It is very pleasant to be convinced of one’s own intellectual superiority. Better still, to be convinced of the intellectual superiority of one’s own tribe. So I couldn’t resist smirking and rolling my eyes when I read that TUV councillor Jack McKee objected to the erection of a memorial for eight Islandmagee women convicted of witchcraft in 1711, because he is not convinced that the women were not witches, and besides, the memorial might become a shrine to paganism and satanic worship.
It behoves a TUV born again Christian to challenge witchcraft and devil worship. In the context of Ireland, witches are Protestant. The notion of witchcraft and the urge to prosecute mainly women for its practice, was an import, first by English planters in the south and southeast of the island and, in 1711, by the descendants of Ulster Scots planters in Island Magee. We “mere Irish” of the time already had our imaginations filled and our anxieties stoked by assorted fairies and pookas so we never did get round to worrying much about witches.
Today, we say that our identification as Catholic or Protestant is more about ethnicity than religiosity and like to believe that our own tribe has moved beyond superstition and religious fanaticism. As enlightened ethnic Catholics we get to take a tribal delight in laughing at ethnic Protestant’s Councillor McKee’s outburst.
Pride comes before a fall. It was with dismay that I read that Derry priest, Fr Roland Colhoun, has, like Councillor McKee, denounced Satanism and paganism. His warning is against, not witchcraft, but the practice of Yoga. He has cautioned his congregation against yogic stretching and head massage. They are spiritual health risks, drawing unwitting practitioners into a bad domain where Satan and the fallen angels rule. Fr Colhoun even misquoted Pope Francis, “Do not seek spiritual answers in yoga classes.”
I checked. What Pope Francis actually said was “Courses in yoga, Zen meditation, even extensive studies in church teaching and spirituality can never free people enough to open their hearts to God and his love.” Francis’s comment put yoga on a par with Catholic church teaching and spirituality. It was not a warning against yoga.
Councillor’s McKee’s comments attracted international attention as did Fr Colhoun’s. Hindus worldwide have protested and the President of the Universal Society of Hinduism, Rajan Zed, is asking Pope Francis and Bishop McKeown to discipline Fr Colhoun.
And to think that all this time I thought the fundamentalists were the other lot, not us.