It seems to me that the wider Pagan and Occult community has been using Wiccans as human shields. Nowadays it’s not “you wouldn’t hit a guy with glasses, would you?” it’s “you wouldn’t hit a guy in a fluffy bunny costume, would you?”
Somewhere mainstream culture has internalized the message that Paganism is equivalent to Wicca, and it seems like that might just be a matter of convenience that those Pagans in the mainstream have enjoyed the mistake. This is especially true whenever there’s some new ridiculous bit of hysteria which paints anything Pagan as Satanic or whatever epithet meant as a shortcut to thinking is applied within the time limit of a sound bite.
These days it seems to me that Wiccans are beards for not just dark Pagans but are being put into the line of fire for everyone in the wider community. Heck, Pagans are a varied and diverse group of strange bedfellows, so to speak; not to be so easily signified by a small sample.
(Maybe Pagans are an equivalent to the Anti-Federalists, a rabble rebellion collected together under a label for convenience because they’re allied in demanding to be heard, seeking personal rights and freedoms from the tyranny of conformity imposed by privilege and power and the mainstream. The joke that any two Pagans have 3 opinions is a kind of truism.)
Not too long ago there was an uproar over the dabbling done by O’Donnell in what she claimed was witchcraft. The general response I remember hearing from Pagans in the media was, “That’s ridiculous because whatever it was she was doing wasn’t real witchcraft! Witchcraft is all about fluffy bunnies!” That whole thing about the dabbling of O’Donnell as a witch seriously bothered me, and at the time I just didn’t mention it anywhere or to anyone; but I find myself thinking about it again.
Of course, the more recent and truly stupid insanity of the pedophiles in Wales that made the news is an example of what the community is really afraid of being linked to, characterized by and treated like. And, to be sure, in that case the acts of insane people have been used to colour the character of something they happen to be abusing in their implementation of the insane. I mean, they wore clothes and eat food too, so let’s all become nudists and breatharians in response to the implied and contagious evilness of clothing and food. The colocation of insanity or criminality with X does not make X insane or criminal. Insane pedophiles are insane pedophiles, and there’s nothing more that needs to be said than this tautology to demonstrate that their opinions on anything else is suspect. And yet, it seems like the logic of the media hype engine is the opposite: that somehow the opinion of insane pedophiles is suddenly the most authoritative on any topics about which they might be ranting than other more generally sane voices who might be trying to speak. I blame the media … and: Oh, the humanity!
However, beyond whatever distain I might have for the criminal and the insane and the liars out there, like Welsh pedophiles and politicians like O’Donnell; it’s the reaction from the wider Pagan community that bothered me about these things even more. The reaction from the community was essentially a broad and universal shock, shock I say, at being accused of anything resembling any unwholesome activity whatsoever, being accused of anything more suspicious than a fluffy bunny petting. It’s the Wiccan Wookie defense. Nothing to fear here, lookee cute bunny! Cute, 6-foot tall, very hairy bunny … with a crossbow; but, hey, it’s fluffy, so, you know, it’s a bunny! (For the life of me, it never occurred to me until just now that Wookies were actually Púca. Or, maybe highly evolved Snuffleupaguses … Snuffleupagi? Snuffleupagans! Pagan Furries FTW! Just, you know, wholesome and sane … *ahem*)
Okay, so here’s where the inane, weak, unsubtle thinkers are going to go off the deep end because I need to make a strong distinction between the baby and the bath water. Throughout I’m not suggesting a defense for heinous acts like pedophilia or politics, to which, if current events are any indication, criminal and insane people seem so attracted. I’m rather talking about the willingness of the Pagan community to jettison anything remotely dark or uncomfortable in order to avoid looking anything like that which might be confused with things criminal or insane. I’m not saying that real Pagans are into pedophilia or politics. Rather, I’m saying that the fact that there are pedophiles and politicians in the world is not a reason to reject the edgy parts of Paganism as if those parts didn’t exist. I’m saying that these two things are not the same, and are not related and should not be confused; and to the extent that they are confused, it should behoove everyone to help those intellectually challenged among the population to understand there is a difference. Or, at the least, it should be the intellectually challenged who should be identified as the problem, not the edgy pagans being falsely identified as something they are not by hysterical morons.
In understandably denying any connection whatsoever to ridiculous or heinous acts, the community feigns, with a straight face, the nigh incomprehensibility of engaging in anything which might require more than a G-rating. And that’s just disingenuous, because if anything the reality of Paganism is worthy of a solid R at the box office, or it’s just more New Age noise. Whether it’s a Gnostic Mass or a Great Rite, even symbolically, there’s something going on that someone somewhere would get uptight about. Moreover, once on the slippery slide away from truth, all other real and true expressions become suspect.
Look, here’s one thing: people kinda know when someone’s not being honest. They may not be able to prove it, but I think there’s some sense where people just generally know something’s not on the up and up. They may be motivated to suspend disbelief for some reason, but I think deep down people know even when really practiced liars lie. So, when Pagans go out in the world and pretend that there’s nothing edgy about Paganism, I think people’s internal alarms go off. I think it does more harm even in the successful denial than would the unsuccessful attempt to disabuse the morons about their faulty reasoning. It’s like speaking truth to power, one has to speak truth even when speaking truth itself is edgy and dangerous. (Mind you, I’m not counseling the kind of suicide in the face of overwhelming mobs against which even Martin Luther King Jr realized nonviolence would painfully fail; but that there’s need to stand up against irrationality and injustices and singling out.)
Also, while I’m talking about this, I should be clear that I really haven’t experienced anything that I myself would call evil. Even though, no doubt, there are some reactionary idiots somewhere who would even claim eating marshmallow Peeps™ is a form of pure EVIL™; and gods know I’ve enjoyed my share of brutally microwaved Peeps in my instant s’mores (Mea culpa! Mea culpa! Kyrie eleison!); I don’t really know from first hand experience that there’s any or a lot of what I might think of as evil action going on. (Frankly, I’ve experienced things far more likely to be characterized by an observer as dark or evil that had nothing soever to do with esoteric practices in any way than I have esoteric practices that might be characterized as such.) But, that doesn’t mean I think it’s not possible, or even likely, that somewhere there’s something going on. (I mean, who am I kidding? I was pretty much oblivious to the pervasive cocaine use in the bathrooms of my high school, so what do I know?) Throughout history, one person’s angel is another’s demon; but there seem to also be people doing various kinds of edge-seeking who are unfairly demonized. I’ve experienced a lot of edge-seeking and intentionally iconoclastic behaviour, but not really anything evil by any definition I’d use except in jest or intentional hyperbole. But, even still, I do recognize that there are true evils going on in the world. Again, I’m not defending true evil here, but rather defending edge-seeking work.
I can imagine that there are people engaged in activity they intentionally and seriously hope is evil and that I would consider calling evil. I also imagine that of these people there are a vanishingly small percentile who are contentious practitioners, where the rest are thrill-seekers of some kind or another seeking to do things that shock. In regard to those looking to shock, if it weren’t one thing it would be another; it’s the ends not the means that matter, or rather its not the method but the image. For the thrill-seekers, the trappings are just accidental.
Then, again, there’s also, I have no doubt, a subsection of those thrill-seekers who are desperately in need of professional help, who are engaged in activities due to mental imbalance; but moreover those people would be mentally imbalanced no matter what activity they were doing, so the specific activity is actually entirely irrelevant. Crazy people are crazy. Period. For these people it’s crazy turtles all the way down, and they’re all out of turtles.
One of the most recent documents added to the collection at The Hermetic Library is a story by Yeats called The Sorcerers. This purports to be a personal narrative of an encounter with some “dark” practices. Within the story, Yeats talks about those engaged in evil acts, and details some practices of animal sacrifice and communing with “evil powers”
“The sorcerer then took a black cock out of a basket, and cut its throat with one of the daggers, letting the blood fall into the large bowl. He opened a book and began an invocation, which was neither English nor Irish, and had a deep guttural sound.” [via]
Practically a scene straight from Maya Daren’s Divine Horsemen, but, you know, Irish.
Okay, I’m definitely not claiming that this story related by Yeats is fact. Who knows? He was a writer so he wrote, right? Whether the experience was true, partially true or fancy isn’t my point. It’s what got me thinking about this again, and why I ended up writing this. Here’s a story with animal sacrifice, and yet I found myself questioning the idea of posting that section of the story as a quote to the public forum of The Hermetic Library’s facebook page. I realized that there might be reactions from reactionaries. I ended up posting that very quote to the feed, in part because I was thinking along the lines in what I’m writing now. So far, there’s been a predictably juvenile response to the fact that the words “black cock” appear in the quote; but other than that I’ve not seen the reaction I thought might appear.
This self-editing seems pretty widespread. I know I’ve sometimes skipped over posting some interesting quote or another from a new document I’ve added to the library because of how it might be hysterically perceived, not just in the context of EVIL™, but in other ways by those reacting to a quote who mobilizing their righteous indignation without bothering to explore the context or complexity or, frankly, maybe even without reading the actual quote itself. People have gotten indignant about one quote or another and that usually says more about them than it does about any particular quote per se.
(Some of this is learned defensive behaviour, and it’s a reaction to how some pretty insistent people use quotes as a way to push particular agendas. So, some of the reactivity I’ve seen to quotes I’ve posted seems to be about assuming that I’m expressing a hidden agenda in my choice of quote. This is one of the insidiously damaging things that I see happening in the online community as a result of the behaviour of those who use quasi-contextual or at least heavily curated quotes as a maneuver to prove something or other else they want to force home. These quote pushers are not people interested in discussion, but are rather interested in using quotes to stop discussion; as appeals to authority mustered to silence those ideas that they don’t want to hear expressed or to force conversation in a particular way. Or at the least, they use quotes to convince themselves of the righteousness of their crusade. It’s about intent and motive, and those can be obfuscated by façades of reasonableness and tactical syntax.
There was one time, for example, that I posted something from a period piece by Crowley, and was accused of valourizing misogyny. My thought is that not posting anything that might be seen as mysogynistic would be to, in effect, white-wash over that, and would actually in the omission do more to valourize or at least normalize that as non-exceptional, as not worth mentioning. But, moreover, it is by posting and hopefully thereby talking about such things that a more accurate and broad perspective is formed, and a parallax is created between one expression of thought to another.
In another case, I posted a particular quote with a link to the source and someone responded saying, “Where did you get that idea?” Um, try clicking on the helpfully provided link to the source to find out, I thought, and read it yourself. But it was clear that the response was assuming that I necessarily by posting agreed with the statement and was pushing some kind of agenda. They were triggered and taking revenge in their response.
Really, this is the basic stuff of academia, people. I become increasingly convinced we don’t need universal service, but rather universal University. If only I had faith in the success of University to do the job … Hell, even at a place like Evergreen they could mostly only create a conducive environment, not ensure a result. There were still those who couldn’t, wouldn’t and didn’t. Woe to the hope for joy at a lesser institution!)
At last year’s Esoteric Book Conference, there were presented some images from the Richel-Eldermans Collection, which had been intentionally left out of the publication of The Occult Reliquary as a preemptive measure to avoid potential hysterical reactions those images might have caused even with context. And, notice, even here a fortiori I’m not going to describe the content of those images but leave that to the greek chorus of your imagination to describe, or, you know, take a trip to The Museum of Witchcraft to see them for yourself, you lucky you!
We seem as a broad group to have internalized a lesson about the need for secrecy in the face of potential witch-hunts of one kind or another. It’s not just the self-identified witches that need to be concerned about the public turning into a mob looking to burn someone, figuratively or literally.
But, at the same time, I think the existence of this cloak of cuddly white-light does a horrible disservice to ourselves. Not the least of which is the fact that any time the cloak is shown to be just that, there’s more chance of a more violent reaction by those predisposed to violent reactions in the first place.
Anyhow, I recognize that the overall need still for forestalling hysteria by keeping cloaks on some issues, but I also find myself lamenting the way that the white-lighters are both used as beards to form an ablative shield against the cultural bullies out there, but also are then used as whipping boys within the community as examples of scorn. That’s the kind of double standard that’s going to bite someone in the ass at some point because it’s a duplicitous deception as well as being cruel to the poor little bunnies.
The dirty truth about any truegeek cultures has always been that they are predisposed to eating their own young with viciousness and dark delight of shocking proportions. So, even if accusations of evil aren’t true in specific, they are true in some general tangential way. Geeks of any kind have historically been just plan mean to newbies, and that reveals a streak of nastiness that cannot be denied. In this case the young being eaten aren’t babies, but still there’s a kind of ritual sacrifice going on that’s more than even hazing.
(Oh, and, yes, I did just, with tough love, characterize pagans as geeks.)
As unfortunate as the bearding of Pagan culture might be, I think the community has to also recognize that it is both forcing the Wiccans into the fray all the while treating them, generally, as little children. It’s a children’s crusade against the mob. What I mean is the way that all these fluffy bunnies are the target of scorn and derision by the “serious” Pagan community but when push comes to shove, we seem to shove these same fluffy bunnies into the line of fire. The fluffy bunnies may be pawns in the game, but they’re our pawns; the fluffy bunnies are the first wave of integration between our sub-culture and mainstream culture, and we need them to be there as allies and emissaries. The fluffy bunnies represent the extent to which culture has changed, so I suggest that sacrificing them is tantamount to sacrificing progress.
Indeed, in another part of Yeats’ The Sorcerers:
“He would not tell me more, for he had, it appeared, taken a vow of secrecy.”
It really should be clear that secrecy has a manifold purpose in protecting people from people not just the secrets from people or people from secrets. So is it really so inconceivable that edgy things happen somewhere in the community? Is it really so hard to fess up and face up to the bullying? When it comes to edgy expression within the wide pagan community of experience, I think the Lady and Lord, while wearing rabbit-fur lined cloaks, doth protest too much.
It’s a disservice to the potential for culture change inherent in the counter cultural confrontation of both willful ignorance and self-righteous morality to raise the level of discourse around consensual practices which can and must be seen in distinct relief to the practices of insane and sick people. It’s a disservice to hide our naughty bits behind the fig leaves forced on us generically by the pervasive paternalistic judgments of Judeo-Christ-Islamic culture.
I mean, I know I’m not the only Pagan that yelled a figurative or, in my case, literal “Fuck Yeah!” at the scenes of gritty and realistic ancient Paganism in the HBO series ROME, amirite? Not all pagans are Wiccan, and neither are all witches Wiccan. The Wiccan rede is not universally subscribed to, and it is just incorrect to characterize all pagans as holders of that belief.
We’re an edgy lot; and should be out, loud and proud about that. Besides, it’s getting really itchy and hot in this fluffy bunny outfit.