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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Sunday, August 21, 2011


OK, on to my reaction to Curt Purcell's reaction to the TRUE BLOOD mini-controversy.

Curt advised me to be cautious as to how I represented his views here, which is certainly his prerogative. I can't think of any better way to do that then to do a line-by-line refutation.

From this 8-18-11 post:

Is there anything more stupid than "Wiccans" getting all pissy and offended at fictional depictions of witches?

Actually I can think of several thousand things. The first thousand all belong to the American Republic Party.

In WITCH SLAP PT. 1 I stated that there were sound and unsound ways to protest fictional depictions of any group, religious or otherwise. The particular complaint that started this-- a modern Wiccan/witch's complaint that TRUE BLOOD misrepresented the way witches do magic-- was one about which I have reservations, though it rated a little higher with me that the guy who got torqued at Charlie Sheen's use of the word "warlock."

Nevertheless, I also asserted that there were some fictional depictions whose negativity deserved sanction. Except under the cover of satire, no contemporary television show could get away with asserting that the old medieval canard that Jews eat Christian children. In essence society regards this sort of misrepresentation as the equivalent of "hate speech," in large part because the representation may incite violence against the minority.

Now, no one is going to go on a literal witch-hunt because of a warlock who curses Charlie Sheen. However, not a few Christians still abide by the fallacy (also medieval in origin) that witches are Satanists, a common motif found in fiction. I certainly don't think Wiccans are incorrect, much less stupid, to protest such depictions, because they have just as potential to incite violence against a minority.

If I understand correctly, the term and concept have traditionally been employed as attempts to explain misfortunes like disease, infertility, crops not growing, etc., by blaming/scapegoating someone, and as pretexts for persecution.

This is a partial truth. Many tribal societies, even those outside the mainstream of Judeo-Christian-Islamic influence, fear witches for this reason. However, most of the proselytizing religions persecute witches purely because they don't adhere to the outlooks of said religions. In Exodus 22, we encounter at verse 18 the famous:

"Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live"

And two verses down, we have:

“Whoever sacrifices to any god other than the LORD must be destroyed."

So depictions of someone using magical powers malignantly would be correct usage, since that's how this mythical figure was imagined.

First of all, the TRUE BLOOD complaint is not about the depiction of witchcraft as so much "malignant" as "irresponsible," a point one can only validate if one subscribes to the complainant's beliefs about magic. Second, it's debatable as to whether ALL archaic depictions of witches come down to pure malignancy, and even if they were, most if not all of these depictions would be informed by the animus of a dominant, opposed ethos. Therefore, there's no viable rationale for saying that modern witches should be defined by this negative archetype, any more than saying that real Jews must be baby-eaters.

It's not like there was, historically, some actual oppressed religious minority corresponding to the term.

Also debatable. In 1921 Margaret Murray's THE WITCH-CULT IN WESTERN EUROPE posited that the "Satanist witches" persecuted during the medieval era were actually the underground remnants of the European paganism displaced by organized Christianity. And although Murray's evidence was widely criticized, some researchers have found support for Murray's basic thesis through more rigorous investigation, notably Carlo Ginzburg in his 1989 book ECSTACIES.

Now, as I stated on GROOVY HORROR, one may posit that all or most of this authentic pagan tradition was gone by the 20th century, and that no modern witches have any *literal/historical* connection to that "oppressed religious minority." However, even if one agrees to this view, I still have problems with Curt's final summation:

So it's not like this silly New Age "spirituality" that got made up within the last half-century is actually carrying on any such tradition. The fact that these people decided to call themselves that doesn't give them any real standing to dictate how witches should be portrayed in fiction, nor to be offended by portrayals that don't meet their approval.

Do silly witches and New Agers exist? I've affirmed as much above. However, one can find fools in any belief-system, including the sort of intransigent materialism I've criticized in PSYCHIC, FAIRLY. It's quite possible that every modern witch today is entirely the result of a faux Romantic-style revival, on a par with William Morris' attempt to revive medievalism.

But that in itself does not invalidate the religion. I said that there might be no literal/historical connection, but that does not mean that there can be no spiritual connection. Curt suggests that it may be considered "correct usage" for fiction to subscribe to the negative "mythical figure" of the witch. I don't deny the existence of this negative archetype but I think that even had there never been a single recorded positive archetype of the figure, modern witches would still be justified to come up with their own take on the figure, to make a positive archetype of their own.

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