Spellcraft, divination, magic, I believed in it all. I believed that it was possible to communicate with spirits and affect the physical world with the right words, thoughts, actions and equipment. After all, in the bible, Saul consulted mediums, Pharaoh’s magicians met Moses with their own versions of his miracles, et cetera, et cetera. Magic was possible, certainly, but dangerous and untrustworthy. The spirits dealt with did not have your best interests at heart. Trying to affect the world by will alone I saw to be similar to trying to conduct electricity with an up-raised golf club in a thunderstorm: possible, but likely fatal. We simply do not know enough to mess with such power, and need to leave it all in God’s hands. His will be done. That’s what I believed. I could not understand how anyone who believed magic was real would choose to play with something so potentially dangerous.
In university, I met Wiccans, neo-Druids and others who claimed to be magical practitioners. As I spoke with them and tried to tell them of my concerns and warn them of the dangers they were in, I ended up thinking hard about what the difference was between prayers and spells. I argued that spells were dangerous because using them attempted to control things outside of our control. Prayers were safe, for we prayed for God’s will to be done, not ours, and we could trust God to work for our good.
The problem was, the more I thought about it, the more spellcraft I saw around me as devout Christians tried to compel God or others with their thoughts, words and actions. I went on a youth retreat as a volunteer leader, and an elderly woman approached me and said, “I’ve been praying that you will take a staff position with us. I think you’d do a great job.”
I tried to act casual and leave the conversation without giving offence or committing to a position I didn’t want, but my stomach churned as her words repulsed me. She wasn’t praying that God would appoint someone to lead. She wasn’t praying that I’d see God’s will for how God wanted me to use my skills. She was praying that God would somehow make me do what she wanted me to do. This wasn’t humble petition for God’s will to be shown. She was trying to cast a spell on me!
Later, I found myself with some “name it and claim it” Christians who prayed for what they wanted. One gave his testimony of how he’d prayed for a car, and some other Christians he knew had given him one. I saw how this worked with Jesus’ promise of “Ask and you shall receive,” but I was really bothered by this use of prayer.
As I learned more about magic and spellcraft, I got more bothered. I read Isaac Bonewitz’ Real Magic so that I could effectively argue with a friend who thought that magic was safe and was using Bonewitz teachings to bolster his own experiments. I learned about bibliomancy, a way of predicting the future by randomly selecting a text from a large book. Suddenly, years of watching Christians randomly open their bibles and read the first verse to catch their eyes no longer seemed to be a proper way to learn God’s will. Worse were those who would flip a coin or roll some dice and pray that God reveal His will by affecting the otherwise random outcome. This wasn’t prophecy- trying to discern God’s word for the present or will for the future- it was divination. I began to believe that only through prayerful study of scripture and creation, in conversation with a group of believers who were also prayerfully seeking God’s revelation, could God’s will be discerned. Any invocation of randomness or other shortcut was dangerously close to magic.
I ignored, or failed to notice, how arbitrary the lines I drew were.