‘Positive Vibes Only’ – It’s Not As Good as It Sounds

blehBelieving in the power of the energy that we put out into the world is a pretty standard belief to find in most neo-pagan/New Age practices. As a Wiccan, I believe in the Rule of Three and that – as well as just not being a shitty person – directs me to try to be kind and generous. On the surface, you’d think believing in these sorts of principles (the Rule of Three, karma, like drawing to like, whatever you want to call it) is the most harmless thing in the world. However in New Age circles I think it has lead to a kind of ‘sunshine and rainbows’ mentality that shuts down any kind of criticism. And this can really hinder conversations about social justice and how New Age and pagan communities can be more inclusive.

The pre-occupation with being positive all the time and not releasing any negative energy into the world lest it come back on you has meant that justified anger from minorities is shamed and ignored. I’ve been banned from a facebook group because someone had posted something racist (talking about feeling scared because a ‘group of coloured youths’ were near her car) and when she was called out for it apologized. I wasn’t even involved in the original post but commented on her second one: this was my comment. bs 1

This was about a year ago; back when I had a lot more patience for things like this. But even back in my baby-activist days when, I had to point out the ‘I wasn’t meaning to be racist so therefore it wasn’t racist’ defence doesn’t really fly. But I tried to be gentle with my criticism, thinking that would be it. I wasn’t expecting responses. Boy, was I wrong.

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So that was in the space of about half an hour, if that. And it went on for a lot longer – I’m talking about three hours. These are the only screenshots I got before I was banned from the group, along with the two others who were agreeing with me from the start. This has happened another couple of times; a memorable one being when I suggested doing a protection charm for those who felt unsafe after Trump’s election (with an addendum saying that if the post was too political I would understand if the admins chose to delete it) and was similarly jumped on for spreading negativity and division. I don’t have screenshots of that as I was removed yet again. I wasn’t abusive in any of these situations, but being faced with uncomfortable truths apparently is enough to get people very riled up. But they’re riled up because I’m being negative. They wouldn’t ever be caught thinking like that themselves, of course.

This is my issue with the ‘nothing but positivity’ attitude; if your idea of positivity is to ignore injustice and silence those who speak up about it, then who exactly benefits? Considering pagans had to – and still do have to – fight to have our religions recognised and get rid of the stigma around our practices, so many are exclusive and even abusive of those doing the same thing for social justice nowadays. It’s the same as the issue many left-wing people have with liberals; just a heads up, this blog runs firmly on the belief that punching neo-Nazis and the like does NOT make you ‘as bad as them’. Yes, I believe in doing no harm and the Rule of Three. But I also believe that evil prospers when good people do nothing. In the context of social justice activism, doing nothing actively causes harm. Systematic oppression operates on people ignoring it – even more so when they are ignoring the uncomfortable truth that we perpetuate it.

I’m hoping this post will be a bit of a wake-up call for people in the New-Age and/or pagan communities, especially online where it is so much easier to argue with people. I don’t believe that this kind of silencing is done maliciously, but intentions don’t make it any less harmful. Sometimes being positive means confrontation; and it’s up to us as individuals to judge when that is necessary.

Blessed Be )O(

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Spiritual Journeys at the Tea House

dhikrI’ve already touched on my experience at dhikr in this post but to recap; a group of local Sufi Muslims run dhikr as an interfaith community space for prayer and meditation at my local teahouse every month. I’ve been attending for over a year now, and I wanted to write a bit more about it and how important it is to me. I can site going to dhikr as the turning point in my life in terms of my improving mental health and my increase in spirituality. It has honestly changed me.

As I mentioned in my post on Solitary witchcraft, as a member of a minority religion I don’t have much opportunity for community prayer. I’m profoundly grateful that I have found a space that welcomes me despite being a completely different belief system; not only that but celebrates the differences of the people who attend. There was a moment at dhikr months ago when it really hit home what a special community we have; afterwards we all share a meal together, and I turned my head to see a row of four men sat talking and laughing. One was a Jewish Rabbi, one a Wiccan, one a Sikh and one a Muslim Shayk. Different religions, different backgrounds, different races – I’m fairly sure the Wiccan man had never met the others before that night – just relaxing with each other. I’ve learned about so many religions and cultures from the dhikrs, especially as I usually help set up beforehand so I have plenty of time for nattering. I’ve also taught people a bit more about my own faith.

In terms of its spiritual impact on me, I always come away from the tea house feeling such a deep sense of peace. Without fail, there is a moment during dhikr when I almost cry; my spirits feel so lifted, and I feel closer not only to the God and Goddess but the world around me. It doesn’t seem so bleak anymore. What I’m going say next is very idealistic and probably very naive, but the community of people who consistently come to dhikr are a microcosm for what the world should be like; accepting, inclusive, always wanting to learn. I’ve seen groups (notably Gays Against Sharia) claim that you can either support gay rights or Muslim rights – that the two are mutually exclusive. And honestly, I wonder if any of those people have ever spoken to a Muslim before. Because I am as out and proud when I attend dhikr as I am in any other situation. No one has ever raised an issue with it. If anyone there has a problem with it, they have never made me feel uncomfortable or tried to push me out. If seen hate groups like the EDL claim that Muslims want to annihilate anyone who doesn’t follow their religion. Again, still very proudly Pagan, still very much part of this community. Oh, and of course Muslims are all out to radicalize you… seriously, need I go on?

I’ve got to the point when I need to come to dhikr. I feel myself slump spiritually when I have to miss one. It’s such a release from all the spiritual debris that can attach itself to you in such a negative world. It gives me so much strength. It’s probably the thing I will miss the most about my hometown when I go downside to uni, and all the people there that have become such good friends. That’s the only downside!

Blessed Be )O(

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

 

Nazis: Don’t Ruin Our Runes

Appropriation of religious symbols is unfortunately neither unusual or new – a particularly prominent example in recent years is the appropriation of Native American religious attire at festivals. While the damages of this kind of ignorant appropriation are well worth discussing (I’ll provide some links below of informative articles on the topic), this post focuses on appropriation of a more sinister kind; one that affects me very personally. That is the racist appropriation of pagan symbols by Neo-Nazi and other fascist groups.

This isn’t a new thing either. Most, if not all, symbols now associated with Nazism were pilfered from religious traditions. The swastika itself is originally a Hindu symbol of good fortune, and was used in religions worldwide. In some traditions, it is a sun symbol, in some it is a symbol of eternity. Never, until the Nazis claimed it, was it used to represent racial superiority. I wish I had known this when I went past a house near mine belonging to a Hindu family that had small swastikas designed into the glass above the door! The Iron Cross also has Celtic origins; the equidistant cross represents (among other things) the meeting between the material and the ethereal, and the main four festivals of the Wheel of the Year (which makes it particularly relevant to Wiccans and other modern pagan traditions that celebrate traditional Celtic festivals).

However, in recent times Neo-Nazis are more discreet than having a swastika-emblazoned armband. Which leads me to the main matter – the more symbols become well-known, the more these groups appropriate them to their cause. Many modern groups have taken to using runes as symbols of their hatred. Two in particular jump to mind:

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This is tyr, which is a symbol of honour and justice. I think it’s pretty obvious what a perversion it is for literal Nazis to use any symbol associated with justice.


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This is elhaz (also known as algiz or the Life rune). It denotes protection.

 

There are many more runes sneaking into white-power circles – othala (meaning the home/family), nied (meaning determination), fehu (abundance, power)… Runes in particular are a problem as pagans from many traditions use runes in their magic. Reading runes is a form of divination (I have a bag of runes myself that I use to answer questions), and as potent symbols of desirable things many wear them as charms. Some even have them tattooed, which can cause a whole lot of problems during things like screening for the armed forces. I had very seriously considered having runes tattooed on my fingers until I became aware of this.

I’d imagine the reasoning behind using predominantly Celtic and Norse symbolism stems from these being largely white countries; white power groups have tried to make the heritage of white-majority countries synonymous with white supremacy. There are two parts to the message they are trying to get across with using ancient symbols rather than creating their own; firstly, this is our culture. On its own, there’s nothing wrong with that. The real issue comes from the second part – it’s better than yours.

And honestly there’s nothing anyone can say to that other than ‘Get fucked.’

Blessed Be )0(

 

Posts about cultural appropriation:
https://www.thoughtco.com/cultural-appropriation-and-why-iits-wrong-2834561
https://thetab.com/2016/04/05/dreadlocks-white-people-83996
http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/08/honor-native-americans-without-appropriating/

 

Attitudes towards addicts

This is something that has been preoccupying me for a while, starting from an incident at work. The cafe I work at gets rid of the sandwiches at the end of every day, and I absolutely hate food going to waste so instead I started packaging them up and giving them to the homeless people of the high street on my way home. One of my work mates aired his opinions about that; apparently, I was being naive. According to him, most of the homeless were only there because they would rather spend their money on drugs and alcohol. They have plenty of money for food, but they prioritise destructive habits.

It’s not a particularly shocking revelation that he thought that way; a lot of other people at work agreed to some extent. Others have said that some of the homeless deserve the help while others are just making stupid choices and therefore don’t deserve sympathy. It’s something I’ve heard time and time again. And it upsets me, because quite frankly I don’t care what choices lead to them being in their position, they don’t deserve to die. Having an addiction shouldn’t condemn anyone to starve on the streets. I don’t care what they choose to spend their money on; not one of them deserves that. It seems ridiculous to me that having that opinion apparently makes me so radically left wing? I am firmly of the opinion that an addiction is a disease; no one is making the conscious decision to be so utterly dependent on drugs that they would sacrifice the roof over their heads and put up with so much degradation from the public. It is beyond me how people can have so little compassion for people in such an awful position.

Lets be real; addiction is a form of self-harm. When you would rather spend your money on drugs that have a devastating toll on your health, that is self harm. It is an illness and should be treated as such. Now, I agree that the only person who can break the cycle of any mental illness is the person suffering from it, but help and compassion make a hell of a lot of difference. The worst thing I see is people who I know have suffered from mental illness and have self-harmed having no sympathy for addicts, saying it is their own fault and that their decisions are stupid. I self-harmed. And yes, it was a bad decision and I knew it wasn’t good for me. Did that stop me? Not for a long time, and the temptation to relapse was there even longer. Even though is has been around four years since I stopped, the urge still resurfaces every now and again. Every one who has ever self-harmed knows this, and addiction is exactly the same. For both addiction and physical self-harm, one bad decision can escalate until it takes over your life and becomes the only way you can get through a day. You don’t stop to think whether it is logical or not. So surely you’d think people who had been through this would be empathetic? Unfortunately this is not always the case.

I’m really not trying to shame people with this little rant, but I hope this might make people rethink their attitude towards any addict, especially those whose addiction has lead to them becoming homeless. It isn’t as simple as ‘they are the ones choosing to spend their money on drugs so it’s their fault’. While I have never been addicted to any substance, I feel deeply empathetic towards those who do. Self-destruction is something that coincides with many mental disorders. Anyone who exhibits this behaviour isn’t doing it because they want to be a burden on society and get their hands on your spare change. There is a myriad of reasons for addiction and self-harm. But I think it is undeniable that it all stems from some sort of pain, and that always deserves compassion. Apathy is our worst enemy.

Blessed be )O(