Every few years, a TV series decides to tackle the topic of Wicca, particularly around Halloween. This year, the offender is CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. Often, the point of such episodes is to defend Wicca (albeit usually with watered down versions of actual beliefs), but the bizarre mix of misinformation, condescension and painful stereotypes leaves in wondering what was even intended.
“I’ve seen this stuff before…this wackjob killed a couple in a sacrifice to the moon god.”
“So what is this, devil worship?”
“Not exactly…the only thing missing is a broom.”
Haha, hilarious! No one has ever made a broom joke before. But, seriously, what the hell is he describing? “The moon god.” Does this figure not have a name? Normally, this is the point where the ignorant character confuses Wiccans for Satanists, but Satanists don’t have a moon god either, so it seems as if the writer just invented something that sounded pagan to murder two people.
And that’s pretty much how the rest of the episode goes.
My disclaimer: Wicca vs. Witchcraft
For a variety of very outdated reasons, there continues to be a trend of equating Wicca with witchcraft. There’s no good reason for it. Wiccans follow a religion. Witches practice a magical art. You can certainly be both, but plenty of people are only one or the other. CSI doesn’t differentiate, perhaps because it would ruin their witchy jokes.
Trying too hard…or not hard enough
I initially had hopes this enterprise was a misguided attempt to put Wicca in a good light when D.B. Russell (Ted Danson) attempts to put a skeptical Nick Stokes (George Eads) in his place, explaining that Russell’s hippy parents had befriended a Wiccan couple back in the 60s:
“so I know a little bit about it. It’s a pagan religion. They use spells to harness the earth’s energy to grant positive wishes.”
Ok, not really right, and makes Wiccans sound like they’re twelve years old, but B- for effort. And when Stokes declares a pentagram to be the mark of the devil, Russell explains it’s actually a sign of balance, strength and protection, which is getting closer to accuracy.
“Huh, always thought it was the sign of the devil.”
“Well, you’re wrong.”
And that was it. Russell was now established as a Wiccan expert. Which means he’s taken at his word when he declares finding burnt hair in a cauldron to be “disturbing,” as opposed to, you know, a sign someone needs medicated shampoo.
As an Aside: While the pentagram has not historically been associated with the devil, Satanists do it today, and they have as much right to it as Wiccans and anyone else.
Çut back to the lab, where David Hodges (Wallace Langham) is now dressed in a blacķ and gold robe, which he describes as a “relic druid robe” to help him think the case through. I can’t begin to guess what a “relic druid robe” is, nor what it would have to do with Wicca. He might as well have dressed up like a Greek goddess for all the relevance it would have.
He shares how he dated a Wiccan in college, which now makes him Wiccan expert #2, allowing him to recognize the components found in the cauldron make a “banishment spell.” He also shares his girlfriend was “Intense, maybe a bit too natural….she clearly didn’t have a bathing spell in her Book of Shadows.”
So, between Russell and Hodges, they have practically described Wiccans as dirty hippies, and that was by the sympathetic characters.
The murder of a teacher leads the team to dark shed behind the victim’s house, which becomes a veritable cornucopia of absurdity, including a human skull, a cauldron with a prominent pentagram on it, a knife which “looks like it has blood on it”, about a zillion candles, a smudge stick, and two statues of a god and goddess. There’s also some “creepy ass tapestries,” which includes one with about 20 random alchemical symbols on it (you know, to make it more witchy-looking, because witches totally scrawl random things on their decor) and a giant, sideways triple moon symbol with a four-foot pentagram in the middle of it.
Also, “tapestries” gives these drapes way too much credit. They look like they’ve been done with magic marker.
Much later, the high priest’s secret altar at the school is found, which includes another cauldron (with yet another pentagram); randomly hanging, unidentifiable objects; a rainbow candle; and a whole backdrop of pentagrams, which would be like a Jew constructing an altar covered in hand-drawn Stars of David.
These are not what Wiccan altars look like. This is what altars erected by Satanic 12-year-olds in B-movies look like.
As an Aside: More Wiccans don’t even use cauldrons, and if they do, its generally in a coven setting, not squirreled away in a janitor closet. And they certainly don’t sit around it murmuring “double, double, toil and trouble,” which these witches might as well have been doing.
And….back to the (misguided) lesson of tolerating Wiccans
“Peace is at the core of our beliefs…A Wiccan doesn’t kill.”
Oh, for *%^&s sake. Every economic, political, racial, religious and ideological group on the planet have members that kill. Being Wiccan doesn’t make one magically immune.
And professing that peace is at the core of pretty much any faith is a cop out. Many religions address it, but that doesn’t make it a core belief. Wicca is about the honoring of one’s gods. Christianity is about salvation through Jesus. Neither group has many pacifists in it: they accept the reality of military violence and violence in self-defense, for example.
While the word Wicca is used repeatedly, there was very little Wiccan anything, misguided or otherwise. Indeed, there’s little reference to anything religious. We learn these Wiccans respect nature, but that’s about it. Hell, atheists can respect nature.
Nor is there a high priestess (a primary post in a Wiccan coven), only a malevolent high priest who seeks power over others. (Was anyone not expecting this?)
What they greatly enjoy discussing is spells (which is witchcraft, not Wicca). The Book of Shadows is described as a spellbook (which is only true on Charmed). There are repeated mentions of blood in rituals, which is pretty universally rejected in Wicca.
As an Aside: Books of Shadows have a variety of uses. Covens keep their rituals in them. Individual owners add whatever else they want: meditation chants, notes on various experiences, prayer and, yes, spells, if that’s their thing.
Spells and Sad, Lost People
You know what you get when you combine human blood, red phosphorus and human hair?
“A group of sad, lost people inhaling toxic fumes?” answers Greg Sanders (Eric Szmanda).
And the statement is left standing. No one chides him or in any way acts as if it is inappropriate. If such a comment had been uttered about a Jew or a Muslim, viewers would be up-in-arms.
What we do find out is the combination produces a “banishment spell,” as if witchcraft were some sort of standardized practice where people simply work out of a witchy cookbook. Then we get a flashback of robed coven members waving daggers at the now-dead teacher in order to banish him.
You know how you kick a member out of your coven? You ask them to stop showing up. Continuing to show up is called trespassing. Although since the workspace was on his property, I’m not sure how they all thought that was going to work out. And who hangs around to get ritually kicked out of a group anyway?
When magical workers talk of banishment, they’re talking about negative forces, habits and influences. It doesn’t make people go away.
Coven or Cult?
They keep saying Wiccan coven, but the depiction is more like the stereotyped image of a cult. This coven was populated entirely by employees of the local school (except two, who were conveniently out of town). Back in the 1980s, this was a common image of the Satanic Panic: evil Satanic cultists infiltrating schools and day cares to access children in order to ritually abuse them.
As an Aside: There’s no evidence such an event happened anywhere. But this witch-hunt, pardon the pun, ruined the lives of hundreds of people.
“Who was I to question the coven? They all wanted Chet gone.”
Covens are small, tightly knit communities in which members are equal. If you feel you cannot question what transpires in your religious community, that’s a cult.
I don’t get why these episodes are made. If a writer truly (or even halfheartedly) wants to positively represent Wicca, why on earth would he not research it? Was the motivation truly to just mock a religion followed by several hundred thousand Americans? The entire episode is a farce, full of silly stereotypes occasionally attempting to dispute equally silly stereotypes. In the end, it just left me confused.
I understand where you are coming from. It’s the same kind of thing when they do their requisite Christian Science episode. For animals, and military, and other things they get consultants to really learn and get is closer to okay, but in other cases it’s okay to write and produce willy nilly.
I get the feeling that programme and film makers just don’t really get belief: when they do Wiccans and/or other pagans, they are earth children usually dominated by someone evil, most of the Christians are foaming nutcases, and that’s about it – Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists don’t exist, apparently…