Witchcraft, Superstition Enter the Church

At many times throughout the history of the Church confusion has arisen among some believers regarding the difference between religion and what can only be called magic. Particularly during the Dark Ages, there was a shadowy and frequently shifting dividing line between certain kinds of popular piety and various holdovers from the paganism that Christianity supplanted. Since the time of the Council of Trent and the advent of modern Christian life, however, this has all but disappeared. But if you've been mourning this loss, you can cheer up; it's back!

We're all familiar with relatively harmless but benighted new-agers talking to crystals, exploring their past reincarnations, and using tarot cards to tell you what the weather will be next week.

Actually, I'm pleased to say that it seems as if there are fewer such people now than there were about ten years ago. I am certainly not pleased, however, to tell you that their place has been taken in many cases by people whom we should all be startled and disturbed to discover have fallen into such nonsense: Catholic religious women.

There have been a number of reports in the last few years (even in the mainstream papers) of communities of Catholic women religious whose religious language has undergone a seismic shift. They no longer use the terms of Catholicism or Christianity in general or even of monotheism. Instead, they speak of ''the divine'' being found in nature, in the changing seasons, and the world's cycles of growth and decay. They borrow language from self-declared contemporary pagans.

There are actually several communities who are involved in one way or another with a woman colorfully named Starhawk. In case you are one of those who have never heard of her, the following is quoted from her own website (Everyone must have a website these days.): ''Starhawk is perhaps best known as an articulate pioneer in the revival of the earth-based spirituality and Goddess religion.''

Starhawk has for years identified herself as a witch, as part of the ''pagan subculture,'' and she has written a number of books, the best known of which is entitled The Spiral Dance. This is a book that includes magical spells in the way Julia Child's books include recipes. It has been translated into many languages.

This may all seem very distant from anything you have ever encountered. It is a fact, nonetheless. As once-vibrant communities of religious women collapse and disappear before our very eyes, perhaps we should wonder if this collapse comes, at least in some cases, from a gradual drifting away from Christianity and monotheism in general.

Are such women fleeing from transcendence only to embrace a fuzzy monism or a totally immanent god? The ancient Romans had an expression that seems strangely applicable here: ''Those the gods will destroy they first make mad.''

What is amazing is that particularly communities involved with foreign mission work attempt a blend of Christian teaching and superstition often under the name of ''New Age.'' Witches, one of thise mentioned in this article have given talks and workshops to women religious. How far people can stray in a single life time?

This is sad. It is also thinly veiled paganism of a pseudo-anthropological basis. I was fortunate enough many years ago to study psychological anthropology at Columbia. The writing by some religious are caught in a pseudo-anthropology.

Isn't it a shame that Catholics and other Christians -- the very ones who should understand where true holiness lies -- are drawn into such nonsense? The poor people in some missions deserve better. Missionary organizations have collected a great deal of money from the Catholic faithful for many decades. Collecting this money while deserting the Catholic Faith for nature worship (or paganism of any sort) is a clear violation of at least two of the Ten Commandments, the Seventh, which admonishes us not to steal, and the First, in which God tells us in no uncertain terms to have no other gods before Him. I wonder who many of the people who support such institutions have any idea what they might be paying for.

There are many sisters, brothers and priests working in the missions who have nothing to do with this nonsense -- but sad to say others publicly support this kind of hierarchy. TP