HAMBURG: Amid double-digit unemployment and post-unification trauma, increasing numbers of Germans are turning to witchcraft and the occult to provide the solace they once found in churches, jobs and family.
The land of Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation, where the 30 Years War was fought over religious beliefs, has become a nation in the throes of “de-Christianisation” as churches across the land are forced to close for lack of congregations.
“This de-Christianisation is the result of a serious crisis of faith that has been spreading for many years, fed by two world wars and the protracted division of Germany,” says Hansjoerg Hemminger, a leading Lutheran theologian.
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“Witchcraft and the occult are filling that age-old human need for spiritual reassurance, particularly among young people, millions of whom have seldom or never set foot inside a church,” Hemminger says.
“We are reverting back to a pre-Christian heathen society where people gather in clearings and worship tree sprites.”
Belief in magic, spiritism (now called “channelling“), shamanism and other New Age beliefs has supplanted Christianity in many areas, particularly in what used to be communist East Germany where a Stalinist regime actively discouraged church-going.
Cities like Berlin, Hamburg and Cologne have become hotbeds of pagan practices.
“There are now scores of covens throughout Germany, with at least one in every major city,” says a 44-year-old witch named Maddalina, who is high priestess of a coven in Berlin.
“The number has quadrupled since German unification 15 years ago,” she says. Maddalina insists she practises “beneficent white magic” known as Wicca.
“The Internet has made all the difference,” she says. “I get email daily from 13- and 14-year-olds wanting to become witches. We Wiccans don’t believe in recruiting anybody, certainly not impressionable kids. So I don’t encourage them.”
Maddalina’s coven consists of eight adults, all over age 25, all of whom have been practicing witches for years. She and her coven witches say the rampant spread of belief in the occult is a mixed blessing.
“There is so much material out there these days,” she says. “Walk into any book store or surf the Internet and you’ll find lots of books on spellcraft and Satanism and demonology and all sorts of things. Veritable cookbooks with curses and spells you can download for free. I shudder to think what dangerous stuff is readily available to impressionable young minds.”
The media is full of misleading and glamourised depictions of the occult. The new Nicole Kidman film version of the popular old TV sitcom “Bewitched” might not have been a big box office hit, but it impressed lots of girls and young women in Germany, Maddalina fears.
Then there are TV series like “Charmed” and “Sabrina”, depicting witches as teen beauties leading literally charmed lives.
Maddalina says being a witch is “a lot of hard work and responsibility and very little glamour”. She agrees with religious sect experts like Hemminger that there is a dangerous spiritual emptiness among many Germans, young and old.
“People forget that the Communists actively repressed the church,” Hemminger notes.
“And before that, the Nazis brainwashed people into believing in Nordic myths. The Nazis called the Christmas tree the Solstice Yule tree and claimed Santa Claus was a Teutonic spirit and discouraged calling him Saint Nicholas,” he says.
“And after the war, many young people in West Germany rebelled against the beliefs of their elders and adopted pseudo-Hindu and Buddhist philosophies,” he adds.
“So for most of the 20th Century, practising Christians were looked down upon in many places.”