Western Witchcraft changing in transition to Japan

While definitely not a large movement, Western Witchcraft has attracted Japanese practitioners, reported Eriko Kawanishi (Kyoto University) at a session of the American Academy of Religion meeting in Denver (Nov. 17–20), which RW attended. Kawanishi’s research was based on participant observation at several meetings and interviews of 16 practitioners. Western Witchcraft was first imported to Japan through U.S. troops stationed there. The first Wicca groups appeared in the early 1990s, but Western ritual magic had already had a presence since the 1970s. The influential book by Starhawk, The Spiral Dance, was translated and published in Japanese in 1994, and other Western Witchcraft books were translated as well. The influence of Western literature is clear. Some have also been in direct contact with Western witches.

All of Kawanishi’s informants had altars at home (with some having two altars, a Wiccan one and a Shinto one) and practiced rituals during their sabbaths. They found ways to relate the Western Pagan festivals to the Japanese calendar, although not everything matched—for instance, she mentioned that ancestors were supposed to return to their homes by mid-August, while the Samhain season had no relation to the Japanese calendar. Regarding deities, while a majority of her interviewees had adopted ones that were Western or Middle Eastern, some had adopted Japanese deities, animals (e.g., the whale), or powers of nature—something not unlike Pagan animists in the West, one member of the audience remarked. More generally, Kawanishi noted that while being an import, the phenomenon of Western Witchcraft in Japan was similar to the flexible processes of localization and syncretism with local practices characterizing contemporary Paganism in other regional contexts.