I’d have been proud to have a spell as a witch!
May 05, 2000
I AM alive because I am a man. There is no doubt in my mind that, if I had been born female, I should not be living now.
I might have survived my infancy — a British sniper’s bullet came within inches of my crib, and I believe I had God’s protection.
I might have survived my teens — the miraculous appearance of my dog in an underground cave where I was trapped seems to suggest God’s hand hovered over me then too.
As a young woman, I might never have been sent to war, and the Jordanian shrapnel which ripped through my left arm would have maimed some other soldier.
But I do not believe that God’s closest care could have protected me from His own law. In the Torah, (Exodus 22) He proclaims: ‘‘You shall not tolerate a sorceress.’’
The King James Bible phrases this decree more brutally — ‘‘Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live’’.
I have been called by many names — paranormalist, psychic, magician, conjuror, mystic, fraudster, guru, freak. Even sorcerer, even wizard. But never sorceress. Never witch. My powers have been greeted with wonder, amusement and disgust, but I believe their emotional power would have been five times greater if I had been born a woman.
I could not have hidden behind patter and flamboyance. As a woman, I would have been a witch. During the witch-culls in 17th century Europe, some villages saw every female — from the babies to the crones — slaughtered. The whisper of the word ‘witch’ was enough to condemn a woman to death.
At the dawn of the 21st century, very little has changed, whether we are talking about the most repressive Islamic cultures or the most noisy advocates of democratic culture.
Two demonstrators and a policeman were killed in Saudi Arabia last month, and 17 more people were hurt, during protests against the arrest of a sorcerer.
The man, who was not Saudi, may simply have been selling talismans and amulets.
Another ‘sorcerer’, a Sudanese faith healer, was put to the sword by the Saudi Interior Ministry, on ‘black magic’ charges. He was one of several witches beheaded since the mid-90s.
And in Laurinberg, North Carolina, a high school teacher named Shari Eicher, who had been a practising Wiccan or witch for just over a year, was suspended from her job on religious grounds.
School governors may have heard rumours that Shari and her husband were devil worshippers — in fact, they were old-fashioned eco-activists, whose religion focused on nature and astronomy instead of the Christian gospels. ‘‘My students learn what they are supposed to learn,’’ insisted Eicher. ‘‘How I worship my concept of the deity is none of their business.’’
Perhaps these acts of bigotry do not concern you very much. We are ordered, after all, not to tolerate a sorceress.
Did you remain as impassive at last year’s horrific reports from Tanzania, where lynch mobs murdered up to 5,000 people, most of them elderly? Persistent rumours said the killings were about witchcraft only superficially — the real force driving the slaughter was the resurgent trade in human body parts and skin.
Grandmothers were hanged for having bloodshot eyes, young girls on ludicrous charges of cannibalism and human sacrifice.
The East African frenzy against witches was not simply a village phenomenon — it pervaded the cities and was stoked by governments.
Kenya’s president, Daniel arap Moi, ordered a Commission into the Cult of Devil Worship which concluded that Freemasons, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses were part of a blood-drinking Satanist revival.
From Mormons to Jews is a short step in the march of hatred.
One Ethiopian woman, Kessaye Tevajieh, who was airlifted to Israel with her husband in Operation Moses, was forced for years to deny her Jewishness to preserve her life.
‘‘Ethiopians believe that Jews are witches, that they possess the evil eye, that they can ruin crops just by looking at them or walking by a field,’’ she said. Judaism has the deepest mystical tradition of any religion. I would argue that anyone steeped in Kabbalistic lore is deeply versed in witchcraft — and that clearly includes most rabbis.
Our religion, above all, is a natural one, defined by its rituals of everyday life. The word for witch is ‘macha’shefa’, but in Yiddish it has a slyer meaning — ‘‘be careful, she knows things, she has power’’.
Thankfully, some Jews are beginning to preach pagan virtues alongside orthodox beliefs. At Israel’s annual feminist conference in the Ramat Efal conference centre 18 months ago, a Wiccan named Starhawk bewitched the audience as she explained her creed.
Born Miriam Simon in Minnesota, she said she ‘‘stressed the sanctity of the earth, the human body and nature’’.
Another coven priestess, Lexa Rosean (born Ora Leiba) who runs a shop called Enchantments on Ninth Street in New York’s East Village, turned to witchcraft in her 20s.
‘‘I’d been feeling I was on the outside with Orthodoxy, where I could only be a wife or a mother.
‘‘What attracted me to witchcraft was I could be a seductress, a warrior, a poet.’’
Seductive, warlike, poetic: I have aspired to all those magical ideals. I am forever a Jew — I would be proud to be a witch.
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