Douglas wanted to run by Houston’s occult supercenter this afternoon, and being nothing if not a good sport, I tagged along. I am not a big fan of this store — actually, I take that back. The store itself is fine, with a good selection of merchandise at reasonable prices. It’s the employees I can’t stand.
And actually, let me take that back as well — some of the employees are really cool. There’s the one girl who’s hilariously sarcastic and always in a good mood, and there’s the friendly if odd-looking guy on whom Douglas has a harmless if inexplicable crush. The rest of them, though, are my least favorite type of Pagan: Haughty and pretentious and doing their best to project auras of voluminous magical (magickal/majikal/mahzheegahl) power, even when it is excruciatingly clear that they have no idea what they’re talking about.
Of these employees, Lady Crushed Velvet reigns supreme. (I don’t know her real name, but Veles and I have been calling her Lady Crushed Velvet for years, so why stop now?) Draped in the finest yep, you guessed it, Lady Crushed Velvet has mastered a combination of service and condescension, assisting her customers while making sure they understand how grateful they should be that a Mistress of the Ethereal Arts is taking time out of her busy schedule of psychic ascension to ring up their smudge sticks. I once witnessed her berating an underling for heresies unspecified, then turn to a coworker and remark, “And that’s how you talk to a student.” Hopefully, said student was able to drop the class with his transcripts intact.
Lady CV was not in residence today, although her first runner-up was: an older woman serving Been There, Croned That realness. If asked to list her current occupation, she would probably put down “Wisewoman.” Douglas and I were poking around the display cases near the front of the store and checking out the jewelry we really
couldn’t afford didn’t need, when a twenty-something young lady hesitantly approached the counter.
“Hi, I’m looking for information on Wicca,” she said.
“Wicca or Witchcraft?” Been There asked, in a tone suggesting they were sitting under a bare light bulb in a cinderblock interrogation room.
I didn’t catch the next part of the conversation, but I guess the girl said Wicca, because I heard Been There say, “Wicca is a religion. You’re looking for Witchcraft.”
“I didn’t realize there was a difference,” said the young woman.
“Oh, there most certainly is,” Been There replied. “Come with me.”
Been There escorted her new protégé over to the book section, while I shot Douglas a look that was all, I am morally obligated to prevent whatever is about to happen, and Douglas shot me a look back that was like, I need you to not be you until after that customer pulls out of the parking lot. So I glared at him all, You’re not my real mom, and he glared back like, I drove us here and will happily abandon you, so I shot him one more look that was all, Touché, and then I waited until he was distracted by a fantasy-film replica sword and scampered across the store.
I caught up with Been There and pretended to browse as she thoughtfully scanned the titles and tapped her lips and went, “Hmmm, let’s see, what should we start you with?” Her stance and demeanor implied that she’d read every book in the store and was mentally comparing them chapter by chapter, but I have worked in retail and could see through her act, it being the same one I used when I worked at a health food store and had not been trained on any of the products we carried.
“Hmmm, let’s see, a gluten-free option,” I would say, facing a rack of whole-wheat pastas. “What’s the right gluten-free option for you?”
Been There eventually made some decisions and pulled a few books from the stacks. “Here’s what I recommend,” she said. “Sit on that bench, right over there, and begin reading these, and find the one you most identify with.”
And she handed the girl three books on Wicca.
Douglas managed to wrestle me out of the store before I started kicking, but if there’s one major downfall to modern Paganism, it’s the emphasis on assumed expertise over the actual learning process. Everyone’s got to be a damn expert on everything right out of the gate, and anyone who dares admit ignorance is immediately dismissed. It hurts me in what’s left of my soul when students feel like they have to apologize for being students, and that happens because people like Been There and Crushed Velvet define “student” as “lesser than.” And that happens because people like Been There and Crushed Velvet are afraid to step out from behind the curtain and admit that they do not know everything, that at best they are students themselves.
And it is okay to be a student. It is even more okay to be willing to learn. And it is the mostest okay to say, “I don’t know, but let’s go find out.”
I say all of this as a horrible hypocrite, since within the Traditions I practice [Ed. Note: It’s also okay to not practice any Traditions], I will often catch myself smiling and nodding instead of asking for clarification. But I am currently
besieged blessed with students of my own, and I want them to be excited about what they’re learning, as opposed to beating themselves up for not already knowing it.
I’ll leave you with one last thought, using the Judeo-Christian religious model as an analogy: From an educational standpoint, getting ordained into the Catholic or Anglican priesthood is the equivalent of earning a PhD. Feel free to point this out the next time you encounter a Pagan positioning himself as an authority with no sanction other than willpower.
Feel free to hand him a book on the subject.