It’s October. You’ve probably gone to the store, seen some stickers depicting green-skinned hags with spooky cat companions or maybe there’s an animatronic crone laughing at you wickedly while you wait in line at your local Walmart. Witches. This is how commercial society sees us. And while as Pagans we can tell our children that the nasty witches and warlocks are only things found in cartoons and corny Halloween books, or we can tell them the truth. We can pin the blame on commercialism or even another person for the perception of Pagan interactions, or we can look in the mirror and start to own it. This article is about me owning my part in a tragic tale of friendship. Looking at my own actions during a particularly tense part of my life helps me claim responsibility back for myself instead of cowering behind the victim curtain in which I placed myself. While all of this is hard to type out, I can proudly say I’m victim no more to my own shame and self-judgement.
I was involved in a Witch war in my community. Not just a little involved, I was a lot involved. My untreated mental illness and rocky emotional state over a recent breakup created a sea of turmoil in myself and rippled out to my community. I had suffered, in my eyes, as a victim of poor Clergy. I was angry at this individual Priestess for many reasons and I made my loud voice boom around the community which planted ideas in people’s heads. Now admittedly, I wasn’t the only person involved. During the year of 2016, a group of people who were very close began to violently split apart. It was painful to watch and even more painful to realize later what a significant role I had to play in the downfall of my community. The truth is, that everyone involved who was a major player was a decent human being that made some very poor choices because of terrible home environments that caught up to them while they were away.
Going to Deeply Rooted is a bit like leaving the rest of the world behind. When you go there, you forget about the 9-5, cubicles, and traffic. Sometimes when the mind is supposed to be at rest, terrible realizations come bubbling to the surface. This is because Deeply Rooted is free of social distractions such as internet, television, and (mostly) radio. It’s the kind of environment where people have to socialize on some level and can’t really bury themselves behind a screen. It takes courage and bravery to be exposed to that kind of environment all the time because our modern society is full of these distractions. Electronics aren’t the only thing that keep people apart, there’s political extremism, spiritual conundrums, and a whole host of other things to keep our minds on what’s really happening to us and around us.
You sit in a sacred Circle, year after year, making Oaths and bloats, and you genuinely see a side of people that the rest of the world never sees. And while most of that is enchanting, the rest of it can be best written as enlightening. Enlightenment isn’t always pretty thing though, and after a while, reality caught up with a group of folks at Deeply Rooted and began to hang around like a friend overstaying their welcome. It was annoying, frustrating, infuriating, and heartbreaking to experience this and also to know that I was such a vital part of it at the very root. My main emotional target was this Priestess that I felt wronged me on every level. Looking back on it, I can see how the both of us misunderstood and stopped looking at each other as friends. How we both began to turn away from each other and walk our separate paths without concern of the bigger picture.
And then one day it occurred to me. Somewhere between visiting other Pagan communities and being in Pagan society, after hearing countless stories with all the same sad ending, I got angry. I didn’t get angry at the “villains” in these stories, I got angry with myself for being just as bad as the people portrayed in these stories. A total hypocrite to the causes that I am passionate about, and that’s Deeply Rooted and Paganism. I’m also a Devotee of Kali, and how can I sit here, knowing I was blinded by emotional rage and consumed by the self-image that I had (ego) and went after a Sister Witch (actually more than one) in my community? How did that HELP anything in Paganism? Am I not the same cackling, wind-withered hag as those portrayed in cartoons by being just as equally hateful?
How does it serve Paganism for me to go after people one by one and alienate them from the community? Does it work in our prison systems to berate and beat prisoners who are already broken? Yes, there’s definitely a line to protect society from dangerous predators, although there’s still a call for evolution. This current way of controlling people with fear, emotional blackmail, manipulative words, or using them as punching bags has to stop or we’re never going to get anywhere as a society. Maybe I’m mad, and I’ve considered it, though hasn’t every successful human endeavor been built upon cooperation and understanding rather than the ravages of war and greed? Instead of just saying I’m an accountable Pagan and going about my day, doesn’t it make more sense to actually own my actions, acknowledge them, and change them if it’s within my ability?
I’ve been working harder than ever in my community to provide all that I can for folks and yet it doesn’t seem enough to me. I want to be an example, not a person on a high horse pointing at others, a person who has fallen and made mistakes and gets back up and shows folks how to do the same for themselves. I think this whole Witch War concept is really ridiculous. We’re sitting around sending memes about being these powerful Witches, and yet we get threatened when Susie McPopples (fictional name) looks at us the wrong way during a ritual. We perceive that Susie is looking at us wrong when maybe she is reliving some sort of physical trauma episode and we just happen to be directly across from her in the Circle.
All of these misunderstandings, lost opportunities for learning, all of the Karma reaped by these painful episodes, is just too much for Mother Gaia to bare. You think about a group of Pagans who are mostly productive and generally good folk, getting into a huge, twisted argument over how to cast a Circle or what title to use for their Clergy. It sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Then they split, knowledge is lost, and it’s the Library of Alexandria all over again. The place either falls apart or it goes through a rebirth, the foundation left broken so it can happen all over again. At what point do we stop burning our lore, our accomplishments, and our dreams because of pride and ego? How much more does Paganism have to lose before this becomes a real issue worth looking at and fixing?
It’s everyone’s fault. It’s my fault. It’s your fault. It’s no one’s fault. Fault doesn’t matter any more. Fault does nothing to help us as a society. What helped me was allowing myself some time for a breather, not beating myself up over the past, and looking at those past actions with a different lens. It took me being honest with myself about my part to play in past disputes and how those small actions had a bigger impact on the whole. It took me having to admit that I allowed myself to be manipulated by others and form new ways to not repeat those same unhealthy habits. No matter which way or what way I looked at it, it all came back to myself and it spirals outwards to everything I do as a Priestess now.
Hard work, giving everything I can to the community, and being honest about how I’ve screwed up in the past is just the beginning. I write my articles to show people how I handled things to give them a vision of what can be for themselves. The exact way I’ve handled stuff is trial and error, and I encourage other people to be just as adventurous. Some people handle this stuff in a different way and that’s alright too, there’s something to be said for the studious method. What I’m calling for is switching the track, so to speak, so that we work together instead of against each other. Why?
Paganism deserves better from us because we deserve better from us. Paganism has long been about worshiping nature and for some reason, human beings still have this wall of separation around themselves from it. Good Clergy, bad Clergy, doesn’t matter. We do not need Clergy to tell us what to think, we need Clergy to teach us how to think and why it’s important to remain in the driver’s seat. We also need to challenge our Clergy and get them thinking too. Nothing is wrong with good, solid debate. All around us our voices are being snuffed out whether it’s battle over gender, race, spirituality, or just decent human rights. And who are these tyrants to blame? Looking in our own Pagan communities, who is causing the problems? Is it that red haired woman who returns home every evening alone and barely hanging on or is it Susie McPopples who looked at us funny when we were making an Oath? No, the answer is plain as the crooked noses on our faces. I look no further than the mirror every time a Sister is bothering me and I’m happy to say that over time it’s become better.
So are those commercial Witches far off the mark? Are we the villains or are we the heroes? What defines either? What does it matter when so many are hurt after the battle. I’m calling for an end to it all. For us to fight together for the cause of peace. Pagans working together harvesting crops, singing songs, and making snarky jokes about recent movies. Forgive and forget? Nah, that ain’t us. Forgive and learn! Evolve! The old ways. The new ways. The best ways. That’s the Pagan I want to be.