Christian views on magic

Christian views on magic vary widely across denominational and individual barriers, and are often influenced by Biblical, theological, and historical considerations. Some Christians actively condemn any form of magic as Satanic while others simply dismiss it as superstition. Conversely, some branches of esoteric Christianity actively engage in magical practices.

Contents

Biblical references

There are several references to witchcraft in the Bible that strongly condemn such practices. For example, Deuteronomy 18:11-12 condemns anyone who "..casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord, and because of these detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you" (NIV); Exodus 22:18 states "Do not allow a sorceress to live" (NIV).

Some adherents of near-east religions acted as "mediums", channeling messages from the dead or from a "familiar spirit". The Bible sometimes is translated as referring to "necromancer" and "necromancy" (Deut 18:11 KJV) However, some lexicographers, including James Strong and Spiros Zodhiates, disagree. These scholars say that the Hebrew word kashaph, used in Exodus 22:18 and 5 other places in the Tanakh comes from a root meaning "to whisper". Strong therefore concludes that the word means "to whisper a spell, i.e. to incant or practice magic". The Contemporary English Version translates Deuteronomy 18:11 as referring to "any kind of magic".

The topic of Biblical law in Christianity is still disputed among Christian denominations.

Early Christianity

Beliefs regarding magic have been around for centuries, and are to be found in many human societies. They were common in the society of the Roman empire into which the Christian faith emerged. (See the Book of Acts) Christian responses differed from the surrounding society in that Christians believed that since Christ by his death and resurrection had won a victory over all forces of evil, neither witchcraft nor sorcery had the power to harm Christians. (Epistle to the Romans 8:38-9) A corollary of this was that witchcraft and sorcery were proscribed in Christian scripture. (Galatians 5:20) This ban is repeated in the Didache written in the first or second century. The practice of witchcraft and sorcery were regarded as sins by Christians that needed to be repented of, confessed, and forsaken.

Christianity is based in Judaism, and teaches that Jesus was the fulfillment of Judaism's prophecies. Because of this, teachings from Judaism regarding magic were held as valid by early Christians. The Jewish law prohibits certain kinds of magic specifically: divination, seeking omens, mediums/spirit-talkers (who commune with the dead), and spell-casters.[1] Thus, communing with the dead and telling the future are specifically forbidden, whereas spell-casting is a general term. These acts, as well as other rituals related to Baal and Canaanites,[2] were specifically forbidden to the Israelites, because God commanded the Israelites to worship only him, per the first commandment. Thus, a prohibition on magic is a corollary to the first commandment to worship no other gods. In the ancient world, and mostly today, practice of magic is always tied to religious worship or fealty. (The distinction is blurry: Seeking a higher power's help through ritual to obtain favorable results is an apt description for many acts of worship as well as for practices of magic.)

The New Testament has 66 mentions of demons (evil spirits) in the Gospels. In summary, it is clear that demons provide persons with the magical abilities forbidden in Hebrew Law (i.e. divination and communing with the dead) and also that those overcome by demons suffer by them. Thus, a second reason to forbid magic, beyond not practicing Idolatry, is that it can be harmful to one's self to practice it.

The exegetical conclusion is that magic is forbidden in the old Testament, primarily because magic draws power from an (evil) source other than God. This finding is important when trying to apply these teachings in today's context. (See Hermeneutics).

Medieval views

During the early Middle Ages, the Church did not conduct witch trials.[3] The Council of Paderborn in 785 explicitly outlawed the very belief in witches, and Charlemagne later confirmed the law. Among Eastern Christians belief in witchcraft was regarded as deisdemoniasuperstition—and by the 9th and 10th centuries in the West, belief in witchcraft had begun to be seen as heresy.

However, towards the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Early Modern period, belief in witchcraft became sanctioned by the Church, and witches were seen as directly in league with the Devil. This marked the beginning of a period of witch-hunts which lasted about 200 years, and in some countries, particularly in North-Western Europe, thousands of people were accused of witchcraft and sentenced to death.

The Inquisition had conducted trials against supposed witches in the 13th century, but these trials were to punish heresy, of which belief in witchcraft was merely one variety.[3] Inquisitorial courts only became systematically involved in the witch-hunt during the 15th century: in the case of the Madonna Oriente, the Inquisition of Milan was not sure what to do with two women who in 1384 and in 1390 confessed to have participated in a type of white magic.

Not all Inquisitorial courts acknowledged witchcraft. For example, in 1610 as the result of a witch hunting craze the Suprema (the ruling council of the Spanish Inquisition) gave everybody an Edict of Grace (during which confessing witches were not to be punished) and put the only dissenting inquisitor, Alonso de Salazar y Frias, in charge of the subsequent investigation. The results of Salazar's investigation was that the Spanish Inquisition did not bother witches ever again though they still went after heretics and Jews.[4]

Martin Luther on witchcraft

Martin Luther shared some of the views about witchcraft that were common in his time.[5] When interpreting Exodus 22:18,[6] he stated that, with the help of the devil, witches could steal milk simply by thinking of a cow.[7] In his Small Catechism, he taught that witchcraft was a sin against the second commandment[8] and prescribed the Biblical penalty for it in a "table talk":

On 25 August 1538 there was much discussion about witches and sorceresses who poisoning chicken eggs in the nests, or poisoning milk and butter. Doctor Luther said: "One should show no mercy to these [women]; I would burn them myself, for we read in the Law that the priests were the ones to begin the stoning of criminals."[9]

Modern views

During the Age of Enlightenment, belief in the powers of witches and sorcerers to harm began to die out in the West. But the reasons for disbelief differed from those of early Christians. For the early Christians the reason was theological—that Christ had already defeated the powers of evil. For the post-Enlightenment Christians, the disbelief was based on a belief in rationalism and empiricism.

It was at this time, however, that Western Christianity began expanding to parts of Africa and Asia where premodern worldviews still held sway, and where belief in the power of witches and sorcerers to harm was, if anything, stronger than it had been in Northern Europe. Many African Independent Churches developed their own responses to witchcraft and sorcery.[10]

In the 20th century, the situation was further complicated by the rise of new religious movements that considered witchcraft to be a religion. Usually[citation needed], this view does not claim that witches actually consciously enter into a pact with Satan[dubious ][original research?], which is especially important[peacock term] because most practitioners of Wicca and other modern witchcraft do not even believe in Satan[10][11]

Syncretic religions involving Christianity and witchcraft

Few Christians practice witchcraft or engage in magic. Among the most notable exceptions is Santería, a syncretic hybrid of African animism and Christianity. From 15th to 19th century, many Hermeticists combined Christianity with the occult (mostly alchemy). There are also those who practice a combination of Neopagan/Wiccan and Christian beliefs, see Christianity and Neopaganism. The designation of these belief systems as Christian is disputed. Other modern syncretic traditions include Meso American folk healing tradition such as the Curandisimo practices found in Mexico and Andean folk healing traditions of Peru & Bolivia etc.

Christian mysticism and witchcraft

There are various forms of mysticism that claim Christian roots. Some Christian denominations reject these as another form of witchcraft or sorcery, while others accept at least certain forms of mysticism. The Catholic Church, for instance, formally recognises many spiritual gifts reported by some Christian mystics, such as visions and healing. It is worth noting that, in the early years of Christianity, the situation was reversed, with the majority of Christians following a more mystic variant. These spiritual gifts are often referred to as charisms. Whether a particular vision is from God or from the devil is the subject of "the discernment of spirits", which is itself a charism. Early Christian with these gifts include the apostles Paul and John.

Christian opposition to witchcraft

Several Christian groups continue to believe in witchcraft and view it as a negative force. Much of the criticism originates among Evangelical Christian groups, especially those of a fundamentalist tendency, who believe that witchcraft is a danger to children. The 2006 documentary Jesus Camp, which depicts the life of young children attending Becky Fischer's Pentecostal summer camp, shows Fischer condemning the Harry Potter novels and telling the students that "Warlocks are enemies of God."

In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI denounced belief in witchcraft during a visit to Angola.[12]

It should be noted that modern Christian views vary as to whether witchcraft is a general term for communion with evil, or a specific form of religious system and practice. Voodoo, Demonic Possession, divination (communion with the dead), Satanism, and witchcraft are inter-related topics. Christians can espouse the idea that Satan and evil are real, while condemning accusations of witchcraft found throughout history as dubious.

Magic in literature as harmless

Magic in literature, while condemned by some Christians, is often viewed by Christians as non-evil.

The key distinction would be between real-life magic and pretend magic. This view holds that in real life, practice of supernatural abilities (i.e. magic) must have a supernatural power source or origin, which would be either holy or evil. Thus born of Holy Spirit or of demons. (See Spiritual gift and Christian demonology for details on these teachings.) Thus, magic in the Biblical context would be viewed as only an act of evil, whereas in literature, magic is a tool available to conduct both good and bad behavior. Thus, pretend magic is moral neutral.

In literature, magical abilities have many different power sources. Technological ability (science) can appear as magic.[13] Often, wielding magic is accomplished by imposing one's will by concentration and/or use of devices to control an external magical force. This is explanation offered for the Force (Star Wars), magic in Dungeons and Dragons, and magic in The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings. The latter two works are by notable Christians, C S Lewis and J R R Tolkien, respectively. In the Chronicles of Narnia, book 6 The Magician's Nephew, the mythos specifically explains that magic is a power available on other worlds, not available on earth. The Empress Jadis (later, the White Witch) was tempted to use magic for selfish reasons to retain control of her world Charn, which ultimately lead to the destruction of life there.

See also

References

  1. ^ Leviticus 19:26,31, 20:6,27, Deuteronomy 18:9-13
  2. ^ How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. Fee & Stuart. 3rd ed. 2003. p178,9
  3. ^ a b Cohn, Norman: "Europe's Inner Demons: The Demonization of Christians in Medieval Christendom." London: Sussex University Press, 1975
  4. ^ 1978 "A witch with three toes too many"; Out of this World Encyclopedia 23:9-12
  5. ^ Karant-Nunn, Susan C.; Wiesner-Hanks, Merry E. (2003). Luther on Women: A Sourcebook. Cambridge: Cambridge U. Press. pp. 228. 
  6. ^ Exodus 22:18
  7. ^ Sermon on Exodus, 1526, WA 16, 551 f.
  8. ^ Martin Luther, Luther's Little Instruction Book, Trans. Robert E. Smith, (Fort Wayne: Project Wittenberg, 2004), Small Catechism 1.2.
  9. ^ WA Tr 4:51–52, no. 3979 quoted and translated in Karant-Nunn, 236. The original Latin and German text is: "25, Augusti multa dicebant de veneficis et incantatricibus, quae ova ex gallinis et lac et butyrum furarentur. Respondit Lutherus: Cum illis nulla habenda est misericordia. Ich wolte sie selber verprennen, more legis, ubi sacerdotes reos lapidare incipiebant.
  10. ^ a b Hayes, Stephen. 1995. Christian responses to witchcraft and sorcery, in Missionalia, Vol. 23(3) November. Pages 339-354. [1]
  11. ^ U.S. Department of the Army, "Religious Requirements and Practices of Certain Selected Groups: A Handbook for Chaplains": "It is very important to be aware that Wiccans do not in any way worship or believe in "Satan", "the Devil", or any similar entities."
  12. ^ "Pope warns Angola of witchcraft". BBC. March 21, 2009. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7956460.stm. Retrieved 2010-04-04. 
  13. ^ Arthur C. Clarke. "Profiles of The Future", 1961 (Clarke's third law)

Bibliography

  • Cohn, Norman (1975). Europe's inner demons. London: Sussex University Press. ISBN 0-435-82183-0. 
  • Fox, Robin Lane (1987). Pagans and Christians. New York: Knopf. ISBN 0-394-55495-7. 
  • Hutton, Ronald (1991). Pagan religions of the ancient British Isles. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 0-631-17288-2. 
  • Williams, Charles (1959). Witchcraft. New York: Meridian. 

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