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.