Recent trial puts focus on Wiccans

Members of faith say real Wiccans do not believe in hexes or murder

CENTRALIA – Wiccans and witches from across the country have responded to the story of Irenia Cotner, convicted of murder last week in Circuit Court in Clinton County for the murder of Joshua Bennett in August 2005.

Wicca, according the Web-based encyclopedia Wikipedia, is a Neopagan religion founded in England in the 1950s. It involves “the casting of spells, herbalism, divination and other forms of magic.

“Many Wiccans, though not all, call themselves Pagans, though the term Paganism encompasses many faiths that have nothing to do with Wicca or witchcraft.”

Nearly 20 members of the Wiccan faith have responded, and all say the same thing – hexes and murder are not a part of their belief system and is not something a real Wiccan would ever do.

The state argued successfully that Cotner and her companions believed that they had been hexed and that only by killing the hexer could they be freed. They intended to have a pregnant 16-year-old killed, but Bennett, a 20-year-old soldier about to be deployed to Iraq, was killed instead.

Elizabeth wrote, “I’m saddened by the loss of life in this case. Witches and Pagans are the type of people that believe all life is sacred, down to the smallest ant. A true witch would never do what these people did.”

Rita wrote, “It makes my heart sad when dark-souled people use the term ‘witchcraft’ to make excuses for their heinous behavior. … Ms. Cotner used the power of suggestion and fear to control those men. She chose a few symbols of the occult and made them believe she was ‘reading’ or casting spells. There was no magick involved in any of this, it was one sick person using fear to control others who were weak and susceptible to her sickness.”

One witch wrote, “If this person placed a hex on someone, they were not practicing Wicca or Witchcraft, they were dabbling in the occult. We under no circumstances place hexes on anyone due to the fact this would be manipulating someone else, and that is against all our beliefs.”

“Witchcraft is a religion that requires that you to harm none,” she wrote.

Rita, a Wiccan from Tucson, Ariz., wrote, “Ms. Cotner is a manipulative person who used sacred symbols out of context to control people using fear and intimidation, to commit murder because she was jealous.”

Audrey wrote, “Wicca is earth-based magick and never used for harm of others or personal gain because we all abide by the law of three. ‘What you send out comes back in three.'”

“We also believe in the law of three,” wrote Sheila, “what we put out in the world returns to us threefold. Therefore, if we are sending out negativity – and obviously sacrifice or murder is very negative – then that energy will come back to us and those we love three times over. So, does murder sound like something any witch would want to do? Who would want that kind of karma times three?”

There are misconceptions about witchcraft, she explained. One big misconception is that witches believe in the devil and hell. Witches believe that Satan is a Christian invention and they do not believe in hell.

“Our religion is a peaceful religion that cares about helping others and helping the earth,” wrote Traci. “We are not about murder, killing, sex, orgies, demons, devils, hexing others or any other negative stigma that has been attached to our beliefs for so long.”

“Witchcraft falls under the umbrella of Paganism, which, just like the umbrella term Christianity, has many denominations under one term,” wrote Kelli from Jacksonville, Fla. “We honor the earth, the sky and moon.”

“Witchcraft is a religion based on be[ing] in harmony with nature and doing stuff to help others,” a witch named Johnathan wrote.

“We don’t believe in the devil or in hell. We believe that evil is in the person. We don’t try to convert anyone, but we do accept all other people’s beliefs,” Sheila said in a recent telephone interview. “I can honestly say that since I’ve become a Wiccan, I’ve had more peace and more happiness within myself than ever before.”

Several Catholic priests were contacted and asked about the church’s current position on witchcraft. One said that witchcraft has traditionally been viewed as a superstition. “It was once condemned as heresy and, unfortunately, we did some bad things,” one said.

Witchcraft/Wicca

Witchcraft, or Wicca, is a form of neo-Paganism. It is officially recognized as a religion by the U.S. government.

This is a diverse movement that knows no central authority. Practitioners do not all have the same views, beliefs and practices.

While all witches are pagans, not all pagans are witches. Likewise, while all Wiccans are witches, not all witches are Wiccans.

Note: The Witchcraft news tracker includes news items about a wide variety of diverse movements reported in the media as ‘witchcraft.’

Father Kenneth York is the legal counsel for the Catholic Diocese of Belleville and he said that by definition, a witch is someone who practices black magic, believes in the supernatural and makes deals with the devil.

“That’s a pretty standard definition of a witch,” he said. “In today’s world, it seems we change names around and not say things are what they really are.”

He said there is Scriptural basis for the church’s position on witchcraft.

“We acknowledge that evil exists,” wrote Kelli. “We also acknowledge that some misguided souls choose to focus on that aspect and call it witchcraft. But saying it is, doesn’t make it so.”

Crystal wrote, “I am sorry for the loss and know this family will be going through a rough time, but to blame it on witchcraft is appalling. … These are just some sick individuals trying to blame their acts on outside things. Witches are really very kind people, you know, some of the kindest you’ll ever meet.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday November 1, 2006.
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