What’s wrong with the book review?

The responses

Apparently there was a lot of pagan and witch uproar to this book review. The responses to this book review prove the author right, to be honest. It’s new age shit, and any claim that happiness is ensured is bullshit. I’d think most people incensed about the review would agree, but suddenly when the non-pagan, non-witch world gets involved, white people get overly up into arms and delve deep into fetishizing oppression and imagining themselves as being victims.

Nearly every blog and article that criticized Radford’s article pointed out that if she had applied these same tactics in an article or book review that was based in Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or any other mainstream religion, the backlash would’ve been such that she would likely still be laid out.

The Wild Hunt

Whataboutism helps nobody. This is the stupidest and weakest argument I’ve ever seen in response to external criticism. Part of the reason why I dislike witches so much is the deep-rooted ignorance of actual oppression and violence in the service of appropriative practices and good vibes.

Moreover, the shit she mentions jokingly (flat earthers and so on) exist in our community. Pretending they don’t does nobody any good. Flat earthers, anti-vaxxers etc. are in a lot of places, not just the pagan and witchcraft communities. It’s simply ignorant to pretend they don’t, instead of maybe trying to get actual conversations going with those people or protecting those with weak immune systems and children (in the case of anti-vaxxers).

This isn’t to say the article doesn’t have its flaws, but I’m honestly disappointed that this is such a big issue for people who frankly didn’t lift a finger for anyone actually facing oppression and violence, such as the indigenous peoples in Brazil in the Amazon forest, Black and Brown trans women all over the world, etc. The selective attention is blaring.

On to the article itself.

I’m not sure what “whiter than a student union snowflake” means, but it does remind me of how white, and often white supremacist, witchcraft tends to be in the US and Europe. Those countries are already racist, of course, but the spiritual and religious movements therein are obviously going to be affected by this. Gerald Gardner, Aleister Crowley, Wicca, Helena Blavatsky (and her bastardization of the practice of astral projection), are all people with deeply white and questionable mores, of varying types. Wicca (and therefore Gardner too, likely) for example, is full of homophobic, gender-essentialist, misogynistic and racist rhetoric in terms of its rituals, associations and so on. Witchcraft is white as hell, and the way people are responding to the review frankly seems to be partly in denial of that.

I won’t hide the fact that I don’t have any intention of nor will I claim to have read the actual book in question, but the review seems to touch on how witchcraft has become a part of capitalist, Eurocentric and colonialist “self care” narratives that are rooted in no specific culture and often end up stealing from marginalized ones instead. Buying crystals isn’t the way to happiness. Hell, the book’s entire premise is kind of dangerous, in the same way a lot of self-help books can be. You can’t spiritually pray away the depression.

The author’s criticism of confirmation bias is incredibly correct. Lots of pagans (moreso than witches, I’ve found) hate to admit that it exists, or may be at work. This is why discernment is necessary, and it’s disheartening to see big-name pagan groups like the Wild Hunt make no mention of the fact that this is actually an issue. In my time in varying communities I’ve run into people so deep into confirmation bias that they become hostile when I suggested their astral projection was racist, or who simply attacked me instead of listening to the evidence that has suggested that witchcraft or no, confirmation bias exists. It also cheapens the spiritual experience. When I cross-check or have someone else with no knowledge do divination on something I have questions on, it is one of the most direct ways that the Theoi seem to shake me by the shoulders, waking me up from any doubt I had. My friend Oli has truly shown me how important discernment is and once I started putting it into practice, my own faith has become more secure. It’s the closest to ‘proof of god’ we will get, or that I need.

On the other, witchcraft is no less irrational than any other religion and many of its practices are in fact a fairly reasonable response to the major challenges of our time. Rediscovering nature, reclaiming the sexist trope of the witch as a symbol of female empowerment, switching off from the constant thrum of social media and consumerism: what’s not to like?

Though the consumerism thing is specific to this book, I think, I see no issue with this really. Religion is irrational, spirituality is irrational, and there’s nothing wrong with  being irrational. The Colonial racist mindset has taught us that only logic and proof and cold hard facts with no emotion are the truth and the superior way of existing, when traditions practiced by racialized cultures often deeply value emotions and feelings.

My biggest issues lie with the concluding paragraph:

The answer, of course, is that however benign or even beneficial the rituals, it’s all built on a wobbling base of bats***. No matter how many spells we cast to ask the universe for help, the universe isn’t listening. On a personal level, it’s probably better for us to just accept that life doesn’t always go our way and lower our expectations: Catherine Gray’s wonderful The Unexpected Joy of the Ordinary is a lovely new year read on finding the magic (no k needed) in the mundane. And on a broader level, the recent zest for the mystic is part of a worrying backlash against the enlightenment values that have driven human progress. On the one end of the political spectrum, you get the anti-vaxx movement; on the other, climate change deniers. Standing in the light of a full moon to recite our resolutions may be harmless, but as a society we shun science at our peril.

Here we get to the latent white supremacy in the article. Claiming the rational is inherently better is a larger problem, not just her, though she’s not excused from what she wrote by any means. I also want to add that adding the K onto magic is kind of dumb (I forget and do it sometimes), and is something instituted by Crowley, of all people. I’ve run into at least some of his spirit and it was no joy, trust me.
That said, modern witchcraft does have a wobbly base. That base is made of Wicca’s racism (including cultural appropriation), homophobia, misogyny, transphobia, and ahistoricism. A refusal to change deeply flawed practices and to actually look at history is not a sustainable nor liberatory practice. It is one that favors the ones who made the modern practice of witchcraft, who may have intentionally or otherwise designed it as such: white cisgender people.

Love: The Ethics of Spells and Prayers

I have been thinking about love spells a lot, recently.

I like the Greek Magical Papyri — they’re a terrific resource for historical spells and syncretic practices. At the same time, though, its love spells are quite violent and coercive in a way that I never want to mimic. Also, some of the ingredients mentioned within are hard to get even today (at least where I live).

At the same time, though my goddess-worshipper relationship with Aphrodite is not bad by any means (I used to be terribly insecure about this), I feel as though she isn’t particularly interested in helping me out here. Mental illness makes discerning this harder, though. Eros has proved more distant. Gender stuff makes it difficult to figure out who to ask for help (Aphrodite? Eros? Or someone else entirely? Maybe Peitho?).

It’s tough to find love when you are trans, disabled, mentally ill, and a person of color. I don’t want to get too personal on here, but it’s important to mention that people like me have barriers in dating. Even in the LGBT community, the standard of desirability is white as fuck. And so on. But at the same time, I want to value others’ wills and be gentle. Thus, a lot of the historical spells prove problematic.

This leads me to think: how does one approach asking for love from Aphrodite, Eros and their affiliated daimones and theoi? Prayer would be the answer for other things, but does there need to be a regularity with which it is performed? Or is this a time to make allowances for newer spells invoking Aphrodite for her divine help?

It’s a quandary I’ve faced before, I’m honestly unsure.

Doidalsas De Bitinia, 3rd C. Bc. The Photograph by Everett
My favorite Aphrodite sculpture. Image source

The Theoi are Not Ghosts

I don’t understand why people treat or interpret the theoi as if they are ghosts, claiming to feel their presence in the room, a warmth on their left side, or using a ouija board.

I think it’s weird and incredibly misleading. It creates a self-perpetuating cycle of misinformation that this is how the theoi work (or how divinity works in general), when that is just based on American “ghost hunting” shows and the like. Some divinity may work like that, but the theoi sure don’t. We don’t have any historical documentation showing that the ancients experienced the divine in this way. I guess it’s possible this has changed, but why would it change? We still have divination, though the main methods have changed. There’s no need that I can fathom for them to change this (then again, maybe they have something in mind that I can’t figure out lol). More to the point — ghosts are everywhere. It’s possible your ancestors are actually the ones doing this. Maybe at least give them a greeting.

I have to admit that I have a weird relationship with ideomotor effect divination – that is to say, divination where there is motion affected by subconscious thoughts or spirit. I’m not quite sure if I believe it.

This includes pendulums, and…fucking automatic writing. Automatic writing? What goddamned century are we in? I thought we’d gotten past this, people! Automatic writing is the definition of ideomotor effect and also, I think, confirmation bias. You want it to say things, so your hand writes those things for you. That’s how it works. Pendulums and ouija boards are more sophisticated than just spacing out writing stuff, at least.

This is further backed by the outrageous shit people get from automatic writing. Pendulums (and even ouija boards) tend to yield much saner results.

Also, pendulums are yes/no/unsure/rephrase. They aren’t suited for a question more complex than that. Claiming you had a full fledged conversation through one is….incredibly suspicious. Unless your whole conversation is through yes/no/maybe, which I’ve done with pendulum. Just to be up front about it. I’m more open to pendulums and ouijia usage than automatic writing, though. There is just too little possibility at work in automatic writing. But yeah, considering how death was viewed as polluting in ancient Greece, it feels like a vast disrespect to communicate with the theoi in a way that is meant for the dead.

Don’t go to war for Ares (or Hades, or anyone else)

Don’t go to war. This should be an easy enough statement to make, but I keep seeing people say they are joining the Army or whatever else to honor a deity (usually Norse, but sometimes Greek).

Just. Don’t??? I don’t really feel like explaining why you shouldn’t kill people or participate as a pawn in a worldwide-scale domination game that murders civilians (including children)…just look it up please.

 

 

On Worshipping Humans

I think there is a significant difference between worshipping a hero from mythology such as Atalanta or Herakles versus a historical figure. Ancient Greeks considered heroes from their area to be a sort of communal ancestor. Mikalsson notes that in Ancient Greece, “Because a hero’s cult was centered on his real or imagined tomb, the hero was bound, unlike a god, to one locality. He usually would have only one sanctuary, in only one city-state, unless two or more states laid claim to his bones. Because his heroön was accessible to the offerings of only the residents of that state, the hero’s activity and influence would affect, at most, only that state and perhaps only the immediate neighborhood in which his heroön was located. (Ancient Greek Religion)”

This is where it gets tricky for us non-Greeks. I still pray to heroes sometimes but the connection is different and fainter. Herakles went to Olympos and became immortal, but other heroes died a mortal death. So I personally just admire the way they lived instead, and consider them mythological, not historical, beings. That doesn’t preclude them from possessing an attractiveness to us through their stories, nor does it necessarily preclude them from having powers (if deified).

In my time online, however, I have seen people worship much more historical figures in the name of Hellenic paganism.  I think it’s disrespectful and inappropriate to worship someone not from ancient Greece who was not also a Hellenic pagan as a hero.

I’ve also seen people applaud Alexander the Great or Julian. First and foremost, I am a firm believer that it is crypto-fascistic to worship emperors. This comes from my unique lived experience as a Japanese person where deified emperors were enforced (as they usually are — monarchs don’t tend to be accountable to the people, and state religions are handy political tools) led to imperialism, fascism and violence. Although I will repeat forever that Shinto is not pagan nor “polytheist” (or any other rigidly defining Western term!) I find State Shinto from the 20th Century era of Imperial Japan to have some disturbing trends in common with say, the pre-Christian Roman Empire. This isn’t to compare the scale of violence committed in either period, but rather to point out that kings who are turned into gods tend to be horrible people, and their godhood is a political pawn to further nationalism.

Secondly, Alexander the Great sucked ass. Emperors in general are bad, inherently, but ones that wage wars are even worse. I really don’t understand why imperialistic, colonialistic murderers are so hyped up (wait, I do: racism and imperialism!). Emperor Julian was also an imperialistic murder who oppressed Christians and arguably was anti-Semitic as well. Ask any Classicist online and surely they’d give you reasons why both were at least kind of assholes.

Back to my earlier point, though.

State religion is inherently oppressive, IMO. Shinto proves my case quite well, as does more complex cases like the modern US and its Protestant/Puritanism written into the founding texts. Without venturing too far out of my area of knowledge, State Shinto is the period of Shinto where the emperor of Japan (most infamously, the Showa emperor) was deified and seen as a descendant of Amaterasu Omikami. The US made the emperor announce his human-hood after Japan’s defeat in WWII in the so-called Humanity Declaration (though he was still emperor afterwards, Japan became more democratic). It’s worth noting that the imperial clan, through power (and probably politics) made its clan kami Amaterasu Omikami the ‘supreme’ kamisama and also made her the only sun kami (Origin and Growth of the Worship of Amaterasu, by Matsumae Takeshi).

Though I personally find no wrong with Greek reconstructionist hero cult, it does bring up this question for other acts of worship of past mortals: if you deify real people, what negative things have they done? And how does this factor in to the deification, if at all? Is the deification itself a denial of the very real complexity of human nature (good and bad)? I don’t have an answer to this, either. I feel very weird whenever I enter a shrine or temple and the kami/buddha enshrined within is an emperor or daimyo, but I find myself being notably more comfortable when it’s someone like Sugawara no Michizane, a scholar.

Tokenization in the Pagan Community (White Supremacy is More Common Than You Think!)

I’ve had repeated issues with the “polytheist” sort (i.e., those who irrationally refuse to identify as “pagan” despite being, in all academic ways, Neopagan) who, to put it generously, tokenize the fuck out of POC. I’ve written about this before on other platforms, though less…organized.

Let’s start with something personal: I was tokenized for being a Hellenic pagan Asian person. Yet, as soon as I corrected someone about my other (non-pagan) practice Shinto, I found white people (and one non-white person) jumping down my throat to whitesplain me. Even within “polytheist” rhetoric, this is ridiculous: isn’t it supposed to be inherently accepting of diversity? Clearly, people are only willing to accept a monotonous tone of truth there. As soon as an unruly non-white person disagrees with the group consensus, a couple of reply guys materialize out of nowhere and start whitesplaining you to death.

I’ve noticed other people being faced with this tokenization too, albeit less explicit. I’ve seen a few white nationalist pagans retweeting Shinto shrine videos, for example. It’s bizarre to wonder how (and why) that works, but it’s not news that revulsion and attraction can coexist (see: transphobes being obsessed with porn of trans women).

That said, my own personal experience isn’t really enough to speak to a whole phenomena. Let’s look at some examples.

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Here we see some pagans making Mauna Kea defense their pet cause. They will Tweet about Pagans not talking about Mauna Kea, which is all well and good except for the performative aspect of this. While Mauna Kea and its protectors deserve much more press coverage for sure, it’s strange to link indigenous Hawaiian spirituality with paganism without Hawaiian consent, especially considering how a lot of what are called indigenous religions in the study of religion have historically disliked the word pagan. It’s also a classic example of white outsiders speaking over BIPOC who are actually involved, almost to the extent of a white savior scenario. This approach to faux-solidarity also centers (mostly white) pagans instead of the Hawaiians who are actually impacted by and actively trying to change the telescope construction.

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Here’s another example. A lot of “polytheist” sorts have been supporting Hindutva and Hindutva groups. To be fair, it can be hard to tell if a Twitter user is Hindutva, but Hindutvas are usually pretty easy to identify by their obsession with “Abrahamics”/”monotheists”, or self-identify as such. A simple search would be enough, TBH.

I can see why “polytheists” would relate to Hindutva due to their shared hatred of Christians and Muslims, but that certainly does not make it okay, considering the violent paramilitary group RSS and other violent tactics the BJP (India’s Hindutva party) have done. I’m not gonna go super ham about Hindutva stuff since that’s not my area of expertise, but suffice it to say I’m alarmed by the amount of support for them I’ve seen in pagan spaces.

So, to follow up on my previous image, here’s eSamskritiindia tweeting Hindutva things (one of many, I just didn’t want to make this post longer than it had to):

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I simply can’t call it sympathy if it’s done out of desire to speak over BIPOC. It’s a cooptation of BIPOC struggles that veers into overtly fascist territory at times and should not be excused. It’s another way white people seek to erase POC voices as well as use us as disposable tools for their own, tangentially related social causes. It’s dangerous and white supremacist in act/deed, sometimes in thought as well.