New Religious Movements and Religious Liberty in America

By Derek H. Davis; Barry Hankins | Go to book overview

Chapter 10
Fighting for Free Exercise
from the Trenches

A Case Study of Religious Freedom Issues
Faced by Wiccans Practicing in the
United States
Catharine Cookson

Now that the three hundredth anniversary of the Salem witch trials (16921992) has passed, it seems appropriate to re-examine the Wiccan experience of religious freedom. While the heretical beliefs of strange Others is no longer good cause to burn them, how much progress has really been made toward religious freedom for groups whose religious beliefs are considered anathema by Christians? The results, as various Wiccan sources show, are mixed.

Wiccans report that the biggest challenges to their religious freedom are directly traceable to (1) misperceptions and (2) intolerance. Misperceptions due to false rumors and ignorance are easily cleared up with educational efforts. Wiccans are not Satanists, nor do Wiccans worship devils or demons. 1 They do not mutilate or sacrifice babies or animals or people, nor do they seek to do evil or promote evil. In fact, the Wiccan ethic is precisely the opposite. Wicca is a life-affirming, positive system of spiritual beliefs and ritual practices. As noted by J. Gordon Melton,

most modern witches are followers of a nature-oriented, polytheistic faith. … Witches and Neo-Pagans worship the great Mother Goddess, usually seen in her triple aspect as maiden, Mother, and crone, thus representing the basic stages of life. Beside her is the Horned God (Pan), her consort, and together they represent the male and female principle basic to life.…

Ethically, Witches value freedom and harmlessness.… They also believe that the effects of magic will be returned threefold upon the per-

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