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What Does Deuteronomy 18:10-12 Mean to a Christian Witch? | Theological Discussion and Exegesis

This is one of the top verses to get thrown at our crowd, and it... really shouldn't be.

Christian Witch, Witchcraft, Mysticism, Magic, Crystals, Bible, Incense, Folklore, Sara Raztresen, God, Spirituality, Tarot, Occult, Evangelical, Demons, Sin, Danger, Possession, Idolatry, Discernment, Church, Solomonic Magic, Occult, Left Hand Path, Demonolatry, Demonology, Corinthians, Paul

I've seen Deuteronomy 18:10-12 come up quite often these days, and the thing is, I'm tired of seeing it. I'm tired of my self-righteous brothers and sisters of the faith come at me with a book they don't understand and don't care to understand; I'm tired of explaining things over and over and over again, only for people to tap the English words of the Good Book and disregard everything I ever said about Hebrew and context and culture and anti-social magic. So I figure: why not take the time to write this out once and for all, for all to see and (hopefully) never bother me again about in my comments on Tiktok?


(Don't worry; I have no such hope that people will actually stop throwing this verse at me. But at least this is here now to direct them to, so they might take a long read for themselves and... still refuse to understand it.)


I originally answered this question on my FIVE page (where you can ask me anything you'd like, and I can give you longer, more in-depth answers like this here). But I thought I'd bring it here with a smidge more reflection, and as I go to take these two little verses to task, I'll also take this as an opportunity to remind everyone of my upcoming book, Discovering Christian Witchcraft, which discusses verses like Deuteronomy 18:10-12 and others in detail as we delve into the justification for witchcraft in a Christian context and how we negotiate with the text of the Bible to guide our craft and spiritual life. Nonetheless, to dive into Deuteronomy 18:10-12, we have to cover a couple things: the context of the book of Deuteronomy, the Hebrew words used, and the cultural context of those words.


The Historical Context of Deuteronomy 18:10-12 (That May Surprise You)

Christian Witch, Witchcraft, Mysticism, Magic, Crystals, Bible, Incense, Folklore, Sara Raztresen, God, Spirituality, Tarot, Occult, Evangelical, Demons, Sin, Danger, Possession, Idolatry, Discernment, Church, Solomonic Magic, Occult, Left Hand Path, Demonolatry, Demonology, Corinthians, Paul
A fantastic study resource

I remember sitting in an interview for a podcast once. A few Christian folks wanted me on to talk about Christian witchcraft (and by that, they mean they wanted to grill me about my beliefs to their audience of overly self-assured Bible-gripping folks—though I don't think it went as successfully as they would've liked.) At one point, all I could do was sit back and listen as they argued to themselves for what felt like a good ten minutes about whether or not Moses could've written Deuteronomy after I put forward the idea that it wasn't.


And I put that idea forward because it's true. Moses is not the author of Deuteronomy. It was, according to the Jewish Study Bible's introduction to the book, more likely written during the reign of King Josiah in the 7th century BCE. The purpose of its writing may raise questions for those studying the Bible, as it seems to rehash many of the laws written out in Exodus, but if we know that this is the time period it was written in, this makes a lot more sense: it was written far later, to re-cement the things that made the Israelites who they were as a nation, culture, and religion.

You see, at this time, the Israelites' neighbors were heavily aggressing on them, especially the Akkadians and Neo-Assyrians. These people were pushing a legal charter on the Israelites that was at odds with their faith's laws, which threatened some real problems as the people began to assimilate with their invaders and certain religious practices started becoming syncretized. As a result, under the efforts of King Josiah, a massive reform took place that weeded out anything deemed pagan (including a goddess of the Israelites that had been written out of the Bible following King Josiah's reforms: Asherah).

This book, therefore, went in Moses's voice, decrying the Israelites' age-old enemy, the Canaanites, for their abhorrent practices—but it's actually very possible that many of these practices so strongly condemned were actually practices of the Israelites at the time, according to scholars like Robert Conner; it seems this book was there to cast off the blame onto others while reminding Israelites not to partake in these things. It's a piece that stands up and loudly proclaims what Israel is and is not, and one that re-affirms old traditions, laws, and codes of conduct in the face of cultural dilution and destruction. A fascinating book, but one that, for Christians, doesn't really apply, given that it's for a culture and religion and people not within our specific covenant (the covenant with Christ).

Unless, of course, all the people quoting Deuteronomy 18 at Christian witches are also ones that abstain from pork and shellfish, like in Deuteronomy 14. Something tells me that isn't the case, though. Something tells me that the same Christians that throw one chapter of Deuteronomy at me and my own are more than happy to ignore the many other parts that would apply to them when it comes time to order that Baconator at Wendy's—more than happy to split hairs about "moral" and "ritual" and "legal" law, as if there was ever a real difference between those to the Israelites they want so desperately to emulate (when it's convenient and shiny and fun).


But after I finally got the space to lay all that out to the podcast crew, they just nervously chuckled to themselves, and one of them begrudgingly admitted, "You sure know a lot of things."


I do. That's why I had the chutzpah to get onto their podcast in the first place. Because I knew they wouldn't be able to get me—and they couldn't. Couldn't even dream of it. (But of course, the way they clipped and edited that hour-long discussion for Tiktok desperately wants you to believe otherwise.)


The Cultural Context of Deuteronomy's Core Material & Why It Matters

Now that we understand the background of the book's writing, we can assess the cultural significance of these prohibitions.The verses in question, Deuteronomy 18:10-12, go like this:


Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord; because of these same detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you.


It seems pretty clear—when you read the English. However, when we understand the cultural context, we know that child sacrifice was actually a decently common practice among many different groups. Conner will even suggest that perhaps Moloch was a chthonic aspect of God, and that the children being offered up to this Moloch were sacrifices intended for God (as God does, after all, insist that all firstborn cattle be sacrificed to Him, and all first sons and daughters are also to be "redeemed" at the Temple rather than sacrificed outright). It's something I don't put a lot of stock in, but can't dismiss outright.


There were also practices like Ov & Yide'oni: a divination practice that conjurers used to call up souls and get fortunes from. It involved putting a bone in your mouth, huffing certain substances to get into a trance-like state, and letting the spirit possess your tongue to speak through you. People would use this to learn about the future and what they should do next. This, along with other omen-reading practices (like ripping live animals apart to read their entrails or reading the stars for a step-by-step course of action) were problematic for several reasons:

  1. Putting corpse parts in your mouth is unclean and therefore forbidden.

  2. It's against the law to let an animal suffer before killing/eating it or to eat from a living animal and release it (parts of the Kosher and Halal systems of preparing food).

  3. You have free will and shouldn't be letting anything tell you your every action or trying to "game" the future (like, if you know you'll win the lottery doing XYZ thanks to some fortune telling, that's not fair). This is more often than not an easy way for fraudulent and predatory "magicians" to scam people, too.

  4. It's pagan magic, which, by using it, makes Israelites indistinguishable from the other nations. God wants them to be separate and distinct and to do things His way, not the way of everyone else. This one is specifically intended for Israelites, aka Jewish people; of all the reasons listed, this one has absolutely zero bearing on Gentiles.

But in ancient times, magic was a real—and dangerous—thing. Even among other nations, like the Sumerians, Babylonians, and Romans, magic was terrifying, because a state senator in Rome could have all the power in the world legally and physically, yet be completely unable to stop the curses of a magician that was able to successfully petition a spirit or even god to hound them. It was real nasty stuff! And the Jewish Study Bible takes pains to acknowledge that while these certain types of magic were prohibited, they weren't ineffective; in fact, the Bible acknowledges magic and its efficacy, but instead has different ways of employing magic (for example: rather than Ov & Yide'oni, God commands the Urim & Thummim in Exodus 28:30; rather than going to any pagan deities or healing items, God commands a specific purification rite in His name in Leviticus 14).

The truth is that religion cannot be operated without magic. It requires spiritual power (magic) to connect with one's God or gods, to channel divine power into blessings and protections, to transfigure communion, to exorcise spirits. It has, and always will be, a part of religion in general—but when people say witchcraft, especially in these verses, what was really meant was a very specific type of magic.

Anti-social magic. Harmful magic.

This is a good time now to get into the meat of the verbiage used in these verses, so let's explore that for a moment.


The Specific Verbiage of Deuteronomy 18:10-12 People Refuse to Learn About

Christian Witch, Witchcraft, Mysticism, Magic, Crystals, Bible, Incense, Folklore, Sara Raztresen, God, Spirituality, Tarot, Occult, Evangelical, Demons, Sin, Danger, Possession, Idolatry, Discernment, Church, Solomonic Magic, Occult, Left Hand Path, Demonolatry, Demonology, Corinthians, Paul

In these verses, we find a lot of things that can feel pretty condemning of most magical practices. However, these words are a lot more specific than the English translation lets them be, and some are so specific that we aren't totally sure what they really mean. For instance, the word for soothsaying, ânan, isn't even translated the same way in English all the time. Sometimes it's soothsaying, sometimes it's observing the times, and when we look at contextual translations, we find a few different ideas:

  1. to make appear, produce, bring (clouds)

  2. to practice soothsaying, conjure

The second one isn't that helpful, but other definitions hint to divination, and it could be a reference to old pagan practices of reading the clouds for fortunes, or even conjuring said clouds to get a specific message. There have been Jewish magicians who, in Jesus's time, performed magic to bring rain, however, so conjuring clouds (at least for the sake of rain) doesn't seem to be the issue here. It's more just reading clouds and trying to get hints and cheat codes for life from their shapes.

Next, we have cheber, meaning, simply, a spell—but it seems to refer more specifically to Babylonian magic per Isaiah 47:9 (another place it shows up). It appears other times in Proverbs to mean a shared space or society, so this meaning is unclear. The Babylonians were known as famous magicians and astrologers, though, and in the time of Isaiah, the story deals with the exile and return of Jewish folks to Babylon, where plenty pagan practices were going on all around them that they couldn't do anything about. There were plenty spells in accordance with God and Jewish law (again, Leviticus 14 is intense), but certain pagan spells were a no-go for the reason I already laid out about Israelites staying distinct.

In terms of divination, we have qe-samim, which is apparently the study of stars—again, a Babylonian magical art. The problem, as I said, was that people would use this to dictate their life, essentially doing away with free will. Israelites had their own understanding of, use for, and concept of the celestial bodies as markers of oneself (for instance, it was believed that those born under Aries had the potential to be more aggressive and bloodthirsty), but the difference is that in Israelite astrology, nothing was guaranteed, and the influence could be fought off. The Babylonian method was what was specifically prohibited because of how it put so much faith in the stars to lead people around and took away their own sense of agency.

For spiritists and mediums, we have Ob (Ov) & Yide'Oni, which I've already explained, and for witchcraft, we have Kašep (cognate with Kišpu or Mekhašepah), which tell us a big hint: this is about anti-social magic. Mekhašepah is the same word that occurs in the infamous "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" line in Exodus, and it derives from Kašep (or, in Akkadian, Kišpu), which all specifically refer to sorcerers who call on unclean spirits to bring misfortune, suffering, and pain to one's fellow countrymen. In Akkadian culture, an Ašipu (a worker of the clean spirits and gods, essentially a priest) would be the one to identify and break the curses of the Kišpu; you'll remember that I said other cultures had fears about, and ways of mitigating, evil magic, too, and this is an example of that. Obviously, anti-social magic was a problem, because it puts the community at risk and divides people; it creates strife in a community and breaks people's bonds with each other, which makes everything difficult in an already very hard world to live in. This was the function of priests and court magicians: to alleviate these issues, cleanse people of these attacks, keep a society in contact with their gods, and provide counsel.

So you see now where I'm coming from when I easily brush people off after they whip out something so big and spooky like Deuteronomy 18:10-12. When people do this, all it does is tell me that they think casually reading the Bible is good enough for studying it (or, let's be real, Googling "what does the Bible say about witchcraft" and slapping down the first few verses that seem even remotely related). in my purview, not only does Deuteronomy not apply to me because it's outside my covenant as a Gentile Christian; it also is full of specific practices that I don't partake in, so even if I were Jewish and held under this covenant, it wouldn't be anything I'm breaching. A total non-issue for me as a Christian witch.

It is still a fascinating book and verse, and it's one that holds a lot of interesting nuggets of culture that we could look to in order to better understand the world in which the Bible was written, though. If only people would actually view it that way. If only people would view the whole Bible that way—as a wonderful collection of stories that demonstrate the way ancient people interacted with this one specific God and came to understand Him, and how He came to understand us in turn.


I had someone say to me recently that I would "feel better" if I gave up witchcraft. This is a pile of shit. I would "feel better" if people actually took their own religion seriously: if they loved the God they hid behind and stopped using this book as a brick to beat people with. If they came in humility, with questions in good faith, rather than barking confidently incorrect assertions. But no. These folks, they deify a book and forget the God that wrote it; they pick verses as they like and create a quilt of false confidence while turning a blind eye to all the evidence against them; they claim God is enough and yet never get the hell out of His way and let Him work, always unnecessarily jumping to His defense at the first sign of perceived insult and trying to break people's legs to get them to kneel and fit one of the only prophecies they care to remember.


And I'll never be able to rest so long as they keep it up.

 
Where the Gods Left Off, Pagan, Christian, Witchcraft, Spirituality, Religion, Medium, Psychic

I'm back from vacation this week, which means we're going full steam ahead in formatting this bad boy. I have eight interviews left to edit still (couldn't finish them before I left), and many more to get into InDesign, but I think it'll all work out. So long as I can get a proof copy in my hands before September 1st, check it out and clean it up, I'll be all set for September 20th.


It's hard work writing, editing, and designing an entire book yourself! Tireless, back breaking work! But after a great weekend at the Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina, I have all the motivation I need to see it through to the end, and I will. I'm so excited to release this and get even more of my experiences, thoughts, reflections, and more out there into the world. Definitely consider grabbing a copy!




 

Christian Witch, Witchcraft, Mysticism, Magic, Crystals, Bible, Incense, Folklore, Sara Raztresen, God, Spirituality, Tarot, Occult, Evangelical, Demons, Sin, Danger, Possession, Idolatry

Sara Raztresen is a Slovene-American writer, screenwriter, and Christian witch. Her fantasy works draw heavily on the wisdom she gathers from her own personal and spiritual experience, and her s


piritual practice borrows much of the whimsy and wonder that modern society has relegated to fairy-and-folktale. Her goal is to help people regain their spiritual footing and discover


God through a new (yet old) lens of mysticism.



Follow Sara on Tiktok, Instagram, Twitter, and Youtube, and explore her fiction writing here.


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