Witch Wars: The Fight to be Right
Article ID: 10876
Age Group: Adult
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Author: Phae Talon
Posted: August 13th. 2006
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Some Thoughts on Community -
A community is something that most of us strive for. The gathering of souls of a like mind is a very powerful calling. Even those who are not converts from a monotheistic, congregation-style religion seem to seek the simple joys of socialization and worship with others. With the advent of the World Wide Web, you can find what may seem like the whole of modern Pagan society at your fingertips.
Yet for all the romantic ideals of people coming together for a common cause and enjoying the company of fellow Pagans, there comes the undeniable truth that Pagans, just like any other group of people, come in all shapes, sizes, and opinions. For those unaccustomed to having their own ideas challenged, the world of Pagan internet forums and e-mail groups can seem like a barrel of wet cats—clawing, screeching and just cranky in general.
A common thread throughout Paganism (and there are precious few of these threads) seems to be that minority faiths draw people of strong opinions. Be it deity worship, gardening, spellwork, parenting or even just creating the perfect cup of tea, many of us are quite vocal on the right and wrong ways of doing just about everything.
Opinions clash with such vehemence that sparks can become a flame before any of the players notice, and more often than not you end up with a full-blown Witch War on your hands. Participants become their opinions, and their views narrow to the point at which they no longer see a fellow Witch or Pagan; the only thing that seems to matter is that they are right and the “other” is very wrong.
The ‘What Is Wicca?’ Debate
What is Wicca? What does it really mean? Who has rights to the term? Is it only for those initiated by a coven tracing its lineage back to Gardner? Or may those who follow the solitary teachings of published Wiccans claim the term as well?
Is the religion itself of ancient origin? Or is it renewed with every rite performed by every practitioner? Is every Wiccan a Witch? Or is it possible to honor the Goddess and her consort without the element of self-powered and controlled magic? Is every Wiccan clergy? Or is there a place for those who do not see the priesthood as a central part of their lives?
These questions and many more have sparked lively debates among Pagans for years. As our community grows, more opinions are added to the mix, and as the image of the Witch has grown more and more popular in mainstream society, those claiming the names “Wiccan” and “Witch” have come to span the globe.
The disproportionate number of students seeking teachers has created a sort of sub-culture of self-directed learners within our ranks. Many of these self-taught priestesses have come to think that formal training is unnecessary.
This unique situation has widened the gap between the opinions of the traditionally trained Witches and those who are still finding their way. And with every new influx of seekers comes those few who seek to turn a religious practice into a fashion statement or a hobby.
Those with no real desire to learn drain the energy and resources of the few remaining elders willing to teach. Those who do not simple retire into obscurity are left with strained tempers and are labeled as the stereotypical “Old Guard” Witches, who are thought to be elitist, cranky, and generally intolerant of “New Generation” Witches. The attitude of entitlement that marks many of the New Generation has led the Old Guard to endeavor embracing their own stereotype and band together into groups affectionately calling themselves “Fascist Meanie Poo-Poo Head Traditionalists.”
With Traditionalists’ facing off against self-styled “Eclectics,” the community has faced a rift that seems to widen with every passing year. Focusing on issues of validity and claimed kinship bring these debates into the realm of some very personal issues. These discussions are never resolved, or rather, never resolved for long. Occasionally, one side will concede a point, but a few months down the road, someone or something will start the arguments up again, and it will all go off as if it had never happened before.
The Fashionable Meanie Poo-Poo Head
For the four or five years that I have been a regular in the online Pagan community, I have seen these debates come and go more times than I care to count. For many of us, hacking at this dead horse got old long ago. For others, many of them not Wiccans or Witches themselves, these past years were a time to refine the popular traditionalist opinion into ironclad dogma that could be used to smash every newbie in sight.
Seeing the potential behind the starry-eyed, Hollywood-inspired, newbie Wiccan is a gift seemingly lost on those who have developed an unhealthy lust for the bunny hunt.* They skulk around newbie- or youth-oriented forums with their sound bites at the ready: “You are not Wicca! You must refer to your practice as neo-Wicca or Wiccan-influenced!”
I have watched with a hollow heart as these self-proclaimed “Defenders of Wicca” drive away would-be Witches to satisfy their need to be right, and I have minced words with more than my fair share when they tried to push their overbearing views too far. I might find myself more understanding of the work they fancy themselves trying to do if they didn’t defend the Craft in one breath and then dismiss it as weak, silly and “New Age-y” in the next.
The Clear Communication Cop-Out
When cornered on why the state of Wicca should be of any concern to anyone other than Wiccans themselves, many of these “Defenders” often will claim that anything but a razor-fine precise definition of “Wicca” is a detriment to clear online communication and threatens to make the term utterly useless.
While there is a grain of truth to the idea that a word cannot mean “whatever you want it to mean,” I think some things need to be taken into consideration when claiming “clear communication” as your reason for bashing newbies. These things are relatively simple, such as those listed here.
- Will it honestly impact the conversation at hand?
A conversation about divination techniques is not the place to try and correct someone’s definitions of Wicca and/or Paganism. Whether someone is an initiate or not has no bearing on how they learn to read tarot cards.
- Do you understand what they mean?
A newbie using unfamiliar terminology is not an excuse to sharpen your claws on them. If you can generally glean what they are asking or trying to say, then a simple note on clearer phrasing is sufficient. Demanding definitions and sources for something that you already know is a mistake that does no one any good. There is a difference between asking a simple question and being purposefully dense in an attempt to make someone else look foolish.
- Is their previous training relevant?
When someone comes looking for information to further their studies, they often are met with questions such as, “Well, what have you already read?” This question is usually benign, and the information received is used to help point the seeker in a similar direction to what they already are learning. Demanding a seeker’s lineage before you will deign to answer a query on good Wiccan Web sites is looking for a fight. Anyone who has been active in the online Pagan community for more than six months should know that there are very few instances when lineage is relevant to any discussion.
If your interest truly is clear and intelligent discourse, then it might be a good idea to keep these little points of tact in mind. You aren’t going to get anything from someone if you spend all of your time insulting and offending them. The opportunity for correction and teaching always presents itself if you are patient. A full-scale assault should be saved for those times when it might actually do some good.
When There Is Nothing Left to Fight About
Every flame war will eventually burn itself out (even newbies get sick of the constant go-round). What is often left in the ashes is a creature, small and charred, wondering if Paganism is really any better than the religions left behind. With so many roaming the Internet like packs of wild dogs, it is easy to see how seekers can lose faith.
When you are newly studying a religion (or many religions) you are basically adrift. You have no ties to lore or gods or people. You are out on your own, looking for the right harbor. What you have is not yet faith; it is interest; and the ties that bind you to an interest are a lot more fragile than the ones that bind you to a faith.
I firmly believe that true seekers eventually will return; that no amount of adversity will turn them from the path calling to their souls. But is it right that so many newbies should be robbed of the time they might have spent studying accurate sources, learning better ways to do things, building themselves as Witches?
What happens when you run them off? Some may return to the religions of their youth with wild tales of the evils of Paganism. Others may slink back to an unfulfilling life for the sake of acceptance and familiarity.
The lucky ones, I think, will strike out on their own. They will slog through the muck, searching for small kernels of truth, and will connect with what gods and mysteries speak to them without any outside intervention.
Still others may search for Pagans who are kinder, gentler, and just itching to reaffirm any false notion the charred one may have. The glitter of fluffdom can be very alluring. I believe it is a disservice to newbies to have any part in driving them into that cotton candy faction.
Remembering What Is Really Important
What brings us to Paganism in the first place? What is it we find in our individual paths that is better/truer/more fulfilling than any other?
For me, there were multiple reasons. Chief among them was a desire for connection—to nature, to the divine, to humanity. Like many Witches, I believe in immanent divinity. Everything and everyone is imbued with the spark of the sacred.
For me, religions are about communion of the soul. Wherever you find that, whatever you call it, is ultimately your own business.
What does it gain anyone to “win” an Internet debate? What does wasting so much time worrying about someone else “doing it wrong” get you? Does it further your own practice? Does it really affect you at all?
It’s easy to be caught up in the world of Web pages, news stories, outrages, Witch schools and cyber covens. Every once in a while we need to remember that the gods do not live in cyberspace.
The real world is waiting to show you its mysteries. Whether surrounded by nature or in the heart of the city, we need to strive to spend more time in our bodies and less time living in our heads.
Just shutting off the computer for a single day can put everything back into perspective and recharge your soul. Take your dog for a walk and really see the divinity all around you. Suddenly, being “right” may not seem so important anymore.
Some Notes on Stalking the Bunny
When you come right out and ask, “What makes a Fluff Bunny?”, you usually will get a very specific and consistent answer (which is also exceedingly rare in our community). A “Fluff Bunny” is not the same as a newbie. Fluff Bunnies are willfully ignorant of the lore and mythology they claim to follow. They will defend misinterpretations and revisionist history to the death and are unwilling to even entertain a differing point of view. They tend to quote metaphor and advice as if it were gospel. Many subscribe to the ideal that Pagans should be only happy and helpful people who are accepting of all comers. This worldview is often referred to as the “Love, Light, and Lollipops” worldview. Nature is never cruel; life is never unfair; and all animals are secretly vegetarians. Fluff Bunnies are actually pretty easy to spot most of the time.
Years of dealing with them have lead some groups to assume than anyone with a unpopular (and often more mystical) point of view must be of the hated Bunnies. In some places, it has gotten to the point where if you follow a mystery-based faith and put more stock in personal experience than in scholarly historical research, you are written off as a “Closet Fluffy.” These places, while claiming to be open to all, really are welcoming only to certain types of Pagans even if they don’t realize it themselves, and few Witches (of any skill level) feel comfortable in their ranks.
With the popularity of Charmed, Buffy, Harry Potter and any number of Witch-y teen fiction books on the market, it is almost unheard-of to find a newbie who has no preconceived notions of Paganism and Witchcraft. And many of this new crop of wannabe Witches are younger than in previous years.
While it may be true that when most of us were young 13-year-olds could intelligently converse with adults, that doesn’t seem to be the way of things any more. The current state of North America’s school systems is such that we often are lucky if children can add proper capitalization and punctuation to a written message, let alone proper grammar and spelling.
Kids don’t seem to be taught how to search for information any more. What you and I might have spent hours reading through dozens of books, making notes, and studying about now is printed off the first interesting-looking Web site spit out by Google. There is no crosschecking of information; no baseline of reliable sources; just any-page-that-looks-good-or-gives-easy-answers snagged whole cloth from the Web.
And no matter how articulate or intelligent they may seem, young teens cannot be expected to have the same capacity for reasoning that adults have. Anyone who remembers what it feels like to have their bodies flooded with hormones should be able to understand how irrational such a state can make a person.
Keep it simple. Subtlety can be and often is lost on those whose bodies and minds are going through such massive changes. Some kids are going to believe that their way is right no matter what anyone says. Can any of us say that we didn’t honestly believe that we knew everything when we were teenagers? I know I certainly did. Best to say your piece and leave it at that. Sometimes just letting something sink in is the only way for them to “realize the truth of a thing” all on their own.
I am going to end this article with the reminder that not all newbies are fluffy. They may be obnoxious or confrontational with their questions and demands. They may have some silly or downright incorrect ideas and/or motives for seeking the path of the Witch. But that reason alone doesn’t make them unworthy of the opportunity to walk it.
The work will separate the wheat from the chaff. The Craft needs no “Defenders.” It is designed by its very nature to tear apart the fluffy, youthful ideal, to expose the naked core of a Witch and remake her in the image of strength and wisdom.
Location: Calgary, Alberta
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