Everyone has heard of Harry Potter. You may even know a few Wiccans who worship "the goddess." Yet few realize that a pagan revival is extending to where you might least expect it—to churches calling themselves "Christian"!
What is the real significance of the growing interest in witchcraft, wizards and neopaganism?
A young boy, wanting to make new friends, casts a spell to become popular. A teenager, seeking peace in a troubled relationship, prays to the "mother goddess" for help. A harried businessman, hoping to escape life's pressures, retreats to the forest to connect with ancient tribal deities who promise him relief from stress.
What do these people have in common? They are participating in a growing trend—the revival of pagan belief and practice—which is on the rise not only in North America, but also in the United Kingdom, Western Europe, Australia and other "Westernized" nations where this would have been unthinkable just decades ago. Disenchanted with the emptiness of materialistic society, millions of seekers are looking to non-Christian and non-traditional religions for answers to fundamental questions: What is the purpose of life? Who or what is God? What happens after death?
Countless millions no longer consider biblical religion an option. Many "are no longer seeking solace for their souls in the arms of Christianity… today's most popular forms of spirituality are those associated with the occult, neopaganism and witchcraft" (Fantasy and Your Family, Abanes, pp. 108–109). Ironically, the Bible itself predicted long ago this modern "revival" of paganism—and warned of its shocking future consequences. We need to understand the significance of this trend, and where it is leading!
Practically everyone is familiar with the "Harry Potter" series of books, describing the spell-casting adventures of young people in a British boarding school for witches and wizards. Author J. K. Rowling's books are merely the most visible of the recent books, movies and television programs popularizing witchcraft and "Wicca." Although many parents and teachers praise the "Potter" books for encouraging a surge of interest in reading among schoolchildren, evidence suggests that quite a few young readers are interested in more than just reading. In fact, countless young Potter fans "are becoming interested in learning how to cast spells and do real witchcraft, just like their hero… Wicca devotees and other occult practitioners… are hailing the Harry Potter series as a prime recruitment tool" (Abanes, xi). One neopagan Web site happily proclaims, "It is good to see that the best selling series of books in the world is such a positive tale about witches and wizards" (ibid., p. 133). Commentators also note that witchcraft is "the fastest growing religion in America" and that "as many as 10 million book buyers in America regularly purchase neopagan literature" (ibid., p. 117).
In the last several decades, Wicca and neopaganism have gained surprising influence in nominally "Christian" churches, where one might not normally expect to find workshops on astrology, tarot card reading, channeling and goddess worship. "Some witches and neopagans are now senior pastors of large denominational churches. It is an event unprecedented in the history of Christendom" (Abanes, p. 265). Wicca and neopaganism is also surging in popularity on some college campuses, even those associated with "Christian" denominations. One professor, a self-proclaimed lesbian feminist witch, "is spearheading a campaign to turn Christianity into nothing less than a neopagan, goddess-worshipping religion" (ibid., p. 269).
The United States, though founded by individuals who were inspired by a biblical worldview, has been drifting toward paganism for some time. Several decades ago, noted Jewish author Don Feder wrote that America "is no longer a Christian (or Judeo-Christian) nation… animated by the ethical vision of the Bible, with its special emphasis on honesty, hard work, caring and self discipline. Instead we are evolving the type of Canaanite culture (unrestrained hedonism, ritual prostitution, child sacrifice and the civic virtue of Sodom) that my ancestors encountered at the dawn of moral history… A nation will have one God or many. Ours is increasingly polytheistic… The gods of late twentieth century America include the doctrines of radical autonomy, of absolute rights divorced from responsibilities, of gender sameness, of self-expression which acknowledges no higher purpose, of moral relativism and sexual indulgence" (A Jewish Conservative Looks at Pagan America, pp. 10–11). Noting that "ideas have consequences" (ibid., p. 12), Feder observed that the burgeoning interest in witchcraft, the occult and neopaganism is directly related to political, philosophical and moral trends—from radical feminism to unrestrained hedonism—which have challenged traditional American values.
The story is similar in the United Kingdom, where "Wicca has become the fastest growing religion in the UK" (Abanes, p. 159). Paganism is even on the rise at Scotland's oldest university, the University of St. Andrews, founded in 1413 and long considered a key center of Scottish religion. University officials there recently agreed to give the St. Andrews Pagan Society equal access to college buildings and granted the society permission to hold its rites on campus, in spite of protests that this was "another example of the whole human rights and equal opportunities agenda gone mad" (The Times, June 14, 2006).
News reports recently featured a British Unitarian vicar who "moonlights" in his spare time as a Druid, and celebrates ancient pagan festivals. Web sites across the U.K. advertise a full calendar of witchcraft festivals in England, Scotland and Wales, as the pagan revival spreads across Britain, just as it continues to spread in other countries.
Several key factors are fueling the revival of paganism. In an attempt to cope with a world full of pressures and problems, more and more people are escaping into the fantasy world created by our modern entertainment-driven society. Television programs featuring clever and attractive witches glamorize witchcraft, and the phenomenally successful Harry Potter novels and films continue to fuel the growing interest in witchcraft and the occult.
These entertainment fads have coincided with significant social trends that have altered the intellectual and spiritual landscape of our modern era. Particularly since the 1960s, radical social reformers have preached a gospel of "do your own thing"—satisfy your senses in whatever way you wish, as long as it feels good and seems right to you. This approach fits well with the basic tenet of Wicca that recognizes no absolutes—no fixed right or wrong—and insists there is no unchanging standard of good or evil (Abanes, pp. 113, 142). Popular interest in witchcraft, and the emerging worship of a "mother goddess," can be seen as "the next logical step after feminism" (ibid., p. 130). Just as the feminist movement challenged a male-dominated society, the increased visibility of witches and the worship of a mother goddess are a direct challenge to what some perceive as male-dominated religion oriented toward "God the Father."
In an era when so many are recognizing the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of modern materialism, the "mainstream" religions are no longer popular destinations for those seeking spiritual fulfillment. Instead, dissatisfied seekers are turning to paganism and the occult. Mainstream churches have seen a mass exodus of millions in recent decades (Abanes, p. 108). In our world where so many feel themselves powerless to influence events around them, some turn to witchcraft and spell-casting in an effort to gain control over their lives and the lives of others. Alienated people, feeling disconnected from modern society, are turning to neopaganism to "get in tune" with the spirit of the universe (ibid., p. 130).
The modern pagan revival is a widespread and shocking phenomenon. But it pales into insignificance when compared to the many other pagan customs that have spread around the world—and into the world's religions—where they are accepted by nearly everyone!
Although it is easy to look with concern at the dangers of witchcraft and the folly of pagan nature worship, many find it harder to look at their own religious traditions. Few today seem to understand—or care—that pagan rites and festivals are at the root of many traditional holidays in the Western world. Billions of professing Christians look to Easter as the most important festival of the year. Yet non-Christian literature also reveres Easter as "the most important lunar-derived festival of the pagan year" because it commemorates the "spring celebration of the goddess Eostre or Ostara" at the time of the Spring equinox when the hours of daylight begin to exceed the hours of darkness (The Pagan Book of Days, Pennick, p. 11).
By doing a little research, you can discover that "Ostera is a pagan German goddess… of fertility and rebirth" and that "to reveal the origins of the Christian celebration of Easter, we need look no farther than Ostera's image"—which is associated with eggs and rabbits, symbolizing fertility and rebirth (Celebrate the Earth: A Year of Holidays in the Pagan Tradition, Cabot, p. 113). Other sources remind us that "the word 'Easter' is not a Christian expression… the word comes from the name of a Pagan Goddess—the goddess of Spring. Easter is but a more modern form of Ishtar… another name for Semiramis of Babylon" (Babylon Mystery Religion, p. 152).
In Protestant countries, few seem to realize that "Halloween parties are a modern expression of the pagan festival of the remembrance of death and the departed" (Pennick, p. 19). The Festival of the Dead—called Samhain—falls on November 1, marking the beginning of winter and a time when pagans feel they can communicate with spirits of the dead. In Roman Catholic countries, these pagan festivals live on under new names. November 1 has become an "All Saints Day" that celebrates departed saints, and November 2 has become an "All Souls Day" that remembers souls not yet elevated to sainthood (ibid., p. 18).
Christmas has been described as "a wonderful amalgam of religious traditions, ancient and modern, Pagan, Zoroastrian, Jewish, Mithraic, and Christian" (Pennick, p. 133). Though its December 25 date is supposed to celebrate Christ's birth, neither the date nor the customs surrounding it have anything to do with Jesus Christ or biblical religion. Rather, the festivities of the Christmas season "represent the old paganism which Christianity failed to extinguish" (Christmas Customs and Traditions, Miles, p. 161). December 25 is the approximate time of the winter solstice (the shortest day of the year), and has long been sacred in pagan religions. "In the Roman tradition it was the festival of Sol Invictus, the Undefeated Sun" and in ancient Egypt the "sky goddess Nut was said to give birth to the sun at the winter solstice" (Pennick, p. 20). The Christmas customs of merry-making and gift-giving come from the pagan Roman festival of Saturnalia, with its greeting of "Bona Saturnalia," and also from the Roman new year festival of Kalends on January 1, which was associated with riotous behavior (Pennick, p. 139).
Considering all this, you might then ask, "How and when did professing Christians come to observe December 25 as the birth of Jesus Christ?"
Historians acknowledge that the earliest December 25 celebration of Christ's birth "took place at Rome about the middle of the fourth century… The first mention of a Nativity feast on December 25 is found in a Roman document known as the Philocalian Calendar, dating from the year 354 [ad]… From Rome, Christmas spread throughout the West, with the conversion of the barbarians" (Miles, pp. 20–21). The Bible, of course, does not mention the date of Jesus' birth. "The real reason for the choice of the day [December 25] most probably was, that upon it fell the pagan festival" that celebrated the rebirth of the sun (ibid., p. 23).
Hoping to encourage pagans to embrace the Roman Catholic faith, clerics sought to adapt pagan customs into their religion by giving them new names. Pope Gregory I, writing in 601ad, urged Augustine of Canterbury to allow the pagan Anglo-Saxons to retain the outward forms of their old festivals, but to practice them with a new meaning (Miles, p. 179). As one author concludes, reflecting on the Pope's letter, "We see here very plainly the mind of the ecclesiastical compromiser" (ibid.).
The evidence of history indicates that the early Roman Church adopted and adapted popular pagan practices in an effort to spread the "Christian" faith, through "the clothing of heathen customs in a superficial Christianity" (ibid., p. 19). Historian Will Durant acknowledged this plainly when he wrote, "Christianity did not destroy paganism; it adopted it… the Greek mysteries passed down into the impressive mystery of the Mass. Other pagan cultures contributed to the syncretist result. From Egypt came the idea of the Trinity… the adoration of the Mother and Child, and the mystic theosophy that made Neoplatonism and Gnosticism and obscured the Christian creed… From Phrygia came the worship of the Great Mother… Christianity was the last great creation of the ancient pagan world" (Caesar and Christ, p. 595).
But what does God say about these human efforts to adapt and incorporate pagan customs into Christianity? What does Scripture clearly reveal about dabbling in witchcraft and neopagan practices? The Bible records that when the ancient Israelites left Egypt, and were about to enter the Promised Land, God warned, "do not inquire after their gods, saying, 'How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.' You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way; for every abomination to the Lord which He hates they have done… Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it" (Deuteronomy 12:29–32).
Scripture also records God's command: "When you come into the land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone… who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord" (Deuteronomy 18:9–14). The Bible clearly forbids dabbling in witchcraft and the occult and idolatry, but the Israelites ignored these instructions. Israel incurred God's wrath because its people "practiced witchcraft and soothsaying, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke Him to anger" (2 Kings 17:17).
Some will dismiss these warnings, saying that these events happened long ago and are not relevant today. Besides, how can witchcraft be evil when "do no harm" is the motto of witches today, and modern mediums show compassion by helping people receive messages from their deceased relatives? And if an ancient pagan festival puts us in touch with the seasons and cycles of nature, what is the harm?
However, the Bible condemns these practices for specific and sound reasons. Books, films and television shows about witches and wizards awaken curiosity and stimulate interest in the occult. The growing acceptance of paganism and witchcraft blinds and desensitizes people to the evils and dangers of making contact with the spirit world. Passively absorbing the Wiccan philosophy that there are no absolutes is to embrace a dangerous deception. To chant and pray to a mother goddess is simply idolatry—which God views as a serious transgression (see 1 Samuel 15:23; 1 Corinthians 6:9; Galatians 5:19–21; Revelation 21:8). To continue to practice ancient pagan customs under a different "Christian" name is to perpetuate practices that were used to honor pagan gods. When these practices replace festivals that God commanded to be observed forever (see Leviticus 23), people lose sight of the real God and become ignorant of His plan and purpose for human life!
This is why God warned His people through His prophets, "Learn not the way of the heathen" (Jeremiah 10:2, KJV). In light of the revival of paganism, and the growing popularity and acceptance of witchcraft—especially among the young in modern nations descended from ancient Israel—it is important that we listen to the prophetic admonitions in Scripture. Long ago, God warned His chosen people, that "evil will befall you in the latter days, because you will do evil in the sight of the Lord" (Deuteronomy 31:29). God foresaw a time in the future when His people would "deal treacherously" with Him "for they have begotten pagan children" (Hosea 5:7). A modern biblical scholar comments that this passage indicates "a generation has grown up to whom God is a stranger"—which is an accurate description of our modern age (Eerdman's Bible Handbook, p. 439).
The prophet Jeremiah warns, in a prophecy relevant today, that "because your fathers have forsaken Me" and have "walked after other gods" and "each one follows the dictates of his own evil heart, so that no one listens to Me," God will bring a "great disaster against us" (Jeremiah 16:10–13). The Bible indicates that because of our willingness to forsake His instructions and laws and dabble in witchcraft, the occult and pagan idolatry, the modern descendants of ancient Israel will suffer severe consequences (see Jeremiah 9:12–16; Hosea 8, 9, 10). The current revival of paganism is significant, because it is symptomatic of an end-time condition that will bring punishment from God before it is brought to an end at the return of Jesus Christ. We all need to heed these prophetic and timely warnings—and avoid being drawn into this pagan revival!