A Video and Musings on Seeking

(And can we please appreciate the thumbnail for this video.  I love it when it’s this awkward.)

Back in my Teen Witch days I longed for a coven with the sort of desperate urgency that can only be generated by out-of-control hormones and the bewildering lack of self-awareness characteristic of overly-privileged suburban white kids. I needed people to understand me. To appreciate my latent talents. To spur me on in what I just knew in my soul was my fated path. My bones fucking vibrated with destiny. I was coming home. Wicca was who-I-was-oh-Goddess.

I was fucking determined, I tell you what. I combed the Internet (the second the Internet was a thing I could comb), posted ads on every witchcraft website that would let me, stalked the regulars at the local New Age store, and snuck off to open rituals with unwitting teenaged friends (“Hey I thought you said this was a book club.”) who had cars and less attentive parents. Before I got to college, I e-mailed every person within a fifty-mile radius who had a listing on Witchvox. Once I arrived, I tried to start a Pagan student group. Later on, I transferred schools and was able to join an already established club. I went to drum circles, open rituals, psychic fairs, and New Age book clubs, scanning for people who might have something in common with me.   I would talk to anyone who stood still long enough, and I spent more time with ill-suited people than I should have.

When I was finally old enough (well, and even before then), I sent seeker letters to every coven I could find in the state that even sort of looked like it might be functional (even a “Norse Wicca” group, I’m telling you because I feel like we’ve know each other long enough). I tried to sound mature and collected, but that feeling of desperation never really went away, even when I was smugly assuring people that “being solitary is just as good if not better.” When I finally did find my first coven, I stayed longer than I should have because I’d already worked so hard to get there. They weren’t quite right-—not traditional enough, not stable enough, not healthy enough—-but it had already taken me so long to just find them. What if that’s the closest I could ever get?

In retrospect, I can see that a lot of what I was looking for was validation. In searching for “real” Wicca I made a lot of unfair compromises, met a lot of astonishingly broken people, and became more disillusioned by Paganism, Wicca, witchcraft, and everything in between than I can meaningfully convey.

But I also found myself.  Haha, psych. No, what I found was that it pays to have standards. Because some groups and some people are just better and healthier and more effective than others.

There’s a lot to be said for the experience of seeking. Man, it can blow pretty hard, but it does make you more capable of recognizing worthwhile teachers, leaders, and groups. It also makes you more humble, slower to anger, and more patient with other seekers. Not to mention you acquire more mundane skills like recognizing good reading material from bad, asking worthwhile questions of the right people, and dealing with the constant barrage of naysayers (be they Christians or realer-than-thou witches).

I eventually found exactly what I’d been looking for (minus that scene in The Craft where butterflies pour out of the sky in happy acknowledgment from the gods). It’s easy to overlook, but there are stable, grounded people who identify as Pagan, too. Some versions of Wicca make more objective sense than others, leading to more useful places and more meaningful experiences. Some witches are more effective than others (and some are not witches at all, when it comes right down to it). Some people make productive contributions to your life and others should be avoided entirely. Sometimes it pays to wait it out instead of jumping into whatever comes along.

The sorts of judgments you make as far as identifying these things is totally up to you and your own agendas and experiences. I’m grateful for many of the opportunities I’ve had as a seeker—-I feel like they’ve made me a better coven leader, if for no other reason than I know what not to do—-but I also wish I’d had more patience. I’m a step or two closer to disillusionment than I would like, even though I can see now that there’s more good in Pagan communities than bad. I can also be cynical when meeting new people, figuring that I can quickly stereotype them and file them away without consequence (categories include “secretly misogynistic male witch chasing ass,” “self-hating New Ager trying to justify poor life choices,” and “know-it-all twenty-something guru who thinks tumblr reblogs constitute authority”).

The bad comes with the good.

But I think teenaged Thorn would have been pleased in the end.

How to make sure everyone at the open ritual thinks you’re full of shit

Just in case you were really determined to go to your first open ritual and alienate as many people as possible, I present these powerful tips. Also useful for sabotaging your attempts at starting your own coven, making friends online, or garnering any kind of long-term respectability amongst your local community.

1) Tell everyone you’re a hereditary witch/your ancestors died in a witch hunt/your grandmother was a witch or any variation on that theme.

This makes you sound really powerful and confident. We are all super impressed, especially given how few of you we’ve met over the years.

Hey, we’re all six degrees from Kevin Bacon or whatever, so there’s a fair chance that many of the other people in the room also have some kind of hereditary tie to the goings on of some historical witch whatnot or other. Depending on how we want to define “witch,” most of us could concoct some kind of magical ancestry that makes our being here tonight fucking predestined too. A half-century (give or take) after Wicca, witchcraft, and Neo-Paganism became popular in the United States, some of us actually were raised in a magical tradition.  You might genuinely have some kind of family lineage. Your grandmother might actually be an honest to god witch. It doesn’t matter. If that’s the first thing that comes out of your mouth when you introduce yourself to other witches, then get ready to be laughed at the second you leave the room.

Everyone who’s been around for more than a couple of years has heard a few of these stories, and they usually come attached to the inexperienced, the unstable, or the insecure. You might be a different case altogether, but many won’t give you a sincere chance in hell after that. I get so many witchvox seeker e-mails that start with, “I come from a long line of historical witches” that it barely even mentally registers anymore. Not once have any of these people been someone I wanted to invite to circle a second time. You might be the exception, but I would suggest waiting to throw that card down until you’ve come around more than once.

2) Make sure everyone knows you’re a high priest/ess.

You worked really hard to earn that title. I mean, look at all the books you’ve read. That is a shit ton of books.

You might actually be one (according to whatever the standard du jour is), but nobody outside of your own group or tradition cares. Rather, they might care if they believed you, but they’re so used to teenaged solitaries, self-stylized Internet gurus, and I-read-everything-by-Scott-Cunningham-yesterday types that they are physically incapable of taking you seriously. And if “everyone is their own high priest/ess” then why do we have to keep hearing about you?

3) Offer to teach. Make sure everyone knows how much you love to teach and that you’re always available to answer any questions.

The Craft (especially your brand of Barnes & Noble Wicca) is an oppressed, dwindling art form. If you don’t plagiarize every passage out of Scott Cunningham and distribute it online, how will the tradition survive? We need you.

I’m sure you’re plenty qualified, but the other six-dozen teachers who were here right before you weren’t, and they’ve already given you a bad name (and the only people who are going to take you up on your premature offer are people who you probably don’t want to hang out with in the long run anyway). It doesn’t matter how good you are. Unless you’ve already established yourself publically somehow (Book? Hugely popular website? Festival tour?), most are just going to assume you’re six-dozen and one.

I have no idea exactly why so many think they’re qualified to teach. It’s like witch puberty: you hit the year mark and suddenly it’s time to “share your knowledge” (Send me asks, guys!). I’m all for a group of peers sharing ideas, don’t get me wrong, but teaching implies a greater level of responsibility and accountability. And most people are bad at it. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been at your path for a year, five years, or twenty years. Some people are only suited to be teachers in the vaguest “the world and everyone in it is my teacher” sense. And that’s okay. It doesn’t have to impact your Craft at all. I’m fucking terrible at all kinds of things that have equally little to do with my effectiveness at witchcraft.

Good teachers recognize that they can’t effectively teach everyone at any given moment and wait for those moments that are appropriate. Good teachers don’t teach purely to drive their own egos or lord their superiority over students (and, often, other teachers). They especially don’t use their positions to sexually coerce others. This shit happens. It happens regularly. So if you show up at an event and immediately offer your services, don’t be surprised when folks start acting wary.

4) Talk shit about other local groups, individuals, or traditions, especially to people you don’t know very well.

It’s not like we all know each other and it’ll circulate. Especially if it’s on Facebook later. Nobody even looks at Facebook.

There are times when it’s appropriate to say something negative about someone else. But to strangers at an open ritual is almost never one of those times. Pagans and witches tend to know each other, even in big cities. And you never know who else is in the room. I sat next to a guy at a potluck last year and listened to him say disparaging things about Gardnerians for ten minutes, totally clueless that he was literally surrounded by members of the only Gardnerian coven in town. Nobody said a word, but he never received a warm welcome from anyone present again, Gardnerian or otherwise. You want to bitch about other people, do it amongst your friends.

Mind your own business and don’t be a dick to people when you don’t know what you’re talking about. Pettiness, envy, and gossip come with being human—we all do it—but be smart about where you drop your shit (hint: don’t do it on your Facebook wall).


This advice is at least partially solicited, if harsh. In running a group, attending open circles, hanging out at festivals, and living on the Internet, I hear plaintive questions about strategies for making Pagan and witch friends almost every day. Even when people don’t want to belong to covens or groves, they often still want some kind of community. We’re so obsessed with giving ourselves labels, and this is in part because we want to be intelligible to other people. We want to fit in with others occupying a category (however narrow), even if we have very little interaction with these others. We want to be accepted as authentic.

Many of us found our way to witchcraft, Paganism, Wicca, or whatever because somewhere along the line—however indirectly—we just weren’t very good at fitting in with other people. I have seen some truly incredible examples of social ineptitude at open rituals and Pagan events. I’ve seen people just fucking determined to start their own coven/make witch friends/build real community absolutely blow their chances (at least locally) by doing one (often more than one) of the above. So here’s hoping that this spares someone at least a little bit of public trauma, at the cost of a little private blog-reading embarrassment.

Why there are no children

On occasion I receive inquires from seekers and friends as to why children are not permitted in circle. Poor Corvus, who runs an open group here in Charlotte, receives these questions from would-be attendees routinely, despite detailing Moon Circles‘ policies and the reasoning behind them on multiple websites.

“Can I bring my children?”

“I have a baby and no sitter.”

“We want to raise our children to be Wiccan.”

And any number of variations thereof.

Corvus’ reasoning for not allowing children is straightforward: they’re distracting, often loud, quickly bored, and usually under-monitored by the parent in question. Circle, frankly, can also be scary for small children (when there are masks, dark rooms, chanting or yelling, and the occasional brandishing of weapons). Most parents I’ve met insist that their own child is an exception, but those of us who aren’t blinded by adoration know otherwise.

In Foxfire, the decision to not allow children is equally straightforward though somewhat more expansive.

Wicca (by which, I remind you, I mean Gardnerian Wicca) put simply, is a priesthood and initiatory Mystery tradition. It’s not suitable for children anymore than it’s suitable for anyone incapable of making oaths and understanding their consequences. And that’s even before we consider skyclad ritual, sexual themes, and the fact that we’re up half the night drinking. You might be fine with some or all of these where your own child is concerned, but a group leader can’t make that call for everyone.

The Wiccan parents I know encourage their children in more broadly Pagan traditions (holiday celebrations, deity worship, time outdoors, etc.). I’m also certainly not suggesting that children shouldn’t learn magic or a love for nature/Nature/the earth/whatever. The first generation of American Neo-Pagan children are full grown and having kids of their own. There are resources available for priming children to follow your Wiccan path without expecting them to be allowed to participate in adult Mysteries. There are books, scouting programs, home study courses, festival resources, and often a very creative body of fellow parents ready to offer ideas. There are also plenty of other kinds of circles and groves that allow children–some are even specifically designed for them.

In Christian traditions, kids go to Sunday school, catechism, or youth group. They generally don’t take vows, and sometimes aren’t even expected to sit through adult sermon services, participating instead in ministries designed for their age group. While I suppose a particularly motherly high priestess could fashion something comparable for her coven’s children, the tradition itself has little if anything to directly address the subject.

I think this is a point of dissonance for people trying to turn Wicca into “just another religion.” It doesn’t really occupy the same kinds of social roles we often expect of religion as a category (i.e. “religion” as, basically, Protestantism). In this case, it doesn’t tell you how to raise your kid. People from Christian traditions find meaning in developing Christian-flavored rituals such as Wiccan baptisms and Pagan Sunday School (Belmont has one, hosted by a local parent), but these are personal additions. Personally, I can think of nothing to say to a Pagan child that I wouldn’t say to a non-Pagan child (“Let’s go outside/don’t be an asshole/learn to read/hooray science/holy crap stop eating that.”), so Pagan Sunday School is lost on me.

Beyond these periodic logistical questions, these aren’t matters I spend much time on. I’ve opted to not have children, and I trust that many of those seekers with small children will find more suitable groups or at least make appropriate arrangements while in circle. Children are not permitted at the Covenstead because of the distraction they pose and because the place simply isn’t safe for them. We all make sacrifices to become part of the tradition, in terms of time, travel, and energy. The process is harder for some than for others, and harder or easier at different points in time. Those seekers and coven members with children have a special set of challenges, but they can’t receive special accommodation at the expense of others, each of whom has their own challenges.

Post Pagan Pride Day

Another successful Pagan Pride Day come and gone and all I can say is I sure am glad that I’m not an organizer. I was completely drained by the end of the day, just leading a workshop and speaking on a panel. If I had to do any more I’d probably just keel over and die in a puddle of tears and alcohol. So mad props to those of you who put that shit together for the rest of us because Mother of Christ it looks impossible.

From what I could tell, everything went well. Foxfire certainly had a presence, with Corvus’s open group Moon Circles NC leading the opening ritual, me on the interfaith panel, and Lore’s last minute decision to make coven shirts. I had made one the day before for The Boy, with special text on the back that read “Personal Security” amidst a field of runes. Moon Circles had a group pavilion set up as part of merchants row where we mostly just parked our cooler and box of Foxfire zines (which are awesome and you should buy one). I spent the day running around in an erratic flurry, somewhere between slightly buzzed and HELP PANIC ATTACK.

The panel seemed to go well enough. Once again, I think there were some sound problems, which are inevitable without some kind of PA. I made an effort to move forward when it was my turn to speak and to project as best I could. There was a bit more audience interaction than last year, too, which was great. We had conversations about our personal histories, our group standards, recommended reading, and the state of The Pagan Community.™

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I sort of wish we could be a little more confrontational sometimes. Interfaith really isn’t the place for that, which I think is part of why I find it so uncomfortable. The premise of interfaith seems to be that we should all be aspiring to some kind of sameness, which necessarily requires the sacrifice of conviction (and we all come out looking like beige liberal Protestants). Obviously I’m not a proponent of killing each other or fighting for the sake of fighting, but I also don’t think we’re all fundamentally “different paths up the same mountain.” I have no desire to hold hands and play nice with religious others that stand in opposition to, for example, my values as a feminist or as an LGBTQ ally. I also don’t feel compelled to create space for Christian voices, which is something that I feel like I’m increasingly asked to do (and the subject arose at the panel, briefly).

My workshop had fourteen attendees, which pleased me. I tried to facilitate some good conversation and leave people with questions to go home and mull over in a serious way. I passed out a lot of business cards, had some good questions, and was otherwise pleased considering it was my first public workshop.

The best part of the day was probably handing out copies of The Burning Times and subsequently making friends with some of the folks in the local Church of Wicca. I tell you what, we’re very different in some fundamental ways, but their leaders are some of the smartest people in our community. Not to mention hilarious and a blast to hang out with. Don the Druid and I bonded over our shared hatred for popular Pagan music. Rev. HP Tony Brown (who will always be Rev. HP Tony Brown to me, even if the title isn’t technically accurate anymore—I just like saying it) is going to contribute a comic strip to The Burning Times (which you can purchase here). I think dinner and drinks may happen at some point. I would post links to their blogs but nobody’s updated shit in years, which makes me feel really good about myself in comparison (because I’m shallow). [edit: Rev. HP Tony Brown blogs here.  I’m clearly just incompetent.]

By the time I got home that day, I was completely exhausted and never wanted to say words to anyone again. I didn’t even have the energy to finish my glass of wine that night.

So for those of you who had your own PPD experiences, how were they? And if you’ve never been to one, you should try to make it out next year. It’s a good opportunity to meet others, be in safely Pagan space, and spend more money than you probably have.

Big Things Brewing

Piedmont Pagan Pride Day is fast approaching and I’m in the midst of workshop preparations. I’ll be leading a discussion concerning the role of nature/Nature in contemporary Paganism and, essentially, arguing that “nature” is as man-made a concept as any of our local skyscrapers. As both a happy urbanite (who desperately misses the roar of DC traffic—not even kidding) and an avid outdoorswoman, I’ve come to see phrases like “earth-based religion” and “connecting to nature” as misleading at best and outright nonsensical at worst. I’m hoping to push some buttons, inspire some conversation, and leave people with a better appreciation for the actual place they live instead of fostering a (mostly useless) fantasy reminiscent of Walden Pond. We’ll also be talking about practical strategies for actually connecting to physical spaces.

Also that day, I’ll be representing Gardnerian Wicca on an interfaith panel. Interfaith usually strikes me as somewhat dubious, given that I’ve never been an advocate of the belief that we’re all just “different paths up the same mountain,” and don’t see how anyone could be after any kind of training in the academic study of religion. Gardnerian Wicca is also consciously exclusive. So what am I doing there? Well, largely, it’s an opportunity to interact with other group leaders whom I wouldn’t see otherwise. Last year I enjoyed a rousing conversation with one of the founders of the local Church of Wicca, and I think it was good for everyone to see that we can disagree, be thoughtful adults about it, and leave friends. And, though we’re different, we might have more in common than we think we do. It’s also important to me that Traditional Wicca (by which, as always, I mean BTW and its closest kin) has some kind of presence in my city and isn’t just lost amidst the cacophony of “harm none” and “witchcraft is whatever you want it to be.”

Last year’s moderator allowed for no audience interaction (thereby, I think, misinterpreting his title), which was so unfortunate I could have cried. This year I encourage attendees to show up with eager hands. I’ll call on you myself if no one else does, though I have faith in this year’s choice for moderator.

Then of course there’s the usual rush of fall. Fall means visiting Craft family, making new contacts with people inspired or re-inspired by Halloween, and lots of really intense ritual. For me, it’s also the start of deer season. Much more on that as things approach, but suffice it to say that I’m having All The Feels and am beyond ready for our first hunt. There will also be hiking, writing, tarot, mead, and hot chocolate by fires.

The Boy and I will also be taking a special trip north to see Omnia—a special post-Halloween treat. There will be costumes.

It should be a big year.

Fertilizing the Lawn: Paganism in the Bible Belt

“Well, it is the Bible Belt.”

This is a common lamentation uttered by Pagans throughout the Carolinas (and, I know, elsewhere). Nobody showed up to your first open circle? Well, it is the Bible Belt. Can’t find a coven to join? Well, it is the Bible Belt. No Pagan shops or public gatherings? Bible Belt. Failed Pagan book club? Not a big enough turn-out at Pagan Pride Day? No one to accompany you to that out-of-state festival you so want to attend? Bible Belt. Bible Belt. Bible Belt.

This is a cop-out. And a bad one, at that.

You want to know a secret? There is no perfect Pagan community where every group succeeds, every open circle is brimming with amazing people, and multiple Pagan shops stock every book you could possibly want. There is no fabled land in which you can put out a meet-up announcement and fairly expect a dozen attendees on the first go, where all you need do is don your Pagan jewelry in public and magically make friends on the street, where no religious opponent (or whatever) ever says anything to discourage you.

Many years ago I tried to start a Pagan study group in the suburbs or Northern Virginia, well within the bounds of the DC Metro system. Nobody ever showed. And thank goodness for those shops in Occoquan and Alexandria because there were hardly any resources in DC itself at the time (unless you were Reclaiming, which I wasn’t). Talk about not the Bible Belt. So why did I feel so alone there?

The problem wasn’t with DC. The problem was that I didn’t know how to look yet, not really. And I didn’t realize that building something from the ground up requires such enormous patience. I’ve started a lot of groups over the years and tried to instigate a lot of Pagan activities, and it’s gone like this everywhere I’ve ever lived:

1) I advertise in all the usual physical and online space.

2) I get replies from people who are just so thrilled to have found me. I’ve never not gotten replies, no matter how small the town. Oh it’s so great that you’re doing this I desperately want Pagan friends. I’ve been looking for a group forever. I would love to read that book/go on that trip/do that thing. Never fails.

3) Nobody does what they say they’re going to do. You’re probably alone in a coffee shop or a rented space somewhere.

4) Better buy more coffee so you don’t look too awkward.

There are then two choices that present themselves:

Admit defeat and don’t do the thing, or do the thing anyway and trust that other people might do the thing with you once they see how much fun you’re having doing the thing.

I started a successful reading group in Cary, NC this way. For a long time, nobody showed, so I sat there and read by myself. And kept advertising. When they finally did start trickling in, they were unreliable. People tend to only want to do things if they don’t have to actually put in any time or effort. But a few months down the road, I had a small handful of regulars who were genuinely glad to be there and happy to choose books collectively and actually read them. The group grew. Eventually, I had to leave, and someone had the enthusiasm to step up running the thing without me. This group existed for years (and for all I know still does) after I moved.

Communities don’t just arise spontaneously out of the aether; they must be actively constructed by people dedicated to the task. Where people care about community, community exists.

I’ve often been surprised by the kinds of communities (or lack thereof) I’ve found in both large cities and small towns, and, anecdotally, there doesn’t seem to be this inexorable correlation between the population of Pagans and the tenacity of the local Christians that so many describe. Manhattan, for example, is often described like some kind of Pagan Xanadu, but I found it to be surprisingly lacking (given its population and liberal flavor) in explicitly Pagan activities, including, surprisingly, shopping (perhaps related to the closing of Magickal Childe). Chicago was better, and I’m glad to see that there seems to be quite a bit more in DC since I left more than ten years ago.

My strongest experiences of Pagan community have occurred in Norfolk, VA and here in Charlotte, NC. I’ve also been pleasantly surprised in Huntsville, AL. All of these are politically conservative, Southern towns with strong, vocal Christian populations. I also found lots of Pagan happenings in Atlanta, GA (which didn’t surprise me at all, though I’ve heard plenty of complaints to the contrary) and understand that there are strong communities in various parts of Tennessee, Kentucky, and Florida.

So I’m sort of left wondering what being in the Bible Belt has to do with anything.

This is coming from someone who, for the sake of research, routinely attends a theologically conservative Baptist-affiliated Church and is otherwise pretty entrenched in assorted Christian communities here in Charlotte, surrounded by people who know I’m not Christian and care about me anyway.

A handful of people showing up to quietly protest at Pagan Pride Day with a couple of signs and a few Bibles—outside of the grounds—does not equate to being persecuted. Consider groups who actually experience marginalization in the forms of routine violence and systematic oppression and it becomes hard to feel too sorry for white Neo-Pagans, who mostly just have to deal with the occasional proselytizer and asshole coworker.

But I digress.

I’ve often found myself in positions where I’ve lamented the state of The Pagan Community™ (as though that’s even monolithic). I fantasize about living outside of the South. I fantasize about England and Ireland. I wish for book clubs with the capacity for graduate-level analysis. I wish for Pagan zines left at coffee shops. I wish for drum circles and a shop that specializes in titles from small British presses and independent American publishers.   I wish to finally start that Pagan rock band. I wish to say things like, “Hey! Let’s start an archery club/martial arts group/other thing-with-weapons devoted to our own Pagan gods!” and have those within earshot enthusiastically go FUCK YES and call me about it once we’re all sober.

But those things are only going to happen if I make them happen.

Summer is wonderful because summer means Free Spirit Gathering and Starwood. The amount of work that goes into putting on a Pagan festival looks to be so enormous that I actually feel guilty for just paying to show up and enjoy the awesome. I always leave thinking, “Does living a few hundred miles away and being scared of the Internet mean that I can’t shoulder some of this enormous burden? What can I do to aid the awesome?”

Usually all I can do is throw money where I have it and cajole everyone I encounter to come with me and do likewise (I’m sort of like an FSG evangelist). If I lived closer and weren’t scared of the Internet, I’d probably do more.

But that leaves me free to work on the community in my own city.

Whatever the circumstances, I’ve committed to staying in Charlotte. Charlotte is my city, now. Foxfire territory. It doesn’t matter where I came from or what my expectations were. If Charlotte’s community sucks, it’s because I’m failing at my mission. At the end of Free Spirit my friend Scott said to me, “If the grass is greener, the solution isn’t to leave or complain. The solution is to fertilize your own lawn.”

And I’m certainly not going to let something as nebulous as the “Bible Belt” stop me.

So what can you do to make your own community stronger?

And who’s up for that rock band?

Kenny Klein

Holy shit, guys. Kenny Klein was arrested for possession of child pornography:

Patheos

As someone who spent a number of years with Blue Star and who continues to think highly of the tradition I find this news particularly upsetting. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how it plays out. I think it’s important to remember that Pagan leaders and authors, even our elders, are still only human beings. I’ve seen a tendency, particularly in those new to our community, to assume that Pagans are somehow above the kind of actions that we abhor in the “mundane” world. From something as relatively petty as assuming that no one would ever steal from your camp at a Pagan festival to something as serious as the charges brought against Klein.

I’ve often heard defensive statements from fellows that begin with, “Well, no REAL Pagan/Wiccan/witch/whatever would ever do that!” But that really isn’t helpful. To simply claim that people who commit crimes or otherwise further social ills are not really a part of our community is to fail to acknowledge that we are human beings subject to all the same shit as other human beings. It is naive. Because these things do happen in our community.

Much love to Blue Star and those negatively impacted by this sad turn of events.

Paganism as Fandom

RD 20%I had a realization yesterday after reading one of Ali’s entries in Foxfire’s commonplace book.  We’d been having a conversation about why we’re Pagan.  Given that Paganism isn’t really a definable thing, given that our beliefs and practices tend to be different from what I’ll call the Pagan “mainstream,” and given that we don’t always feel like we have a lot in common with other people who describe themselves as Pagan, what the hell are we doing?

And Ali wrote something to the effect of:

“I love hanging out with other Pagans.  I love going to festivals, seeing other people’s rituals, talking about different kinds of magic, and being a part of a bigger community.  I’m Pagan because it’s fun.”

And that probably sounds shallow to some of you, but I’m in the same boat.  I’m Wiccan for all kinds of profound-sounding spiritual reasons that require me to make my serious face, but I’m Pagan because it’s fun.  And that’s actually just as profound and serious.  The Pagan community has felt like home to me since I showed up at my first open ritual (a very elaborate one in Washington, DC, designed to find a cure for AIDS and facilitated by a very lively coven of Radical Faeries).  We are an amalgamation of people from a lot of different backgrounds, and we have conflicting beliefs, practices that seem unrelated to one another, and often very different values.  About the only thing we seem to have in common half the time to me is that we identify as Pagan (whatever that means).

We’re a lot like a fandom.

I’m sure someone has written about this before (if not, they should), and give me a sec before getting offended.  Understand that I don’t mean that to be dismissive.

Fandoms are groups of people (often very large groups of people) united by a deep, common love for a show, a book series, a band, a genre, maybe even just a concept of something (like the Furry fandom).  It often looks silly to outsiders, but fans are serious.  Things are canon or not canon (and this matters).  People create art, music, stuff.  They build identities within their fandoms through the creation of OCs or else by establishing themselves as other kinds of contributors.  It’s every bit as about identity construction and meaning making as anything we might conventionally think of as “religion.”  Not for everyone, of course, but the potential is there.

Pagans behave a lot like people in fandoms, I think.  We’re even organized in similar ways.  When we go home, we may be very different people, but when we’re together we’re united by our identity as Pagans, whatever that means to us.

I don’t mean this to be dismissive precisely because I think fandoms are serious business, just as I think Paganism is serious business.  These kinds of communities make life meaningful and valuable to members.  They provide creative outlets and help us to build identities.  Often, they help lonely people make their first and best friends.  They help us to feel like we have a place and like we matter.

It suddenly makes even more sense to me why Paganism attracts so many nerds.

The Utility of Witchvox

I’d debated listing my outer court on the Witches’ Voice, but finally went ahead this morning.  Part of my hesitation was rooted in good old-fashioned Gardnerian snobbery (“Oh, they’ll find us if they’re really looking hard enough…”), but the rest was in concerns over the utility of Witchvox.

I remember the heyday of the nineties and early two-thousands.  We did everything through Witchvox.  Regular Internet access was still pretty new for most of us, and the idea that you could just log on and read through hundreds of listings to find other people was like wandering into Xanadu.  I’ve had a Witchvox listing since 1999, and practically all of my Pagan endeavors, for good or ill, have begun there.

But, increasingly, I find that people haven’t even heard of Witchvox.  When they do know it, they don’t have listings.  From what I can tell, a substantial portion of posts by groups and individuals are inactive.  My own area’s page is particularly disastrous (good lord, just look what happens when you search “Gardnerian”).  There are fewer articles than in previous years, and I can’t remember the last time the site had any aesthetic updates (and remember when they used to clear our inactive posts?).

So do you all still use Witchvox?  Is there something else our there I should know about?

While we’re on the subject, does anyone still use Amber & Jet?  I still get the e-mails, but from what I can tell A&J is dominated by first and second degrees who should know better, non-BTW people, or just wildly off topic.

Being Wiccan and Pagan at the same time. Or not.

Over the weekend, I once again found myself in a situation where I was surrounded by other Pagans and thinking, “I have nothing in common with these people.  What am I doing here.”

There continues to be a lot of talk, as always, about Pagan solidarity.  Letting go of differences, coming together as a community, and even forming institutions.  Any time there’s tons of Cherry Hill folks in the room there’s going to be sighing and lamentation over the perceived lack of Pagan social programs: chaplains, counselors, charities, government representation, etc.

I get it some of the time.  We live in a country where “real religion” equates to “religion that looks like Protestantism,” and not having some of the things that go along with that can put individuals at a disadvantage.  Coupled with the weirdly Jesus-y language people use to talk about “the Goddess” and “Nature,” it’s gotten to a point where I’m very confident in asserting that I am not practicing the same religion as these other people.  This is particularly evident when we start talking about “Pagan values.”  It seems that we can all more or less agree that there can be no definitive list of values that will adequately blanket everyone who considers themselves Pagan, but we keep right on trying.  You guys let me know if you come up with anything, because I sure as hell can’t (and please don’t say “Nature,” for the love of all that is holy).

It’s weird being part of a community while simultaneously not part of it.  I sort of imagine it being like warring nation-states vying over ethnic identity.  Or something.  I’m Pagan by default, but I’m Gardnerian specifically, and those obligations and affiliations trump anything that happens in the larger community.  Whether it’s because I’m shallow or just because I’m human, it matters to me that I have some kind of distinct identity.  My Craft has no place for chaplains, seminaries, churches, and the all-loving Jesus-Nature-Goddess, and if that’s what my community cares about now, then can I continue to count myself one of them?

It’s a bizarre place to be in.  It turns out that the question isn’t, “Can you be a Wiccan and a Christian at the same time,” (because Cherry Hill is hell-bent on demonstrating that you can) but rather, “Can you be a Wiccan and a Pagan at the same time?”

And, of course, I upset people further when I add that by “Wiccan” I mean “Gardnerian.”  That’s its own conversation, and a tired one.  Suffice it to say that, whatever word you’re using (and who cares), I’m talking about something very specific, and it’s not the same thing that’s described in Scott Cunningham.

I’m sure it seems silly to some of you to fret over labels and identity categories like this.  But I’m of the mindset that these categories create selves, and not the other way around (see my post on the High Priestess).  They’re constructed and sometimes arbitrary (and, always, changeable), but they matter.  Labels are constructed and arbitrary, but we nonetheless think it’s important to mark the bottle of bleach so we don’t mistake it for something else.  That’s oversimplification perhaps, but it matters that we understand that all traditions are not one tradition.  If we’re all the same and it doesn’t matter, then why have a community at all?