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Exodus 22:18 is one of the most infamous passages of scripture ever written. I’ve read several translations, slipped between the lines and context, even gone into the Torah and Talmud, and at the end of the day, it still plainly states:

Do not suffer a witch/sorceress to live.

The Book of Exodus recounts the adventures of the Children of Israel right after Yahweh delivered them from Egypt under the leadership of Moses. In effect, Exodus and the following book of Leviticus set the rules and standards of this traveling nation. God had set them apart, made them his own people, and would now take them into the promised land of Canaan.

But this relocation program came with a price: the covenant and the Law.

Now therefore, if ye will obey my[God] voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine.” –Exodus 19:5

From this point forward we are given verse after verse, chapter after chapter outlining rules, regulations, and duties for this new “holy” nation. One of the biggest taboos is witchcraft and sorcery. The Children of Israel had apparently picked up some “bad” habits from the Egyptians with divination, communing with “familiar spirits,” and other religious no-no’s. But why is such a practice bad enough to elicit death?

"Burning a German Witch" by Albert Keller

According to Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible:

In every form of witchcraft there is an appeal to a power not acting in subordination to the divine law. From all such notions and tendencies true worship is designed to deliver us. The practice of witchcraft was therefore an act of rebellion against Yahweh, and, as such, was a capital crime.

Rebellion against Yahweh. But what if you don’t believe in Yahweh to begin with? In reading through the Scriptures, it doesn’t seem to matter. In looking back through Judeo-Christian historical treatment of Pagans and Witches, it doesn’t seem to matter.

If you practice witchcraft or sorcery, if you appeal to powers and influences other than that of Yahweh, you are subject to execution. But here’s the interesting part. The Bible describes the practice of witchcraft and sorcery as if it actually worked, as if it existed in some parallel with God. Otherwise, why give it such a harsh punishment? Read through the Bible and pay attention to the more famous accounts. Moses, Joshua, David, even Jesus…all of them performed “supernatural” feats such as healing the sick, interpreting dreams, composing chants and songs.

Sounds a whole lot like the material I’ve studied this month as a Wiccan. Perhaps Yahweh was as jealous as he said he was. Perhaps he wanted to corner the market on the use of power which exists in this universe independently. Because otherwise, why fear these witches and sorcerers? If their power is just an illusion, then there’s nothing to fear. Keep in mind that the concept of the “devil” as an evil opponent of God had not even come into existence by this point. Satan’s modern prototype wouldn’t even hit the Jewish scene until after the Babylonian Captivity a few hundred years later.

So what exactly was so evil?

Witches, Wiccans, Pagans…they’ve caught a bad wrap for thousands of years. Humanity has burned them, tortured them, hunted them down, and pushed them to the edges of society. When I was a hard-core Christian in high school I thought the same way. Why?

Fear. Fear is the child of ignorance and ignorance is the bastard child of hatred. Beyond that, we have jealousy. Jealous of the chance that there is a power out there that we can tap into independently.  Some of us like to lock ourselves away spiritually–it happens within the ideological halls of every faith–and so those who dare to stand alone are almost always condemned.

If being “set apart” means eliminating everything and everyone different than yourself, do you really want that “privilege” or “duty?”

What discrimination have you faced for being different in this regard? Are you the spiritual minority? People of the Book (Jews, Christians, and Muslims), how would you react if your spiritual leadership insisted upon a strict adherence to the Scriptures? How far would you go? How important is this divine directive to you?

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