Recovering Mysticism: Part Five

I believe in magic.

That may sound bonkers, even heretical. The mistreatment of language and misunderstanding of words has led the modern Christian community to believe that the words ‘magic’ and ‘witchcraft’ have meanings and connotations that they needn’t have.

I spent most of my life believing that verses such as Leviticus 20:27 (“A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them”) were talking about the kind of magic or wizardiness that one finds in Harry Potter, or even in modern practiced ‘witchcraft.’ They fell under very vague umbrellas for me, everything lumped together, everything definitely evil and anti-God. After all, the Bible is very clear: thou shalt not suffer a witch to live, and all that. Best not even look that direction to see what the Bible’s talking about.

But language is a funny thing, and it’s taken many twists and turns over the years. The brunt of modern ‘witchcraft’ has a definition, and it’s probably not what you think it is. (Unless you read the second post in my Mysticism series, in which case you have an idea.) Witchcraft, for reasons I touched on in the previous posts in this series, has taken a huge upswing in the west – sometimes this is a bad thing, because as with any practice, it can be done wrong. It can be taken places it shouldn’t. I’m an artist – I could use that ability to draw evil, to paint pornography. I’m also an author – another skill I could use to write the next erotic bestseller. Bear in mind – any practice can be used for evil. But that does not mean the practice is evil of itself.

Now, on to the summary – in her book ‘The Green Witch: Your Complete Guide to the Natural Magic of Herbs, Flowers, Essential Oils, and More,’ Arin Murphy-Hiscock gives us a description of the craft she pursues – “…a practice that involves the use of natural energies as an aid to accomplishing a task or reaching a goal….For the sake of this book, the term ‘witchcraft’ refers to the practice of working with natural energies to attain goals, without a specific religious context.” That’s another thing to keep in mind – there are religions for which witchcraft is a part, such as Wicca. (Wicca is hugely problematic for a large number of reasons, 0/10 do not condone. However, as with most religions, there is truth to be found in there somewhere – and in this case, I believe it is the acknowledgment that ‘magic’ is real. I just happen to believe it’s God-designed.) But magic is not in fact a religion; it’s a fact put into practice.

Witchcraft (are you still cringing every time I use that word? I know, I know. If I could find another word to use, I would – the word has the wrong connotations and our automatic response to it is probably somewhere along the lines of fire and brimstone/holy water/get thee hence/etc. and I get that, believe me. I’ll use the word ‘magic’ from now on because ‘witchcraft,’ while often pursued in – I believe firmly – completely healthy, and God-given ways, can also be pursued in /other/ ways. I’ll touch on those later, but for now, I’ll say magic. That is, after all, the main point here) as practiced by many people is, and has always been, a word to describe the acknowledgment that energies, vibrations, and natural substances, when used with intent and purpose, can achieve an end.

Read that again.

You can take that description to Scripture and find no condemnation. Plants? God gave us those. Energy? God infused everything with it. I’ve discussed how the God of the Bible, the full, glorious picture of God shining through every page of His holy book, isn’t lacking. He gave us what we need, He designed His creation to work for us in ways we, the modern church, have shunned thanks to Satan’s propaganda – that anything ‘tainted’ with the flavor of magic is bad, evil, and must be repelled.

  Sir Walter Raleigh said that, “The art of magic is the art of worshiping God.” As I mentioned in the Astrology post in this series, it used to be widely acknowledged and understood by the Church and Christian mindset that God was in every detail and had given us the tools and means to know Him in every way possible.

Are there ways to use that wrong? Of course. Remember Leviticus 20:27? The phrase ‘has a familiar spirit’ means ‘is a medium.’ (The original Hebrew word is א֛וֹב – a necromancer.) The word that has been translated ‘wizard’ (originally an old English word meaning ‘wise one’) was originally the Hebrew word יִדְּעֹנִ֖י  – conjurer, one who communicates with spirits. The Witch of Endor who actually contacted a grumpy Samuel in the Bible? The word ‘witch’ there is the word ‘medium’ again, in the original language.

In case you wondered: God doesn’t want us messing with the dead. He doesn’t want us messing with spirits. He also doesn’t want us trying to divine the future. The future, the afterlife – those are His realms and His alone, and he’s pretty darn clear on that subject more than once.

Interestingly, those who practice witchcraft, even in a non-religious sense often like to associate their work with a deity. It’s heartbreaking – to see people come so close to understanding, and miss the Whole Point. To miss the God who gave us these energies, these means and tools. The God who created magic.

Arin Murphy-Hiscock goes on to say, ‘Is brewing a cup of rosemary tea for a headache a spell? Or is it a natural medicine? To the green witch, it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is the conscious use of the energies of the rosemary to help heal a temporary imbalance.’

In her book ‘Liturgy of the Ordinary,’ Tish Harrison Warren says, “In Letters to Malcolm, C. S. Lewis devotes a delightful letter to the subject of pleasure. His advice: begin where you are. He writes that he once thought he had to start ‘by summoning up what we believe about the goodness and greatness of God, by thinking about creation and redemption and all the blessings of this life.’ Instead, he says, we ought to begin with the pleasures at hand – for him, a walk beside a babbling brook; for me at the moment, the wonder of hot water and dried leaves.

“Most of us love these moments in our day at a gut level. We intuitively know that goodness and beauty are connected to the divine, that ‘every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights (James 1:17.’ We aren’t overly ascetic fundamentalists trying to stamp out delight or pleasure wherever it is found. We naturally greet these moments with adoration. We are not only grateful for pleasure; our hearts wonder what kind of Creator makes a world that overflows with such loveliness and beauty. As Lewis says, ‘One’s mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun.’”

                Unfortunately, modern Christianity in the west has largely allowed those sunbeams to be stamped out and in doing so, it has shrunk our concept of God down to a shriveled, dry, boxed-in concept that does God no justice; and in doing so, it has caused us to miss a huge part of who He is.

Magic acknowledges the meaning, the intent, behind things. It sees there is more to life than what we can see and touch. It’s aware of the spiritual realm. It is, at its purest form, the acknowledge of God’s power in our lives and the world around us at its fullest.

(Again, can it be misused? Of course it can. Are there those who practice magic in the aforementioned God-given ways who might also choose to use Ouija boards, contact the dead, and try to divine the future? Sadly, yes. Every good thing can be taken and twisted  – Satan is good at that. Be wary. Don’t wholesale accept things – including what I tell you. Take it to the Bible. Study God. Get to know Him. Spend time with Him.)

As I’ve said before, the modern church has grown so timid, so afraid, so unable to discern, that it has thrown the baby out with the bathwater. Several babies, in fact.

And,  I would argue, highly important, useful, and intrinsically valuable babies. (Not that all babies aren’t. I’m pro life, and you can fight me, but this isn’t that conversation.)

I don’t like to use the word ‘witch.’ I really don’t. I have almost 25 years of knee-jerk reaction to that word, with some good reasoning behind it. And here’s the thing – you don’t want to be a stumbling block. Most people aren’t quite ready for you to jump on them with an excited, “HEY DID YOU KNOW MAGIC–,” and even fewer are probably going to be great with the concept of you saying ‘yeah technically you can be a Christian witch.’ I mean honestly that juxtaposition of words still looks weird and kind of distasteful to me, even if it’s more of a linguistic misunderstanding than anything else.

Which is to say – I’m still learning. Am I excited? Yes. Do I feel, one hundred percent and with no reservations, that God is leading me every step? Yes. Am I human and therefore fallible and prone to making mistakes? Also yes.

                But if we don’t share truth when we find it, especially when it’s pressing on our hearts so urgently, then what are we doing?

“‘Wyrd’ is an Anglo-Saxon term usually translated as ‘fate’ or ‘destiny.’ It occurs nine times in Beowulf for example. But Wyrd literally means ‘that which has turned’ or ‘that which has become’, and it suggests hte idea, confirmed now by physics, that everything in the universe is in a stage of change. In the ‘web of Wyrd’ everything is connected as if in a giant, three-dimensional spider’s web.” — The Book of English Magic.

I include this quote so I can follow it up with this quote from King Alfred the Great, said around the year 888 –

“What we call Wyrd is really the work of God about which He is busy every day.”

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//Harry, magic, and the Bible

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I grew up believing (firmly) that Harry Potter was evil. I could watch Lord of the Rings, Willow, and Stardust to my heart’s content, but Harry Potter was a horse of a different color. When I first saw the Lord of the Rings, I was enchanted. I thought, This is very different from what I know of Harry Potter, so okay. Then I watched Stardust, and thought, This is a lot of magic, but all the witches are bad, so okay. This is still different. Then I watched Willow, and thought, Okay, we have wands and a good sorceress and a bad sorceress. Wait. Why is this okay and Harry Potter isn’t?

Since double standards have become my biggest peeve over the years, I began to look into what the Bible said about magic. I wanted magic to be okay so badly, but I decided that if my research turned up with the result Magic = Evil, I would go with it. It would be devastating, but I would stick by it. The thing was…I couldn’t actually imagine it being wrong. I mean magic, like anything, could be used for evil – but as a fictional element, it complimented Christianity so beautifully, in such vivid ways, that I couldn’t envision the thing that had so frequently inspired and strengthened my faith as inherently bad.

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The Bible mentions several things that we usually toss under the umbrella of ‘Magic.’ Deuteronomy 18 talks about occult practices, and how God strictly forbids them. These occult practices include, according to the King James translation, are: Divination, sorcery, witchcraft, astrology, spells, necromancy, and contact with demons/the dead.

However, anyone who knows language will tell you that these words weren’t around when the Bible was written. When the Bible was translated for ‘modern’ readers from the original Hebrew, the translators did the best they had trying to match words to the text. I did some digging into the etymology of these words and uncovered some fascinating facts.

The word ‘sorcery’ wasn’t around until the 1300’s. It’s derived from the Latin word, sortiarius – meaning ‘teller of fortunes by lot,’ or more accurately, ‘one who influences fate or fortune.’ Obviously we use the word sorcerer (and the female version, sorceress) in very different ways now. Languages change, meanings change. It’s what language does.

The first use of the word ‘spell’ was recorded in the 1500’s, originally meaning ‘a procedure which causes harm,’ but which meaning did not include healing or protection.

The word ‘wizard’ is from the early 15th century, originating from the word ‘wise.’ The word ‘witch,’ usually used as the female version of ‘wizard,’ meant ‘female magician’ but was also closely tied with actual occult practices such as divination and necromancy.

However, accuracy is everything. Let me present two modern media interpretations of witches.

The Vampire Diaries witches, and the Harry Potter witches. Here we have two vastly different kinds of people, although both are called by the same term. Both use what each show calls ‘magic.’ However, having seen both kinds, let me illustrate the differences.

In Harry Potter, ‘witch’ is used the same way as ‘wizard.’ It means someone born with magical abilities. Waving a wand and saying ‘lumine’ to make some light? Hardly evil. The term is, in fact, almost entirely removed from the original meaning of the word.

In The Vampire Diaries, however, we have witches of a very Biblical sense. They communicate with and channel dead spirits. They perform séances. They use dark blood spells. They delve into all kinds of nasty things – things strictly forbidden by the Bible. There are no wands involved. This isn’t magic – this is the occult.

Words change. Actions do not. I could look at my cup of coffee and call it a witch, but that doesn’t make it so. If it began channeling dead spirits, that would make it a witch.

And yet, as I spoke about in my last blog post, we get so caught up in words that we don’t look past what we call something, no matter how inaccurate. We see the term (whether it’s right or wrong) and don’t bother to look at the actions and deeds performed by that person.

I came to believe, although I hadn’t read the books or seen the movies, that Harry Potter probably wasn’t bad. In fact, it was probably good. Maybe even great. However, until you’re actually acquainted with something, you can’t have much of an opinion. I’d told my parents that I disagreed with their views on Harry Potter, but I respected them and therefore wouldn’t bring it into the house. – so when I visited my Potterhead sister Melanie in Washington a couple weeks ago, we marathoned Harry Potter.

I watched with a critical eye. Would I be proven right or wrong? What was the deal with Harry anyway? Why has he always been such a hot topic? So I went into the movies thinking, now I can have an opinion. Now I’ll know what I’m talking about. And if I’m to condemn this series, I’ll know why.

I’ll be honest – I thought there would be more bad stuff in there. I really did. I thought there would be more issues. But you know what? You know the one thing that was truly biblically unsound in the entire series? The Divination class that the kids take in that one movie. The class that’s considered rubbish, even by Hermione, the smartest witch in the class. (Yes. Female magic-users are called witches. But please recall my previous statements about how important terminology versus actual deeds is. There are bad witches, and there are good witches. There are bad female magic-users, and there are good female magic-users. With great power comes great responsibility.)

So, one scene, basically. One scene, in one of the movies, had something I disagreed with. Something that the Bible disagrees with. So why is there such a stigma surrounding the franchise?

Honestly, I think it’s because the series is so powerful. I was incredibly moved, encouraged, and inspired. Harry and his friends are children – children who sacrifice everything to defeat evil. Children whose love and loyalty is stronger than even the Pevensies. The themes of good versus evil, of light versus dark, are so obvious and so bold that I don’t know how anyone misses them. These movies pull no punches, and they don’t fool around. Hermione is tortured by the evil Bellatrix Lestrange – but Hermione doesn’t give in. Harry saves the life of someone he hates. Ron, in the first movie, as a pre-teen, is willing to sacrifice his life to save Harry and Hermione. Over and over again they demonstrate incredible courage, incredible love, and incredible self-sacrifice in the face of terrifying and destructive evil.

They demonstrate more Christ-like character traits than most characters in Christian fiction stories.

J. K. Rowling is often misquoted as saying that she wrote these books to turn children to the occult and away from God. You know who actually said that? Philip Pullman, the author of The Amber Spyglass. (In his novels, the kids end up killing the fictional version of God, and living happily ever after. In Rowling’s books, Harry ends up sacrificing his own life to save everyone from evil. Everyone lives with the result of their consequences. Many die, because many heroes do.) Rowling is also misquoted as saying she uses ‘real spells’ in these books. What she actually said was that she didn’t make up most of what’s in the books. Gryphons, trolls, unicorns, dragons, giants, dwarves, goblins. The ‘spells’ are all just Latin words. The only people who can use magic are those born with natural tendencies towards it.

This last fact honestly surprised me – I’d been led to believe that the franchise presumed to teach any kid how to use magic. This just isn’t the case. Harry discovers he has magical abilities when he causes the glass in a snake exhibit to disappear long enough for his vile cousin to fall in; and thus, he is sent to Hogwarts to learn how to control and use his magic responsibly.

Magic, as a fictional element, can be used for good or bad – but it isn’t in the Bible. You know what my etymology searches turned up? God forbids communication with the dead. He forbids communication with spirits. He forbids fortune-telling. And magic, as we know it in fiction today, is never once mentioned. Oh, sure, modern translations use the word, but it’s misapplied. Every time it’s used, it’s in the context of necromancy or fortune-telling.

Most people think they’re being discerning by hating Harry Potter, that they’re telling the good from the bad. I thought this for a long time, too. But over the past year I’ve really studied and dug into magic and the Bible and what it says, and this post presents my conclusion.

Magic is a tool. It can be used for good or bad. Etymology is important. Deeds are more important than terms. Terms can be misapplied.

You may disagree with me, and I respect that, but I’ve done my research and I have dug for the honest truth.

A Parting Note: I know a lovely lady who is very cautious around fictional magic because her family has a history of being involved in the occult. This is perfectly understandable. This is, I believe, what the Bible means when it talks about stumbling blocks. It’s like alcohol: a glass of wine is amoral. In fact, it’s even beneficial to the health – but if you’re a recovering alcoholic or have a history of alcohol abuse, that glass of wine becomes something far more powerful, and you are wise to avoid it. There are more important issues than Harry Potter, and it’s not a salvation issue anyway.

I’m going to leave you with Romans 14: 14 – 17, as final food for thought.

 “I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that [there is] nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him [it is] unclean. But if thy brother be grieved with [thy] meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died. Let not then your good be evil spoken of: For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.”