Experimental Magic: The Evolution of Magic

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Some Musings on Wiccanate Privilege, Words, and Pop Culture Magic

At Pantheacon I attended a discussion about Wiccanate Privilege (See this post by Lupus for an accurate overview of the discussion). I was curious about this term because it had been applied to me in a post that Ivo Dominguez had written about the Literacy of Magic. The person who applied it, Ruadhan McElroy commented on a comment I made about how I felt the Pagan community was divorcing itself from Magic in order to achieve mainstream acceptance. He made the point that such a statement displayed a level of privilege and assumption about magic's place in a given Pagan spiritual practice. Another commenter also pointed this out in a different way and in subsequent comments I came to better understand the perspective of magic as an optional practice because its simply not central to the given spiritual practices of a particular spiritual tradition.  I'll admit that when I think of Paganism, I typically associate magic with Paganism and with anything that might fall under the rather broad umbrella of Paganism (which as I'll discuss later points to a distinct problem). I think that Ruadhan made an accurate point, though at the time it blew my mind that the practice of Magic could be perceived as a form of privilege (mainly because my own experiences in mainstream culture, but in this case Ruadahan is referring to the Pagan subculture, and in that context it makes sense).

The conversation that occurred at Pantheacon helped me further understand this aspect of privilege, and where Ruadhan is coming from. Ruadhan also wrote a post about Wiccanate Privilege and noted the following:

Within the pagan community, the “Generic Popular Wicca-based Neopaganism” (henceforth “Wiccanate paganism”; Traditional Wicca, such as BT/Gardnerian or Alexandrian, is “Wicca”) is the assumed default. During the “pagan identity crisis” that’s been cycling the pagan blogosphere every few months since 2010, I’ve seen several people comment not only as non-Wiccanates who lament this, but as Wiccanate pagans unaware of their own privilege and insisting that we’re all united because, as far as they’re concerned, “we all share a history with Wicca” (an exact quote I’ve seen from several people).

A staggeringly vast amount of the media output that is not only ostensibly about, but ostensibly for, including the media that is clearly by-and-for those in the pagan community is overwhelmingly focused on the Wiccanate —from books to cable television “documentaries” to blockbuster films, and even music popular in the pagan community. The language of the greater pagan community is the language of the Wiccante paganism they read about in all the same books, or at least books that have been influenced by those books. The most common depictions of the gods and goddesses on any pagan website, shop, or book pages are based on generally Wiccanate understandings.

I think Ruadhan makes a really good point here. I fully agree with it. And at the same time this commentary reveals a problem I have with both the terms Pagan and Wiccanate Privilege. Both terms are overly broad and may not accurately describe people they are applied to. For example, I am not now nor ever have been a Wiccan. When I was told I was applying Wiccanate privilege, part of what threw me was the assumption that I was Wiccan and/or that my magical background was based off Wiccan practices (It isn't). I would agree that I made a privileged assumption about the status of magic, which didn't allow for or recognize that people from different spiritual traditions may not have the same relationship with magic that I have, but I wouldn't agree that I'm Wiccan or that my practices are based on Wicca (and this is significant to me because I felt that assumptions about me were being made). However, I can and do agree with the idea that the typical assumption of magic and its significance in spiritual practices is in large part influenced by the prominence of Wicca in Paganism and that it can be helpful to critically examine that relationship in and of itself.

The problem I have with the term Paganism and its derivatives is similar in that it's a broad term applied to many people and there are assumptions in that term which may not apply to everyone (for example the ones I made that I mention above). That said it is an umbrella term that conveniently, if not accurately, is applied to people who practice spiritual and religious practices that aren't associated with Judeo-Christian religions.

I also think this same problem shows up in discussions of the term Polytheism, for as we discovered at the conversation at Pantheacon, the majority, if not all of the people in that room felt they were polytheists, but what was most interesting was how the understanding of what that term meant was different for different people. Some of that could be semantical, but I think more of it is located in the contextual meanings a given person associates with the word Polytheism (or other words for that matter). So where does this leave us?

No matter how precise we get with language and how clear we think we express ourselves, there will be exceptions found, or terms examined, or meanings dissected, or assumptions exposed. And that's good because language carries with it not just the words or meanings, but also the assumptions we apply and all of that should be examined so that we can communicate better with each other. And I for one am grateful to Ruadhan for pointing out to me the privilege I was holding and the assumption I was making (I was pretty defensive at the time, for which I apologize). I'm also grateful for the conversation at Pantheacon as what it demonstrated is how important it is to have interfaith dialogues in our own community, if we are to be effective allies to each other and supportive and inclusive of the various spiritual and religious practices that the people in the community are engaged in.

I'm also appreciative of Lupus noting my own contribution to that discussion and the dismissal of my perspective by Don Frew. I pointed out that among other things I'm a pop culture magician and that for me the pop culture entities I work with are real beings. they may have originated from Fiction, but in the process of working with them, I felt a connection to something real, something deeper than just fiction. and that I feel an assumption that has been made in the past via conversations I've had and observed is that the practice of pop culture magic as a form of spiritual work and connection with pop culture entities is dismissed as not being as valid as other spiritual practices because the characters are based on fiction. Now perhaps it does seem silly to some and they would argue that it can't possibly be real in the same way their respective practices are...all I can say is that for me it is real and the connections I've established to pop culture entities has created some real transformation in my life. You don't have to agree with my practice, but I don't want it dismissed as less legitimate than yours. Different, certainly and that I agree with and that such differences may need to be noted, especially as and where it applies to pop culture infringing on more traditional practices.

I would observe that there can be privilege found in the concept of tradition and when the concept of tradition is used as a way of dismissing another practice, then that privilege is applied because of the reverence associated with Tradition. I've had people argue that traditional spiritual beliefs and practices are more legitimate than my own because they are older and have been around for millennium. Does that make my spiritual practice less legitimate, less real for me? I don't think it does, but it seems (and I could be wrong) that it does for other people. Don Frew disagreed with my concern and dismissed it to some degree. I didn't respond at the time because there was a room full of people clamoring to be heard and I wanted to listen to what they had to say, but I want to point out that since I first starting talking about, writing about and practicing pop culture magic (the late 90's) I've gotten a lot of flak over the years for it. I've been told I'm reinventing the wheel, that what I practice isn't real in the same way person x's spiritual practice is, and other such comments. It's only recently that I've even begun to find a community of sorts that actually practices pop culture magic and can speak to having similar experiences. I don't agree with Don's dismissal of my point, in large part because other than writing about an experience with Darth Vader, he really hasn't experienced what I've experienced over the years when it comes to people telling me how my spiritual practices aren't as legitimate as theirs. To dismiss my point, ironically enough, demonstrated the very point I was trying to make.

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Taylor Ellwood is the author of Pop Culture Magick, Space/Time Magic, Magical Identity and a number of other occult books. He posts about his latest projects at Magical Experiments. He is also the managing non-fiction editor of Immanion Press. Taylor lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife and two kids, as well as 7 cats.

Comments

  • Greybeard
    Greybeard Monday, 03 March 2014

    It sounds like Pantheacon had some interesting discussions. Maybe I'm out of the loop but I've never heard the term "wiccanate" prior to reading this article. Following the link to "Ruadhan's" complaint it appears he is trying to stir up prejudices in just about every direction, and we already have way too much disharmony and prejudice among would-be pagans. I find the term "pagan" to be used so broadly that it has lost all meaning. A word that means everything doesn't actually mean anything. Ruadhan's uses of the term "privilege" as a pejorative insult, part of stirring up prejudicial animosity. If he doesn't want to be Wiccans, fine, he doesn't need to be. But his personal choice is not a justification for bashing Wiccans. There is way too much prejudice on this forum already.

  • Ruadhán J McElroy
    Ruadhán J McElroy Monday, 03 March 2014

    Please don't put my name in quotes. It's a real name, it is *my* real name, and it's one that's been in my family since McElroy was still M'Gillrua.

    Furthermore, never once did I "bash Wiccans" nor use the word "privilege" in a pejorative. To be "privileged", in these sorts of discussions simply means "to be of a group assumed to be default". By this, the term "Wiccanate" (initially coined by Johnny Rapture in the blog No Unsacred Space back in 2011, http://nature.pagannewswirecollective.com/2011/04/07/the-rites-of-earth/ ), even by Rapture's more detailed definition, is in a privileged position in the pagan community.

    This is not a prejudice I have, any more than the fact that I point out that heterosexual and cisgender people are privileged in the overculture (at the very least) indicates that I'm prejudiced against those who are neither GLB or TS/TG. It is simply a statement of fact.

  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood Monday, 03 March 2014

    I don't always agree with Ruadhan's perspectives or arguing tactics, but I think what he is discussing is relevant to the Pagan community and some of the growing pains its going through right now.

  • Kelli Wren Crackel
    Kelli Wren Crackel Tuesday, 04 March 2014

    I'm new here. I've been a pagan for 20 years, but have been technologically impaired my whole life. I'm learning because I have to, but it's a slow process. Anyway. I have always been a solitary practitioner until I had been a witch for about 10 years and my husband became my first initiate. We have always identified as Pagan and correct those of our friends who refer to us as Wiccans when they refer to us. I don't do this so much because labels are important to me, labels are just labels. I do it because my belief structure differs from Wicca in one fundamental way. I believe there is a hell. Maybe, not the Christian hell, but a hell nonetheless, where the truly evil people end up for a while. I'm not proud of it, but the reason I believe this is because I have a list of people who I think should end up there. I know this is not a perfect analogy, but living in the backwoods bible belt, I have had to come up with some pretty creative ways of explaining my pagan beliefs to my Christian family and friends, but I have always likened Paganism as the overarching religion that connects all Pagans, regardless of denomination, to the Christian religion that bonds all Christians, regardless of denomination. This has helped clear up a lot of confusion among my friends and family (the ones who accept my religious choices as my own personal decision and don't repeatedly remind me that I'm going to hell) who were trying to get a handle on what I believed.

  • Greybeard
    Greybeard Monday, 03 March 2014

    Following this reasoning, attendance at Pantheacon and Pantheacon itself would be a form of "Californate Privilege."

  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood Monday, 03 March 2014

    Its a form of privilege for the people who can afford to attend it versus the people who can't (but would want to).

  • Ruadhán J McElroy
    Ruadhán J McElroy Monday, 03 March 2014

    No, but if one can afford to attend Pantheacon, regardless of where one lives, that is certainly a form of privilege that one has over those who cannot.

  • Greybeard
    Greybeard Monday, 03 March 2014

    One could also choose to be Wiccan regardless of where you lived or how much money you have. Only if you live in California or can afford to travel to California can you attend Pantheacon. Its obviously a Californate Privilege.

  • Ruadhán J McElroy
    Ruadhán J McElroy Monday, 03 March 2014

    Is there genuinely something about this that you're not understanding?

  • Shauna Aura Knight
    Shauna Aura Knight Monday, 03 March 2014

    I'm really grateful for the discussions around Wiccanate privilege. I hadn't heard the term Wiccanate til Pantheacon; I've generally referred to it as "Post-Wicca." Ie, if your group casts a circle, calls elements/directions, and works with a God/Goddess-based wheel of the year, your traditions probably ultimately derive from Wicca/BTW. And, that is the majority expectation in the Pagan community, which is ultimately where the privilege thing comes in.

    These types of conversations are, by their nature, what I often refer to as a big messy bowl of spaghetti--really hard to unravel. They also are what I think of as "reasons I'm keeping the makers of Excedrin in business."

    When I was first called out on being privileged, I balked. Granted, the person who called me out did so vocally, publicly, and rudely, and also from misinterpreting something I said. However, since then I've had the opportunity to understand privilege as a blindfold. It's what is so close to us that we make assumptions because we literally aren't thinking about how it might be different for someone else. Privilege isn't bad--it's usually an honest mistake. By understanding where I come at something from a place of privilege, I can make more space for people who don't have that privilege.

    For instance, the rituals I host tend to use the basic Reclaiming tradition process of casting a circle and working with the elements. Even though--for me--this is theologically irrelevant. Ie, as a Pantheist, I don't really believe that it's necessary to cast a circle or call elements.

    In fact...I have only kept to that structure for rituals because it's what people expect at a public ritual. I know that psychologically, people need a process to engage in that sacred space mindset. For me, it's irrelevant whether we use the elements, or work with the world tree and three worlds, or go through the seven chakras. For me, I'm just engaging the group in a process to get them to the divine, whatever that looks like for them. I'm a facilitator, I'm not there to teach theology or cosmology.

    A few years ago I learned for the first time about transgender people, and how they were being excluded from certain rituals. I'd never even considered this. Later, I learned how even the focus on the Wiccanate "story" of the Goddess and the God and their annual heterosexual union could ultimately be excluding trans, GLB, and non gender binary folks. So I worked to make my rituals more inclusive. I also work to make my rituals inclusive of people with different physical ability levels, or even different learning modalities. There's areas where I struggle more with inclusivity, but I think the discussion about privilege is a great way to begin to open up the doors, so to speak.

    I think there are challenges that are significant road bumps. One is that this is a mess of spaghetti; there's no unravelling some of the theological knots, particularly when people use the same word to refer to two different things. Another is that I think most people want there to be a "right" answer. We want to know that we've found the answer, that we've made logical, ordered sense out of something, put it into boxes. Some people have this urge stronger than others.

    Going further, some of us really want to be "right." Or at least, to not be wrong. So when you have people discussing this, and making someone else "wrong," that causes additional conflict.

    People--in my experiences of conflict--do not hold paradox well. Meaning, most people don't do well holding that vague space of, I believe XYZ, and you believe ABC, and me believing XYZ doesn't make you wrong, and your ABC doesn't make me wrong, we can both believe our things and maybe both are true or neither are true." We want to either be right, or at least, know that there is a right answer. And then when you add in that power of faith and calling and the gods/divine/etc. speaking to us...then the dismissive or downright nasty comments come out, and I go for the bottle of Excedrin Migraine. ;)

  • Stifyn Emrys
    Stifyn Emrys Monday, 03 March 2014

    I'm not sure "privilege" is the right word here. I found the panel discussion at PantheaCon about privilege within the Pagan community inspiring, but I'm not sure it applies to Wicca vis-a-vis other traditions. I'd say perhaps "presumption" or perhaps "presumed primacy."

    I also don't know about the term Wiccanate. It seems a little forced to me. We've become a bit consumed with coming up with labels for ourselves and others within Paganism, and they seem to be becoming more and more, almost grasping at straws. Neo-Pagan vs. Pagan. Post-Wiccan. Wiccanate. These terms all just sound a bit strained to me. I'm not trying to insult anyone here; I just think the more we worry about labels, the less we focus on the substance that's behind them.

    My two cents.

  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood Tuesday, 04 March 2014

    That's a good point you make Stifyn. Certainly the issue of primacy is central to this matter and speaks to what needs to be resolved. On the other hand, we use labels for a reason. The danger is when we let the labels overshadow the dialogue.

  • Terence P Ward
    Terence P Ward Tuesday, 04 March 2014

    I have found being a member of a minority-within-a-minority very instructive. I'm a (mostly) middle-class white guy, one who has bristled a bit when my views have been dismissed in the name of "privilege." But now I have a different perspective, because I am part of two groups that are largely deemed invisible or nonexistent with Paganism.

    If everyone around you agrees that certain things should be assumed true, but you don't see it that way, it can definitely feel like you're being silenced, or excluded, or sidelined, or patronized. An ignorant majority can be maddening.

    I still don't care for the way the word "privilege" is used, though. Not to label me, or to label others who dismiss my beliefs. It's becoming something of a corollary to Goddard's law; he who mentions privilege first loses. I am glad that had a positive result in this case, but that word has become a cudgel, and surely there must be other tools at our disposal.

  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood Tuesday, 04 March 2014

    That's a good point Terence. It can be said that once the word privilege is invoked it sets the tone of the conversation. Sometimes that is exactly what is needed. I suppose though we are all figuring that out here and in the other posts around this issue.

  • Greybeard
    Greybeard Tuesday, 04 March 2014

    Well said Terence.

  • Nova
    Nova Tuesday, 04 March 2014

    I'v honestly had it with the idea of privilege.

    priv·i·lege
    ˈpriv(ə)lij/
    noun
    1.
    a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.
    "education is a right, not a ppriv·i·lege

    That's right I went there. Why does everyone have to publicly differentiate themselves from others. One can not label their bond to their deity, their own personal path. Because not everyone practices the same exact thing. Which is true though it's getting really Judeo Christian here if you ask me. Catholic, Christian, Lutheran, Evangelist, Baptist, Anglican. Does this sound familiar to you? Well to me it seems very similar. There are tons more if you check out List of Christian denominations. It's practically a Ludicrous amount. They're all different they all want to be equally respected around the world. However they're not. Even amongst themselves they see themselves better amongst each other. Which is just plain sad.

    Let's face some if not most people lDIDN't learned their pagan faith from teachers, they learned from books. Most popular and easiest to find is Wiccan. It's beautiful eye opener to pagan religions. Do all stay just simply Wiccan, no they're encouraged to search for their own paths, they explore new ideas, new processes of thoughts and religious believes. They integrate themselves so much that they consider themselves a Druid, Sumerian, Dianic, Ásatrú. Hardly even recognizing the roots and practices that got them into their own true or comfortable paths. So they feel the need to label themselves. In all it doesn't seem bad but then you get those who start putting labels. But then you start to feel this power of superiority you start adding Privilege. It's like a ranking in a Catholic Church; Priest, Bishop, Arch-Bishop, Pope. It's saddening when has being called a specific label become so important? If your practices mostly consist of Wicca, mixed with some druid and maybe even hoodoo. Then you should probably just say yeah I practice Wiccan but oh yeah there's a difference between coven traditional initiated and solitary. Got to put a label on that to separate "us" from "them." I personally consider myself Eclectic and honestly that's as far as I'm going I have roots in practices that just only Wiccan. It's a beautiful mixture but if someone called me Wiccan or even just Pagan. I'm not going to do a roundhouse or pull out a verbal razor blade on someone. If they get to know me more maybe I'll tell them. "Shh don't tell anyone this but I'm actually Eclectic, I'm a pagan mutt, tee hee," yeah. It's true.

  • Nova
    Nova Tuesday, 04 March 2014

    Sorry but I suck at double checking my own post. Since there isn't an edit button... Hmm? So hard to ask?

    I've honestly had it with the idea of privilege.
    Let's face some if not most people DIDN't learned their pagan faith from teachers, they learned from books.

    I personally consider myself Eclectic and honestly that's as far as I'm going I have roots in practices that ARE NOT just only Wiccan. :p

    Sorry but I just had to correct these... maybe it's just the lazy Virgo in me. Lazy because I didn't catch them the first time around and now it's published I See them and now I must correct them and I CAN'T!

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