Fur and Fangs, or ‘A Lesson Unknowingly Learned’

Let me a tell you a story about a babby Witchy, young and naive in the ways of not being a douche.

A few years ago (more years than I’d thought) I was a high school senior, attending college classes in the evenings thanks to a scholarship program. The college I went to was well known for its very liberal and diverse student body, so of course I joined up with their Pagan student organization as soon as I heard it existed. At the time I was still trying to figure myself and my path out, as many are at 17, but this group was a very good influence, with members knowledgeable in many paths and understanding of my desire to distance myself from Neo-Wicca. I still have friends that I met in that group and in my classes there.

One night, this group held an event in one of the student houses, a sorority or something of the sort. It was a guided meditation, led by one of the Pagan org’s older members (though they didn’t have much of a hierarchy). This meditation, unbeknownst to me, was based off of a popular book called Animal Speak, which you might recognize immediately as a huge pile of appropriation, stereotyping and bastardization of certain First Nations beliefs (you can tell this just by looking at the cover, though the content is much more disappointing, I’ve come to find out).

In either way, I knew nothing of the book or of the idea of cultural theft and oppression at that time. I thought the idea of a guided meditation to find one’s “spirit guide” was a little hokey, but I went along with it because I had never done anything like it before, so I figured why not give it a try. The meditation began with a journey through natural landscapes, past bodies of water, mountains, and forests. The participants were guided into a clearing on a sort of precipice (or at least, this is how it appeared to me). We were told by the narrator that it is here that we would meet our “spirit guide” in the form of an animal (looking back on how fucking stereotypical and appropriative this is makes me cringe). I stood. I waited. I felt nothing. There were a few moments of silence in which the participants were supposed to converse with their guide and find out some things, etc. Still, I stood alone at the edge of this clearing, looking around and expecting something to come and find me. I began to suspect that this whole guided meditation thing just wasn’t working for me like it should. . .

And then I was hit with a flurry of fur and fangs. It wasn’t any identifiable creature, more like a cartoon “Tasmanian Devil” of ginger-brown fur and biting little teeth. I was scratched and bit all over, attacked by these tiny claws and jaws. It felt almost as if I had offended a colony of squirrels or something. I was not seriously harmed, but it was a definite shock. The meditation came to an end only a few minutes after that, and I slowly backed away and out of the clearing, re-tracing my path back to reality.

The bigger shock came to me at the end of the session, when I asked what that meant for me. No one had any answers for me, even the ‘leaders’ of the group and session. They couldn’t understand why I would have been attacked. Every other participant had <of course> met some fanciful creature that they “always knew” they were “connected with.” Wolves, cats, dragons, unicorns, it was like a bad fantasy novel. Now, of course there are those of us who do have guides in these forms, but I strongly suspect that this particular group was simply indulging their own desires and fanciful whims with the choice of these animals.

I had largely forgotten about this night until a few days ago, when it struck me as both a hilarious little foray into Fluffy Paganism and a very direct smack across the face for trying to stick my nose into something that was so obviously a mockery of certain cultural practices (and a very poor one at that). It is usually in retrospect that I understand these lessons learned, though I do hope that my younger self took something away from that experience, I honestly can’t remember what I attributed the experience to at the time.

Well I hope this little foray into the past has been entertaining, at least. I haven’t had much to blog about recently, but this has been on my mind for a while. Laters.

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Pagan Blog Project, Week 10 — E is for Enigma

I had a hard time coming up with stuff for this week. . . So I’m just going to ramble a little bit about personal things.

I went to my counseling session this week, and we spoke about my difficulties in making and maintaining friendships. Apparently my proclivity for verbose speech, critical thinking, and frank discussion of oppression politics and social issues all make me ‘intimidating’ to others. That begs the question, would I rather soften myself and be “approachable” or maintain my integrity and outspokenness at risk of being isolated.

Some would accuse me of being an elitist, but I would honestly rather be isolated than be “friends” with people who violate the very basic assumptions upon which I base my ethics. This does not mean that I require those around me to believe exactly as I do on every topic, that is ridiculous. But people who insist upon ignoring critical thinking, hurting those who are members of oppressed groups, and violating boundaries and emotional limits of others really have no place in my life.

What on earth has this to do with witchcraft?

There is an enigma, suspicion, and taboo surrounding witchcraft. I work within a specific cultural context, that of European and European-based American witchcraft. We are beyond the time (at least mostly, hopefully) of actual witch trials and killing. But there is still a suspicion held around those who claim to practice witchcraft, especially those who are not so fluff and love like myself, who unapologetically hex and bind.

I suppose my point is that, as someone who has always had trouble in school, making friends, even understanding social interactions, I feel like being an ‘outsider’ is simply who I am doomed to be. Adding the title of “witch” into the mix only serves to make it more concrete, and perhaps even to give me a place on the outside. I do not call myself a hedgewitch because I do not Ride the Hedge frequently enough to have formed relationships on the Other side. But I often feel that I am relegated to liminal places for many reasons, and it is a position that I would dearly love to embrace. But this silly little part of me still longs for friends. Even outsiders have their little bands and connections. I do dearly love my friends I’ve met online, but it’s hard sometimes when there isn’t anyone here to give me hugs or go to tea with.

I don’t mind the enigma of outsider-ness, and by no means do I mean this to be a pity post (I’ve got many blessings to be thankful for). It is simply part of who I am, part of my life, and especially part of my witchcraft.

EDIT: for some reason, it totally escaped my mind, I forgot to mention the taboo against mental illness, queerness, and being a fat femme and daring to take up space. All of these things contribute to my identity as a witch and as an outsider, though I know I have privileges of appearing to be cis, straight, and (being) white, which saves me quite a lot of grief on a daily basis.

Don’t Fucking “Blessed Be” Me — (gif warning)

I absolutely hate the term “blessed be” when used as a greeting. I am not Wiccan, nor Neo-Wiccan. You do not know my beliefs, and I have not asked to be blessed by you. Something that comes explicitly from a ritual context and implies a blessing is being conferred should not be bandied about like a trite “wassup”. I am of the opinion that people who use “Blessed Be” when greeting absolutely everyone and anyone in the “pagan” “community” (oh lookit the scare quotes) have something to prove, whether to themselves or to others. It’s like a Christian praying loudly in public, and it makes me just as nauseous. (BTW that’s not to say that Christians shouldn’t be public about their faith, I’m making reference to something Jesus himself apparently said, so chill.)

More importantly, implying that you have placed a blessing upon me without my permission is a blatant violation of my personal boundaries and beliefs. It is similar to aiming any other sort of magical or religious work at me, and I take it as a personal attack, especially if it comes from folks whose religious beliefs I do not share in the least (e.g. “I’ll pray for you” Christians and “blessed be” Neo-Wiccans). Walking up to a random person and assuming that your religious blessing is wanted just because you know they practice witchcraft is one of the most presumptuous things I’ve ever seen.

So, just for future reference, don’t fucking bless me, especially in the name of gods that are not mine, without my explicit permission. It is taken as an offense and will be deflected like any other invasive magic.

Pagan Blog Project, Week 9 — E is for Ethics

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I often joke that I have very few ethics. It is somewhat true, especially in comparison to many reconstructionist folks. I give no fucks about Laws of Three, ‘Noble’ Virtues, or Redes of any kind. My ethics are short and to the point, and rely only on my own logical conclusions. They are also mutable and subject to change, so if you’d like to question, poke holes in, or discuss any of these, feel free!

  • Hospitality — this has both historical precedent in myths and modern importance to me. The attitude that ‘any visitor could be a god in disguise’ is an intriguing and practical one, though I am quick to reprimand or remove those who violate the rules of hospitality (e.g. don’t put your nasty shoes on my fucking coffee table, y’all) or put my family in danger. The same goes for myself. When I am a guest in another’s home or space I try to show deference and respect as much as possible. It is very important to me to recognize the boundaries between my space, public space, and private space of others. This applies even when I am in public, as every individual has their own private space bubble around them. It seems that many folks do not understand this nowadays, which frequently leaves me feeling miffed/violated after being in public for a long time. I suppose I am quite sensitive to my personal space, and I try to give the same consideration to the personal space of others.
  • Honesty — Now this one comes with a caveat, as most morals must. I make it a point to be straightforward, blunt even, and to get my point across with as little bullshit as possible. To me, it’s a sign of disrespect to sugar-coat things and beat around the bush with information. But my own safety and the safety of others comes before total honesty, so in certain situations I will lie my ass off to avoid danger. This does not mean that I am not truthful when I am in the wrong, but rather it means that I will conceal certain information to avoid danger (e.g. don’t tell them you’re a witch if you’re in the middle of an evangelical church, yo). Otherwise, I do make it a priority to speak my mind (when it’s appropriate) and to make myself clear and straightforward in my message. I have little patience for social niceties and small talk beyond a certain point (though some must be used to maintain hospitality, of course, it’s a big complicated thing).  I have often been accused of being too blunt, but I take it as a complement.
  • Self-Responsibility — Similar to honesty, in that I believe one must take responsibility for one’s actions, words, and deeds inasmuch as one is capable of doing so. I do not hold the exclusive and hurtful belief that one should be totally self-reliant and depend on no one etc, etc, as that is ignorant of those whose abilities and disabilities exclude them from “independence” as some “warrior”-minded folks would have it. This includes myself, though I do not abdicate moral responsibility for my actions, at times my illnesses do not allow me to be fully independent, and there is no shame in relying upon those who are willing and able to support you.  (This has turned into a bit of a ramble).  In short, one should be as answerable as possible for their actions, whether for good or bad.
  • Non-oppression — This one has the potential to be very long-winded, but I will try to keep it succinct. As a white, cis-passing, settler who is privileged in many areas, it is highly important for me to check my privileges as much as possible. This is honestly more of a “minimum standard of human decency” than an ethic, but I figured I’d include it here because many of those in the witchy and pagan community don’t know shit from Shinola when it comes to NOT being oppressive appropriative asshats. Non-oppression includes active and fervent opposition to: cultural theft, appropriation, racism, sexism, transphobia, transmisogyny, ableism, heteronormativity, identity-shaming, cisnormativity, neurotypical-centric thinking, and a whole fuck ton more that I can’t list here right now because my brain is not fully awake.
  • Chosen Family — I see a lot of recon and heathen types getting up in arms about kith and kin, and to be quite honest it makes me a bit nauseous. I have never been able to find a religious group that I felt fully comfortable in, and the thought of considering people my kin just because they share similar beliefs makes me revolt instinctively. I am a big advocate of chosen family, and that includes the right to choose not to have a family. I swear no fealty to any leader, king, or priest. I swear no fealty to those with whom I share blood simply because we are genetically similar. I am loyal to those who are loyal to me, but honestly (and many will call me a hard-hearted bitch for this) I do not hesitate to remove toxic people from my life, no matter how much “friendship” they claim between us or how much blood is shared. But those that do win my friendship will find themselves in relation with one of the most giving, generous allies that they could know. (This is not meant to be bragging, but whatever) I will literally give the shirt off of my back and money from my pockets to those who have earned my trust and admiration. I have learned that my very strong devotion in friendship can cause me hurt when it is not reciprocated, but I would rather be hurt than not extend the full power of kinship and friendship to those who deserve mine. I still do not like the term ‘loyalty’ because, to me, it implies some sort of oath that does not have exceptions. No matter how close you are to me, if you break my hospitality, if you break my boundaries and hurt me, I have no qualms about kicking you out of my life (after some very intense discussion of course). My first priority is my safety and the safety of those I love.
  • Oath-keeping — This is somewhat related to the above. I don’t believe in swearing fealty to leaders or religious groups. It’s just a recipe for hurt and loopholes galore. But the few oaths that I do swear I aim to fulfill to the fullest extent. My word is worth its weight in many precious stones, and I’d like to keep it that way. To undermine an oath is not only to mar my reputation, but also to break the power of my own word. I swear very few oaths, but those that I do swear I aim to keep at stake of blood. (Similarly, I have very few friends, but those that I do keep are worth risking many things for). It is not often that I extend oaths, though, and I am especially wary of it between gods, spirits, and those who are not chosen kin.

At the sake of not sounding like a hard ass drama pants, I think I’ll stop there. I will add a bit of a note on cursing ethics. I find nothing wrong with binding or hurting those who have crossed me. I try to keep it in equal measure. I don’t kill for kibble, you know, but I also am not opposed to fighting back or reprimanding those who have crossed boundaries and hurt myself and others. I do try, however to avoid exploiting privilege in my curses, and to not let them follow oppressive narratives. This is one of the reasons that I will not, under any circumstances, facilitate any sort of questionable consent. Sexual intimidation and harassment are not things I would wish on anyone.

 

I’d love to hear your thoughts, counter-arguments, and critiques. Like I said, these are just a vague outline I cobbled up, I don’t really have an official list o’ ethics, but I do value learning the flaws in my thoughts and making changes to fix them. Sorry I’m a day late. Toodles.