Friday, April 26, 2019

Don't Be A Dick.

Smugness - courtesy pixabay

Stop me if you've heard this one before: "I want to be a Witch" says a forum poster. Or, maybe they said "I want to do this spell." or "I want to be initiated.", maybe they said "I'm having a problem with a spirit and I need to get rid of it, but I'm not sure how."

And of course someone else comes in and decides to regurgitate really old, rehashed, horse-shit that doesn't even really apply instead of contributing to the conversation. They spin the old classics: "Readiness", "This isn't (insert fictional media here)", "Red in tooth and claw", "When the seeker...", "Mad, dead..." and they get ass pats for being so wise.

Because of how long I've been around the net and what I've seen I can tell you that even the nicest and most responsible people will whip out one of these floppy dongers once in a while. OP maybe has a fit or just sulks off. Forum pats itself on the back for a solid month for really stickin' it to that noob/fluffer who was so unserious they couldn't even handle time-tested, sage, wisdom. No one's problems are solved, but the social equilibrium has returned and everyone can get back to the familiar, old, circle-jerk.

"You Aren't Ready."

Readiness is complex, I'll give you that. And with a topic inherently steeped in experiential Mysteries, it gets murkier. We can make certain assertions based on common medical and psychological knowledge (brain development, for example) and of course legality. We can say "I don't give any sort of direct advice to anyone under the age of majority for legal reasons." and while I think that's a little unrealistic it's also pretty legitimate. I started doing this stuff when I was in the nebulous age of 12-ish, and while "I turned out fine" might be a bit of a ... stretch, suffice it to say that things would've gone better if people had just thrown links out and left it at that.

We can even be forthright with that and say "I'm not going to help you because I don't want to become entangled in the fallout. either legal or magical." And again that's maybe harsh but legitimate. However; trying to actively block someone from participating in religious, spiritual, social, and psychological experimentation is shaky ground. Trying to bully or discourage them out of having that interest "for their own good" isn't just shaky, it's morally repugnant. It's just fine to say "here's the bag crap that CAN happen... just so you know" but you don't know their own good, I don't know their own good. What is "best" for them is up to them, and (if they chose) their parents and medical/legal professionals. And no, you don't get a pass because you are a professional unless you are their professional. We have laws about giving unsolicited medical and legal advice for that reason.

If you can't leave well enough alone then it's better to play at harm reduction than it is to play at interference. Act in the way that best upholds the ideals you're trying to impress upon others rather than trying to herd them into expressing those ideals for you. Don't be a bad role model, even if you aren't a good one.

"This Isn't Harry Potter."
Also something about fingertip lightning which is more of a Star Wars or maybe Snow White reference but are we really going to split hairs at this stage of the shit show?

Setting aside folks with difficulties which preclude a firm grasp on consensus reality, folks know that. Everyone out there, with the rare exception, gets that real life is not a fantasy book or film franchise. Everyone has, with the rare exception, also met someone who probably got that real life isn't a fictional franchise but went ahead in behaving as if it were (and even claiming that it is). This can be because they lack the proper mytheme or vocabulary to suit their experiences, or because they are fucking lonely. The internet is an economy of attention. Some take action and some simply act out.

So, this "problem" can be fixed by treating people like people and paying more attention to peoples lives and not their stories. By doing the world's least expensive thing and simply being kindhearted. By noticing someone who is behaving oddly and giving them an ear and a framework you can help steer them away from "Last Scion" territory (unless they seem dangerous - never throw yourself under the bus, y'all).  Help give them vocabulary and context for the experiences they're having. Maybe they're pulling things out of their ass and having these grandiose tales whittled down to size will make "Engaged in a soul-struggle for my very life-blood with an unparalleled Dragon Lord today." less appealing than simply saying "Got into it with some shit at Starbucks on my way to practice today and I've felt funky ever since. I think I got whammied."

And again - don't be a bad role model even if you aren't a good one. Show your warts once in a while. Most of our lives are mundane. Only in the era of the internet can we so carefully curate things so that only the most sublime, awesome and supernal moments are preserved for all to enjoy. It can give the impression that the whole of a given blogger's life is a fairy tale. People who live their own lives and see the non-curated side of things will wonder if they're lacking - they're not. There are always fallow times, always slow days, and always uninteresting moments.

"Practical Magic", "The Craft", "Charmed", "Sabrina"
 Blah blah blah blah.

And, yes, some people are invested in re-enchanting their lives.  They put a spin on mundane events because seeing something Other in the SSDD gets them through. They find inspiration in the fictional when the factual fails to stimulate or comfort. Others like the aesthetic of a fictional take on magic to the point that they want to craft their experience around that, or work "pop culture magic" from it. Most of us would love to live in the house from Practical Magic or The Addams Family and there's not a goddamn thing wrong with that.

By and large the proverbial hater is not going to see any difference between The Hobbit-Channeling Cult Leader (still racking up casualties almost twenty years on) and the average self-professed Traditional Witch. They won't care. The more you care the more you've lost (because caring is generally a sin these days). The haters, as they say, are gon' hate. Stop caring about respectability politics in others, because it will never, ever, matter.

There can be a point at which a persona-play, or LARP exercise lapses into unhealthy and boundary-violating. If people are unhealthy for you then you have to make the tough choices, and hopefully not make those choices in a bad way. I know I certainly burned a lot of bridges trying to keep myself well, and it's a shitty thing.

As far as clothing/trappings; I have almost exclusively worn black since I was twelve and I am one of the first people out of the gate who will suggest others learn when to dress "nicely", "professionally" and "formally". Take the lumps you get when you violate social contracts, or even just social non-binding agreements and do it anyway if that's what you want to do.

Red In Tooth And Claw.
Mad, Dead, Poet. 

We've spent the entire time period between Ol' Uncle Gerald outing his Coven to the world and last Tuesday alternating between How Fucking Dangerous Witchcraft Really Is, Tremble Ye Dabblers and Witchcraft Is Harmless, No Scary Shit Here.

It's time to stop regurgitating the same useless and unhelpful sentiments and start explaining the why behind them. People don't need soundbites, they need quality information. There are a million things in this world that are far more of a present danger than soliciting Ol' Scratch to give you that stone-cold foot-long. If The-General-You don't want it on your head then just don't say anything or call on someone you know has that endless well of patience and good notes.

We trust other humans with the unaided operation of speeding land-rockets of metal and explosions based on their ability to behave properly and hang on to the rules for about fifteen minutes in front of someone with a clipboard, one time, when they were sixteen. I'm not gonna openly suggest everyone get up to everything that I got up to but I'm also not going to treat them like they're any dumber than I was, and frankly? I got up to some things. Some really, really, really, wild stuff. I can barely spell hypocrite. I certainly don't want to be one.

So, Witchcraft can be dangerous, but that doesn't mean that it always is. Witchcraft can be dangerous because it can change your worldview in rapid and drastic ways, or sometimes not. It depends. Witchcraft can be dangerous because it can change your position in a spiritual hierarchy that you're only peripherally aware of. Or sometimes not. It depends. Witchcraft can be dangerous because it can alter your actual perceptions of reality. Also sometimes not. Depends. It can be dangerous if those things are things that will imbalance a delicate psycho-spiritual system in the life of a given individual. Every single person is different and no one, but no one, can confidently tell some stranger on the internet who and what they are and how these things will impact them.

My personal take on these things is that nature is not anthropomorphic. We are. Choosing to apply human morality to nonhuman things will usually work for a while until it doesn't. Ask anyone who misinterpreted the mew of their cat as "Yes, please continue to rub my belly" and not "get your hand off of me."

I am all too happy to issue pretty stout warnings about specific things - "This particular thing has a pretty fucked cost-reward ratio" or adding "but will positively impact the cost-reward ratio of THIS other particular thing later on." (which is usually true of the really fucky cost-reward stuff, btw). I will be as helpful and concise as I can about the spectrum of possible pitfalls around something as long as that is a specific something.

As time goes on I see admonitions without some kind of follow-up more as gatekeeping than honest cautionary warnings. I just cannot get behind telling people that they're not to even approach witchcraft, ever, for any reason because... regugitated soundbite. Especially if I'm not totally willing to lay out the why and wherefore of my warning in explicit detail.

Knowing what is a potential area of heightened danger can take experience, and a lot of us with some experience have a hard time telling others where those areas begin and end (though we're pretty spot on about when something resides squarely in Nopesville).  So, obviously it's not a perfect system to begin with. There are large gray areas.

"When the Seeker is ready a Teacher will appear."
Alternately when the teacher is ready to deal with the seeker then they'll actually start responding to inquiries. 

This is a quick, short-hand, way of saying "I will, in no uncertain terms, not be teaching you a goddamn thing" without taking any of the bad guy status or blame on oneself. Student ain't ready (see first part), and therefore teacher is totally free to just ignore the issue. Student is jumping the gun, and therefore can be admonished sorely while being ignored. Social equilibrium re-established.

People with occult knowledge are not magical whack-a-mole machines, though. They don't spring out of the ground the moment you've hit your stride. They're always there, hanging around, often freely sharing advice left and right. Some of 'em run blogs or podcasts or write books. I learn more useful things from the facebook posts of other magicians who are just casually shooting the shit than I do from a lot of books (because these are living, vital, ongoing, conversations where questions can be formulated, discussed, and answered). But I also learn a lot of neat shit from books, so take it as it comes.

When the student understands they realize the teacher has already been there teaching for a while. I suppose that looks like they just "appeared", though.

 Stage Magic.

I've talked about this in "Dangerous Knowledge", to some extent. But I think the real reason for the gatekeeping is the same reason stage magicians will put one-another under pain of decades of harassment and inability to get a gig: To keep secrets. It's because the secret is literally the dumbest shit you've ever heard. There's fuckin' fake, plastic, fingertip on the end of their finger and the ball (the ball was sponge by the way) is stuffed into that. The rabbit is usually in a pouch hidden in their clothes. The doves are stuffed into little pockets in their coats and this works because doves don't give a fuck if it's dark and close and kinda just chill until someone scoops them out and flings them into the air. The card is behind his hand, and he used math, dexterity and practice to make you pick the one he wanted. The skill is not the mechanism, the skill is in executing the mechanism where you don't notice it. Magic!

I think that a lot of the gatekeeping is to prevent anyone not on the other side from figuring out that the secret is bullshit. That the big, bold, vibrant key to doing this HaRdXcOrE woo-woo is as simple and complex as an introduction and a handshake (or getting Big D's cappocola and therefore being entitled to a share of his kingdom and all it holds). The secret to being who you want to be is faking it until you make it, and being who you want to be until you don't have to exert effort to be it any more.

Most Of It Is About Social Hierarchy. 

A lot of the narrative returns to how long someone's been practicing or how hard they've struggled to get to whatever position they feel they have. Anyone new who might be having an experience could upset that by dint of their experience being real (as opposed to a constructed narrative), or due to having ideas or beliefs that might challenge the existing power structure. There is a 'queen bee' phenomenon, and by extension 'knitting circle of evil' phenomenon that goes on and we often turn a blind eye toward it lest we suddenly be on the receiving end of it (sometimes for the second, third, or hundredth time).

I can tell you that my formative experiences in the occult were largely 30-somethings telling me to get back in my place, stop being a hormonal little girl, and to quit pretending to be a witch because I was embarrassing myself. In those words. When it turned out that I was having real experiences (and furthermore refused to be told that I wasn't) the tone shifted to "you are dangerous and anathema."

Now, I will take a brief moment to savor the irony of the following: I have seen some of the exact same assholes touting me as one of their favorite sources of info, and simultaneously using me as a cudgel with which to beat the same kids they've been beating on for twenty years. My experiences, formerly dangerous or delusional, are now the flavor of the day.

The behaviors in these groups closely follow patterns of Cult formation, generic bullying, and general abuse. I didn't know it then, but I know it now and I am all too happy to share that information so that people who behave in that way are clearly marked out to new folks. This is why I rarely join forums, and frequently stop participating - there are a lot of bullies out there floating around.

(Note: This is an older draft which has been spruced up and published. Please forgive any strangeness in tonal changes, or perhaps dated language that slipped by)

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