That’s So Fucking Raven

A couple of evenings ago, in (yet another) Facebook group, my friend Scarlet decided to answer some questions that had been posted about a particular book. In doing so, Scarlet explained that the author was an initiate of Traditional Wicca, but that the book itself was not about Wicca.

This prompted some unsolicited feedback from a feisty, young Pagan named Raven, who had very strong feelings about Things Wiccan.

Here’s a fun pic of Raven:

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Raven was incensed that anyone would dare discuss Wicca without villainizing it and reported Scarlet’s comments to the moderators. Additionally, because the author’s website mentioned Lillith (three pages in, at the bottom of a long list of workshops and rituals), Raven accused Scarlet of appropriating Jewish culture.

Scarlet is Jewish.

In response, the moderators put Scarlet on mute, meaning that she was unable to post or comment for 24 hours. They also made some noises about “handling how Scarlet’s ethnicity/culture was assumed,” but it’s important to note that they did not mute Raven, nor anyone else involved in the conversation. As Scarlet herself put it, “Let’s silence the Jew and talk over her about how woke we are!”

And that’s what pisses me off about these performative little ankle-biters more than anything else: They have no problem stepping on minorities, so long as their virtue signals shine brighter than everyone else’s. And they have such a mob mentality towards the “rightness” of maligning Wicca, that they fail to realize it was Wiccans fighting for religious freedom in the not-too-distant past that allows them the luxury of being terribly and conveniently oppressed by Wicca in the present.

On the bright side, the wee bairns won’t ever do anything more drastic than complain, since a fear of ill-defined appropriation has replaced the Threefold Law as the preferred rationalization for inaction. “I want to practice Witchcraft, but that might be appropriative, so I’m not going to,” they say with pride, sounding eerily similar to last decade’s insta-witches loudly swearing off spellwork to avoid the fabricated wrath of the Universe. Meanwhile, Traditional Wiccans like Scarlet will continue the business of proactively educating themselves and others, secure in the knowledge that the Ravens of the world have literally no power over them.

But I did find Raven’s physical mailing address (ye Gods but I love the Internet), and I’m sending him an anonymous copy of Gerald Gardner’s Witchcraft Today. I mean, hey, after all, someone has to be the villain. Might as well be Wiccan me.

Any Resemblance to Fictional People is Purely Coincidental

[A telephone conversation with Ben.]

Me: “So yesterday’s blog post was kind of a palate cleanser. I figured I needed to take a break from bitching about those anti-Wiccan children on Facebook. But you know how I mentioned Discordian Witchcraft? I did some googling, and it turns out that no one’s written about it yet, so I’m going to write books about it, and then I’m going to go to conferences and be on panels and dress all in black.”

Ben: “With gray and purple accents?”

Me: “Well, of course. Except I need a Five-Fingered Hand of Eris pendant to complete the look, but I couldn’t find a sterling silver one anywhere, so I guess it doesn’t exist, which sucks, even though I did find a cool magnet.”

Ben: “Okay, I need you to rewind and think about that last sentence.”

Me: “Huh?”

Ben: “‘I need this pendant that doesn’t exist, but I found a magnet.’ That was just… peak Thumper.”

Me: “…”

Ben: “Like, if I was writing you as a character, that is word-for-word something I’d have you say.”

Me: “I mean, can anyone ever really have too many magnets?”

Ben: “Listen, I’ve got a box in the garage next to the kaftans packed to the brim with magnets, and… oh, shit, hang on a second. The timer just went off. I’ve gotta finish activating the THC in this weed butter so that I can get the next batch of jazz cookies in the oven.”

Me: “Wow.”

Ben: “Wow?”

Me: “All of that was just… peak Ben.”

Ben: “… Touché”

Enter Life, Stage Right

In a shadowy alcove on the first floor of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, right around the corner from the dinosaur exhibit, a video kiosk plays a continuously looped short film called Enter Life. Created by cartoonist Faith Hubley, Enter Life explains how four elements – carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen – came together to form simple amino acid chains, which went on to develop into one-celled organisms. As such, these four elements were the building blocks of life on Earth.

The elements in the movie are represented by these darling psychedelic amoeboids, who caper about while announcing their names like submolecular cheerleaders: “Carbon! Hydrogen! Oxygen! Nitrogen!” As the story progresses, the creatures join together in conga lines and locomote through the primordial soup, cheering and singing and devising an acronym for themselves: “Carbon! Hydrogen! Oxygen! Nitrogen! Chon chon chon, chon chon ch-chon! Chon chon chon, chon chon ch-chon!

I saw Enter Life a little over 30 years ago, during an 8th-grade field trip to Washington, D.C., but the Chon Song stuck with me. Late at night, or alone in an elevator, I’ve been known to dance around gleefully, chonning to my heart’s content: “Chon chon chon, chon chon ch-chon! Chon chon chon, chon chon ch-CHON!” [spirit fingers]

The Greek poet/philosopher Empedocles is credited with originating the concept of the Four Elements as objective states of matter: That is, everything in existence can be broken down into the fundamentals of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, which can change, combine or revert to their original forms, based on the effects of two opposing forces, Love and Strife. (I have ideas about combining Empedocledian doctrine with Chaos Magic and Traditional Wicca to create Discordian Witchcraft, but that’s a blog for another time.)

This perception of the Four Elements have permeated philosophical, medical, and psychological thought for centuries, influencing everything from the Hippocratic theory of the Four Humours to the Myers-Briggs Personality Test. Most recently (and by “recently,” I mean the late 1800s), the Four Elements were incorporated into the Western Mystery Tradition, eventually finding their way into modern Paganism. A lot of Pagans now view the Four Elements as metaphorical – Air is the intellect, Water is emotion, etc. – but it’s kind of mindblowing to think that 2500 years ago, a Greek philosopher declared that life was made up of four elements, and then a cartoon produced in the early 1980s declared that yes, he was right.

Some of Hubley’s other animated short films include The Big Bang and Other Creation Myths, which foretells the coming of the New Age; Yes We Can, featuring Gaia the Earth Mother; and Witch Madness, a documentary on the persecution of women throughout history, culminating in the witch-hunts of the Middle Ages. Methinks Ms. Hubley might have something else to tell the class.

I’m feeling peckish. Skip ahead to the part where we eat babies.

“I’m so happy this group exists. Now I can bitch about Wiccans to other people aside from my friends when I’m drunk.”

It’s like a train wreck, y’all. I can’t look away from that Facebook group I wrote about in my last post. The first line of this entry comes from that group, and the person who posted it later started a thread entitled, “What irks you most about Wicca?” It garnered more than 400 withering responses, all of them pretty much what you’d expect from young, predominantly white people who’ve been given blanket permission to hate something: Wiccans are weak, heteronormative posers who are hobbled by stupid rules, and they can’t curse, and they’re also tyrannical monsters who steal everything, and they’re probably all going to hell for their sick, sexual obsessions, so there.

If it sounds like I’m not taking them seriously, it’s because I’m not. Mostly. I mean, they’re mainly just sheltered twenty-somethings who haven’t experienced Paganism outside of the Internet, but they’re also indulging in depthless gestures of support while scapegoating a demographic deemed “lesser than.” They haven’t done the work (what Phil Hine calls “deconditioning,” and what Paul Huson describes as “unbinding”) to liberate themselves from the perverted Protestant ethics ingrained in our society, so they need an appropriate Devil on whom to place blame, thus absolving themselves from personal responsibility. And that is decidedly not okay.

Below are some of the more hysterical and horrifying comments (It’s a public group, remember, so anyone can read and share the posts), along with my own color commentary at no additional cost. So, let’s see: What irks these people about Wicca?

“Their victimhood fetish & persecution complex.”

Yes. How dare the people we’ve banded together against feel like we’ve banded together against them. But this does sort of highlight the weird contradiction I noticed in the litany of complaints — Wiccans are powerless, yet also a dominant, oppressive force that cannot be resisted. As follows:

“The pressure that magic has to be done ~this way~ usually requiring a lot of resources.”

“It took me a long time for me to accept that my practice can be simple and easy thanks to Wiccan pressure.”

“Yeah I’m pretty sure Wicca is why I’m not into Celtic mythology, as it was my introduction.”

First of all, I am in love with the concept of “Wiccan pressure.” But considering how much disdain these people have for Wicca, you’d think it would maybe have, y’know, less control over them?

“I hate that there’s this element of spiritual gaslighting within it that basically blames you for any kind of suffering you experience while simultaneously expecting you to utilize your suffering in some sort of forced martyrdom. It always made me super uncomfortable and was weaponized against me a lot when I was interested in Wicca.”

Yeah, I have no idea what they’re talking about. But good use of social justice catchphrases!

“I feel like it’s regularly wiccans who want to get all over you for hexing. Like if you don’t want to hex that’s fine, BUT I’m a witch who believes in self-protection and firm boundaries.”

They can “believe” in firm boundaries all they want, but if they’re this affected by people “getting all over” them, they don’t actually have any.

“I have expressed interest in multiple groups only to learn they actually have different roles for men and women and I’m not into it. I’m the femme-est cis women, but I asked if I could choose the men’s role and the technical answer was yes, but I could only choose one.”

So basically, she could’ve taken any role, regardless of gender, but they wouldn’t let her take ALL the roles. Huh. Enjoy that phantom penis, hon.

“The disregard for asexuality. Like sorry I don’t give a shit about fertility.”

Okay. Wicca is, at its core, a ferility cult, but sex (or sexual attraction) and fertility are two very different things, and they are not reliant on one another. Plants and animals that reproduce asexually are still fertile, and fertility itself is not limited to reproduction.

Here are some Merriam-Webster definitions of the word “fertile”:

  • Producing or bearing many crops in great quantities.
  • Characterized by great resourcefulness of thought or imagination; inventive.
  • Affording abundant possibilities for growth or development.

As we’ve discussed before, one does not need to be be heterosexual and/or cisgender to practice Wicca. However, if you fully believe that fertility is, by its very existence, stifling you, you’d probably be better off on a spiritual path that doesn’t feature a bread holiday.

But hey! Let’s talk about sex.

“My ex-friend wanted me to join her Wiccan cult. Luckily she lived in the states so I could only do stuff over the Internet so, you know, I lied. But I’m not unconvinced there wasn’t weird sex stuff happening. Which is awful because the coven was her, her parents, and her parents’ one female friend.”

“OMG! I don’t know that they were wiccan but my friends and I ended up on a thread the other day where a ‘sex educator’ insisted we all must bow to ‘cock power’ as if so many humans aren’t traumatized by that type of thing. They went on to talk about how whether we wanted it or not in order to be fully alive we had to have cock energy in our lives!”

“I saw Goody Cunningham dancing in the woods with Tituba.”

Right. I made that last one up. But hopefully you get the gist, since we’re taking the first tentative steps here into actual alarming territory. Hearsay and speculation are getting framed as fact, and things that have not a damn thing to do with Wicca are under the spotlight as examples of how awful Wicca is.

And that’s some funny-mentalist Christian bullshit right there. The seeds of another Satanic Panic. And these kids are too spellbound by privilege to see it.

In an attempt to get the discourse somewhat back on track, one of the moderators decided to pitch a new topic: “Let’s shift gears from angry to amorous. Share a time that you practiced love or sex magic. How did you do it? Did it work? Absolutely NO shaming allowed.” And of course, the people who, moments before, had been all, “EWWWW SEX,” were now all, “OOOOH SEX,” and posting their favorite love spells, along with the requisite dire warnings about “the pendulum swinging back” on them.

If they ever do get around to deconditioning themselves, the immobilizing belief in pyschosomatic punishment as an unavoidable consequence of witchcraft might be a good place to start.

But then again, I’m one of those dogmatic, no-goodnik Wiccans.

What the fuck do I know?

Wicca Hunt

I came across a brand new Facebook group yesterday, the purpose of which is to discuss the issue of cultural appropriation within Wicca. In theory I could get behind this, except the group members are displaying no real knowledge or interest in actual history, and are using social justice as a front to merrily bash Wicca without repercussion. Which is really just the whitest thing ever.

The group is currently listed as “public,” meaning that one can read through the posts without having to actively participate. The vitriol I can handle, since these people’s opinions have literally zero impact on my personal practice or Tradition, but their ignorance is killing me. In one thread, for example, someone asked (and I quote), “Did Gerald Gardner invent Wicca in 1954?” And various members responded, “Yes. Gerald Gardner definitely invented Wicca in 1954.” Thing is, Gardner’s book Witchcraft Today was published in 1954, but he was writing about Witchcraft in the 40s, and started practicing Witchcraft in 1939. And he never called it Wicca.

I’m not going to join the group myself, but over here in my own lil’ safety place, I would like to inject some accuracy into the topic, and at the very least explain how a practice originally described as Witchcraft got labeled Wicca. Feel free to copy and paste the following into any online debate that strikes your fancy (no attribution necessary — this is my gift to you).

The word “wicca” made its first modern print appearance way back in 1891, as an etymological footnote in Charles Godfrey Leland‘s Gypsy Sorcery and Fortune Telling:

“As the English word witch, Anglo-Saxon Wicca, comes from a root implying wisdom, so the pure Slavonian word vjestica, Bulgarian, vjescirica (masculine, viestae), meant originally the one knowing or well informed, and it has preserved the same power in allied languages, as Veaa (New Slovenish), knowledge, Vedavica, a fortune-teller by cards, Viedma (Russian), a witch, and Vedwin, fatidicus.”

Margaret Murray, the next author to write about Witchcraft as a pre-Christian religion, never used the word “wicca” at all in her works. Instead, she consistently referred to the “Witch Cult,” as did Gerald Gardner when he began writing on the subject. Gardner wrote five books in his life: three about Witchcraft, two of which were non-fiction. The first, his novel High Magic’s Aid (published in 1949 — his previous novel, A Goddess Arrives, was published in 1940) described a secret brotherhood of Witches (no mention of Wicca), while his next book, Witchcraft Today, detailed his personal speculations on the history of the modern Witch cult, specifically the one into which he’d been initiated.

This is where things get a little confusing. But stay with me.

Gardner usually referred to the people who initiated him as Witches, although he sometimes called them “the Wica.” Critics often latch onto this as a spelling error, citing that he probably meant to say “the Wicca,” and that’s certainly a workable assumption, except that in his following book The Meaning of Witchcraft (pub. 1959), Gardner does use the word “wicca” a total of five times when discussing the etymology of the word “witch,” just as Leland had done. Five times, compared to mentioning “the Wica” 17 times in the same book and three times in Witchcraft Today. The possibility of spelling errors aside, it seems clear that Gardner saw a distinction between the Anglo-Saxon wicca and the Wica of his tradition.

So how did we get from the Wica to Wicca?

Proofreading, apparently.

In 1970, transcripts of a series of lectures given by Alex Sanders were circulated among students of the Alexandrian tradition. In this series, Sanders talked extensively about being one of “the Wicca”; whether by Sanders or his scribe, the debatable “spelling error” had been corrected. In 1971, Stewart Farrar, himself an initiate of Sanders, compiled these lectures, added his own thoughts and experiences, and published the now-classic What Witches Do, in which he used Wicca (no “the”) and Witchcraft interchangeably.

The name stuck. And so we find ourselves today.

This is why I get so apoplectic when the know-it-alls blather on about how “Gardner invented Wicca.” Gerald Gardner was just a Witch. Alex Sanders and Stewart Farrar, though, now they invented Wicca.

I flipped through a few more posts early this morning, this time on the subject of Not Wiccan book recommendations, and one white lady was like, “I encourage you to look into local folklore in your area. You would be surprised what you can find out, and what you can tie into your own practice.” Because, y’know, it’s apparently not appropriation if you’re not Wiccan. But it’s fine, really: At some point, someone in the group will get butt-hurt and go on a #NotAllWhitePeople rant, which will trigger a meltdown, and eventually, someone else will report the group, which will get shut down for either harassment or hate speech.

And I’m not charitable, you guys — I will giggle when this happens. It’s going to be hilarious watching them try to blame it all on Wicca.

Cras on Delivery

This blog post was scheduled to be written after a particular glass-encased candle finished burning, so I figured I had at least a week to get around to it. I’d been praying to St. Expedite, though, the patron of procrastinators, and as such, the candle — dressed with Attraction oil and Fast Luck powder — burned down in three days instead of seven.

Lesson learned, y’all.

Traditional offerings to St. Expedite include fresh flowers, pound cake, and praising his name in print. However, in lieu of taking out a newspaper ad, I thought I’d tell you the story of how we met.

There’s a Catholic bookstore not too far from my apartment, where I have spent many a lunch break leisurely browsing and avoiding eye contact with the very friendly, very Christian employees who would probably not be entirely thrilled to know what I end up doing with my purchases. I’d gone in one afternoon to look at patron saint statues — I’d recently gotten obsessed with the Fourteen Holy Helpers and was trying to, like, collect the whole set — when I noticed a foot-tall plaster statue of a Roman soldier stepping on a crow.

I was surprised to find St. Expedite nestled among the Apostles and Baby Jesuses (Jesi?), since he’s one of those not-quite-kosher saints that the Church would officially really prefer God-fearing people stop venerating. Curious, I lifted him off the shelf to see how much he cost: According to the price tag, he was both affordable and “S.O.”

S.O. Special Order.

I thought about that for a second, then rushed to the counter, waving my debit card aggressively.

See, according to legend, a church in New Orleans once commissioned an artist in Spain to produce a statue of the Virgin Mary. However, on the day of delivery, two crates arrived instead of one. The first contained the statue of the Mary; the second, stamped “Expedite,” held a statue of a Roman soldier, and it was decided that Expedite must be the soldier’s name.

And there I was, holding a statue of Expedite that had shown up unexpectedly in the mail, waiting for someone to come along and recognize him.

I’ve been giving him flowers and pound cake ever since, and I only miss deadlines when I forget to pray to him first. Granted, I usually don’t think to pray to him until the deadlines are ready to eat my soul, but I keep his statue clean, and I always come through on the offerings I promise him, so it evens out sooner than later.

A loaf of bread, a jug of organic apple cider vinegar drink, and thou.

In the stage play Bill W. and Dr. Bob, which tells the story of the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous, Dr. Bob describes his addiction thusly: “I got a demon inside me… a real live evil spirit called John Barleycorn.”

That line always struck me as weighted, but it wasn’t until last night, on the eve of my eighth year of recovery, that I realized why: It’s fitting that I got sober a couple of days before Lammas, the celebration of the First Harvest, because when you think about it, I really did sacrifice John Barleycorn to ensure my own survival. And that was an uncharacteristically good decision on my part.

So here’s to you, JB, you irascible spirit. Thanks for taking one for the team.

And THAT’S how you hex the Moon. Thank you for coming to my TED Talk.

I know I’m the last person to get around to discussing this, but as you’re probably already aware, a group of “baby” witches on TikTok allegedly tried to hex the Moon, which prompted a bunch of “elder” witches on the same platform (the primary requirement for elderhood apparently being purple eyeshadow) to glare mysteriously into their webcams and scream, “WE’RE ALL GONNA DIEEEEE.”

I’m not much of an investigative journalist, but as far as I can tell, the whole thing started when someone on Reddit was like, “Hey, those witches who hexed the Fey are going to hex the Moon next,” and various Netizens reacted accordingly. Okay. So. Alright, while it may not be the popular opinion, I am going to go out on a limb and say nobody actually hexed anything (or Anyone), for a couple of reasons:

1) It’s rumors and rumors of rumors right from the get-go, which is never auspicious.

2) It’s also literally a plotline from the fifth season of The Magicians.

For the sake of argument, though, let’s say some kids really did band together to toss woo at the Moon. What would possess them to attempt this? Well, as Jason Mankey rightly points out, kids are just going to do dumb stuff sometimes. (To quote one of my favorite comic book characters in her first appearance: “I’m thirteen. Stupid stunts come with the package.”) But there are also those suggesting that the bigger issue is the lack of support and educational resources for youngsters who want to practice witchcraft, and I agree with them as well. And I feel like I can be of assistance.

So gather ’round, children, and prick up your ears, because I’m going to teach you how to hex the Moon properly.

First off, we’ve got a LOT of historical precedence to work with. From ancient Graeco-Egyptian spells to bind the Gods, to taking back offerings when the Lwa don’t answer prayers, to burying St. Joseph to sell a house, occultists have long used coercive tactics to garner results from the Divine. But, since we’re specifically talking about the Moon, I want to look at a spell from Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches, published in 1899 by the folklorist Charles Godfrey Leland:

Great Diana! thou
Who art the queen of heaven and of earth,
And of the infernal lands–yea, thou who art
Protectress of all men unfortunate,
Of thieves and murderers, and of women too
Who lead an evil life, and yet hast known
That their nature was not evil, thou, Diana,
Hast still conferred on them some joy in life.

Or I may truly at another time
So conjure thee that thou shalt have no peace
Or happiness, for thou shalt ever be
In suffering until thou grantest that
Which I require in strictest faith from thee!

Leland goes on to say:

Here we have again the threatening the deity, just as in [Inuit] or other Shamanism, which represents the rudest primitive form of conjuring, the spirits are menaced. A trace of this is to be found among rude Roman Catholics. Thus when St. Bruno, some years ago, at a town in the Romagna, did not listen to the prayers of his devotees for rain, they stuck his image in the mud of the river, head downwards. A rain speedily followed, and the saint was restored in honour to his place in the church.

What’s important here is that the curse doesn’t go into effect unless Diana doesn’t grant the witch’s request, which, if you’ve ever worked in retail, resonates. You know when a customer starts yelling about calling the 1-800 number on you, so your boss is like, “Ugh, fine, whatever, just give them the discount”? That’s pretty much what’s going on here. Personally, I try to take a more positive-reinforcement approach to my relationships with spiritual beings, but hey, a witch uses what works. If extortion is your bag, then I’m not going to ask to speak to your manager about it.

Although this does beg a question: How do the Gods Themselves feel about devotees hurling threats and invectives at Them for personal gain? For that answer, we’re going to flip over to Tumblr, because nine times out of ten this is how I think it goes down:

AntsAs for the TikTokians who may or may not have hexed the Moon in the first place, the whole kerfuffle will fade away soon, and the culprits will be forgotten, and the jokes and memes that are funny in context will stop making sense in the very near future. (“Why the fuck would anyone hex the Moon?” the newly-minted elder witch wonders, six months from now.) So I’m just going to go back to mucking around with herbs and oils, and tending to my daily devotions. And, y’know, ritually waterboarding a statue of the Virgin Mary if lighting candles isn’t met with success, because nobody likes asking twice.

Whole Cloth

There’s been a bit of discord in the online LGBTQ+ leather community of late, centered around uniform fetishism. The pressing question is this: Given the current sociopolitical climate, should people still wear police outfits to leather events?

Uniforms have long been a part of leather and kink (as exemplified by everything from Tom of Finland to the Village People), and will probably always remain a part of it, but it was kind of amusing to see all these white men have fits over the idea that it might be in bad taste to dress like law enforcement officers right now. The consensus quickly became that anyone “triggered” by uniforms should, and I quote, “Stay home, walk away, seek therapy,” which tickled me even further, since triggers and fetishes are both intense, psychological and/or emotional reactions to specific stimuli — if one requires therapy, then clearly, so does the other.

I thought about trying to engage some of the louder voices and offer digestible counterpoints, but then I remembered that no one has ever won an argument on the Internet, and that I always have a lot more fun when I’m actively being unhelpful. So instead, I uploaded the following picture with the caption, “Just doing my part to complicate the Great Leather Community Uniform Debate of 2020.”

Collar
I’m also available for handfastings. (Collar by Deviant Leather.)

My goal may have ultimately been to make some heads explode, but this is where this post does a complete one-eighty, because I have not been able to get over how correct that collar looks on me. It’s like the first time I saw myself in leather, or stepped into a Gardnerian circle; like a little voice in the back of my mind is going, “Congratulations! You just found another piece of the person you’re supposed to be.”

So, yeah, in conclusion, I am definitely going to go to seminary based on the fact that I look fetching in clergywear. But I’ve made bigger life decisions using far more superficial criteria, so no one should be too alarmed at this point. Unless one of my loyal Marjorettes has an aversion to the trappings of High Protestantism, in which case I hear you and promise to only wear the collar in social situations where everyone else is dressed like cops.