There. I said it. I'm fallible and forgetful.
Naturally, I found both time and password to talk to you for the simple reason that I felt I just had to, one way or another. There is something very troubling happening in the Pagan community right now. What began as a simple scuffle over magical monikers has become an online WWI.
Yes, I'm talking about Christian Day, Charlie Sheen and the binding heard 'round the world. To give the short version, Sheen makes wild and cryptic remarks about his 'awesomeness', uses some touchy words in describing himself and a few live-in porn stars, the Witches of Salem get wind of this, disapprove like crazy, vow to stop him from using words like "Warlock", "High Priest", and "Goddess", cast a binding on Sheen with intent to cease his bad behavior and get him back into "doing what he does best", media tide starts to turn, Sheen starts being depicted as drug-addled and a dead-beat dad, and finally the magical community goes nuts -- some in favor some against -- but all livid.
Now, before I get into my take on this, I want to be very clear on a few things:
- Charlie Sheen is barely a celebrity and barely an actor.
- Christian Day didn't just appear during this debacle; he's been a figurehead of Salem for many years and has had countless interviews and appearances before and since. Look him up in Judika Illes' "Field Guide to Witches".
- Flooding media coverage often blows an issue out of proportion and headlines put words in people's mouths. Read carefully.
- Media is for everyone. If you want to be covered by the local paper, do something impressive/relevant and call them up. Same goes for TV and internet. There's no rule against public magic or what we can and cannot do to promote our practice.
- Virtually none of the people screaming over the actions of Christian Day know anything about his contributions to the Pagan community. Even less of those people are active in their own practice.
So, now that we have some foundation to this problem (and now that I sound really pissed off) let me just say that this whole thing leaves me with one thing -- sadness. What has happened to us? Where did we go wrong to make our community so willing to tear each other apart? Has it always been this way and I just never saw it? Is it the internet which makes an individual so ruthless, so bloodthirsty, that they'd nonchalantly tell a person that they should be dead for their opinions?
Yes, I've seen people tell each other that they deserve to die because they took one side or another. It sickens me to think that my own people so hate each other. I stayed quite positive on this front for some time, saying instead that when one is not face-to-face bold things are said carelessly. But now, I'm not so sure.
Perhaps the independence from mainstream society has turned us into the permanent rebel who must make their 'in-crowd' smaller and smaller just to prove how special they are. So we demand a person's credentials, we give no one the benefit of the doubt, we sneer at any attempt to inspire togetherness. Suddenly, we're obscure to even the obscure crowd. We claim that in order to be truly great, no one must ever have heard of you.
Or perhaps this is only a problem faced by those of us who try to congregate online. The internet is a harsh place, full of potential fraud and lies, especially for Pagans. Books are plagiarized, personal artwork and writings are stolen or altered, names are libeled, magic is bought and sold at disturbingly high prices. But for all its flaws the internet essentially fulfills the same purpose now as in its inception: bringing together people -- for good or bad -- for the exchange of ideas.
So why have these ideas become so hateful? Well, this Sheen thing is a thorny issue which was bound to raise some folks' hackles. The fact that Christian Day is not claiming to hurt Sheen (and in fact wanted to help him) makes it hard for people to be straight-out angry with him. Instead they pick on his publicity. Here, too, Day makes waves: he welcomes publicity and, living in a tourist town, knows the game better than most. This really riles up the practitioners who either a) don't believe it is proper/helpful/safe to invite media attention, or b) never get their own opportunity to invite media attention. So, again, frustration.
Maybe that's our answer: frustration. I know that I am frustrated; I haven't achieved my goals yet and every minute I spend in these pointless debates only sets back that time-line. Maybe all these angry people are feeling the same way. But when this noise came to my attention in a very personal way (my brother became one of the noisy detractors, though I really thought him better than that), I stepped up. I supported my fellow practitioner and spoke on his behalf, as have many many other Pagans. I didn't do it because Day and I are friends (I barely know him and my last encounter wasn't very positive), I did it because it was the right thing to do. Day has created events, stores, a radio show, and a public persona and presence which have been very positive for the Pagan community nationwide. I don't agree with everything he's done (and I've repeatedly told others that they needn't either) but I do believe that he's done us good and continues to do us good. Even if you categorically despise what Day and his group has done, ask yourself, "Is an entire history of positive work to be wiped away the first time I disagree with its maker?"
If this is your take on things, you must do like your fellow detractors and be as careful as possible never to do anything of merit, lest others flay you if you betray their vision of perfection.
The point is, we cannot go forward if all we wish to do is pick at the feathers of those standing nearby. This gossip, in-fighting, and lying gets us nowhere. I'm not even talking about how we look to non-magic folk. I really don't give a fig about what they think of us or me personally. No, the set-backs are simply within our own potential to do good for one another. If we're so busy making each other feel little for whatever we do, when will we have time to create our own greatness? And even if we do create it, who will be bold enough to present it, knowing it will be eviscerated before our very eyes by those who were supposed to be our people?
Well, I will still write. Despite all the non-professional internet critics who will hate my books.
I will still read. Despite all those who say my choices aren't traditional enough, obscure enough or popular enough.
I will still lead my coven. Despite all those who may say it's not big enough, powerful enough or rich enough to be worthwhile.
I will still teach my children and the public the magical arts. Despite all those who may say they know best who magic is for and who should be banned from it.
Please, please all of you -- do the same. Just for me. Just for you. Turn off your computer -- well, after you're done reading, please -- and start working on your greatness. Don't listen to the angry know-it-all's who only want to tell you no/can't/mustn't. Tell yourself yes/can/must -- say it now and say it often. You are a generator of power and that power is wasted unless it is set to work.
No one is racing against you but you are racing against the clock. We only have a short amount of time to make our mark on the world and by waiting, we give ourselves fewer and fewer chances to start making that mark. There is no test you must pass before you're "qualified" to be great and there is no one person or body of persons whose favor you must curry with your greatness. There is only you, your potential, and what you're going to do with it.
For those of you who don't know what you could contribute -- or -- for those of who who are uncertain whether or not your current contributions are your best, here's a starter list:
Your greatness can be recognized by:
- It creates. Even if your actions initially tear something else down, they also must build up again. If not, you are not great -- if you only take and not give, you are a jerk.
- It is humbling. Authors are giving away cherished information. Artists are letting one-of-a-kind work leave, never to be seen again. Musicians and singers bare their souls to the audience. Even if they are immensely popular, they will always carry that sacrifice.
- It brings you together, not sets you apart. We are a community. We need each other, like it or lump it. Your greatness should connect you with other people. It may feel strange if you're not normally social, but it will also feel very good.
- It makes you smile. Your greatness will give you that good feeling which goes beyond ego-gratification. It's about being good at what you do but mainly just about being good. You don't have to be a fluffy-bunny to just be a good person. I've met good and bad of every magical stripe but those people who are doing something important in their lives are rarely unhappy. Happy people know they're worthy of happiness. Unhappy people feel that no one is worthy of happiness.
- You care about it, you strive for it, you work to make it better. If you don't, then your heart isn't in it. If your heart isn't in it, then it will never be worth a damn.
Take a look at your goals, your current attitudes and actions. Take a look at those of the people you know. Look, too, at this Day/Sheen mess. Are you aware of who is reaching up and who is swinging wild?
Begin now, for all of us, to reach up to greatness.