In the last couple of years, I’ve spent a lot of time studying witchcraft – what it is and why people are drawn to it. It all started with a kitchen table conversation with fellow Mama Bear, Amy, when she revealed to me that she almost became a witch (hear her story here and read my crash course on Wicca here).
Recently, I was in research mode again, and I spent some time on TikTok, watching videos with the hashtag “witchtok.” It features self-described witches and witch-wannabes, all desiring to tap into the spirit world and do some magic. And all of this time spent studying witchcraft was wrapped up in a not-so-neat bow when I watched Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (now streaming on Disney+), the latest in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
Before I ROAR through Strange, let me briefly give you a quick backstory and plot summary.
Backstory: If you’ve kept up with Wanda’s storyline, you’ll remember that she was experimented on by Hydra (the bad guys) and then served time as one of the Avengers (the good guys). Then, she fell in love with Vision (an android made from organic material). After his death, she recreated him and a fake reality where they had two sons, Billy and Tommy (WandaVision). When she came back to the real world, the fake one was destroyed, along with Vision and the boys. Wanda is willing to do anything and sacrifice anyone to be with her children. She doesn’t care about the consequences. And while we support mama bear behavior, we are not fans of the “by any means necessary, no matter what happens” approach.
Plot: Scarlet Witch, aka Wanda Maximoff (henceforth known as Wanda/Scarlet) wants her boys, and she will do anything to get them. Dr. Strange is trying to stop her from destroying the multiverse, a world made up of several universes existing at the same time, with the same people, all having different life experiences. For example, there are Dr. Stranges within each universe, and in each universe, he’s different. Wanda/Scarlet’s children exist in the universes, too, and she wants to get them.
That’s it. That’s the storyline. It’s the method that’s the problem – both from Wanda/Scarlet and Dr. Strange. The method is witchcraft, and it’s both rampant and wicked in this film. There’s a reason this is pegged as a horror film. Don’t just shrug that off as a mild warning. It’s gory, gross, and horrific.
Let’s ROAR, mamas.
RECOGNIZE The Message – What statements are the filmmakers trying to make?
1. Mothers will do anything (and we mean anything) out of love for their children.
I think, at its core, this is a story about love and sacrifice, but my-oh-my, there is a lot of garbage mixed in with that. Wanda/Scarlet wants to steal her kids from another Wanda in another universe. She really doesn’t care which universe she steals them from. She just wants her boys. She doesn’t have the power, however, to jump between universes. She has to steal that power from another character, a teenager named America. In order to steal that power, Wanda has to literally suck the life out of America.
Wanda/Scarlet is a desperate mom on a mission. The message here is that it’s okay to do anything and everything to get what we want, regardless of the cost to others.
2. It’s not witchcraft per se that’s bad – it’s how you use witchcraft.
The film sends the message that not all witchcraft is bad. In a world with superheroes, superpowers, and magic, that kind of message sticks. When Wanda takes on her persona as Scarlet Witch, she uses something called the Darkhold to find her boys. The Darkhold is the Book of the Damned, and it’s basically a textbook of magic. The book possesses the reader. But, of course, this is contrasted with the “good” magic Dr. Strange uses to stop her. This is a message prevalent in Wicca — stick with light magic and not dark magic.
3. Love and sacrifice go hand-in-hand.
Sacrificial love. That’s a key theme in Dr. Strange 2. The main question, though, is “Who is doing the sacrificing?” Are you willing to lose everything, even your own life, for the ones you love? Is ultimate sacrifice the only real sacrifice? And what about forcing others to sacrifice for what you love? There’s a lot of death in this film, and much of it relates to this kind of sacrifice, the kind where you (and others) have to die in order for the world to be saved. Otherwise, you don’t really love others as much as you say you do.
OFFER Discernment – What the filmmakers got right… and what lies snuck in
We affirm some of what we found in the film, from sacrificial love to the mama bear instinct of doing what we can to protect our children. As with all things, though, we have to acknowledge that mixed in with truth, we find lies.
Lie 1: It’s okay to hurt other people to save the ones you love.
Dr. Strange 2 is mad, as in severely demented, and the madness takes over whatever good messages might be found within. Goodness is swallowed by evil (in some cases, literally). Wanda/Scarlet kills and kills and kills and kills. At times, the sheer loss of life takes your breath away. All in the name of her children. She’s so desperate to be with her sons, she doesn’t care who she has to kill to get to them. Goodness is swallowed by evil (in some cases, literally). Wanda/Scarlet kills and kills and kills and kills. #drstrange2 #ROARlikeamother #mamabear Click To Tweet
Lie 2: The consequences of horrific actions can be easily reversed or forgiven with one grand gesture.
As with any good superhero flick, the good guys win in the end (maybe because as with any good superhero flick, there is also a bit of an open-ended conclusion). Wanda/Scarlet realizes her wrongs, and she rights them by sacrificing herself. That’s all she has to do. She’s forgiven. Never mind the death and destruction left in her wake. And all is forgiven. All is right in the world. Happy endings abound. And yet, there’s massive destruction left behind – it seems no one remembers the damage. That’s not real life. Things don’t just get better with a flick of a wand or wrist. Yes, we have a Savior in Jesus, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have to reap the consequences of our sins here on earth. If we break the law, we’ll still have to deal with the justice system, even if we’re forgiven in Christ. In Strange 2, there aren’t any real consequences. Unlike in Dr. Strange 2, things don’t just get better with a flick of a wand or wrist. Yes, we have a Savior in Jesus, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have to reap the consequences of our sins here on earth. Click To Tweet
Lie 3: Witchcraft can be good, as long as it results in good.
Yes, I know this film is fiction. Yes, I know superheroes and villains are fictional characters. But the themes within the film are real. Relationships are real. Hard circumstances and choices are real. And witchcraft is real. Wanda/Scarlet is worshipped by demons in a literal shrine built in her honor. She performs very dark magic. Y’all, this is not the type of magic we’ve seen in films like The Lord of the Rings or Matilda. This is horrifying, terrible magic. If you thought the White Witch was bad in Narnia, just wait until you meet Scarlet Witch. Some of her magic results in good, but there is still such a cost. Remember, the Bible condemns witchcraft (Gal. 5:19-21). Witchcraft isn’t a good thing. Especially in this film.
Dr. Strange is tormented by his own demons, which he mostly overcomes. But to what end? His self-awareness takes a New Age turn when he acquires his third eye, the Eye of Agamotto (truth). This isn’t the first time the eye has made an appearance in the MCU, but this is the first time it feels like it’s not a good thing. Ultimately, this film is spiritually heavy. By its end, I was drained by the darkness.
Lie #4: You can be both villain and savior.
Wanda/Scarlet and Dr. Strange both want what they want, and they will do anything to get it. Other characters in the film try to dissuade them, but neither seems to see the forest beyond their own tree, and others suffer because of it. Yes, Wanda/Scarlet ultimately realizes what she must do to save the multiverse: sacrifice her own life so that others might live. Yes, Dr. Strange has his own moment of realization, too: he wants to save America, but that means letting someone else be the hero of the story. In the end, both recognize the problem, but in many ways, it is way too late. The damage has already been done. The problem here is that the filmmakers seem to want the viewers to forget everything that just transpired. Wanda/Scarlet and Dr. Strange are still both villains in this story. They make some sacrifices, but it’s those who love them most who sacrifice (and often suffer) the most. Neither Wanda/Scarlet nor Dr. Strange are heroes in this storyline. You can’t be the one to cause the problem and then be the hero for fixing it.
ARGUE for a Healthier Approach – What does God’s Word say about the truths we identified?
1. We all need a savior, and we’re not it.
Dr. Strange and Wanda/Scarlet have something in common: they are both entirely self-possessed, and they believe they are the key to their own salvation or the world’s salvation. We learn in Romans that no one is righteous (3:10) and because of our sin, we deserve death (6:23). There’s hope, though, and it’s not in our own good works (Ephesians 2:8-10). We find our hope in Christ (Romans 5:8).
2. The demonic realm is very real.
Remember that the spirit world is real. This movie highlights it in stark, drastic colors. There are two spiritual forces: good and bad, God and Satan. Teach your children that they exist, but that we do not need to live in fear. Greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4). We put on the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18), and no weapon against us shall succeed (Isaiah 54:17). Where there is light, there cannot be darkness. Take refuge in the safety of the Father’s wings.
REINFORCE with Discussion, Discipleship, and Prayer – Make it stick, yo!
Honestly, even if you’re a fan of Marvel (and who doesn’t love Groot?), I still hesitate to recommend this film to everyone. Yes, good overcomes evil (or does it?). Yes, the demons die (or do they?). Lessons are learned (or are they?). Good things happen, but not very often.
Obviously, these stories were written long before this film came out, and Wanda/Scarlet and Dr. Strange are beloved comic book characters. Not much at this point can be changed about their origins. But perhaps the future can be brighter.
I’m not asking for happy endings, though aren’t those nice? While I didn’t love this film, I still love you 3,000, Marvel! The MCU is full of heroes who really, truly show us what it’s like to sacrifice and love deeply, without demonic junk. We even see some of those heroes in this movie (I’m looking at you, America.). But, if you’re looking for adventure and Marvel characters, there are better options (though every film has its own issues, so definitely read reviews first — we recommend Plugged In). While I didn’t love this film, I still love you 3,000, Marvel! The MCU is full of heroes who really, truly show us what it’s like to sacrifice and love deeply, without demonic junk. Click To Tweet
If you haven’t seen the film, you may want to screen it before watching it with your children. Then, if you decide you’ll still watch it with your kids, be ready to address some issues. Here are some questions you can ask your kids to get the conversation rolling:
- What were some of the best parts of Wanda? [loved her kids, played with them, wanted to be with them forever]
- What does it mean to sacrifice? Who made the ultimate sacrifice for humanity?
- What does the Bible say about witchcraft? [see Galatians 5:19-21 and Micah 5:12]
- How can we guard our hearts against witchcraft? [Psalm 91, prayer, not getting involved in things like Ouija boards, astrology, or crystals] You can brush up on your New Age Movement knowledge here and here.
I also recommend praying with your child before and after you watch the film, especially if they are scared at all. I’d start with Psalm 91. Remind your kiddo that God is their refuge and their comfort and their strength.
Lindsey Medenwaldt is Mama Bear’s director of operations and our resident expert on world religions. She is a perpetual student, so in addition to her M.A. in Apologetics and Ethics from Denver Seminary, she has a J.D. and a Master’s in Public Administration. She’s been married to another apologist, Jay (aka, the Psych Apologist), for 16 years, and they live with their daughters in Iowa. Her forthcoming book, Bridge-Building Apologetics, will be released in May 2024 (Harvest House).