Past Views and Elders

A Moot Gone Wrong

Once upon a time in a shithole far from where I live now, I was sitting at a pub moot that had gone severely downhill. (For those of you who have heard of the ‘Coarse Witchcraft’ books, it was the kind of event that would have taken up a whole chapter, for the fuckery was that deep.)

To cut a long story short, our local monthly moot had been taken over by another moot composed solely of Druids of the OBOD variety who then proceeded to hold their own event at our moot with us as…I dunno, audience to their greatness, I guess?

They didn’t think a whole lot of anyone who wasn’t them or who hadn’t done their courses, and they talked over or patronized anyone who wasn’t them. Well, except when trying to hand out business cards for whatever they were trying to flog us, of course.

Now back in the 2000s, I was way more of a fucker than I am now. My fucks had flown the coop at some point in the 90s, and I had zero problem with in-person trolling. So that’s what I did. I forcibly inserted myself into their conversations and made digs at them that were humorous to the few regular members who had stuck around instead of fleeing the pomposity.

Did I mention that I often have no filter and that I’m the kind of person who doesn’t just see an innuendo passing me by, but jumps out, grabs it, and dry humps it into the gutter?

As the moot ground on, they must have realized I was impervious to them and that shittiness would just earn them shittiness in return.

Infinitely more embarrassing shittiness (for them).

At one point, one of the OBOD members began to diss my shithole of a hometown – which don’t get me wrong, I have zero issue with. But what this lady and her husband followed up with was pure gold.

“I hate this place. We once tried moving here and it almost killed us!” she said.

Now I’m fully aware of the sins and dangers of my chav-infested hometown, but that seemed a bit steep and so I asked for clarification.

“We bought a house down near (place name omitted) because we wanted to live like the Pagans of old. But it had no water and electricity and it was terrible! We almost died.”

That made me laugh, and I congratulated her on her authentic ancient pagan experience with no running water or electricity and struggle for survival. She was not amused, but most importantly, they never came back again.

 

The Past Through A Rose-Tinted Lens

For all the fuckery of that moot though, the story told by that wannabe emulator of ancient pagans ways highlighted a mentality we see a lot of in modern Pagans and Heathens – the romanticism of the past.

As a movement, Pagans and Heathens have a somewhat romantic view of the past. It’s always thought of as a simpler time when no one had things like credit card bills to think of. A time in which no one felt like anything was missing from their lives, and that whatever hole people are trying to fill inside themselves when they come to Paganism and Heathenry is just magically filled. A time of belonging, and tribe, and incredible rituals that make you feel like you’re a part of something greater.

Or whatever.

But the past was far from simple. It was often bloody, people buried their children far too often, diseases we hardly think about now (but for antivax idiocy – yeah, I said it) were things that could carry you from this world. Rituals could also be deadly, and slavery was a thing for a good chunk of people. It wasn’t some ‘Mists of Avalon’ fantasy in which people just kind of knew all the things and looked ethereal and shit. They fought, fucked, got sick, dealt with debt, lost loved ones, feasted, starved, worked their asses off, loved, hated, and died. That’s just life in every era.

 

That Never-Filled Hole

And speaking of that hole inside, lemme just drop something on you all here: there isn’t *anything* in existence that you can take, exploit, or buy that will fill it or get you closer to what you imagine those Pagans of yore to have had. The key to that one is inside you – available for the steep price of ‘free, but with an assload of work’.

 

The Sins of the Past and Our Elders Today

In a similar vein, there’s been a lot of controversy surrounding Pagan elders of late. People are also looking at the early years of modern Paganism with a critical eye – for many Pagans now, the actions of these religious forebears is no longer something to be ignored in favor of the achievements of those individuals who are falling under a spotlight attracted by bigoted words and sinful deeds. It’s all very ‘Saturn in Capricorn’, and what was sown is what is being, and what will be reaped.

Naturally people are divided here and these elders retain their supporters. The division has also become something of a generational one, with older Pagans casting aspersions on the younger generations for having the audacity to call out the elders and gurus of the movement.

All in all, this has become a more pagan-flavored version of the “Millennials are destroying (Applebee’s/washing powder/the diamond industry/insert every insignificant thing here)” bullshit that we see in the mainstream.

To my mind, this is yet another iteration of the larger tendency to see the past with rose-tinted glasses. As a movement, people seem to want to have elders that know all the things and somehow remove the doubt from life. They want people who hook them up with the path that will fill all holes.

But just as the historical past is complex, so are people. We are all the product of many factors, and none of us are the same person we were even a year ago. Why? Because everything around us is subject to change and we have the wonderful gift of learning. We are not static, we can change with work and time – even elders.

And that is what I believe will be necessary for those elders who wish to truly serve their communities and everyone in them regardless of how similar or different people are to themselves. Because it’s one thing to claim to be inclusive, but to actually be inclusive requires intersectionality. (I’d recommend this book for its explanation of intersectionality alone.)

I truly believe that not doing this work, staying static, and falling back on ire against detractors is going to be a fatal flaw of the elders concerned. Because just who do you think will be around to carry their wordfame when they are fallen from this world?

That’s right, those millennial iconoclasts, and that ain’t something you get a choice in.

We all die.

From

Your friendly neighborhood Gen-X/Xennial.

Whiteness is the Witchcraft-Killer

Introduction

I’ve sat on this post for a long time. It’s a post that started with a dream that became a maelstrom of thoughts. And since the morning of the 27th of October (which was when I entered the dream into my journal), I’ve been turning it over in my head. You see, I want to be clear about this, because this topic is important.

But it may also be difficult for those of you who share my melanin-deficiency.  I do however, ask you to set aside your initial feelings, read with an open heart, and then turn this topic over in your own mind some before reacting.

Because it is not white skin that is under attack here. I do not deny the realities of white privilege or the different lived experiences of oppressed peoples – those things are as plain to me as the nose on my face. But this is about whiteness, why we must not buy into it, and why we must work to free ourselves of it.

Before continuing though, I should probably define what I mean by whiteness - gated community“whiteness” in this post. When I speak of “whiteness”, I speak of a construct that sits in our society like a gated community that limits its entry to those who fit certain criteria. To reiterate, this is not a post about the the intrinsic and innate, of melanin and ancestry. It is a post about a social construct which actively excludes, harms, and which I believe to be completely incompatible with Witchcraft.

A Brief History of the Concept of Whiteness

Before the 17th century, “whiteness” as a concept or racial category didn’t whiteness - struggleexist. Laws both in the early colonies and Barbados instead focused on religion, setting aside freedoms for Christians and relegating non-Christians to servitude and slavery. However, as times changed and more people of color (both free and enslaved) became Christians, that legal language was changed. The goalposts were moved in order to retain power among the white landowning elite. 1697 saw the passage of the first law that restricted voting rights to only the white [Source].

But whiteness then was not the whiteness we know now; the membership requirements for that gated community have changed again and again, and ethnic groups that are now automatically considered white often found themselves on the outside. They were, according to the thinking of the day, varieties of “lesser” white [Source].

The construct of whiteness as it exists today is inherently a modified version of WASPishness.

Originally coined in 1962 in opposition to the Civil Rights Movement, the term “WASP” stood for “White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant”. (There’s also some further underlying fuckery with the “Anglo-Saxon” label that further elucidates the intentions of the creators of this term which you can read about here). But the stereotypical WASP is, in a sense, the epitome of the whiteness ideal. It is that which is to be emulated in so far as nature and circumstance will allow if one wishes to gain and retain access to that gated community. The criteria has changed somewhat since the 60s – largely to allow greater buy-in from a greater number of people, but they can be summarized thusly:

You must have the right skin.
You must have the right tongue.
You must have the right faith.
You must have the right worldview.

And should you catch a glimpse of another worldview, you must not rock the boat.

In short, it should be considered the very anathema of witchcraft. The gated community of whiteness is not a space in which Witchcraft can truly exist, and any attempt to root it within those manicured lawns is not without its betrayals.

Respectability Politics

The term, “respectability politics” was first articulated in 1992 by Professor Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham in her book Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880-1920.. It is a tactic of performed compatibility that is undertaken by minority groups in the hope that they are either treated better by the dominant group, or given access to the same benefits. Here too we find our gatekeepers.

People of color are well acquainted with this tactic. It has, after all, been a matter of survival for them. The more a person of color endeavors to make themselves more “respectable” from the perspective of the whiteness construct, the more “acceptable” he or she is considered to be. POCs routinely report code-switching around white coworkers and friends, dressing more ‘white’, emulating white seeming hairstyles, and a whole host of other behaviors that are ultimately designed to coddle white feelings in the hopes of getting thrown a bone.

whiteness - harmless pagans
“See how harmless I am as I wander whimsically through this field with (probably) tick-laden flowers on my head!”

This is essentially what we Pagans and Witches also do when we reassure the Christians in our lives just how “normal” and “harmless” we are; when we hold up the threefold law as a kind of “See! We’re not really dangerous!”; and when we get into that mindset of seeing it as some kind of “win” to be deemed acceptable enough to be invited to Interfaith meetings.

But what is lost when we do this? What is traded away for the scraps we’re thrown? And what of the value of these scraps? Do we truly believe that these would protect us should the law change tomorrow and allow our active persecution? Gentle people, this is what is known as a “forlorn hope”.

Witches and the Other

It is here though that we come to the real crux of this matter: Witches belong far more to the Other than to any inner, and not only do we belong to it, but we are also driven to interact with it.

whiteness - fence
Hedge…fence…whatever.

The image of the hedge rider is a powerful one here. We do not belong fully to any one world, instead going between and negotiating many, and we’ll always have far more in common with those without than those within. As my friend Morgan says, “the Other is the soul of witchcraft”. They are absolutely correct in this, and for more than one reason.

We’ve always seated our cults and practices in both the between places, and among those who society fails or allows to fall through the cracks. The ancient groves of Diana with their diverse adherents comprised of those who would traditionally be excluded are an old world example of this (Green 53-54), but as Peter Grey demonstrates in Apocalyptic Witchcraft, witchcraft has ever been the tool of the oppressed. To then exclude others in our modern cults because of sexuality/gender/social status/ethnicity – the values of the gated community of whiteness – rather than what they have shown through their actions, is to betray that heritage.

Moreover, when we subscribe to whiteness, we hinder our own interactions with the Other. When you exist within a paradigm within which other humans are not fully human depending on arbitrary and innate qualities, then you have little chance of forming the kind of relationships with non-human persons that are the fuel and soul of Witchcraft. I have already written a little about how our attitudes towards other humans affect how we interact with the Other, and some of the common assumptions that that has led to. You can read about that here, but hopefully my point is made.

There is no Witchcraft without the Other, because no matter how much Witchcraft is made increasingly safe and removed from its beating core of inspirited dark nights and heart-pounding experiences, that is what Witchcraft has always been and always will be. It will always be about partnerships with the Other, be that Other the elves spoken of Isobel Gowdie, and referred to as far back as the Old English magico-medical manuals, or the Ov of the Witch of Endor. You cannot replace that with whitewashed bullshit that exists to make the practitioner feel good as a form of edgy self-help.

Witchcraft is service.
It’s not safe.
It’s hard.
It takes work.
And it sure as shit isn’t compatible with whiteness.

If anything, whiteness and the respectability politics it demands for bare scraps of “acceptance” is a Witchcraft-killer, and that is by design rather than accident.

So please, dear people, think about where you stand and what you espouse. whiteness - groveThink about the voices you listen to and the voices you give space to and elevate (here’s a good video by the amazing Benebell Wen about that very thing). Rock that damn boat, use your voice to argue for destroying those gates, make an effort to learn about how things are outside those gates, and make damn sure you don’t erect the same gates in your Pagan and Witch communities. In other words, return to the groves, the Other, and your human siblings.

Bibliography

1. Green, C.M.C Roman Religion and the Cult of Diana at Aricia
2. Grey, Peter Apocalyptic Witchcraft