Thursday, October 21, 2010

13 Days of Halloween - Are You A Good Witch or A Bad Witch?

Pictured above is the Good Witch of the North and the Wicked Witch of the West, from the 1939 film adaptation of the Wizard of Oz. It seems like we often forget that Glinda is referred to as a witch. With Halloween approaching, images of witches are everywhere. It has prompted me to write a little missive (maybe even a bit of a rant) on the whole knee-jerk reaction some of us have to the topic of magic and witches. Before we start, I feel as if I must mention that this post is being written by a Christian, with other Christian believers as the target audience I have in mind.

Most of the books I've read and movies I've seen that include the use of magic or witches approaches it 1. as a literary device and 2. for the most part clearly presents two sides - good and evil (or at least, in my humble opinion, the good fiction does this). When I say authors use magic or witches as literary devices, I mean it is simply a fantasy tool used to tell a story. Magic is what helps transport the Darling children to Neverland, or the Pevensie children through the wardrobe (or painting, etc.) into Narnia. It's a way for the author to get the main characters into a fantastical land. Often, the fantasy land and its characteristics, inhabitants, quests, etc. all work as an allegory or are symbolic of the deeper message the author is conveying. Sometimes magic is simply used as a skill, just like fencing or horseback riding, that the characters use to complete their quests.

The same thing goes for witches. In the Wizard of Oz, witches are simply magical rulers over the different lands within Oz. Some witches, like Glenda, are good while others are evil, like the Wicked Witch of the West. Not only are witches being used as a literary device - the witches and their magic are used to further along the story, to present obstacles or to provide magical tools or helps for our main characters during their quest or journey - but they are also firmly established on the side of either good or evil. In fairy tales there are often witches (evil) and fairy godmothers (good). The literary character of a witch or the literary tool of magic is neither good nor bad, but is painted as one or the other by the author or film-maker.

Having said all that, let's talk for a moment about Harry Potter. I have had well-meaning individuals approach me and admonish me up one side and down the other and question my faith, simply for reading the Harry Potter novels because of the evil "witchcraft" and "magic" they contain, but these same individuals are fine with the Chronicles of Narnia stories or the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Correct me if I'm wrong, but those stories all include a witch or wizard and magic, don't they? Yes, the queen in Narnia uses magic and is evil, but don't forget the Pevensie children also use magic. For example, Lucy is given a flask with a magical fluid of healing in it. We must take the thing, whether it is magic, monsters, fairies or witches, and look at the context. What is the author's purpose and goal? What is the author saying?

In the case of Harry Potter, magic is simply a skill, just like arithmetic or fencing. The Hogwarts school teaches the children to use their magic (i.e. skills) for good. There are witches and wizards who use their magic for evil and they are most definitely painted in a negative light and are even arrested and punished for the crime of using their magic for evil. The good witches use their magic to defeat the bad witches in battle. I'm not saying the Harry Potter series isn't flawed, or that it's the best work of fiction ever. I'm just saying it gets a unfairly bad rap by individuals who react to the content (i.e. witches and wizards) without taking the time to understand the context.

In my view, the Harry Potter series is no different in style or themes than the Star Wars films, where The Force is like a magical talent that certain people can tap into. Some people (i.e. Jedis) use it for good, while others (i.e. Sith) use it for bad, even calling it The Dark Side. These stories all tell of the eternal struggle of good versus evil, and don't we all love to see goodness prevail and triumph over evil? It satisfies an innate human desire to make the wrong things right. Furthermore, it is a pattern or shadow of the true story of our faith, in which Jesus, perfect, good and sinless, sacrificed himself and conquered death and sin, to bring salvation to sinful man and restore him to righteousness. (As a point of interest, J.K. Rowling has a Christian background and although I wouldn't call the Harry Potter books "Christian fiction", they have a decidedly Christian theme, especially in the final resolution of the series, where one man lays his life down in order to save others from ultimate evil.)

Now, I want you to hear me very clearly on this next point. I am not, in any way, shape or form, condoning actual, real life witchcraft. There is the realm of fantasy fiction, and then there's the realm of reality. I'm also not condoning anything that glorifies evil. For example, I'm okay with reading Harry Potter and the Chronicles of Narnia and think they are fine as works of fiction, but I'm not interested in seeing films such as The Craft or Practical Magic, that try to present real life witchcraft as acceptable or something to be pursued. I've met and had long discussions with people who follow the Wicca religion and it is not anything one should be messing around with.

Furthermore, if someone used to be steeped in the occultic lifestyle or Wicca or satanism or anything of the sort, and have since come out of it, I can fully understand how any exposure to or any reference to witches or magic and the like might be harmful and disturbing or bring up a temptation for that person to return to that lifestyle. Each individual has his/her own comfort levels, and I fully respect that. For example, alcohol, in and of itself, is not evil. However, if you've battled with alcoholism, then you shouldn't be watching or reading things that make you want to drink and/or cause that temptation or sin to rise up in you. The same goes for literature. Although these literary devices may be harmless in and of themselves, if it causes you to sin or be tempted, then it's best to avoid them.

As Romans 14 says, "Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way." If reading about magic or witches bothers you or burdens your conscience, then I'm most certainly not going to badger you about how you have to read Harry Potter and keep dropping the books off at your house, and I won't judge you for it either. Conversely, if I don't have a problem with it and my conscience is not convicted by reading them, then I would hope you would refrain from judging me about it too.

At this point, you may be thinking, "the lady doth protest too much" and that I am being defensive because I'm trying to justify sinful behavior or pursuits. On the contrary, I am simply frustrated with the lack of consistency, education, discernment and thoughtfulness when it comes to Christians and the arts. (I've spoken about this issue before, here.) I think the bottom line of what I'm trying to get at here, is I would just like for us to have discernment in all things. Engage your brain. My goal is to read with a book in one hand and the Bible in the other, and to actively think about the literature I'm reading or the movies I'm watching. What is the author trying to say? Does it glorify evil, or tell the truth about evil and sin? Are witches and magic used simply as literary devices, or is it presented as an alternative path to God's Truth? If you have a specific problem with a work of fiction, then let's discuss it on its literary merits, and the context in which magic and witches are used, and, keeping Romans 14 in mind, if it comes to it, let's agree to disagree within the unity of Christ. What do you say? Deal?


Elizabeth Carman said...

Well said, my friend!!

chandy said...

This will come as a complete shock to you (yeah right), but I completely agree!

I will certainly be teaching my kids to read with discernment and consideration for context. And also with the ability to recognize fantasy vs reality and enjoy both!

(I love this series you do each year...I can't wait to read each day!)

Laurie B said...

Interesting argument. After doing a study last year I came to the conclusion that not only was it against God's will to participate in witchcraft and other things of the occult, it was also wrong to be entertained by them. Vampires, mediums, psychics and the like. I stopped watching a few of my favorite shows, Medium and Ghost Whisperer. I also decided not to watch any more Harry Potter movies (I've never read the books), mainly because it seemed to glorify witchcraft. I just don't want to have anything to do with the occult.

However, I admit I still have trouble letting go of Narnia and LOTR. I haven't watched the movies or gotten rid of the books because I know they both were written by believers and have Christians themes. I struggle with my decision and don't want to be a hypocrit.

Your argument makes alot of sense to me and I now have to go back and rethink my decision based on actual biblical teaching and not my own man made laws. I will go against my conscience but I am willing to take a second look. I've taken a stand with a few friends on this and may have judged where I shouldn't have. If I find that I have, I'm willing to tell them so.

Thank you for challenging me in my thinking and making me look again at why I believe what I believe. That's never a bad thing.

D.L. White said...

Thanks for the compliments, friends! I hope I don't run out of topic ideas before the 13 days are up.

And a big YAY for you Chandy! Thank you for being the change we need to see, when it comes to Christians and their attitude towards the arts, and thanks for teaching your kids to do the same. You don't know how much that makes my heart happy. :)

D.L. White said...

@Laurie - thanks for your honest feedback and thanks for hearing my heart in this post. I appreciate it that you're thinking the issues through, studying and being aware and educated. At the end of the day, that's really all I want us to do.

I actually struggle with this topic a lot, since I tend to enjoy the fantasy, sci-fi and horror genres in both literature and films. I'm always having to do a gut-check, and trying to be aware of what's being said in the material, and if it's something I should be filling my head with or not.

There is a terrific book called The Truth Behind Ghosts, Mediums, and Psychic Phenomena by Ron Rhodes that gives a great breakdown on the topic from a Christian perspective. It's a small book too, so it's a quick read. The author is very knowledgable in the subject as well.

Laurie B said...

Thanks for the suggestion! I'll check it out.

Laura said...

Your post articulates our parenting style. We often use movies/tv/books as teaching tools with our children. The "knee-jerk reaction" that you mentioned tends to entrap many Christians. It extends beyond witches and magic and can isolate us from being relevant to our friends and children. If my children don't see us as relevant to their culture, they may disregard much of what we say as old-fashioned and not applicable to their lives.

That said, there are certainly things we won't let our kids see now, but as they become older we hope to have given them the tools you've discussed to enable them to be critical thinkers able to discern what is presented to them.

Kudos on a well written post.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I have to say I loved this post. And I think it's true that parents have to make a conscious choice about the age their kids need to be to see certain things (i.e. when children can enjoy a story but not get sucked into thinking this is somehow reality or an alternative to Christianity). It's a thin line sometimes, because one falls in love with the characters and worlds built by an author and so it's easy to tumble over the edge into wishing it were real. Clarity is the key - as I think you make clear in the post. Thanks!