How Others Can Effect Our Faith
Author: Storm Shadow-Wolf
Insta-Witches. Wanna-Be Witches. We’ve all encountered them now and again. That angry teen rebelling against their parents, the well-meaning yet narrow-minded “one book Wiccan”, the “I read about it online somewhere” Witch, the hippie-Heathen. I know for some of us in the broader Pagan and Witch community, these people sometimes illicit a knee-jerk reaction that is usually negative. I mean, after all, we’re serious about our religion, how dare they make a mockery of what we hold sacred through their ignorance! Humph!
Well, after a lot of reading I’ve found that some folks in our broad community believe that we shouldn’t take this stance against those who only play at what we deeply involve ourselves in. My words here are meant to both challenge and support this notion. We have every right to feel a little insulted when anyone, who’s never spent more than five minutes actually learning about what our religion is all about, tosses on a pentacle, engages in negative or attention seeking behavior, and all the while calls themselves a Witch.
At the same time, we don’t have the right to lash out at these misguided souls. Negativity begets negativity. We need to stay positive when dealing with these “Wanna-Be Witches”. Our best defense against those who would belittle our faith through their erroneous actions is patient and compassionate education. I think if everyone knew exactly what we are all about, there would be less and less people misrepresenting our religion with sensationalist nonsense. Just like the tenants of Christianity and Judaism are widely known, people aren’t able to start parading around nude in public and claim it to be some stricture of being Jewish! People know better. I think through active, positive public education, with time people wont be able to easily dramatize our religion. I believe that will ultimately lead to less and less “Insta-Witches”. But I digress.
One thing that has always been wonderful about our community is that it has the tendency to be open to just about anyone. The only downside is… well, that our community tends to be open to just about anyone… the good and the not so good. I’m sure that all of us, at one time or another, has encountered in our personal travels seeking spiritual enlightenment the “One-Book Witches”. They exist in our community the same way that ever major religion has lip service followers (not to say that one necessarily equals the other) .
How many of us have gotten caught up with the self proclaimed Witch that has read only one book from that Not-So Reputable publishing company? I know it happened to me. This happened when I was still a teenager and just beginning to get a good idea of the Craft. For several weeks I studied with a man, let’s call him “Sage”, off of worksheets he compiled from a book that I, later, wouldn’t have used even for scratch paper. Me and two other girls I knew from my neighborhood spent about five weeks or so completely wrapped up in the notion that this was the beginning of a wonderful journey. We were all sadly disappointed when, after these short weeks, we completed our “final exam”, went through a brief ceremony, and were dubbed “Priestesses”.
I was baffled. I couldn’t even raise a circle at that point! When I pressed the matter with Sage, he said that all one ever really needed to know was contained within that book. You didn’t need to bother yourself with looking at any other resources, there was only one way to be a Witch and all other ways were inherently wrong or confused. I mean, wow. Thank Goddess I knew better and quickly moved on to better teachers and better resources!
Now, to play devil’s advocate, as it were, I keep hoping that Sage will one day further his education. He was a very kind man and had a lovely energy about him. He would be a wonderful asset to our community, especially with his ability to explain things in a manner that younger minds can understand. He never once tried to take advantage of us, either, for money or sex. He never tried to coerce us into a cult setting, putting himself up as High Priest with us as his followers. I believe his heart is sincere but his methods are misguided. If he would just open up his mind to the fact that no one, singular resource can really give you the depth of knowledge you need to truly understand our religion, whatever Tradition you may belong to, then he could be capable of amazing growth.
I certainly don’t think he should be written off or looked down upon, as if to say he isn’t Witchy enough. He just needs the right person to help him realize his full potential. When we take the time to try and work with the “One Bookers” we can eliminate our feelings of hostility towards them and aid them in their personal development. No one really loses in situations like that. It may be extremely frustrating, as I have found with some of them, but very rewarding in the end.
Many years after Sage, I had the opportunity to explain to a very misguided co-worker that there were many different facets of the Craft. He was absolutely convinced that this one book he had read by a very prominent author was the one and only way because of the training this author had received. Luckily, I owned the book and brought it to work the next day. I flipped open to a certain page and read a passage I had underlined that clearly stated that this was NOT the one and only way to the Craft.
I told him that even the author, with their pedigree training, admitted that their Tradition of the Craft was not the only one and even listed resources in the back that would allow further research into different Traditions. He didn’t understand at first until I explained that the Craft was a lot like Christianity in a sense – same basic core beliefs but lots of Traditions that do certain things differently. Even though he was reluctant to accept this at first (“How could anyone possibly learn to be a Witch with so many different paths!?”) , now he understands that there is a broad variety of Traditions that make up our religious community and you can learn from as many as you need to until you find the one that speaks to your heart. I no longer feel the resentment I initially had towards him for espousing such narrow views and he understands the Craft on a much deeper level.
Let’s briefly examine how some other Insta-Witches can be harmful to our community. I brushed over the angsty teen at the beginning of this narrative. Let’s really take a good look at how this individual can, indeed, harm our religion and our community. Before we begin, I am not saying that every teen swathed in black is going to automatically be an Insta-Witch!
I was one of those teens draped in black! I didn’t start professing I was a Witch until well after I had studied voraciously and gone through my Initiation. So I’m not directing this at those teens in our community who have actually taken the religion we love seriously. This is most definitely NOT directed at you, who are the next generation and a joy to have in the community.
This is directed at the teens that have no understanding of what it is to be a Witch and yet claim to be Witches to get attention. Let’s be honest, this isn’t even directed only at teens, as I’ve seen adults like this too! More than once, I’ve seen an adult all decked out in pentacles trying to look as scary as possible and it was nowhere close to Halloween.
I used to work in the local mall and one encounter has always stood out in my mind. I was on break, getting something to eat from the food court. A group of three teen girls approached me while I was sitting. They were the epitome of Hot Topic fashion and draped in pentacles.
As they crossed the food court to where I was sitting, I watched them hiss at more conservative people and blow a kiss at an elderly woman with the admonition “Satan loves you, Granny!“. I think I just about died.
One of the girls looked at my modest pentacle and said “Rock on, hail Satan.”.
I looked at her with obvious disgust and retorted “I see you have no idea what the pentacle ACTUALLY represents… to be Satanic means that I’d have to be Christian… and I’m not. Real Witches are NOT Satanists, you should remember that.”
She looked taken aback and it was probably due to my caustic tone of voice. I was upset that she would just up and assume that because I wore a pentacle, I was a Satanist. I was also upset that she didn’t know that pentacles have nothing to do with Satanists.
She put her hands on her hips and smartly asked “Well then, if you aren’t a Satanist, what ARE you?”
I shook my head and laughed a little, replying “Look hon, Witches don’t worship Satan… they never have. Why don’t you walk down to the bookstore here and go into the world religion section or the New Age section and do some reading. You three look smart enough, so go educate yourselves.”
I recommended a few good books, grabbed my smoothie, and then headed back to my store since my break was up. I noticed as I was leaving the food court that people who were within earshot were looking at ME with disapproval, like I did something wrong.
I was fuming inside because these three girls were acting out, behaving outrageously, and displaying the symbol that represents my faith! People would actually associate these girls with the Craft! I was mad at myself as well for not having better control over my reaction – after all, these girls were maybe 14 or 15 and I was 23. I should’ve been a little nicer about how I addressed them.
I know that they were acting out and my negative response is just fuel for the fire. I know that I should’ve been more patient with the girls and given them a better, more levelheaded response. What was wrong with me?
Part of it was probably that I had a feeling that this was not an isolated incident. They were the types who went about “hailing Satan” and furthering people’s confusion about the nature of the pentacle and exactly which faith it actually represented. They were part of the reason well meaning old ladies stopped me on the bus to preach to me about the devil and Jesus because they don’t understand I don’t worship the devil.
They were part of the reason my girl friend had her tires slashed for a pentagram bumper sticker, the side of her car etched with “Satan whore” in huge letters. They were part of the reason that people think Witches are evil, nefarious, and just up to no good.
I know that that kind of behavior doesn’t necessarily reflect only upon those who are misbehaving, it reflects upon the group or community they belong to. To the uninformed, these girls and other harmful Insta-Witches belong to the same religion and community that I do – an obvious error they have no way of knowing.
As we have seen whenever there are radical factions stemming from a main church or religion, usually the parent church will publicly state that they do not condone or associate with the fanatic offshoot. The main church seeks to separate themselves from these people since they have behaved in a manner that is embarrassing to the church and contrary to their doctrines.
Similarly, we want to separate ourselves from those who pretend to be us, or can be confused for being one of us, and behave in ways that are contrary to our doctrines and beliefs. People are social creatures and as such, we draw lines from individuals to their families, their churches, even their ethnic or racial identity.
One radical Christian will make people question the church they belonged to, one violent individual will make people question their race or their neighborhood, one bad apple spoils the bunch. There are still parts of this very country we live in, the USA, where our Brothers and Sister must live in the broom closet because of negative stereotyping. I have read numerous accounts of Witches being beaten just because they are open about being a Witch.
I’ve been “lucky” enough, if you can call it that, to get away with simple verbal harassment. The longer people have the negative views of who we are and what we are about, the longer we must hide. How can we rise above the generations of prejudice and social stereotyping if we constantly have these sensationalists claiming to be us and then acting in ways that cast negative light on our community as a whole?
How do we fix this problem of the Insta-Witch who muddies our struggling good name?
The simple answer is education. The application of this answer is a long and delicate one. With people claiming to be Witches when they actually aren’t, it complicates the problem a little more.
When people are confused for Witches (who are not) due to social misconceptions, the hole deepens even more. We have to carefully and positively lift our voices and let people know how to spot those who are not Witches. We have to teach people that we do not worship any evil, that we are a very family oriented religion, and that our religion is one of celebration, not pain or suffering or torture or perversion. We wont lose any of the magic or power of our faith by sharing it people.
We need to distinguish between those who come to us with genuine interest and those who enter our community with ill or frivolous intent. When we educate the Insta-Witch, we either open the doors of possibility for a person who may become spiritually engaged or we disillusion them from bastardizing our religion further.
Once we have educated those who sully the understanding of the Craft (and continually educate the new ones that inevitably crop up) , that education sends out ripples. Their friends, family, and others around them will have a familiar voice that will quell the misconceptions. When we lend a face and a voice to our religion that is personal – that effects change.
When strangers approach you with their beliefs, you may listen politely or not at all. When a friend asks to talk with you about their beliefs, you are a little more inclined to pay attention and take their words to heart.
Once people see that we are not some faceless, impersonal institution of scary fairy tales gone horribly wrong but families and individuals and an entire community of celebrants and caregivers and heritage seekers… well, we will likely not have to worry about hiding in the broom closet any longer. While there may always be ignorance and prejudice, there will be less and less and less. Maybe our children or their children will be able to hold public ritual without protests or harassment. But it has to start with us.
It is a knee jerk reaction to have a little animosity towards the Insta-Witch. One possibility for this is because we feel they are disrespectful of our religion and our community. It may also be simply because their bad behavior or poor representation of our community doesn’t just look poorly on them, it looks poorly on all of US. I personally, don’t see anything wrong with this initial feeling of being disrespected. We are absolutely entitled to our feelings. It’s what we do with them that make the difference.
I have found these Insta-Witches are especially bothersome to those of us who strive to open dialogue with other religions or communities to try and heal the generations of degradation and misunderstanding. We are being set back by those who harm our over-all image.
Who are we trying to look good for? Our families. Our children. Our future. We all want a future where none of us have to hide. We want a future where our children will not be taunted, our tires will not be slashed, our well-being will not be in danger, and our rites will not be protested or harassed. We want what every other religion wants – freedom to practice openly and without persecution.
By actively trying to change the Insta-Witch into a respectful person, we can change our relationship with outside communities bit by bit.
We don’t need to impress anyone or be “more Witchy than thou”. We do need to understand that there are people who call themselves Witches who are not Witches and they can be harmful to us. We need to accept that we can distinguish these people without being judgmental or hostile. Just because we have a terminology for these people doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re making fun of them or poking at any inabilities they may have. We simply have a vernacular for identifying them the same way we identify a Gardnerian or a Diannic.
To those in defense of the Insta-Witches, I believe that we have the right to feel angered or upset by those who perpetrate our religion in negative ways. We have a right to feel bothered by someone who is doing something most of us would consider unethical at the very least. However, we don’t have the right to humiliate or proselytize these folks. We also don’t need to take our feelings out on these people.
They need guidance and patience, yelling at them or presenting them with a negative response wont solve anything. Sometimes, the best remedy is just to ignore them. The attention seekers, especially. When you deprive the attention seekers of the attention they crave, they tend to take their antics elsewhere or try to find other outlets.
Of course, we will always encounter people who are just made of different moral fiber than we are. They will be disrespectful no matter what anyone or we says or does. No matter how much patience or compassion we show these people, they simply don’t care and will carry on their destructive ways. It’s better to cut your losses in those cases and simply let others know about the potential problem person. Aside from that, it is up to us to try and correct the fallacies that have been assigned to our faith.
For every Insta-Witch that may come along, there is at least one of us who has dedicated our hearts to our religion that can serve as a positive role model, teacher, and voice. Let us hope that with time, we will see less and less Insta-Witches and our religion will eventually be able to come completely out of the broom closet.