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    When is it witchcraft?

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    mindspike
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    When is it witchcraft?

    Post  mindspike on September 30th 2010, 9:43 am

    Right up front, I want to be clear:
    This discussion concerns models of witchcraft in fiction.
    Real world paganism deserves its own topic.

    The portrayal of magic in fantasy literature is a hot-button topic for many Christians and churches. The Bible is very clear; witchcraft is a sin. It strikes me that portrayal of witchcraft as desirable or even harmless is (for the Christian) at least an irresponsible gesture. By the same token, the heroes of Christianity's two most respected works of fantasy (Narnia, LoTR) both use magical abilities and items.

    So... when is it witchcraft?
    What are the criteria?
    If it's not witchcraft, what is it?

    I have my own opinions, but I want to hear some others before I sound off.
    Three famous heroes of fantasy ought to provide us with plenty of material:
    Gandalf, Harry Potter, and Harry Dresden

    Opinions?


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    Paeter
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    Re: When is it witchcraft?

    Post  Paeter on September 30th 2010, 8:30 pm

    mindspike wrote:Right up front, I want to be clear:
    This discussion concerns models of witchcraft in fiction.
    Real world paganism deserves its own topic.

    The portrayal of magic in fantasy literature is a hot-button topic for many Christians and churches. The Bible is very clear; witchcraft is a sin. It strikes me that portrayal of witchcraft as desirable or even harmless is (for the Christian) at least an irresponsible gesture. By the same token, the heroes of Christianity's two most respected works of fantasy (Narnia, LoTR) both use magical abilities and items.

    So... when is it witchcraft?
    What are the criteria?
    If it's not witchcraft, what is it?

    I have my own opinions, but I want to hear some others before I sound off.
    Three famous heroes of fantasy ought to provide us with plenty of material:
    Gandalf, Harry Potter, and Harry Dresden

    Opinions?

    Seems a bit like apples and oranges to me.
    The Bible is silent on the issue of fictional witchcraft, which differs from real world paganism, as you observed. So rather than applying the Biblical commands against witchcraft to fictional witchcraft, it seems better to apply the basic principles of scripture to each individual made-up system of magic in fiction, taking their sources into consideration as we do so.

    For example, the "magic" in Spirit Blade comes from Miraclai, which God created and continues to empower. But God also made Satan the Prince of this "power of the air" in Spirit Blade. So he can dish out portions of power to those he chooses. Vincent was in the right for as long as he used the power given to him by God. But when that wasn't enough for him, he unknowingly, yet still selfishly, received power from Satan, which was wrong.

    So in fiction, I think it's important to understand where the "magic" is coming from. If it is purely natural, like the laws of physics, then the same moral rules apply to it as our use of science. We can use science and natural laws to achieve good or evil. But the existence or application of natural law is not evil. But if the source of Magic is linked to a being or philosophy that contradicts or opposes God (assuming the Biblical God even exists in the story in question), then it should be steered away from.



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    Re: When is it witchcraft?

    Post  mindspike on September 30th 2010, 10:57 pm

    I agree fairly completely with all that you just said, Paeter.

    As for the difference between real vs fictional - I'm concerned with emulation - the tendency of people to adopt the beliefs, attitudes, and actions of their heroes; fiction contributes to this by shaping the way we think about a given subject. If anyone is in doubt about the extremes to which this may be taken, I offer up the fact that "Jedi" is now considered a valid religious choice in both the US and the UK.

    Fictional models of magic shape the way we perceive and apply theology and philosophy. In the case of Spirit Blade, "Spiritual Gifts" are specific in source and "miraclai" is morally neutral in its capability. This leads the consumer to consider the source of their own abilities, the obligations that those abilities entail, and the moral consequences of actions.

    Gandalf's abilities are divinely appointed, as are those of his fellows Radagast, Palandro, Saruman, and Sauron. The wizards are a class of people with designated abilities and responsibilities. They hold positions of authority, and wield power to match. Magic is a function of spiritual authority; mortals attempting to use magic do so as an effort to usurp the authority of another. This is rebellion in the classic sense, and leads the reader consider their place in the natural order, and their own duties therein.

    Harry Potter's abilities are purely natural in origin. Their consistent execution is tied to repeatable formulae. This is the definition of science. Harry's magic is textbook superhero - powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal man. Spiritual authority is non-existent, and no spiritual implications accompany his action. In fact, the morality of Harry's power is wholly defined by his actions and choices. The reader is led to consider that morality is tied to human will, right and wrong are measured in degrees, but individual choice is the ultimate arbiter.

    Harry Dresden lives in a world where he deals routinely with spirits and assorted supernatural phenomenon. Magic is the function of human will imposed over a reality that itself is subjective in its manifestation. In such a case, Harry is a moral, good person not because he acts to protect other people, but because he is successful when doing so. The creatures he acts against are no less moral in their endeavors - they simply have different goals.

    Which of these is witchcraft?
    Which of these models is sinful in its application of thought?

    It may be positive to play at being Gandalf. Desiring to be a wizard like Harry Potter in a world of wonder surely is harmless at least. But Harry Dresden? When my protagonist elicits such sympathy that his crimes are forgiven because his intentions are good, surely that is detrimental.

    At the end of the day, I can't be Gandalf. His power comes from Divine appointment. I can't be Harry Potter; his power is inborn, a result of living in a world where reality is slightly different. But I can be Harry Dresden. I may never encounter a spirit or corner a monster, but I have a fairly obstinate will and the ability to impose that will on others. If my intentions are good, and the results successful (or at least non-detrimental), then isn't any action I take justified in that pursuit? From this perspective, there exists no moral difference between making a speech, pointing a gun, or casting a hex.

    This same issue may be applied to any text that expounds a method of thinking, be it fiction or treatise. The great advantage in dealing with fantasy is ability to make the abstract concrete. The great disadvantage is that people have been trained to react to certain words emotionally rather than logically: words like witchcraft, magic, slavery, or free will.

    As Paeter said, the principles of Scripture need to be applied to the source material in order to extract an accurate method of thinking from a fantastic representation. Given that the human mind WILL act on the intellectual material it consumes, I believe its important to understand how our fiction is training us to think.

    Given that I am probably prone to thinking about my entertainment WAY too much ... am I the only one who thinks this way about these fantasies?


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    hvymtlcowboy
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    Re: When is it witchcraft?

    Post  hvymtlcowboy on October 1st 2010, 3:43 pm

    I've had this discussion before, on a Facebook page about Christian Sci Fi. I believe that regardless of the power used, we must always consider the ultimate source of the power. After all, less advanced people might think we were using 'magic' by turning on a lightswitch and flooding a dark room with light. As a writer I try to be very careful in what I allow my 'hero' to do. I have a character in my second book named Gabriel Davin, He is a paladin. His powers come from God and I make clear references to their source when I talk about them.

    I think there are two sources for 'magic'. One is Divine (which is a gift appointed by God) and one is Arcane (Which is the manipulation of powers and forces without the accountability factor of God.) The divine gift only functions when God 'allows' it to, and thus it is tied to His moral compass and His values. The arcane gift is only tied to the will of the person using it, and since it is usually a human, it is tied to a corrupt moral compass that can be effected by the events that transpire directly. In other words the Arcane Gift can be abused and used 'wrongly' in order to obtain some selfish goals, where the divine gift can only be used by the discretion of God.

    This is a very deep subject,and perhaps my model for discerning Gift from Witchcraft won't apply in ALL situations, but it is just a basis for determining whether or not to allow it into my books. I actively connect the divine gifts with God. One of my characters uses 'dark magic' which I specifically tie to the devil. I believe that magic exists, we have to trace it down to its source in order to determine whether or not it is witchcraft. After all, the disciples used divine 'magic' to heal and cast out demons.

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    Re: When is it witchcraft?

    Post  Guest on October 8th 2010, 1:39 am

    This topic drew my interest, and I think there have been some interesting responses, very well reasoned. An important point I believe in for fiction, with or without high science or fantastical elements, is the responsibility of the writer for how their work might be interpreted. A couple years ago there was a raging, heated debate regarding a story about refugees, or a group that pretended to be refugees, and how an audience might be influenced in attitude towards refugees. I've seen episodes of old animated shows from my childhood that have gotten a raised eyebrow or a jaw drop out of me over points that required more responsible thought from the writers (I can't think of anything off the top of my head just now).

    This question original question of this post is of interest because beyond the question of scanning for and trying to filter out what is and isn't witchcraft, is a critically important question: How Do We Respond? There is great opportunity here, if taken advantage. There is the danger of causing great harm, as well.

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    Re: When is it witchcraft?

    Post  Tim on October 16th 2010, 7:43 am

    I really like this topic. The Usual response I hear is "It's fiction, it's not real so it's okay." To hear most people talk about it, there is no moral responsibility for the things that are written or read. It's good to hear this topic being examined.

    You know I never thought to look at some magic systems the same way we see science. It makes things a little clearer to disect.

    It seems people like to ere to one extreme or the other, like Paeter says, that keeps them away from the middle where they would need to use discernment.


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