Please find below an exchange I’ve witnessed roughly eleventy-billion times over the course of the last two decades:
Wiccan Newbie – “I’ve been reading this book that says a wooden wand with a carved phallic tip represents the East and the element of Air. But I’ve got some feathers lying around, and I want to use those instead. Is that okay?”
Wiccan Oldie – “My dear, I haven’t used ritual tools in ages. They’re just crutches after all. Real Witches don’t need them.”
And now, a translation:
Wiccan Newbie – “I don’t want to put any actual effort into this. Please validate me.”
Wiccan Oldie – “I’ve never put any actual effort into this. Please validate me.”
A bit harsh, perhaps, but I gotta tell you, this is one of my biggest NeoPagan pet peeves: Not only seekers who try to find easier, softer ways right out of the starting gate, or teachers who’d rather put on fine airs and treat students like serfs than actually, y’know, teach, but that attitude of “real blah blahs don’t need blee blahs.” Real Witches don’t need tools; real Druids don’t need… important… Druidy things… okay, I don’t know what Druids need. But you get the idea.
Ritual tools are a lot more than seasonal decorations. I mean, the wand does correspond to the element of Air, but if that were its sole reason for existing, I’d glue some paper to it and make a fan; the ritual knife may be associated with Fire, but it’s got purposes other than to just sit on the altar being Fiery.
Merriam-Webster defines a tool as “a handheld device that aids in accomplishing a task,” or “an instrument or apparatus used in performing an operation or necessary in the practice of a vocation or profession.” And just as a knife or a wand is more than a convenient symbol, so Witchcraft is not simply a belief system: It’s a vocation, a Craft in and of itself. And if I’m going to craft anything, I’m going to use the appropriate tools to do so.
Let’s say I want to hang a picture on my wall. I could try pushing a nail into the stucco without any outside help, which would probably work, but would take forever and obliterate my fingers. I could also try banging it in with the heel of a shoe, which would be more effective, but would still take awhile, and the clunkiness of the shoe would mess up my aim: I’d have to make several attempts to get it right. Or, I could just use a hammer, and have the nail exactly where I want it within five seconds.
But for fun and the sake of redundancy, here are a couple more hyperbolic examples:
“I don’t actually use Tarot cards to read Tarot. What I do is visualize the deck, and then I give a reading based on whatever cards I end up thinking about.”
“So you just think about the cards you feel best answer your clients’ questions?”
“You know, real clients have faith in my abilities.”
“It’s a minor outpatient procedure, in which we’re going to claw open your throat and tear out the lipoma with our bare hands.”
“Um… won’t that be painful?”
“Yes, but real patients don’t need anesthesia.”
Tools come in handy. They enable us to work exactly and efficiently. My knife is a tangible extension of my will; my altar is a touchstone and focal point that allows me to not have to put stuff on the floor; my cup keeps me from having to chug my consecrated sparkling grape juice straight from the bottle. And sure, there are a whole honking bunch of ways to practice Witchcraft without using them (because, as the late Peter Paddon once pointed out, if you can’t do magic naked in a bunker with a plunger, then you can’t do magic at all). But turning one’s nose up at a given tool without making the effort to obtain or understand it is just lazy. And real Witches are, as a whole, decidedly not that.
It’s tempting to toss out the aspects of Wicca that strike us as unnecessary, or boring, or just plain icky. However, the more we get rid of, the less we have to work with, both phyiscally and spirtually. And we should be working at this, you guys. We work a rite, cast a circle, tread the mill, turn the wheel; we bind, we cut, we open and close. Witchcraft, at its core, is an active, energetic practice.
So practice it. Break a sweat. Pick up a tool and get busy.
Many moons ago, on (what I thought was) an obscure Pagan listserv, someone brought up a recently published book on Wicca and asked if anyone was familiar with it. I replied that the book in question was a revised edition of an earlier manuscript, that it contained a number of inaccuracies, and that the author had a dubious reputation. Thus was my legacy as the Libel Monster from Hades apparently born.
Months later, I received an email from the author. The subject line was simply the title of his book, so I figured it was a mass-mailed press release or something. I opened the email and read the first couple of paragraphs, and then I thought, “Wow, this press release contains a lot of profanity and spelling errors. That’s an unusual public relations strategy.” it was at this point I realized the email was addressed to me personally.
Unamused by my assessment of his work, the author raged against my “incompetent” opinions and condemned me (I am not making this up) for being part of the vast, shadowy Wiccan cabal that was out to destroy him. Upon reflection, I decided a response was unnecessary, but I was extremely curious as to how he tracked me down. We didn’t know each other in real life, and we weren’t members of any of the same online forums, so the fact that I’d even made it onto his radar was, at the very least, unsettling.
Initially, I suspected that someone had reprinted my comments in a different venue, so I Googled my name, along with the book title and a couple of other keywords, and… bam: The top result was the listserv itself — specifically, my original message. It turned out that the owner of the list had never adjusted the privacy settings, so any and everything posted to the group was visible to anyone who thought to look for it. Mystery solved (huzzah), but I learned an important lesson about online anonymity, in that there really isn’t any. So now, regardless of how “private” or “hidden” or “secret” a given discussion group claims to be, I ask myself, “Do I care if this traces back to me?” before jumping into the fray. If the answer is “no,” then I post whatever I want; if it’s “yes,” then I keep my damn yapper shut.
I tell this story, because last night, my blog stats spiked. This on its own is not newsworthy — the majority of the hits I receive come from all both of my readers, but occasionally there’s some kind of weird, virtual solar flare, and my stats suddenly skyrocket before settling back down to normal, Z-List levels. So a random blip now and again is no biggie, except in this case, all the new visits were coming from social media platforms on which I do not have a presence.
Before we go any further, I should explain that I have Internet Search Engine Superpowers. Seriously, I’m like Find-Things Girl, except the Internet. I don’t know why I’m as good at it as I am, and it’s about as marketable a skill as having the aisles of a grocery store memorized, but regardless, I can find the hell out of shit, as demonstrated by the following conversation that actually happened a few years back:
Friend – “This guy @PublicPaganName on Twitter is pissing me off.”
Me – “Just ignore him, dude.”
Friend – “I want to, but I can’t stop looking at his feed. I wish I could just call him up and make him understand how wrong he is.”
Me – “Hang on a second.” [tap tap tap, click click] “He works at an Ann Taylor about an hour or so from Joliet. Do you want the phone number?”
Friend – “…”
Me – “Or maybe just the PO box?”
He didn’t want either, but you get the idea. So yeah, once all these hits came flying in from out of nowhere, I summoned my amazing mutant abilities, ran a couple of queries and discovered a covey of Bright Young Things discussing my blog.
Not fans, as it turns out. Which? Kind of awesome.
As a writer, it’s actually pretty hard to find quality, unbiased feedback, and while this wasn’t the motherload, it was certainly a mineable vein. Plus one of the comments (less constructive criticism, more zinger) was hilarious enough that I honestly want to send the author a muffin basket. But I’m also thinking about that “anonymous” book review I wrote however many years ago, and I’m wondering: Do these people know I can see what they’re saying?
Maybe so and maybe no, and neither really matters (to me, at least). But overall, I do hope they’re being careful with what they say and where they say it, since disgruntled Netizens don’t always give up after one late-night, semi-coherent email. Or, failing that, I hope they are open to approaching these situations in terms of humor — that is, if you’ feel compelled to look both ways before telling a joke, it is probably best left untold. Likewise, if your last thought before posting a comment is, “It’s not like he/she/they will ever see this,” then maybe, y’know, take a breath and reconsider before hitting “send.”
So with all that said and done, there’s only one question left to address. Nicole, @Gardnerians and I are not the same person, but you’re right: I really do tend to ramble.
Thanks for reading!
As might be inferred from the picture above, I’ve only ever bitten one person. I was five years old, at a birthday party or something, and my mouth was open. I do not remember why my mouth was open — maybe I was yawning, or maybe I was just having a moment of slackjaw — but regardless, my mouth was open, and for whatever reason, the kid next to me reached over and stuck his hand in it.
So I bit him.
At the time, I remember feeling very logical and justified about the whole thing. The other kid, however, freaked the fuck out and ran to the adult chaperones (one of them being my mother), wailing like a banshee and pointing (what was left of) his finger at me.
“You bit him?” my mother asked, more concerned than angry.
“He put his hand in my mouth,” I replied, matter-of-factly.
“And why did he put his hand in your mouth?” she asked, now just confused. I shrugged and raised my eyebrows as if to say, “Your guess is as good as mine, lady; I just work here.”
I don’t remember exactly what happened next, but I assume she made me apologize, to cover her bases and assure the other moms that she wasn’t raising feral children. Anyway, the point here is that I bit someone, because he put his hand in my mouth. And I’m thinking about this now, 35 years later, because I just saw something similar happen on Twitter.
The whole affair kickstarted with some snarky tweets directed at the author of Gardnerians. The author of this blog is actually a good friend of mine, and…
[Okay, I need to stop here for a sec. The author in question writes anonymously, and while I am not about to out him, I also can’t just call him Anonymous Author, because he’d hate that. Trust me. Instead, I’m just going to start that last sentence over and give him a pseudonym I guarantee he’ll appreciate.]
Destruct-o the Baconator is actually a good friend of mine, and knowing his sense of humor, I was not surprised to find him vaguely baffled but clearly amused by the unwarranted attention. He remained aloof but polite as his newest detractor (let’s call him Frothy) barked furiously, and he gamely tossed out loaded talking points for Frothy to pounce on and gnaw. You’d think Frothy would eventually catch on to the fact that he wasn’t being taken seriously, but nope, not so much: By the time I went to bed, he was still frothing away, and using the word “bullshit” a lot, which, y’know, doesn’t lend itself well to one’s academic credibility.
The last tweets I saw from him were addressed to Twitter at large, denouncing Destruct-o and slathered with passive aggression, which (in my mind, at least) confirmed his motivations. Just as that other five-year-old put his hand in my mouth and then feigned shock when I left teeth marks, Frothy — displaying roughly the same level of maturity — attacks specifically to provoke negative reactions. When he receives those reactions (and I assume this has gotten him results in the past), he can then wheel around and scream about the mean, ignorant jerks who are trying to suppress him. Cue the sympathetic music for our maligned anti-hero.
This tactic actually works well for toddlers and adolescents (or at least, it worked for the kid I bit, because really, who are you going to believe: The kid who’s bleeding, or the kid licking the blood from his lips?), but it’s a little harder to pull off via social media. It is as nothing to click around and determine who lobbed the first grenade in any given online skirmish, so if Frothy (or someone like him) picks a fight and then loudly proclaims innocence and/or persecution, all he’s really done is make himself look like… well, a mean, ignorant jerk.
Thing is (and I’ve gone through this before), I get it. I get that need to denigrate others, and I get the jealousy that runs underneath it. Years ago, I developed a mad-on against this one particular Pagan blogger. She mainly blogged about the New Age dance class she was taking and her favorite vegan recipies, but oh, how I desperately wanted to strangle her, because one time she made disparaging remarks about Wicca and intimated that forged metal was rapey, and that pushed me right over the edge.
But you know why I really hated her? Because she’d published two books. Which I could’ve done too, if I’d put as much effort into writing as I did trying to convince everyone that I already was a successful writer. (Hint: I wasn’t.) Granted, I never went after her on Twitter or anything, but I did tell anyone who would listen how much I loathed her, and why I had extremely sound and valid reasons for doing so. (Hint: I didn’t.)
So yeah, I understand. And I always get in trouble when I say I understand effed-up behaviors, so let me clarify: Understanding is not the same as excusing. I mean, I fully understand why Kim Davis is the way she is, but I still cheered when she went to jail. And I fully understand why Frothy & Co. try to bully the people they perceive as somehow better than they are, but I still giggle when the objects of their antipathy ignore and dismiss them.
Of course, there’s always the chance that Frothy is a standard-issue sociopath, in which case any other attemtps at profiling are moot. But I like to think the kid I bit no longer puts his hands where they don’t belong, and I like to think that one day, Frothy will accept that his opinions are ultimately irrelevant.
As is anyone’s opinion of him.
A frantic text message to my buddy Angelo:
Hey, I know you’re at work, but this guy I used to date is now engaged to someone he’s known for a month, and Alan’s at Southern Decadence, and Douglas isn’t speaking to me this week, and I literally might die if I don’t laugh about this with somebody.
He called moments later and laughed his ass off along with me, because he’s a brother and a true friend. And then I may or may not have agreed to fly to Chicago with him next May and act as his publicist/handler while he competes for the title of International Mr. Leather. Like you do.
This is… not exactly where I expected sobriety to take me. But I’m cool with it overall.