Witch Wars: The Fight to be Right – Circa 2006

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 and socialization of worship with others. With the advent of the World Wide Web, that desire can be fulfilled in the space of a nanosecond, and you can find what seems like the whole of 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 an 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 email 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) 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 become a flame before any of the players seem to notice, and sooner or later you end up with a full blown Witch War on your hands. Participants become their opinions, and their view narrows to the point where they no longer see a fellow Witch or Pagan … all they know is that the other party as 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 that can trace its lineage back to Gardner? Or may those who follow the solitary teachings of published Wiccans claim it 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 been sparking 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 created a wide dearth 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 those few willing to teach. The teachers who do not simple retire into obscurity are left with strained tempers, and the stereotype of ‘Old Guard’ Witches being elitist, cranky and generally intolerant of ‘New Generation’ Witches. And with this ‘New Generation’ being rather angsty and overly emotional, the ‘Old Guard’ have endeavored to embrace their own stereotype and band together into groups that affectionately call themselves Fascist Meanie Poo-Poo Head Traditionalists.

With “Traditionalists’ facing off against self-styled ‘Eclectics’, the community has faced a rift that seems to grow ever wider. Focussing on issues of validity and claimed kinship make these debates even more ‘personal’. 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 like it 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 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 that seems 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 their try 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 agey’ 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’ will often 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 that some things need to be taken into consideration when claiming ‘clear communication’ as your reason for bashing newbies. These are relatively simple things, such as:

A conversation about divination techniques is not the place to try and refine 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.

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 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.

When someone comes looking for information to further their studies, they are often met with questions such as ‘well, what have you already read?’ This question is usually benign, and the information is used to help point them in a similar direction to what they are already learning. Demanding a seeker’s lineage before you will deign to answer a query on good Wiccan websites, 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 few instances when lineage is relevant to a discussion.

If your interest truly is clear and intelligent discourse, then it might be a good idea to keep these little tidbits 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 Paganisms are really any better than the religions they left behind. With so many roaming the Internet like packs of wild dogs, it is easy to see how they 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 will eventually return, that no amount of adversity will turn them from the path call calls 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 youths 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 fluffism can be very alluring. I believe it is a disservice to newbies to have any part in driving them into that community.

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 webpages, 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 Fluffy Bunny?’, you will usually get a very specific and consistent answer (which is exceedingly rare in our community).

A Fluffy Bunny is not the same as a newbie. Fluffy Bunnies are willfully ignorant of the lore and mythology that 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 only be happy and helpful people who are accepting of all comers. This 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. They 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, are really only welcoming 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 Witchy teen fiction books on the market, it is exceedingly rare to find a newbie who has no preconceived notions of Paganism and Witchcraft at all. 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, it doesn’t seem to be the way of things anymore. The current state of North America’s school systems is such that we are often lucky if they 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 anymore. What you and I might have spent hours reading through dozens of books, making notes and studying about is now printed off of the first interesting looking website that is spit out by Google. There is no cross-checking of information, no baseline of reliable sources, just any page that looks good or gives easy answers is 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 or motives for seeking the path of the Witch. That reason alone doesn’t make them unworthy of the opportunity to walk it.

It is the work that 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.

9 thoughts on “Witch Wars: The Fight to be Right – Circa 2006”

  1. Hello there,
    I was wondering if at some point I could use your essay for my magazine, Merry Meet. I would not be able to pay as the magazine is a non-profit making set-up which helps to fund a Pagan Festival in Sussex – The Eastbourne Lammas Festival. I would of course publicise your web address if I used it.
    many thanks
    Jerry Bird
    editor Merry Meet Magazine

  2. Merry Meet Phae,
    Very interesting essay. Really enjoyable and fully reflects my own experiences on the net. I’m going to link to you from a comment on my blog which we are currently having about “the pagan community” and the lack of communication with non-pagans. I think your opinions here will fit in nicely with our discussion. Please feel free to add your twopenneth worth to the discussion, I look forward to hearing your opinions.

  3. Regards Phae, your essay is worthy of your belief, your words from the heart, and very observant, and honest.
    I look forward to further postings from you, with a breath of fresh air that is badly needed witthe pagan community .

  4. To: starofseshat

    Thank you very much. I might just drop by 🙂

    To: Magister Sampson

    Thank you for your kind words. I’ve had a bit of a love/hate relationship with this essay, but in the end, I felt that it needed to be said.


  5. Hi Phae,

    Great article, thank you.

    Would it be possible to link to this page in order that others will have a glimpse into the reality of the senseless energy that is put into witch wars?


  6. Reblogged this on A Less Travelled Path and commented:

    Ten Years on, and I’m sad to say that this post is entirely still relevant. I think that the only thing that I would add is that I have removed myself completely from the scene. While there are times that I do feel bad that I didn’t stay in it to provide some manner of ally to the Seekers, I still believe that the best way to deal with Defender Trolls, is to disengage. The wealth of knowledge has grown exponentially in the last ten years. eBooks are a fraction of the cost of their paperback cousins. And only speaking for myself, if fate draws you to my inbox, I still happily answer all the questions I can.

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