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Publicly Other: Witchcraft in the Suburbs
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Article ID: 13486
Age Group: Adult
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Author: Rhys Chisnall
Posted: August 23rd. 2009
Times Viewed: 3,981
Whilst on holiday recently, in the West Country, my girlfriend and I stopped off briefly in Glastonbury. I was both shocked and amazed when I discovered that one shop was selling sticks, oh sorry I mean staffs, for £135! Don’t people know you can pick these things up for free in your local woods?
What is worse, when browsing the Internet, I have seen courses in Wicca offered from £200, or more, and on closer inspection they contained the same content as your average Popular Wicca book at £15! What is going on? Is the turning of spirituality into a commodity really desirable?
We could get into a heated debate about what Wicca and the Craft really are. Certainly, from the perspective of the initiatory Craft, practitioners would agree that this commercialization of training is fundamentally wrong. However, this argument is unlikely to influence those who have a very different view of Witchcraft. It would simply end in a row about what Witchcraft is.
As such it is difficult to show, philosophically, that selling all forms of Wicca/Witchcraft is unethical or wrong, but it is possible I think to show that it denotes an undesirable trait, by looking at how we value things.
Before I go on I would say that I am not talking about people who charge a small fee to cover their expenses in training, nor am I having a go at craftsmen who put a lot of time and effort into their work and produce wonderful and beautiful artifacts that are sold at a fair price. Nor am I talking about people who charge a reasonable price for providing a service, nor is it about people who write books, most of whom write for love of their subject rather than financial reward.
My targets for this essay are those who sell over priced ‘Wicca’ stuff and Witchcraft training for profit.
The argument is simple in that I am going to assume that all who practice Witchcraft value it, it is important to them. In her essay, ‘Neither use, nor Ornamental”, the philosopher Jane Howarth talks about two kinds of valuing: “instrumental” and “non instrumental” value.
“Things with instrumental value include consumables, raw materials and literally instruments…such things serve a means to an end, they serve our purpose.” (Howarth, p.230) .
Arguably Witchcraft has an instrumental value, regardless of whether you consider it as a discipline that leads to experience of the mysteries and self-empowerment as in initiatory Craft, access to the favor of the gods in Pop Wicca, or as healing and therapy as per New Age Wicca. It serves a specific function.
People don’t tend to get to uppity when it comes to selling things with instrumental value like knives, washing machines or cars. These things are replaceable. You could in theory replace initiatory Craft with Sufism, Mystical Christianity, or the Qabbalah in order to experience the mysteries or you may replace New Age Wicca with Reiki for healing. However, somehow, where spiritual traditions are concerned that just doesn’t seem right.
“The crucial feature about non instrumental value, in contrast, is that the [thing] has value because of the specific properties it has. A change to those properties would affect, or at least require a reassessment of its value.” (Ibid. p230) .
Therefore we may value an oak tree for the particular properties it possesses. If someone was to dig up our oak and replace it with an ash, or a supermarket, we might get upset as the oak is replaced with something else.
Non-instrumental value is a value that is not replaceable. We value it not because it has some use to us, but in and of itself. I would suggest that this is true of whatever type of Witchcraft we practice.
It goes deeper than this, as Hoswarth nodding towards Heidegger’s concept of care, suggests a third way of valuing, i.e. cherishing. She argues that cherishing is not simply behavior or instrumental, but is an interaction, a relationship between two things. She claims that cherishing has three aspects.
Firstly, that what one cherishes is irreplaceable. So for Witchcraft, replacing it with something else whether it is Qabbalah or Reiki just will not do.
Secondly, we have a history of past interaction with it. In other words we have spent time, energy, hard work and discipline practicing it and presumably have gotten results.
Thirdly we take care of it. We want the best for it, and do our best when working with it.
I would argue that it is within this non-instrumental cherishing that it becomes undesirable to sell the Craft. Who amongst us would want to sell our most treasured possessions? Some things are simply beyond a price. They are just too valuable to us that we would want to use them to make money. As such if we cherish the Craft, however we practice it we would not want to sell it on to just anybody or see it turned into a mere money making commodity.
We also find it undesirable when other people sell the things we cherish. Imagine how you would feel if something you cherished was sold by someone else. Consider something sacred to you being turned into nothing more than a commodity. So it is with the Craft.
Yes we all know that what is being sold in these £200 plus courses is not the same thing that we would call Witchcraft, but somehow, because of the name being used to sell it, it feels to us that what we cherish is being turned into a commercial money making enterprise. Sadly some people know the cost of everything, but the value of nothing!!!
However, that having been said by the more cynical amongst us, high price charlatans can perform a useful function, in that the gullible may learn the lesson of discernment from their experience of being fleeced. Maybe even feel the cold wind of Reality blow around their nether regions, awaking then to a chance to take a second take on what they are doing with their Lives and the basis of their personal value systems.
"Buying" so-called experiences and tools only reduces involvement to that of the vicarious. It is only when we pay the full price of Involvement, of Hard Work and of Dedication, do the "doors of the inner temple" open to us, and then we own, by dint of our efforts, the key to Self Actualisation.
Making one’s own tools leads to a greater understanding of that they "are" and what their symbolism and uses are, as well as the limitations inherent in either the tools or in their user. They are your tools, with part of you in the making and forming of the implement. And at the same time, you too are forged in the fire of involved construction and self-development.
It is true that we do give away what we cherish as valued gifts to people whom we believe are worthy it. It is the same in Craft. Craft training was always traditionally given away free of charge.
One reason is that the people who train had gained a great deal from the Craft and they feel it is their duty to give something back. They want to ensure the future of the thing that they cherish by passing it on to people who they believe will work with it and treat it with the same respect.
To my mind, the Craft has both instrumental and non-instrumental value. It is this non-instrumental value of the Craft that leads us to cherish it. We find it undesirable that things that we cherish should be turned into moneymaking commodities. Therefore it is undesirable that the Craft is sold for hundreds of pounds in Wicca courses and is used to sell over priced new age ‘knick knacks’.
Hoswarth., J., (2007) , Neither Use Nor Ornament, (Environment, Ethics and Human Concern) , Open University
Location: Stowmarket, England
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