WITCHES PRESSING FOR RELIGIOUS RIGHTS
By Bob Harvey, religious editor, Ottawa Citizen.
Canadian witchcraft is growing up and becoming an institution.
Witches have formed two different national associations to press
governments for the rights they say they deserve as abona fide
Among the privaleges being demanded by the Wiccan Church of
Canada and the Congregationalist Witchcraft Association of Canada: the
right to marry and bury their adherents, and federal status as
The Toronto-based Wiccan Church is 13 years old, and
participates as a full member of an Ontario Interfaith
chaplaincy commitee. That opens the doors for Wiccan Priests and
Priestesses to visit members in provincial jails and hospitals.
The Congregationalist Witchcraft Association of Canada is based
in Vancouver, and has only recently obtained its charter as a non-profit
Tamarra James, one of the founders of the Wiccan Church, argues,
with some justification, that as long as governments deny Wiccan
priests and priestesses the right to conduct marriages and
funerals, Canadian witches are being denied the freedom of
"These are rites of passage which from time out of mind are the
provinces of religion."
Already, groups like at least one spiritualist church have such
rights, and the witches deserve as much. But the witches' quest is not
just a simple human rights issue.
There are two problems the witches will have to overcome. The
first is that when governments give religious groups the right to
leaglly marry people, they grant tacit endorsement to the groups. That's
why Ontario demands a religious group be incorporated in the province
for 25 years before it can apply to have its ministers or priests
lecensed to perform marriages.
If the group makes it through 25 years without causing any
public scandals, the government can probably safely grant it the right
to marry its members.
A bigger problem for the witches will be overcomming a neagative
image that is centuries old.
That image is on display every year at Halloween, a festival
that's sacred to witches. James says may of the depictions of witches in
children's books are simply hate literature, and many Wiccan children
come home from school with tears in their eyes the first time they're
pressured to draw pictures of horrendous-looking witches.
The stereotyping is obviously wrong, but the reality is still
that many Canadians may never be comfortable with the idea of being
buried next to a witch whose gravesite has been consecrated in Wiccan
rituals. After all, Ontario still has different cemetaries for Jews and
Christians who want to be buried in ground consecrated by their won
Some of the beliefs of Canadian witches are set out in a
statement by the Congregationalist Witchcraft Association that James
says the Wiccan Church would also have little difficulty with.
Those beliefs include:
It is appropriate to name and worship a variety of gods and
We can, through petition, action and ritual, cause change in the
world in accrding with our wills.
All acts of love and pleasure are acts of praise of the goddess.
This specifically includes all non-coercive sexual orientations.
Like it or not, those and other beliefs of Canada's witches
would still be vehemently opposed by many Canadians. That opposition
from other religious groups is likely to ge the biggest stumbling block
for witches trying to win greater recognition by government.
(Reproduced from The Ottawa Citizen, March 1992).