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 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


Magick and Hellenic Polytheism

In light of recent events showing YSEE’s homophobia, I was looking into another major group, Elaion. On their Magic and mysticism page from 2004 by ‘Carolyn’, there are some interesting points made, often quite poorly. Here are my answers to them.

Of course one is always taught that magic works in the most natural way possible, so if you are performing a spell, be sure to also work for your goal in ‘mundane’ ways too. Apply for that job, and then work your spell. When the job is yours, do you have magic to thank or your other efforts? And if the spell only provided confidence, that does not support the reality of magic.

This is how magick works, according to a good chunk of witches I’ve spoken to. I’m somewhere near this mindset as well. If you expect levitation or such, then all Carolyn does is show her gullibility and lack of solid points. This is what we call a reach, in my opinion. Not to mention that there is more than one theory of magick, so her not knowing this means she’s criticizing something she only grazed the surface of!

In Homer (and in the Homeric Hymns), men do not know when they are being affected by Gods, even when the Gods are indeed directly in front of them. Only ‘divine Odysseus’ (as he is called by Homer) has knowledge of Athena’s aid, a testament to his true heroic nature. But not all men are heroes – that is what sets the hero apart is his greatness compared to most men.

This is a very uncritical way of taking the myths. Do the good people at Elaion make it a standard to take Homer word for word, even when he contradicts Hesiod or other writers? Even if I did take the myths literally, this seems to imply that Odysseus is the only ‘real’ hero. Sketchy.


I hope you all enjoyed this quick post!


Doctrine, Dogma, and Catchy Phrases

I see a lot of people reminding others of the importance of Arete, or the need to follow the Delphic Maxims. For those of you who do not know, they are the supposedly most important core values of Hellenic Polytheism, and there are varying numbers of them as people understandably customize which ones they believe most important. Some of them include Arete (striving towards one’s best), Eusebeia (honoring the Gods), Sophia (the pursuit of knowledge), and Kharis (mutual relationship with the Gods of offerings and answers). I won’t go into too much depth on those since many have written more adeptly on this issue.

The Delphic Maxims are sayings inscribed at the archaeological site of ancient Delphi. Their authorship is contested, although there are some mythical explanations. John Oposopaus in his Oracles of Apollo mused that they may have been part of an oracular system, and even suggests his own method of using the Maxims for divination.

The pillars and Maxims both contain great wisdom, don’t get me wrong. If you’re a beginner Hellenic Polytheist, they’re definitely worth a look. But there is no reason to assume that most people in Ancient Greece followed either, and even less reason to obligate anyone to follow them now.

Delphi was for a long time controlled by different leagues — the Amphictyonic League (Athenians, i.e., people who weren’t even from the Delphi area) and later the Delian-Attic League. This means that, like much of the writings we have left to our devices, the Delphic Maxims are very much a tool of politics and product of their specific historical and political atmosphere. It’s a lot more obvious with some maxims than others, such as #95, Γυναικὸς ἄρχε — rule your wife. It seems a bit unnecessary to me to think of the Maxims or the so-called pillars outside of things to personally strive to.

Equally important is that by ‘modernizing’ the Maxims or whatever else, you remove the source from its context and in the process attempt to revise history, intentional or otherwise.

As for the pillars, it really depends on who you ask and which pillars they use, which I think should already say something about their necessity. That said, almost everyone I’ve spoken to, myself included, agree that Kharis and Katharmos (ritual cleansing) are essential. Take this how you will. Personally, because the pillars were a neo-pagan invention (as far as I can tell Timothy Jay Alexander came up with them), I don’t care much for them, but they nonetheless contain wisdom. The Nomos Arkhaios does bother me, however, given that it is a Reconstructionist-oriented pillar in a set of recently, American-invented pillars.

It should be common sense that decency and self-improvement are not the responsibility of religion. As atheists often say, one does not need religion to be a decent person. I really do not see the necessity for finding pillars or making dogma like the Christian Church has. It is especially puzzling because the same people who disdain Christians also necessitate such traditional structure. Also, on that note, some Christians forego such specificity whatsoever regarding central dogma and focus on the main lessons of Jesus. I think there is something to be learned from that — structure is not necessarily helpful and is arguably more harmful in the context of religion.