It’s a Moot Point: Pros and Cons of the Solitary Witch Life

covenLitha celebrations have basically been a week-long thing this year. The kick-off came the day before the solstice and was a completely new thing to me; my first Pagan moot*. I was a bit apprehensive, I have to admit. Nowadays I’m a pretty outgoing person (or I’m too stubborn to let my awkwardness stop me from doing awesome things… either way, it gets stuff done!), but I only knew one person in the room. And I’d only met her in person once before – at an anti-fracking rally, a very witchy way to meet – so rocking up to this cute little cafe with a room full of people I didn’t know was kind of scary. Of course, it was lovely. I felt very welcome, and the talk by Maggie Webster on the presentation of witches in fiction was brilliant, especially as she wove issues of misogyny and ageism into her work which made my SJW heart light up! But I have to say, I think my favourite thing about the night was being in a room where we were all collectively referred to as Pagan. It was such a nice feeling not to be the only one in a room for once! That feeling got me thinking about the ins and outs of being a Solitary witch, so I thought it would be a good topic for a ramble.

First, being any sort of Pagan is often quite an isolating experience purely because there aren’t many of us. It may be growing very quickly in the UK, but chances are you’ll be a bit of a talking point in your work/school/uni if you’re open about your practice. This leads to one of the main issues; often being a Solitary witch isn’t a choice. There aren’t places of worship in a traditional sense – you can’t just go to your local Church/Synagogue/Mosque and be among like-minded people. Seeking out people to practice with takes more work, and often you won’t find anything. This is especially true if you’re looking to join a coven; moots are gatherings based on discussion and socialising as opposed to performing rituals and magic. Covens aren’t found in as many places, so often it takes quite frequent travel unless you are in a bigger city. My closest coven is in Manchester; that’s 45 minutes each way, and even with a railcard that adds up!

On the other hand, while sometimes I wish I had a community that I could worship with, I’ve had some encounters with Pagan groups that haven’t been particularly pleasant. I’ve been banned from a few Facebook groups that at one point were my online covens because I’ve pointed out when members have been racist; as with any group, there are going to be bad eggs in covens and moots. However seeing as groups made for Pagans are so few and far between, the ones that exist are often so tight-knit that problems like this aren’t dealt with. I’d imagine that comes from a fear of the whole group disintegrating, which I can understand… but this makes them unwelcoming to marginalised people and presents them with a pretty unappealing choice: putting up with toxic people or being spiritually isolated.

As far as I’m concerned, my craft is something very personal and I’ve never had any desire to perform magic or rituals in a group. I know for a fact that other people’s presence would be a distraction. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t want a sense of community in my faith, and it is challenging when you’re part of a minority religion – and I imagine that goes for most minority religions. I don’t think there is really a solution to that problem, unless you plan on converting the masses (which I definitely wouldn’t condone!), but it’s important to recognize the fact that being a witch can be a lonely thing. And it’s okay to feel that way; I don’t think there’s a person alive who doesn’t struggle with the demands of their faith. This is just one of ours.

Blessed Be )O(

* Moot is an old English word for an assembly of people, adopted by Pagans to refer to meetings.

We’re Here, And We’re Lumped Under ‘Queer’ – Lesbian Erasure

Labrys_Pride_Flag

This is the lesbian flag – one of quite a few. There is also one with varying shades of pink that has been categorised as the femme (or ‘lipstick’) lesbian flag, although it isn’t necessarily just for femme lesbians to use, and more recently butch lesbians have added one in shades of blue. Surprisingly, this is fairly uncommon knowledge unless you are in the lesbian community – and I mean specifically lesbian, not just queer/WLW spaces. The vast majority of the time, we are lumped under the rainbow flag with gay men. Which makes sense to some extent. After all like gay men, we experience exclusively same-sex attraction.

However, there is a problem with this. While we share several experiences with gay men (as we do with all LGBT+ people), lesbians have our own culture, our own history and our own issues. All facets of the LGBT+ spectrum do, which is why bisexual, trans, intersex, ace, genderqueer, pansexual, etc. have their own flags. The recent Pride Month post from Tumblr staff showcased some of these – but completely left out the lesbian flag. Last Pride (and this was the Manchester Big Weekend, not a small-town affair), the only piece of merch I could find that had the lesbian flag represented was a fabric rose – and I was told by friends that Leeds and Liverpool were the same. Most people (even other lesbians) aren’t aware that we have our own flag. I didn’t until another lesbian pointed it out to me. And to be honest, that makes me sad. Like I said, we have our own history: Rita Mae Brown, Gladys Bentley, Patricia Highsmith and of course Storme DeLarverie who threw the first punch at Stonewall and patrolled the streets to prevent other lesbians being attacked… Lesbians have paved the way for the rights not only of gay people, but of women in general. Lesbians fought long and hard for queer women to be included in the women’s movement in the first place.

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Art by : terrabellum.tumblr.com

In a similar vein, it is important to have a flag separate from the rainbow flag as lesbians not only face homophobia but also misogyny. Of course, all queer women do deal with that intersection, however a lot of lesbophobia comes from this insidious belief that men must play some part in a woman’s life. Lesbians more than any other group subvert that ideal, which is why lesbian intimacy is so often marketed as existing for male pleasure (see basically every lesbian porn vid ever created). Lesbians are seen by straight men as nothing more than a challenge; I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been harassed and groped in clubs when I’ve been dancing with and/or kissing another girl, to the point when I’ve had to fight to get away because no one was listening when I practically screamed at them that I am 100% gay and no, they aren’t going to change my mind and no, they can’t watch me have sex with a woman. I’ve been filmed and photographed without my consent while I’ve been dancing with other women, drunk and just trying to enjoy my night. And this isn’t a rare occurrence; this is basically every time I go out.

If there’s one thing I know from experience – and from the experiences of the very few lesbians I know personally and the few more lesbians I follow on tumblr – it is that being a lesbian can be a very isolating experience. More and more people identify with ‘fluid’ sexualities, and while there is absolutely no problem with that it does mean that there are very few spaces for women who are exclusively attracted to women (or women-aligned folk). Which is why I hope the lesbian flag gains more momentum. I don’t know the figures, but I would say that we are a smaller subset than orientations that are attracted to multiple genders – but we are still here, and we deserve a symbol of our culture, our struggles and our identity to be visible in the community rather than just be lumped under homosexual, just like any other group under the LGBT+ umbrella. Oh, and this is DEFINITELY inclusive of trans lesbians. TERFs can stay away.

Blessed Be )0(

My Drop-Out Experience

As I found out in October 2015, the internet is awash with uni drop-out success stories. For these people, dropping out was the best decision of their lives – they ended up with dream jobs and none of the debt. At this point, I was having a miserable time at university. I wasn’t getting on with my housemates, I barely slept or ate, I skipped countless seminars and felt completely overwhelmed. Or maybe underwhelmed is a better word. I had expected my uni experience to be amazing – again, largely because of endless buzzfeed posts about first year being one huge party. I had been struggling with mental health issues for years and things were coming to a head in my final year of college. Getting to uni, a whole new city with a whole new group of people, was my promised land. It sounds ridiculous, but I realise now that I was expecting it to solve all my problems. After years of family and friends telling me that with my grades and genuine interest in academia uni would be the making of me, I got there and it was very nearly the breaking of me.

I dropped out in late November, a week after I was prescribed anti-depressants. The whole process was horrible. I look back on it now as a blur of panic attacks and arguments, constantly trying to justify my decision to people who would bemoan how I was wasting my intelligence. Not to mention my Personal Tutor was an utter bellend and nearly made me cry when I was finalising the whole thing. Oh, and I somehow got an ulcer in my left eye. Honestly, everything that could possibly have gone wrong managed to do so. Anyway, long story short I moved back in with my parents, got a temp job at M&S and started looking for apprenticeships, intern work, work experience… I applied for the Sky Academy, I contacted museums, radio stations, publishing houses, law firms, anything that vaguely appealed to my interests. Then when my contract with M&S expired, I immediately got another job. In fact, another two jobs. And I kept on sending out CVs, filling out applications, practically bending over backwards trying to make myself into a success story – not a dropout loser, but someone who had gone against expectations and came out on top.

And it didn’t happen.

That’s really what this post is about; I think it’s great to have these inspirational stories about people who have done well without uni. It isn’t for everyone. But while they can be encouraging, they can also leave you feeling like a failure when that doesn’t happen to you. Being realistic, in this day and age with a flooded job market and when an unpaid internship or work experience just isn’t practical for many lower-income people, it is ridiculously difficult to find a promising career even with a degree. Realising that made me resentful at first; I came to the conclusion that to get to the sort of job I wanted, going back to uni was basically my only option. But why should I be forced back into something I hated because I didn’t have any other opportunities? It seemed deeply unfair. In fact, it is deeply unfair.

Luckily I have found a course and a uni that I actually want to do. As I said, I’m a nerd. I love studying. Going back to another uni and a course that is more practical to my interests makes sense for me, and I’ve made enough progress in my mental health to actually look forward to it; something I never thought I’d do! I’m not for a minute suggesting that I shouldn’t have dropped out. It absolutely was the best decision I ever made… but not because it resulted in me achieving a career I love with none of the debt. Dropping out for me made me re-evaluate where I wanted to go in my life. It gave me some distance from the enclosed environment of school or college to think about what I really wanted to do. It gave me the opportunity to pursue other interests – to get more involved in social justice causes, to spend more time on my spiritual growth, to write my novel. It gave me a much-needed break from the constant pressure of deadlines and exams. On a practical level, it allowed me time to work and accumulate a decent amount of money that would help me with the costs of accommodation (and beer tokens, of course). Most importantly, it made me realise that I really wasn’t well and that my first priority should be sorting my head out. The decision to drop out is what made me get better, and now I’m prepared to go back and smash a law degree.

So if you’ve dropped out or are considering it; if it’s what you need, then do it. But be prepared for a hard slog and a long wait for your success story. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but I feel like there’s a lot of bullshit surrounding both uni and dropping out (or not bothering with uni full stop). Neither is easy, and neither is a sure-fire recipe for a dream job. It all boils down to keeping your head above the water, making sure you’re as healthy and happy as you can be, and doing what is best for you.

Blessed Be )0(

Tackling Transphobia in Witchcraft

trans witchHappy Pride Month everyone! In celebration of this month, I wanted to write about another thorny subject in the Witch community – transphobia and cissexism in witchcraft. A little disclaimer: I’m not trans, so I’m also going to link some witchcraft blogs run by trans folk if you want more information. I’m also covering this from a Wiccan point of view, so I’m not speaking for every branch of Paganism or witchcraft and there will be things I miss out. I’m always learning myself, so please bear with me!

Wicca has the reputation of being very LGBT+ friendly; seeing as we don’t have any Holy Book written when being queer was culturally seen as wrong, there’s nothing telling us that gay isn’t okay. Also, most Wiccan traditions don’t stigmatise sexuality (whether straight or not) in the way a lot of more mainstream religions do. While a lot of those religions see sex as something purely for procreation, sex for pleasure is a big part of its importance for most Pagans. As I’ve said previously, pretty much the one solid rule in Wicca is ‘do what ye will, and it harm none‘ – which as far as sex is concerned translates as ‘if everyone involved is a consenting adult, do whatever you like’. So it might come as a surprise that in recent years, Wicca has come under fire for transphobia and cissexism. I certainly was – but reading about it, I definitely agree that we have a problem.

One of the most glaring issues is the equation of genitalia with gender. A lot of  imagery of Wiccan rituals involves phallic and vaginal imagery (the most obvious being the Maypole – traditionally buried in the earth during Beltane celebrations to represent sexual union bringing new life). In itself, this isn’t necessarily a problem. But a lot of Wiccans – and New Agers in general – like to refer to ‘male’ and ‘female’ energies when using this imagery, and therein lies the problem. For one thing, not all men have penises and not all women have vaginas. For another, it completely erases the existence of non-binary witches.

Furthermore, I’ve seen criticism towards Wiccan worship of a God and a Goddess as enforcing a gender binary. Again, I agree with that if taken literally. The God and Goddess are two halves of the Divine All, and presenting them as two opposites erases the fact that gender is a spectrum and there are many, many more than two of them. However, I see God and Goddess as convenient terms for two energies that balance each other out. I don’t see them as gendered beings – it doesn’t particularly make sense that they would be, as part of a genderless entity! A lot of imagery in the more traditional rituals equates the God and Goddess with phallic and vaginal, and this is problematic for the same reason as above. Not to mention I personally find it a little bit odd to focus on what your deities’ have in their pants.

As I’ve already mentioned, using phallic and vaginal imagery in itself is fine – it’s a handy way to represent fertility, union and a host of other things. But what Wicca – and a lot of New Age religions – need to abandon is imagery that supports the conflation of genitals with gender, and enforces the idea of gender as a binary structure. Transphobia and cissexism are already very present in our lives, and getting rid of these ingrained opinions is difficult. But if Wiccans truly believe in doing no harm, then we need to collectively let go of these practice that alienate trans members of our community.

Blessed Be )0(

Trans Witch Blogs:
sapphic-witches.tumblr.com
lgbt-witches.tumblr.com
magicalboyslovingboys.tumblr.com
trans-cendentalwitch.tumblr.com