Category Archives: Pagan Blog Project

E is for Escapism

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?

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D is for Disillusionment

Because there comes a point in every (literate, thoughtful, aging) Wiccan’s life where you realize that you just aren’t living between the pages of The White Goddess.

I keep sitting down to write an essay entitled “D is for Disillusionment” and I just haven’t been able to get beyond the first couple of sentences.  I think it’s because there are so many ways in which to be disillusioned by Wicca and Paganism more broadly.  And I’ve been through a lot of them.

So here are some stories of my own youthful disillusionment (in the form of bulleted realizations) followed by a final uplifting message of triumph that inspires the will to carry on.

Oh, wait, no.  Sorry, I’ve been reading a lot of Elevation Church literature lately and got confused for a second.  I’ll just be doing that first part.

1) Life isn’t as magical as I think it is.

Remember reading your first book about Wicca and deciding that every fucking thing that happened after that WAS TOTALLY A SIGN OMG?  Every dream had significance, every bird that flew overhead was an omen, and every dollar bill fished out of a gutter was karma.  The world was just so magickal.  It’s like the Lord and Lady (or whatever) were talking just to you.  And you got a little older, gained a bit more experience, and started hanging out with other woo people and they all claimed to have super powers.  It is physically impossible to go to a Pagan event anywhere and not meet at least one person claiming to be an empath, a psychic vampire (or an actual one), a hereditary something-or-other with übermojo, or at least claiming to have some kind of unusual (unverifiable) magical prowess.  I can’t even count the number of times I’ve been told by some asshole somewhere that she/he “knew I would come” because of destiny or some shit.

To be clear, I’m not discounting magic or woo people generally.  I’m not saying those things aren’t real (but I’m also not necessarily saying they are).  What I’m saying is that, when you’re new, it seems like every person you meet is just so special.  The world is magical!  And some people are magical!  I COULD BE MAGICAL.  But then you go to more rituals, meet more people, try more things, and find yourself…maybe a little disappointing.  It’s a little like being Xander from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Lots of clocked field time, no super powers.  I remember going to my first open rituals (beginning at fifteen or so) and hearing people say things afterwards like, “Wow…that ritual was so intense.  I could really feel the energy.”  And me thinking there was something deficient about me because my experience was pretty mundane.  Sure, I could be moved by good singing or chanting, powerful pageantry, or just the thrill of being involved finally, but I wasn’t seeing orbs or hearing voices.  And other people said there were.  Other people seemed to be having really intense experiences (auras!  colors!  shadowy shapes!  divine messages!  chills!) and I was working so hard and getting nothing.  I fucking meditated and built altars and did woo exercises and talked to everyone and read all the books and even tried to make a crossroads deal (Seriously.  I was twelve and enormously disappointed when it didn’t work.) and I got jack shit out of ritual with other Pagans.

And life still had all the crap in it.

SO WHAT AM I DOING.  WHERE IS ALL THIS MAGIC I WAS PROMISED.

It took a long time for me to realize that sometimes “altering consciousness at will” is less about altering physical reality and more about altering perspective.  The good news is that oftentimes the latter leads to the former.  Just like in The Secret.

I also had to realize that, sometimes (actually, a lot of times), when you don’t get anything out of ritual with other Pagans (especially at open rituals), it’s not because of you.  Good group ritual requires good facilitators and good facilitators are rare.  I was so busy trying to “feel the energy” in other peoples’ circles that I often failed to appreciate the very tangible energy (if not glowing orbs) I could generate alone, on my own terms.  I also didn’t allow myself to consider that, hey, maybe there just wasn’t any energy there to feel.

Also important is the fact that some people are just goddamned liars.  People claim to have special abilities (or resources, or titles, or connections, or whatever) because it garners social capital and creates the illusion of authenticity.  No one wants to be the guy who suggests that maybe the ritual didn’t work because the implication is that maybe that guy just isn’t magical enough to have felt it.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, it’s okay to be Xander.  Xander is awesome.  Xander keeps Buffy flying straight, is a lot better at keeping his head on his shoulders than his magical friends are, and saves the day pretty routinely (even if it’s rarely acknowledged and doesn’t involve fireworks).  Xander, though he lacks super powers, is no less critical a member of the Scooby team.  In fact, it’s his lack of super powers that make him so valuable.  He doesn’t lose perspective constantly the way his “special” friends do.  Xander demonstrates that there are other ways to exist happily and effectively in enchanted worlds without being yourself particularly enchanted.

2) Everyone is smelly and horrible.

That’s an exaggeration.  But this has absolutely run through my mind more than once while hanging out with other Pagans.

And we don’t need to get specific; insert whatever adjective you want.  But you know how sometimes you just look around the room (or field, or whatever) and think, “God, we’re all fucked up”?

Lately I’ve been hearing and reading a fair bit of conversation about why Paganism is dominated by poor people (usually people don’t define what “poor” means, so don’t ask me).  And why is it so easy for something like Fox News to pick on us?  Are we really just a bunch of unwashed, overweight RPGers?

No, of course not.  But, hey, some of us are.  I occupy at least one if not all three of those categories every day.  I posted a video a year or two ago asking about all of these Pagan doctors and lawyers I keep hearing about (Silver RavenWolf and others have told me they’re out there) and no one stepped forward.  Are we really everywhere and anyone the way the bumper sticker claims?  Because from where I’m sitting we mostly just look like a bunch of white people, occupying the same kinds of (blue collar to barely-white-collar) jobs, wearing the same kinds of clothes, thinking the same kinds of thoughts.

But the problem is usually where I’m sitting.  I learned real quick, for example, that Wiccans in the South are not like Wiccans in other regions.  I also learned that there isn’t just one Pagan Community.  The fact that I usually just see more of the same often has more to do with me and where I’m looking than with some sort of inherent quality to Paganism as a whole.

3) So many books, so few critical readers.

I hate it when people go on about how well-educated Pagans tend to be.  How Pagans are “readers.”  I hate it because “well-educated” doesn’t really mean anything.  I teach college classes where students literally cannot read.  I live in a state where school funding is determined by graduation rates, so mostly all you have to do is show up to pass.  The possession of an “education” doesn’t actually tell me anything about a person beyond their ability to afford (in terms of time and money) to go to school.  I certainly can’t count on much in terms of critical reading abilities.  I am surrounded by college-educated people who are not critically engaged in the world.

So, yeah.  Pagans are more likely to have gone to college than members of many other religious groups (thank you, Helen Berger).  Statistically speaking they also buy and read more books.

But they are bad at it.

I know this because we still usually think that things in books are objectively true and don’t warrant questioning.  We’re still citing bad history.  We don’t know how to engage with material outside of the comfortable New Age section.   We’d rather read history as described by fellow witches than by actual historians.  And if we do venture to read the actual historians, we often aren’t equipped with the intellectual tools necessary to be critical about that, either (because everyone with a PhD is infallible).

I know this because I’m constantly listening to Pagans lament that there aren’t any “advanced” books available.  Fucking seriously?  I have never run out of things to read.  There is a ton of material out there on witchcraft, magic, ritual, ancient practices, ethics, philosophy.  You just have to reframe your search terms and not limit yourself to occult and New Age publishers.

None of this to imply that I think all Pagans should be scholars.  Different strokes and all.  But some of us are scholars, and we need to find each other and hold on tight.  I have spent some serious time feeling like I was completely alone in my own Community because nobody could talk to me about anything that wasn’t in a Llewellyn or a Weiser book.  Everybody reads the same things.  Everybody thinks the same things.  Good, engaging, useful conversation is out there, but it’s rare and requires way more seeking than anything I ever had to do for a specific tradition.

4) Seriously?  This is a coven?

Remember that moment when you realized that high priestesses were just people?

Not my high priestess, mind you (because she’s beautiful and perfect and might be reading this), but other peoples’.

My first high priestess spent a lot of time trying to make ends meet and convincing her landlord not to evict her family.  Other group leaders I know struggle with going back to school, raising beastly children, not murdering their bosses, and fucking up every romantic relationship they stagger into.  Hell, I carry around a stuffed animal and sleep with a Dean Winchester nightlight (and, yes, it is exactly as awesome as it sounds), when I’m not drinking to avoid my problems.

I don’t always know how we got to be in charge of anything.

Coven leaders are still just people, with all of the flaws and foibles that go along with just being alive.  Sometimes we say stupid things, fail to take care of ourselves or other people in the best way possible, make poor decisions, and otherwise fuck things up.

Good coven leaders are cognizant of these things, however, and quick to rectify them.

Same goes for covenmates.  Some of your covenmates are going to be assholes.  They just are.  If not now, they will be someday, even if it’s only occasional.  They’re human beings, so being assholes is unavoidable sometimes.  The solution might be to find a new group (but other groups just have their own assholes), but usually you’re better off learning to deal, loving them anyway (understanding that you, too, are an asshole sometimes), and trusting that (if they stick around) they will become less so.

5) Something horrible just happened and nobody can tell me anything not idiotic.

Wicca (and Neo-Paganism broadly) is generally pretty terrible when it comes to dealing with hard life stuff.  We just don’t have a lot to say.  Or, maybe worse, we pretend that vague conceptions of “harm none” and “karma” are at all useful where suffering and horribleness are concerned.

I spent three years in an abusive relationship and had my fill of idiots telling me that it was part of some kind of “law of return” bullshit.  Usually, they said this to reassure me that he would be punished (FYI, he is doing just fine), but sometimes I was told that this was an opportunity provided by the Universe (or, worse, chosen by me in some previous life) to grow and overcome challenges.

“Fuck you,” is pretty much all I have to say to those people.

Overcoming challenges and bettering the self are all well and good, but nobody belongs in a bloody heap on the bathroom floor.  We might learn, become stronger, whatever, but those are hopeful (and sadly uncommon) side effects, not some kind of terrible purpose.

Horrible shit is horrible and there might be no reason for it at all.  And sometimes that’s really hard to deal with.

That’s as far as I’ve gotten with this particular bit of theodicy, guys.  And the only uplifting thing I can offer is that being involved with Wicca just makes me feel better about it all.  It doesn’t answer all of my questions, but it does create a place for me in the world and helps me to feel less adrift and alone.  So yay.

So there.  All kinds of things to create dissonance and disillusionment.  What else can you come up with?

C is for Comprehensive Exams and Crying and Crap and Covens and the bottle of champagne that I’m about to open.

So let’s just pretend that I never said anything about putting myself on any kind of schedule as far as blog posting is concerned, because clearly that isn’t happening.  Right now “C” is for “comprehensive exams” for my MA degree, and now that they’re over I mostly want to lay on my face and never write anything ever again.  “C” is also for “counseling program,” which rejected my application after an interview last Friday.  I found out last night, and since then “C” has been for “crying into my wine” and “contemplating the Plan C that I never thought I would need.”

Sad thing first:

I am pretty bewildered at having been rejected for a second MA (“C” is for cocky, which, frankly, I am for good reason).  I was told that the program simply received “an unusually high number of qualified applicants,” which I find hard to believe given that the sorority girl sitting next to me at the interview had the word “imagine” tattooed on her hand and, when asked why she wanted to be a counselor, replied with, “Because nursing school was too hard.”  Also at the interview was the woman from the first round who couldn’t understand why her classes in physical therapy wouldn’t transfer to a clinical mental health program (“Um, those are different kinds of therapies,” the department head had to tell her more than once.).  Out of about 80 finalists, 65 were accepted and I didn’t even make wait list.  They found 65 people—most of whom had yet to graduate from their respective sportsball universities—in that room more “qualified” than me.  Which tells me that I must have done or said something during interview day that was so alienating that even I failed to register it as such.  So alienating that it canceled out an academic record that literally could not have been improved in any capacity short of a perfect GRE score(and before you say it, no, I wasn’t even given enough speaking time to be arrogant, I promise).  I’ve failed to get jobs in the past for being “overqualified” (and once had a man deny having espoused feelings for me the next time I saw him on the grounds that I was “too scary”), but can you be “overqualified” for grad school?

So, there goes that plan.  Which leaves me pretty much exactly where I was in 2007 (unhirable) except now I live in a town without even a Barnes & Noble within reasonable daily driving distance for me to apply at.  I can probably stay in UNCC’s religious studies department as a lecturer, but that job actually pays less than the one at Barnes & Noble (a whopping $2000 per class per semester, before taxes) and has no prospects whatsoever for benefits, raises, or promotion.  Awesome.

In conclusion, don’t go to college and definitely don’t get an MA because all you will get is debt, shattered dreams, and an apron at the Barnes & Noble Café (if it’s close enough to make $7-8 an hour worthwhile, which it isn’t).  And I can’t even make like other good Southern girls and land a husband because I’m, as they tell me, “too scary.”

/pity party

Okay, sorry about that.   I’m over it now.

Witchcraft!  Yay! There are at least some pleasurable things left in the world.

C is for Crap

My very dear friend Morgan said to me the other day something along the lines of, “I have a limited amount of time each day to devote to reading material on witchcraft, and I just want to know that I’m not wasting it on crap.”

Crap of course could mean a lot of things and be a lot of things to different people.  As far as Morgan and I are concerned, usually, crap means “totally fanciful and wildly irrelevant to my daily life.”  Or even “insulting to my intelligence.”  Crap is making it ten minutes into any Peter Paddon podcast and swearing that you never want to listen to Pagan music ever again because it’s all horrible (which it is).  Crap is people like Raven Grimassi or Christopher Penczak saying definitive things about witches without anything even remotely resembling a citation.  Crap is pretty much anything involving phrases like “real/authentic witchcraft,” “ancient witches,” or “hereditary tradition.”  Pretty much.

I sort of love the crap, though.  First, it’s kind of all crap, at least partially.  I can’t think of any Pagan writer or podcaster offhand that doesn’t periodically say something really stupid.  Every tradition has its fair share of absurdity and every individual has a potentially hilarious set of blind spots.  That’s why you have to read everything and sift out the periodic nugget of awesome.  Then you assemble your pile of awesome nuggets and *BAM* witchcraft is awesome.  Second, the crap just makes me really appreciative of the religious creativity of human beings.  We are fucking bananas sometimes, and that’s especially true amongst those of us who are a bit on the fringe.  One of the reasons I got into religious studies to begin with is this fascination with the human imagination.  We are weird and wonderful creatures.  It’s like watching hamsters in one of those brightly colored plastic tube mazes.

The key to dealing with crap for me is to not take it personally.  I sometimes have to take a deep breath and remind myself that nothing I read, hear, or see in the Community necessarily has any impact on my practice or my tradition.  Getting too hung up on what other people are up to has never served me in any kind of useful way as far as what I’m doing alone.  Even within a wider tradition, as far as I’m concerned, the only “family” I have is my immediate coven and those I know personally who are directly related (and even there that doesn’t mean I think we’re all up to the same thing all the time).

Of course, I’ve got a lot more time than Morgan does to devote to Craft stuff because that’s pretty much all I do.  But I do think that quantity makes for a better goal than quality (which is usually just disappointing).  The more dirt I sift through, the more likely I am to find precious sparkly things.  Even if you understand that some dirt is more likely to yield valuables than other dirt, you’re still left with a big pile of fucking dirt.

C is for Coven

Because pretty much everyone on the Internet who brings up the whole “coven vs. solitary” thing is a solitary with no real group experience.  The giveaway is when they say things like, “I’m a free spirit who doesn’t want to be told what to do or believe.”  Excuse me?  Because the rest of us are just subservients being told how to think?  Not even remotely.  I’ve been part of crappy groups in the past, don’t get me wrong, but using that as grounds for concluding that coven life is a bust is like saying, “I was in a really negative relationship this one time so I’m just never going to date again ever.”  Never trying it at all because you think the point of a coven is to boss you around just means that you don’t understand what a coven is.

You still might hate it, but most people don’t seem to ever really give it a shot.

I’m not going to tell you which is better, because both of them can suck and be awesome in equal parts.  The real point I want to make is that they’re not mutually exclusive, which is how people usually describe them.  When I get asked, “Are you in a coven or do you practice solitary,” the answer is both.  Any covened witch (I don’t know if that’s a term, but it is now) worth a shit is capable of working on their own.  I adore my HPS and HP like parents, but neither of them necessarily cares what I’m doing outside of coven circles so long as I’m not actively Ruining The Tradition.

C is for Cabinet

After I found out I’d been rejected from grad school despite my total awesomeness and perfect suitability, I got drunk and assembled this spectacular piece of sexiness from Ikea (which only goes to further show how remarkably capable I am):

IMG_4818Now instead of scattered willy-nilly all over the house, all of the most valuables are shut away behind glass doors.  I’m so fucking pumped about this thing.  Fuck you, counseling program, I’m going to just sit here and bask in front of my own personal witchcraft museum.

 

 

B is for Books

So here’s my plan for managing the Pagan Blog Project:

Since each letter gets two weeks and two posts, I’m going to do one post on some long, academic-y rant about a Pagan thing more broadly (something more akin to “A is for Authenticity“).  For the other week, I’ll actually show you something immediately relevant to my own personal brand of Paganism (think pictures and “here’s how I do this thing”).  Look for another “A” post in the next day or two.  Which comes first will be dependent on mood.

But now!  Books!

I’m a whore for books.  Other people don’t even understand.  Pagans tend to be into books, anyway, but I’d be willing to bet that I could still give most anyone a run for their money when purely numbers and scope are considered (while I have a deep appreciation for rare and vintage books, these are not a focus for me because I will always choose “more” books over “better” books).  My role as a graduate student, teaching assistant, and neophyte religions scholar means that I have not only the desire but also the mandate to read and acquire books.  To be clear, this is not a hobby for me.  In the past I have made significant sacrifices in other areas of my life (clothes, food) for the sake of books.  I have rejected family life in favor of reading and research and the adventures that these things inspire.  My career goal for the last decade has been, essentially, to find a way to get paid to sit around and read (actually, specifically, my goal has been to essentially become Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, though lately I’m thinking I’d rather be a Winchester).  And, for now, mission-fucking-accomplished.  Books are an enormous part of my life.  Frankly, I don’t even really know what non-readers do with their time.

So I thought I’d show you my shelves and say a bit about my collection.

1) I’m interested in all things even vaguely witch-related.  I don’t discriminate.  Often what’s most valuable about the material is the insight into that particular moment in the history of thinking about witches.  I don’t care, for example, that the book has an accurate history of Wicca.  I care about what the author thinks and why, and I’m concerned with whether or not that’s reflective of wider trends.  In other words, I’m not necessarily reading a book because I think it’s full of reliable information relating to my own personal practices.  I’m reading it because of what it might say about the field itself.  A good example of this would be a book like Silver RavenWolf’s Teen Witch.  I’m not going to recommend Teen Witch to someone who’s taking their first steps into Wicca (because, more than ten years after the fact, there’s better material out there).  But I do think that Teen Witch is critical reading for someone who wants to understand what Wicca has come to be in the contemporary United States.

2) I often have multiple copies of books, for a variety of reasons.  I have four coupes of the Farrars’ A Witches Bible.  Why?  Because one of them is a cool old Magickal Childe edition, one is my personal copy, and two of them are annotated by their previous owners.  I love annotated books.  Annotated books function like personal diaries and give me additional insight into the movement.  What did the previous owner think was most important?  What did they try out of the book?  Why might they have gotten rid of it?  Often, I can trace names written on bookplates to further owner information, thanks to the magic of the Internet.

3) Interspersed among the more mainstream books (many of you will recognize many of these titles) are journals and magazines (I’ve got everything from NewWitch, Witches & Pagans, PanGaia, Hoodoo & Conjure Quarterly, The Crooked Path, and Modern Witch Magazine, as well as several issues of The Hidden Path, The Witches’ Almanac, the Llewellyn annuals, and The Pomegranate).  These are often even more insightful than regular books, for my purposes.

4) I also keeps tabs on small presses, limited runs, self-published works, and foreign releases (I have a small selection of witch titles in French and a few mass market paperbacks that only saw release in Britain).  Self-published works are particularly fascinating for me.

5) Alongside the books relating to witchcraft (of all kinds), I’ve also included my collections on tarot, Norse traditions, Western esotericism more broadly, African Diaspora traditions (Santeria, hoodoo, Vodou, etc.), and Pagan fiction.  A number of titles are also from evangelical publishers and are specifically anti-witchcraft.  I find these nonetheless relevant (and wildly entertaining).

6) Owning a book doesn’t mean I endorse its author, its publisher, or its contents.  If you want my opinion on a title you see, just ask.  I’m sure I have lots of feelings about it.

As a sidenote, here’s another kind of authenticity claim left out in the previous post:

I’VE READ SO MANY BOOKS LOOK AT ALL THE BOOKS I READ.  This is practically unavoidable with academically-inclined people like me.  If we’re professionals, then it’s our job to Read All The Things, and it shouldn’t be a point for bragging (but, rather, assumed).  On the other hand, that doesn’t make reading any less about Pagan dick-measuring.  We all know that guy who’s just tripping over himself to let you know how incompetent you are because you haven’t read (or heard of) some oh-so-important text.  And the more obscure and expensive the text, the realer witch you are.  Except that’s not actually true at all, and we all know it, which is why that guy is so insecure in the first place.  Don’t get me wrong, I obviously place a lot of value in books and reading.  But owning lots of books (even having read lots of books) doesn’t mean that one is a good critical reader, good at research, good at assimilating and processing information, or good at discerning good material from bad (I wish I got paid every time an adolescent Michael Howard-devotee failed to understand Carlo Ginzburg). You can read lots of books and still be incompetent.  Likewise, one doesn’t need to be a reader to be a kick-ass witch.

A is for Authenticity

Pagan Blog Project.  What the hell.

Authenticity is really fascinating to me because people go about constructing it in a number of really creative ways.  And Pagans are fucking obsessed with it, though we usually don’t talk about it so directly.  All of those tired conversations about who gets to call themselves a witch, what a Wiccan is versus a Neo-Wiccan, or whether or not you can be a witch and also [insert whatever thing here] are all fundamentally about authenticity.  And people become positively ENFLAMED about these things.

It’d be pretty self-deceptive to just play the scholar and pretend not to have a dog in the fight, so here’s my personal position in brief:

I’m concerned about what constitutes “Wicca” from the perspective of a Long Island Gardnerian high priestess.  I’m really, really good at compartmentalizing, however, and from a scholarly perspective I’ll be the first to admit that what I think of as “real Wicca” is pretty fucking debatable.  My claim on authenticity doesn’t have any kind of inherent truth to it, and I am more than capable of setting aside my Hard Gard bitchface and acknowledging the right of others to embrace the category.  I’ve even encouraged people to do just that.

But when I’m home alone and left to my own devices, or when I’m circling with either my coven or with Foxfire (the world’s most spectacular outer court), “Wicca” means my particular brand of Gardnerian Craft.  Period.  Note that I didn’t include Alexandrians in that statement.  So what does that entail?  Well, as you’re probably already aware, that’s mostly oathbound.  But I’ll tell you what it doesn’t entail: fucking Rede of the Wiccae.  Or that trite couplet about the Threefold Law.

As far as I’m concerned, there is nothing Wiccan about the “Wiccan Rede” or the Threefold Law.  Obviously, those things are widely accepted–even amongst some Gardnerian lines and by individual Gards–but, as far as I can tell, those things were additions that came to the table farther down the line.  Yeah, I realize that there were predecessors to both (so please don’t e-mail me about Good King Pausole), but when someone says, “The central tenet of Wicca is ‘harm none,'” and then starts spouting Gwen Thompson, I’ve got a problem.

See?  I’ve definitely got a dog in the fight.  And it’s a really unpopular dog, even if it’s really grizzled and mean.

But that’s not really what this post is about (because I don’t have nearly enough hubris to think that I either can or should convince anyone of anything as far as “real Wicca” is concerned).  This is just about authenticity amongst witches and Pagans more broadly, and what I see as some of the most common means by which we go about asserting our authenticity (plus snarky commentary).  Behold:

1) Initiation.  We’ve all heard this.  You’re not a real witch unless you’ve been initiated into some specific kind of group (Garnderian, Alexandrian, a family tradition, whatever).  There are ALL KINDS OF PROBLEMS with this.  It begs questions about origins (who performed the first initiation, etc.), it assumes a level of competence that may not be present, it assumes that we’re even particularly good record keepers as far as lineage is concerned (and many people are not), it assumes that we’re capable of reliably passing down some kind of “pure” tradition (we are not).

2) Magic Grandma.  Everybody knows one (or dozens) or those people who are somehow especially witchy because their grandmother (or whoever) was a witch.  I would have zero problem challenging pretty much anybody who claimed this, unless they happen to be a teenager who had grandparents coming of age in the 1960s or 70s.  Your Italian/Irish/Appalachian/whatever grandma might have been magical as fuck.  Hey, my people were magical, too.  They’re called Catholics.  Magic sauce recipes, spooky chants and charms, fortune telling, and using herbs for healing does not in any way equate to your relative necessarily (or even probably) being any kind of witch.  Especially not in the sense where it will be at all relevant to what contemporary witches do.

3) BUT WE HAVE A SKULL ON THE ALTAR.  These people are by far and away my current favorites.  The assertion here is something along the lines of, “Real witchcraft was about spirit travel, communicating with the dead, blah blah blah blood in ritual blah blah blah Tubal Cain blah blah blah Wicca isn’t real witchcraft because it’s watered down.”  Usually Emma Wilby and Carlo Ginzburg will come up.  This conversation has been raging since Gardner’s day, and it was just as absurd then.  The problem here has to do with ownership of the term “witch” and assumptions on both sides about what the other group is or isn’t doing.  It’s been my experience, for example, that American Hard Gards and Traditional Witches actually have a hell of a lot more in common with each other than either does with eclectic Wiccans.  To demonstrate, here are some things I do as a Wiccan: talk to land spirits, concern myself with hedgecrossing, use blood and body bits in magic, curse.  Because there’s nothing in my tradition that says that I can’t.

4) BUT IT’S TOTALLY ANCIENT.  I’m not anywhere near as up on my world history as I would need to be in order to refute the claims of any kind of reconstructionist (unless you try to argue that Ostara and Mabon were ancient gods or that modern Halloween is really based on the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, both of which are just demonstrably false with even the tiniest bit of digging into research performed by actual historians).  But I do know that, when you want someone to take a religious claim seriously, you have to make it sound old.  Because older=realer.  Can you imagine what would happen if we applied the same attitude to something like medicine?  Or the legal system?  Religion is a different kind of thing (maybe), but  the assertion that a thing is inherently more authentic because of its age is just obviously problematic.

And those were just the ones off the top of my head.  People get super creative when they need to argue on behalf of their personal legitimacy.  But the reality is that it’s all constructed.  Authenticity doesn’t really apply outside of our own contexts (see my point about how real Wicca = my Gardnerian Wicca).  So maybe we should all just stop sounding so desperate.  It’s mostly just unbecoming.