congregation, you just know that what you’re worshiping must be true.” Perhaps this is just me and my lack of assertiveness with my faith, but I detected some soft levels of arrogance among my classmates. This girl clearly worships either some phony religion that makes her believe she can cast spells, or she was worshiping the devil. And because of our belief in the true truth, we know that her practices are wrong. Perhaps, if one believes in the orthodox Christian faith, one must believe that her practices are false and possibly more than just pagan, but would Christ respond this way to her – in a veiled scoffing attitude? How are christians supposed to stand up for the truth they claim while loving their enemies at the same time. It is no surprise that the student closed by saying “there are a lot of misconceptions about witches, and we are used to the attitude we typically get.”
(To her credit, there are misconceptions about witches that they practice malevolent arts intended to cause harm. This is not the case. Instead, they generally subscribe to an ethic of karma, that whatever good or evil you do to others, it will be paid back to you.)
The second thing I realized was that, perhaps her supposed transcendent experiences and her dabbling in the magic arts are not just delusional make-believe. What if witchcraft is still a force occurring today that has very real impacts on the spiritual lives of those around it? People do not experience the supernatural very often, but you do hear testimonies all of the time from people who go to jazz concerts, or raves, or jam band shows, or other musical events where they feel “connected” to a “spirit of unity” or a “unknown force” that seemed to exist in heightened moments of musical ecstasy. If you have ever been to a really great concert that has allowed you to lose yourself and seemingly float outside of your consciousness, then you know what I am talking about. Some pentecostal and charismatic worship is similar to this as well. There are often those participants who claim they are “tapping into the divine.” For christians, they call it the Holy Spirit. For hippies, they call it the spirit of unity. For high-art poets and novelists, they call it the aesthetic experience / the great unknown. And for Wiccans, they call it the Great Earth Goddess.
My question is: what if these claims are all valid. What if all of these different groups of people are experiencing SOME sort of transcendent power. The questions that then arise – what is this power, are there multiple powers, are there good and evil powers, and what do we name them? How are we able to discern, when we are having some sort of supernatural experience, if something really is of the Holy Spirit or if something is of a natural earth spirit? Is there a difference? And if so, what are the ramifications of participating in a transcendent ritual that does not subscribe to a certain morality? What can Christians say to Wiccans about their practice that acknowledges the validity of their faith, loves them, but does not affirm their beliefs as in or part of “Truth?”
Very strange topic, I know. You can think I am crazy if you like, but since there are so many people out their claiming to have tapped into to something, one way or another, I just have to wonder how it all fits together. Thoughts?