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.