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.

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.

Fake Shinto Shrines in the US

 

So I didn’t really know if I would end up posting about Shinto here at all, but for better or for worse enough bullshit has been happening for me to complain about it here (yay?).

One thing is this guy who claimed to have a Kyoha Shinto (sect Shinto) shrine in Tennessee while disrespecting the fuck out of whoever he’s enshrining. I won’t name names overtly but I will link to a video of a part of this “shrine” because well…it’ll maybe help drive my point home.

All of this? Complete horseshit. Let me explain.

  1. This is simply not what the inside of a shrine looks like.
  2. All the flags are extremely out of place, one of them appears to be promotional from a company
  3. The abundance of mirrors makes no sense either
  4. If this is supposed to be the goshintai (‘body’ of the kamisama, kinda?) then he shouldn’t be taking videos of it.
  5. Very New Agey dragon decor that is, again, very out of place. Exacerbates how this guy claimed to have used traditional architecture when nothing about this is traditional at all.
  6. That chandelier is more ostentatious than what I’ve ever seen at a shrine.
  7. Why the fuck are there runes on that thing?!

You may say “that isn’t explicitly listed as a shrine, it might not be!” well, fear not my friends. The sacred paper strips shown at the beginning are about the only accurate thing here (assuming he made them correctly).

It’s disrespectful to kamisama, it’s disrespectful to Japanese culture and it’s also extremely White to step in, steal someone’s religious practices, and manipulate it however you want. It’s also very White/Orientalist to sell this as authentic, as a legitimate Kyoha shrine when it’s anything but. The spookyness is weird, and it gets worse in a Halloween video where the shrine was…a haunted house. You don’t put spooky stuff near kamisama, Halloween is a separate and secular event in Japan. Kamisama do not like skulls and things. Don’t do that.

Another guy came up in the Twin Cities who made up some bullshit Neo Minzoku (folk) Shinto which is hilarious. Shinto doesn’t need a “neo-“, it isn’t pagan at all so I’m not sure why some white guy thought it appropriate to frame it like a neopagan reconstructionist religion. He also throws Baba Yaga into the shrine which also makes no sense, she’s Russian…?

The kami enshrined at the Twin Cities shrine are all vaguely-named kamisama of bad things like illness. There’s no parent shrine, a Wiccan guy just made up a bunch of shit and claims Japanese people are okay with it (this one isn’t!).

 

The point of this rant is that: as always, “Eastern” religions deal with the demon of Orientalism. People think we’re exotic and weird and spiritual and different. That leads to (usually) white Westerners decontextualizing the content of the beliefs instead of researching or asking an actual priest/ess, and putting out misinformation at pagan festivals with ugly decor and other Westerners accepting that as truth, because no one bothered to do any research. Slapping an “Eastern” label on something doesn’t mean it’s authentic; if anything you should be more skeptical if a White person is trying to sell you something packaged as “Eastern”, “Oriental” (yes, one of these people used that term) or “exotic”. Please for the love of kamisama do your goddamn research.

 

Respectability and gatekeeping

I have really mixed feelings about the word “gatekeeping”. I prefer to say “elitism” because of the tendency for lots of (mostly online posters) to use gatekeeping as a catch all word to shut someone down without addressing the actual arguments at hand or pointing out the harms being done (if any). It also usually is anti-intellectual in nature, and well, as an American person, I’m all too familiar with the effects of that…flat earthers and so on stem from that sort of hostile relationship between society and academia (especially lower class whites who get radicalized etc etc).

So, how is this related to paganism? Well, lots of pagans hurl accusations of gatekeeping or elitism, while others counter with “fluffy bunny” and the like. I think elitism is inherently bad — you aren’t smarter or a better person because you have a PhD. A lot of people with PhDs don’t get jobs anyway because capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy and so on. PhDs mean jack shit on their own, they don’t qualify you to be an expert. I question the monopoly on experthood anyway since white cishet people tend to be nominated the “experts” in any and every field, including Indigenous studies.

Just because a pagan author has a PhD doesn’t mean they are trustworthy, correct or even a good person. I feel like society has ingrained in us that someone with credentials is instantly trustworthy, knows what they’re talking about and a liberal/progressive person. This isn’t the case, and can be seen pretty easily when you see how sometimes people have PhDs in completely separate fields and use that to feign expertness in another, or are straight up fascists with a doctorate (i.e. Krasskova). I’ve also noticed that a lot of Twitter pagans like to over-use jargon, in such a way that it makes their social media basically inaccessible to anyone without a Philosophy degree.

On the other hand, anti-intellectualism is a real and concrete trend I’ve noticed in New Age and Pagan spaces. It’s understandable because a lot of academic writing is inaccessible to people who aren’t students and know at least some of the lingo, but on the other hand it makes it a free-for-all of information and that’s how you get people claiming to be Hekate’s son or whatever.That’s the new aim of my blog, in part, because I’ve only got one foot in that conventional academic structure (for now, I don’t know about the future!). I find a lot of academia pretty hard, but I also am fortunate enough to have the ability to access a lot of material.

I guess the ideal is a balance between using academia and not relying so heavily on it you get sucked into inaccessible jargon and elitism; you don’t want to completely make shit up and revise history either.

The Ethics of Pagan Childrearing

I just saw someone I follow named Althaea post this, and it was a culmination of qualms I have had with many of the older (usually cis women) pagans who choose to raise their children in the “pagan way”.

So let’s get into this post, keeping in mind that this is obviously my point of view and not something I’m going to actively enforce as if I were a dictator. I’m just pointing out a flaw and a danger here.

The first thing I’d like to get out of the way is the patently fake-seeming way the post is written. This tidbit in particular seems too convenient for me, but feel free to prove me wrong:

One of my teachers, upon hearing that we were raising our then 2 children in our ways, told me how she wished she had. She cried as she told me how it had done nothing but teach her son to always be searching, to never dare to commit, to persevere. It affected all aspects of his life. (And she was not the only of my older & elderly teachers/mentors who shared similar experiences.)

Another quote from her caption on her Instagram post:

I saw firsthand how raising your child with no spiritual/religious structure caused them serious harm.

This is unbelievably and patently privileged. Any gay or trans person could tell you that religious parentage in fact can do grave harms (see: conversion therapy). A Christian woman who forced her son into conversion therapy for his gayness now feels immense guilt at his suicide. So it’s dangerous to make that simplification – religion isn’t always benevolent!

Well, wait a minute, are kids healthier and better off with religion? There are studies being done on this, to which Slate has good responses:

“All that talk of snake-inspired subterfuge, planet-cleansing floods, and apocalyptic horsemen might hamper kids’ ability to differentiate between fantasy and reality—or even to think critically…’The problem with certain religious beliefs,’ according to Bloom, ‘isn’t that they are incredible (science is also incredible) and isn’t that they ruin children’s ability to distinguish between fantasy and reality. It’s that they are false.’ That’s the problem that undergirds pretty much every study about religion and happiness: Even if religion can make you happy, that happiness often requires us to buy into fantasies. It’s no coincidence that the most statistically significant mental health difference between religious and secular children arises between the age of 12 and 15, when nondevout kids go through the existential crises of adolescence while religious kids can dig deeper into their trench of piousness. This mental health bump disappears in adulthood, when religious people—perhaps because they’re operating in the real world—aren’t measurably happier or nicer than their secular brethren (unless they live in a country that favors believers and ostracizes atheists).”

So what exactly is she doing wrong?

Well, first off, teaching kids how to ward is forcing your definition of how the world works! Not everyone wards! I’ll get more into that in the next section. Secondly, perpetuating the non-critical acceptance that what you see is real (i.e. apparitions and spirits) is dangerous for mental health. If these kids ever hallucinate, they will think they are seeing spirits and won’t seek medical help first. Most importantly, there seems to be minimal choice for the kids who are raised under her.

The middle boy resists more strongly. But, he resists in a way that betrays his heart. He may choose to not participate in a celebration for our Lady but he will ask for help in crafting offerings for a Deity to Whom he’s been drawn since 3yo.

This is so weird, and even sounds untrue to me. This kid’s desire to worship someone else should be taken more seriously, on the one hand, but the reason why he even considered doing it in the first place is almost 100% because of the way his mom makes him and his siblings participate in rituals.

Religious indoctrination may involve free choice, but not the free choice of the kids. It is solely the free choice of the parents that determines what values the children will have as adults and how they will view the world.

What should she do instead?

What any pagan parent should do does not differ from what any parent should do. Acceptance of the child as they are is a place to start, instead of trying to mold them into images of yourself. Furthermore, it is a good rule of thumb to teach children to be accepting of different cultures’ beliefs. I again emphasize the need to let the children decide for themselves. Gender and religion are both incredibly intimate, individualized aspects of identity that parents should not be meddling with.It concerns me that I can already see how these children will be messed up after being raised like this, and as a fellow pagan I feel it imperative to call out this behavior. I have already met a few people raised by hippie-era Wiccans who are going off the rails with their practices and UPGs. Can we please avoid continuing that cycle?

Let them be independent, learn, and grow, gods damn it. Giving your kids space to be themselves helps them exist better in the world. I