An article was recently published at World Religion News urging people to “Stop Making Fun of Wiccans”. (The Wild Hunt reported on it here.)
The author observes that “Wiccans can have a difficult time being taken seriously by mainstream culture.” That does seem to be true generally of Wiccans and other Pagans. (The author seems to conflate Wicca with contemporary Paganism.) Though, it should be said, I don’t think being mocked by Fox News is necessarily a bad thing.
The author of the article offers four reasons why Wicca doesn’t get taken seriously. First, the author suggests that Wicca isn’t taken seriously because Wicca is associated with witchcraft, which is sometimes associated with the Christian devil.
Well, okay. But the whole reason why spiritual feminists in the 70’s started calling themselves “witches” was because it was taboo. It was part of an attempt to reclaim those aspects of femininity which were maligned or oppressed in a patriarchal culture. It’s the same reason why a lot of people call themselves “witches” today. Just take a look at this awesome video by spoken word artist, Fleassy Malay, entitled “Witches”.
But you can’t adopt a term which you know is transgressive and then get upset because people don’t treat you as mainstream.
And yes, most contemporary witchcraft has nothing to do with the Christian Devil, but the contemporary Pagan Horned God does have historical connections to the Christian Devil. But, in any case, here’s a question for you: Given some of the things the Other Guy is associated with–misogyny, homophobia, racism, sexual repression, etc.–would it really be so bad to be associated with the Devil? (There actually are some Satanic witches who don’t think so.)
Second, the author says Wicca isn’t taken seriously because the portrayal of witches (especially female witches) in the media is negative.
It think that’s becoming less true, though. The author mentions Harry Potter, but seems to have forgotten Hermione Granger. Then there’s other popular witches, like the female magicians in the SyFy series, The Magicians, and the Scarlett Witch in the Avengers movies (not that any of these are realistic representation of Wiccans).
But in any case, what I said above applies here as well. If you choose to identify with a maligned archetype, you shouldn’t then complain that you are maligned.
Third, the author says that Wicca isn’t taken seriously because there is misinformation about Wiccans, and this is because Wiccans don’t proselytize and are less involved in their communities.
Well, ok. I agree with that. But whose fault is that?
Part of it, I know, is because there are negative social consequences for coming out as Wiccan or Pagan. But I think some of this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Pagans hide in the proverbial “broom closet” for fear of being stigmatized, and as a result of not standing up for themselves or speaking out, they are stigmatized.
Fourth, the author says Wicca isn’t taken seriously because of the Wiccan belief in magic. They author doesn’t explain why belief in magic isn’t taken seriously, but proceeds to point out the belief in the supernatural is an aspect of mainstream religions too.
I suspect that the reason why magic isn’t taken seriously is simply because it’s called “magic”–a word which has come to be synonymous with “fake.” The author is right that other religions teach that prayer is effective and miracles happen. The only real difference is they don’t call those things “magic.” So, if you’re really concerned about being taken seriously, you can keep practicing magic, but call it something else.
But what really bothered me about this article is that the author seems to have avoided one other glaring possibility:
The real reason Wiccans (and Pagans) aren’t taken seriously, is because they don’t take themselves seriously.
You want to call yourself a “witch” and not be confused with the negative stereotypes of witches in the media? Then stop dressing up like those stereotypes. There should be a difference between a genuine religion and LARPing or RenFair-ing. No one is going to take you seriously in a Wicked Witch of the West hat or if you’re using a besom broom to clear your ritual space. And if you’re not one of those people who dresses like that, but you make excuses for people who do, maybe you should reconsider that.
You want to practice magic and be taken seriously? Then don’t dress like Gandalf. And while you’re at it put away the magic wands and all the other paraphernalia that you bought at the Pagan shop. You don’t need all that cheap junk anyway. You want to be a Pagan, start by climbing a tree:
“If you want to worship nature, you don’t need a sunwheel, pentacle, or a goddess to do so – go out and climb a fucking tree, sit in its branches, learn ecology, listen to the wind rustling the leaves through the branches, watch the squirrels, strip naked and swim in the river as the sun sets. Then do whatever it takes to stop those fuckers who wanna cut that tree cause all they see is dollar signs.” — “Neo-Paganism is Not the Answer – Climb A Fucking Tree”
Maybe you’re not one of those Pagans who looks or acts like a stereotypical Pagan. But if you’re not, ask yourself: Do you let those people speak for you when the media comes around for its obligatory annual “Meet A Wiccan” piece at Halloween? If so, you can’t complain that you’re misunderstood by the mainstream.
Now there’s a lot of people out there who don’t care if the mainstream takes Wicca seriously. And there’s a good case to be made for maintaining the counter-cultural character of witchcraft, at least. (See Peter Grey’s essay, “Rewilding Witchcraft”.) But I really don’t think witch hats and magic wands are the best way to challenge the overculture. In fact, in a perverse way, they end up reinforcing the overculture. (Rebellion for rebellion’s sake just perpetuates the status quo.)
In any case, whether or not you want to see Paganism become more mainstream, Paganism does need to grow up. Pagans in general are self-obsessed, irrationally fearful of organization, anti-critical, and ethically ungrounded, and these values are embedded in contemporary Pagan culture.
There is some truth in what American Conservative blogger, Rod Dreher’s, unnamed informant recently said about Paganism (also reported at TWH):
“In a world of moral and philosophical relativism there are no depths but only surface. You are expected to make peace with meaninglessness, to abide all shifting sands, to justify all narcissism, and to accept all depravity. The highest authority is the individual will, and the highest virtue is the transgressive. But when you hold the transgressive as your highest ideal, not only do you never belong but no boundary is ever sacred.”
Maybe, just maybe, this is the real reason Wiccans and Pagans aren’t taken seriously.
Yeah, if Fox News thought I was doing it right, then I’d know for sure I’ve got it wrong. But most of what you’ve brought up here doesn’t apply to why I identify with the W word. Wands and robes are fun, but they’re for secular Halloween, Ren Faires, and birthday parties (all of which I adore, btw), not about spiritcraft. For me the craft is walking edges of all kinds and drawing power from silence. It’s about the occult in the literal sense of the word: knowledge of what is often hidden. Doing my own shadow work, even when it’s scary and sucks, seeing the hidden places that others are coming from, and loving them relentlessly anyway. As for community involvement, I’d have no right to the W word, if I weren’t helping mind the balance of my community. My commitment to the craft calls me to vote, for example, to respond to my next door neighbor’s call for help with learning to breastfeed her newborn, to take a share of what I cook for my family to the widower down the street, and to compost the onion peels after making the meal. Being “respected” or considered “mainstream” is definitely not a goal of my practice. Being connected is.
As always, I resonate with the way you describe your paganism/witchcraft.
Or, perhaps this is the reason that religion in general isn’t taken seriously.
Some of us are serious; others aren’t. But we have a tendency to judge all, based on the worst example within a particular group.
That’s why the community needs to reign in its worst examples.
When you’re secure in yourself and your faith, it doesn’t matter if anyone takes you seriously or not. Especially if that person takes themself far too seriously. There’s nothing wrong with having fun and dressing up. Life is too short to be constantly miserable. Drowning in the need to cut others down to make just themself feel better is, well, sad.
That’s fine if you want to don’t want your religion to have a greater impact in the world. Otherwise, you need to be able to communicate with others who don’t share your beliefs.
I communicate very well with the world. As I teach Pagan children, I’ve a strong impact on the world.
As for Wicca in general, they were the first Pagan tradition to be recognized as an official religion in America. I’d call that great impact.
A communal voice is greater than the sum of its parts. We can amplify our voices by speaking together and harmonizing our collective voice, so to speak.
Do you think the first Nazi organization to be recognized by the state made a “great impact”? This is what I’m talking about. Many Pagans are so self-centered that they think activism means advocating for Pagan rights. We need to start looking outside of ourselves.
(And actually, it was either the Church of Aphrodite or the Church of All Worlds that was the first to be recognized. Neither was Wiccan.)
How can you “harmonize” when you’re mocking?
Yes, the Nazi organization made a “great” impact. Great means big, not good.
The Aquarian Tabernacle Church (Wiccan) was the first to get the pentacle added to available symbols for memorial markers. That is to what referring. Church of All Worlds was the first Pagan tradition to be recognized in the States, 1968. Oberon Zell is one of the people you mock as he dresses up as a Wizzard with his pointy hat and robes.
I feel this article makes way too many ‘generalisims’ for my taste. I became pagan for the overreaching tolerance of the religion. All gods are valid. I do not call myself a witch or dance around dressed like Gandalf. I have a regular job and contribute to many community organizations. I would not hug a tree but do try to minimize my eco footprint on our planet. Thank the gods for the first amendment which gives you the right to say as you wish and for me to hold dear my religion of choice. Maybe you need to do more research.
It seems to me all religions have their own costumes, tools and trinkets. Robes are robes no matter whose wearing them or what god they pray to. And there’s not too much difference between a cleansing with a besom and a cleansing with a censer. What does that have to do with being taken seriously?
I don’t believe the people wearing witch/wizard hats, waving magic wants, and selling crystal balls are serious about themselves. Fun and games are fine, but don’t confuse them with real religion. And if you really think your witch hat is essential to your religion, then I think something is wrong with your religion.
Other religions dress up in weird robes and stuff, yet they are still taken seriously.
I have to admit that I do cringe inwardly when I see yet another photo of a media witch in crushed velvet and overblown hair and makeup. But you have to consider that journalists don’t interview serious-looking witches – they want people who look weird.
But they dress up for a reason, not just because it’s fun to look weird.
Again with telling people how they should dress, how they should act, how they should practice their religion. Seriously, live and let live.
More troubling to me is the fact that you quote from “American Conservative” (not the most unbiased source of reportage), and seem to do so approvingly, in opposition to moral relativism. Relativism is a well-established philosophical and ethical position, often based on cultural sensitivity, compassion and reason, and not the childish caricature that quote suggests. It’s relativism that allows for diversity of belief, identity and opinion to exist. Is this a bad thing?
In all honesty, what would your ideal vision of Paganism be? Who should speak for Pagans in your opinion? How do you think Paganism can be “taken seriously”, and in light of the current mainstream social discourse, is being taken seriously by the conservative Christian overculture really something we should be aiming for?
Yes, I’m throwing up a little in my own mouth about my quoting the American Conservative. I’m as likely to convert to Catholicism as I am to be abducted by aliens, but some of what the author’s informant said resonated with me.
I think “moral relativism” means different things to different people. If you mean that ethics are situational, I’m with you 100%. If you mean that one culture should not judge another culture, I disagree. If you mean there are no standards by which we can judge other people’s actions, I very much disagree.
Setting aside the nuances of that phrase, I think there is a problem with any community where “the highest authority is the individual will”–and much of Paganism fits that description.
What I mean by “taken seriously” is that we have more of a voice on critical social and political issues that concern us, including the environment, reproductive rights, racial justice, LGBT rights, etc. It means cultural relevance.
My issue with the source of the quote is that there’s a decent chance the person quoted (an ex-Pagan turned conservative Catholic) is also doing so with an agenda to make Paganism look bad (“all depravity”) rather than provide a fair representation of what Paganism is like.
By moral relativism yes I do mean that ethics are situational. I would never claim that there are no standards by which we can judge another’s actions (I’m going to sidestep the cultural debate if that’s OK: first we need to determine what is a “culture” and then find a neutral position to compare them by, which I think is an impossible task).
My concern is whose standards are you judging them by? Your own personal ones? The standards of contemporary Western society? The standards of “American Conservative”? What do you do when someone else judges you by their standards? Who wins here?
If the highest authority is not the individual Will, then what is it? Government? A Pagan Pope? You?
I do understand and sympathise with your want for Paganism to have more of a voice in society, and I’m pretty sure that we come from the same angle on all the issues you mention. I would love to see Pagans leading on social and environmental justice. But if having that voice means losing a distinctly Pagan identity, aesthetic and sensibility, and assimilating with the generic white anglo-saxon protestant overculture, is that a worthwhile sacrifice? And who gets to decide that?
Name me one case where hiding, downplaying or diluting a marginalised culture’s identity led to that culture becoming more visible and more heard. In practically any protest or civil rights movement, the opposite is true. We become heard by standing proud, not by being ashamed of looking weird.
I think we’re not going to see eye to eye on this, so I’ll end by saying I love your work, especially your writings on activism, environmentalism and the need to be engaged with the world. But these occasional posts about how other Pagans need to stop…well, being the wrong kind of Pagan, they rub me the wrong way.
I’m talking about community standards–Pagan community standards. If we don’t have any, we can hardly be called a community–which I think is the case. Standards don’t require hierarchy, but they do require cooperation.
I don’t know why you think I’m talking about downplaying or diluting Pagan identity–unless you think Pagan identity equates with Harry Potter cosplay. And I’m not ashamed of looking weird, but there needs to be a genuine reason for looking weird, not just because we are trying to look different than the “Muggles”.
Thanks for your support and constructive criticism.
Listen, I used to enjoy your blog but, I no longer do. You spend too much time making fun of others. Not just this post but others, too. Calling people names like “tools” isn’t cool. I don’t know what happened to you but, whatever it is, I hope it passes soon. I miss reading your excellent posts. You’ve a lot of good to share.
I’ve read your writings for some time and was very taken with your recent post about privilege and using it for good. I’m really disappointed to see you completely forgetting your own words in that very same article:
“I was becoming increasingly aware of my privilege as an affluent, white, hetero-/cis- male, and the idea that I could use that privilege for good was a “eureka” moment for me.”
You have spent good amount of time not just writing an article that tears strips off of other people’s practice, whatever form that may take, but you’ve also spent time continuing that trend in this comment section. I would like to gently remind you of your privilege. You are directly critiquing a historically female-centric belief system from a position of privilege as a white, cis male. You are then telling people in the comments who appear to present as women what they can and cannot do with their own practices. Have you actually taken a step back and considered how that looks?
You talk at length about community standards and good representations of paganism, yet you are perpetuating the toxic masculinity stereotype that filters throughout the entirety of Western society, and also throughout paganism. So use your own privilege to raise people up, not bash them down. I like to hope that you are better than this given some of your other writings that hint that you might be.
But please, remember who and what you represent. You have a platform. You are male. You are cis. You are white. Many of us have been told by many people like you how to live our lives and how to dress and express ourselves. Those days are truly in the past, yet not as of yet behind us it would seem.
Preach, Georgina. I have similar thoughts: https://wildseedwithin.com/2018/04/06/on-being-witch-how-why-where-when-and-with-whom/
Georgina, you’ve given me something to think about. Thanks.
I have said similar in the past. (It’s in a recent blog posting on mine.) There’s been an attempt to water down paganism/Wicca and witches. The founders had a lot more teeth.
I love the negativity from being a ‘witch’ and do not want such fear to suddenly disappear. I won’t sugar coat it for people.
I also feel that trying to become accepted in a group that will never accept you (I.e. Conservative Christians) is completely fruitless. We should correct and educate when relevant, but we don’t need their acceptance.
It’s annoying when people conflate our old ways with Harry Potter, find out more about Wicca at trojanwicca.wordpress.com
Great post. I agree that witches and pagans aren’t given the same respect the other religions of the world often get. It bothers me. I do think it is mostly just due to stereotypes and ignorance though.
Quite comical to see the white boy in a crew cut worry about how pagans are dressing because they are embarrassing him. Well, then, I’ll throw out my flowing skirt and embroidered shirt if white crew cut boy doesn’t like it. Because every morning I wake up and my first thought is, “Will white crew cut boy approve of what I’m doing and wearing?” and then I act accordingly. Will toxic american culture approve? Ha ha ha ha. Paganism, neo-paganism, and wiccan are MOTHER Earth centered belief systems, and witches have been healing themselves, their families, animals, and the earth before white crew cut boy came along and we will continue after he is gone, thank you. But as a boy, he has to co-op, coerce, and control, shape us into an image that he deems acceptable. He knows no other way. The culture tells him there is no other alternative. Usurp leadership, make the rules, bend other’s will to yours. It’s the same in the christian and catholic churches: the boys are the leaders, and women are the followers. The first thing they will guilt you on is your clothes. Do they conform? Are they modest? Are you being too showy? Are you wearing too much jewelry? Eye shadow? Are you looking like a hippie? A free-thinker? A radical? Maybe a ho?
Ugh, did you even read the article? It’s a response to another article (at RNS) about why Pagans aren’t taken seriously. If you don’t care about being taken seriously, fine. This article isn’t for you. But the author of the article I was responding to did.
There’s a good argument to be made that Pagans shouldn’t care what mainstream culture thinks about them. (I am in that category actually.) But you can’t flout mainstream values and then complain that mainstream culture doesn’t take you seriously (recognize your holidays, include you on interfaith discussions, talk about your religion with respect, etc.). And that’s what a lot of Pagans do. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.
And since you brought it up, I don’t have any problem with your “flowing skirt and embroidered shirt” or whatever else (personally I like flowing skirts and embroidered shirts), but if you think they make you countercultural, then capitalism has co-opted your religion too (like a lot of other Pagans). And if you think Goddess gives a shit about what you’re wearing (or how I cut my hair), then you’ve got no idea what paganism really is.
By the way, if you want to criticize me, you’ll have to do better than ad hominem attacks. I get the whole history of men dominating religion etc., but the fact that you’re a woman (apparently) and I’m a man (or our respective races) doesn’t automatically invalidate my point. (Oh, if you want your insults to land, you should go look up what a crew cut is.)