Wicca as the (Untrustworthy) Other, Again

For environmental news of the West, I have subscribed since the 1980s to High Country News, a biweekly magazine.

For the first time since a rancher named Tom Bell started the magazine in Lander, Wyoming in 1970, HCN has jumped on the bandwagon of anti-Wiccan snark.

In a blog post called “Witches and Rifles,” editor Jonathan Thompson last month took on the well-covered issues of the Air Force Academy’s earth-religions worship circle and managed to blend it with the other well-covered issue of the Bible verse coded into rifle sight systems made by military contractor Trijicon:


Should the Urantians face persecution for their religious beliefs, they could always consider buying real estate in another part of the West, namely Colorado Springs. There, the U.S. Air Force Academy has set aside an outdoor worshipping area for “Pagans, Wiccans, Druids and other Earth-centered believers,” according to the Associated Press. The academy has long been criticized for erasing the line dividing church and state in a heavily evangelical Christian-leaning manner.

It was recently revealed that the military had been using rifle scopes that were engraved with biblical references by the manufacturer. No news yet on whether any future firearms will be engraved with secret Wiccan code.

Jonathan Thompson’s attitudes are typical of what you find in most elite media outlets as well as academia, however. It is not Wicca that is suspicious—all religious affiliation is suspicious to people like him.

Having worked in both journalism and academia, here is my quick guide towards religion as typically understood by inhabitants of both those worlds (such as Jonathan Thompson):

  • Jews are generally all right, particularly if they write for Tikkun magazine, but Israelis are scary.
  • Christians are at best hypocrites. At worst, you can expect them to fortify themselves in rural compounds and commit incest—-and those are the Presbyterians.
  • The Catholic Church, however, is easy to cover (except for the parts that are in Latin) for anyone experienced in big-city “machine” politics, such as Democrats in Chicago.
  • Buddhists are all right if they are poets. Ethnic Buddhists (for example, Vietnamese) are invisible.
  • Hindus, Sikhs, ethnic Taoists, etc., are generally invisible.
  • Muslims must be treated carefully because they might explode.
  • And Pagans? They are easy to ridicule because, after all, people like Jonathan Thompson, editor of High Country News, don’t know any.

Somehow I think that Tom Bell, the old rancher, might actually have been more accepting. But I never had the privilege of meeting him.

One thought on “Wicca as the (Untrustworthy) Other, Again

  1. Rombald

    I like your classification of academic/journalistic treatment of different religions. I think it’s fairly similar in the UK, except that Hindus and Sikhs are more numerous, so more visible. They also get a positive press, but, to be fair, so they should, because non-Muslim Indians behave as exemplary minorities.

    I think that maybe the tendency is for the media, at least in the UK, to put religions in these categories:

    1. Protestantism: Generally hypocritical, but respectable Protestantism (C of E, Methodist, Presbyterian, Reformed) is OK. Other Protestantism is insane and oppressive, especially if of US origin. However, African and Caribbean Protestantism belongs in the ethnic category.

    2. Catholicism: Attitudes are complex and unremittingly hostile, being a stew of traditional Protestantism, modern radical atheism, and anti-Irish, anti-French and anti-Latin prejudices. Oddly, though, it has to be unspoken, and outspoken anti-Catholicism is treated more harshly than Catholicism, especially if spoken with a Scottish or Northern Irish accent.

    3. Most ethnic religions, ie. Hinduism, Sikhism, Asian Buddhism, African religions: Generally positive. Excuses are made for occaional abuses.

    4. Islam: Used to be treated as an ethnic religion. For a few years after 9/11, the media were all over the place. Now it’s maybe seen rather like a weird type of Protestantism.

    4. Judaism: All over the place. A bit like Islam.

    5. Hippy religions, ie. neopaganism, New Age, ISKCON, and white Buddhism and Taoism: Absurd but harmless.

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