I’ve been struggling with E. I wrote something about expectations a week or so ago that just turned into me rambling about my own crazy tendency toward being a judgmental asshole, and, well, it was just too revealing. And then I woke up this morning, drank lots of very sugary coffee, scrolled through #wicca on tumblr for inspiration, and thought, “AHA ESCAPISM DUH.”
If you do an image search of “Wicca” or if you explore #wicca on tumblr or Instagram, you’ll come up with a lot of pictures of gossamer-clad fairy girls, twirling in forest groves or, with gently-parted lips and perfect long hair, caressing wild animals by mountain streams. You’ll also find pictures of mermaids and even more pictures of women that look like they fell out of an issue of Heavy Metal set against backgrounds with cemeteries and blazing fires.
Never in my life have I been involved in anything Pagan that even remotely resembled anything in the first few pages of image results (except for the cases when I’ve, uh, imbibed). Fantasy art and the overlap between Pagan and geek communities aside, the prevalence of these kinds of images over others seems to me to be indicative of the tendency toward escapism that I feel characterizes many Pagan spaces. Many of us get involved in Wicca and other Pagan and magical traditions because we’re having trouble coping with things in other parts of our lives. We need a way to make ourselves feel special. Or we need a way to alleviate boredom. I’ve even seen people use Wicca to justify leaving mental illness untreated (and this is its own complicated subject that I may get to someday, but not today). Or maybe it just sounds like a lot of fun, in the same way that a really well-done RPG is fun.
I think escapism can be normal and healthy and I don’t mean to totally disparage it, but it does sometimes concern me when I see it from others in public circles or from seekers in written inquiries to covens.
Wicca, and I think witchcraft more generally, is fundamentally a kind of transgression of boundaries. The circle itself is a space “between the worlds.” These kinds of spaces—where spirits are encountered, magic exists in tangible form, and the gods talk to us—are as real for the witch as any encountered in mundane life (if there even is such a thing). The tongue-in-cheek folks over at Gardnerians quipped that “We drive people crazy,” and I think that this can be very true. Usually, they come in with their own crazy and we potentially make it worse (better?). That’s one of the reasons why people in magical orders and witch traditions (elitism aside) often do things with the level of structure and secrecy that they do. Because it’s easy to just blindly reinforce or even exacerbate problematic individual issues (from mild escapism which might be healthy to “full blown” mental health issues that can be destructive to the individual and those around her).
It can be a really fine line, especially given the social construction that surrounds much mental illness (which is not to say that mental illness isn’t “real”).
I often wonder how many of the people making (but usually just reposting without properly sourcing) the kinds of memes described above actually think that they are somehow representative of Wicca and Wiccans. And how much does this kind of representation matter?