Anime Today: Witchcraft Works – Reaction to the Overreaction

Speaking (or writing, rather) as someone who has both grown up an area of heavy Christian fundamentalism, and also currently resides in an area of Christian fundamentalism, I am absolutely no stranger to the distastes of the concept of witchcraft and magic. Dungeons and Dragons, Harry Potter, and Oujia boards were all equally condemned, though condemned in different contexts by different people.

The reason these topics have been brought to my mind, and consequently to paper, as of late comes in the form of the currently-airing series entitled, you guessed it, Witchcraft Works. Although it is still too early to tell what sort of quality the series will ultimately show itself to be, I have been constantly reminded of the “demonic” content that it includes that tends to drive Christians away from what is an otherwise entertaining romp in high school romance and fantasy. All of this culminates in this article today.

Ayaka Kagari
Art by 水薙竜 (Pixiv ID 31337502)

First and foremost, I must make mention of the fact that, whether or not you believe in witchcraft or magic in the literal sense (I can’t say that I do, personally, but I’ve been known to be wrong before), the existence of witches themselves is an unmistakable fact. However, Christians must first make a distinction between real, physical witches, and unreal, fictional witches.

Let’s first take a look at what the Bible says about witchcraft, shall we?

“Do not turn to mediums or necromancers; do not seek them out, and so make yourselves unclean by them: I am the Lord your God.”
-Leviticus 19:31 (ESV)

“But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
-Revelation 21:8 (ESV)

“Idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
-Galatians 5:20-21 (ESV)

I could go on, but I think you get the point. The Bible speaks volumes agains the practice of magic (i.e. witchcraft), however not simply as witchcraft itself, but as a means of attempting to seek power and divination apart from God, which could also be considered idolatry.

Before moving on to the real topic at hand of witchcraft in fiction, it must be noted that witches as real people within society are a people to be dealt with as any other non-believer: someone to be loved and understood. As with many people of different beliefs through history (homosexuals, Muslims, and so on), Christians have had an awful track record of attempting to love and understand these people, instead opting to take the easy way out of hate and disdain (which does absolutely no good for any party involved, I might add).

Throughout the centuries people have been accused of witchcraft and executed thanks to poor biblical understanding and great amounts of political and social corruption, a la the Salem Witch Trials which so plague the history of the United States’ New England region. For a lesson on how to interact with witches in a friendly and Christ-minded manner, this group has done quite a lot of good over the years.

Moving on, though, I can recall throughout my years of childhood and adolescence constantly running into friends who were prohibited from reading books, watching movies, or playing games that involved witchcraft. Some of the common offenders were especially Harry Potter and Sabrina the Teenage Witch (the latter of which was actually a rather wholesome children’s show, the cartoon anyway). Although it is a parent’s right to raise his or her children in the best way he or she sees fit, and it is the Christian’s obligation to not cause another to sin in his or her conscience (as stated in Romans), I always questioned the boycotting of magic-involved fiction.

I recall relatively recently having had a conversation with my own father when I asked him why he and my mother allowed me to consume some of the content that a lot of my Christian friends were not allowed to see. His response was much more simple than I anticipated coming from a theology scholar and (former) pastor: “They’re great fiction.”

Despite  God’s distaste for witchcraft through the Bible (which I am convinced stems more from the concept of idolatry), we must remember that we need not agree with everything that occurs in literature, nor even acknowledge it as anything more than a storytelling medium. If Christians were to block literature with any amount of material that could be considered offensive, fiction or non-fiction, the Bible, filled with disturbing tales of intrigue, incest, murder, and just about every other despicable behavior you could name, would be the first to go!

To take the more conventional and (perhaps) more applicable route, the works of C.S. Lewis should be examined. The Chronicles of Narnia, heralded by Christians as one of the greatest fantasy sagas showcasing Christian themes, is absolutely chock full of examples of sorcery. Witches, warlocks, sorcerers, and numerous other “magical” creatures abound, and nary a Christian even blinks at them.

At this point it may sound more like I’m ranting about my frustrations with what I see as Christian cultural influence superseding Christ’s influence, which I may be doing, but the point is this: the concerning factor in any piece of media is not the individual pieces of content, but what you get out of it by the end. Examples of this vary. The Bible, to start, taken piece by piece can come across as rather offensive, but as a whole tells the story of a monotheistic God who loves and saved His people by sending His son to die for them. Game of Thrones, perhaps one of the most controversial contemporary shows (and before that, books) thanks to its questionable content, can still sit within the realm of redeemable media because, as long as it is watched for the right reasons, it can provide an entertaining experience that need not hinder someone’s religious faith.

Witchcraft Works is the same. At only two episodes, it is near impossible to say if it is actually worth watching to the average anime viewer, but the inclusion of “witchcraft” in the name is no reason to avoid it.

30 thoughts on “Anime Today: Witchcraft Works – Reaction to the Overreaction

  1. It’s interesting how more conservative/fundamental Christians will laud Lewis and dismiss anyone else. I think it’s because these folks only accept stories that are overtly Christian, which is a shame because many things are very Christian (or align well with Christianity) without being overt. I read a book called “Imagine: A Vision of Christians in the Arts” by Steve Turner in college and it talks about how Christians create art on different levels. Turner describes this as a circle where the center of the circle is the most obviously Christian. From there, things move outward, becoming less overt, but still stem from a Christian understanding of the world. It’s an interesting read, and I think looking at art/media/stories from that perspective actually makes you more open to seeing God in things where folks with a more limited view cannot.

    1. I agree with you completely. Another great work is Set Apart by Daniel Cronquist, which is a short Christian analysis on Haibane Renmei. It’s not a particularly stirring piece of literature, but it’s a nice example of viewing secular media from a Christian lens.

      1. Cool–so I just came across this article earlier tonight and it’s sort of related to this post:

        What I find the most interesting about it is how she explains the very, very structured worldview of fundamentalism. Sometimes, it’s hard to see through the extremism and get a grasp of how these folks are relating to God, but fundamentalism, if nothing else, DOES make the world pretty easy to understand. Things are either good or evil, and what’s good or evil is made very clear. Consequently, that leads to a pretty simple gospel that’s easy to share and easy to grasp–you don’t need to have access to education to relate to God. I’m no expert on the history of Christian denominations in the U.S., but I find that learning about stuff like that gives some much needed context to beliefs and world views that otherwise baffle me. I still disagree with those views in the end, but at least they make some amount of sense, XD.

        1. Good article (though I’m on my way to class, so I just skimmed it). She seems to voice a number of the frustrations I have as someone who grew up somewhat fundamentalist and am no longer, but am still surrounded by fundamentalism.

          I should note that I think there is plenty of good Christian fundamentalism, and plenty of good people especially, I just think that a number of its views are plain wrong (such as dispensational premillenialism). This does not mean we can’t get along nor does it mean that we can’t work together to share the Gospel, but it does definitely cause frequent disagreements about what the Bible actually says and means.

  2. Interesting article. I can see this garnering backlash, though, depending on who stumbles across it. Still, I tend to agree with your overall viewpoint, as long as the viewer is capable of discerning fact from fiction. I doubt the average person would, say, read Harry Potter and think, “Oh, let’s go check out Wicca!”, but you may have the occasional odd man out who gets so wrapped up in the story that he wants to emulate it, without realizing the ramifications of involving oneself in witchcraft. To note: I do, in fact, believe that witchcraft is real, at least to some degree. Not in the “I fire bolts of energy/fire/whatever at people” way, but in the sense that you involve yourself in demonic activity to cause supernatural effects on people. Ouija Boards, for instance, are not something I would want any involvement in. I’ve heard too many stories of things happening with them, and I do believe they are occultic. Think me crazy if you will, but I will steer clear of them for life.

    Back to the topic of fiction: I think most magic within stories is just that. I think I would certainly take pause to any story that was portraying real life magic within the characters (say, Wicca or Satanism), and there are series that I don’t think I’ll ever watch. One such series is Rental Magica. I actually own the whole thing, thanks to a friend of mine, but after reading through the information books that come with the DVDs, I’ve decided not to watch it, particularly because one character is a witch who uses something called “King Solomon’s Magic”, which, if I remember correctly, suggests that King Solomon (yes, THAT King Solomon) practiced magic or summoned demons or something like that. That doesn’t really sound like something I want to be invovled with, so I avoid it. Do I think I’d condemn myself to hell for watching it? Probably not, but I’d simply rather stay away.

    On the other hand, I do, in fact, enjoy Harry Potter, and I am a big fan of the Drizzt Do’Urden books. Really, I just like fantasy in general, right down to video games. I’ve heard the arguments against using magic in video games (I can link you to a review of Skyrim with some lengthy comments, for example), but at the end of the day I think it comes down to the heart. Jesus taught that if we so much as looked at a woman with lust in our eyes, then we’ve committed adultery. I would imagine this is more of the same. Do you play the game because it’s fun/you like the story/some other innocent reason, or do you play it to fulfill some deep urge that you can’t otherwise play out?

    Anyway, those are my ramblings.

    1. Yes, I understand your position on the occult, and that is why I made the mention of the parent’s right to raise his or her child as well as the Christian obligation not to be a stumbling block. If you feel a deep conviction about it, then I don’t feel it’s significant enough a point to debate it.

      I’d agree with your last point there. Generally speaking, most of media consumption’s morality, I would say, comes down to motivation. It’s not a “one size fits all” kind of situation, nor is the solution to it that simple.

      1. The problem often is that people try to make it a one size fits all solution, though. If it’s wrong for me, it’s wrong for you, if you will. It seems to be an all-the-time thing, especially with games. Whether the individual feels genuine conviction over the issue or is suffering from someone else forcing their conscience onto them matters little–they’re quick to tell you that you’re wrong for having a differing opinion.

        Obviously I’m not saying everyone is like this, and there are certainly people on the other side of the argument who are just as bad (“What, you think this is evil? What are you, a moron?”), but there is certainly a lack of respect to the individual conscience. While the strong brother is to avoid being a stumbling block to the weaker brother, I would imagine it was meant to work the other way, too. Why should I bite my tongue out of respect for a weaker conscience, but have to hear a tirade of how I’m “evil” or “toying with the occult” because I like to play Skyrim, or Tales of Xillia (never heard anything bad about that second one, but I’m sure I could find it if I wanted). Maybe I’m wrong, and it’s the burden to be born by the one with the stronger conscience, though.

        1. No, I think you’re correct. Differences in theological views often force people to realize that two people that both consider themselves Christians can be walking toward Christ in what appear to be two seemingly different directions. I think we should do our best to do what is right, but often times it is impossible to really *know* for sure, and so some degree of respect, I think, should be given both directions.

          As somewhat of a “liberal” on the Christian scale (which is rather laughable in the entire spectrum), I run into this quite often. I’m not sure that I can really give a definite answer, though.

  3. In anime, majokko (witch girls) are practically mahou shoujo (magical girls) wearing hats (both figuratively and literally). In fact, they could be considered the precursor of mahou shoujo. That is also what made the twist in Madoka Magica kind of clever. More generally, it is simply a trope of fantasy settings. For the large part, any resemblance to the occult, if any, is merely aesthetic.

    On my part, the Witch Craft Works ED animation has been playing on a loop on my computer for the past two weeks. Exaggerating, but that thing is seriously hypnotizing and catchy. Gallows humor at its cutest.

    1. I did not know that little bit of information, thanks!

      I agree with you. I actually have a piece going up at some point in the next few months about “Superficial Christianity” in anime, but I don’t think that Christianity is the only religion or practice that is often used purely for its mythos and aesthetics.

      As far as the ED… I know, right?? I think I’ve watched it about 20 times now. I have never been this amused by different methods of torture/execution.

  4. There’s a great book I recently read called “God Loves the Freaks: a guide to subculture ministry” by Stephen Weese. It goes deep into how several subculture groups have been wrongly treated by Christians over the years and how Christians are suppose to treat them as anyone else. It might be an interesting read for people who are part of a “fundamentalist” community.

    1. I am, indeed! It is… so-so. I love some things about it but it doesn’t seem terribly promising so far. If you are strict about watching only shows that seem worth watching, I’d skip it. If you feel up to giving it a try, then I suppose throwing on the pilot couldn’t hurt.

      I believe Charles tweeted about it a while ago essentially calling it a really interesting concept with terrible execution (though I could be misquoting him). Regardless of whether that’s ACTUALLY what he said, that seems like an accurate sentiment. I’ll be sticking it out through the season, though, so it may show up in Anime Today in the next few months depending on content.

  5. I’d say that it all depends on how close the magic in the story comes to real life witchcraft or sorcery. If something has people spreading fire from their fingertips or wiping out everything in several miles with spells like Dragonslave, then I feel no qualms against watching it. On the other hand, things with summoning circles, sacrifices, and dark incantations make me nervous. A third exception might be if the magic is obviously aligned with good–like Gandalf’s magic in The Lord of the Rings.

    But, I am enjoying Witchcraft Works. So far, it very obviously fantastic and great fun to boot.

    1. What would you make of something like Love, Chunibyo, and Other Delusions, where the pentagram/summoning circle comes up frequently, but ultimately doesn’t have any real power outside of the characters’ extensive imaginations?

      1. Not sure. I haven’t watched that yet. I will say that there needs to be a certain vibe to it which seems diabolical. For example, I think that my family was watching vampire diaries or one of those recent supernatural/horror TV shows. I saw a gaggle of witches at night around a circle of some kind on screen and thought to myself: “how can you watch that stuff?”

        But, it wouldn’t surprise me if Chunibyo’s circle came off as really goofy. In which case, I’d probably be fine with that.

        1. I think the word “goofy” is pretty applicable in this case. Essentially the entire point of the show is to poke fun at Rikka’s (and the other characters’) delusions of great magical power that you find in video games and anime, of which they have none.

          1. Yeah, that sounds just fine.

            To give an example of the sort of magic I won’t abide. I was just watching the first episode of Shamanic Princess. The main character spoke an incantation, had a dark tattoo form on her hand, and then had the ink pour upon the ground in a manner eerily reminiscent of blood. At which point, I said to myself that this isn’t the kind of anime I should watch. xD

            1. Here’s another one I’d be interseted to hear your opinion on: I just started watching an anime called Magical Warfare, and it uses a hexagram for its characters’ powers (or so it seems–I’m only about 7-8 minutes into the first episode). To be honest, I had no idea such a thing existed before this anime, and would have chalked it up to a fantasy element if not for a visit to Wikipedia. So far, the only time I’ve seen it used outside of the intro is when a character fires her gun. The bullet hits a wall and a hexagram appears. I don’t know if this is enough for you to have an opinion on without seeing the show, but what do you think?

              1. Usually, I find shows that have a hexagram as part of their magic not so bad. The Star of David always seems like a positive thing for me, though I should watch the show to have a more certain opinion.

  6. Great post!

    Long before I knew about anime and its potential controversy, I encountered Christian parents’ reactions to witches and wizards. Some of my friends weren’t allowed to read Harry Potter, and I didn’t read it either (yeah, I know… I plan to get to it eventually). I’ve since read books about witches, wizards, and vampires, including some books written online by teenagers – definitely not nefarious atheist Wiccan adults out to get my soul (despite what some believe). I’ve had to politely defend my reading choices to well-meaning family friends. Fiction on these topics definitely needs to be considered on a case-by-case basis, but so does other fiction. It’s a topic that needs to be discussed, so I enjoyed reading this.

  7. You had me until Game of Thrones. Witchcraft in entertainment is largely an issue of intent and usage. I can see that. But I must ask myself this question as well. If there are movies where we can judge that the matter is too dark to the point of being satanic, and thus draw the line there, do the lighter versions simply make us numb to further darkness? There is room for personal seeking of conscious here, but Game of Thrones, with its sexually explicit nature, seems obviously over the line…as would much of the explicit anime. We cannot simply gloss over everything because we manage to find it entertaining. And if we think we can watch EVERYTHING and do so with a “proper mindset” we are kidding ourselves. Poison is not redeemed by its sweet taste.

    1. I can’t say that I watch Game of Thrones myself (although I have seen the first season). I personally cannot find the material redeeming enough considering my own boundaries as well as taste.

      HOWEVER, the asterisk I would put on that statement is that I believe there are Christians out there, “stronger brothers” if you will, that have the ability to overlook material that might be too far gone for some of us, and that have the ability to redeem the rest of the content for what it is. I can think of three very strong Christians that I know right offhand who watch the show and are able to do so with discernment and through a Christian lens.

      As I mentioned, the Bible has some pretty appalling content in it, as well as some explicit content, and I think that is too often ignored.

      With all of that said, though, I believe you are right that a line has to be drawn somewhere. For MedievalOtaku, that line is with seriously dark incantations, for me it is the sexually explicit nature of Game of Thrones, but for others I don’t think I can say for sure.

      (I should note that although I’ve only seen the first season of Game of Thrones, I have read the first five books.)

  8. Only a few books that I’ve felt that I shouldn’t read them, something about them felt, wrong, or evil and I stopped reading. Harry Potter series wasn’t one of them, it felt more like the Lord of the Rings or Narnia.

  9. I had meant to comment on these issues several days ago, so excuse my lateness.

    I think the issue that several commenters are alluding to is – “How easy would it be to sin in real life by imitating the fiction we see?”

    Example 1: Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers was cordially hated by several day-care workers I knew because the children learned how to kick each other from it. They didn’t execute the kicks well, but just seeing a few example kicks taught them enough to be dangerous to their peers.

    The same day-care workers liked Dragon Ball Z, because the kids who imitated its “qi” attacks were absolutely harmless.

    Example 2: Ouija boards have been associated with severe psychological problems in some users. Whether the board causes the problems or brings out inherent flaws is unknown, but many parents don’t want their children watching anything with a Ouija board in it, because they don’t want their child imitating that behavior.

    Example 3:
    Medieval Otaku wrote: “If something has people spreading fire from their fingertips or wiping out everything in several miles with spells like Dragonslave, then I feel no qualms against watching it. On the other hand, things with summoning circles, sacrifices, and dark incantations make me nervous.”

    What is magic? Is it the belief that graveyard dirt can be used to power death-curse spells?

    I think quite a few teenagers find death curses in old books, steal a bit of graveyard dirt from the local graveyard, and go through the steps of the death curse. Then I think that they all get very disappointed, because saying a charm over a pinch of graveyard dirt does not generally kill anyone, much less the intended target. Perhaps a tiny percentage of the intended targets die by accident, but I doubt that percentage is statistically significant.

    Certainly a misguided youth could try to sacrifice a cat or a dog or a person. However, a youth who is far enough gone to do that is probably going to be a violent criminal no matter what.

    I don’t know that imitations of summoning circles and dark incantations are going to lead anywhere, except possibly to severe disappointment when no observable phenomena are produced, or perhaps to a psychotic break when entirely subjective phenomena are considered to be “real.”

    The key question is – what is “real magic” that should not be imitated? Telling fortunes with Tarot cards? Burning incense in front of a photo of your crush so that she falls in love with you? Wicca? None of these things seem to be terribly effective, so perhaps the major danger of magic is that its practitioners will over-rate their own effectiveness.

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