Ownership and Gatekeeping
You don’t own witchcraft – none of us do. It kind of makes me sad that I feel like I have to say this, but witchcraft isn’t just the domain of (predominantly) white neo-Pagans – there are forms of witchcraft all over the globe, existing in multiple worldviews. Just because you’ve created modern forms of religious witchcraft, it doesn’t mean that you somehow have a claim on it all, or that it bears any resemblance to (any) historical witchcraft. In other words, none of us get to be gatekeepers here.
You know what does bear a resemblance to historical (European) witchcraft though?
Some of the shit in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (hereafter referred to as CAOS).
You know, that shit that some of you are getting mad about.
Look, I get it. You don’t like the inclusion of Satan/the Devil/Old Nick in a show about witches, and some of you seem to think it’s playing into a Satanic Panic mentality. But let’s be real for a moment here.
Sympathy for the Devil
First of all, the way Pagans react to the Devil/Lucifer/Satan/Old Scratch/Whothefuckever (not that they’re all the same being anyway) is ridiculous. It’s 100% Christian baggage over a being who is basically the kitchen sink of all the shit the Christians hated.
I mean, could you honestly say that you’d feel the same about the Devil if we lived in a world that had retained large polytheist populations and the Christians were ranting about this being? You probably wouldn’t. You’d probably file it away in your head that he might be worth slitting some (animal) throats over in certain situations, but could also be a royal dickbag.
And it’s not like we avoid worshipping beings capable of being royal dickbags as a collected mass of religious and spiritual movements either (see: current popularity of “fayeries” for a great and exceedingly ironic version of that). We’re actually pretty cool with that – it’s edgy even. They just have to be ‘our’ (potential) dickbags.
But a dickbag, is a dickbag, is a dickbag.
So why do we elevate one dickbag over all the others in terms of how we perceive their inherent dickbag…ness?
Could it be that despite our best efforts to Pagan ourselves the fuck up, we inherited more than a few attitudes from the dominant religion/s in our society anyway?
Yes, of course we did. None of us live in bubbles.
But that’s not the whole story – there are bullshit respectability politics at work here too.
To some degree, I can understand this. After all, we’re only a few decades out
from when playing D&D could get you into trouble. But there are some very real issues with engaging in respectability politics that I think we should all be mindful of (which you can read about here).
Sabrina and Satanic Panic
Secondly, the obvious ‘hole’ in the Satanic Panic worries is that the witches from CAOS were clearly intended to be fantastical. I mean, they’re immortal (or near enough) and you’ve got people kissing the Devil’s hairy hooves, for goodness sake!
Their magic is also massively more successful – like supernatural being successful. This and the immortality element are important markers of the fantasy elements of this show. The witches here are not *meant* to be believed in in a literal sense.
And look, don’t get me wrong, we can do a lot more with magic than we generally think. We *could* do a lot more, but most of us just aren’t there yet (you know, if we’re being real). We’ve got a lot to build and paradigms to shift before we can really get there.
But none of that is inherently a bad thing. Because the Satanic Panic concern isn’t entirely misplaced; our current social climate is absolutely ripe for a resurgence of kind of awfulness.
It won’t be CAOS that will set it off though. If anything, it’ll be all the highly public grandstanding curses of public figures and groups like the NRA.
To Keep Silent
It’s one thing to network among practitioners and set up working groups – that carries very little risk. As does democratizing magical efforts via anonymous fora such as 4Chan. However, it’s quite another thing to go in front of a camera crew and ramble on about how you’re going to work malefica on people in power! (People in power who, I might remind you, enjoy a good deal of support from the kind of zealous motherfuckers who would gladly burn people like you and I had they the chance)
These public rituals have already planted those seeds in their minds too. Pastors and other sources on the right already talk about the curses against the president, and the NRA put out a video not all that long ago warning of that very thing. So in other words, they were taking that threat seriously and starting the rumblings of what could become another Satanic Panic way before CAOS came along. If you think this is going to be instigated by a Netflix show with a talking cat, then you haven’t been paying attention.
No, if anything, what will come will be because of what people within Pagan communities themselves were putting out. CAOS isn’t the problem here.
Disbelief is Our Friend
Because as galling as it might be, one of the greatest protections we could have in times like these is disbelief. We don’t want people to believe we can do the things they associate with witchcraft. Especially not in times like these. Trust me, we probably wouldn’t like their BBQs, and it wouldn’t just be because the potato salad has raisins in it.