‘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.

bs 2bs 3bs 4

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(

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(

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.

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

 

The Controversy of Curses

If we go by spells being a way of directing power and energy to achieve a certain end, then curses are specifically spells that cause some kind of negative effect, usually aimed at a person. This is a pretty controversial subject among witchy circles, largely between Wiccan and non-Wiccan witches. There are two reasons for this;

  • Wiccans as a rule believe in the three-fold law – the belief that whatever energy/intentions you put out into the world (through spells or otherwise) will return to you three times as strong. By that logic, if you curse then it will come back to bite you on the arse.
  • There aren’t many hard-and-fast rules to Wicca, but one most of us abide by is ‘Do what ye will, and it harm none.’ Again, fairly clear why this would make someone against cursing.

However, as I went over in a previous post – not all witches are Wiccans. So while you may choose not to curse, that doesn’t mean you should be policing what other people do. If your concern is someone cursing you, there are lots of methods to protect yourself (herbs like basil and black pepper are particularly good at exorcising negative forces), but that’s for another post. What I’m writing about here is why people might choose to curse – and why I support that, even if I don’t curse myself.

One reason is that if you don’t believe in the three-fold law or karma, then if someone wrongs you it is up to you to take action. I’ve come across a few witches who found that cursing helped them regain a sense of control after some form of abuse, especially if they have been failed by the justice system. I can only imagine how infuriating it is when people who have been through that hear Wiccans preaching at them about a concept they don’t even believe in! Even if it isn’t something as serious as long-term abuse, if someone does something that upsets you, I don’t particularly see a problem with cursing them if it is in proportion to what they have done. Curses don’t always have to be life-altering things.

Another reason is that even if you believe in ‘harming none’, sometimes cursing can be a way of supporting the greater good. There was of course the story of covens of witches banding together to curse Hitler in the forties – while this story hasn’t ever been proven, in more recent years witches across the world have organised mass-cursing of things like the Dakota Access Pipeline via social media. My belief is that in certain situations, you have to take a side – and doing nothing always supports the oppressor. Now, I did spells to support the protesters and offer them protection and strength, but cursing is also an effective way of helping a good cause.

Over time, the more discourse I’ve seen around the morality of cursing, the more I think I am very pro-curse. I don’t know if I could ever curse anyone. I also think, like anything else, there are times when people curse for no good reason. Cursing someone out of sheer malice is something I would never support, and I’ve never seen any other witch support. But it isn’t as black and white as some people have been led to believe.

Blessed Be )0(

How to be a Wiccan 101

Hint: there is no hard and fast way to be a Wiccan.

There are many, many different ways to be a Wiccan, even more to be a pagan and even more to be a witch. And I am getting a little bit sick and tired of reading books that tell you that you must do a b c, or believe in x y z to be a ‘good’ Wiccan.

I’m also getting sick and tired of writers conflating Wicca, witchcraft and paganism. THEY ARE NOT EXCHANGEABLE TERMS. I can forgive someone who is new to these concepts, but people who write Wiccan/pagan/witchcraft based books? Not so much. I’m not claiming to know everything, but I am going to try and set the record straight especially to newer Wiccans, pagans and witches who are worried they’re ‘doing it wrong’. I was there for quite a while myself, trust me.

happy lil witch
Look at this happy lil witch. You think she’s being told what to do?

First of all, the terms Wicca, witchcraft and paganism are often used interchangeably by writers, but they don’t mean the same thing. Paganism is a blanket term for any belief system that doesn’t subscribe to the major world religions, often with a higher focus on nature worship. Wicca is just one branch of paganism, and even that has many sub-sections. Think about it like this; within Christianity, you have loads of denominations. Protestant, Catholic, Quaker, etc. And within those, you have even more; within Protestantism you have evangelical Protestants, Methodists, Calvinists, the list goes on. Assuming every Wiccan believes exactly the same thing is like lumping all Protestants together, and assuming all pagans are Wiccan is like assuming every Christian is Catholic. Just because it is the biggest denomination doesn’t mean it is the only one. Witchcraft, although it is mostly pagans who practice it, is actually a secular practice. You can be any religion, or even an atheist, and still practice witchcraft. I know some Catholic witches who incorporate the angels and saints into their craft. I know some Wiccans who don’t practice at all. So while you can be all three (like I am), you don’t have to be, and you shouldn’t assume that people are.

Now that the definitions are out of the way, another problem I’ve often seen in Wiccan writings is the the tendency to tell people that their way of practicing is the right way. That is the problem I have with organised religion, and why I was so drawn to Wicca in the first place, so it’s frustrating to see it is still present. By all means, tell readers about the Wiccan Rede, describe the Wheel of the Year and give suggestions of how to celebrate them, explain the Rule of Three. But make it clear that these are Wiccan beliefs and not all pagans follow them. Some pagans don’t believe in karma and therefore think cursing is appropriate in some circumstances. I certainly don’t and as far as I’m aware, the laws of karma are central to Wiccan systems so it is unlikely that you’ll meet a Wiccan who is okay with cursing, but that is just Wicca, not paganism in general. I really can’t stress that enough.

I’ve read books in which Wiccan writers have stated it as an absolute necessity that you are ‘initiated’ into Wicca, whether by a self-dedication ritual or in a coven ceremony, and I absolutely disagree. I think it is a beautiful thing to do if you can do it properly, but when I was a young witchling I was convinced that none of my spells would work and I couldn’t do any rituals at all unless I had done this ceremony. So I bought myself some jasmine oil (which by the way is pretty damn expensive, and I was a highschool student without a job at this point) and sat myself down to perform this ritual, trying to get my head in the right place and feel this rush of power and transform into a Wiccan. It was honestly the worst ritual I have ever performed. I was stressed out because I  I wanted to do a ritual for Samhain but thought I had to do this first, my parents came home halfway through and were hurrying me to come down because they had brought food home, and I had to rush through it. I thought I had somehow failed and couldn’t be a real Wiccan. But I went ahead with my Samhain ritual anyway. And it was incredible. I always count that as my first ritual, and it was such a moving experience I ended up crying while I prayed. That was when I realised I had been a Wiccan right from the start. I believe that when you say to yourself, ‘This is the right path for me, I am a Wiccan.’ and you know in your heart that it your true faith, then that is all the initiation you need. If you want to mark the occasion with a dedication rite, that is up to you. I just don’t think it is necessary; Wicca isn’t an elite club. It is a religion. The God and Goddess aren’t going to ignore you if you haven’t performed an extravagant ritual to join the ‘real’ Wiccans. Do what feels right.

I hope you have found this useful, especially if you are new to or are considering becoming a Wiccan, pagan or witch and are unsure where to start. You don’t have to buy a lot of expensive tools just because it says so in a book, you don’t have to perform spells exactly how they are set down and you certainly don’t have to do anything that doesn’t feel right to you. I’m not saying that these books are useless; they were a great starting point for me in terms of realising my faith and in terms of the magical properties of herbs, stones and symbols they are insanely useful, but I wish someone had told me all this before I understood it myself. I’ve come to realise that to only hard and fast rule in Wicca is to harm no one, so as long as you stick to that as far as possible then you’re all set.

Blessed be )O(

Dance, dervish dance

zhikr

I’ve only been to the Zhikrs hosted at the Tea House twice, but it has quickly become something I look forward to all week. I honestly feel so lucky to have found this amazing group of people who are so dedicated to creating a space of love and unity, and who are so welcoming of people of all faiths and backgrounds.

I honestly couldn’t think of a better place for Zhikr than the Mystery Tea House; I’ve always loved it there, and Natalia (who runs it) is such a beautiful soul. It’s pretty rare to find someone who throws themselves into an experience as much as she does, and as Shaykh Safdar pointed out, she is a truly great teacher in how to be loving and open. Seriously, if you live anywhere near the Preston area, you HAVE to visit the Tea House.

For a bit of context, I’ll try to remember as much as I can of the talk given by the wonderful Rafiqa of the meaning of Zhikr; it is basically a form of worship from the Sufi tradition of Islam, using chanting, drumming and movement to cleanse your spirit and become more connected to God. And ‘God’ doesn’t necessarily mean Allah – you can dedicate it to whichever God you believe in, or just the universe itself. As Rafiqa said, the world is in need of a bit of peace right now. Even if it’s found in a tiny corner of Preston in a gathering of vastly different people coming together to celebrate the power of love.

I like to go in something loose-fitting and comfortable, and I always wear my clear quartz necklace for the Goddess and my red and gold beads for the God. Being a Solitary Wiccan, it’s really amazing to have a community in which to worship – even if everyone is worshiping something different. I’ve actually gotten chills during the chants. It’s a strange experience, and difficult to describe. It’s almost like being somehow separate from your body, or like the boundary of your physical body has disappeared and you’re just part of the world. I realise I sound like a total drippy hippy right now, but it’s the truth (and I can’t deny it; I totally am a drippy hippy).

god beads

But my favourite part is the Hadra, which is when it becomes really energetic and you will be exhausted. We stand in a circle and dance and chant to celebrate being in the presence of God – but it is far more than dancing. It is the most holy part of the Zhikr, and it leaves you feeling so full of joy. Rafiqa said she could never sleep after Zhikr because she felt so renewed and full of energy, and I completely understand why; both times I’ve taken part, I’ve come back home and talked none stop! For me though, it’s a feeling of being refreshed and motivated, full of energy but peaceful in your heart. When I am happy, it’s is either in a state of manic excitement, or a state of peaceful contentment. Somehow after Zhikr, I am both. It’s the best feeling. Especially now, going through tough times in terms of mental health, being stressed with working two jobs and trying to find something to do with the rest of my life, it is such a blessing.

So, if you are ever in Preston on a Sunday, Zhikrs are hosted every fortnight at the Tea House – and I can say from the heart that everyone is welcome.

Blessed be )O(