Witchcraft, seemingly at the antipodes of magic, is closer to religion. It possesses no intrinsic magic; rather, magic is used against it. It works by spiritual means, as religion does; no wonder its persecutors imagine witches’ sacrifices, witches’ gods, sabbats of witches, witchcraft as a demonic religion. Witchcraft is more concerned with morality than most magic; it inverts morality to reinforce the value system. Witchcraft, moreover is a projection of voodoo death, which is execution by religion; witchcraft becomes a theodicy explaining death because it is originally about death: psychic death. The witch kill is the totemic symbolization of the voodoo death; and the witch accusation is man’s first magic to fight religious assassination. In this sense, all witch accusations are a form of sorcery, in which another human being is hit because he speaks for the oppressive consensus. That is why there is a strain or suspicion of sorcery in all magic: because all magic has something to do with protecting the self by counter-attacking the moral order. Usually it attacks another person as the symbol of that order. The witch accusation is the perfect paradigm of magic because it takes the form of manipulating public opinion for private ends, by accusing the moral accuser of inverted moral values.
The accusation was originally defensive; but in more complicated societies, when the self goes on the offensive, witch accusations can be attempts by individuals to seize power by manipulating consensual values so as to downgrade rivals. In modern bureaucracies, the "sorceror" is the deadly rival who proceeds by foul means of rumour, innuendo, destruction of one’s work and other secret measures to ruin ego as a competitor. While the "witch" is the person who speaks in the management voice, clothes himself with the moral values of the group to attack weak or marginal individuals as unworthy, or to brand dissenters as immoral. In modern organisations, however, there are no "diviners", no accepted oracles, no tribunals of public opinion, no magical grievance procedures to handle cases in which some individuals make others get sick and even die. Modern bureaucrats allegedly protect themselves by "role distance" and role diversity; but in American society, occupational role is so much more greatly weighted, and is so determining of other roles, that the totalism of primitive kin groups is approached again. Work groups in bureaucracies tend to number the familiar 30 to 50 individuals found in band societies; in corporate bureaucracies these tend increasingly to be "parochial" groups who stay together for long periods, perhaps whole dreary lifetimes.
Unconsciously, these groups are internalised as moral orders, even by scoffers who protest more scepticism and distance than they actually achieve. In many cases the odd man out, the person who loses the partly competitive, largely co-optative and often dishonest status game, literally sickens and may die. Primitive ideas of the moral nature of illness are never far from the minds of the participants, moreover. And when one person who has been isolated, marginalized, has finally sickened to the point where he drops off, quits or dies, some remarkable things happen. First, despite the secular milieu, the event is interpreted with almost primitive realism and moralising theodicy. "He was slipping." He deserved to die. It is a moral judgment that teeters on the edge of causal explanation and sociological insight. And secondly, an even more remarkable thing happens. Once he is gone, somebody else gets "sick", as if the system generated its own tensions and required scapegoats to withstand its own terrible internal moral pressures.
- Daniel O'Keefe, "Stolen Lightning"