Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A 21st Century Witch Hunt?

When Mrs. B’s blog was entered into the contest for the Circle of Moms Top 25 Faith Blogs by Moms, she suffered harassment from individuals who suggested Pagans didn’t belong in a contest about religious faith. Mrs. B handled the situation with grace and class, people of all religions came to her defense, and her blog won. It was an amazing thing to watch unfold.

It could have turned out much differently.

My bestselling novel, Witch Hunt, was first published in 1990 by Simon & Schuster’s Pocket Books. It was a novel that explored the possibility of a modern witch hunt. At the time, it seemed like it really could happen.

The 1980’s were the heyday of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority and Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition, as well as an uber-conservative political and social climate in America. The Christian “born again” message was one of fear, expectation of the Second Coming of Christ, and extreme judgment of anyone who didn’t fit the “born again” mold. I became fearful about where it was leading.

The book that was considered America’s first bestseller was the 17th Century Day of Doom by charismatic New England Puritan minister, Michael Wigglesworth. It was an epic poem about the Second Coming of Christ and the horrors of Judgment Day. It created an atmosphere of fear that set the stage for the Salem persecutions. In the late 1980’s I began to wonder what kind of stage modern fundamentalist preachers were setting, and I decided to make a statement about the dangers of religious fanaticism. Thus, my novel Witch Hunt was born.

My publisher chose to release Witch Hunt as a horror novel because, frankly, they didn’t know how else to market it. As a result of their decision, I had to slant it to that market—a creative decision I always regretted. Late last year I had the opportunity to rerelease it, so I rewrote it as originally envisioned and updated it for the 21st Century.

When I undertook the task I realized that the contrast between the world twenty years ago and now was stunning, and it created special challenges for the rewrite. The truth is, the Craft is so much more accepted now than it was then that I actually wondered if the plot would be plausible in the 21st Century. Interestingly, although in the 1990’s Witch Hunt enjoyed brief popularity as a horror novel, since its rerelease it has had a wild ride on Amazon’s Metaphysical Fiction Bestseller’s List. I gave considerable thought to the reasons for this and came to the conclusion that maybe the world hasn’t changed that much after all. Perhaps people are embracing this book with such passion because they realize that a modern witch hunt could indeed happen.

Yes, the Craft is more accepted now, but our society is still fear-based. And cultures of fear always look for scapegoats. What if a charismatic Christian preacher decided to fan the flames of judgment and fear against Witches again? Besides the written word, the message could be delivered even more powerfully by television and the Internet. It could happen.

In what way is this possible scenario different in the 21st Century than it was in the 20th? Today the Pagan community is so strong—so united—that this time I think the Witches would not tolerate abuse. Perhaps that is the saving grace of this possible scenario. The power is more equally-balanced now and, thus, less likely to manifest in a persecution. At least that is my hope.

In closing, I would like to share a review I received for the original edition that is especially fitting for the new one:

"A superb examination of the corrupting influence of power: political, social, economic, religious, and sexual power. Witch Hunt works well on several different levels, and the story comes very close to being a modern religious and political allegory." -2 AM Magazine

Please visit my website at www.NewWitchHunt.com