Reflecting on Philip Johnson’s article, “Wiccans and Christians: Some Mutual Challenges” and his book “Jesus and the God’s of the new Age”, I am inclined to expand on his suggested challenges by drawing out a few more which specifically relate to shifts in consciousness. These are:
- Consciousness of creation’s aliveness.
- Consciousness of creation’s inter-relatedness.
- Consciousness of the unseen depths of creation.
- Attention to altered states of consciousness.
Now, to a large extent this is just a follow on from what Philip has already discussed under the subheadings of Imminent Spirit and Sacred Sites but I want to draw out these themes further as I believe they are more examples of the ‘unpaid bills of the church’ and ones that specifically relate to the intention of this blog – which is to explore meditative practice and alternate states of consciousness from a Christian perspective in dialogue with culture. So, to continue…
Consciousness of creation’s aliveness. Wiccan animism challenges us to consider that all creation is alive to its creator. A survey of the gospels reveals Jesus addressed trees, winds and waves in quite anthropomorphic ways. The Psalmists wrote of the whole creation, including the rocks and mountains, joined in the worship of God. This poetic consciousness is a far cry from the dry reductionism of modernity and necessary for a fully orbed appreciation of reality. Yet to offer a critique, Wicca can sometimes be prone to excessive romanticism about nature. Imagined affinity with trees and the earth does not necessarily equate to a holistic appreciation of nature – red in tooth and claw. Critical discernment should not be abandoned as we explore alternative modes of perceiving the world.
Consciousness of creation’s inter-relatedness. Wiccan pantheism challenges us to see the whole creation in relationship. Creation as a whole may have come into existence ex nihilo but the same cannot be said for the landscapes that form it and the creatures that fill it. Careful re-examination of the Genesis narrative reveals the sky was created in relationship to the sea, the sea was created in relationship with the land and humanity was created in relationship with the earth. While Christianity would critique Wicca for insufficient appreciation of the transcendent, this emphasis on inter-relationship is worth recovering.
Consciousness of the unseen depths of creation. Wiccan polytheism challenges us to be more attuned to unseen powers. Wiccan mythology and ritual invoke many gods and goddesses, faeries and elemental spirits. While this does not slot easily into a Christian frame of reference we are well reminded that there are unseen depths to creation, what has sometime been referred to in missionary circles as the excluded middle. Christians need to pay more attention to the phenomena of angels and ghosts, blessings and curses, spiritual powers and principalities, which are well documented in the bible. Conventional approaches to this subject of debunking the unfamiliar (neo-Calvinist) or demonising everything (Pentecostal) would not appear to be equal to the task at hand. We need to forge a new understanding and Wicca raises interesting questions. A question for further reflection is to what extent we interpret these archetypal figures Wiccans call gods and goddesses as external (spirit beings) or internal (psychological forces). To take this even further, what do we make of the Nephlim (which seem to cross the boundary between the seen and unseen) and Four Living Creatures (which do not fit into conventional understandings of angels)? Both spoken of in the Bible. Reality is stranger than we think. Yet if Wicca challenges Christianity, the reverse is also true. To what extent should lesser powers (however we understand them) be worshipped? Christianity has some clear warnings that Wiccans would do well to consider. Another issue I have yet to think through is how we relate to the different names of Yahweh (el shaddai, el elyon, etc) in light of this, but it is certainly thought provoking.
Attention to altered states of consciousness. Wiccan magic challenges us to re-evaluate the importance of the altered states of consciousness. Western Imperial Christianity bought way too deeply into the Cartesian dualism of the Enlightenment. And just as we are now seeing the error of emphasising the mind to the exclusion of the body, I believe we also need to question the wisdom of emphasising the rational intellect to the exclusion of intuition and normal waking consciousness to the exclusion of dreams and trance states, the unconscious and hyperconsciousness. Worshipping the Lord with your mind should not be minimised to the rational intellect. Following on from this, greater emphasis needs to be given to the power of symbolism. We need to re-evaluate the importance of symbolism throughout the New Testament and not leave this to liberal scholars alone. New Testament historian N T Wright is one of the few evangelical scholars to have yet recognised this. The basic criticism of Wicca though is its emphasis on the will. There is an unresolved tension in neo-pagan thought between nurturing earth harmony on the one hand and cultivating self will on the other. A challenge this raises is the need for ways of approaching the divine which acknowledge the power of symbolism, our unconscious urges and capacity for transconscious experience without encouraging a gnostic elitism or attempts to coerce deity. I offer the term of visual intercessory prayer as something Christians may want to explore but acknowledge I my own thoughts on this are still very embryonic and cautious.