I have thought to myself often lately: 'It feels strange calling any contemporary witch a rebel because, in essence, the ‘cunning folk,’ shamans, hedge witches, druids and other pagans of a similar path in days of old were once integrated and played a part in everyday society, yet they now stand so far out on the fringe: misunderstood, misinterpreted and often scoffed at.' The healers, midwives and medicine people of the past (perhaps not midwives, though witches often played this role), unless ‘homely’ of nature have now fallen into the category of the rebel or misrepresented as a ‘new ager’ – the new age movement being entirely separate to the Wiccan tradition. It feels strange to be living an existence that merely seeks to work with nature and seek truth of our inner and outer realities which once was accepted but now is very hard for a lot of the population to deal with. What exactly took our world and turned it upside down? What now makes it seem a rebellious lifestyle choice rather than a follower of the old ways?
Occasionally I will admit: I enjoy it. I enjoy wearing my little black heeled ‘witchy’ boots, tight black jeans, Turkish coin necklace and a black top or a long black dress and my pentagram. I enjoy fluffing my feathers, smelling of the deeper tones of essential oils and putting lots of eyeliner around my eyes. It’s fun and harmless. Sometimes I admit, I do enjoy looking like a rebellious witch and breathe in the incense, blare some White Zombie or Patti Smith into my ears as I ride the train to fuel this romantic image for the internal and external experience. A lot of older witches see this as a stage and at this point I figure that If I’m going to bother being a witch I may as well have fun with it on every level. It’s a part of the journey and one of my aspects. 'How many selves have I?' we ask ourselves. We change and morph in this mystery system.
Is it rebellious to be a witch though?
The point of this blog article is: is it helpful for the contemporary witch to consider themselves or to be rebellious or is it not? Does that make things in any way easier for the prejudices against us? Why are we now seen as being ‘out there’ at all and how are we perceived within current society? We probably always have been out on the fringes as the stereotypical hermit in the mountain who are only approached when help is very much needed, but our contribution to society was once more accessible and far less frightening to those in our community. We are people who help and guide. When there is a war, we are found through the walk in the forest to the open stebbing offering sanctuary and healing.
Of course I consider the influence of Christianity demonizing witchcraft, what witchcraft actually looked like in days of old depending on the culture and indeed the influence of the Enlightenment – this will all be addressed. This is essentially an opinion piece where I admit that one idea will bounce off of another – so bear with me!
#1: We do not rebel against science, nor are we in any way ‘anti science’
For the record, Wiccans are not unhappy that the Enlightenment had drawn the public’s attention to the importance of science in our lives, for a start. Wiccans don’t seek to separate The Craft from science at all but as we are seen as spiritual people we are put in the same category as anyone else who is interested in metaphysics, mistaken for people trying to separate the spiritual and arcane knowledge from science and doctors from remedies. A 20th to 21st century ‘Pagan Renaissance’ does not imply that we are attempting to dumb down society by discrediting the work of science, we’re only disappointed that after years of experimentation that some scientists have put certain ideas aside because to explore them further is preposterous. We see all activities as a part of science and would love to see more of the ‘arcane’ explored, understood and celebrated as a part of science. Not for our own moment of smug, self-congratulatory triumph, but to liberate all of mankind.
Evidence of the ‘paranormal’ fills bookshelves. The book ‘Supernature’ gives examples of telekinesis where a woman in a chair above a perspex box of water separates the egg white from the yolk within the water beneath her using her mind. In the book ‘Far Journeys’ by Robert A. Monroe he talks about setting up a special facility to test and monitor the results of astral travel. When Robert and his team decide to see what could be happening outside of the facility at the time that the astral travel takes place they don’t see any results at first until one of the participants said “Look up!” and a colourful light above the facility floated over the top, and when the astral travel was finished it immediately went away. (My apologies for not providing quotes, I don’t have these books on me at the moment). We are provided with films such as ‘The Men Who Stare at Goats’ focusing on the true story of the Psy (psychic) unit in the United States army showing the scientific developments of psychic research to be used in a military setting. It would be so exciting to find a scientific basis for events such as Jung’s catalytic exteriorization phenomena (2) – where your roused, passionate emotions can result in sounds within objects or objects moving about the room – something which in his time he would have so passionately loved to have seen been proven, but was instantly dismissed by so many. You can read more about catalytic exteriorization phenomena here.
Equally as passionate to have science meet the ‘esoteric’ head long was Helena Blavatsky, the founder of the Theosophical Society. Helena noted in her work ‘Isis Unveiled’:
‘Is it too much to believe that man should be developing new sensibilities and a closer relation with nature? The logic of evolution must teach as much, if carried to its legitimate conclusions. If, somewhere, in the line of ascent from vegetable to ascidian to the nobles man a soul was evolved, gifted with intellectual qualities, it cannot be unreasonable to infer and believe that a faculty of perception is also growing in man, enabling him to descry facts and truths even beyond our ordinary ken. Yet we do not hesitate to accept the assertion of Biffé, that “the essential is forever the same. Whether we cut away the marble inward that hides the statue in the block, or pile stone upon stone outward till the temple is completed, our NEW result is only an old idea.”’ (1)
Every attempt to separate the occult from science will only bring us back time and time again: to want to include it and perhaps one day to have to include it in our field of knowledge when it has been waiting to be accepted all along and toyed with by so few scientists.
The Theosophical Society’s great work focuses on the three following areas (3):
1. To form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or colour.
2. To encourage the study of comparative religion, philosophy and science.
3. To investigate the unexplained laws of nature and the powers latent in the human being.
As mentioned before, is clearly accepted by the military for their use in order to put warring countries to their best advantage, allowing them to quietly lead the way as well while they fail to share any developments with the rest of the world to understand the true human potential and how humankind can work with the genius of life. Could that show us the truth of our path and our nature?
It is Truth we seek. There is nothing higher than Truth and this is at the centre of the entire science vs spiritualism debate: put all egos aside and simply record the truth of your findings and do not be afraid of searching.
Are we just treated like a minority and shouldn’t be considered rebellious at all?
A family member was recently concerned over the fact that I couldn’t travel to certain countries where witches are killed such as Papua New Guinea, areas of South America and Africa (a New York Times’ recent article is provided in the references – see reference #4). It’s fair enough to be warned, but apart from knowing that already, it is also a consideration for our queer community – they can’t travel everywhere either or at least they cannot own their sexual identity in areas like Uganda or Russia just as I travel without wearing my pentagram necklace. Having said that, the people often persecuted of witchcraft or sorcery in the aforementioned areas of the world are not Wiccans – they are people accused of magick out of superstition and the ignorant violence that can arise from that, though no doubt it makes the contemporary pagan less likely to step over their borders. The irrational fear of our queer community is equally as strange and incredibly sad, though entirely different in nature considering the superstitious nature of the crimes against witches and sorcerers there are equally irrational steps to eradicate the queer community in Russia.
Are some minorities treated in similar ways to one another? I had had an interesting conversation with a queer woman recently who said that a lot of the negative reactions to my Wiccan path were similar to the negative reactions she had for being queer such as ‘it’s just a stage’ or ‘you identify too much with the label’ etc. All of the concerns of my previous partners and some close to me were eerily similar to what people said to her about being gay by those close to her: simply a sign of people being uncomfortable with their close one just plain being different to ‘the mainstream’ or ‘normal’ -whatever that is. It was a strangely comforting conversation in one respect and a sad reflection on how far society still has to go.
It is not rebellious to be homosexual and it is not rebellious to be pagan, but the irrational fear around those minorities only separates our society. From this perspective - labelling these minority groups as 'rebellious' is very patronising and puts its people in a position of not being taken seriously. I hear members of the community cry out about how both pagans and homosexuals are a danger to society and its children quite regularly which is both sad and ridiculous.
It is Understanding we hope for and Respect we expect.
What is the etymology of the ‘rebel’ anyway and does it even apply to contemporary pagans given the above?
As mentioned before it is strange to think that we’re ever ‘going against the grain’ when we only seek to become one with the universe, to be with nature and understand our nature and absolute Truth. If that’s rebellion, then could we call the Enlightenment rebellious and not worthy of attention? Of course not. We’re better off for it.
What are some of the origins of the word ‘rebel’ anyway? I’ll be honest in saying that I hand picked a few that I liked the most as its meaning evolved over history:
1702, "to leave one's companions," from Latin secedere "go away, withdraw, separate; rebel, revolt" (see secession). Sense of "to withdraw from a political or religious alliance of union" is recorded from 1755, originally especially in reference to the Church of Scotland
The revolutionary concept is great in one respect when you consider Aradia di Toscano who (if she ever was a real person) became sick of the church being tied into the feudal system in Florence in the 1300s and rebelled by going about teaching Stregha witchcraft to her fellow peasant workers to rebel against the church. You can read more about Aradia from a previous blog post here.
late 14c., "rebel," agent noun from rise (v.). Meaning "one who rises" (from bed, in a certain manner) is mid-15c. Meaning "upright part of a step" is from 1771. (5)
To rise up indeed, to come ‘out of the broom closet’ despite potential criticism and step out into the world. How can we expect to have rights if we don’t claim to be who we really are to begin with? Is it only rebellious in its early stages in history when it’s hard to have society face us? At what point do we stop being rebels then? In another 5,000 years? Another 10,000 years? Is it bad to make any correlations between the queer community and the pagan community and if so, why?
Rebellion seems to say ‘I speak and I will be heard,’ ‘I exist and I will be acknowledged’ in graffiti, protests, blogs and in our every day world. Is that really rebellious to want to be heard and understood? Or are we rebellious in wanting to remove fear from our label? Does all rebellion seek to remove fear or is it only considered rebellion when it is in the act of creating fear? Is our thirst for Truth and experiments with the powers of the universe never to be understood or left shelved and separated from science in the eyes of the mainstream?
(1) ‘Isis Unveiled’ by Helena Blavatsky, Vol.1 ‘Science and Theology,’ 1877.
(2) Fortean Times, ‘The Occult World of CG Jung,’ http://www.forteantimes.com/features/articles/3847/the_occult_world_of_cg_jung.html
(3) The Theosophical Society in Australia, Home Page, http://www.austheos.org.au
(4) The New York Times, ‘The Persecution of Witches 21st century style,’ 5th of July 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/05/opinion/the-persecution-of-witches-21st-century-style.html?_r=4
(5) Etymology online, ‘Rebel,’ http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=rebel&searchmode=none