I was chatting with a colleague this morning about our class’s recent foray into “paranormal” subjects (we’re reading Christopher Bader et al’s Paranormal America) and I mentioned that I could understand some of the conclusions that the authors had drawn from their fieldwork (not to imply that this is a good book, because it’s terrible and just goes to show how thoroughly sociologists can mangle data and, further, why Evangelicals shouldn’t be allowed to conduct national surveys), given some of my own experiences at things like psychic fairs and New Age festivals. My colleague’s quick response was, “But you’re not like other Wiccans! You’re reasonable and well-read. Usually Wiccans are the worst sort of religious flakes.”
I had to laugh at his comment. And then I was sad because (putting personal vanity aside for a moment) his assessment of Wicca more broadly is not totally unfair. And how sad is it that when my friend actually encountered a Wiccan he could respect, his conclusion was not, “Oh, maybe Wicca isn’t as stupid as I think it is,” but rather, “She must be an exception.”
I’m not suggesting that we should collectively be altering our behavior to garner the approval of outsiders, but I do think it’s important to consider that the negative opinions that people hold about us are sometimes grounded in reality rather than in just random, senseless prejudice. The complaints that I’ve made against my own Pagan community are not unlike those made by non-Pagans: we tend to be uncritical readers, we tend to be gullible and naive, we are usually (and I’m very comfortable with “usually” here) pretty shallow when it comes to constructing theologies and ethe, we frequently aren’t mindful of history (both our own and those of others), many of us have a very troubling persecution complex, and our community is overwhelmingly oblivious to its white, Western, middle-class privilege.
Throw in some healing crystals and lots of fetishizing talk about Native Americans and it’s no wonder that Fox News (etc.) can say what it does with relative impunity.
Again, I’m not advocating that we collectively give Wicca a social facelift (though I personally may think one is in order). People, particularly when they have the means to do so, should live their own lives according to their own preferences and goals. I’m merely suggesting that, given the preferences that many of us have and the way we often carry ourselves collectively, we should stop acting so surprised and scandalized when others think poorly of us.