Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Magic Fast

Netflix mailed us “The Chronicles of Narnia” this weekend. Something about watching it with my wide-eyed pre-school set has got me thinking about imposing a stricter fast from all things magic.

As I kid, I grew up surrounded by images of witches. There was the good witch Glenda in the Wizard of Oz. The funny housewife in “Bewitched.” The evil stepmother in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. Growing up witches seemed like a harmless Halloween costume or a relic from medieval folk tales.

Then something happened over the past 15 years. Witches became Wiccans.--A true false religion that started gobbling up my peers.

In college, I remember sitting down with my Protestant Chaplin for a discussion about how to reach out to students of different faith. There were discussion about inter-faith dialogue with Jews, Muslims and Hindis. Then he said “What about the pagans? I heard there was a new ritual about dancing around the oak tree on the winter solstices. They had a big crowd. Those poor kids have no faculty advisor on campus, perhaps we can help them.”

“NOT THE PAGANS,” I responded. I didn’t really have a full explanation at that point. My baby-boomer Chaplin thought I was being unnecessarily narrow-minded. I couldn’t articulate my feelings well on that day. It just seem so clear to me on a gut level that believing magic was real was not a faith.

Then came graduate school in Madison, Wisconsin. There I was shocked to rub shoulders with actual Wiccans. I thought witches and warlocks had disappeared soon after the Salem Witch Trials. But here were twenty-something peers, fed up with the oppression of the patriarchy of Christianity. The girls bought cauldrons and practiced spells for more money and better roommates. The boys, who hoped the date the pretty girls, bought hexagon pendants and magic wands.

Meanwhile, countless friends have told me about the “amazing” experiences with accurate palm-readers in New Orleans and “insightful” daily horoscopes. There’s the “magic” of the secrete tooted on Oprah. And my was I shocked to see cartoon after cartoon of happy kid witches on the Saturday morning cartoons after my oldest kid hit age three. Even worse, Catholic kids in our local newspaper were quoted as saying that seeing the Pope "felt like magic!"

The one thing I have gleaned from my reading of the Old Testament is that God is not down with sorcery. Believing that you can reduce control of the universe to your own personal "whim", is the opposite of embracing the humility to true all powerful God, Creator of Heaven and Earth. Even the murder of your brother does not profane the mystery of faith as much as one small "money quick" spell.

Once I started flipping over the happy “animal year” chart at our local Chinese Restaurant, which by the way happens to have the BEST garlic dishes and is a favorite of the Bush family, I started finding “magic” everywhere.

When my kid showed up for Valentines Days at her C.C.D. class, there was a giant cupid over her door. “Why is there a naked Guardian angel on my door?” she innocently asked. That prompted a huge discussion that St. Valentine was real, and was martyred by the Romans who believe such “fake” gods as cupid were real instead of Christ. Jon and I started scratching our heads. Why had we never noticed how awful it was to promote fake Roman deities on the feast day of the Holy Saint martyred for his beliefs in the sanctity of marriage before?

Then came St. Patrick’s Day. Now giant leprechaun’s and pots of gold appeared outside the Catholic School Classroom. “We can like those men in funny hats, right Mom?” Hannah said. That prompted a chat that St. Patrick was real and that he came to help those Irish believe in the Trinity (yeah shamrocks) over the foolish fairies.

My husband and I are in a difficult role as converts. Half the in-laws don’t believe in “the Jesus bread” as Hannah delicately puts it. The other half think that going to Sunday Mass is a bunch of hooey since you can just as happily talk to God among the Trees. We get a lot of questions about “what is your Halloween costume this year?” among the grandparents and nil about “How are you coming on learning your rosary?” I admit this unique situation has created a type of bunker mentality between my husband and I in terms of Holiday traditions.

Still, I’ve gone on an all out war against “magic” in my house. Gone are the “lucky charms.” Saying “I’m blessed” has replaced saying “I’m lucky.”

Now, I’m considering extended the blanket “no wiccan cartoons” ban to no “witch movies’ in general. Even with such Christian classics as “the Chronicles of Narnia.”

Here’s my reasoning. I think that close to Christianity, yet still a myth is even more dangerous that “total myth” such as Harry Potter. The Christian parallels in this story are striking, but still “wrong.” Aslan is supposed to be a Christ figure, yet here is talking about his “resurrection” in terms of “the deep magic”. For all his fame among Catholic circles, C.S. Lewis is not a Roman Catholic. He was an Anglican. One in our faith in baptism, but not one in the sense of the Eucharist, and I'd argue not a full understanding of Jesus in his divinity or as his founding of one church on the rock of Saint Peter. Why do I want to confuse my five year old's hand on this issue and let her think that "witches" are nothing more than harmless fairy tales?

Has anyone else come up with clear rules on this difficult, modern issue?


  1. Very interesting post! So interesting that I had to do a whole post to reply over at my blog.

    Quick summation: I'm with you on keeping the occult out of my home. But I find a big difference between "magic" and "myth." Fairytales and mythology can be real pathways to Truth.

    You can find a much more elaborate version over at

  2. Great post to which I have no insight, sorry. Perhaps the value as they get older will be in the teaching moments such as the one with the cupid on St. Valentines day.

    One of the things that I’ve really noticed as I’ve grown in my faith is just how much our society is founded on Christian faith and the Church in particular.

    Things as simple as City and Street names from coast to coast for example and the whole state of Maryland reflect the Catholic faith. Something as simple as a name really matters, if it weren’t why change the name of St. Petersburg to Leningrad?

    What's the point? Little witches and magic matter too we are all influenced by what we are immersed in.

  3. Glad you posted this- my comments are all over at Maria's post...

  4. I read your post last night, and then posted my stuff on Maria's blog too, sorry. I'm still working on my thoughts too.

  5. I've been thinking about this for a couple days and I've read what Maria has over on her blog as well as those comments as well. I'm going to have to largely disagree with you on this one. First off, I doubt I would be Christian right now if it wasn't for C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Granted, it was Lewis' non-fiction that made the greatest difference at the beginning, but his fiction has a very big spot in my heart now too. I remember one late winter about five years ago when I read The Lord of the Rings trilogy for the first time. The themes of good conquering over evil even in the face of seeimingly insurmountable odds, the amazing power, necessity and even practicality of mercy, and the willingness to go on even when odds seem hopeless were all things that softened me up nicely for Lewis' excellent apologetics. Reading that trilogy gave me a receptivity to Christianity that no amount of proslytizing or direct teaching could ever have given me.

    When I started reading Lewis' fiction, I was really taken by some of his imagery - it has spoken to me of Godly things with an impact I haven't felt by reading about the same things in the Bible. For example, I can't read about Eustace's change back from dragon to human being (in Voyage of the Dawn Treader) without crying - what that part says about baptism, penance, and the conversion of a soul to God says more to me about what those things mean inside than reading about St. John the Baptist baptising Christ or the like. Perhaps that is showing my own limitations, but because these works echo and point to the Truth of God, the serve to reinforce God's Majesty and his Teachings in my mind in a very visceral way.

    On the other hand, I do agree with you about limiting and prohibiting if necessary the magic/pagan trappings of many holidays. There is absolutely no reason to include leprechans with St. Patrick's Day, cupids with St. Valentine's Day, etc. My biggest test is whether the myth/magic/whatever points to Truth, or if it is just fluff put there for entertainment, shock value, or other useless and/or damaging reasons. In general, this all falls under the category of avoiding twaddle at all costs, which is my guiding principle in evaluating everything my children hear or see.

    We also limit the use of video of any type, even if it is based on a Christian work like Lewis'. After all, the filmmakers are seldom Christian, and they may not see or want to see the Christian underpinnings of a story, much less want to take the effort to figure out how to translate that to the screen. Visual images in movies and such are so much more powerful - especially for young children - that I am extremely careful about what they see. I don't even let them watch much of what would be considered overtly Christian - for example VeggieTales and the like. I think they are fine for every great once in awhile, but I know it can become too easy for them to associate various Bible stories with various videos, no matter how many more times they have read the story vs. watched the video. Visual images are just that powerful, especially for young minds. Using your example of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, I've read it to my daughter (6 y.o.) twice and we've listened to it on audiotape probably another 2-3 times over the past two years, but she has seen the movie once... and even that was with some misgivings. We also watched it on a very small screen with all the lights on so as to minimize the visual impact of the movie. I have no plans on showing it to her again anytime soon, however I'll happily read or listen to the story with her again wheneve she's interested.

    This is getting to be a long comment, but I did have one more thing I wanted to add. I really know what you mean about being alone in your family in celebrating the Christian holidays as Christian holidays. My family is largely atheist and I have a pagan sister and soon to be brother-in-law. My mother is fairly pagan as well, but not quite so obviously as my sister. I really wish I had a family where we weren't at such odds and I didn't have to watch quite so closely to what they are saying to my children.

    OK, long comment, my apologies!

  6. Thanks for your comment over on my blog! I'm glad you found my previous comment helpful. I went back and forth as to if I should post something or not, and I'm glad I did.

    And thanks for the congratulations!