Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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Why Public Hexing Could Actually be Good Publicity

Frankly, I think it's the best publicity that we've had in years.

The recent cyber-hexing of a convicted (but, some would say, under-sentenced) college rapist has generated both an unwonted flurry of interest in the mainstream press and a firestorm of controversy within the Craft itself.

Much of the criticism that I've seen (and heard) has centered, interestingly, not on whether or not hexing is ethical, but on whether or not it's good press to talk about it in public.

And I'm going to contend that it may well be.

When the modern Craft first surfaced in the 50s and 60s, it got a lot of press, much of it bad, and it looked hot. Nudity, sex, magic: it was interesting. People looked at it and said: I want that. (I was one of them.) And the Craft flourished.

Then came the 70s and 80s, and the “An It Harm None” Era of public relations: the great Taming of Wicca. What were we telling the press then? No, really, we're just family-friendly, harmless Nature-worshipers. No tits, no dicks, no whips, no juice. Move along, folks, there's nothing here to see.


Even at the time, I kept saying: Say these things to the press if you must, but don't let's believe them ourselves.

So now the powerful women of the Witch tribe publicly curse a rapist, using all available technology of social media and the press: tribal behavior in the classic sense of the term. Public shaming can be a powerful motivator.

For those who read these things literally, it's a spell on a grand scale.

As a deterrent, think: who would want to be on the receiving end of that?

And for those (both inside and outside) who are savvy enough to see the masterful use of psychology here: well, you can't help but think, There's something there.

For those who can't see that magic is metaphor, well: this kind of thing may make us look deluded.

But deluded or not, there's something compelling, and powerful, about it.

It's powerful, and it's got juice.

And when it comes to press, powerful and interesting beats out innocuous and boring, any day of the lunar month.

Witches make good friends and good neighbors. If we say we'll do something, we'll do it. If you need help, we'll help you out.

But that doesn't mean that you shouldn't be afraid of us.






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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


  • Anne Forrester
    Anne Forrester Thursday, 16 June 2016

    Personally, Steve, I think you're wrong on several accounts here. If you were on Facebook, you'd see that there ARE several discussions about Wiccan and Pagan ethics that have been generated from this mess, my own essay included, which can be found here for those who are on Facebook and are interested: or at HelgaHedgewalker.

    And I definitely do not think that in the age of lunatic terrorists and right-wing monsters, making the public unreasonably afraid of us solves anything.

  • Steve Gilroy
    Steve Gilroy Thursday, 16 June 2016

    So basically a public hexing is good because it makes paganism look cool?
    Yeah, let's throw morals and karma out the window so we can look cool to non-pagans.

  • Jen Hunter
    Jen Hunter Thursday, 16 June 2016

    Steve! I have been trying to email you, but can't find an email address for you anywhere online, including your website. That is probably intentional on your part, but I want to give you the opportunity to take possession of the cassette tape with the interview I did with you for Magickal Judaism. I am enduringly grateful for your contribution, but I don't need the tape anymore. You are sharing a tape with Starhawk, so if both of you want your interviews, I'll send digital copies instead. (I'll ask her next.) Please let me know, and if you want the tape, please email me your mailing address (and then I'll have your email address to send you the digital copy if need be). I enjoy reading your contributions to Witches and Pagans, but hadn't registered to comment until this attempt to reach you. :-) Hope you're well.

  • Chris Moore
    Chris Moore Thursday, 16 June 2016

    Steve, I get your argument. It's a valid one. I would also argue that, in my opinion, we are sacrificing too much to make witchcraft look harmless and palatable to non-pagans.

  • Connie Lazenby
    Connie Lazenby Thursday, 16 June 2016

    The instillation of fear. Interesting take.
    Does anyone think that was the purpose of the hexing? Or seriously, the result?

    Morals and Karma? Really? You are worried about the morality of hexing a rapist that ruined a good part of an innocent young woman's life? Whose morality would that be, anyway? Sounds like a pretty non Pagan way of thinking to me. Dare I say, an exceedingly Christan one?
    Karma? Again with another religion, philosophy, or personal belief system's rules and regulations applied to Witches?
    Perhaps, just perhaps, these Witches made their decisions based on their own beliefs. Not based on what a patriarchal society "allows" them to do.
    Not based on what another religion's artificial constructs "forbids" them to do.

    Opinions are great ... but when you start making value judgments based on some artitrary set of rules and regulations?

  • Steve Gilroy
    Steve Gilroy Thursday, 16 June 2016

    Yes, Morality is a concern. Responding to one immoral act with another immoral act is a problem, regardless of your religion.
    Yes, Karma. Karma is from another religion, The Rede says "Mind the Three-fold Laws you should three times bad and three times good." That is Karma.

  • Connie Lazenby
    Connie Lazenby Thursday, 16 June 2016

    Steve, who gave you the right to be a moral authority over other people's actions?

    The Goddess herself?

    "The Rede," "the Rede," the Rede."

    In the first place, do some research and read the original "rede" in its original context.

    In the second, the "Rede" doesn't apply to non Wiccans, just as the 10 commandments don't apply to NonChristians!

  • Steve Gilroy
    Steve Gilroy Thursday, 16 June 2016

    No one gave me the right to be a moral authority over other people's actions, however my morals would not allow me to use magic to wish harm or negativity (i.e. hex) someone, thus my view of it as immoral.
    I have done plenty of research on The Rede and it's context, and you are correct The Rede does not apply to non Wiccans, however the generally accepted definition of Witch is one who practices Wicca, so it does apply to anyone using name/label Witch in the generally accepted way.

  • Dynishka DieuDonni
    Dynishka DieuDonni Thursday, 16 June 2016

    Loved this piece, Steven. I'm so tired of this castrated version of The Witch and Witchcraft! I have some pedigree concerning public fear with Amber LeStrega in my house (1980s) and having a whole town try to burn the house and ultimately forcing us out with the mayor pleading with us, for our lives to leave. We got a truck and the town loaded it, Amber wrote about (love small town IA back then). I have always Been out and always been one of the people in the minority amongst minorities. This was my reply on Ali's page regarding all this:
    A Witch should always be feared! Public acts are sometimes necessary to remind the collective that there are forces, invisible worlds of thought and Will that flow round them. Public things such as this case are open for Public displays — let the fire rise high and burn those that think they can dance to near [H]er flame. One of the reasons I find the Pagan community so unappealing is the airy fairy element (there is a line in the sand separating Pagans and Witches, as well as those that fall under WiccaLight). A Witch works in silence, yes! A Witch also makes a stand! There is power in a public Stand — it ripples, and those waves do grow by the very nature of exposure and magical mystique!
    I commend that coven for being Bold, Fierce, and without concern for appearance! The article is as they always are, twee.

  • Ali Art
    Ali Art Thursday, 16 June 2016

    I am all for self-empowerment. Particularly as this relates to females who live in a world where rape culture is so prevalent. However, as I read the comments from those participating in this very public hex, my first thought was wow- there's a lot of self-aggrandizing behavior here. Whether or not with a hex or a healing when this level of ego-stroking occurs I feel it might merit cause for concern.
    In addition, if there has ever been a rape case where a victim has already taken her own power back it is this one where the letter read aloud by the woman who was raped in this case has now been read by millions of women around the world, this letter has been responded to by the Vice President of the United States and is in the U.S. Congress this letter was read aloud. Very few sexual assault survivors EVER make that impact and this woman has done so without asking for or needing assistance from others. Was she actually being thought of here as a human being or was her case a means to an end for those for whom hexing was an option? (These questions are worth asking here.)

    There has been much mockery in the mainstream press in the past couple weeks over this and trust me, no one fears that which they mock. As someone who grew up in this tradition during Ronald Reagan's 1980s - and has never attended school or held a job without being an out Pagan - I can tell you I do not desire fear, rather what I want is respect for myself as well as for the minority religion I am a part of. This very public hexing has done neither.
    In addition, the self-aggrandizing behavior by those participating makes me uneasy. It also annoys and frustrates me that the large majority of those who participated in this hex are not out Pagans and therefore they do not need to navigate the world as out Pagans as they make the path more treacherous for those of us that do. I am glad the organizer of this event is an out Pagan so that she does feel the impact of this event in her daily life as I do mine. I hold the organizer responsible for her actions, but I bid her no ill will. I do however, feel as if there was a real lack of foresight on the part of the organizers and they were seemingly caught off guard by both the press the action received as well as the subsequent public critique which is a part of doing this type of work publicly.
    All members of a minority must take care to remember that mainstream press tends to paint minorities in the least flattering way. I was taught to take care of this tradition by using foresight while dealing with mainstream press as well as the general public. Since Pagans tend to be White and middle-class perhaps not being in a position of privilege and anticipating how that will manifest may be harder to discern, but I do think in a world where Donald Trump is running for President that being wary of the press remains a trope that I prefer remains a part of this path at this time.

  • Wendilyn Emrys
    Wendilyn Emrys Friday, 17 June 2016

    There is nothing that says one cannot ask a Goddess or a God to deliver proper retribution upon a wrongdoer. That is not cursing, or hexing, that is RITUAL. I usually call upon Nemesis or Sekhmet in those circumstances. If they decide to bring retribution upon someone, it happens. If other things are going on that we as humans have no concept of, they do not. There is nothing immoral or unethical in asking a Deity for Justice or Divine Retribution. You are making a request, they may answer or grant it or not. I do not have the hubris to think that I have the power of a Goddess or can force them to do something for me that they do not wish to do. That path can lead to madness and destruction. I look it upon it as calling the Karma Police. They are swamped and sometimes need a head's up to take care of things. Other than that, one is using the wrongdoer's own superstition to pay them back. Maat and Balance are All.

  • Christopher Crittenden
    Christopher Crittenden Friday, 17 June 2016

    It should not be taboo to talking about cursing in general, but if you publicly claim to curse a specific person, and something bad or simply inconvenient happens to that specific person, then don't be surprised when people actually start believing that witches can curse...and all that will come with that. If we *really were* considered dangerous by society at large, you would not like the legal and social consequences of that belief.

    To Know, to Dare, to Will, TO KEEP SILENT. Curse all you want, but loose lips sink ships, and one day in the future they might get you burned as well. Better to be thought a "fluffy", yet do your thing in private.

    Also, real hexing doesn't require knowledge of the hex on the part of the target, nor does it require verbal threats of hexing, for it to work. You either have the power and the skill, or you don't. No need to make a global, public event of the thing or rope others into it, if you have the power. And if you think you have the power, then there should be no need for public bravado.

  • Aline "Macha" O'Brien
    Aline "Macha" O'Brien Friday, 17 June 2016

    Wonderfully provocative post, as usual, Steve.

    I don't concern myself much with karma because it seems like the Xian notion of sin and retribution. I try to take care with my hexing, tho. Nor am I concerned with being feared, since in my interfaith work I'm viewed somewhat askance anyway.

    All that having been said, I think Ali makes good points here. To me, this was all about ego and attention-seeking. This woman took her own power back, to the point that her entire 7200+ word letter was read into the Congressional Record. She needs no opportunists hitching a ride on the back of her broomstick.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Sunday, 19 June 2016

    My thanks to everyone who took the time and thought to comment on this very important topic. Regardless of where one comes down on the issue, we can only be the stronger and deeper for thinking, and talking, about these issues. Three points I'd like to make:

    1. The power to curse, like its bright twin the power to bless, is one of the powers that the Lady gives to her children. Both are terrible powers, not to be used without due consideration, or willingness to accept the consequences. Evan John Jones always used to say, "Every curse comes with a price."

    2. My comments above are intended generally, not in reference to this specific case.

    3. Traditionally, the witch is feared because she's perceived as being powerful. To a certain degree, this is protective. (I myself live in an urban neighborhood where it's a good idea to project a certain amount of "Don't F**k with Me" attitude.) But there's a tension that needs to be maintained here: one needs to be feared enough to be respected, but not so feared that it sparks retaliation. That's what keeps the village witch in check. That's what keeps us from flying off the (broom) handle.

    Again, my thanks to all.

  • mar freeman
    mar freeman Sunday, 18 June 2017

    Brilliant article. I am since I don't have my name or photo here.
    I use the internet, social media, television channels, music etc. as my tools. I am weaving the web and riding the energy. I hear 'Echoes' as words themes get repeated to /emphasize/alert/inform/ etc. I consciously connect /w all my electronics. I never 'fall in' /w all the negative word. As a witch, I can bend the ill will of all into healing energy. It is a valuable tool. It is heightened when two people discuss a subject aloud. I'm 70 y.o. and I hear people freak out each time there is new technology, new music, etc. When I was young, people warned against heart surgery. We can all hold our past and bring it forward while adapting our knowledge to the new world. -Mar

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