Monthly Archives: April 2013

ANZAC Day – A Pagan Perspective

I am glad that, amongst all the noise and plastic in this world, the dead are still honoured.

Young people do attend dawn services on ANZAC day. Funerals are still (for the most part) celebrations of a life. Sometimes I get caught up in mourning the masses’ loss of contact with nature and the cycles of the real world around them… Loss of contact with each other, even. Then something small will happen that will nevertheless rekindle my faith in human beings in general.

The respect shown by Australians and others on ANZAC day is one of these things. I mean, maybe sharing image after image on Facebook is tokenism to some degree, but it still means that this day is in people’s minds. Whether you choose to think of it as a celebration of the sacrifices of heroes or a mourning for thousands sent to their deaths, you are thinking of the fallen. You believe in something. And without getting too Walt Disney about it, it is this belief that keeps the day alive.

It took me years to realise the significance of ANZAC day occurring near Samhain in the Southern Hemisphere. The rest of the year, non-pagan society celebrates with the Northern Hemisphere: secular Easter occurs nowhere near our Ostara, for instance. Many Australians are donning Halloween costumes as we head into the forest for Beltane, and don’t get me started on Yule logs and wreaths in the height of summer!

But at this time of year, as we are watching a new ending every day in the garden and thinking of those who are no longer with us and those who fell long before their time, Australia is, to some extent, thinking in the same way.

Today, maybe only today, we mourn and honour together.

Lest we forget.

– Galloway

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Craft No Place for Arrogance

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I was talking to an important friend a while back, about Traditional British Wicca and the people that seek it out. I won’t post up the conversation, but will glean bits that I want to talk about in my own words. Gone are the days when Alex Sanders and Gerald Gardner initiated a person the day after they met them, and raised them to third degree by the end of the week. You have to put in time, perseverance and honour now. Well, you did then too, but anyone interested was allowed into the scene and into the secrets.

Today, after a few decades of modern day Wicca, there is a large level of discernment. You can’t just waltz in anymore, you need to prove yourself to the coven you want to enter. They need to get to know you – all parts of you – they want to see how you will react in difficult social situations, how you handle other people, and how you behave within gossiping circles, and indeed, whether or not you even bother getting involved. Do you LOVE to argue about everything? That might not be a good thing, if you want in.

The Alexandrian and Gardnerian Traditions have begun to discriminate, because they have had too many nutjobs within their scene, which in turn, gives them a bad name. Just like anything. People with mental issues and mental illnesses frequent the pagan/witchcraft scene, as Galloway and I have mentioned in some form, within previous posts. You will definitely meet some personalities with whom you will clash with, and a lot you think should not be in a position of power. A lot of these people are like a moth to the flame in the pagan/wiccan scene because it makes them feel like somebody unique. Some people love to tell others how it is, so they love to be in an expert position where they can spread their word. Some love to know every bit of knowledge so they can hold debates with others about topics, and show off what they know, whether the other people want a debate or not. Some people just want to enjoy the sunshine and rainbow colours of a pagan event, not debate about what Aleister Crowley said to Austin Osman Spare 100 years earlier.

My friend in this British Wiccan group spoke to me about some recent ‘applicants’ wanting into the Craft and the coven, who did not ‘get’ the requirements. There were some personality traits lacking in these people that may never ever exist, unless they take a step down from their high horses. Arrogance and ego. These two words are not really all that welcome within Wicca today, at least not particular levels of it. Elitism at a level is not welcome either. I have, over the years managed to delineate between these three words and find two levels too it – there could even be more than two levels. I’ve seen elitism, ego and arrogance in its most pleasant form, where the people involved are within the ‘nicer’ spectrum of these three words, and these people are usually running the show, because they need to keep the negative people out. You need to be arrogant to be ruthless. And I’ve seen plenty of people in the ‘severe’ spectrum of them too. The severe arrogant, egotistical people are the ones I will talk about.

Pride, superiority, and snobbery have been observed in this scene when it was not even needed. The nicer elitists are discerning and judicious, which is where your elitist word comes in, they are in a position of power, and decide who they want in their group. They need to be discerning, or else they will get sick of a lot of people very quickly, and probably then won’t be able to get rid of them. Ever. Even I’ve seen that in local wiccan groups. Initiates are not given another degree, because they have been rude, demanding and selfish, and won’t do the work.

The Craft Whore

One particular kind of person I am most interested in is what Galloway and I call the craft whore. This person knows the ins and outs of everything to do with paganism, witchcraft, wicca, and other pre-christian religions and magical groups like Thelema, that had the fair grace to leave the shores of Britain. They will kiss the arse of those they consider elders, and even then, deep down, think they know more than those elders. There was one person that I loved hearing about from my friend, who wants into a coven, but cannot fathom some of the requests and personalities needed to be accepted. This person has no real opinion of their own – as a craft whore, they have read everything under the sun about everything, having decided what they think is right, but they do not have their own experiences to distinguish an opinion of their own. Nor could they fathom that they needed empathy. They looked confused when the words humility, hilarity, compassion and even maturity were needed within the Craft. When asked if they could do something, they simply did not understand and instead said that they had read about it, and had heard several opinions about the same thing, all from reading. Where is the experience? Where is the personal involvement within a situation, where you had a ‘moment’ with someone else in ritual, and could determine what you felt, what emotions surfaced. Empathy, selflessness and humility are important in the craft as much as hilarity and mirth. Not apathy, selfishness, arse-kissing, power and knowledge. While knowledge is important, it is not the only thing.

This person also wanted mystery and secrecy within a ritual they once conducted, and the ritual did not work the way they wanted it to, because they were too serious about it – YES! Being too serious in the Craft can be a big problem sometimes, and the Gods will just laugh at you. The person was also so confident that the ritual would be amazing, faultless and so perfectly written, that there was no rehearsal. Their rude behaviour towards other elders in the scene was just a time-bomb waiting to go off, the elders were invited by this person to this ritual so they could prove to the elders how amazing they were. It ‘died in the arse’ as some would say. Instead of gleaning respect, the individual lost more than they already had. They were rude to their fellow ritualists, and so arrogantly confident, that when things went wrong, they refused to admit that things had gone wrong, therefore never apologised. As far as it has been seen, this person has not learned from any of their mistakes, and still cannot fathom empathy. They arse-kiss anyone they think are worthy, and think they are better and more knowledgeable than those who they deem beneath them. They think that what they know will get them in, also who they know, and how popular they are. There is so much more to it than that. Sometimes these people expect too much from the coven, and get disappointed it’s not what they anticipated.

They are the kind of person who would read this blog post and not realise it’s them that I am talking about. That is how ignorant they are about their own character.

Authority Issues

Another issue in the craft is the problem with authority. In an old coven, you’ll probably have respectful elders who have been around for a long time. They will know a lot. And they will probably tell you what to do, not in a power-trip way, but because you may need to learn how to do it. It’s all for your good; your betterment within the Craft. If, of course, what you are told to do is a bit dubious, then this elder may not be who they say they are. Today, as mentioned earlier, elders and coven members will suss you out for a long time if you want into a scene, you have a chance to get to know them too, and decide whether they are the right kind of person to listen to/be involved with. But if you have a problem with authority, you may lose your chance at entering into this particular Craft scene. One person my friend spoke of, learned that this person did not like authority, so when she tested them, they failed the first test when they took it personally, thus ‘giving the finger’ to the Craft. Well, there was one arrogant person who never made it into the first level of the Craft because they showed their colours straight away! You must test your students in every way possible to see whether they are worthy. If you want into a group and don’t like authority, you will be tested – it may be like you are being bullied, and if you retaliate arrogantly, you should perhaps think about leaving. You probably just failed and will be given no other chance, unless you realise your mistake, apologise and want a re-test. How will you learn and move on if you cannot handle being told what to do?

These people were trying to get into one of the traditional Wiccan covens you hear about – from the line of Gerald Gardner and Alex Sanders of Britain, who have exclusive groups, but are not all that uncommon in the world. It didn’t work for them. You may think you are right for this or that coven, but in reality, it may not be right for you, you may be disappointed it’s not how you expected it. These days you must show your worth in all ways, not just what you’ve read. And you have to do the work – you cannot read every book out there and think you’ll be let in just like that.

This is why some covens go underground as mentioned in this small article here. People wonder why the traditional wiccan covens of the world shut up shop and not let anyone in so easily anymore. Can you blame them? With people like those mentioned above, it’s no wonder there are elitists out there keeping to themselves.

If you have not dealt with any of the issues from your childhood, then do not expect to bring your issues to a pagan group of any sort, dump your attitudes on them and be heartily welcomed. You WILL be told you are not mentally equipped to be involved in the Craft, and they will be correct in telling you that. Some mentally ill people ignore this – actually, most do. Be wary of this.

Some of the fluffier covens out there just like this one, will let just about anyone within their graceful doors, and frequently have issues that pop up in time. Letting anyone in can be a problem, especially when there is a good chance that you might let in the most recent mentally ill patient recently released from the local institution. They let anyone who is anyone in, and often, these places are the ones you would rather avoid because every nutter who likes the idea of paganism and witchcraft is allowed in. These ‘covens’ usually destroy themselves in time because of this. In-bitching, fighting, disagreements, problems with who is the ‘leader.’ Some could be sociopaths who love to seduce you and eventually garner money from you for their own personal desires. Be careful who you make friends with!

Conclusion:

–          If you are in a group or coven, don’t be too shy to discriminate and be discerning, if it’s for the good of your group.

–          Test your newer members unscrupulously.

–          There is good elitism and bad elitism – you may see both examples in the pagan scene, if you study people.

–          Be in control of who you chose to hang around with, you ARE allowed to leave a group whenever you feel uncomfortable.

–          Remember empathy, loyalty and honour is virtuous.

–          Knowledge will get you places, but not everywhere.

–          Power is nowhere near the most important thing in the Craft, and it will not get always get you where you want.

–          Show respect to all elders – they will know if you are just sucking up to them.

–          Don’t think that everyone new to the public pagan scene knows nothing, they may surprise you – treat everyone with respect upon meeting them.

~ yet another bossy post by Daracha ~

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The C-Word

“Community” is a word thrown around the pagan scene a lot these days, often by folks who are bemoaning its breakdown.

“I try to stay out of the pagan ‘community’ these days, if you can call it that anymore (sic),” writes one forum member.

These seem to be the same folk who get all misty-eyed about the “good old days” of paganism – back in the eighties and nineties – and blame today’s deterioration mostly on internet-based gossip, phoney-baloney elders, slander and witch wars.

I have already touched on the positives of the digital age for pagans. I still believe the internet can be a huge help to pagan groups, when it is used constructively. What some nostalgic types seem to be forgetting is that “bitchcraft” has been around for a long time, and pagans have been mud-slinging and name-calling for equally as long. As most Australian pagans who do their homework will know, Alex Sanders used a very different C-word in a letter to Simon Goodman way back in 1983.

As for the folk griping about the recent rise of fraudulent or otherwise dodgy “elders”, well, they are not unique to this religion, either.

But what exactly do people mean when they say “community”, anyway? In a traditional sense, the word refers to people who live in the same place, or have a similar characteristic in common. I do not live particularly close to any pagans, with the exception of one or two. In many cases the only characteristic I share with other pagans is that we are pagans. By feeling closer to the people in my town than I do to strangers sitting at their computers, I do not fit into the pagan community by this definition.

With that vague notion in mind, how would we define who is a part of this community and who isn’t? Should the term be reserved only for regular attendees of Pagans in the Pub? For members of a working circle, coven or kindred? There have even been recent rumblings about forming some sort of governing body, to which all pagans would be accountable. This would not work for a number of reasons, the main one being that it is not a very good idea.

I have been involved in the pagan “scene” here in Victoria for well over a decade, and through a number of different avenues have been exposed to the good, the bad and the ugly in terms of pagan people, places and practice. Below, I have selfishly put together my definition of pagan community, along with some thoughts on what I’m fairly sure it isn’t. Be sure to let me know yours.

Close-knit, not anonymous.

I think perhaps one thing the aforementioned nostalgic folk are missing is the size of the community. We have grown significantly in numbers in the last decade, but does that really mean we should all be holding hands, or stopping by for tea on Sundays? If two people are pagans, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will instantly become best friends.

This rarely happens.

Earlier on, when there were fewer people interested in paganism, it was sometimes quite relieving to bump into someone with similar beliefs, albeit ostensibly. Today, we seem to be drowning in Galadriel Moonkitty Darkravens, and this can be daunting/off-putting.

There also seems to be a networking fetish running rampant through modern pagans. Folks, it’s not about the quantity of people you know, it’s about the quality. What’s so wrong with an intimate gathering of close friends? So what if this pagan “celeb” or that likes your status update?

Free/NFP, not paid.

A lot has already been said about Craft for Sale. Let me reiterate: if someone is making big buckets of cash from the workshop/ritual/whatever you are attending, it is likely said event is bollocks. Paganism is not a commodity. Ritual is not a commodity. Magick is not a commodity. Plenty of organisations will, however, ask for money to cover essentials (in fact, there are very few pagan gatherings left that are totally free, thanks to our old friend Public Liability Insurance), which is fine. Just be discerning. If someone claims to be not for profit or acting for a charity, look into it first.

Helping out, not helping yourself.

One observation I have heard commonly is that the pagan community is quite a selfish one. I disagreed with this until I gave it proper thought.

How many pagans do you see going to tree planting days? To Clean Up Australia Day? You would think that, as nature-worshippers, we would be all over this sort of thing. But sadly, it seems we are all too ready to attend workshops for spiritual self-betterment, but struggle to help out at a grass roots level. To me, a pagan community with any real purpose would be out helping the environment, or their fellow human beings. Lending a hand to others without expectation of reward isn’t just a Christian thing: it’s part of being a decent person.

Optional.

I had started to write another criterion before this one: “Devoid of Tossers”. But I deleted it. As I mentioned above, there is no way to police the flakes, fruits and nuts in the greater pagan community. What we do have the power to do is to move away from those who “give us the irrits”. Either go solitary for a while or seek out others. There is a running joke between Daracha and I that for every decent, intelligent pagan there are around forty-five nutters. Non-irritating pagans do exist: they are just trickier to find than the dreaded Galadriel Moonkitties.

There are many more pagans in Australia now than there were ten years ago. It is also a lot easier for these pagans to communicate. Rather than lamenting the loss of true community, I think we should turn the lens back in on smaller groups of people. Baby steps. The pagan community is not gone. It is just adrift in a sea of faces…

Galloway.

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