"Come now my child, if we were planning to harm you, do you think we'd be lurking here beside the path in the very darkest part of the forest..." - Kenneth Patchen, "Even So."

THIS IS A BLOG ABOUT STORIES AND STORYTELLING; some are true, some are false, and some are a matter of perspective. Herein the brave traveller shall find dark musings on horror, explorations of the occult, and wild flights of fantasy.

Monday, May 21, 2012


I ran into a witch the other day. Not the broom-stick riding, cauldron-stirring, poison-apple kind; she was the Goddess-worshipping, matriarchy, earth-power variety. In short, a Wiccan.

I’ve always had something of a love-hate relationship with Wicca, a modern religion with somewhat nebulous ties to traditional witchcraft. My affection is based on its core assumption, that each of us possesses the power “…to initiate change. This recognition of ‘power within’ moves us from mass passivity to personal responsible action. We are co-creators and must act with knowledge and responsibility…” (Carl Llewellyn Weschcke, Foreward, The Grimoire of Lady Sheba But this notion is common in most so-called occult traditions, which in general prefer magic (the concept that ritual action can allow the individual to affect the outcome of events) to prayer (the concept that ritual action can beseech higher powers to intervene in events). Wicca is hardly unique, therefore, in shifting focus from priests, ministers, and prophets to the individual person. But where my affection for Wicca ends is in its constant attempts to gain mainstream acceptance, forcing it to adopt more and more traits of conventional religions like Christianity or Judaism, and to “tone down” elements that might make the suburban middle class uncomfortable.

In its early stages, from its emergence in the 50s up until its explosion in the 80s, Wicca was charmingly loopy, making absurb claims and littered with a colorful cast of characters. It was more likely to just call itself Witchcraft in those days, and as a new faith worked overtime to suggest it was in fact an ancient tradition handed down in secret from ancient times. But we can hardly fault Wicca for this; all religions at the start concoct colorfully absurd origin stories. In the early days of Gerald Gardner, Alexander Sanders, Sybil Leek, and Lady Sheba, nobody seemed to be content to “just” be a witch, they had to be “kings and queens of the witches,” boasting that their families had been practicing the Craft in secret for generations and carrying out shouting matches and character assassinations against others with identical claims. As silly as this was, the tabloid spectacle of it all was still more amusing than what came later, as humorless feminists and crystal-clutching New Agers got their mitts on Witchcraft and made it painfully bland. Early on, one might catch witches dancing naked around a bonfire, howling at the moon on a spring night. Later on, they were far more likely to be in their jeans and t-shirts, sitting around a lump of quartz in the living room, holding hands and honoring “womyn power.” The TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer pefectly summed up the 90s witch-scene in the fourth season episodeHush;

Buffy: (to Willow, who has just come from her first college witch circle meeting) “So, not stellar, huh?”

Willow “Talk, all talk. Blah, blah, blah Gaia. Blah, blah, blah moon. Menstrual life-force power thingy.”

Buffy: “No actual witches in your witch group?”

Willow: No. Bunch of blessedwannabes. You know, nowadays, every girl with a henna tattoo and a spice rack thinks she’s a sister to the dark ones.”

It was largely the mass-marketing of Wicca that leeched it of any color it once had. Where in the beginning you needed to seek out a coven and hand-copy their ritual book, the post-80s scene saw bookshelves groaning under the weight of self-help witch books, all of which had carefully exorcised “questionable” elements. It wasn’t enough to be about casting spells; Wicca needed to be feminist, politically correct, and environmentally conscious to sell. As it down-played spell-casting, backed away from practicing rituals in the buff, and did away with hiearchy and degrees, Wicca became acceptable to shy, mild-mannered boys and girls who wanted to be “different” without actually being different at all.

Despite the concessions it had to make (or more likely because of them), Wicca did succeed, far better than any other occult tradition could claim. It’s slow metamorphosis from lunatic fringe to pop phenomenon mirrored the journey of early Christianity (“Gee, if you guys could get rid of all those uncomfortable Jewish elements I’m sure the Romans would buy it”). Soon, with practioners estimated in the millions (high or low millions depending on who you ask), Wicca was head and-shoulders above similar alternatives to mainstream faith, and those others could not fail but take notice. In blatant imitation of Wicca’s success, Aleister Crowley’s own Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.) has been restructuring and repackaging itself as a “Church,” with priests, bishops, and masses (ironic considering Crowley’s dim view of Christianity). Pointing out the fact that in his Magick Without Tears Crowley had disapproved of calling his philosophical system a “religion,” an O.T.O, member replied to me without blinking “but its more acceptable to the public if we call it that.” Had he not been cremated, ole’ Aleister would be rolling in his grave. It’s getting to be these days that the only occult traditions out there still willing to be politically incorrect, anti-consumerism, and unapologetically antagonistic towards conventional religions are Anton LaVey’s Satanists and the chaos magicians, God bless ‘em.

In short, I suppose I like my alternative religions alternative. I’m kind of crazy that way. While I have fond memories of my adventures in Wicca (dancing all night on May Eve, high in the Adirondacks, wearing nothing but a loin cloth and blue spirals all over my skin springs to mind), the bulk of the tradition has become something so tame and tidy it leaves me cold. To my mind, the whole point of magic is to steal fire from the gods, so an alternative religion based on worship and prayer hardly seems worth leaving mainstream faith for. To each is own, of course, but as even alternative religions go mainstream, I find myself being pushed further out into the fringe.

Which is good. I like it there.

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