Disclaimer: In case you can’t infer it all by yourself, these are the opinions of Sheta and Sheta only. If my colleagues agree (and actually see this), they can add their plus-ones or whatever.
It seems to be a thing with artists and anyone who charges for a spiritual service — people are appalled that we actually charge for our work. The reasons for this shock and awe vary, but the general assumption is that we should all work for free. In the last three days, I’ve had people ask me “Is there a charge for this?” or “Is this free?” so often that it’s been suggested I prepare a macro so I don’t have to keep repeating myself. I guess this is my response to those questions, and the reasons why yes I do charge for my services.
Isn’t this a gift? Isn’t it wrong to charge for spiritual services?
The ability to cook extraordinarily well makes one a chef. Chefs do not give away their gifts; in fact, they are paid in accordance to the level of their skills. Why is it that a spiritual gift must be given away? I need to eat and pay my bills, just like you do. Am I supposed to do this for eight hours per day, seven days per week, for free? Because that’s what I did for ten years, before saying, “Enough. I need something back.” Putting a price tag on something immediately weeds out the leeches, and they fall away in great piles of abandon(ment). It hurt a lot, realizing that the people I thought were my friends didn’t think my skills were worth their money, and in fact a lot of them had never even donated anything in return. I’d consider that to be the minimum of courtesies. Or a thank you card. Or anything beyond yet another night of listening and helping you and channeling for you, without complaint. I deserve to be paid, and my price is a fraction of the people on websites like Keen. I offer real benefit, not a crutch. If you’re gaining something from my work with you, why is the question always “Is it free?” This question comes most often from those who would happily monopolize my time with issues I can barely credit. (For those of you who think I’m talking about you — I’m not. This is a special breed of annoying that few manage to attain, but when they do, wow.)
How do I know you’re not a ripoff?
This is a question rarely asked aloud, but which is obviously on everyone’s mind who has a healthy sense of skepticism. The world, and the Web, are full of frauds, cold readers, and people who feel no guilt whatsoever at charging $8-$10 per minute. I’m not one of them. If you’ve ever chatted with me, you know that. If you haven’t, then ask someone who has. You want references? Check my testimonials page. It’s crammed full of real people’s real comments.
Why does it cost so much?
My prices are reasonable, I offer the occasional free class, and have a flat fee for an intro chat in which I tell you what I pick up about your spirit companion (or whatever term you prefer), the latter of which is refundable if I fail to pick up anything or miss the mark completely. That’s less than most skilled tradesmen make, and if you don’t believe me, try hiring someone to re-roof your house. I made a total of $1705 last year in earned wages. I can’t live on that, even with the money I get from disability, even with food stamps. If someone genuinely can’t afford it, I will do what I can to help, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to pester me every night because you’re hungry for validation. I’m fair, but don’t use me. And remember, if I do help you pro bono, please do something nice in return, even if it’s just to leave a testimonial at the above link.
Don’t you feel guilty? Doesn’t it bother you?
I struggled with this decision. Just because I don’t show my agonizing on my services page doesn’t mean it was easy to get to this point. But I was literally 8-12 hours per day online, helping people. I spent two years on one person, about ten years ago, only to have her balk when I asked for something back. Boom. No more friendship. That was it. Those who decided to abandon ship, so to speak, claimed I was abusing their friendship. I guess they didn’t have much sense of the ironic.
Others clamored aboard, seeking (of all things) power, via li’l ol’ me. Imagine my surprise when it dawned on me. And when I noticed it aloud, oh the drama. That was a lot of fun. More friends left, as sides were divided and I struggled to own my mistakes while standing my ground, a real learning experience. As I began to really understand that people valued my time and sometimes competed for it, and that other people were sometimes too intimidated to talk to me, I felt it was time to put some filters in place. I’ve never charged those I consider my true friends and would never begrudge them my time, and I hope they understand this. But there were those who were truly offended that I shouldn’t be at their beck and call whenever online, no matter how heavy or difficult their problems, no matter how much channeling I did. I was supposed to be a machine. Sorry, only human.
So no, after all that, I don’t feel guilty at all. It’s the smartest thing I ever did, and I deserve to be paid for my services. They have real value. You do understand the word “value”?
Image credit: exileden.deviantart.com
©2013 by Sheta Kaey.
Sheta Kaey is a lifelong occultist and longtime spirit worker, as well as Editor in Chief of Rending the Veil. She counsels others with regard to spirit contact and astral work. She can be reached via her blog.
“Death to all fanatics!” — Ho Chih Zen
Donald Tyson’s rant in an earlier issue of Rending the Veil1, calling for a united Pagan/ Christian front against the spectre of encroaching atheism has led to several interesting comments — notably from Psyche2 (who points out the range of atheist positions is far wider than Tyson claims), and Grey Glamer3 (who makes a strong case that atheism and a magical perspective are not necessarily opposites).
I think all three writers are missing an important point.
If there is a tendency that needs to be strongly opposed by people of good conscience who seek common ground in these matters, that foe is fanaticism. Fundamentalist thought. The certainty that your view of the universe is not only the One Truth, but that all those who do not share it are deluded, stupid or actually evil.
This is not a viewpoint exclusive to one belief system. It is rather a habit which can appear in any faith — or lack of it4.
Many years ago, I had a long conversation with a friend and work colleague, who happened to be a committed Christian. Nice guy. We talked at length about our different experience of the Divine, our beliefs and how we acted on them. At the end of it all, he smiled, thanked me for the talk. . . and added sadly, “. . . it’s a shame that you’re going to Hell anyway.” For all that he was in my view a good person, he was a fanatic. A polite one, perhaps — but still fundamentalist, unable to move from his dogma.
Last year, I had an incredibly similar conversation with a friend on a comic book forum (you’d be surprised — or perhaps not — how often such matters turn up among fanboys). Only difference was, he’s an rationalist atheist. And instead of saying I would go to Hell for my viewpoint, he insisted I was basically either delusional or foolish. Which I suppose is slightly better. . .
Needless to say, these two examples are not representative of their belief systems. The majority of folk I know of both Christian and atheist tendency are perfectly capable of discussing matters without retreating to claims of absolute certainty — indeed, many of them have adjusted their views as a result of such discussions (as have I).
But some people simply can’t make that adjustment. Whether due to personal experience, the culture they were raised in or some other factor, they are utterly certain that they have the Truth.
I can understand how this happens. In religious folk, their faith is a bedrock of their entire personality and often their culture. Doubting this is risky, scary — and mentally difficult to even find the words for5. In those of the rationalist tendency, there is the added fear of a return to the horrors of the theocratic world which (in their mythology) was banished by the Light of Reason, and that their worldview has a lot of material support. (Of course scientific work is far from the immaculate quest for knowledge they think it is. . . and often those who work in the field have their own beliefs which are far from rational, and which strongly affect their theories.)
Certainty is an important thing for everyone. I think on some level, we all see our points of view as “true” and those which differ as wrong in some way. There’s also a strong tendency in people to conform to a given status quo, the consensus reality of our culture. Some folk, though, go that little bit further. . . even the possibility of someone having differing views to theirs is seen as a threat, terrifies them. And fear so easily turns to hate.
My own view — and of course I could be completely wrong about this! — is that people who can allow a little slack in their beliefs, some flexibility in their world-view, are not only better adapted to the complex, changing times we live in, but are actually better company. I can honestly say that if I met a person who shared my belief system in every single way — except that they were certain it was The Truth rather than a working model to be adjusted as time and experience dictate — I would dread them.
Fanatical certainty, fundamentalist beliefs and the hatred of those who do not share them, are one of the worst parts of the human world. It is that habit which leads to persecution and atrocity. It seems far more important to me that people of all beliefs and systems ally against that than to pick fights among themselves.
It’s a dark world out there, full of things to fear. Each of us has a small candle, a light in the darkness. Surely it’s a better idea to share our light than argue over what colour the other persons candle is?
“Convictions cause convicts.” — Hagbard Celine
- Tyson, “Atheism — the Real Enemy,” in Rending The Veil.
- Psyche, “Ignorance – the Real Enemy. A reply to Donald Tyson’s Essay,” ibid.
- Glamer, “Does Materialism Threaten Paganism?“, ibid.
- Vincent, “The Woo, the How and the Why,” in “Oddities and Mutterings.”
- Vincent, “Guttershaman — Meanings and Patterns, part 1,” ibid.
(As ever, I am indebted to the work of Robert Anton Wilson.)
©2009 by Ian Vincent.
Edited by Sheta Kaey.
Ian Vincent was born in 1964 in Gravesend, England to lower-working-class parents. Due to an early manifestation of psi ability, he began study of mythology, mysticism and the occult before he was ten years old. After school, Ian found himself on his first “ghost-busting,” aged nineteen. Ever since, he has found himself in many situations where his ability for dealing with aggressive paranormal activity (human and otherwise) was useful. He founded Athanor Consulting, a specialist paranormal protection consultancy, in 2002. He closed Athanor in 2009 to better focus on studying and writing on the wider aspects of the Art. Ian lives in Bristol, England with artist Kirsty Hall and shamanic healer Jolane Abrams. He blogs on magical theory (under the title “Guttershaman”) and related Fortean matters at http://catvincent.wordpress.com.
“This thing of darkness, I acknowledge mine.” — Prospero (The Tempest, Act V, Scene 1)
Geoff Mains, in his seminal work on Leather culture, Urban Aboriginals: A Celebration of Leathersexuality, uses this quote in his introduction to that work. Later, he frames the tribe of Leather (at that time, Gay Leather, the pansexual Leather/BDSM movement, was in its infancy) in terms of Apollonian and Dionysian structure. This dynamic has framed discussions of early SM and later BDSM culture since that period in much the same way that the terms had framed discourse regarding culture from Nietzsche to the present day.
Nietzsche himself, well loved by many for his masculine Ubermenschian ideals, took a pair of Greek gods to illustrate the tension between logos and pathos in The Birth of Tragedy. Nietzsche discussed this in terms of Apollonian dream of beauty and Dionysian instinct to drunkenness, and wrote that it was in the union of inspiration and ecstasy that true art was found. “Apollonian” is a term often applied as a descriptor of the forces of reason, of structure, of logical process and civilization. “Dionysian” is used to describe the primal, the intuitive, the emotional, the wild and unrestrained — a primordial self. This primordial self was both integral and central to the unified self, the Apollonian consciousness being merely a veil that obscures the frightening Dionysian instinct.
Interestingly, Nietzsche leaned away from a fragile union of the two as the ultimate form of art and self in rejection of the structures of Apollonian reason as his philosophical thought progressed. The Ubermensch is a unified figure unbound by the strictures of conventional morality that creates its own ethos through the power of its own will. The Apollonian veil is one of imposed civilization that creates a split in the primal self by its very nature, blinding the self to its instincts.
The Apollonian/ Dionysian dichotomy was clearly an attractive analogy to Mains, most likely for a number of reasons. The radical sexuality and pleasure seeking behavior of Leathermen admixed with pain captured the vital, Dionysian essence of SM culture at that time. The defining terms, Apollonian and Dionysian, come from the social sciences. This is certainly what Mains was doing — looking at Leather as a scientist. From his application of anthropological terms and concepts to the subculture, to his explanation of the physiology of SM, Mains was uniting those two strong, attractive, and ultimately male role models — the Scientist (Apollonian) and the Leatherman (Dionysian) — within himself.
However, if Dionysus was a deity of ecstatic, drunken orgies symbolizing rebirth who was primarily followed by the bloodthirsty women known as Maenads (a fact which always seemed to be glossed over by gay male writers), then we should also mention Cybele. She was identified with Rhea and Demeter, and was also a deity of ecstatic, bloodthirsty, drunken orgies and served by the Gallai, the castrated and transgendered followers of her son and consort Attis. Evidence suggests that the practices of the Dionysian cult were derived from that of Cybele. Some legends state that Dionysus was actually initiated by Cybele.
Castrated men ecstatically serving a female deity is a threatening concept to most men, regardless of sexual orientation. Castrated, transgendered men. . . This is not the Leather Ideal. The Christ-like, virile figure of Dionysus offering community, solace, and perhaps even redemption is much more palatable to the gay Leather soul. This is especially true if we ignore the troublesome details of the actual cult practice such as the powerful, and very female, Maenads.
This, of course, is the problem.
Towards the end of Urban Aboriginals, Mains notes the rise of faerie (Neopagan) spirituality in the Leather community. In discussing the wide appeal and universal nature of SM, he also notes the existence of the lesbian Leather community as well as JANUS (aka the pansexual BDSM community). While the argument might be made that Leather is inherently masculine, there is nothing to support the notion that the practices of BDSM are.
Here I would suggest that the Dionysian steps aside for the Chthonic. This term is one of the Underworld, of darkness, of death. The Greeks didn’t divide their own gods into Apollonian and Dionysian, and modern scholars have developed a more nuanced division of the deities into Olympian and Chthonic: the younger deities of the Heavens and the older deities of the Earth. The Chthonic is a black female yin to the white male Apollonian yang. This is eminently and inherently unsettling to a dialectic formed of two male ideals, the philosopher-king and the wild man of the woods.
A darker, less noble truth is ignored.
The Erotic and the Thanatotic are closely linked to the Altsex community these days. The community — Leather, pansexual, transgender, and fetish — has been living and dying under the specter of AIDS for a quarter of a century. This community has been dying for other reasons as well: domestic violence, hate crimes, and the banalities of choking on food, car accidents, and slipping in the shower. This is the inescapable Darkness.
Writing in 1984, Mains himself noted that AIDS was changing the landscape of Leather. Now, more than twenty years later, I would suggest that Dionysian is only a portion of the dynamic that we see in the current Altsex community. While Apollonian is also descriptor of light, of the sky and heavens, Dionysian might be viewed as descriptor of darkness. But its connection to the earth is one of vitality and life, the vine and the grape, the passion that brings forth life in orgiastic frenzy. He is unconquerable life, the rebirth after death, not death itself.
Today, you practically cannot open a book on BDSM without a hip and often trite discussion of the Jungian Shadow in terms of BDSM. The Shadow is often equated with all the scary things about BDSM: the untamed sexuality, the ownership of desire, the passion of pain, the heady bouquet of blood, sweat, and tears. It is a Gothic ideal of a radical underground, a sensual aesthetic that provides psycho-spiritual justification for the sorcery of the dungeon.
But the Shadow, as closely linked as it is to darkness, is not in fact Darkness. It is merely what we pass through to get there at the end of one road and the beginning of another. The Shadow is that part of the Self that is formed by the fundamental struggle between the light of our own consciousness as it attempts to deal with its brushes with death. Not so much the death of the ego, though that is involved, but the death of the body, the final Darkness that will claim us all.
The Shadow has become so romanticized that its intrinsic nature, the battleground between Light and Darkness, has become lost. Instead of engaging in a dialogue with the Shadow about the Darkness, the discussion has become a self-absorbed dialectic with the Shadow about itself.
The question becomes: How do we retain the discussion with the Shadow and regain the dialogue about the Darkness?
To this day, despite the pansexual appeal of both BDSM and Leather, discussions of Jungian archetypes, and rise of the shaman-styled divine androgynes, there is continued homophobia in the “pansexual” BDSM community, a strong undercurrent of misogyny in gay Leather subculture, and Transfolk are still looking for a place to safely call home. Just as the mainstream gay and lesbian communities ostracized Leather out of disgust and fears of public-relations disasters, the Altsex community itself polices those who play on the edge for the very same reasons. Rather than a frank discussion of domestic abuse and mental illness within the Scene, the community engages in self-congratulatory discussions of how evolved and self-actualized it is to be kinky compared to “vanilla” folk.
These are the Shadows that should be dealt with.
©2009 by Edward Dain.
Edited by Sheta Kaey.
“Edward Dain” is the long standing pseudonym for a “squicky, neoshamanistic, Ordeal Path, Leatherman.” Given his skills and focus, he has been known to introduce himself as “the guy your High Priestess warned you about.” Despite this people still tend to think he is a nice person and seem interested in the opinions he has formed over a quarter-of-a-century of esoteric practice. A practicing therapist who specializes in sexual minorities and relationships, “Edward Dain” also values his work with religious and spiritual minorities. Currently he is completing his internship, the final requirement for the award of his doctorate in Clinical Psychology.
In the world of the occult, that of western magicians, shamans, Wiccans, eastern mystics, etc., there is a disturbing tendency toward chronal1 elitism.
In most schools of mysticism and magic, there is a pervading mentality that in the distant past, humans were more spiritually alive. It seems taken for granted that the greatest of spiritual wisdom and occult science were well known to the peoples of antiquity and that it was, at some point, lost. As time went on, the general public became hostile toward the enlightened soul as the structures of power worked to rob people of spiritual connection through fear and coercion. The result of this shift is the spiritual morass of the modern era; and now, in the post-modern world, we occultists have reclaimed our spiritual birthright and can lead the world back to an era of magic and enlightenment.
Urbanization and technological development — the hallmarks of the modern world — are believed by many occultists to be banes to our spiritual development. They are unnatural, and therefore serve to distance our souls from nature and the spiritual forces we need for our enlightenment. We must avoid cities, and the reliance on modern conveniences if we wish to develop our souls.
All of these beliefs stem from a sense of chronal elitism. This is the general belief that one era should be considered better than another. Amongst secular scientists and scholars, this often manifests in the belief that the present is greater than the past. It has led scholars to disregard the opinions and actions of the ancients, for they were oh so primitive and savage in those times. Today, of course, we are much more civilized and developed. We are better than they were.
It is this very disregard for the beliefs of the ancients that leads spiritual people in our time to react with hostility to modernism. Not only is this anachronistic reaction common amongst occultists, but of orthodox religious followers of every faith. Take, for example, the Southern Baptist who denies the science of natural evolution, or the Shiite Muslim who eschews modern forms of democratic government in favor of theocracy. It stems from the same feelings that lead Wiccans and shamans to retreat from cities. On the other hand, chaos magicians find themselves in line with the secular scholars by declaring the rituals of old to be irrelevant, preferring to experiment with their own, post-modern, and highly individualized methods of magic.
Chronal elitism of any kind is, in reality, equally damaging and narrow minded. And between the polarities of those who worship the past and those who worship the present or future is a middle path in which one can consider all eras objectively, noting the strengths and weaknesses of each. This is the rarest of standpoints, as it is always easier to adhere to an extreme view rather than to examine the world in a balanced and unbiased manner.
Anyone who has spent considerable time studying the rites and magical systems of antiquity cannot deny the efficacy and spiritual development of the ancients. While at the same time, those of us with a firm grip on the developments over the ages can also see where our ancestors have been grossly mistaken due to an ignorance of facts which have arisen in the proceeding ages.
The naturalist magician or shaman reading this might inquire as to how one can deny that humans have departed from nature. Most humans now live in cities or sprawling suburbs. The vast population no longer hunts and gathers for their food, nor spends time on a farm cultivating and harvesting the bounty of the land. Nay, the average human in modern society spends his or her days working in a service or labor job, and exchanges the money earned in his task for his sustenance. Rather than green fields and dark forests, he is surrounded by concrete and glass buildings. Instead of drinking from the cool stream, he turns on the faucet and fills his glass with water filtered through his Brita tap. Is this not a departure from our natural state?
The question which this author proposes is this: How are we to define “natural,” or “nature”? If we are to define natural as the state of the world where humans have made no impact, then anywhere we go is bound to be “unnatural.” No creature can live somewhere without changing the world around them to some extent. And what of nature? Must we define this as the manifestation of all things in the universe, except for man and anything he touches? If this is the case, then man has no natural place in the universe, and therefore it is entirely useless for the human race to try and be a part of nature, as by definition it cannot.
Another definition of nature is simply all which manifests in the universe. By this definition, mankind is incapable of doing anything that is unnatural, for everything in the universe is natural.
A final, and more specific idea regarding nature is to define man’s part in it as a specific type of behavior or niche, and to say that all behaviors which deviate from this lifestyle are unnatural. This, of course, implies that there is some standard of man’s natural behavior, or his place in nature, which exists outside of man, himself. Furthermore, it implies that the species of humanity is capable of breaking out of its niche and living unnaturally. This argument is essentially sound; however, it offers no objective method of defining what our natural niche is supposed to be. There are many pagans and shamans who are all too eager to tell us how we’re supposed to live, but if one asks why we should live in such-and-such a way, the answer is always self-referential. We should live that way because it’s natural. This still skirts the issue of an objective definition for nature.
When termites and beavers tear down trees and build structures in which to live, it is considered natural. When humans exhibit the same behavior, it is not. This author would submit that the city is our natural habitat, just as the mound and the lodge belong to the termite and beaver, respectively.
Serious study into the astral plane might (and I have found that it has) yield evidence for spiritual landscapes unique to the cities themselves. It could be found that the rituals and cycles of the urban habitat might be symbolic of spiritual truths altogether their own. If we listen, we might find that even the concrete and glass may speak to us and sing the song of the city, just as the shamans of old listened to the voice of the forest or field.
None of this is to decry, in their entirety, the arguments of the naturalist pagans and shamans. One of the reasons their outspoken opinion against human development has been so widely accepted is because it contains truth. The human expansion is troublesome. Not because it is unnatural, as this term is meaningless, but rather because it is disharmonious. As a species, we do not live in harmony with our surroundings, and to follow our current path will eventually lead to our own demise. We are suffocating in noxious fumes and destroying wholesale the resources we need to live. It is extremely evident that we must all seek to do our part in finding solutions for the problems of sustainability in our world.
While it is certain that returning to the Paleolithic might keep our species from destroying ourselves, we would also be sacrificing many other developments of use to us as physical and as spiritual beings.
It is often overlooked that the modern era actually affords us many a boon in our quest for spiritual enlightenment. First and foremost is the boon of access.
Due to the development of information technology, the modern magician has access to the writings of magi from all eras and places across the world. From the magical papyri of the ancient Greeks and Egyptians, to the transcribed versions of folk tales from the Oglala Lakota, or the sagas and eddas of the ancient Scandinavians, magi today can become privy to information of such breadth and span as would make even the most enlightened of ancient prophets a little jealous. Additionally, many of the texts which have been brought to light through the centuries were, in their time, only accessible to a small and cloistered group of individuals, who kept their secrets well hidden from the general public.
Our sedentary lifestyle today is shunned by many of the more anachronistic in the occult community, but, in truth, magi of all eras lived sedentary lives. In fact, a life somewhat sedentary is required for one to put any serious effort into the Great Work.
In the ancient shamanic cultures, and in their surviving Neolithic counterparts today, the tribal community would have but one Shaman, and perhaps a few apprentices. These communities were primarily hunter-gatherer or sometimes agricultural. This means that the average citizen works at least ten hours out of the day, doing backbreaking labor. The reason only one person in a community can take on the role of Shaman is because the community, at large, can only support one Shaman. The Shaman doesn’t work. He may tend a garden, and do house chores, but he doesn’t spend ten hours a day working himself to the bone. If he did, he wouldn’t have the energy to devote to his spiritual task. And so, food, housing, and all other necessities are provided to the Shaman by his community.
In the empires of old, magical study was relegated to a very small priest class. The peasantry had little to no access to the papyri of ancient Egypt and Greece, and even if they did, their laborious lifestyles left little time for literacy. And, much like the Shamans, these priests and magi lived a life supported by the labors of the common folk.
While it is true that the observance and recognition of magical power has diminished in our modern era, most people overestimate the occult understanding of the ancient peasantry. While they relied on the mystics and magi, and celebrated the festivals of the seasons and the cycles of nature; the real mystical knowledge of these common folk was more superstition than genuine spiritual enlightenment.
The bottom line is this: If the world today resembled that of the past, the majority of today’s occultists would be peasants. They would not be taught to read, much less to understand the subtle energies of the universe. And even the natural adept, born into such a scenario, would not have the luxury of time to pursue serious personal study and evocations. The labor of the day, for a peasant in a technologically undeveloped culture, takes up all time and energy available. Conversely, even the poor sap scraping by on minimum wage (this author is one such sap) in our modern world will have enough time and the resources to tap spiritual power that rivals any ancient mage or shaman.
To conclude, I leave you with this: It is very difficult for people to look at time objectively. As our limited perceptions can only tell us of the present, we see the now with greater clarity than we do the past. For some, this means that we see all of the beauty of the present, in every minuscule detail, and the past, which we can only perceive vicariously through literary work or the visible remainders, seems dim and ill-lighted by comparison. There are others who use their keen eyesight to spot all the flaws of our current age. Because they can see the corruption of every man around them, and receive only brief outlines of lives long past, they color in the details with an ideal that surpasses the world they know. Both these paths are fallacious, and they are forms of self-deceit.
The hardest and truest path is narrow, and runs down the middle. We must all seek to understand our own era for all its beauty and its flaws. At the same time, it is important that we look at the past with the same clarity, that we open our third eye and allow our spirits to perceive the ancients with pathos and scrutiny at the same time. Let us not be concerned with “returning” to some erstwhile era. This is impossible; time never moves backward. And let us not, either, throw out the wisdom of our ancestors. Let us instead try to lead the world into a new era that uses the best of the past and present, and corrects the problems which have recurred in all ages.
- This term comes from the Greek kronos, pertaining to time, much like chronicle, chronic, chronology, chronograph. I suppose the word “temporal” would work, too, but it has other implications like transitory or passing. I like the sound of chronal better.
©2009 Quentin Marshall
Edited by Sheta Kaey
In an absurd tirade ludicrously titled “Atheism — The Real Enemy,” Donald Tyson misrepresents atheism and atheists in general, portraying us as fiendish creatures out to dispel the glamours of religion and spiritual belief from the credulous but duped masses.
Tyson appeals for Christian and Pagans to unite in their common belief in god(s) (of some kind or another) against the rising atheist threat. This simply isn’t necessary. If Christians and Pagans want to be friends, let them be friends for the right reasons, and not simply to become united in hatred against a common enemy, fabricated though it may be, as in Tyson’s vicious portrayal of The Atheist.
Defining Our Terms
We can begin by correcting the definition of atheism Tyson presents in his essay:
The new enemy is atheism. It is the belief — the unfaith — that there are no gods, no spirits, no angels or devils, no paranormal abilities, and no magic of any kind.
Leaving aside the aggressive tone (for now), let’s break down the word and see if we can come to some sort of reasonable understanding of what is meant. The word atheist comes from the Greek; the prefix a- meaning “without” and theos meaning “god.” While at its simplest, theism can be defined as the belief in the existence of at least one god; atheism can be described as the absence of belief in the existence of any gods. To assume that this excludes other “energies” or entities is misleading.
In response to similar misrepresentations, and as atheists become more vocal about their (non)beliefs, a growing movement have began calling themselves “brights.” This of course follows in the tradition of homosexuals coming out of the closet embracing the term “gay.” As non-gays are not (necessarily) glum, non-brights are not (necessarily) dim. Even so, Daniel C. Dennett (Dennett, 2006, p. 21) has proposed a lively new term for theists who might otherwise feel left out. He’s suggested they can call themselves “supers,” because they believe in the supernatural. Now everyone can have a peppy new name: gay, straight, bright, super.
Personally, I have difficulty embracing the term “brights.” It feels overly self-conscious to me, but I like the spirit that inspired it. In the meantime, I’ll continue writing essays dispelling the Evil Atheist myths that people such as Donald Tyson love to threaten theists with. (We’re really quite friendly.)
While we’re defining our terms, there is often a lack of understanding about the philosophical stance of agnosticism, and I’d like to clear up the distinction between atheism and agnosticism for readers who may have the two ideas confused.
The word agnostic comes from the Greek agnostos, meaning “unknown, unknowable”; the prefix a- again meaning “without,” and gnosis meaning “knowledge.” Therefore, literally, agnostic means “without knowledge,” but tends to refer specifically to one who is “without knowledge of god(s).” The term was coined by Thomas Huxley, a British scientist in the nineteenth century who believed only material things could be known with any precision.
To be clearer, atheism is the absence of belief in gods, and an agnostic believes one cannot be certain about the (non)existence of gods. It is possible to not believe in gods (the atheist position), but allow for the possibility of being wrong (the agnostic position). Indeed, most atheists could technically be considered agnostics, but this would be splitting hairs that really need not be split.
For instance, in The God Delusion Richard Dawkins identifies a seven point scale of belief with absolute belief in (at least one) god at 1 and complete rejection of any possibility of any gods at 7. Position 4 is the perfect agnostic, completely impartial, believing that the existence of gods is exactly as likely as not (Dawkins, 2006, 73-74).
Most people would fall in positions 2 or 3 (fairly sure that there are gods), or 5 or 6 (fairly sure that there aren’t any gods), and therefore could technically be classified as agnostics, but most religious people with moments of doubt would be unlikely to classify themselves as agnostics. Likewise, most atheists who allow it’s possible there might be a god, but astonishingly unlikely, would not identify themselves this way.
What does “astonishingly unlikely” look like? Consider Bertrand Russell’s Celestial Teapot:
If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time. (Russell, 1952)
The existence of the Celestial Teapot is sufficiently absurd that one cannot be expected to believe in it. With this example, Russell intended to demonstrate that the burden of proof lies with those who would posit and promote such absurdities, rather than those who elect not to believe things which cannot be proved. It’s simply not good enough to suggest that because one person believes in the Celestial Teapot in the absence of any evidence, its existence must be allowed as a reasonable possibility. It’s not reasonable, and I’ve no qualms about calling myself an a-Celestial Teapotist.
The Gods Are Made of Phlogiston
We are constantly learning more about what it means to be human, redefining ourselves through our ever expanding understanding of the planet around us, and reinventing our place in it. Rather than rejecting what we don’t (yet) understand, we would do better to learn what we can of our world and ourselves.
In the seventeenth century a chemist named Georg Ernst Stahl “discovered” a new element he called phlogiston, after the Greek phlogistos, “to set on fire.” Stahl’s phlogiston theory was proposed to explain combustion. When a substance burns, it was thought to release both “vapours” and phlogiston into the air. The flames and smoke from a burning log suggest the wood is releasing some substance into the air, this, of course, was phlogiston.
Yet the phlogiston theory wasn’t entirely satisfactory. Metals heated in the air do not lose, but gain weight. Therefore it was reasoned that phlogiston must have a negative weight. There were other complications, but, in the absence of a better explanation, this theory won support for much of the eighteenth century.
In the 1780s Antoine Lavoisier recognized and named a new element, oxygen. This “new” element better explained what came to be known as oxidization. As Philip Ball writes in The Elements:
The discovery of oxygen did not just make phlogiston redundant; the two were fundamentally incompatible. Oxygen is the very opposite of phlogiston. It is consumed during burning, not expelled.
Though early in its discovery, some scientists were reluctant to abandon the phlogiston theory entirely, and attempted to work elaborate proofs to try and demonstrate phlogiston could still somehow be involved. Eventually, of course, these were rejected as oxygen and its properties were better understood, and found to better explain what was really happening.
We can see parallels between the story of phlogiston and oxygen and the fantastic creation myths of various cultures and evolution. We no longer need creation myths to explain how the world came to be, or how we came to be on it. Science has provided solid, verifiable answers to these former mysteries, and it continues to regularly improve our understanding.
In 1859 a British naturalist named Charles Darwin “first put together a coherent and tenable account of why we exist” (Dawkins, 1976, p. 1). On the Origin of Species revolutionized our understanding of the natural world and our origins: invisible sky gods were no longer required to explain how we came to be.
Natural selection not only explains the whole of life; it also raises our consciousness to the power of science to explain how organized complexity can emerge from simple beginnings without any deliberate guidance. A full understanding of natural selection encourages us to move bodily into other fields. It arouses our suspicion, in those other fields, of the kind of false alternatives that once, in pre-Darwinian days, beguiled biology. Who, before Darwin, could have guessed that something so apparently designed as a dragonfly’s wing or an eagle’s eye was really the end product of a long sequence of non-random but purely natural causes? (Dawkins, 2008, p. 141)
Tyson warns that “with every day that passes there seems to be more evidence that atheism is a growing movement.” While it’s not as organized as Tyson might fear, certainly more people are open to discussing atheism, and finally the stigma is beginning to lift. Indeed, part of the reason atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have become vocal about their atheism recently is to help raise consciousness, so people realize they have a choice. Too often children are unthinkingly indoctrinated into the beliefs of their parents and left in ignorance of alternative ways of thinking, or worse, actively discouraged from questioning what they’ve been taught.
Yet, in his paranoid essay, Tyson froths:
Atheists don’t regard their opinions as beliefs, of course, but rather look upon them as reality. That this same opinion has been maintained by every fanatical and exclusionary religious cult that has ever existed down through the centuries seems to escape them. All fanatical movements proclaim themselves possessors of the only truth, and are aggressively intolerant toward other beliefs – so it is with atheism, which is really a kind of fanatical cult of science that worships godlessness.
On the contrary, as Jordan Peterson so succinctly puts it in Maps of Meaning, “Adherents of the mythological worldview tend to regard the statements of their creeds as indistinguishable from imperial “fact,” even though such statements were generally formulated before the notion of objective reality emerged” (Peterson, 1999, p. 1).
Indeed, this is perhaps the biggest difference between religious conviction and scientific theory. Certainly, scientific theories are constantly being revised, but religions aggressively resist critical thinking with appeals to “mystery” and “faith”. These smokescreens should no longer be assumed sufficient. Dennett, in Breaking the Spell, gets it right when he says:
Who is right? I don’t know. Neither do the billions of people with their passionate religious convictions. Neither do those atheists who are sure the world would be a much better place if all religion went extinct. There is an asymmetry: atheists in general welcome the extensive and objective examination of their views, practices, and reasons. (In fact, their incessant demand for self-examination can become quite tedious.) The religious, in contrast, often bristle at the impertinence, lack of respect, the sacrilege, implied by anybody who wants to investigate their views. (Dennett, 2006, p. 16-17)
Appeals to “mystery” rather than reason effectively remove these arguments from the table and cannot be entertained in debate.
Raising consciousness about better, verifiable explanations regarding our place in the universe hardly seems “militant” to me, nor are (most) atheists any more (or less) intolerant than theists, many of whom actively seek to recruit new followers (consider “witnessing” and “missionaries,” for example). Atheists, like vegetarians, are often content to let the other side do as they will, however foolish or unappealing it may seem.
A Place for the Numinous
We may no longer need origin myths to explain why and how we got here, but this does not invalidate their meaning. As Peterson writes:
Myth is not primitive proto-science. It is a qualitatively different phenomenon. Science might be considered “description of the world with regards to those aspects that are consensually apprehensible” or “specification of the most effective mode of reaching an end (given a defined end).” Myth can be more accurately regarded as “description of the world as it signifies (for action).” The mythic universe is a place to act, not a place to perceive. Myth describes things in terms of their unique or share affective valence, their value, their motivational significance. (Peterson, 1999, p. 9)
Religion may be outmoded, but mythology certainly isn’t. Many atheists understand the importance of mythology as a part of literary culture. It helps us define who we are and its stories can provide structure to our lives. Richard Dawkins, for example, believes religious education is fundamental to understanding modern culture. He even goes as far as to state that “we can retain a sentimental loyalty to the cultural and literary traditions of, say, Judaism, Anglicanism or Islam, and even participate in religious rituals such as marriages and funerals, without buying into the supernatural beliefs that historically went along with those traditions. We can give up belief in God while not losing touch with a treasured heritage” (Dawkins, 2008, p. 387).
Even while we may retain sentimental attachment to tradition, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, it’s true many atheists will reject the possibility of disincarnate entitles, the paranormal, and magick. Many theists also reject these possibilities (with the exception of their personal god[s]).
There are those of us, however, who do not reject the spiritual out of hand. We recognize the importance of numinous experiences in identity and self development. Sam Harris, in The End of Faith, (somewhat surprisingly) allows that “there seems to be a body of data attesting to the reality of psychic phenomena,” which he feels “has been ignored by mainstream science” (Harris, 2004, p. 41).
So how can an atheist practice magick? It turns out there are many ways of looking at what magick is and how it works — without abstracting ourselves away from its core. Atheism and the numinous can — and often do — peacefully co-exist.
- Ball, Philip. The Elements: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
- Darwin, Charles. On the Origin of Species. New Jersey: Castle Books, 1859, 2004.
- Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006, 2008.
- ______. The Selfish Gene. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976, 2006.
- Dennett, Daniel C. Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. New York: Viking, 2006.
- Harris, Sam. The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. New York: W. W. Norton, 2004.
- Peterson, Jordan B. Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief. New York: Routledge, 1999.
- Psyche. “Agnosticism: The Basics“, on SpiralNature.com, 2004.
- ______. “Atheism: The Basics“, on SpiralNature.com, 2004.
- ______. “On Evolution“, on Plutonica.net, 2008.
- Russell, Bertrand. “Is There a God?“, on cfpf.org.uk, 1952.
- Tyson, Donald. “Atheism – The Real Enemy“, on RendingtheVeil.com, 2009. Last updated 19 July 2009.
Further Resources & Reading
- For more information on brights, see http://the-brights.net.
- For more on atheism see Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion. Daniel C. Dennett’s Consciousness Explained and Breaking the Spell outline more about the history of religious belief, and how and why we’ve adopted these models.
- Also, a two-hour round-table discussion titled The Four Horsemen, filmed by Josh Timonen, features Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel C. Dennett and Sam Harris. It has been provided by the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science is available free for download here: http://richarddawkins.net/article,2025,THE-FOUR-HORSEMEN,Discussions-With-Richard-Dawkins-Episode-1-RDFRS. It’s excellent.
©2009 by Psyche
Edited by Sheta Kaey
Psyche is the curator for the occult resource SpiralNature.com, blogs esoteric at Plutonica.net, and runs a tarot consultation business at PsycheTarot.com. She has been published in The Cauldron, Konton, newWitch, Blessed Be, Tarot World Magazine, and her essay “Strategic Magick” appeared in Manifesting Prosperity: A Wealth Magic Anthology, published by Megalithica Books in February 2008.
Before I begin my critique of Mr. Tyson’s essay concerning the threat posed by atheism, which appeared in last season’s issue of Rending the Veil, I should like to convey I have nothing but the utmost respect and gratitude for Mr. Tyson’s contributions to the occult community. The author’s Portable Magic has been an especial mainstay throughout my work with elemental evocations over the past year. Moreover, I do not intend for my essay to be an outright refutation of Tyson’s position, though I do call for greater clarity upon certain points which Tyson makes; I humbly suggest the modification of others. And I thank Mr. Tyson for initiating what I hope might prove a most fruitful discussion here on Rending the Veil and throughout the occult community.
With all this said, we should first make one key distinction of terminology which is crucial to understanding my position: What Mr. Tyson calls “atheism” throughout his essay, I term “scientific materialism” throughout mine. Narrowly defined, atheism denotes merely a disbelief in any deity or deities, whereas Mr. Tyson broadens the term to include a denial of the existence of “angels [and] devils, [and all] paranormal abilities.” I agree with Mr. Tyson there is an intellectual current which denies all these things, yet I believe this broad denial of what cannot be seen, felt, and measured more properly falls under the broader umbrella of scientific materialism, which says all things are material, and that which is incorporeal is essentially unreal. The most extreme variations of this position rather absurdly suggest since our conscious experience is essentially subjective in nature, then consciousness itself must be unreal. This sort of radical skepticism I will term scientific materialism throughout this essay.
Additionally, there exists a not inconsequential subset of occult practitioners who would probably self-identify as atheists. LaVeyan Satanists and related schools of thought spring to mind here, although I should think many schools of magical thought could jettison, more or less comfortably, the belief in deities without thereby losing the belief in magic. Such atheism neither questions nor condemns the efficacy of magic, though its magical paradigms circumvent the very gods which theological Paganism would doubtless incorporate. Regarding the existence — if not the nature — of magic, we Pagans have little quarrel with our atheist sisters and brothers across the occult community.
With our terms thus more narrowly defined, we must consider the ways by which one intellectual current can threaten another, and herein we discover a second distinction necessary for the discussion at hand. First, one current can threaten another by the sword or by the purse, cutting off or burying the physical means by which we express or communicate some especial belief. In its least subtle guise, this sort of intolerance tears down the temples of the rival belief, and puts anyone espousing the old beliefs to torture, and often to the gallows. Witness the vicious fanaticism of the Christian Inquisition of yesteryear, or today the repressive regime once (and still) imposed by the Taliban in Afghanistan. The more subtle approach pours money into political advertisements and lobbying, attempting to bury the opposing viewpoint through public opinion, which in democracy often translates into legal proscriptions. (Prop Eight, I’m looking at you!) Adopting for one moment the information paradigm championed by Patrick Dunn, one might say the belief which threatens does so by flooding the channel of the opposing belief with the noise of fear and distractions. If you can make the rival paradigm physically, legally, and financially difficult enough to follow, reasons this line of attack, you can choke another belief to death.
Now the good news: Across the contemporary Western world, this strategy usually fails, sometimes backfires, and every now and again backfires spectacularly. Genuine democracy contains within itself a belief in the free marketplace of ideas. Given enough time and reflection, people will come to embrace “good” ideas and reject “bad” ones. Critically, we might observe there is disagreement even upon the heading of what constitutes good and bad; here I can only reply that I am an optimist about human nature, and deep down I believe there is something life-affirming in all beings. Now I would rather be an optimist and right than a pessimist and wrong, and yet whether I am right or wrong, there remains the widespread belief in the free marketplace of ideas, recognized in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and elsewhere. This principle protects beliefs, even and especially crazy beliefs, from the sword. Given enough time and good will, life-affirming ideas can overcome the purse.
Barring some unforeseen and catastrophic political revolution, scientific materialism cannot wield the sword. There are no lions awaiting the Christians, and no burning pyres for we who call ourselves Pagan. The very modern developments which enabled the rise of materialism depend upon the free marketplace of ideas, and materialism knows this. More cynically, scientific materialism might simply find the purse more efficacious (or at least less messy) than the sword, since the sword tends to generate martyrs and saints among those who resist. Saturate the airwaves, and one can convince many — though crucially not all — to regard the Witch and the Magician with derision. Pour enough money and technology into the pipeline, and one can theoretically drown out the voices of theism and magic. (Funny aside: I was reading Neil Gaiman’s American Gods when Mr. Tyson’s essay came out; I would highly recommend Mr. Gaiman’s novel for those interested in the clash between Paganism and materialism!) Fortunately for the occultist, contemporary technology as likely as not enables the spread of magical beliefs; the very presence of Mr. Tyson’s essay and my own upon this website is itself evidence for this!
Mr. Tyson’s argument falls squarely against the militant variety of scientific materialism, something which doubtless exists throughout the intellectual world, yet here I would argue the real quarrel is with militancy itself, and not with scientific materialism. Militancy is the cancer which threatens with the sword and suffocates with the purse, whether that militancy embraces Christian fundamentalism, Islamist extremism, or even radical materialism. The existential danger to Pagan belief comes not from the content of an intolerant belief system, which can take many forms, but rather from the intolerance of the world view itself, which really comes in only two forms, the sword and the purse.
There are actually two means by which scientific materialism might threaten the existence of occult thought generally and Paganism specifically; the second occurs within the hearts and minds of individual occultists. Superficially, this line of attack can resemble the coercive approach of the sword or the persuasive tactics of the purse, yet the difference here is plain: Whereas the sword and the purse threaten existentially and from without, the explanation — the essential option — proposed by scientific materialism threatens essentially and from within. Nevertheless, there is little new found within this line of attack, though perhaps the argument has gained a certain coherence across the contemporary period. The choice remains the same: To believe or to disbelieve. Doubt is no option here, though doubt exercises profound influence over how we choose and apply one explanation over another. Every moment in time, we stand at the crossroads anew, confronted with sensory data which we can neither confirm nor explain with absolute certainty. There arises the choice: How will we explain our world upon this especial moment? We can choose to explain our world as one capable of magic, or as one completely devoid of paranormal influence. We can choose to believe, or to disbelieve. One choice may be more consistent with the law of parsimony — that is, require less leaps of logic — yet the inescapable choice remains. Always and across every moment — and regardless of our external circumstances — we must choose how we will explain the world which we observe.
Mr. Tyson frames the choice of belief as one between Magic and the Void, and I agree with Mr. Tyson’s contention that Paganism and Christianity share certain broad theological propositions, points of common agreement which make these two schools of thought natural allies against an outright disbelief in things which defy scientific measurement. Still, to regard all scientific materialism, much less all atheism, as the enemy of the Old Ways does a grave disservice to both sides. The Void of which Mr. Tyson speaks is something terrible — this much is true — yet this Void contains within itself the seeds of its own destruction, since nihilism offers no essential hope which could sustain those who would believe in disbelief. One might counter that to know the Truth is balm enough, yet the Void is no more (upper case) Truth than any other explanation. The nature of our existence confounds every attempt at certain explanation, including the nihilistic narrative proposed by the scientific materialist. Ever the choice remains.
There exist variations of scientific materialism which reject militancy, schools of secular thought which seek to heal and even to elevate humanity, only without reference to Deities. Do I disagree with their theological starting point? Of course I do, yet as an advocate of religious freedom I acknowledge a common philosophical cause which can serve as the basis for meaningful dialogue. If the Pagan, the Christian, and the secular humanist can all agree upon the need for compassionate and courageous action, then this common ground can defy the divisive and destructive power of militancy. Ultimately, neither the militant materialist nor the benign humanist can remove the essential choices we constantly make, the eternal Crossroads guarded by Hecate: Do we believe?
May the Goddess of Crossroads smile upon you. Blessed Be!
©2009 by Grey Glamer
Edited by Sheta Kaey
For decades witches and other modern pagans have been in a war of words, which sometimes escalates to a war of fists, with the Christian churches. Christians are berated in the most uncivil language on New Age Web sites and in Wicca zines for being malicious fools incapable of thinking for themselves, who allow their pastors, priests, and other Christian spokespersons to tell them what to think about the practice of magic and the worship of pagan gods.
The most withering contempt is always saved for the Fundamentalists, who are taught by their charismatic preachers that all forms of magic, and all worship other than their own beliefs, will result in damnation. Pagans regard Fundies, as they are derisively called, with loathing and view them as their greatest enemies. But is this really so?
There is another enemy, common to both Christians and pagans, that has been quietly gathering strength over the past few years. Its presence on the Internet has expanded exponentially, so that whereas not long ago it was almost impossible to locate, today it is equally impossible to avoid. It is a militant movement with its own dogma and it will tolerate no discussion or debate, except under its own terms – and those terms make true debate impossible.
The new enemy is atheism. It is the belief – the unfaith – that there are no gods, no spirits, no angels or devils, no paranormal abilities, and no magic of any kind.
There is nothing particularly wrong with individuals holding such a view. Everyone should be free to believe what they wish. It becomes a problem for Christians and pagans alike when atheists begin to promote their agenda as a movement with militant insistence, and with intolerance toward other beliefs. They are not content to allow others to believe what they wish, but must seek to convert them.
Atheists don’t regard their opinions as beliefs, of course, but rather look upon them as reality. That this same opinion has been maintained by every fanatical and exclusionary religious cult that has ever existed down through the centuries seems to escape them. All fanatical movements proclaim themselves possessors of the only truth, and are aggressively intolerant toward other beliefs – so it is with atheism, which is really a kind of fanatical cult of science that worships godlessness.
For a couple of decades, atheism has attacked the New Age movement under a different guise, that of scientific skepticism. The Committee that was started by prominent skeptics such as the Amazing Randi has systematically assaulted those who practice magic, or who believe in psychic abilities, and has called its campaign of harassment and intolerance “debunking.” Its more famous members have generally avoiding attacks on mainstream religion, although they target charismatic Fundamentalist preachers who employ magic (under another name, that of miracles) for healing purposes. Nor have all of them overtly proclaimed themselves to be atheists, but the writing is on the wall.
Their creed is unbelief, or rather a fanatical belief in the unreality of all spiritual things. They maintain that there is no magic in the world, of any kind – no spirits, no angels, no miracles. The universe they believe in with such fanatical and absolute certainty has no room for the occult or the paranormal.
The debunkers are only the leading edge of the growing atheist movement. The ultimate goal of atheism is to destroy all forms of religion, and this includes both Christianity in its many varieties, and all types of New Age beliefs that worship pagan gods or use magic, such as modern Wicca and Druidism, and even occult movements that arise from traditional Christianity, such as Spiritualism.
This essay is a plea for tolerance and unity. Pagans should reflect that in spite of their long history of conflict with Christianity, it is still a supernatural belief system that acknowledges magic, even though it refuses to call it by its true name. Christian miracles are a form of magic. The healing done by Jesus was done with magic. The exorcism rite still used by Catholic priests to drive out demons is a form of magic rite. Pagans know this even if Christians do not.
The differences between pagans and Christians are not really so deep as they appear. Both believe in higher supernatural beings. Both groups believe that such beings have servants or messengers who mediate between these beings and humanity. Both recognize that such beings can initiate or enable acts that seem to transcend the normal laws of nature. Both are focused upon spiritual discovery, spiritual evolution, and spiritual perfection as the highest goals in life.
It is unfortunate that Christians have been taught for so many centuries to hate and despise pagans, because at root, both movements are engaged in the same kinds of activities, and hold similar views concerning the survival of consciousness after death, the importance of intangibles such as the soul and non-physical realms of experience, and the possibility of intervention by benevolent higher powers in our lives, who act to guide and protect us.
By contrast, atheists reject God and the gods alike. They reject angels, the existence of the soul, life after death, supernatural intervention, ghosts, poltergeists, channeling, possession, divination, miracles, the paranormal, nature spirits, and any higher morality or code of conduct that is communicated to mankind by wise teachers not of the flesh.
What the atheist faithful worship – and make no mistake about it, worship is the only word for their fanatical and intolerant devotion – is the Void. It must be capitalized because the Void is their anti-god. They worship a lifeless mechanism, a cosmic clockwork with no Maker, a world devoid of hope or inspiration, a world purged of all traces of magic both Christian and pagan.
With every day that passes there seems to be more evidence that atheism is a growing movement. You probably remember the campaign of bus signs proclaiming that God does not exist. Such campaigns cost money. Somebody organizes them, and somebody funds them. Make no mistake, atheism is more than simply a collection of skeptical individuals – it is a cohesive unfaith that has as its ultimate purpose, not only the eradication of all religious beliefs and practices, but the destruction of all forms of magic and the supernatural.
Atheism has the potential to become a much greater threat to witchcraft, paganism, and New Age practices than Christianity ever was, even in its darkest and most intolerant days, because even then, when witches were being burned at the stake throughout most of Europe, both pagans and Christians shared a belief in higher spiritual powers and in supernatural agencies.
Atheism is a kind of many-tentacled monster of the Void that will eventually devour all forms of faith other than its own merciless, unforgiving worship of what is dead and empty. If allowed to grow unchecked, it will do immense harm to the human race, by cutting off avenues of communication between human beings and spiritual beings. As we all know, belief creates reality in the astral realms, and the fanatical belief of atheism is in sterility and non-existence.
Not all Christians are Fundies. Many are open to belief in various forms of magic. It is time to stop indiscriminately attacking Christians, and to attempt to find a common ground with them against the growing threat of the atheist movement. It is no longer a case of which god we worship, yours or mine, but whether we are allowed to worship the gods at all, or are forced to abandon them through a misguided ignorance that masquerades under the guise of scientific rationalism.
Science was never designed to deal with spiritual issues, and it is no more capable of commenting on things of the spirit today than it was five centuries ago. Yet atheists have seized on the jargon of science to promote their fanatical unfaith in the Void, and their increasingly militant movement of anti-spirit.
Once atheism is recognized as a threat to spiritual belief as a whole, a threat to all faiths and creeds and practices both Christian and pagan, it can be effectively countered, because at root atheism has nothing to offer – nothing but nothingness, not hope but hopelessness, and as we have all come to understand in our lives, there is more to the universe than the empty worship of the Void, the anti-god of the atheists.
Veiled Issues is a semi-regular column featuring opinion and debate topics. If you’d like to write a rebuttal for this article, send your proposal to email@example.com and if accepted, we’ll feature your opposing article in the next issue of Rending the Veil.
Donald Tyson is the author of Sexual Alchemy: Magical Intercourse with Spirits, Familiar Spirits, and Soul Flight: Astral Projection and the Magical Universe, among other works. You can visit his website here.
©2009 Donald Tyson
Edited by Sheta Kaey
Over the past several weeks, there has been a lot of talk online about bunny hunting. That’s good; talk needs to happen and debate needs to happen. But it’s when talk stops that things go bad. And in this case, talk stopped and attacks began.
I am casting no aspersions. There are a lot of people to share the blame here, no one person more so than any other. This article is not to point fingers or say “you were wrong.” This article only gives the other side of the argument, the one drowned out by the strident voices.
A lot of people have made uninformed comments, judgment calls, snap diagnoses and pop-psychology psycho babble feel-good nonsense. I have seen people call all bunny hunters bullies, mean, hatemongers, guardians of morals and craft dogma, and other names. These aspersions include me, since I have been actively hunting bunnies.
Over my time practicing Wicca and Witchcraft actively, I have been seeing people say, “There needs to be someone who will speak out against these idiots,” for the last 13 years. It started with Laurie Cabot and her insistence on wearing all black, all the time, and it continued into wanting to distance Witchcraft from the excesses of Stevie Nicks. It has continued right up to present day and such people as Kevin Carolyn (and his spells to protect the Loch Ness Monster), Silver RavenWolf (and her books), Fiona Horne (and her infamous appearance on Mad Mad House), right up to the Wiccans and Witches who appear on reality TV and shows like Tyra Banks. But somebody should do something about it, right?
Back in the days of the infant online networking between Witches with America Online, Prodigy and Genie, there was a certain amount of fluff that had to be tolerated. Information was scattered and dispersed between multiple groups and communities, with few books available. Everyone was referencing the same three-dozen text articles, and reading the Riders of the Crystal Wind book of shadows (in fourteen volumes). Finding non-fluff information was very difficult, especially since most bookstores didn’t carry anything that was relevant, and when they did it was in their “Religious Studies,” “Self Help,” or the “Philosophy” sections.
It became imperative to spread the best information you could find. Books like the Big Blue Book or Cunningham’s were about as good as it got, then Doreen Valentie got into publishing her works, and the Farrars wrote their works. [Editor’s note: The Farrars started publishing their works in 1981; Valiente in 1962. They predate Buckland and Cunningham as well as being their contemporaries.] Things started turning around.
But with these autonomous isolated communities, a problem started occurring. It was whispered about in the chat rooms, referenced in one paper, shared with a few communities, and that problem was the predator. The predator would come into a community and tear it apart simply for the joy of watching it burn. They would use and take advantage of others who didn’t know any better, under the guise of the tolerance of Wicca, to take the money, the self-respect and the sexual energy of the people they were supposed to be guiding. The insular nature of the covens only reinforced this, because other covens who didn’t have that problem would look at what was happening and say, “well, that’s not my coven, I can’t do anything about it. But somebody should do something about it.”
If questioned when the different leaders got together in a community networking event, they might say there should be a council that would keep track of predators like this and warn people, a “database of the shunned.” Everyone would agree that it was a good idea and nothing ever came of it. Stories would be shared, object lessons passed on to others, the injured might be taken to those who could help them, and everyone would shrug and move on until the next time. Again, people would say that somebody should do something about it.
And in every case, the community would be ripped apart. There were coven leaders suggesting that it was okay to do illegal drugs in the magical operations and who would make those drugs a mandatory part of the ritual (if you didn’t do it you would be expelled from the group in a time when just finding a group was a monumental task). Famous authors advocated in their books on Witchcraft that it was okay for a father to carve dildos and to use them on their pre-pubescent daughters in a public ritual, or show them how to use them (by hands-on training), or to give that same virginal daughter to the head of the Circle, even if that head was her father, to be used sexually.
Every time a story like this came to light, nothing was done. Suggestions of going to the police would be met with cries of “we police our own,” and nothing would happen. There was no kind of magical or societal retribution at all. If the community moved with one accord to shun the person in question, the one who was shunned simply packed up and moved to another area and started again, destroying the new community they met and using the new seekers they found there. Everyone would agree, again, that somebody should do something about it.
I have been a victim of these kinds of actions; it has taken me ten years to recover, and my daughter still has nightmares about it. My wife and I nearly committed suicide because of the abuse of such a leader. That leader is still in her position of power, using new members of the Craft, destroying communities and moving on. She is even lauded in publications and books as a major force for good in her area. But every story I have heard about her has been negative, such as allowing rape to occur on her covenstead grounds, which she knew about, and doing nothing either before, during or after except to blame the victim.
With the widespread use of the Internet, there is absolutely no excuse for bad information. Yes, the new seeker needs guidance, and there are groups online that will help aplenty. There are multiple people they can turn to and get good resources and information from. There are hundreds of websites that have accurate history, frank discussions about the inner workings of the Covens and the Mysteries to satisfy the curiosity of any seeker. There are websites that are the gold standard for those seeking more than just basic 101 information on how to be a Witch or a Wiccan.
Those going into the forums where new seekers are, who still claim that nine million women died in a 100 year period in Europe, or that all Christians are exactly like the fundamental bigots you see in extreme cases, or that all Wiccans are vegetarians might be uninformed, but are more likely trolling for flames and people to use.
When someone like this shows up in the typical forum or e-list, three or four people will counteract their information with accurate information, decent resources and good historical facts. Normally this is ignored or knocked down with, “Well, I don’t believe that so it can’t be true.” When more good information is made available through references online and off, and it is ignored and dismissed again — when it is decried, and the person trying to give true information is repeatedly attacked, there is a problem.
It absolutely stuns me that there are still people who consider this kind of baiting to be innocent ignorance. When multiple attempts to educate are shot down and deflected and dismissed, even when they are proven as facts, it stuns me that there are those out there who still think that it is no big deal.
I recently reviewed a book that was published by a Christian Publishing house that was about Wiccans and Witches and what we believed. It was designed to be a primer for those who didn’t know who we are and how we came to be. One of the biggest criticisms that I saw over and over in this book was that “Wiccans tend to be ignorant of their own history,” and “They believe in myths that fly in the face of all factual evidence, both archeological and anthropological.” If this problem is so bad that Christians are seeing it, then something is dramatically wrong.
As a whole, society views us as freaks, fools or predators, mainly because of people like this. Because they shout the loudest, those who spread inaccurate information, those who live in dream worlds of escapism, those who perpetually are the victims of something, and who have to find other people to blame for all that is wrong in their lives — these are the public faces of Neopaganism.
There is nothing wrong with believing in fairies, unless you insist that every single houseplant has a colony of fairies living in it and you must feed them all when you have people over. There is nothing wrong with casting spells to help in your daily life, until you only cast spells and do nothing else to bring what you want to you. Acknowledging your cat as a familiar is fine, but calling your cookbooks “grimoires” probably isn’t. And there is still nothing wrong with that until you go on TV on Wife Swap or Trading Spouses, or a show to get a new house, or a talk show, and spout that as what all Wiccans believe.
I’m tired of my religion and my way of life being trivialized and demonized by insane practitioners simply to get their 15 minutes of fame. I’m sick to death of people who have less time in the Craft than the age of my roll of toilet paper telling me what I must believe and do to be Wiccan. And I’m sick of those people who play up to those stereotypes.
I had this conversation at one point, and it made me physically ill when I was done:
“You think you are a witch?”
“Yes, I am a witch.”
“You really think you are a witch”
“Yes, I am a witch.”
“You really believe that stuff?”
“What stuff specifically?”
“You know, that witch stuff.”
“Yes, I do, because I am a witch.”
“You really believe you are a witch?”
And it went on like this for ten minutes, back and forth. I wanted to ask her, “Do you really think you are a Christian?”
This trend trickles over to every aspect of life. Out in your workplace as a Wiccan? Beware that your boss hasn’t watched Mad Mad House, or they may question your competence to fix that car, because Fiona did a spell to make her car run.
These kinds of attitudes keep being replayed over and over in the community and society at large, and they are affecting everyone.
This is the stereotype that is being perpetuated by these fluff bunnies. Not the typical stereotype of the nose-wiggling, green-skinned, broom-riding, black-wearing witch who eats children. But the stereotype of the ripped T-shirt, sullen, antisocial, angry and depressed emo kid who hates everyone, is under the illusion s/he can float over the ground, who is amoral and kills without a thought simply because they can.
I’ll admit it — I had my time as a fluffy bunny. I also had my ass handed to me multiple times by Elders who did know what they are doing. I’m a better person for it. I got so tired of what I was stating being criticized that I started looking up every little fact before I posted it, and I discovered that most times I was totally wrong about what I was saying. I stopped trying to teach others since so much of my basic information was wrong at that point. I have also spent time finding those Elders who kicked my backside and I’ve made amends to them, thanking them for their patience.
Please don’t misunderstand me. New people to this path are not fluffy bunnies. Let me state this again because it doesn’t seem to penetrate the brain. New people to the path are not fluffy bunnies. They are simply new. They are ignorant. They can be educated and they are desirous of education. They come seeking education and the get it for the most part. They also get advice and a support structure.
Fluffy bunnies are willfully ignorant, they are perpetrators of lies and inaccurate information, and they take articles and information from others without ever crediting the people they got it from or even asking if they can use it. They are those who have patterns of behavior including posting something that causes a negative reaction and then continue stoking the flames with more posts, deliberately trying to keep the fight going. Once it stops for various reasons, they start it again. Or they simply pack up and move to another forum and do it all over again. Anyone who disagrees with them on factual grounds is a fascist who just doesn’t understand them. They have rights and you do too — until you disagree with them. And somebody should do something! Right?
New people to the craft will never be targeted as fluffy bunnies unless they exhibit these symptoms.
Because of the spectacular failure of various education tools, the only tool left is showing these toxic bunnies as their true selves to the public. This means exposing their hypocrisy, their opinions on others, what they are teaching, their mood swings and insanity, and basically embarrassing them off the Internet. Everybody agrees somebody should do it.
As one toxic bunny complained at one point, this could ruin his/her reputation. To which I say, “Good.” Maybe the threat of having a ruined reputation will force them to actually start researching and teaching accurate facts. Somebody needs to open their eyes.
The supreme irony here is that if they would reform, all the persecution they hate would stop. But as long as they continue to attempt to teach, spread false information, tell lies and continue to be a danger to those who are truly new to the community, this kind of behavior from the bunnyhunters will continue.
Recently there has been an escalation of sorts. A group on The Bunny Trail (dot) Net has started putting up profile information on the worst of these. Once the last tool of embarrassment fails, the only step available is to enter that person in a database and warn others away from them. That way, when others go searching for information, it will be available.
Just as others in various communities have stated, it’s been needed for some time. Somebody should do it after all.
Frankly, I hope the members of The Bunny Trail succeed in their goal: warning people away from those toxic bunnies. The Gods witness I have tried my best and failed with some, and after countless attempts to communicate, even I realize when there is no use trying any more.
As someone who worships a God of Hunting, as a significant percentage of Pagans do, it is surprising how many people object to hunting online. I realize that the Lord of Hunting is supposed to be He that helps us get food, but isn’t the King Stag, as He is oftentimes called, also the protector of the Herd? Doesn’t He also drive off predators and make sure the new babies and the oldsters and those who are educating the next generation are safe to continue on their duties? Does the doe that has lived in peace, thanks to the King Stag, object to the blood on His hoofs and horns from the wolf He killed?
His mandate to us is to protect each other, to succor each other, and those who would willfully violate the directions and oaths they swore as Wiccan should be punished. They should be driven off. And if they continue to be a problem after being given a second chance, they should be driven off and not allowed to return. After all, somebody should, right?
So I call these idiots on their insanity, and I get told I’m a bully, that I’m mean and worse than they are.
I have been hunting in this manner for several months. There are those who are absolute threats to not only Wicca, but those who will be studying Wicca in the future. There are those who sully the name “Elder” and who claim things that no member of any tradition of Wicca should ever try to pass off.
There are those who, even though new on this path, “know” more than some of these teachers, and while most of their information is laughable if you have good references, in most cases, the new and innocent can be sucked into their cult of personality. The damage done, the dupe can take years to heal, and sadly sometimes they simply don’t recover. In the meantime, the toxic fool damages others, and the cry of “Something must/should be done! Somebody must…” continues to no avail.
I have made sacrifices personally. I have had my life threatened and my wife’s life threatened and my daughter’s life threatened by one of these toxic bunnies. I have had legal action threatened multiple times, and I have been told that if I ever meet these toxic bunnies that I will have my ass kicked.
It would be nice to be told, “thank you” by those I’m trying to protect from these predators. Instead, I’m hated. Instead, I am told that I am mean and that I’m no better than those I’m hunting.
Well, so be it. If that is the attitude of the group, I can live with that. It is not going to stop me, and I will use the tools at hand to succeed in this goal.
To paraphrase The Operative from the movie Serenity: “I believe in something greater than myself. A better world. There’s no place for me there; I’m a monster. What I do is evil. I have no illusions about it, but it must be done.”
I look in the mirror every day and I wonder if what I am doing is right. I wonder if I am going too far. I check with others who are also hunters to give me a reality check, and I also slap those other hunters who are going too far. We keep checks on each other as to how we are behaving. We don’t want those who we are protecting to be hurt by us; we don’t want the innocent to be harmed. We work very hard to prevent that.
It is still a job that somebody needs to do.
For every toxic bunny that stands up and starts posting all over the Internet about how evil Christians are, there will be 500 Evangelical Christians who will see it and use that as proof that all Pagans are evil and hate them, and that we as a group should be put down and shot or put in concentration camps.
I don’ want to live in that world. And if it takes pissing off a few dozen toxic bunnies and a section of the Pagan world as well, I’m ready to make that sacrifice.
I’m somebody — Care to join me?
©2007 by Daven. Edited by Sheta Kaey.
Eric “Daven” Landrum is a Seax Wiccan and the author of Daven’s Journal.
Comments Off on Veiled Issues #1A – Perils of, and Alternatives to, Bunny Hunting
Okay, first things first. We like Daven quite a bit. He’s a cool person, and really knows his stuff when it comes to magic and paganism (as his many writings and correspondences attest). We just happen to be diametrically opposed to him on the subject of bunny hunting (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing — it’s good when you have intelligent, experienced people on both sides of a debate, because then you get a clearer view of the issue). However, we perceive bunny hunting to be an extreme reaction to problematic pagans.
Neither one of us has participated in a bunny hunt, which as you may have read from Daven’s essay, is the art of proactively preventing the spread of misinformation (including dangerous ideas, such as suggesting that belladonna is good for you) within the pagan community. A bunny isn’t just a newbie, but rather is someone who has access to good information yet remains willfully ignorant. Lupa, however, was a part of an online community for several months that organized bunny hunts, particularly that surrounding Elder Ravenfire (ERF), a twenty-two-year-old self-proclaimed elder of his own Wiccan tradition.
For the record, we have absolutely no problem with making sure bad information gets curbed. The same goes for dangerous people, such as sexual predators and plagiarists (who are dangerous for very different reasons). The problem is that since the pagan community is still relatively young and is still in its formative stages, there really isn’t any proscribed way to deal with such problematic pagans. Most of what we’ve seen has been the “spread rumors and shun” method, along with written diatribes (primarily online) about specific people (usually authors). Rarely is there any moderation or oversight on these efforts, which raises a lot of questions as to the legality, particularly of the written actions taken, but even more importantly when such actions go beyond ethical considerations.
Then there is the bunny hunt itself. This is a relatively new phenomenon that appears to us to be somewhat of a mix between the “spread rumors and shun” method and a good old-fashioned witch war. It’s not intended to be as such, but in its more advanced stages it certainly resembles these. For example, a bunny hunt may start with people who have knowledge and experience enough to be considered authorities being on a forum where a bunny is spewing all sorts of esoteric garbage. Said authorities will do as most sensible pagans do and correct the bunny’s misinformation. The bunny, not being a sensible person hirself, will take offense and get all pissy about the fact that s/he’s just been pwned.
This is where things can get ugly, and where we disagree with what happens next. Rather than ignoring the bunny and letting hir stew in hir own juices (and make a fool of hirself in the process), the hunters may respond to the bunny’s bitching and moaning (albeit in a much calmer, informed fashion). This causes the situation to escalate to a point where nobody’;s going to convince anyone else of the Truth. And this happens in regular situations as well. Ever heard of a flame war? Even if you only have one side actually spewing epithets, the other is still contributing to the argument by continuing to respond to the bunny. This may carry on to other forums and message boards, as bunny hunters may follow the bunny from place to place to prevent misinformation from occurring elsewhere. At the same time, they are also harassing that bunny, to the point that s/he may be discouraged from trying to learn because the bunny hunters show no sign of moderation or restraint in their activities. If there was any chance of salvaging the bunny’s potential to learn saner ways, the experience of being hounded across the internet may kill whatever was left. For sure, the hunters have the best of intentions and may not see what they’re doing as harassment, but as Taylor has pointed out before, the intent you have and the impact it has on others may be entirely different — and does the end really justify the means?
Still, so far there’s nothing here that’s really out of the ordinary. A lot of this is just the usual online politicking. However, it’s the latter stages of the ERF hunt in particular that have caused us to really question the effect of the hunt in general. For example, when Lupa was on the aforementioned hunting community, she observed increased aggression on the part of the hunters. The thing that finally caused her to leave was seeing several people discussing, with obvious glee, how long it would be before ERF cracked, since he was showing signs of mental illness. Is this how community leaders and authorities (and -dare we use the term — elders) are supposed to act?
The Bunny Trail
Now, since this was in a private community, we can’t really show evidence of this particular instance beyond hearsay. What we can show you is The Bunny Trail. This website appeared at the end of January 2007 and appears to be the result of the ERF hunt. The site mainly seems to be composed of ERF’s personal information, as well as a couple of examples of flame wars he’s been in as a result of the hunt, emails (without headers) from people commenting on ERF, and the author’s personal opinions on what s/he has observed about ERF’s behavior.
Some of the site has been edited recently; as of the time of this writing, the address and phone number had been removed; however, thanks to the joys of Google cache and screen shots we have an older version of the site showing the address and phone number. We’re not going to post it here (since that’s one of our initial complaints), but if someone absolutely must have proof of this you may contact us about the possibility of getting a copy.
Obviously, with the help of the internet you can find anyone’s personal information within a matter of minutes. What we disagree with is placing that information in conjunction with a bunch of negative accusations against the person (lacking in sufficient evidence, we might add from an editorial point of view). That’s just begging for people to harass the target, even if it’s just for the sake of harassment. And it’s only recently been that internet defamation lawsuits have been awarded in favor of the plaintiff2 so people often have the idea that they can say whatever they like without fear of being accused of slander or libel. After all, it’s the internet — people say all sorts of things, right?
However, we’re not here to discuss legalities; we’ll leave that to the lawyers in the event ERF decides to sue. What we’re concerned with are the ethics of this practice. For example, one of the criteria of determining a “toxic bunny” is people who are involved in slander or libel.3 To our minds, what the bunny hunters doing is dangerously close to exactly what they’re trying to protect people against. The main difference is their justification: that it’s okay for them to do this because they’re protecting the rest of us from the scourge of ERF.
And it’s that justification of actions that this whole thing seems to hinge on. It seems that whoever has designed the Bunny Trail site has determined for everyone else what a toxic bunny is. While some of these (like the aforementioned sexual predation and plagiarism, as well as teaching minors without parental consent) would probably be agreed upon unanimously, others aren’t so neatly defined. For example, “Those who continually rewrite history to suit themselves and with the goal of making themselves look to be the victim.”4 What the hell does that mean? Are we the only people who think that this statement could be interpreted in any of a number of ways just to get revenge on someone the hunters didn’t like? Granted, right now it would appear that the focus is still on people who spread dangerous information and otherwise are serious problems. However, the Inquisition was also set up to protect the Church and populace from dangerous people — and we all know where that went!
This introduces the idea that there doesn’t seem to be any moderation or oversight by people not belonging to the bunny hunting community. The justification of protecting people is also worrisome, because it brings to mind the Patriot Act and other decisions made by people in power to “protect” others. The question is whether protection is really occurring, and whose agenda it serves to have this kind of protection in place. Who protects us from the protectors? That none of these details have really been addressed by the bunny hunters indicates that in their zeal to protect us from others, they haven’t instituted a means to insure that someone is placing a systems of checks on what they do in their bunny hunting activities.
Additionally, let’s look at one of the details of the fifth piece of evidence: “Those who advocate illegal activities like drug-use.”5 So now they get to make decisions on what people do with their own bodies? I suppose that means that every traditional shaman, chemognosis psychonaut, and anyone else who happens to use peyote, psilocybin and other hallucinogens in their practice, no matter how long they’ve been doing so and no matter how respected an authority they might be, is a toxic bunny. There goes Robert Anton Wilson, Timothy Leary, a number of the essayists from the Generation Hex anthology, and a good bit of Shaman’s Drum magazine, not to mention traditional shamanic practitioners worldwide! And what about the right of people to have their privacy? Will “Mabon” start knocking on pagan doors, demanding urine for drug tests? Is an otherwise respected member of the community going to be blacklisted simply because s/he likes to indulge in a little Mary Jane now and then?
Okay, okay. We are exaggerating the effects. But our point remains the same: bunny hunting, no matter how well-intentioned, has the very real potential of leading to the ostracism of people from the pagan community who aren’t actually a danger to anyone. Whether this abuse of power leads to petty arguments turning into modern-day witch hunts, or someone deciding that a practice that they (but not all pagans) find unsavory is a problem, the result is still the same: Big Brother may soon be sporting ritual garb and carrying an athame, telling us how to conduct our spiritual lives and even tell us how we must appear in public in order to “set a good example.”
The Bunny Trail isn’t alone, either. We invite you to peruse the following links:
All three of these go well beyond correcting misinformation and into what is basically trolling and internet harassment. While ERF might not be the best representative of the pagan community, are people who stoop to this sort of petty, immature behavior any better? How is this benefiting anyone? Granted, these people don’t represent all hunters, either, but if this sort of behavior is not only condoned but encouraged among hunters, how is this any better than allowing toxic bunnies to run rampant?
What’s not clear is whether bunny hunters have any ethical constraints or moderation placed on their activity. It seems as if the only authority bunny hunters answer to is themselves, and we question the ethics in such a case, because there is no one to provide an objective examination of what they are doing or provide some moderation on their activities should they start to go overboard. The bunny hunters have basically taken it upon themselves to police the pagan community, with no thought given to how they themselves will be policed for their activities.
What motivates the bunny hunting is also of concern. Suppose a bunny hunter claims, for instance, that hir god/dess has told hir to go and take all of the bunnies out. We have to wonder how this is any different from the far right evangelicals who make similar statements for their activities. Such claims that deity made me do it leave unexamined the hunter’s personal responsibility and why s/he feels personally motivated to do the hunting. In addition, this kind of reasoning leads to the fanaticism that has caused so many wars throughout history. It leads to dogmatism that proclaims that any other way than mine is wrong. We feel that neither fanaticism nor dogma has a place in Paganism and that such activities as bunny hunting must be questioned critically to ensure that fanaticism and dogma aren’t used as reasons for bunny hunting.
The motivation behind bunny hunting must be exposed and questioned. When bunny hunters feel it’s a holy or righteous mission they are on, they need to be reined in and questioned about how they’ve determined that motivation. It’s healthier to educate people, as opposed to harassing or punishing them. The ERF bunny hunt is an example of punishment as opposed to education. While early on attempts were made to simply correct his misinformation and prevent him from convincing people of some potentially dangerous things, we believe that in the latter stages the hunt was carried entirely too far. Not surprisingly ERF lashed back, no doubt because he felt cornered by what he perceived as personal attacks. When the bunny hunters view that as harassment, we want to ask how it justifies their activities and how they feel about the result and its effects on them. Do they spare any thought to wondering if this is how they’ve made people feel when they’ve felt the need to hunt them down and force them to recant their views?
Alternatives to Bunny Hunting
“Well, okay, Mr. and Ms. Smartypants Bunnylovers,”; you might be thinking right now, “if you know so much and you think that bunny hunting is so bad, what are you going to do about the problem?” We’ve thought about this, because we do admit that there are definitely problems that bunny hunting is an attempt to solve. And we do commend the hunters for at least trying to do something about the problems. However, we disagree that the method they’ve been using is a healthy one. So here are some alternatives that we propose.
1. Get more good information out there — We are, of course, biased towards this one because we’re authors, and we like infecting people with the writing bug (more reading material!). Since we both work 40 hour a week jobs at this point along with our writing and other independent business endeavors, we’ve had to learn to be good at time management. This is why we’ve tried to limit the amount of time we spent online, other than networking and checking email. If a person spends an hour a night, five nights a week bunny hunting, that’s five hours a week that could be spent writing. Believe it or not, there’s a lot you can get done in five hours, even if it’s in one hour increments — the trick is to have the discipline to actually sit down and write rather than getting distracted (including by the shiny internet), and it does take practice.
So what do you write? Books are our favorites, but articles work, too. The advantage of writing books and articles is that you not only get to convey information to a wider audience than your average internet forum, but you also get to meet many people in person and teach classes, which can be quite useful for showing bunnies why they might want to do some research. In addition, while anyone can argue on an internet forum, the arguments on forums are mostly perceived as just opinions. Writing your book or article, and most importantly showing your research, can validate and strengthen the claims you make.
2. You can’t save everyone — So you’ve written a bunch of online articles scattered across the internet, and your book is on Amazon, waiting for orders. You’ve promoted the hell out of both, and you’ve got 30 weekends a year scheduled for gatherings and classes at pagan shops. You’re doing everything you possibly can to make your information widely available. And then it happens — there’s a bunny! You counter hir argument with one of your well-written articles and maybe even refer your book. And you get ignored. Or even flamed.
Sometimes it’s best to just accept that people have free will, and they’re going to exercise it no matter what. You can’t make others’ decisions for them, nor can you change their minds if they don’t want them changed. And often, doing anything other than presenting basic information will be taken as an attempt to convert people. After all, conversion doesn’t have to be from one distinct religion to another; it can involve differing viewpoints within the same religion. Though hunters may not think that what they’re doing is conversion, it may be perceived as such by some because of the vehemence with which debates may be made.
You know that saying about horses and water? Yup. This is one of those times. Even when we’re just talking about newbies, you can’t force people to read your words or even accept them. Chances are good that if you keep pressing the issue, you’re going to come across as pushy, and turn people off. Sure, you may have the philosophy that it’s worth it if you get through to just one person — but if in the act of saving that person you turn five more away who had originally liked your work but got disgusted with your behavior, is it really worth it? There’s also something to be said for allowing people to make mistakes. Taylor learned magic on his own and made lots of mistakes over the years. But he also learned from those mistakes. The same can be true for any person, provided they have the room to make those mistakes. Correct misinformation when it can be lethal to people reading it, but if it’s just someone who’s trying to find hir way and doesn’t want to listen to you, let it go. That person will learn best by making mistakes and dealing with the consequences, as opposed to having some bunny hunter hover over hir shoulder scolding hir for everything s/he does.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned from life, it’s that you can ultimately only be responsible for your own actions. That doesn’t mean that you should shut yourself in a box and hope the world either agrees with you or goes away; we need activism in many areas of life. However, at some point you have to accept that people have free will, and that no matter how much good information you throw at them they’re simply not going to listen. This is especially true if you try to muscle your way in. Being one of a couple of people on a forum who routinely correct bad information is one thing; being one of a half a dozen or more who follow a person around the internet in order to make sure s/he doesn’t dare say something wrong lest someone believe hir is counterproductive. No matter how good your intentions are, you’re still going to come across as a bully to at least some people. Trying to force people to believe what you believe or forcing them out of the community you’re a part of will eventually result in resistance to what you do, and not just from the bunnies you hunt. You can’t convince everyone to agree with you. For example, chances are there’ll be a lot of people who agree with us on this whole bunny hunting issue, and a bunch who agree with Daven, and probably even some who either don’t care, think we’re all bitching about nothing, or otherwise have another perspective on the matter.
3. Think (and speak) positive — And this is where we get into the next piece of advice — keep it as positive as possible. No, we’re not saying be all sweetness and light and unicorn giggles. But the way you convey your information is very important. You can have the best information in the world, but if you come across as a jerk (even if you didn’t intend to) it doesn’t matter what your content says. For example, at one of the many events we presented at we had several people come up to us and make some pretty outlandish claims, the kind of thing you hear in fantasy novels and roleplaying games — and they’d apparently been believing it for a good long while. Instead of jumping down their throats, telling them that they were wrong, we politely presented our own perspectives and experiences. We even did healing for one of the people. The upshot was that they bought some books and they left a bit more thoughtful than before; we’d had really good conversations with them. There’s no guarantee that they’ll stop being fluff bunnies, but chances are that we got them to think and left to them form their own conclusions, without forcing our views on them.
People are generally more receptive to a positive tone than a negative one, especially if they’re innocent bystanders. Additionally, the newbies that you’re attempting to save from the fluff/toxic bunnies may not really have enough context to understand why people are arguing, and so may side with the person they perceive as the “victim’ (even if that person really is a predator!). They may view you as the predator because you are coming so strongly, without consideration of how your presentation affects peoples’ responses to you. Remember that most professionally published books on paganism tend to deal less with debunking bad information, and more on actually providing information. The reason we point that out is that while you can debunk bad information, providing accurate information is more important than proving so and so is wrong and shouldn’t be listened to.
If you dislike the positive/negative dichotomy, think of it as constructive/destructive instead. Destruction might be easier to do, but construction creates longer-lasting effects. You can tear anyone down, but helping a person learn and knowing when to provide that person space can do much more for you and help spread the good information around. What needs to be remembered is that people remember how you presented yourself long after they may forget the content of your message. Show people a reason to dislike you and they will remember that and tell other people, but show them that you’re professional and chances are they’ll remember and may even come back to you for advice. The impact of how you present yourself is just as important as the intent behind the presentation.
At the same time, we do need to continue dialogue about what to do when someone really is a threat to others. In some cases, such as plagiarism and violent crime, there are legal avenues in place to deal with these issues. However, in cases where the solution isn’t so simple, there’s a lot of questioning as to what the S.O.P. ought to be. As the pagan community matures, we believe more solutions will be found, effective ones. We are still a young subculture, comparatively speaking, and problematic pagans are a part of the growing pains that can’t be ignored. However, while bunny hunting may seem like a great idea, it has the potential to become a toxic well all on its own.
We have no doubt that bunny hunting will continue, but we end this article with the thought that bunny hunters may also someday be hunted down for how they treated people. They would do well to remember that the judgment they cast on others can be cast right back. When there is no moderation, no sign that the bunny hunters answer to any authority other than their own, we must question the ethics and actions of the bunny hunters. Otherwise we risk the rise of a movement in paganism which is just as virulent as the evangelical fundamentalists and just as willing to take matters to an extreme that is unwarranted. By questioning the activities of the bunny hunters and monitoring what they do we can insure that they don’t set the standards by how someone is accepted in the spiritual communities we are all part of.
Lupa is the author of Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone: A Primal Guide to Animal Magic, A Field Guide to Otherkin, and co-author of Kink Magic, among other works. You can read her blog at http://therioshamanism.com and see her website at http://www.thegreenwolf.com.
Taylor Ellwood is the author of Space/Time Magic, Inner Alchemy: Energy Work and the Magic of the Body, and Pop Culture Magick, among other works. You can visit his blog at http://magicalexperiments.com/.