Unmasking Witchcraft

John Hayward, December 2010
‘Magic’ and ‘sorcery’ conjure up images of Harry Potter, Disney’s Fantasia, or perhaps Macbeth. However, while modern secular society dismisses witchcraft, Dr Jonathan Burnside explains in our new Cambridge Paper, Covert Power, why we should take witchcraft seriously.

The Witches in Macbeth (1841-2) by Alexandre Gabriel Decamps.

The Witches in Macbeth (1841-2) by Alexandre Gabriel Decamps.

From a biblical perspective, magic and divination is what happens when we try to manipulate things or try to obtain special information apart from a relationship with God. Such manipulation and control of the spiritual and material worlds points to the underlying problem: a lack of trust in God.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus showed that anyone could share the underlying attitudes of a murderer and adulterer (Matthew 5:21ff). Applied to witchcraft, we might read, ‘You have heard that it was said: “There shall not be found among you any one who… [is] a sorcerer.” (Deuteronomy 18:10) But when you use subliminal advertising, you are in danger of God’s judgement.’ Or: ‘You have heard that it was said: “There shall not be found among you any one who… [is] a wizard” (Deuteronomy 18:11) But when you become an expert spin-doctor, you will be known as the Prince of Darkness.’

As fallen human beings, we are all tempted to seek knowledge apart from God, or to try and make sure that certain things happen apart from God. Thus, modern psychological ‘techniques’ and popular management ‘techniques’ (note the word) can quickly stray into forms of witchcraft. ‘Positive thinking’, ‘visualisation’ of future meetings and their desired outcomes, and the use of an imaginary ‘shield’ or ‘screen’ around the practitioner to ward off negativity can all give an impression of knowledge and intimacy and relationship but in fact are a perversion of it because they are not fundamentally open to other people.

In such ways, forms of witchcraft are going on all around us in ways we wouldn’t necessarily think. It may even be the case that the most overt forms of witchcraft are not in fact the most evil. The non-overt forms may be the most controlling. Precisely because they aren’t recognised, such forms of witchcraft may be working more powerfully than people realise through the context of everyday life.

The biblical worldview presents a challenge both to societies which believe it is possible to access and manipulate supernatural powers, and those that don’t, because the biblical worldview occupies the ‘middle ground’ between spiritism and materialism. As the West loses the protection of Christianity, we need to beware of increasing witchery and to watch out for unconscious indirect involvement.

The reality is we are all so bewitched we don’t even recognise the charms that keep us under their spell! Unmasking witchcraft means exposing the spiritual insecurity that lies behind the attempts to create fear, the petty forms of control and the shallow manipulations. Above all else, in the resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead, we turn, unmasked, from fear, death and shadows to intimacy, life, and light.


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Category: News and Reviews

December, 2010

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