Harry Potter and the Religious Paranoia


I’m afraid I can’t resist the nitpick. You see, I’m Episcopalian and we’re no more Protestant than we are Catholic, although we so have a reputation for being mainstream. Among other things, we have a different origin from Protestant denominations and our church services and heirarchy greatly resemble those of the Catholic Church.

I also have a very dear friend who’s a practicing Wiccan and who recently wrote a book on the relationship between Wicca and quantum physics. He refers to himself as a “Witch”. Since he’s a former Navy medical corpsman who’s provided some valuable advice while I’ve been coping with some health problems this year, he’s also been called my “Witch Doctor”! :wink:



But the name of your denomination is The Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States, isn’t it?

:confused: I was taught that Episcopalians were sort of the ur-Protestants, one of the original schismatic churches. They’re not Orthodox, so they must be Protestant–what else would they be?

I’m Catholic and we were told that Episcopalians were pretty close to us but definitely not equivalent to the church of Peter. Not better or worse, but definitely Protestant.

Catholics, just not in communion with the RCC and its Eastern Rite affiliates.

The separation between the Anglicans and the Romans was not based on a protest against Catholic theology, but on a disagreement of jurisdiction.

Of course, between the 16th century and the 18th century, the Church of England underwent a number of upheavals and attempts at reform, itself, so that some (arguable) number of ideas that are closer to the Lutheran/Evangelische tradition and some ideas that originated with Calvin and Zwingli were incorporated (much modified) into the Anglican theology. Further, with the separation of the American (Episcopalian) Church from the Anglican, in the U.S. some Episcopalian individuals may adopt views that are closer to those of their Protestant neighbors. From that point, we get people outside the RCC arguing the extent to which the Anglicans are or are not Protestant. That, however, is a discussion that we Catholics are well advised to avoid entering.

My understanding is that the Protestant churches that sprang from Luther’s Reformation were based on ideological problems with the Catholic church, with the promise of actual reform.

The Episcopalian church, on the other hand, sprang from Henry VIII’s desire to get a divorce that the Pope was refusing. Because this schism was personal instead of popular, Episcopalianism was intended to be just like Catholocism with the King replacing the Pope, though a few of the Reformation’s changes were also adopted post hoc.

No one put a gun to Gardner’s head and ordered him to invent etymology or choose to employ a word with a specific negative meaning. I don’t mock people who self-identify as witches, but I do note that taking offense at the reactions of people who continue to use a word in its original context (that it has never really lost) is counterproductive.

You’d better hope that Polycarp doesn’t catch you. The schism between the Latin Rite and the Church of England was far more nuanced than that and it was not merely “personal.”

We have also had a whole thread devoted to the question Are Episcopalians Protestant?

I agree that Episcopalians (which I am taking as an arm of Anglicanism) are most certainly Protestant. However, I think that nuanced and personal are hardly mutually exclusive, and while it is still my understanding that personalities drove the schism, I think that the word “merely” does a disservice to the complexity and importance of personal conflicts. When the personalities are the Pope and the King, personal equals political.

The break between the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church involved a lot of things, some of which happened after the death of Henry VIII in 1547. The English Church went back to communion with Rome during Mary’s reign (1553-1558), then split again which Mary’s protestant half-sister Elizabeth came to the throne. The tug-of-war was more or less resolved in 1688 with the flight of the Catholic King James II of England and VII of Scotland, and the accession of the Protestant (and Dutch) King William III, though there were still armed conflicts in 1715 and 1745 involving Catholic descendants of James II and VII trying to regain the thrones of Scotland and England.

At the very least, Anglicanism is a compromise between what are seen as the extremes of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, with High Church leaning to the Catholic side and Low Church leaning to the Protestant side.

“He was raised in the Church of England, of which it has been said that it is a very accommodating church, in that it interferes neither with a man’s politics nor with his religion.”

Masks of the Illuminati, by Robert Anton Wilson (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/044050306X/qid=1122572335/sr=8-1/ref=pd_bbs_sbs_1/103-6749743-6894254?v=glance&s=books&n=507846).

Good quote, BrainGlutton. A brain of refined literary tastes. :cool:

Lighten up, scholars, I just picked on Episcopalians so I could make a country club joke. Now I grant that was silly.

tom~, the choice of Witch for self-identification has a serious meaning that can get across to you with a moment’s reflection. I don’t say that a middle-class American whiteboy is completely incapable of understanding the liberation struggles of marginalized people. Although I do think that said hypothetical middle-class American whiteboy (MCAWB) is unlikely to get it unless he listens with an open mind to marginalized people articulate their own concerns with their own voices.

Just like queers call themselves “queers” with pride, other marginalized groups can take the derogatory words used against them by the dominant, and turning it around, make it a name of strength, resistance, and defiance. In the case of Christians demonizing (literally) Witches historically, their prosectution, execution, and expropriation of property was aimed at mainly independent women. Women with skills to earn independent living in ways that men did not pursue, like midwifery, and other skills such as herbal folk medicine. There was much less persecution of Witches in say the 11th century than in the 16th. In the earlier Middle Ages nuns in convents would make herbal remedies calling on the healing power of Mother Earth, essentially how Witches make herbal spells today. This was apparently not a problem then. The Renaissance was not only a time when Catholics and Protestants fought brutal wars against each other, it was a time when men changed the laws to prohibit women from owning property. One way to expropriate an independent woman’s property was to accuse her of being a Witch. Women’s independence was shut down by these changes.

When women’s self-realized power is resurgent, an Earth-based religion centered on powerful women and the Goddess has a good reason to assert itself by taking on the name of the marginalized foremothers. You might as well tell queers that it’s silly to use a derogatory name for themselves. They have reclaimed it for their own dignity. I am impressed with this act of reclaiming that shows what the human spirit is capable of. Reclaiming with a capital R is a collective of Witches who share an Earth-based, feminist perspective and are down with liberation struggles. For me, the name Reclaiming means this exploration into our foremothers’ female, earth-based magick, and making it happen in ways that are relevant to our lives and our liberation struggles. We are reclaiming the name Witch too, as an act of resistance.

Not all Witches are Gardnerian or even necessarily have anything to do with Gardner, so whatever old Gerald said is not normative for Witches as a whole. Most of the Witches I know feel that we moved past Gardner’s personal limitations a long time ago. The name Wicca covers Gardnerian and Alexandrian covens, but there are other types of Witchcraft that are not Wiccan. For example, Reclaiming doesn’t identify as “Wiccan” because their origin is not from either the Gardnerian or Alexandrian tendencies. As I mentioned above, stregheria in Italy is a type of Witchcraft, but definitely not Wiccan. Whatever way Gardner might have intended the word, it isn’t what motivates me and my Reclaiming friends. We use it to mean pride and resistance. Thanks for listening. To quote Al Franken, “I’m impressed if you’re still reading this.”

P.S., tom~, if you like I could E-mail you a copy of my article on Witch philology, the Indo-European roots it seems to be derived from, and why it’s the best word for us, compared with interesting examples from other languages. Only if you’re interested. I owe the article to the Straight Dope Message Boards. A thread about Wiccan offenderati in the BBQ Pit inspired me to look up the Proto-Indo-European etymology of Witch in several sources. You may remember that thread from last year. I showed it to a Reclaiming group on Yahoo, and a Reclaiming Quarterly editor invited me to expand it into a full article for the fall issue. Thanks, Dope. :slight_smile:

P.P.S. After I wrote the above, I looked up a couple references. I gave my personal view on the question, and here are what a couple other Reclaiming Witches say about it:

The “W” Word - Why We Call Ourselves Witches

Our Many Names: Pagan, Witch, Wiccan…

The problem that I find with this is that it tends to be invented history. The witch hunts of the Renaissance had various origins and were carried out against multiple groups in different regions at different times. Certainly the Malleus Maleficarum made a point of condemning women, but I was disappointed in the religioustolerance.org article to which BrainGlutton linked earlier for its agenda and errors. Krämer and Sprenger did not create a “religion” out of whole cloth for no reason. They collected and codified beliefs that were already extent throughout the Alps region that had already raised fears and plagued the region for many years before they were ever commissioned to categorize those beliefs. (Note the different timeline and emphases in this separate religioustolerance.org page on witches along with the somewhat different history presented on this page and this page with their rejections of the theories of Margaret Murray and Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English.)

The witch hunts that arose at about the same time overall claimed more women than men, (which probably does reflect on the lesser legal status and political power of women), but there was no ongoing systematic effort to destroy “independent” women. In some regions, the poor were targets. In some regions, wealthy burgers became the targets. In a few places families were targets. In a couple of cases, men were targeted. (The hunts in western central Germany focused almost exclusively on (male) students of law and theology. In Iceland, I believe no women were targeted.) In most of Europe, no witch hunts even arose. There is substantial (I do not know that it is conclusive) evidence that the Salem witch hunts were spurred on by multi-family feuds over inheritance; the victims were not linked to herbology, midwifery, or any other particular “wisdom” and the women were not particularly independent–and the trials claimed roughly half as many men as women.
So a claim that witch hunts were “aimed” at independent or knowledgeable women can only be supported by selectively ignoring that many witch hunts did not target women, much less knowledgeable or independent women.

Now, claims of witchcraft at that time were very much linked to a belief that Satan was the active agent, but then, Europe had been overwhelmingly Christian for nearly 500 years by the time the witch hunts arose and the meme of evil (not knowledge) was very much that of Satan.

As to the word, itself, your own sources show it entering English in the form of necromancy, (yes, I did appreciate your efforts, last year), indicating that it has never had a meaning other than that of sorcery or the harmful application of spiritual power. The word was never used for herbalists, midwives, or any other profession that rendered aid to people. Regardless what distant Indo European roots might sugggest, (and, as you note, those roots are extremely vague and confused), its actual meaning has always indicated maleficence.

Here are some sites onto which I stumbled looking for a history site I have cited in the past (which now appears to be defunct):


Blah, blah, blah. Tell it to Granny Weatherwax! http://www.y2012.de/faces/weatherwax.html :wink:

According to the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, I am simply a member of “The Episcopal Church”. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn there’s a denomination which refers to itself as “The Protestant Episcopal Church”, but as far as I know I’m not a member of it. As for the whole Protestant vs. Catholic aspect of it, I got beat up in quite a few playground scraps as a kid because I couldn’t answer when I was asked if I was Protestant or Catholic. My small town didn’t allow for a middle ground. Now as an old curmudgeon, I still don’t appreciate being forced into either box. Martin Luther had a number of good points, but he is not directly responsible for the formation of my church.

On the other hand, haven’t we strayed rather far from why people object to Harry Potter?


The Episcopal Church (USA) was formally designated as “Protestant Episcopal” beginning in the 1780’s; around 1967 the term “Protestant” was at least de-emphasized.

Perhaps, but once we’ve declared “They are humorless loons” we lose all the information and insight that the rest of the thread has provided.