This is the seventh and final instalment of the series Symbolism & Spirituality. Here is a recap of the broad strokes:
In Part 1 We discussed the Harry Potter Series’ universal influence and achievement of becoming a shared text (replacing the Bible). The series is wrought in the symbolism of Alchemy and is thus having a pagan influence on the world.
In Part 2 we dipped our toe in the premise that symbols can speak with spiritual potency.
In Part 3 I asserted that symbolism is the new approach to the Bible in metamodern thought, and that symbols are our only access to Objective Reality, i.e. God. In Part 4 I proposed how necessary it is for Christians to transform their notion of “absolute truth” in a way that brings them into genuine conversation with the world, and also that symbols are the new containers for truth. In Part 5 I took that thread and explained the relationship between symbolism and prophetic knowledge, giving an example from the Bible. In Part 6 we showed how Biblical symbolism could address morality and transcend scriptural debate through the example of homosexuality. Finally, we’ve arrived at Part 7, the final piece of this introduction to Symbolism & Spirituality.
Today, I want to discuss a facet of this conversation that might tighten things up for some of you: a Spiritist vs. Materialist Worldview.
The very idea of a material world played into the hands of modernism. In modernism we were fine with dichotomies. The notion that some things “over here” were spiritual and some things “over there” were material, was very appeasing to our data filtering minds. We made this separation because it suited our progress, our science, our enlightenment. We were no longer superstitious nitwits from the dark ages. We began to understand the nature of things. Magic was no longer spiritual, power was science, and we harnessed that power and controlled it. We invented the lightbulb, the automobile, the vaccine. And much greater things. We studied atoms and neuroscience. We got so smart we began to play God and lengthen our lifespans as well as use drugs to manipulate the chemistry of the brain.
Its easy to see how, for at least a short time, we could be so distracted by our progress and the illusive notion of omniscience, that we arrogantly dispensed with the entire concept of the spiritual. Even the church put down the idea of charismatic gifts and we approached Christianity the same way we did all other disciplines. We weren’t looking for spiritual power, we settled for controlling power. We systematised church services and theology and capitalised on hierarchies of leadership. When we read the Bible we saw axiom and law and order.
However, we’ve come far enough down this path (nearly 300 years), and we’ve finally realised, as a society, that spirituality is still beyond the grasp of reason. That we cannot explain it away. At the same time, the world has globalised and we are rubbing shoulders with the spiritist parts of the world.
This post is about opening Western eyes to the realities of the spiritist culture and giving a snap shot into its workings. This will serve to emphasise my assertion that there is an alternating current between what is material and what is immaterial – and that symbols are the lingua franca of a globalised world (providing one leg to stand on as we seek to repent of Western colonialism in the missionary sphere).
Additionally, Harry Potter is the current “steward of this throne,” providing a globalised shared text that houses a pagan spiritual message through symbolism providing the alternating current between its truth and unguarded minds.
A look at witchcraft in the spiritist worldview has never been more apt.
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 pursuit 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. While it is tactful, 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.
(As an aside – it is possible to interchange Alchemy, witchcraft and paganism because in a 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).
A Refreshing Christianity
The goal of this series was to create a Christian connection to the importance of symbols. The offer of metamodern Christian practice and theology is the renewal of true spirituality.
I hope to see the next generation embrace their Bible and their Christian worldview from a refreshing angle, and gain a platform for a powerful evangelistic voice.
I’d like to use the foundation this series has created, to begin talking about the Bible and Christian practice from both a symbolic & spiritual standpoint. True spirituality is the quest of this generation, and I’m all in for the conversation.