Wicca’s Charm: Understanding the Spiritual Hunger Behind the Rise of Modern Witchcraft and Pagan Spirituality, by Catherine Edwards Sanders
Shaw Books, 0877881987, 233 pp. (incl. Appendix, notes, glossary, further resources and reader’s guide), 2005

When I first received this book, I had hoped to find a sensitive exploration of Wicca through the lens of an unbiased reporter, perhaps commenting on the history, people, trends and perhaps Wicca’s broader social implications. Unfortunately, this was not what I found.

Catherine Edwards Sanders, a former magazine reporter, received an assignment to investigate Halloween, and this led her to learn more about Wicca and what it entails. Identifying as a Christian, she was quite sceptical about validity of the religion. In the preface, she writes, “Wicca’s Charm is not only an exploration of Wicca in America but a reflection of how Christians treat Wiccans and Pagans”, and perhaps this should have tipped me off to the true nature and agenda of her extended explorations. She continues, “I would soon find out that Wicca could no longer be characterized as a bizarre, marginal religion.” Passive aggressive statements like this are common throughout this work.

Even so, initially I retained hope, for unlike Christine Wicker’s Not in Kansas Anymore, Sanders has indeed done some homework. She’s read the books, talked to publishers, shop owners, and Wiccans from a variety of backgrounds, and while she comments on some of the more sensational aspects, she tempers it with ideas expressed by practicing Wiccans.

The pentagram has become one of the most immediately recognizable symbol of Wicca. Describing it, Sanders writes that it is “a five-pointed star representing air, fire, water, earth and spirit”, and that the “tip of the pentagram always points upward, say Wiccans, because a pentagram pointing down represents Satanism”. This is incredibly misguided, and it’s worth noting that no references are stated for this statement. In many traditions the downward pointing pentagram represents a second degree initiate and encompasses a host of additional mystical interpretations; far from being used exclusively in Satanism. (Indeed, she demonstrates little understanding of modern Satanism, but that as it is outside of the scope of the book these deficiencies may be overlooked for the purposes of this review.)

Sanders displays difficulty evaluating unfamiliar concepts. She writes, “Wiccans have no belief in absolute good and absolute evil, which explains why they disavow Satan, whom they view as part of the Christian tradition” – she seems incapable of examining Wicca as a religion in its own right, independent of Christianity. She continues, acknowledging that “bad things can happen”, but not as “a result of the presence of Satan”. Further, she says, “[t]his may sound strange to Christian ears, but as studies have shown, six out of ten Americans don’t believe in the person of Satan – only that he is a symbol of evil.” While I’m not clear on why any Americans would believe in an invisible bogeyman controlling their thoughts, I’m also not clear on why it should appear strange that most do not?

Many of the “negative” points Sander raises against Wicca are dubious, and she often seems to deliberately miss the point in favour of adhering to her fundamentalist Christian agenda. For example, Sanders ridicules what she sees as a “pick and choose” attitude towards religion that Wicca has in regards to the variety of traditions which fall under its general heading as each encompasses variations on the particulars of the faith; however, she fails to comment on the parallel between this and the various denominations found within Christianity.

Repeatedly she states that Pagans have “taken” from Christians, evidently ignorant of the religious customs Christians have directly expropriated from Pagan cultures, such as eggs at Oestara, evergreens and the reborn Sun at winter solstice, and so on. She writes that “[w]ithout God, who is perfectly good, there are no absolutes, no standards by which to measure what is just or unjust. The neo-Paganism that is practiced today borrows the Christian values of right and wrong,” conveniently forgetting that Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and Seneca were not devout Christians.

While Sanders realizes that Wicca and neo-Paganism do not have ancient roots in any historical sense and chides its modernity, she is not above reaching back to ancient times when it suits her comparisons to modern Christianity in a favourable light. Such as her discussion of the role of women in ancient Greece, comparing their situation with the sexual limitations supposed for Christians of a later date. Even if we do humour this line of thought, she makes no mention of the Celtic women (for example) who were held in higher regard, nor of the obscene sexual repression women and men have faced in the wake of Christian fanaticism. Nor, of course, is there any mention of the crusades, the “burning times” are glossed over, as well as anything else that might point a finger at Christian brutality.

This book does not seek to examine Wicca in its own right, but in selective comparison with Christian doctrines and commentaries and as such presents an infuriatingly ignorant view of Wicca and what the religion has to offer. Sanders has written Wicca’s Charm with a dangerous agenda: religious conversion specifically aimed at converting Wiccans and neo-Pagans from their faiths to Christianity – indeed, she rejoices in the retelling of a former Wiccan rejoining Christianity.

“My hope in writing this book is that I have equipped you with helpful knowledge so that if a Wiccan or neo-Pagan should cross your path in life, you will be able to demonstrate the understanding, love, and acceptance that Jesus has for them and will be able to engage them in constructive dialogue, sharing with them the hope of the gospel. If you are Wiccan and are fleeing Christianity or have never really considered it in the first place, I hope you will give the message of Jesus of Nazareth a serious look.”

Ultimately, Wicca’s Charm is incredibly ignorant, insensitive and infuriatingly rude.