Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? -Matthew 5:13
I was looking in the topical guide of the scriptures under “witness” this morning. As my eyes wandered over the page, they fell on the entry for “witch, witchcraft.” The first scripture under that heading is Exodus 22:18: “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” It’s no question that the Law of Moses was intense, and I suppose this statement about witches shouldn’t have surprised me, but still I couldn’t help wincing as I read it. It took me instantly back to my childhood visit to the Salem Witch Museum and my adolescent introduction to Monty Python’s witch scene. How many innocent women have been killed through the ages because they have been labeled as witches? I was relieved to learn that Joseph Smith changed this passage in his translation of Exodus: “The JST refers not to a ‘witch,’ but to a ‘murderer’—’Thou shalt not suffer a murderer to live'” (Source).
Regardless of whether the original text referred to witches or murderers, it’s still clear in the Bible that witchcraft wasn’t kosher. What did the word “witch” mean to the Israelites? According to this commentary: “In every form of witchcraft there is an appeal to a power not acting in subordination to the divine law. From all such notions and tendencies true worship is designed to deliver us.” I think the key in that passage is “an appeal to a power not acting in subordination to the divine law.” True worship is designed to deliver us from anything that is outside of at-one-ment with God. Witchcraft, in that context, would be a form of false worship, one that draws us outside the realm of at-one-ment with God.
Personally, I don’t think God wants any of us labeling each other as witches. But I do think God wants us to draw near unto Him, and at times we need to discern whether a particular practice or person is going to help us at-one with God or take us further away from God. Discernment, not judgment. So many have been called witches or heretics simply because their actions or ideas were different. Wild people can actually be some of the grooviest in God’s eyes. I think we can use the spirit of discernment to determine what type of “wild thing” we’re dealing with.
Wild Thing #1
This picture cracks me up. I can’t help myself. It comes from the New Testament Stories picture book. This is a wild man. Though the picture makes me laugh, his actual story is no laughing matter. He lived in a cemetery by the Sea of Galilee in mountains and caves, cried all the time, and would cut himself with stones. The people tried to restrain him with chains, but he would just break the chains. It turns out there were thousands of unclean spirits possessing his body, urging him to do wild things. After Jesus Christ cast the spirits out of the man’s body, he was in his “right mind” and wanted to follow Christ (see Mark 5).
Some wild people are much like this man. They do wild things because unclean or evil spirits are in possession of their bodies. There is a distinction between being possessed of evil spirits and being, in fact, evil. This was a good man. We don’t know why the evil spirits flooded his body. Mary called Magdalene (“tower of strength”) had seven devils cast out of her. Personally, I suspect that many who are afflicted with unclean or evil spirits are highly sensitive spiritually but not yet aware of their own power to protect themselves. Unclean spirits, seeking relief from their own torments, hang around these sensitive individuals because of their openness, spiritual awareness, and healing potential. This would include some who experience what the world calls “mental illness.”
I don’t have time to go into this subject further, but I will say that throughout Christ’s ministry he spent a lot of time casting spirits out of good people. Look past behavior and into people’s hearts. The Holy Ghost can guide us to know how to help them. Generally, chains are a bad idea, I think.
Wild Thing #2
So this guy named Korihor started preaching. What he said was kind of wild, very unconventional, anti-establishment stuff. Korihor wanted the people to leave behind their religious beliefs and practices which he called “foolish ordinances and performances which are laid down by ancient priests, to usurp power and authority over them, to keep them in ignorance, that they may not lift up their heads” (Alma 30). On the surface, his words seemed to be about empowerment and freedom, so lots of people liked what he had to say. Elder Faust has said, “Satan is the world’s master in the use of flattery, and he knows the great power of speech, a power his servants often employ” (Source).
This picture cracks me up too (source).
Using the spirit of discernment, Giddonah (the high priest) saw the hardness of Korihor’s heart, refused to contend with him, and sent him to Alma. After conversing with Alma and begging for a sign, Korihor was struck dumb. In his shock and despair, Korihor explained (in writing) that he had been deceived by a devil disguised as an angel of light (vs. 53). Because of the “angel’s” words, Korihor believed that he was doing the right thing, that he was “reclaiming the people” who had “gone astray.” Deep down Korihor “always knew that there was a God,” but he allowed himself to be deceived because the words given to him by the angel of darkness were “pleasing unto the carnal mind” a.k.a. ego/natural man.
Sometimes it’s hard to discern what is right and what is wrong. Is a revelation coming from God or is it the whisperings of the devil? Being anti-establishment wasn’t Korihor’s crime. Christ himself was very anti-establishment. Christ was the supreme “wild man.” Rather, Korihor’s downfall was allowing himself to be deceived by pleasing words. If what a “wild person” says sounds empowering but comes from a place of anger and accusation and anti-Christ, the Holy Ghost will guide us to discard their words and pull away from their influence. “The spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another” (3 Nephi 11:29).
Wild Thing #3
Now I’d like to head over and visit Enoch for a bit. God called Enoch to prophesy to the people. At the time, Enoch was overwhelmed, saying, “Why is it that I have found favor in thy sight, and am but a lad, and all the people hate me; for I am slow of speech; wherefore am I thy servant?” God assured Enoch, saying, “Go forth and do as I have commanded thee, and no man shall pierce thee. Open thy mouth, and it shall be filled, and I will give thee utterance” (Moses 6). This seems to be a pattern with God. He likes to pick the weathered and lowly as spokespeople.
So Enoch went among the people, stood up on high places, and spoke (loudly) the words that God gave to him. In response the people said:
“There is a strange thing in the land; a wild man hath come among us.”
The people were deeply offended by Enoch’s words. Unlike Korihor’s, Enoch’s words were not “pleasing unto the carnal mind.” Sometimes wild people say things that make us uncomfortable. What Enoch said was true, but it made the people very uncomfortable.
If someone’s words make us uncomfortable, the answer is not to automatically discard those words but rather to dive into ourselves and determine why those words are making us uncomfortable. Are the words attempting to pull us out of our comfort zones into an opportunity for growth? God delights in provoking us to leave behind comfort when it is holding us back from our potential. We can’t always rely on our comfort level as a means of discerning Truth. Follow the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith (Galations 5:22-23).
Enoch was a wild man, but he was a wild man of God. Because some had courage to believe Enoch’s uncomfortable words and be taught by him, Zion was built!
So, in summary, not all wild people are “witches” or “heretics.” Wild people can actually be spiritual super stars. If Enoch’s city is any indication, I’d wager that the New Jerusalem will be built by a whole lotta wild things. When we’re faced with a weird new idea, practice, or person, we can use the spirit of discernment to determine whether that person, practice, or perception is going to help us at-one with God or take us further away from God. Zion is built only by those who have learned how to at-one with our Heavenly Parents through at-one-ment with Christ. Doing what’s right is often unconventional. When in Rome, at-one with Christ regardless of what the Romans are doing. If people call you a “witch” because of it, respond, “I’m not a witch, I’m a wild woman!” And take heart that Enoch’s probably virtually/spiritually fist-bumping you.