Monday, January 9, 2012
Yep, that's all that runs through my head lately. There seems to be nothing quite so delightful to the average magical mind as proving what an erudite occultist they are by making someone else feel stupid. This just has got to go.
I've had to reply to more than a few people who get nothing but put-downs from local groups, group leaders, and solitaries for not knowing more or for not having the same practice. Cautious people are called "fluffy bunnies" and "whiny babies," black magicians are called "goths," professionals are "cheap sell-outs." Each tradition, each teacher, each book has detractors who whip daggers at their target without end. Why all the labeling? What's it to you? What's it to any of us?
I guess I have a bit of a different history than most of the other practitioners I meet. I spent about the first two years of my practice in complete isolation, without telling a soul or discussing magic or Paganism in any way. All I did was read and practice. After that, I told only a handful of the people closest to me and to the rest kept my silence. Even when I met people who were interested in magic, I said nothing. This went on for the next year or two. In that time, I had amassed quite a stock-pile of knowledge and experience in ritual and spellcasting. I didn’t feel less than any other witch because, in my life, there weren’t any. I grew confident in myself and, because of that confidence, became eager to meet other witches. Over the next few years, I learned to use the Internet to find them.
This, I find, is the fatal flaw.
Here in the digital world, we can be anything we want. Online is a veritable theater of colorful characters, some entirely made-up, some a projection of dreams, others a nightmare. But none of them have to be real so everyone is free to play with as many costumes as they wish. While that can be considered psychologically healthy as an expression of Jungian archetypes (guess who took psych. in high school!), it can also be considered lying. Especially if one is acting out these personas as though they were one's real life and personality, the average person can get easily confused and hurt. So, we learn to weed out the lies, test every person we meet, go through all the facts as though we were each little Colombo's, verbally extracting threads of damning evidence from naïve suspects.
But the rules change. Now the suspects think they're on the case. They inspect you as much as you inspect them. They pull the old finger wag and "Just one more thing..." as much as you do. So we suspect everyone and assume that no one is who or what they claim. Since we cannot see one another, we cannot judge by the usual clues whether this person is for real or not. Since we cannot hear each other, we can't even be sure that we're being received in the same manner that we think. Since communication online is instant, the rule of order is quick decisions, snappy retorts, and categories for everything.
So, sure, that's online "life." But it's a poor substitute for real life. I've seen my share of irritating comments and callous behavior in the magical community around me but online, stealth aggressiveness is the white noise at the back of every conversation. Maybe it's just this manner of communication as it has evolved that causes it to be this way or maybe we just find it easier to bring out the weaponry when we can't see who we're shooting. In any event, I've had just about anything and everything lobbed at me online while most of the terrible things said to me/in my presence offline were based on the old standby of awkward conversation: "foot-in-mouth disease."
Sometimes these little foibles (okay, irritating-as-hell personality flaws) come out as the wrong thing at the wrong time. I let them slide. Most are desperate grabs for attention and acclaim. Once in a while I get all Freudian on them and seek out their underlying issues; sometimes I just make an ass of them in public. (Hey, I never said I wasn't as flawed as the rest!) For example, I once was contacted by an older woman about joining my group. She was a fast-talking, self-promoting type but I thought I’d at least give her a chance. When we met in person she assured me that she was perfect for our coven while simultaneously swiping all my paperwork I was using for examples. Later, she told people that we met only because I was desperate to join her group. Wha..? I let it slide since it was pretty obvious to all that she was begging for attention in any ways she could get it. Another time a fellow local coven leader introduced me to a newbie and then proceeded to tease her about the same bad pronunciation we all had before we heard the words spoken (like saying Sam-Hane) and made snide, psudo-confidential remarks to me even though she was right there in front of us. I turned the tables, explained the pronunciation to the girl, and then—“confidentially”—told her how asking newcomers to say “Athame” is how some folks try to get a leg up on fresh young minds like hers.
Yeah, those people suck. But they probably suck in all areas of their lives, not just as witches. It certainly didn't originate with their lives as witches though the feeling of entitlement probably helped. So, without singling out the wise from the wicked, how do we combat this mess? We do what witches have always done--we go our own way. If being around a certain person fills you with feelings of inadequacy, stop seeing them. If a group or teacher puts down your beliefs, move on. If your community doesn't accept you, don't accept them.
But, wait. It doesn't end there.
We know we can't simply walk out on everyone who doesn't make us deliriously happy every day or who makes us realize how little we've accomplished. What we need is some perspective. Get out a notebook and answer some questions. Write until both wrists ache (even though you only use one to write) and then write some more.
1) That person who makes me feel bad.
a) What specifically makes me feel bad? Is it what they do or what they imply?
b) How does this change my view of myself before and after I'm with them?
c) What would I need to do/become in order for this not to bother me?
d) What would I need to do/become in order to feel like I'm on the same level?
e) Can I learn anything from this?
2) The group or teacher who puts me down.
a) What do they say, do, or imply that is a put-down? What part of me are they insulting?
b) What makes it an insult to me?
c) If I were a teacher, would I ever say this? Even as a test or a lesson? What would I say instead?
d) What would be my ideal experience with a teacher/group?
e) Can I learn anything from this?
3) The community that doesn't accept me.
a) How am I excluded? How much of the community excludes me?
b) How much of the community have I seen? (list all events, stores, workshops, open circles, meet-and-greets, festivals, etc. and what the reaction was at each) Where have I not tried?
c) If the worst of these events happened today, how would I handle it?
d) What would I like to be accepted for? What do I want others to see in me?
e) Can I learn anything from this?
As you can see, the final thing we must always ask ourselves is "what is the lesson here?" (and yes, some of these questions are a trick. But it's a nice one--think deeper) and even, "is there one?" Sometimes the lesson is as simple as learning that we should leave a conversation before it becomes an argument; sometimes it's more about learning to stand up for our ideas or not allowing other to intimidate. Other times we find that what hurts can be for our own good. It depends upon the person and the situation as to what the answer to these questions will be.
But, in the end, we should always learn. This keeps us from becoming bitter, jealous, or cruel. And we know that if we allow those things to take over, they'll only end up spilling out onto innocent people. Don’t let others bring you down and certainly don’t become one of them!