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Wicca's Charm | Reviews | Praise | Excerpt


"Shelf Life: Wits and Witches", National Review, October 10, 2005

Why, more than two centuries after the Enlightenment, are hundreds of thousands of Americans turning to witchcraft and other forms of paganism? One easy answer, and not an entirely inaccurate one, can be found in Chesterton's principle that when people cease to believe in God they will believe in anything. But that's not all there is to it, as journalist Catherine Edwards Sanders explains in her insightful new book, Wicca's Charm: Understanding the Spiritual Hunger Behind the Rise of Modern Witchcraft and Pagan Spirituality (Shaw, 233 pp., $13.99). Growing interest in Wicca and other neo-pagan nature religions -- especially among young women -- is in substantial measure a reaction to specific failings in Christianity as it has been practiced.

- The Biblical image of God as Father, for example, has been too often misunderstood as validating a social system in which men have a higher status than women; Wicca attracts people who want to repudiate, forcefully, any such view. (This external critique should prompt Christians to reconnect to the insight Paul expressed in Galatians 3:28: "There is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus." If some passages in Scripture can be interpreted to support misogyny, this one can certainly be understood as a bold endorsement of the equal dignity of men and women.)

Catherine Sanders shows herself to be a patient and sensitive reporter as she tries, throughout the book, to get inside the skin of her interviewees. She also trains an astute eye on the big picture, noting that while many Westerners are seeking out neo-pagan religions that will help them reconnect to nature, "Christianity is growing rapidly in Third World countries that have been traditionally pagan. . . . They have realized that the land and nature around them will not save them even though their pagan religions have tried for millennia to appease nature." In the U.S., meanwhile, "we are wealthy and disconnected from the land, so we can romanticize that it is better and purer than we are. But we are much more sheltered from its fierce consequences." To read this in the aftermath of New Orleans is especially bracing; the reality of a Nature broken by man's fall is a truth even the wealthiest nation cannot escape forever.

Sanders writes from an explicitly Christian perspective, and gives Christians advice on how to deal with family members who are practicing these nature religions; but she writes with a level of openness and charity that is all too rare in this kind of literature. At a time when far too much nonfiction is devoted to hyping up panic on whatever threat is named in a particular book's title, her approach is refreshing.

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