It’s that time of year again when witches, witchcraft, magic, and old-school pagan gods take certain stage on our television screens. Problem is, they don’t exactly have great PR, and every Halloween—and any other time of the year, for that matter—Wiccan and Pagan beliefs are pretty much dragged through the mud and shown to be “evil”. I have written about this poor portrayal before, but today I want to address how Christianity approaches modern Wicca and Paganism, and how that is reflected in pop culture.
Christianity has never exactly had a great relationship with magic practitioners and pagans. For centuries those who were accused of practicing witchcraft were often killed for “devil worship”, and the same is true for Pagans. Though the church did not necessarily deny the existence of pagan gods, they did claim that these gods were really demons that deceived people into worshiping them; because of this, worship of these gods was also considered devil worship and punishable by death. But this is a really old view of witchcraft and paganism, right? There is no way this belief still holds sway in today’s modern context, right? Sadly, that’s not the case.
Hocus Pocus, while a hilarious movie if not taken seriously, plays up the goodness of Christianity and the evils of witchcraft. The Sanderson sisters are evil witches who worship Satan and suck the life out of little children. They are finally “righteously” taken out by the village of Puritan Christians, because we all know how great the Puritans were, and how not sexist and evil the Salem Witch Trials were. After the Sanderson sisters come back from the dead, they the writers continue playing up the ties to witches and devil worship by having the Sanderson sisters talk about how lovely hell was and referring to Satan as master. And all the while our righteous Christian protagonists continue their fight against the evil witches.
Supernatural is probably the worst when it comes to showing paganism and Wicca as evil while showing Christianity as good. Although Supernatural does significantly criticize Christianity, the general beliefs of Christianity are still portrayed as basically good, even if certain people use Christianity for evil. The biggest example of this is in the very nature of Supernatural’s worldbuilding. The Christian god in Supernatural may not be the best god and the angels stand in opposition to the demons and forces of hell that often try to kill, torture, and possess humans, but while some angels and human Christians are bad, they are all still ultimately fighting the forces of evil. However, when it comes to witchcraft, Supernatural makes it that all witches are gaining their powers because of demons. Even people who get into witchcraft for good reasons are shown to be deceived by demons. This is all despite the fact that Dean and Sam often use magic throughout the show. But hey—when the women do it, then it’s witchcraft and they are worshiping demons. Pagan beliefs also do not fare well in Supernatural. Every Pagan god in Supernatural, despite what those who actually believe in them might say, are all bloodthirsty, violent, and insistent on human sacrifices. This, combined with the Winchester brothers literally having backing from the Christian god and angels, sends a disturbing message that Christianity is inherently good but Wicca and Paganism are evil.
This is extremely problematic and reflects the very real continued belief that many modern Christian denominations share: that Wicca and Paganism are evil devil worship. This seems especially ridiculous to me in a modern context. We know historically that Christians claimed that basically every religion which wasn’t Christianity was evil, and that most Christian denominations have since rejected this belief and are more accepting of other faiths. Why then has this openness not been extended to Wicca and Paganism? Yes, there are major differences in belief between both Christianity and Wicca and paganism, but there are major differences between Christianity and other religions as well. Some Christians have utterly dismissed Wicca and Paganism as nonsense, and regard these religions as something silly with no real merit or belief. Other Christian denominations actively fight against them. Many Evangelical Christians still see Wicca and Paganism as evil and very actively fight against it, and discriminate against those who believe. That Catholic Church also has taken this awful tone in regards to Wicca and Paganism. Though Wicca and Paganism are not something often discussed by the Catholic Church anymore, the Catholic Catechism still actively condemns witchcraft, and in 2009 Pope Benedict XVI denounced the belief in witchcraft. To me it is an extreme oversight and hugely offensive for so many Christian denominations to take a more open and accepting tone with other religions but remain, for all intents and purposes, stuck in the Middle Ages when it comes to Wicca and Paganism. It’s a huge problem and something that needs to stop immediately.
If we are ever to see any progress with this issue in our real world, then we need things like our pop culture to change the hearts and minds of people. I would suggest that we have more interaction between characters who are strong Christians and characters who are Wiccan or Pagan. Some stories could feature characters who are hesitant about Wicca or Paganism at first and the realize that the person who is a follower of Wicca or Paganism isn’t much different from them at all. For example, though Harry Potter isn’t in any way a good representation of actual Wicca or Paganism, there are missed opportunities in things like Harry Potter to deal with these issues, some of which we have discussed before. Many witches and wizards in Harry Potter’s world are named for Pagan gods, which could imply that the Wizarding World has more Pagan roots. At the same time, however, many witches and wizards celebrate Christmas, and Harry even has a godfather, implying some Christian elements as well. If the books had gone further into this intersection between Paganism and Christianity, some really interesting issues could have been explored and addressed, but alas this is not the route that J.K. Rowling took. Harry Potter was a missed opportunity, but there is still a chance for other authors to address these issues and hopefully work toward ending discrimination against Pagans and Wiccans.