Monday, January 08, 2007

Pagans, Witches, and Spiritual Warfare


Today is SynchroBlog 2 Day. There are thirteen of us who are blogging on the subject of spiritual warfare. Whoa - maybe I should have found another person. Thirteen is the complete number of a coven, and it is a demonically empowered evil number. Okay I'm being silly, and I am pressing your superstition buttons, so let's forget that and move on to the real blog.

I developed, and run a discussion list between Born-again Christians and Pagans of various types called Circle and Cross Talk.

In preparation for SynchroBlog 2 I asked the list what they thought about the subject of spiritual warfare. I wondered whether it was a subject they were familiar with, and if so what they thought that it was. Some of the Neo-Pagans on the list (these are people who are Witches, Druids, Shaman, and such) responded, and I wanted to let you see what Witches think of when they hear the term "spiritual warfare."

Before passing these thoughts from my Pagan friends on to you I should give you a definition of Spiritual Warfare. Spiritual Warfare is a term which has its primary Biblical source from Ephesians 6, where reference is made to a battle "not against flesh and blood...but against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places." There are other verses which are used to create the theology which swirls around the subject, but here are some basic thoughts: Spiritual Warfare is occuring because demonic forces are battling for control of human hearts. Temptation is a primary tool of Satan and His hordes, and the thought life is a place where the battle is waged. There are other views of Spiritual Warfare which consider issues such as demonic possession, and this possession is sometimes even considered to be something Christians and non-Christians might experience. This last view is held by more extreme groups. Often those involved in the occult are viewed as pawns of these dark forces, and it is believed by many that they do his bidding to call curses upon Christians. Praying against the forces of darkness is a common practice in many Pentecostal Circles. Most often this is benign toward individuals, but sometimes it becomes more aggressive, and people doing things which do not fit Christian ethical and moral views are prayed against. Generally the more aggressive views of Spiritual Warfare are rejected, but these practices can rise up due to fear and superstition among well meaning Christians. Spiritual Warfare is traditionally understood to be a battle against unseen forces. The Twentieth Century has seen a rise in this terminology greatly due to the influence of Jesse Penn Lewis' book War on the Saints, by the fictional work of Frank Peretti This Present Darkness, and by the influence of C. Peter Wagner.

Having set the stage, here is how my friends from another worldview see this topic Spiritual Warfare, and its impact upon their own lives, or society at large:

It was seen as a political rallying point for Paula a Jewish Wiccan:

"Interesting you should ask because I was doing research on this all day yesterday. I was researching something I read about "fear based persuasion"....Terminology like "spiritual warfare" and others like that seem to originate with the evangelical Christian movement. Ralph Reed (who took a big fall from grace for his role in the Jack Abramoff scandal) was known to have used just this sort of terminology in his political lobbying."

Furthermore she stated:

"American political leaders with religious agendas who promote theocracy emotionally stoke the fires with rhetoric that uses fear based persuation in order to get the American public to suspend their disbelief. And then one by one, for our own good, they take away constitutional rights in the name of a "war" on whatever they want to declare war on. Terror, abortion, illegal immigration....In order for there to be a war on anything there has to be an enemy. This is how leaders create a mob mentality. This is how Hitler managed to murder 6 million Jews.

At another point she questions the rhetoric "spiritual warfare" and asks:

"Look at the two words together.

Spiritual
Warfare

Thinking critically, what do the two words have in common? How does one word change the context of the other word? Do these words really belong together? Why would anyone want you to connect the two words and what contexct are they wanting you to see those two words together for? If rhetoric is the art of persuation, what might the creator of the term "spiritual warfare" be wanting to persuade you to believe or think? And is there another way to convey the message without combining two rhetoical and emotionally charged words?"


Mike a Shaman weighed in with some experiences, and a balanced approach to Christians who had not been kind to him:

"Well undoubtedly I have been the target of some peoples idea of spiritual warfare. Needless to say (or IS IT?) I took the opportunity to explore Ephesians 6 with those who were engaged in said activity. Sadly, without any success in some cases. :( I also have no doubt that there are some Christians who pray that I will be freed of the demons that keep me from meeting Christ. I don't actually have a problem with that. If that is what they believe and they're not attacking me then that's ok."

Mike also referred to Christians who take actions against professional Pagan leaders:

"But there are other activities some 'Christians' feel come under the heading of spiritual warfare. Activities that include interfering with peoples capacity to obtain a livelihood because those 'Christians' deem the spiritual path others are on to be demonically inspired."

Joseph chimed in with concerns which made him nervous:

" I was listening to National Public Radio last week, and there was a journalist who had been speaking with fundamentalist Christian groups who believed that "demons could jump into your body" if you went to places like New York City - regardless of "how good" one was, this was the justification used to explain Ted Haggard's sexual activities - this brought home the whole idea of how much fear, intolerance and hate, in my opinion, drive this idea that one is surrounded by forces of evil that are malevolent and set on doing harm to human beings. This whole concept is so strange to me - I understand that not all Christians invest in this philosophy - but I can't help but feel very anxious when I hear people talking about spiritual warfare - I find myself conjuring images of intense human suffering such as the Salem Witch Trials, The Holocaust, Pogroms, ethnic cleansing, persecution of different faith systems by other faiths, The Crusades and profound social injustice - all justified under that banner of God, all justified by the claim that the "causes" were a manifestation of "spiritual warfare"."

I hope these three views from some friends of mine in the Neo-Pagan world give you an insight to how the term, and practices of spiritual warfare look to those looking in at Christianity from the outside. It causes me to rethink the terminology I use, and the prayers I make for other people. Hearing what those outside the church think of what we do gives us a new perspective, and hopefully one we can learn from.

May God grant you peace my peacemakers.

Pastor Phil


Below are my fellow SynchroBloggers who are discussing the topic today. We are not a group who all believe the same thing, we are simply a group who are challenging conventional church life, and looking for a better way to live like Jesus. The opinions below may vary, and that's part of the fun.


John Smulo - Portraits of Spiritual Warfare
Mike Crockett - Sufism: How the Inner Jihad relates to Christian Spiritual Warfare
Steve Hayes - Thoughts on Spiritual Warfare
Marieke Schwartz - Grace in War
Cindy Harvey - Spiritual Warfare. (?)
Jenelle D'Alessandro (with one L!)- The Militancy of Worship
Mike Bursell - Spiritual Warfare: a liberal looking inwards
David Fisher - Spiritual Warfare: Does it have to be loud and wacky?
Brian Heasley - Something from Ibiza via Ireland
Webb Kline - Webb Kline's Blog
Sally Coleman - Sally Coleman's Blog
Mike Murrow - Mike Murrow's Blog

33 comments:

Steve Hayes said...

So, it has begun!

I look forward to some interesting comments.

One observation on yours -- Paula is quite wrong. The term "spiritual warfare" did not originate with the "evangelical Christian movement", which is a relatively recent thing, dating back to the Wesleys and early Methodism, or perhaps German pietism, like the Moravians. But the term spiritual warfare was used by the desert fathers back in the 3rd & 4th centuries, at least.

The "war on terror" is not spiritual warfare -- the weapons of their warfare are very material and carnal, and thos bombs damage people's bodies and property. But on another level it is spiritual warfare. They have become so obsessed by the idea of terror that I believe that there is a real possibility that they have been demonised, and that a "spirit of terror" has taken control of them, and needs to be cast out.

I'd be interested in the response of Paula and others to this.

Pastor Phil said...

I'll see if they respond. That would be nice.

The correctness of their opinions in reference to understanding the history and the doctrine of spiritual warfare is not important to me on this post. Rather I sought to give us a view of how our words were perceived by others who are often on the receiving end of the rhetoric.

I think that Paula would be greatly appreciative of hearing your studied and inteligent response, she is working on some sort of study herself.

Webb Kline said...

It's 12:36 am and I am on my way out the door to Syracuse in a snowstorm. I will do my best to post on my blog when I get home this afternoon.

Webb

Pastor Phil said...

Snowstorm!? We haven't had any of those this year yet. Is snow still white?

Grace to you bro, and safety. Hope to read up on your battle against the demons of snowy low visibility.

mikeofearthsea said...

I found an interesting comparison of Sufism in Witchcraft at

mikeofearthsea said...

"en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manzil"

ded said...

I dropped out of institutional church after 17 years (12 as an associate pastor) primarily over an unrelated issue of church government. However, a very real secondary issue for me was the manner in which our language and focus while entering into "spiritual warfare" began to hit me as a function of our spiritual fear and not our spiritual insight and sensitivity.
(Ours was a very charismatic church, and C. Peter Wagner one of the authors we read "as a church".)

I saw it similarly to thoughts Paula and Joseph described: emotionally charged, intended to stir the congregation with a focus of fear, and full of fear itself.

I was having a hard time reconciling what we prayed during "spiritual warfare" as being part of developing a relationship with Jesus, which would then free us to love others.

Interesting to see some of my feelings echoed in expressions from members of neo-paganism, while I saw what I was sensing and the resulting decision to leave that body as direction from the Lord!

Blessings on you, Phil, for opening the topic and the atmosphere of respect for humans regardless of belief system which is part of this blog.

Pastor Phil said...

Ded,

Thanks for popping in. I have been feeling the same way as you describe for many years, and it has been growing in concern as I have come to know the Neo-Pagan community better. There is nothing like having your weird edges knocked off by those are the most offended by them.

Grace on Your Face Ded

David said...

I was quite curious to know what this post said, and I do agree that the term 'spiritual warfare' doesn't exactly display the love of Christ toward others.
Very insightful. Does our terminology hinder us from following the "Great Commission"?

Marieke said...

Thanks for posting this Phil. We need to be able to see how others view us and our "Christianese" terms.

I still haven't figured out how to describe spiritual warfare in a more culturally-friendly way, without losing meaning. To me, it really is a battle, even when it's just myself, but the history and associations tied to the term don't due it justice....quite the conundrum.

Anonymous said...

It's a conundrum indeed, marieke. One of the things that seems to come across from many, many Christians is that if something is not 'Of God' then it must be 'Of the other fella'. Consequently there is the assumption that any time a Pagan engages in some sort of communication with their concept of the divine spirit, they are communicating with the devil. So the Christian line is that such stuff is in need of countering with spiritual warfare (of whatever flavour said Christian follows). Those who have difficulty seperating beliefs and the deityies attached to those beliefs from the people who hold those beliefs target the believers (despite Ephesians 6) and get peoples backs up. That leads to a negative reaction from the believer which said Christian then takes as concrete evidence that they are dealing with the devil and they pour even more 'spiritual warfare' onto the poor unfortunate.

I have to say, as a Pagan, I'm not exactly convinced that Christians who practise ANY kind of spiritual warfare can categorically say without doubt that every Pagan who engages in communication with what they understand as deity is actually communicating with the devil anyway. Christians seem to have a hard enough time discerning which Christian 'has the Holy Spirit', let alone who might be playing with Ol' Horny.

The biggest irk I think Pagans have with 'spiritual warfare' is when it is 'In yer face'. Well that and the assumption that you're bringing the devil into your life so you MUST be an evil person out to trick 'God fearing Good Christian Folk' into turning their back on Christ when most Pagans would quite happily live their lives without even considering Christianity. (Ok, so that kinda puts a dampener on the Great Commission. But if the experience of 'The Great Commission ' is of 'Christians' ranting about how they're sinners and how they need to have the devil driven out of them (bordering on the extremes of Pagan experience of Christians, but by no means at the far end of the extremes) then the Great Commission has been dealt what could very well be a fatal blow for that individual anyway.

Some peoples handling of the concept of Spiritual Warfare is tantamount to putting a stumbling mountain in the path, ruining any future possibility for dialogue with Christians about the Christian faith, the Gospels etc.

Culturally friendly way of describing Spiritual Warfare... probably the best thing you could do is suggest it it praying people are freed of what troubles them and that they find peace and hope. Yeah, some will no doubt say they have peace and hope (I know I quite confidently could). The Christian concept of the source of peace and hope is still there, and if there ARE nasty demony beasties around that need the armour of God brought into play then the end result should be peace and possibly hope. But rephrasing it takes a great deal of the antagonism out of the concept.

Rambling again. :D

BB

Mike

Steve Hayes said...

Mike said

The biggest irk I think Pagans have with 'spiritual warfare' is when it is 'In yer face'. Well that and the assumption that you're bringing the devil into your life so you MUST be an evil person out to trick 'God fearing Good Christian Folk' into turning their back on Christ when most Pagans would quite happily live their lives without even considering Christianity.

I think you've put your finger on one of the biggest problems with spiritual warfare -- that many Christians have got hold of the wrong end of the stick, and haven't a clue what it is about.

The whole point about spiritual warfare is that it is not against people, it's not against flesh and blood, but against unseen powers and abstract entities, like evil ideologies.

As a pagan you might not agree with the Christian worldview, but I think you have a better idea than some Christians about the implications of the Christian worldview. Thinking that spiritual warfare is against people is like thinking that a war on disease means treating the patients in a hospital as enemies in that war. You don't heal the sick by taking an "In yer face" attitude to the patients.

But if you take Christianity as a whole, such attitudes are not the only one. One missionary in Alaska wanted to meet some shamans, because he believed that angels had spoken to them. Yes, demons do speak to pagans, but they speak to Christians a lot more.

Marieke said...

Thanks for your perspective Mike...you have a lot of good points! Christians would do well to pay attention.

John Smulo said...

Phil,

I'm really glad you posted this. This is great to get an understanding of how Pagans perceive our talk of "spiritual warfare".

I'm with the others on disliking the terminology as you and I have discussed.

Mike said...

the ironic thing here is that there are some folks running around thinking that the air is filled with boogie men who will posses you and make you do bad things. aside from the fact that that denies the doctrine of original sin. the other problem is that they will use eph 6. that is ironic because as i understand ephesians it was written to folks coming from a different world view into christianity and that world view held that there were monsters in the air ready to jump into you. paul was writing to them to say "hey, don't be so scared. first, those monsters you believed in are not that powerful. " now it has been all turned around. at least that is how i understand it.

this was good phil.

Chris said...

I'm visiting from circleandcrosstalk, and I will freely admit that part of what turned me away from Christianity is the people, not the majority of people, but the LOUDEST of people. These are the types who confuse the "Great Commission" with Spiritual Warfare. Even now, I cringe/watch with morbid interest whenever Dobson/Falwell/Robertson put their foot in their mouth.

This is not to say that pagans/Wiccans have a persecution complex much like the Jews have. You can see it when they talk of "never again the burning times," which arguably was much less bad than has been reported on (50,000 dead as opposed to 5,000,000). However, when people in this day and age are scared to expose their pentacle to the wrong person, or to ever talk of their beliefs because they fear losing their job/ children/ housing/ family, one can appreciate the very real affect that "Spiritual Warfare" has on "coporial" people.

Just some thoughts.

Chris (not sure what I am yet other than strongly leaning to Goddess spirituality)

Sally said...

Thank you for this Phil, my conversations with Pagans reflect the type of comments you are quoting here. It is a challenge to us to listen and engage in appropriate ways, I particularly like the comment about the way the two word Spiritual and Waffare create an emotionaly charged " otherising" effect both in those who feel warfare is the correct response and those who become its targets.... food for thought indeed.
Peace and blessings
Sally

Mark said...

Interesting project you have going on here, Phil.. :)

Pastor Phil said...

Mike and Chris,

Thanks for stopping in from Circle and Cross Talk. You have the voices we need to hear. Good responses here (as always), and helpful for us understanding how we as Christians appear to others when we use this particular terminology.

Thanks.

Pastor Phil said...

Steve,

But if you take Christianity as a whole, such attitudes are not the only one. One missionary in Alaska wanted to meet some shamans, because he believed that angels had spoken to them. Yes, demons do speak to pagans, but they speak to Christians a lot more.

I wanted you to follow up on this thought. Are you saying that the Shaman were hearing demons, and that the Christian was hearing demons telling him to go listen to demon hearing Shaman? or are you saying that the Shaman possibly did hear angels? or...?

This could be an interesting point of discussion, and John Smulo would be a good voice here too.

Cindy Harvey said...

I posted a comment yesterday, but I see it didn't show up.
I just love hearing from those outside our particular faith, and wonder if I can participate in the forum you linked?

Great idea Phil :o)

Sally said...

Phil- picking up on a comment made by you in response to Steve, I believe that angels do communicate with Pagans- in fact Pagans are more open to hearing from angels than Christians much of the time! It is a matter for careful listening and discrenment but we need to be challenged- God speaks in ways and through messenger we perhaps do not expect!

Pastor Phil said...

Cindy,

I'll connect you to the group. Good listening makes for good following, doesn't it?

Chris said...

Pastor Phil said...

I wanted you to follow up on this thought. Are you saying that the Shaman were hearing demons, and that the Christian was hearing demons telling him to go listen to demon hearing Shaman? or are you saying that the Shaman possibly did hear angels? or...?


I was interested in hearing more about Shaman's who heard angels as well.

I never really thought too much of the non-corporeal (spirit) world until I saw "orbs" on two choir tapes, and some really neat lighting affects from a digital camera around my choir director.

You can read about orbs here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orb_%28paranormal%29

My experience happened after choir rehearsal, our director said she had something to show us. One was a tape from 5-6 years ago, and the other was the tape from the previous Sunday. On both tapes (not sure if it was the same recorder, but plenty of tapes in between have NOTHING) there was what looked like dandelion fluff “floating” from about the bottom right of the screen to the upper left. Always moving in a similar type pattern, but instead of being a tape/electronic anomaly, we all concluded that the camera filmed whatever we were seeing. I have been in this church many times and even when the doors are open and the wind is blowing, there is never any “dandelion fluff” floating through the church. My wife and I both talked about it later and she, being an absolute skeptic, admitted she couldn't explain the phenomenon we both witnessed.

Another time the director had some pictures taken one Sunday of all sorts of people, but around her and her only, appeared white light, almost like a bright camera flash, but in patterns almost like really rough “wings.” I think this was the last straw for my wife because we had been comfortable at this church but sitting on the fence for over a year, after she saw the choir director lighting affects she decided to join the church.

I have never experienced anything that I couldn't explain scientifically until I saw these things (admittedly with the help of electronic equipment) at the church I sing at. If anyone wants to know the denomination, it is Unity:

http://www.unityonline.org/

Steve Hayes said...

Phil said:

I wanted you to follow up on this thought. Are you saying that the Shaman were hearing demons, and that the Christian was hearing demons telling him to go listen to demon hearing Shaman? or are you saying that the Shaman possibly did hear angels? or...?

No, what I'm saying is that the missionary wanted to meet the shaman because he believed that the shaman had talked to angels, and he wanted to meet someone who had talked to angels.

The point is that those who think that shamans only ever hear demons underestimate the power of God, and exaggerate the power of demons. It is quite possible that demons speak to shamans, but they also speak to Christians. And angels also talk to both. A lot depends on who's listening, and how well they listen.

jenelle said...

Phil, I'd really like to be added to that forum, as well. There is wonderful conversation here. I'd also like to say "welcome" to Mike and Chris. Without real dialogue, it seems, there are always unneccesary wars.

I heartedly say "oh yes" to what Steve Hayes said:
As a pagan you might not agree with the Christian worldview, but I think you have a better idea than some Christians about the implications of the Christian worldview. Thinking that spiritual warfare is against people is like thinking that a war on disease means treating the patients in a hospital as enemies in that war. You don't heal the sick by taking an "In yer face" attitude to the patients.

If love does not guide "Christian" action, these followers of Christ are denying Christ.

Even being a Christ-follower, I have been prayed for in various "spiritual warfare" typed ways , but each time, I felt very loved and nurtured. I do believe things happened in an unseen realm during those times, because I left feeling significantly more free. But, the point was the love I received. Not the war.

Pastor Phil said...

Steve,

I figured your position was something like that, and wanted to verify it. I agree with you wholeheartedly - which is probably what got me in some trouble.

Pastor Phil said...

Jenelle,

I will add you to Circle and Cross Talk sometime today, and let you knwo when it happens.

Anonymous said...

OOOOh, new people to join C&CT. We've had quite a few new people join in recent months and they have proved to be wonderful assets to the group.

Not all the discussions are heavy spiritual matters. Some work very well as just 'hanging out together' discussions. But that makes for more constructive (and possibly loving) spiritual discussions. Hmmmmm, I wonder what that says about Christians engaging non Christians effectively. If 'spiritual warfare' (under whatever heading) is a concept that Christians wish to be able to engage in with non Christians when necessary, then perhaps one of the criteria might be to make sure you're on friendly terms with the non Christians first. :)

BB

Mike

Zach said...

ahh...This Present Darkness. I read that book like 12 times when I was a kid. Not because it was a good book, but rather because of the subject matter, and being submerged inside the Christian culture since I was born, I inherently believed everything that was written right down to the embedded viewpoints of Peretti himself.

The wake up call came when I asked my wife (who has only been a Christian for a year and whose mother is Wiccan) read the book. Needless to say, she was in absolute shock. The way "witches," eastern philosophy and even meditation is portrayed angered her, and I can see why.

It's just interesting watching someone else look in to a world that for the longest time, seemed normal--only to see their faces writhed with shock and horror when they looked at the same things you've always believed to be "normal."

Peretti's latest book (written with some guy name Ted Dekker) just came out, and my family, still thinking I was a Peretti fan, bought it for me for Christmas. I'm anxious to read it and then again, I'm not.

Truth be told, I don't know how I feel concerning spiritual warfare. My question is: does the concept of spiritual warfare seem taboo because we have rationalized it all away or because it never existed in the first place? In the term discussed by C.S. Lewis, has the "Numinous" ceased to inspire awe?

Pastor Phil said...

Zach Dude,

Intriguing post. I find myself having to walk the balance of believing that it exists, but refusing to micro-define as many of us Pentecostals have done. I always go back to looking within, and making that the primary warfare location.

Steve Hayes said...

Phil,

Can you tell me more about Circle and Cross Talk? Sounds interesting.

Pastor Phil said...

Hey Steve,

Here's the link foor the info about the list:Circle and Cross Talk

That page describes the list pretty well. Read up, and let me know if you're up for being a part of it.