by Greg Spearritt
Gary Bouma, Anglican priest and emeritus professor of sociology at Monash Uni, was recently reported commenting on the growing secularism of Australian society:
He recalls speaking to university students about religious diversity in Australia recently and telling them that four times as many people in the 2006 census said they were witches than Quakers. ''The looks on their faces showed something was wrong. I thought for a while … and then it dawned. I asked, 'does anybody know what a Quaker is?''' he said.
''There must have been 150 of them and not one hand went up. They knew all about witches, they'd all grown up with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but the Quakers - perhaps an interesting sideline to older Christians - they're just not a part of their life experience.''
No doubt Bouma’s last sentence here was something of a throw-away line, but in one respect I’m willing to bet it’s wrong. Perhaps these uni students did believe they “knew all about witches”, however I expect their actual knowledge of Wicca and/or Neo-Paganism, let alone of the historical phenomenon of witchcraft and its persecutors in Christendom, would be virtually nil.
One way to catch up with an historical perspective on the question of witches (many of whom, it turns out, were male) is to read some of Philip Almond’s recent work, such as his 2012 book, The Lancashire Witches (I.B.Taurus). There’s more than historical interest here, too: it’s a cautionary tale for our own age, where the exercise of power has proved so very troublesome for priests and politicians alike.