This is the fifth installment of the series Symbolism & Spirituality and its a good time to recap the broad strokes:
In Part I we suggested the Harry Potter Series is wrought with the symbolism of alchemy. We discussed the series’ universal influence and its achievement of becoming a shared text. Thus, in Part I we presented an example of the influence of pagan symbolism on modern culture through fantasy fiction.
Why invest time in this topic?
Well, in Part II we discussed that symbols speak with spiritual potency.
In Part III I proposed that symbols have become the (re)new(ed) housing for absolute truth in the current age of philosophical thought: postmodernism (with more proof to come on that!).
Then in Part IV we began looking at the value of symbolism in the former shared text, the Bible.
Today, I want to discuss a side facet to this conversation that might tie it together for some of you: a Spiritist vs. Materialist Worldview.
If you come from a materialist worldview you may find it difficult to connect symbolism with spirituality. However, those from spiritist cultures have no trouble understanding the power of spiritual things. Symbols are small pickings.
A look at witchcraft in the spiritist worldview helped connect some of the dots for me. I hope it will anchor our conversation on spirituality in general and fold in more pieces of the discussion. At the very least it should be intriguing information for those uninitiated!
Witchcraft, still around?
“A common reaction from educated Christians…was: ‘How is witchcraft relevant in the modern world?’ They were quite unaware of the ‘violent compliment’, to use Wesley’s term, they were paying to a materialist worldview. In fact, witchcraft is common the world over…” -Jonathan Burnside
Coming from a materialist worldview, I did not intuitively grasp the significance of witchcraft: Why is it practiced? What are its objectives? I do not have the qualifications to give a full treatment of these topics, but by touching on them we can tickle the dragons that guard our normative beliefs.
What is Witchcraft?
“‘Witchcraft’ is a broad term, and commonly refers to ‘the use of magic’, whilst magic itself can be defined as ‘the manipulation and coercion of hidden powers in order to act on specific events… or individuals, manipulating hidden powers in order to benefit or heal people or to cause them harm.’” Ann Jeffers, Magic and Divination in Ancient Palestine and Syria,Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1996, p.1.
As part of my research for my fantasy series, I recently discussed witchcraft with a friend from Nigeria. She explained that by the time a child is three years of age, she knows that she must survive. Survival is the driving need of individuals in a spiritist culture. The practice of witchcraft is that pervasive, malicious and personal.
What are the Objectives of Witchcraft?
To answer this question I’ve imported a quote from an extremely thorough article. I recommend the full read here.
(The following is tactful, but I want to warn sensitive readers that it refers to ritual killing)
“What do witches actually want? What are the human motivations and attitudes that drive witchcraft? For example, in Ghana, kidnapped 16-year-old Akwesi Buabeng was rescued by police before his captors could kill him and sell his body parts for witchcraft. In 2001 the severed torso of a young boy was found floating down the river Thames, near Tower Bridge; the resulting enquiry saw Scotland Yard join forces with the South African Occult Crimes Unit. Such cases of ‘ritual killing’ are also problematic for Western materialists because, although we might understand why someone might want to kill, we don’t understand why someone would kill just to acquire a human head.
…On a visit to the Livingstone Museum in Zambia last year, I saw a range of artefacts confiscated by Zambia’s Witchfinder-General and used in traditional (pre-Christian) African religion. This exhibition, which was assembled by Africans, claimed that such religious practices were essentially motivated by: (1) a desire for knowledge; (2) a desire to control and manipulate and (3) a fear of death. Such themes are common to manifestations of witchcraft, in different societies throughout time. Acquiring body parts makes sense within this worldview, because they are a means of controlling and manipulating the spiritual and the physical world, perhaps through some form of sympathetic magic. By contrast, within a materialist worldview, ritual killing is nonsensical. Materialists do not believe the spirit world exists, and so they do not share the worldview that would enable them to make sense of the behaviour (bolded text mine).” -Burnside
From the above, we can say that witchcraft in the wide world is not at all what we find in Harry Potter. However, interest in the occult quickly leads to the real thing. My friend from Nigeria explained what happens after a person is inducted as a witch in her culture. It is too sad to relate in detail, but it involved the permanent sabotage of one’s life and the loss of loved ones. Real witchcraft is a slavery involving deception, false security, control, fear and death.
Linking back to worldview, I believe it is safe to say that individuals in the materialist world are more than ever interested in the spiritual one, but naive to its realities. While, those of a spiritist culture know quite well what witchcraft is and what it is used for.
I hope this grain of understanding on witchcraft, taken from a spiritist worldview, can sharpen our interest in the influence of a shared text based in pagan premises. But I’ll leave a personal evaluation of Harry Potter and its alchemical nature to you.
(As an aside – it is possible to interchange Alchemy, witchcraft and paganism because in my Christian worldview these share the same source and can be moved fluidly between in the real world. Additionally, the HP series itself illustrates their inseparable relationship).
From here, we will wrap up our series on Symoblism & Spirituality by going back to the former shared text, the Bible, and looking at an even more profound outcome of its symbolism. By closing the series in this fashion I hope to demonstrate the power of symbolism in our very present (and emotional) lives, and further demonstrate why written works of symbolism are so important on a spiritual level.
What do you think?
What are your thoughts on the spiritist worldview? Do you believe there is spiritual validity to the practice of witchcraft, or do you think its mere superstition? Is it important to you if the modern shared text embodies the premises of alchemy/witchcraft/paganism?
I would love to know your thoughts. As always, I grow through conversation. I am eager for all of your questions, comments and corrections. Cheers!