Thursday, January 22, 2009
Witchcraft, as defined by dictionary.com, is the art of practicing sorcery or magic. This art is one branch of the occult religious beliefs and has been swept under the carpet for most of our history. Until rather recently, witches have been considered devil worshippers, murderers, and have even been killed because of their beliefs. In this essay, I will explain the fundamentals of witchcraft, some of its history, and its links with our modern society.
There is a lot of speculation and mystery surrounding the art of witchcraft, so the real facts are always hard to find. However, many witches claim that they use the elements and spiritual connections to guide their powers. The main branches of witchcraft are spell casting or magic, necromancy, and sorcery. Magic is used to manipulate elements for the witches bidding, and is usually accompanied by a ritual and chanting of some sort. Sorcery is used to craft potions that would have some sort of effect on the one who imbibes it. It often involved a toad’s wart, the eye of a snake, or other strange ingredients (Mr. Kuehner). Explanations of real effects from these potions could be explained by a chemical in the toad’s skin called DMT which could send the one who drinks it on a psychedelic trip leading to spiritual enlightenment. The final branch of witchcraft is necromancy. This is the act of conjuring dead spirits and using them for information or power (Wikipedia). This art is the one considered by most mainstream religious believers to be the most dangerous; however no scientific evidence has been found supporting demonic possessions or any other malevolent effects from necromancy (common knowledge).
The supposed danger of witchcraft has been the cause of their persecution throughout all of history. Prejudice towards witchcraft can be found back as far as the Bronze Age, and books condemning them to death such as the Bible are proof of this. This long tradition of so called “witch hunts” can be found from Roman Law, throughout the middle ages, up until the most famous of witch hunts, the Salem Witch Trials. During these witch trials, about 24 innocent people were murdered by paranoid fundamentalists. Nineteen men and women were hanged, one was crushed by large boulders, and at least five more died in prison. Yet witchcraft still lives on in our modern day society (Wikipedia).
Since the Salem Witch Trials fear of witches has decreased significantly with the huge boom in modern science. Many people now are entirely skeptical of the entire art and find it to be nothing more than ridiculous. Witchcraft has even been brought into the hearts and minds of the mainstream through books and movies like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. While people who still study and believe in the practices of witchcraft or now called “wicca” are considered occult, nobody really takes them seriously or considers them to be dangerous. Thank Gandalf and Harry for turning around the image of something that was considered foul for so many years (common knowledge).
In conclusion, witchcraft or wicca is the belief that by our mental focus and fortitude we can control the elements. Witches, while they still hide in their basements looking up spells on the internet, are now considered harmless and have become a fad for bored teenagers. It is a good thing; however, that people can now practice whatever they please in America without fear of being burned at the stake, so put on your robe and wizard hat and have a blast.
Buddhism and the truth about Suffering
The concept of Buddhism is easy to grasp, and yet is one of the most misunderstood religions in the world. The history of Buddhism is one laden with persecution, turmoil, and of course suffering. The basic principles of Buddhism, when correctly understood, will leave you with a bleak jaded outlook on the world. When compared to Christianity, the differences are numerous. However, with between 230 and 500 million believers the religion itself is worth studying.
Buddhism began with a man named Scrooge.. well it was actually Siddhartha Gautama, but their stories are very much the same. Siddhartha was a prince cut off from all the suffering that was occurring in his kingdom until one day he decided to go on an adventure. He roamed around and observed the suffering that took place in his kingdom and gained a few disciples who called him the Buddha, or “enlightened one.” After discovering the world wasn’t as peachy as he previously thought, he invented a religion in a fit of emo-rage, aptly named Buddhism after him (Historyworld.net).
The Great Buddha discovered that life was nothing but a dark abyss and he was spiraling downward because of his desires. He explains this with the four noble truths which are as follows:
1. Life as we know it is filled with suffering
2. Our earthly desires for pleasure cause suffering
3. We must end our desires to end our suffering
4. You must follow our eight step program to end suffering
The four “noble” truths make Buddhism possibly the worst religion for humankind ever invented. It is a great thing that all people are not Buddhists because the human race would go extinct if this were the case. However, let us continue with the eight-fold path. The path is broken up in three groups, the first consists of steps that “purify the mind” and allow people spiritual insight. The second group dictates our ethics and morality; this is what is most famous about Buddhism as it commands you to live entirely nonviolently. The third group is to help you become mentally disciplined and ready for nirvana, or enlightenment. If one follows the eight-fold path he will achieve Nirvana, or a state of complete bliss, free from suffering. If one does not achieve enlightenment, their soul is reborn for another go at it, which begs the question: If people throughout history have achieved Nirvana, wouldn’t there be less and less people on the earth, not more and more (Wikipedia.org)? Well, that’s the long and short of Buddhism, lets next examine how it stands up next to Christianity.
Some people argue that Buddhism is more of a philosophy than a religion, but it is to my understanding that it is indeed a religion, and thus comparable to other mainstream religions. While Buddhism brings its own brand of psychological trauma, it is one of the only religions that has no history of violence, and does not preach for violence upon outsiders. Christianity on the other hand condemns non-believers, adulterers, homosexuals, and foreigners. Buddhists also do not believe in a personal savior or God like Christians do, which is one of the fundamental differences and reasons people like to call it a philosophy (Skepticsannotatedbible). Both religions, however, agree that this life will never be perfect and one can only achieve bliss in the next life. While it is interesting to study and learn about subjectively, I am grateful I was not indoctrinated with this belief as a child.