This article was sparked by a recent discussion about Christo-Wiccans, but I have come across the same issues so many times elsewhere, that I felt they needed to be addressed separately.
It seems pretty clear to me that Pagans come to online forums and discussion groups looking for one of two things. Either they want to learn about Paganism, discuss and dissect different ideas and opinions, or they are looking for fellowship.
Often those looking for the latter end up finding themselves feeling beat up and degraded when they bring up a topic that piques people’s interests. They complain about being made to feel awful because they have a differing opinion from the majority, and even when attempts are made to explain how Pagan discussion forums work, they leave feeling that the group they encountered were simply elitist, closed-minded, and just plain mean. ‘Pagans are supposed to be tolerant!’ they shout. ‘You people are worse than Christians!’
The first thing I want to say is that though it may look like a fight when people are adamantly defending their views, I can assure you that usually, no one is angry at each other. The posters disagreeing are most likely friends. Pagans are a passionate bunch, and though we defend our ideas and beliefs with voracity, most of us have the ability to rethink those ideas and perhaps rework or discard them should they be proven unable to stand up to scrutiny.
For myself, that very thing is what keeps me coming back to the boards. I don’t post to have everyone tell me how insightful or wise I am (I don’t need that kind of ego stroking), I go on the off chance that a really heated exchange will either confirm my own beliefs or open my eyes to new possibilities.
That said, I am used to that format of learning now, and it did make me uncomfortable in the beginning (I am fundamentally, a person who prefers to avoid conflict). I overcame my discomfort because I am also a person who is very strong in her opinions. I know that my beliefs are well thought out, and completely valid to me.
Do I care that other people think that I am wrong or maybe a little crazy? In all honesty, I used to … but not now. This brings me to the point of this article:
The majority of people who come to the practice of Witchcraft, come looking for power. Some want power over that boy they like, but are too scared to talk to. Some want power over an oppressor who has trampled them down for too long. Some simply want the power to change their lives, or the lives of their family for the better.
What Witchcraft teaches (and I believe that this may be one of the few lessons that is nearly universal to all kinds of Witchcraft) is that the only power you need is over yourself. Now, that is not as easy as it sounds.
Most people grow up under the control of their parents; many move from the control of their parents into the control of their spouse. And many more spend the majority of their lives in the control of their pastor, priest or god.
Witchcraft takes that power and places it right back in your own hands. No one can stop you from making your mistakes, and no one is going to sacrifice themselves for your sins. This is your life, you take responsibility for it because no one else is going to.
Self responsibility is often a scary prospect. Many people don’t like the idea that there is no one with forgiveness at the ready, or that being sorry for a mistake isn’t enough. But what it gives you is something that almost no Pagan is willing to give up.
It gives you confidence. No more worries about whether or not dropping your athame during a ritual will offend your gods. No more wondering if maybe you really are going to hell. No more worrying if it is worth the family/community conflicts to follow your heart.
You have already sat down and ruthlessly scrutinized your own beliefs. You have not shied away from the hard questions. You and delved into the depths of your soul, confronted your fears and come out on the other side, a Witch.
Perhaps you don’t know a lot about Paganism or Wicca. Perhaps you are still looking for a path that sings to your spirit. Perhaps you aren’t even sure if you want to really leave the religion of your parents. But you know yourself. You know your worth. You know your own beliefs are valid and having someone disagree with you doesn’t change that.
This is not a call to doggedly defend beliefs simply because they are yours. While a Witch has the confidence to defend her position, she also has the wisdom to recognize where her beliefs may be lacking. She takes the opinions of others into consideration. If it makes sense, keep it; if not, discard it. No two people see the world through the same eyes.
The point is, when you are confident in yourself and your beliefs, then no one has the power over you to make you feel bad for having an opinion that isn’t popular. Many Pagans will tell you that this confidence is essential to all those following a minority religion.
Everyday your beliefs are going to be called into question by most of the outside world. And while you may feel that that should mean that all Pagans should support you by virtue of being Pagan, that is not the way of the world. We would be doing you no favors by coddling you rather than encouraging you to grow.
As a friend of mine is fond of saying, ‘It is called the Craft of the Wise, not the Craft of the Nice’. Wisdom is not handed out like communion wafers. It is a hard won prize, and we don’t expect all comers to possess it. This path is a life-long journey, and while we are always ready to challenge and dissect ideas and beliefs (even our own), we are also always ready to answer the questions of all seekers (even if that answer is ‘I don’t know’).
It may take time to get used to, but no community is perfect, and this is the only one we’ve got. Just remember, as a Witch, power over your life and your feelings belongs to you alone.
6 thoughts on “Article Archive – Circa 2005 – Power Over”
I agree with many of the premises in this post, so I will compliment you if I may! 🙂
As long as the discussions between those in witchcraft or Wicca remain respectful and as long as everyone gets a chance to speak, listen and learn, there’s no harm in challenging other people’s assumptions. Forums that manage to do this without being needlessly aggressive are unfortunately few and far between.
I don’t think politeness or being kind to those who are perhaps a little callow or unlearned is a bad thing; it’s not coddling but good manners.
It is not up to the more advanced to bring on the learners by whittling out the ‘weak’ ones; every one has been a learner, wondering what to read and who to ask. It all looks daunting and it’s no wonder some sound a little silly. However, you are right to say that the first and best lesson is always that we hold responsibility for ourselves, morally, apiritually and physically. Without tha tlesson well-learned, no-one can progress any further.
I wonder if the majority of people do come to witchcraft looking for power. Some do, certainly. I would say a good proportion come looking for spiritual fulfillment. Power could be said to be a follow-on from this. When we pray, we pray for strength – to defeat our enemies, to love ourselves more. If that’s what you mean by power, then I see your point.
No community is perfect, but we have the power to change it into what we want it to be. We’re still so young and pliable as a belief-structure. This is our greatest strength.
I agree with much of your comment. However, as much as we may wish to be kind and polite to seekers, that is not the way of the world.
There will always be people who are cold and prickly. And while I have seen it taken much too far, I think that in general, it does a good job of weeding out people who are not right for the Craft.
To be a Witch is to wield power. You have to be able to handle it. And that means that you have to be able to deal with people who are prickly without being crushed like a flower.
A beautiful spirituality is a wonderful thing, but a Witchcraft is not about spirituality alone.
Certainly not about spirituality alone, and perhaps not at all for some. It’s true that witchcraft does not necessarily involve a spiritual element. In that sense, I understand your opinion that the world isn’t a nice place and that coutesy and kindness is not the way of the world.
I think it’s unfortunate that we can’t choose to be different to the ‘way of the world’. I can’t see the benefit in discouraging seekers because we judge them to be incorrect for the path – which is, in effect, what we do if we give them a hard enough time for them to drop out, discouraged.
Are we qualified to judge someone else’s correctness for a life path? Even taking aside the spiritual issue for the moment?
I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts Phaetalon!
I didn’t say that we couldn’t be different, or that everyone had to be prickly. But denying that there is an element there to challenge the seeker is doing them a disservice.
Just because someone isn’t all hugs and kisses to everyone they meet, doesn’t mean that they don’t have something worthwhile to teach.
That is something that I have learned through first hand experience on this path. If I had allowed myself to be turned away because someone wasn’t cheering me on like a toddler learning to walk, I wouldn’t be a Witch today.
And I don’t think that is a bad thing. Unlike Christianity, Witchcraft does not claim to be the path for all. We don’t accept everyone as kin, no matter how much they may want us to.
Does that mean that we are judging the value of someone else’s path? I don’t believe so. Being different isn’t an insult.
Diversity is beautiful, and if someone feels that they are less because they are different than me, then that is something that they need to work on. I cannot give them a feeling of self worth.
“If that which you seek you do not find within, you will never find it without.”
Many of us do crave Pagan community, be it real life or online. But, whew!, it’s tough to find in either place.
Very much enjoying your writing and your thoughts…
Thank you 🙂