Pagan Authors and America’s Class System

Pagan Authors and America’s Class System
Money and Hierarchy in Today’s Paganism

Warning: I am standing on a soapbox.

Recently, someone with whom I’d been conversing on Google+ for a few weeks was surprised to realize I was an author and she owned one of my books.

It might seem odd that her surprise surprised me. I asked why she was surprised. I don’t know if my question seemed ingenuous and pretentious. She kindly responded that she does not run into authors. Ah, of course! I understand.

The thing is: I get out of touch with stupid consensus realities, so forgot it is unusual for a best selling author to be available, acting just like a community member. That’s why I didn’t initially understand her surprise.

But as long as big name Pagan authors are hard to be in contact with, they help create a class system in our community.

Before going into that, here are examples of how our American class system plays out in Paganism, for context.

There are a lot of people with money in Paganism. Nothing wrong with money, but I’ve encountered many wealthy Pagans who refused to say hi to me, let alone speak with me. They blatantly snubbed me.

Check this out: some of them, including big name authors, snubbed me until they found out I had major media access—e.g., scripted a segment for a Barbara Walters show—then acted like I was their best friend. One of them even gave me family tradition material! Ugh! What a fake!

Another example: I met someone at a Pagan conference who later became my student. She eventually told me I’d been the only one at the conference who’d said hello to her. This happened at a “spiritual” conference? What a joke!

There are many reasons people get ignored at spiritual conferences. But class is often one of them. Some people’s excuse is they are too busy. At the conference where no one said hello to the woman who became my student, I was scheduled to give two presentations, one concert, etc etc. “Too busy,” in the case of some moneyed people, translates into “too busy focusing on my own selfish needs and those of my elite group.”

One last example: I don’t expect conference staff to always stop to talk. They may have so many responsibilities that they need to move at a lightening pace, zooming past people in order to get to the next responsibility. But I was stunned that the staff at a major Pagan conference couldn’t even smile at participants as they ran past them. That seemed less busy and more self-important.

So I tried an experiment to see if I was right or if perhaps they were just a very shy group or something: I let it “slip” that I had just done a televised ritual for a quarter of a million people. Suddenly all the self-important people had smiles for me. They became utterly gracious. Not good!

Okay, back to author accessibility. Discussing it necessitates highlighting some of media’s dark aspects, so I want it clear that I’m very grateful to be in the media. Not many people get that chance, especially women raised without money like me. But I need to talk about the darker sides to give a whole picture.

The world of corporate media promises hopefuls that success in publishing, acting, etc makes one part of an elite that enjoys money, prestige, and a pedestal all of your own to climb on. As a women who grew up without much money, I hoped for more than I had as a kid, but I refuse to get it by joining in a class system. I’ve paid dearly for that decision—slandered by colleagues, constantly plagiarized, and worse. It seems if you won’t join in being an oppressor, they’re going to do everything they can to oppress you, lest you blow the lid off things and reveal their true nature.

One of my editors was shocked I put my phone number in my books. A marketing consultant told me that international authors do not teach small groups like I do. But I believe spiritual teachers should be accessible.

There’s a game you’re supposed to play. The game’s a trap. It eventually stifles your creativity and innovation, until your work becomes a pale imitation of your earlier creations. Stifled innovation allows a class system to thrive; otherwise, authentic dialogue and inspiring art might nurture social change.

I’m grateful for media access, and I hope I use it wisely. I have tremendous admiration for people in the media who stick to their guns in terms of the content they produce. I know how hard it is for them to do it. Being in the media is not the bed of roses portrayed by the powers-that-be.

The upper echelons want you to think media life is inevitably easy. They hope this lie will make you jealous of your blue-collar friend who worked their butt off to get a foot in the door of an upper class scene. Why? So you will not have your friend’s back when push comes to shove.

The powers-that-be have another reason to convince you life in the media is innately easy. They’re trying to cover up the actual facts: if you’re in the media and refuse to play the elite class game, it’s beyond rough going. As I said, you get slandered and otherwise trashed—sometimes to point of financial destitution and psychological devastation.

Is it worth it? I can only answer for myself. I get tremendous satisfaction from expressing myself. Also, I chose to become a public figure because the Goddess asked me to. It’s always worth doing what my Gods ask, whether I see how it pans out for me at the time or not.

There is money to be made. There’s nothing wrong with that. Legitimate, caring shamans, whether Native American or Celtic, charged for their services in ancient times. But if money is made through supporting our class system, Paganism oppresses us like the huge religious and spiritual groups that many Pagans left to be free of oppression.

Oddly enough, being accessible makes people suspicious of me sometimes. For example, when slander about me was making the rounds about 13 years ago, someone I was mildly acquainted with asked me what the true story was. I didn’t want to get into “He said,” … “She said,” because that seemed like going around in circles.

So I responded, “Come on over the house, hang out with me. Do ritual with me. Then decide for yourself what you think about me.”

LOL, the woman thought I invited her in hopes of stealing magical secrets from her—secrets that I was actually the author of myself, although she did not know it!

Good grief!

I’m not suggesting public figures be without boundaries. You cannot survive the public arena without them.

For example, a lot of people try to use me as a scapegoat. They think I have media access because I’m “one of them,”—e.g., someone not as deep as them or who has not faced as many challenges as they have. After all, how could I have accomplished all I have, if I’d faced tremendous challenges? Poppycock! Yes, challenges can defeat us, but too many assumptions are made about people in media. Whatever shadow projection someone wants to use as a punching bag, it can do terrible things when projected onto someone. That someone, after all, is a real live human being, with all the vulnerabilities of a human.

Another example: Between death threats, nut cases, and the sheer quantity of well-intended but intrusive readers, I’m protective of my home address.

Sometimes people who love my work almost force themselves on me as a best friend, not realizing they’re being discourteous, pushy, and perhaps outright scary. So home address aside, I have to make boundaries.

I also have to take care because my work is controversial; I’ve been picketed by so-called Christians, and I can tell you, it is terrifying to sit in a wheelchair, physically defenseless, while a bunch of people led by a man dragging a 10 foot cross think you’re evil.

When my dad died, I learned the importance of a private phone number, instead of using my private phone for business.

At his passing, I felt like I’d been hit in the head by a two-by-four. I could barely speak and needed support from friends. But I couldn’t pick up the phone when it rang, because if the person on the other end was a stranger asking about my shamanic services, I was so emotionally overwhelmed by dad’s death that I couldn’t even explain I wasn’t in good enough shape to discuss work.

Yet I needed to answer the phone, in case friends called, because they might not have left any messages—it’s daunting to leave messages when somebody’s died. This was before Caller ID, so I had no way of knowing who called unless I answered the phone. So I was isolated when I was in great need.

But none of these are reasons to be completely unavailable.

Ok, I will get down off my soapbox now.

I first posted this essay in 2016 on http://witchesandpagans.com/

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Pagan Trends, Absolute Truths, and Trusting Yourself

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Trends change rapidly in the Pagan community. We often see “an indisputable fact” ricochet to its exact opposite within years. These “truths” cause immense discord. How can we navigate these treacherous waters without disavowing our own personal wisdoms? We all find our way of doing it. If I share mine, perhaps that might make finding yours easier.

So, a story:

Way back when, most American Pagans insisted traditional craft was nonexistent. People became downright nasty in their disdainful insistence there is no traditional witchcraft. Nowadays, many Pagans discuss traditional craft, what it is, how to do it, and where to learn it.

The party line back then was that anyone who claimed a traditional craft lineage was a liar. The person in question might be completely discredited.

To the best of my understanding back then: a big name Pagan dishonestly validated the material he taught by saying he’d gotten it from his grandmother, a traditional witch, but he lied about her being a witch.

People just decided, if he was lying, everybody else must be. Good grief!

Ok, let me continue this tale by adding how it affected me personally:

I was raised in a longstanding European-based shamanic family tradition. This was hardly a secret to some of the Pagans I knew. But, in case it’s useful context for the rest of my story, I didn’t have a best selling book yet, so the number of people who knew anything about me were far far fewer than later became the case.

You can imagine, amidst all the vitriol and possibility of being totally discredited, I was thoughtful about when to mention my traditional witchery to a Pagan. I wanted to avoid the near certainty of being branded liar in the larger Pagan community.

Close friends knew my family background, and I’d tell others when it was important. In fact, when the bestseller did come out, its back cover mentioned my mom was a Sicilian witch. To do otherwise would’ve insulted her and all my witch ancestors. But I also used discretion. For example, skirting my family history in casual conversation.

What I’m saying is: navigating the dangerous seas of trending “absolute truths” was challenging—for one thing, it can be frightening to buck popular opinion—but I found ways to maintain integrity while also guarding my emotional equilibrium. We can keeps our spirits whole. Here are two navigation skills that worked for me:

One is knowing it is vital to trust your own beliefs and respect the value of your own experiences, despite people who try to hit you over the head with trends to make you feel ignorant or otherwise not as “authentic” a Pagan as they are.

The second navigation skill is discretion. I want to practice discretion about whether to say something.

Nowadays, most people use the word discretion to mean holding silence. But discretion can also mean wisely considering the best course of action, judging each situation according to its specific circumstances. I’m using the latter definition here. So, in terms of our topic, discretion might lead one to speak—to good purpose—or to remain appropriately mum.

It’s vital to speak up for your beliefs when there’s good reason. Losing self-respect does not constitute successful navigation of treacherous waters.

As to choosing silence, let’s start with the example of avoiding arguments with people who aren’t going to listen.

Back when mentioning a family tradition might completely discredit you with many people, I was at a dinner party where someone who was constantly on power trips declared, in a high and mighty tone, that as a scholar she was devoted to naysaying the possibility of a family tradition. She did not know I came from one. I didn’t tell her. (A friend in the know did surreptitiously wink at me. That was lovely support.)

Most people who jump on trending absolutes will neither listen nor engage in a courteous, informative exchange of ideas, because they’ll rush to prop up wobbly egos with pseudo-knowledge. They’ll just try to browbeat you into feeling you’re wrong, though that may not be their conscious motivation, bless them. Wasting your time in a verbal entanglement amounts to letting someone’s pseudo-truth get the better of you. Your time is sacred.

Yet if she had been honestly interested, and merely misinformed about whether traditional witchcraft existed, I might have discussed my family.

Important aside: Though I avoided an argument at the dinner party, I admit my record’s not perfect with that sort of thing. Luckily, seeing how it depleted and upset me helps me not repeat the mistake any more. A hard won lesson, but one that frees me from other people’s opinionated insistences.

This blog is long but the following feels vital. Another example of discretion and silence:

(Please note, I’m going to use traditional witchery as an example in this essay again. That’s a coincidence. The examples have no relation. So don’t think you need to connect the dots between examples.)

More than once, a segment of the Pagan community inflated their position to one of dominance by stating “superior” pseudo-truths, and I could have deflated their posturing by disclosing a bit of traditional witchcraft’s sacred lore.

I stayed mute about the lore. I was blessed to have received it, so would not disclose it merely to prove a point to people who would not have viewed it as precious information but who would have pawed it.

They’d have greedily grabbed at it as mere words—exploited it as verbal fodder they could parrot to appear in-the-know and first string. (Heh, at least I got to feel smug about keeping my mouth shut. … Ok, I admit, feeling superior wasn’t good for me.)

Had I said anything authentic, nobody would have cared. The agenda on their table was to show how important and “wise” you were. That was not an agenda I wanted to be part of, even though telling them traditional material would’ve moved me to the top of the food chain. But climbing up would have actually, as the old expression goes, dragged me down to their level. … Goddess, I was tempted anyway. … Maybe smugness about my silence was my solace.

My story about being silent is relevant to discretion stopping fake truths from derailing your personal hard-won beliefs, in the following ways:

Opening my mouth would have been my ego reacting to theirs, as well as meeting their attempt to move up in a hierarchy with a similar attempt of my own. Both of those would have betrayed my personal belief in not living in ego or falling prey to power struggles.

It also would have wasted my time and life force, instead of me going about my merry business, living happily according to my own ecstatic truths.

Responding to someone’s power play with one of our own can be incredibly tempting, but also incredibly damaging to ourselves. Ego-driven magic and power-hungry grabs put someone on the slippery slope of chasing chimera more and more, less and less living joyously in the beautiful world the Goddess created for us.

Had I shared the lore for the purposes of my ego, I also would have debased that material. Reduced to mere words in order to feed my ego, the power of that beautiful material would’ve been lost to me, crumbled into dust like Faerie gold.

There’s one more way someone’s pseudo-truth would’ve gotten the better of me if I’d blabbed sacred knowledge for the sake of ego and dominance. I would’ve betrayed my following personal truth: I hold my religion sacred by only using it for honorable purposes. To do otherwise, I would truly have failed navigating the rocky seas of community-enforced pseudo-truths and sunk to the depths.

When magic and spirituality become tools to create unhealthy hierarchy—aka dominate others—they go sour. So does the spirit of the practitioner in question. His soiled shamanic path is handed down to his students, its very essence feeding their worst aspects, perhaps subtly but thoroughly. A nightmare for the community.

When magic and spirituality remain tools to serve, in respect for our differences, those tools become more powerful and capable. So do our spirits. Free of contentious opinions and excess verbiage, our innate magic fills each day, often silently. We become blessed by—and a blessing for—community.

I hope some of my above opinions are useful to you.

I teach traditional craft. My Gods bless me with wise students: They are wise in so many ways, but one is that we all respect each other. Honoring our differing views as assets allows each of us to uniquely contribute to the group’s magic and well-being. This in turn allows each of us to benefit from all the participants’ strengths.

If you’d like to join us, I teach mostly via group phone calls—aka teleseminars. Subscribe to my free newsletter, which tells you about upcoming classes: https://outlawbunny.com/newsletter/

Have a magical day.