Believing 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.
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.
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(
I’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(
Litha 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.