The problem with modern Pagan dialectic
…is that it is, for the most part, self-involved, and even more offensive in this day and age, boring.
There are two topics revolving on the Paganism radar: 1)Politics* and 2)Tradition, in that order. At least, that seems to be the extent of it within the current Paganosphere. Anything outside that is, presumably, plagiarized from books printed by Llewellyn. Ltd. since 1989.
A not-small chunk of that plagiarism is taken straight from my own contributions to Llewellyn Magical Almanac and its other annuals since 2000. I’m not even the most popular person to steal in print — I just notice mine more because some people think attribution gets them around copyright violation.
About.com finds its way in there too, but it appears single author and as limited in scope as one might expect — a great resource for beginners, or for screenwriters too lazy to legitimately dig.
The people that write for these portals are well-known, most are book authors, and most produce some pretty cool stuff. Unfortunately the result of these groupings is, ultimately, the same discussions ad nauseum until major news events throw them into the next ad nauseum.
All these magical people, discussing nature and Sabbats and politics and lifestyles…but very few saying anything new at all about, say, the actual practice of magic. I have seen discussions over the years about people fearing that magick will take over and replace spirituality, that magick is only safe when controlled by spirituality, that magick is acceptable but only under certain circumstances…
I have come to the conclusion that Pagans and witches, at least on official public channels, are suppressing magick. They aren’t even doing it for a solid, historic, “well that went poorly” reason.
I think they’re doing it because of innately held Christian-oppression reasons. These reasons are so innate they aren’t even aware that they’re suppressing it.
That sucks, and not just because the Bible has some deep and artful magic AND Pagan religion in it. It sucks because magick is an art form. Magick is a creative act. According to some, magick has a vague relationship to science.
People post on the same magick, the same politics, the same politics about magick in day in and day out. But the real stuff — the “did that work? did that fail?” doesn’t make it into public conversation. Perhaps because self-appointed ethics warriors are often the most irrationally oppressive of all. (Seriously, parking spaces in certain cities are unavoidable warfare, perhaps save the ethics watch for love spells that could lead to serious violations of consent.)
The internet is filled with charts of candle and color correspondences, spinning pentacle gifs, and “do what works for you!!!!” (This last, while good advice, sometimes leaves out the hidden caveat: some stuff won’t work so you’re gonna have to try until it does!!!) The only magical place on the web that seems to dig deeper into the creative aspects these days is hoodoo, and possibly Ceremonial Magick though I admit that that last one is often a little hard for me to parse. For I know it’s just extensions of the LBPR over and over. In these last two forms, secrecy is still a thing, absolutely — but there still seems to be plenty of room to share new discoveries and/or trial and error.
I already know the “explanations” I am going to get. Most will be a bit patronizing — despite writing publicly about witchcraft for a good 16 years, I am not a Big Name. I don’t camp at festivals. I don’t tour. I was knocked out by divorce and then ongoing grief for a few years here and there. I also walked away from the community — but not magick — when I was asked for my “Wiccan credentials” when I asked for help, or when I asked for participants in the survey for my book Divorcing a Real Witch. I’ve started reconnecting, finding really good people amid all the toxic posturing/who are yous/and other nonsense. But boy is there a wall of toxic asshats to break through to get to the good ones, especially since most toxic folks are either unaware of their toxicity or hoping someone around (like me) doesn’t question it.
The explanations I am likely to see:
- Well my tradition keeps things secret. (And so should everybody because something something authority.)
My response: that’s fine, but are you only practicing magick in the context of your tradition? Are you assuming magick is only OK if tradition-approved, even for those who work outside the constraints of a tradition? Does your tradition automatically own anything you create, like if you wrote a program on your work laptop and then it got ganked by the company that owned the laptop? This may go into “my tradition is the only RIGHT/TRUE tradition” and rapidly devolves into “no True Pagan(TM)” and related sanctimonious bullshit.
2. Well that’s not spiritual.
Spirituality (as in spiritual but not religious) is a lot like poetry: it’s really hard to tell what’s legit until you really get into the discipline of it. Generally people deigning things spiritual or not spiritual haven’t gotten in that deep but sure do like the conferred authority. Going to McDonald’s can be spiritual if the right things happen — a conversation with another patron, an epiphany that this stuff is really bad for you, the realization that maybe it isn’t any of your damn business what another person eats or how another person appears.
3. Stuff can go wrong with magick.
See, now that’s legit. Stuff CAN go wrong — but that’s also why talking about it helps. No, it’s not an exact science; I contend it’s more of an interpretive art that is subject to the laws of thermodynamics. That said, if you’re working with a ley line and it turns out that it runs through a brownfield, that’s something that’s probably best shared.
4. Well it’s simply not how I do things and you should do as I do even if what you’re doing doesn’t harm me or affect me in any way.
Possibly the most common argument of them all. The most common response: Fuck off.
5. Random demand for my credential and references.
These demands for credentials are intended to protect the group from the exploitative. I get it. These demands, when issued to me, have never been at a time when that is remotely a concern.
Notably I’ve witnessed very few men met with this demand, and second it comes from a place that sees Gardernian Wicca as the only “legitimate” Wicca and/or Paganism. For all its Goddess worship and now outmoded “free love feminist” (which was really just more patriarchy with less shaving) most Pagans are still very patriarchal, treating women with far more suspicion than men, and some public arrests in recent years have made the consequences of this “men are the minority” (except they aren’t and haven’t been for a long time) attitude very clear. Let me put it this way: Aleistar Crowley was definitely a Goddess worshipper but he was also quite disparaging towards women that he shared the Earth with. It’s true…and not conscious. Culture isn’t oxygen — it’s nitrogen. The things we do are invisible to ourselves, and sometimes because we don’t need to do them.
I have plenty of credentials… just Google me. I have a career writing about Wicca, witchcraft and Paganism going back twenty years. I just haven’t spent money I didn’t have on campouts that would have hurt my health, and I haven’t spent time I don’t have puffing my chest out in whatever the popular Pagan fora of the day are, and I only speak up on politics when I know what I say will make a difference to someone. Oh, I’m involved, and I care — but the so-called dialogue, as John Stewart put it, is “hurting America.”
I haven’t yelled loud. I haven’t gone the Z Budapest route, making my name by voicing opposition to men (because I don’t oppose them, I just want some reality here.) I will say it’s a good method- nothing makes weak men feel more threatened than the idea that any woman’s world might not revolve around the obtainment and pleasing of men.
Instead, I’ve gone and done things where a difference I could make was needed. Often my name didn’t need to be on it.
But now I have books, and an agent, and stuff I gotta do. And since there isnt’ a conversation I want to contribute to elsewhere on the Paganosphere, I am just going to have my own, right here. I might do my version of 101 stuff, or not. I might do my version of politics stuff…or I might not. Mainly I intend to write from the heart and gut, and for once in my life not worry about who I am bound to offend — I am a woman speaking my mind, so someone is by default already offended.