occult culture

An open letter to Pagan Convention Organizers

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In my pursuit of self-respect, one of the realizations I've been having is that how I allow my work and myself to be treated professionally is indicative of the respect I'm giving to myself. And if I don't set standards and boundaries for that treatment then I'll get walked all over. That has happened during my journey as a Pagan/occult author, and so I've come to a decision that I'm holding myself to and I'm telling all of you about, because in telling you I'm making a commitment to myself and to all the people who like my work that I will treat my work and myself with the respect I deserve and expect that respect in regards to professional appearances that I do. I do this for myself and my fans, because I am always a better presenter when I am given my due.

My commitment is this: I will no longer present at conferences where it is expected that I will foot the bill to come and present workshops. I will no longer pay to present at a conference. What that really means is that I'm not going to pay registration and airfare and hotel and food to present workshops for your event and help get people in the door for your event. If a conference wants me to present then they need to offer something to me and not just free registration or a discount on registration. They need to show respect and help out with the costs. What that means is registration covered for the presenter, and at the least helping to cover travel expenses. And if you want to modernize like other conventions out there and actually pay your presenters, I'm sure all of us will be happy about that as well.

Why?

Because when I am a presenter at your event, I am marketing your event on my website, in my newsletters, and on my podcast. I'm marketing the fact that I'll be there, but I'm also promoting the event, which means you will get more people in the door because of my marketing. I'm doing that as a courtesy to your event, but also as a way to support it and who I'm marketing it to is all my readers and followers and anyone they share my work with, which means your event has the potential to get more people in the door.

I get that a conference isn't a non-profit, but you know what? Neither am I. Presenting workshops and selling my books is part of how I make my living and when I'm expected to shell out money to come present at your conference, the math doesn't add up in my favor. I'm usually in the red or I break even and that doesn't work for me as an author or presenter. I know you want to make money so you can put the event on again next year and so do I so I can continue to go to events, write, and do all the other fantastic things I'm doing.

It also tells me that the people putting on the conference don't respect my contribution. Perhaps they have an attitude or belief that they don't really need a presenter, but if you alienate enough presenters or we just get fed up enough to boycott your event, that changes things, because guess what? You do need us. Presenters help draw people to events. People look at programming to see who is presenting and what is being presented on and then they decide if they'll go. If enough presenters decide not to present at your event, your business model will be in the red as well.

In the past I have paid for air fare, hotel rooms, food, and registration to present at events (That can be between $700 and $1000 per event). I've done this for the dubious promise of exposure...but exposure doesn't pay the bills. And while I appreciate the opportunity to present to people, I also know there are other ways to get in front of those people that has little to no overhead for me. If you aren't willing to honor my contribution to your event, why should I honor your event and help you get more people in the door with my name?

The only exception I'll make to this expectation of mine is for local events and that's because my costs are low and I know the event can draw more people by bringing presenters in who aren't local, so I want to support that. (By local I mean an event that's only a half hour away in travel time and where I can choose to say in my home and not pay hotel or food costs)

If I am flying to your event or driving a fair amount, then you need to find a way to cover some if not all of the costs because what you're getting return is my name, my brand, and my marketing, free of charge, to help you turn your conference into a successful one.

And please stop making authors from the big publishers your only guests of honor or having the same authors year in and year out as your guests of honor. Not all of us authors and presenters are with big publishers or want to be and we have some excellent material that your convention attendees will enjoy (I know this because my presentations are regularly overflowing and I can attest to that for other authors who aren't published by the big publishers). Granted once in a great while you do make an author who isn't with a big publisher your guest of honor, but its few and far between. Let's level that playing field. Be transparent about how you select guests of honor, so all of us know how it works and get a chance.

I have three events I'll be presenting at in 2016. I've made that commitment so I'll be at those events, but after that I'm not presenting at an event where at least some of my costs (beyond registration) aren't covered. I'm worth that. So are the other authors that come and present at your events and aren't comped. And if as a result I don't get into so many events, I can live with that, because there are other ways to reach my audience. I would love to be at your event, so show me some love in return and we'll make it great.

Edited: I've since written a second open letter to Pagan Convention Organizers which can be found here.

 

 

Some Thoughts on Building Community

community The concept of community has always been an interest of mine. I think it's been so important because I never really felt like I was part of a community. I felt like an outsider for so much of my life and while I wanted to be part of different communities, I could never really figure out how. Then the answer came to me...instead of trying to be part of something, why not just develop your own community. And that's what I decided to do. My initial forays into community building weren't very successful, but they were illustrative of what I needed to do. For example, when I first moved to Portland, I decided to start up a meetup at my house, where various friends could come and I'd present on some of the magical experiments I was working on. I soon realized that although the classes were a success, they weren't an effective way to build community, because the focus wasn't on being a community. I eventually stopped teaching and for a while just drifted.

My next attempt at building community was a bit more successful. I decided to propose a game night to my friends, where we could get together once a week and play various board games. And sometime after that I started another magical meetup night, but instead of just me teaching people, we decided to rotate it so that different members taught or shared what they are are working on. We also made it in to a potluck so that all of us could share a meal together. And through these activities I discovered that I was building a community. I've learned a couple of key lessons that I think can be applied by anyone seeking to build community in their own areas.

1. Don't assume that belonging to a given subculture automatically makes you part of the community at large. What I've discovered over the years is that although I identify myself as a Pagan and occultist, it doesn't necessarily mean I'm part of the community. This is a lesson I've learned at various locations and what it has really taught me is that to become part of a community you have to work at it. It doesn't happen just because you identify with a given subculture. And something else to remember is that you'll have multiple communities of a subculture. For example, in Portland, there is a chapter of the OTO in town, a community of hermetic magicians, several different general pagan communities, the magical experiments community as well as various solitaries (and probably some I don't know of). Not every community with be a fit for a given person, but given time you'll either find the right community or create one.

2. Shared interests are an excellent way to build community. I have found that shared interests are important for cultivating and strengthening community. I didn't have much in common with the majority of communities I encountered when I moved to Portland, so I decided to form my own and with my friends found people who had similar interests, which helped to build an investment in the community that was forming. Finding people who share your interests, both esoteric and otherwise, can be very helpful for establishing community, and providing a foundation of shared values that also appeals to other people who want something similar.

3. Shared responsibilities increase community participation. My first attempt at forming community didn't work because I was solely responsible for it and it was more or less a class as opposed to an actual community gathering. When I tried again, one of the things I asked for was that other people took turns presenting on topics of their own interest. By doing this, the other people became more invested and participation rose. We also made it into a social event, by making it happen around a meal and asking everyone to bring a dish of food for the meal.

4. It can be useful to keep your community semi-private. We don't post our events on social media sites such as Facebook. The community is semi-private in that people can bring guests, but the only online mention of the community typically occurs in my newsletter and in an e-list that is only for people who are part of the community. The reason it isn't public is because the community isn't automatically for everyone. It's for people who have shared interests, want to share what they are working on and also want to learn from others. The community is for people who feel called to join it and typically what I find is that a person will visit once and know shortly thereafter if s/he feels called to participate.

5. A community gels around a stable place to meet. A stable place to meet does a lot to solidify the community. Kat and I open our home up to the people in our community for our gatherings. I've noticed something similar in other stable communities and I think having one place for everyone to convene is helpful because it provides a stable physical environment that everyone knows.

Building a community of any sort takes effort and participation on the part of everyone that's involved. A community is only successful if the people involved in it make the effort to build and sustain the community together. The tips I've offered above can be helpful, but feel free to share some of yours in the comments below!

Why DIY and Tradition ground each other in magical work

balance Jason Miller recently wrote a post arguing that DIY magic is overrated. He makes a good point about DIY Magic and how it can be overemphasized to the point that a person ignores tradition. In my own experience, you can't effectively experiment with magic or DIY it (if you prefer) until you've grounded yourself in the traditions/foundations of magical work. While I'm a big proponent of experimentation and personalizing magic I agree with Jason that you need to know what's come before in order to understand what you can do with what you've got.

My own magical practice is grounded in tradition, in so much as I've studied various works of authors and replicated their practices before experimenting with them. I am, unlike Jason, not part of any formal occult lodge or order, so in that sense I've never belonged to a spiritual tradition (nor felt called to), but I've always believed that understanding magic involves learning from the people who came before me, and that in order to effectively experiment its essential to ground yourself in the theory and practice provided by others. The choice to ground yourself in the work of others doesn't mean you unconditionally accept everything they've written or done, but rather that you try it and learn it before you experiment.

At the same time, I think that experimentation is essential for advancing tradition. It can be all too easy to get caught up in tradition and mired down by what others have done, but when you do so, you lose an essential part of magic which is found in the creative experimentation with it. DIY is one approach to experimentation and what it provides us is a way to create our own tools for magic, to personalize what we do, based on the intimate recognition that knowing magic can ultimately be a very personal act. now such DIY can't effectively happen without being grounded in tradition. For example, while I paint my evocation circles and sigils, which are a DIY tool, before I even do that I make initial contact with the spirit and get its insights on the process because I understand it to be an essential part of the magical work I'm doing.

What tradition really provides is context for DIY to occur in. In other words, just going and experimenting without really having a foundation in traditional approaches to magic isn't going to work very well, for the simple reason that you can't even call what you are doing experimentation. You don't know enough to experiment without having a foundational knowledge in magic that provides you enough context to question it and examine how you could improve on what you know. That's what tradition provides...the experiences and knowledge to allow you to question what you know and change it.

What DIY does for tradition is show how the tradition can evolve and change. What tradition does is ground DIY by providing perspectives of what came before. Both are needed in magic, and neither is necessarily better than the other. A magician who knows what s/he is doing is able to draw on tradition as well as do DIY magic, and should be able to get consistent results with both.

I don't care about Teo Bishop's Spiritual Choices (and Neither Should You)

Teo There's been a lot of uproar over Teo Bishop's realization that he's felt a calling back to Jesus Christ. Some people are upset because he's posted about this decision on Pagan blogs, while other people defend him doing so and feel it's important that he posts about his recent coming back to Jesus, especially given that he's been interviewed in the most recent issue of Witches and Pagans. And then there's me. I don't care about Teo Bishops' spiritual choices and I don't think anyone else should either. They are his choices and I feel that a person's spiritual choice is ultimately a private matter, something that can really only be known by the person and the spiritual forces s/he works with. I know, I know, Teo blogs about his spirituality (so do I for that matter). But while a blog post can describe a person's journey, it can't really speak to all of the moments the person experiences, or what s/he does with those experiences.

I have no doubt Teo will continue blogging about his spiritual journey and I'm fine with that. Let his voice be read by the people who want to read it and find it to be valuable. I'm relatively certain that just as with any other writer Teo will find his audience or they will find him and that what will really matter is what that audience offers each other. The rest of us will move on and life will continue.

I don't think it's such a big deal really. Here's this guy and he's having some spiritual realizations which are causing him to move toward what he feels called to. We all have them. I think the only reason this is a big deal is because Teo has a bit of fame (outside of being Pagan) and so people are upset because this person who has a bit of fame might suddenly not be Pagan anymore. Let's ask the honest and tough question everyone seems to be avoiding: Would you really care so much about Teo's conversion if he didn't have some fame attached? I know that must make me sound terribly, terribly cynical, but really, why are people getting so bent out of shape because someone shares that he's going through a spiritual change? Maybe it has nothing to do with his fame, but the thing is, I never heard of Teo Bishop until a year and change ago. Before then, as far as I knew he didn't exist. Then suddenly he pops up and this is partially so important because he's already a public figure and that just might make Paganism look better as a result. So now he's going through some spiritual changes and people are upset (in my opinion) because this person is A BNP and a public figure in other venues outside Paganism.

I don't care about Teo's spiritual choices, or yours for that matter. Believe what you want, practice it how you want. As long as you aren't hurting people I don't have a problem with it. I also don't think we need to make a big deal about it. Mind your own business, live your life...you get the idea and that's all I have to say on the subject of Teo Bishop and his changing spirituality.

Pagan Intolerance: nothing new under the sun

tolerance1 I came across a couple articles decrying the rise of intolerance in the Pagan community. Joseph Nichter discusses his own experiences with intolerance in the Pagan community, while Peter Dybing notes the rise of intolerance in the Pagan community in the last few years. The sad truth is though that this intolerance has been around a lot longer than the last few years. Perhaps, if anything, the internet with its continued evolution has just made it much easier to see the not so pleasant truth of the Pagan community: there is a fair amount of intolerance when it comes to a variety of topics including the practice of one's spirituality, experimentation in magical work, whether magic is even part of Paganism anymore, as well as cultural issues surrounding how Paganism is accepted by mainstream cultures. As someone who has been labeled a fluffy bunny from well before I began professionally writing in 2003, I can tell you that Pagans can be pretty opinionated. I write that tongue in cheek, because I must come off as pretty opinionated in this blog post.

But the reality is that this isn't any different from any other religious community. Christianity has its sects as well, which disagree on matters of doctrine and culture. At least we haven't, as of yet, started calling each other heretics and engaging in more violent activities. Instead it's just online flame wars, and people getting their @$$es handed to them for expressing opinions. I'll probably get some flak for this but I'm used to it. I wish I wasn't though. I wish the Pagan community really was better and not so intolerant. But I learned in the 90's that wasn't the case. I actually went on a hiatus from the community because I was disgusted with the amount of negativity and intolerance being expressed. And in the years since it hasn't changed...This is nothing new under the sun, nothing sudden that has just occurred.

That doesn't mean we just should sit back and not do something about it. However to change it we need to explore what that change would look like. I think a better appreciation for diversity would be a good start. Instead of labeling people as fluffy bunnies or decrying what they choose to do spirituality, we need to accept that even if we don't agree with someone's spiritual choices it doesn't make him/her a fluffy bunny or anything else. Agree to disagree and leave it at that. And if you feel the need to get in a debate ask yourself exactly what that debate is supposed to accomplish. Most like its just you venting hot air because you don't like what someone is saying or doing, but do you really want to invest your time and energy in that way?

And if there are issues to debate let us debate them civilly, with agreed on rules of interaction and dialogue that foster a space of collaboration and cooperation. There are any number of resources that can be explored and used to help accomplish this. The book Dialogue Gap by Peter Nixon, is one such resource. And perhaps most important. Don't let the people who are being intolerant win. Keep doing what you know is right and keep speaking up. I once was interviewed by the Pagan Centered Podcast. Everyone on there was hostile toward my work. It was a great example of Pagan intolerance, but after the interview was over I didn't let it stop me. They could call me names, tell me I was fluffy and hand my @$$ to me, but what they couldn't do was stop me. If anything their intolerance inspired me to continue speaking because I realized that if I did stop speaking up or writing, I'd just be letting them have the final word, and in the process glorify the intolerance that they advocated for. In any given community there will always be those people who are intolerant and have a loud bark. Ignore them and keep doing what you need to do. There will always be intolerance, always be people who will sit in judgement, arguing that they and they alone know best. They are wrong, but you can't change their mind, so focus on your work and make the world a better place. Speak out against the intolerance, as needed, but don't expect to change it, unless they are willing to actually accept that there can be other perspectives in the world that are as valid as their own.

Dark Sun Radio recently posted the interview they did with me late last year. You can listen to it here.

The discourse of the Pagan Bubble

Paganbubble On the wild hunt blog, Teo Bishop posted about living in a Pagan Bubble, and mentioned his concern when he realized his step dad didn't understand what he was writing about when he read his blogs. I thought it was an interesting post, because it highlighted how a specialized community can have a discourse that doesn't allow just anyone access into the community. Such discourses exist not just in Religion or spirituality, but also in academic disciplines, subcultures, and any other type of community that is created. And much like Teo, I had a similar experience once where my mother told me she'd bought one of my books and read it and found that she didn't understand it.

A while back I wrote a post about discourse and the self-secret language that people develop and learn when they want to enter into a specific community. While I recognize the concern that Teo feels about the discourse and resulting Pagan Bubble that appears, I'd argue that such a bubble is an inevitable conclusion of entering into any specialized community. There is a level of discourse, of specialized language, that needs to be learned in order to effectively enter into the community. And I think this is a good thing in the sense that such a discourse encourages a certain level of knowledge and experience, while also providing people a shared sense of communal identity.

At the same time I recognize Teo's concern that such a discourse ultimately creates an insular community, where people are isolated because they aren't able to relate to others. There is a need to have a dialogue between communities, an inter-faith dialogue in the case of Paganism and other types of spiritual beliefs, and as such we can't become too insular. Plus if we do live in such a bubble we cut ourselves off from inspiration. My own solution to this has been to cultivate an interest in a wide variety of disciplines and some other discourse communities, which in turn provides me perspectives outside of the Pagan Bubble. For example being a small business owner provides access to a different discourse community, which has intersections with a variety of other discourse communities as well.

I think the way to pop the Pagan Bubble is to simply be involved in the world around you, and in interests that aren't always Pagan-centric. Indeed I think if I spent all my time focused on being around pagans, I'd find some of the insularity and limitation that Teo is concerned about, if only because exposure to one perspectives limits us to a rather myopic view of the universe.

Some Thoughts on Privilege and Paganism

privilegeThere's been a lot of discussion about privilege in the Pagan community following Pantheacon. Or rather Pantheacon just happened to be the place where the conversation came to the surface more, because the conversation has been happening for a while now. And such conversations are important because ideally it brings to light the inequities in the community. I'm a middle class white man that has the fortune of living in a first world country with running water, heat, and a number of other resources that are available to me. The level of privilege that I have is staggering and likely I'm not even fully aware of it. Yet what I am aware of is that there are other people that don't have that same level of privilege, who for reasons of gender or skin color or whatever else don't have the same level of access to resources, education, and opportunities that I have, and also face more situations where their appearance is used to judge them.

I feel that one of the ways I can leverage my privilege is to turn around and use it for the greater good. I'm not doing this out of a sense of white guilt, but rather because I don't believe that inequity of any sort should continue to flourish. And while my actions can't make everything right, I feel that what I can do is help make people more aware of the issues as well as continue to educate myself. One of the reasons Immanion Press has published several anthologies focused on issues of privilege as it applies to occultism and Paganism is because by doing so other people get their voice heard and hopefully they are inspired to continue writing and discussing because they recognize why it is so important.

And while I don't think addressing privilege in Paganism will make everything right, I think it's a start. If you want to make change happen, start with your community and build from there. That kind of change is slow, but it also builds momentum. I know that whatever change I facilitate will best occur by working with what I know.

In a lot of ways, it's interesting to observe the Pagan community and how it is dealing with the issue of privilege. Pagans, by and large, like to think of themselves as progressive people. And yet its clear that privilege still operates on certain levels. At this year's Pantheacon the Pagans and Privilege panel had to be held in a hospitality suite and the People of Color hospitality suite got a lot of resistance from the Pantheacon staff. At the same time the conversations are happening, and people are becoming more aware of the issues. Change is happening, as long as we are willing to continue to make it happen by confronting the issues and how they effect all of us as a community, and as individuals.

The continued segregation of the occult from the pagan community

unconventional warfare Over on the Wild Hunt, Jason wrote a post recently about the fact that the book industry Study Group has recently moved some of the books that are considered Paganism/Wicca from the Occult/New Age section over to the Religion section. He sees this as a good thing, and I would agree, if it wasn't for the following:

Throughout those years I remember often voicing a common complaint: “Why are books about Pagan religions shelved next to crystal healing and channeled hidden masters instead of in the religion section where they belong.” I felt, as many others did, that it created a two-tiered hierarchy: “real” religions like Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, and those religions relegated to what was once known as the “occult” section.

I'd ask why is there an assumption that crystal healing and channeling hidden masters couldn't be consider a form of religion in its own right, or at the least part of the religious practices? Or perhaps also why the occult is so stigmatized and seen as a bad thing that hurts paganism, especially given many of the religious and spiritual practices are occult oriented? Isn't the occult a real "religion"?

Now I'll admit that I don't consider what I practice to really be a religion, but at the same time I wouldn't mind seeing occult books given a bit more respect in general...and my concern is that while books that are considered overtly Pagan or Wicca will now be labeled as a religion, other books will continue to be relegated to a label that is less than flattering, and will also provide further fuel for what I think of as the segregation of magic from Paganism. It seems to me that occult/magic practices are considered the bastard child of Paganism, something to be dusted under the rug because it hurts the image of Paganism as more of a mainstream religion. Yet I'd argue that those very practices define the spiritual work and that the various books on Paganism and Wicca that reference magic and the occult shouldn't suddenly be removed from a section, unless you are going to remove all the books found in that section, or at least categorize them more effectively.

My question is: Why is there such an emphasis on removing the occult from Paganism? I think its because Paganism is making some strides and getting some good recognition and the last thing the people, working on making Paganism more mainstream and acceptable, want is  to be associated with magic and the occult. But when we remove magic from the picture we are removing something essential and while Paganism may look more acceptable, denying its roots, and looking down on certain practices just creates a rift that does more to hurt the community than actually help it. We shouldn't strive so hard for acceptance if we aren't willing to ask that everything we do be accepted, as opposed to only the parts that are considered "safe"

Why I think of myself as spiritual

spiritualI couldn't resist including the above picture for this post, just because it is a good question and I see this meme done a lot. It's a good example of pop culture magic actually, but that's a different topic altogether. To answer his question however, I'd say I'm not cherry picking the parts of religion I like, but rather creating my own spiritual identity and practice which doesn't necessarily involve a conventional approach, which is what I think of when I think about religion. The actual impetus for this post came from this post on the Wild Hunt Blog where Jason Pitzl-Waters discusses how he thinks that "more and more people are finding Paganism not as discrete religions, but as a part of an open-sourced kit to build an individualized belief system or practice." On the other hand, Star Foster explains why she's dropped the label Pagan, and I see her reason for dropping the label as being similar to what Jason writes about in his blog. This response from Jason Mankey argues that as long as gods are in the occasion you can't run from the label Pagan. I don't agree with his take on that as I'll explain further below.

I think of myself as a spiritual, but not religious person. I also think of myself as a magician as opposed to a Pagan. I also recognize that in one sense the word pagan is a meta term that is applied to a variety of people who have similar interests, which can include polytheism, Heathenism, Occultism, as well as Paganism. However, much like Star I don't necessarily feel that the label Pagan applies to what I do. And yes I work with more than one deity, but even that as a criteria for being a pagan is suspect. And I don't feel that the practice of magic makes a person automatically a pagan either, especially given that many Pagans have argued that magic isn't an essential part of pagan beliefs. To my mind when that distinction was made, that told me I wasn't a pagan, because to me magic isn't optional and never will be.

If, according to Jason Pitzl-Waters, Paganism is an open source kit to develop personalized belief systems and practices I do wonder why certain segments of Paganism seem to be so intolerant toward the development of such systems and practices. And I have witnessed that intolerance first hand, having been told that what I'm doing is fluffy and not really paganism (which suits me fine). I get why Jason wants to fold all that under the umbrella of Pagan, but I suspect many Pagans would disagree with his assessment and would argue that there is a distinct difference between what is a Pagan belief system and what is an individualized system of spiritual practice and belief.

And aside from that point, there are spiritual paths that might be identified as Pagan, except for the fact that the people who practice those spiritual practices don't think of themselves as Pagans. Heathenism comes to mind, for example. Heathens, as I understand it, don't typically identify themselves as Pagans and don't want to be identified as Pagans. They do worship and work with deities, but that doesn't make them Pagan. I'd argue that what makes anyone Pagan or not is the person's choice to identify as such. If I choose to call myself pagan, then I might be considered pagan, especially if I practice a religious path that is considered Pagan.

I'd argue that Paganism is more of a religious movement than a spiritual movement. There are many Pagan religions, but I don't think that because someone is spiritual it automatically makes them pagan. Certainly the quote from Pink that Jason cites doesn't support that she views herself as Pagan, so much as she found Paganism to be a source of inspiration for her own spiritual work.

As I mentioned above the word pagan is a meta label. It's applied to anyone who practices non-monotheistic religious practices and spirituality as a way of describing those practices. And in that sense, I do embrace the word pagan, because it is a meta label that encompasses what I practice. But as a label of religious practices, I don't see myself as a Pagan. And many other people don't as well. The meta label is convenient, but also creates an illusion about Paganism that isn't accurate in the way that some people might like it to be. Just because my spirituality happens to include practices that could be perceived as Pagan doesn't necessarily mean the label fits. What determines if the label fits is the person's choice to identify as such.

At this point a person might say, "Fine and well Taylor, but then why do people like you use the word Pagan at all?" And the answer is that Pagan, as a meta-label, has become so embedded in our culture and in how many people describe their spiritual practices that choosing to come up with something else is not easy. And lets be honest here...while the word Pagan has stigma attached to it, the word occult or magic has a lot more stigma attached to it. And speaking as a writer, when I write books I am writing for an audience that includes people who identify their spiritual working and practice as Paganism. They aren't my sole audience, but they are a significant audience and what I'm writing about can be applied to their spiritual practices, if they choose to do so. There's also something to be said for encountering people that you can share a spiritual practice with. Where do you find those people? How do you determine if those people possibly share similar values or beliefs? The meta label of Pagan is how people answer those questions.  That's why I use the word Pagan. I don't perceive my spiritual practice as being that of a Pagan, but I do recognize that elements of it can be attributed to Paganism, and that I can find kindred spirits using that same meta label because it fits, however loosely, to what they practice.

On a Different Note...

I thought I'd share a link to Justin Moore's blog. He's doing some interesting work with the elemental balancing ritual. What I like the best about it is that he's making it his own.

Book Review: Cupid's Poisoned Arrow by Marnia Robinson

This book is an intriguing read that explores the physiology behind sex and orgasms, and makes the argument for having sex without orgasm as a way of creating stability in a relationship. The author does a good job of exploring the physiology and cites some interesting research to show how orgasm impacts the behavior of people. She also does a good job of introducing Karezza as an alternate sex technique that people can use to avoid having orgasm. Perhaps what I liked best about this book is the exploration of bonding behaviors and how those bonding behaviors can be used to create stronger relationships. The suggestions she makes demonstrates that bonding behavior can offset dysfunctional behavior and actually help people communicate better.

However, there's also some flaws in this book. Some of the anecdotes that she uses are a bit extreme, and I question whether sex via orgasm was the sole problem. At times the author comes off as a closet homophobe and also views activities such as BDSM as being unnatural. And while the author does cite some interesting research about the effect of orgasms, she doesn't explore how bonding behaviors could impact the downside of orgasm, nor does she explore the cultural issues around bonding behavior, and why those cultural issues might contribute to some of the dysfunctions.

It's an intriguing book and it makes thought provoking arguments about the effect of orgasm on the physiology of the brain, but there's also a lot she doesn't explore, and without that exploration it makes it hard to determine just how accurate her information is.

 

The Realization of Power

The concept of power is a funny one. Lots of people discuss having power or not having power. You'll see discussions on the execution of power, the doing as it were. All of these attempts to have power, to establish some way of getting it. Power is placed external to the personal, an object to be obtained, a desire to be fulfilled. You either have or you don't have it. Magic is perceived as one way to "have" power, to get it and use it. We could argue that money is another way, or politics, or any number of other avenues, all designed to somehow or another confer power from an external source on to another person. I disagree with this approach to power.

True power is the realization that power has always existed within you and your choice to use it to create the life you want to live. Magic is a path to power, that reveals to the practitioner how to connect the power within to the power in the universe and create a consensual reality. Power is not something you do or have. Power is the expression of your identity as it mates with the universe.

Now some might justifiably argue that if everyone has power, embodies power as it were, then why do so many people seem to be powerless. I think a lot of it is due to the abuse of power. Some people are much more in touch with their sense of power and have used it to abuse others, to create a perception of powerlessness, and to create cultural rules and boundaries that make it harder for a person to realize his/her innate power or to exercise that power. The concept of privilege speaks directly to that abuse of power, with the idea that certain people have a level of privilege that gives them a greater variety of choices and freedom, because of how the culture is structured to favor them.

To some degree this inequity has been countered, with difficulty by people who have recognized that such an inequity harms all of us. If power is to be realized as something you ontologically have present within you, the ability to execute that power must also be realized. Magic is one method (among many) of executing that power, and as such can be a way to discover empowerment of yourself , both in the environment around you, and within you. It is most effectively utilized when it is combined with other expressions of power, but can still be effective in and of itself.

There is nothing inherently better about one person or another. The realization of power ideally brings with it a realization of the responsibility that accompanies power. That responsibility is not merely to see to your own well-being, but to also look out for others, and to meaningfully contribute to the community around you in a way that shows other how to realize their own power.

Is there Privilege in being out of the closet?

Is there privilege in being out of the closet? Lupa posted a recent entry where she argues that people who can choose to decloset and argue that other people should come out of the closet don't realize that they have privilege. Specifically she notes:

you have the option to decloset (or not) and can decide whether you feel you can handle whatever negative consequences may occur without having it made for you.

She goes on to criticize decloseted people who think closeted people should come out (and I suppose this would include me):

Moreover, it’s a dick move to criticize people who stay closeted to any degree, or their reasons for doing so. Not every decloseted person attacks their closeted associates, but some do. I have seen many people over the years complain about people not decloseting, whether that was the broom closet or the queer closet or whatever closet others were using for protection, I’ve seen them called traitors, and I’ve seen the blame for continuing discrimination against everyone else laid at their feet for not standing up and being visible. I’ve seen pagans say “You should have nothing to hide if you’re strong in your faith”. I’ve seen radical queers tell closeted queers that all they’re doing is milking the “benefits” of the closet and not taking the full brunt of queerphobia. I’ve seen closeted people being told that by staying in the closet, they’re actively supporting the bigots themselves.

In my most recent post about coming out of the closet I wrote (amongst other things): "When you don’t stand up, you essentially are condoning the way things are, and the intolerance and prejudice that comes with it." I think Lupa has a point when she says:

Privilege isn’t a criticism of the fact that you HAVE something; it’s a reminder that not everyone ELSE has what you have, and that affects the options each of you have access to in a given situation. The criticism comes when you forget that imbalance, and act in spite of it, and thereby harm those without your privilege.

So is it unfair to the closeted when someone like myself says what I wrote in the previous post? Yes and no. On the one hand it comes off as unfair to the people who feel they can't come out of the closet because of the consequences that could occur. They get criticized by someone who is out of the closet and are told they aren't doing enough. That's pretty presumptuous of the person whose out of the closet. That person is judging those people for not getting out of the closet. That's essentially what's being said when its argued that a decloseted person has privilege. And if you look at it from that angle, there's validity to it.

The people in the closet have my empathy, because I've been there. I remember as a teenager being asked by my mom a number of times if I practiced it and I denied it each time because I was afraid of the consequences. And when I was forced out of the closet, my fears came true. There were negative consequences. But here's why I wrote what I wrote and why I think it doesn't come from a place of privilege.

I get that some people don't feel they can come out of the closet and I understand the reasons for why they feel that way. But as someone who was forced out of the closet, and then chose to stay out, I have to say that being out of the closet isn't privilege. In graduate school I had two fellow grad students anonymously cyber bully me in part because of my beliefs. And when I worked in a corporate setting I always had to wonder what would happen if people googled my name, because I'd written about my spiritual practices with my given name. And in all honesty, there have been times where I wish I could change that because it would make life easier if I'd used a pseudonym and stayed in the closet. But I can't and I realize that if I did, I'd be leaving it to someone else to carry that responsibility. Even now me being out of the closet isn't all that wonderful. I'm self-employed, and I live and work in a fairly "liberal" area of the country, but that doesn't mean I don't get nervous or even uncomfortable when I find out that potential prospects have looked me up. Most of the people I've worked with don't seem to care, but I can guarantee that if I lived in a more conservative area they likely would care more and you better believe I feel lucky to be living here.

Being out of the closet isn't a cake walk. And it isn't privilege. It's hard and it comes with responsibility. Would I like it if people in the closet came out? Yes I would. There is strength in numbers. But I understand why it doesn't happen. The pain of being rejected by family and friend is harsh. The persecution and prejudice that can be faced is hard. And maybe I am in a place of privilege (as a decloseted person) because I wrote that people who stay in the closet are essentially condoning the way things are. Not everyone has what I have. Fair enough. But neither has everyone faced what I have, or what I continue to face as a result of being out of the closet. Being out of the closet isn't comfortable and when you minimize that, when you paint a brush over the people who are decloseted and make assumptions about what they face as a result of being decloseted, that's unfair too.

To anyone who's in the closet and feels that I've judged them, I apologize. You have your reasons for staying in the closet and they aren't wrong. They are valid reasons and I get it. I don't judge you for staying in the closet and I take back my statement that you're condoning the way things are. I don't think that's the case, but understand that when I write about this issue, its not from a place of empowerment and privilege. It's from a place of frustration and hardship, and that's true for anyone else who's come out of the closet.

To the people who've come out of the closet, I salute you. You've made a choice and chosen to face the potential complications that come with it. But there is hope that if we continue to raise awareness and visibility in a respectful way that we can make a space that is more tolerant and accepting as a result. And that's why I'm out of the closet.

Further thoughts on being out of the closet

Last week I wrote about why its important to be out of the closet. Since writing it, I've reflected further on the importance on being out of the closet, as have others. In this blog post that the author wrote in response to mine. As he notes there is a risk run with being out of the closet. Being out of the closet about your beliefs, sexuality, or whatever else can have negative consequences, and although it'd be nice to believe that the world is a tolerant place, the truth is that it isn't always a nice place. There will always be some people who will say, in ignorance and stupidity, that some people should stay in the closet. They make statements like that because they occupy a position of privilege. They've never had to face persecution for their beliefs or other choices. They are part of a majority, and they smugly pass judgement on issues they don't really understand.

As the author of the other blog entry notes, its important to stand up and be counted especially when you don't fit into the dominant culture. It's a social responsibility and a method of social transformation that pushes for the world to be a more tolerant, and easier place to live in. When you don't stand up, you essentially are condoning the way things are, and the intolerance and prejudice that comes with it. And it's not easy to stand up, to be out of the closet, but its importance because it raises awareness and it calls on us to be excellent to each other. It calls on us to be better to each other, to aspire for a more tolerant world that accepts people of different walks of life, with the understanding that while you might not make those particular choices, each person has a right to make the life choices s/he has made and be able to live those choices without fear of being persecuted for them.

Yesterday, I came across an entry that had been written in May of 2011 about the fact that entries about Pagan authors and pagan culture are deleted fairly frequently on wikipedia because not enough "reliable" resources have been written about the topic. The author of that post notes " Not enough sources they consider ‘reliable’ have written about Paganistan, which is short hand for saying the mainstream press hasn’t written much about us and the other sources listed aren’t reliable for one reason or another" Now it could be argued that much ado is being made about very little, but I'd argue that if anything when a subculture tries to carve out its own space in dominant culture and in media outlets of dominant culture there is always some kind of push back. Cara, the author of the second entry I linked to notes:

One of the reasons Pagan articles get put onto the fast track to deletion is that they lack sources Wikipedia considers reliable, which then makes the entire topic ‘not worthy of note.’  After all, if it was worth noting, people would write about it, right?

On the face of it, there’s nothing wrong with this policy as it helps ensure that the articles and sources are solid.  When this policy is put into practice with under-reported minority groups such as modern Pagans, that’s where the unintentional discrimination happens.

That unintentional, and in some cases, intentional discrimination is why its important to come out of the closet and stay out. Change doesn't occur when people hide for fear of persecution or discrimination.

In my last post on this topic I mentioned I'd been outed by my friend's family to my mom when I was 18. She didn't handle it well. She told me I had to either move out or burn my books. I opted at the time to burn my books (only the ones I'd already read). I did it because I didn't have a job, I was in high school and I had half a tank of gas in my car. I didn't have a lot of options open to me, but it was a hard experience to realize I had to burn my books because my mom's Christian fundamentalism wouldn't tolerate my choice to believe in magic. I promised myself, after that experience, that I wouldn't hide. And later that year, when the step-father of the aforementioned friend teamed up with the father of that friend to call me on the phone and threaten to kill me for my beliefs, I didn't back down. I called the police and I let them know that their attempts to attack me weren't going to work. They backed down, probably because both of them were drunk and acting out their prejudice. But I learned a valuable lesson from it. You stand up and you be proud and you don't let ignorant idiots like that think they can get away with pulling stupid shit.

Even to this day I can't talk with my mom about my books or my beliefs, and even the rest of my family prefers to avoid talking about it. They just want this partial experience of me, of who I am, instead of really getting to know the real me. It's their choice, and their loss, because I can't not be me. I can't just hide in the closet because it makes someone else's life a bit more convenient. I won't inflict my choices on someone else, but I don't hide who I am to just make someone else happier. That's not how acceptance is won and when you are in a minority keeping silent to curry the favor of the majority doesn't get you very far. It just keeps you in a place that's convenient for them. So I'm out of the closet and to anyone who thinks I should be in a closet, all I really have to say is "Must be nice to be a bigot."

Edit: Another post can be found here about an issue occurring in South Carolina which highlights discrimination against Pagans in a school setting.

 

 

 

Why I'm out of the closet

Since I was eighteen I've been out of the closet when it comes to my magical work, and chosen lifestyle. That choice was forced on me initially when a friend's family outed me to my mom, but that situation made me realize that hiding my beliefs was denying who I am and was also helping to create an environment of intolerance.

Recently I have re come out of the closet. I've been rebranding my core business and in the process of doing that, I've realized that I'd hidden part of myself away to fit in, and it didn't make me feel good, because not only was it denying a past choice I'd made, but because it wasn't realistic. If you search for me on Google, you'll find evidence that I'm an occultist fairly quickly.

Re-coming out the closet has been good for me. I feel like I'm in touch with a part of myself that I'd buried away and allowed to be buried. I'm not listening to fears or worries because I realize that if people choose to not do business with me because of my choices its actually better for me.

I'm out of the closet because I'm proud to be an occultist. I'm proud to be myself. There's no shame in my choices and the intolerance of others is not something I will support by choosing to hide myself for their benefit. If I make that choice I am denying an essential part of who I am and denying my community as well.

Secrecy and Magic

Mike posted some excellent thoughts about how secrecy destroys knowledge. I agree with him. I've always found the culture of secrecy within the occult to be problematic. I get that, at least as it pertains to magical orders, that the secrets of those orders are maintained to determine who gets into the magical clubhouse and also to demonstrate proficiency in that order. But the dare to be silent aspect of magic has always struck as a form of false modesty, inspired by a desire to posture and smile cryptically, knowing that you are special because you reveal no secrets.

That's a bit exaggerated, but I've never bought into the dare to be silent schtick. Certainly Crowley, one of the proponents of that rule had no problem being anything but silent when it came to his practices. I say dare to be vocal, dare to share your ideas. Dare to share your experiences so others can learn and in turn share their own.

I was reading recently about a scientist in the mid 16th or 17th century. He'd developed this microscope, one of a kind, that provided a level of accuracy that had previously been missing. He wouldn't share the design. He wanted to keep it secret. To this day no one has any idea how he built his microscope. Since then better microscopes have been developed, but what a waste of knowledge, because of need to keep the technology secret.

One of the reasons I write this blog is to share my ideas and current projects. I realize that some reader or another could take the idea and do something with it. I want them to actually. Same for the reason I write my books. Secrecy does destroy knowledge.

What's so special about secrecy anyway? I've never seen the point, which is probably why I never joined a magical order either. It would be too hard for me to keep secrets that, imo, shouldn't be kept. I'd make a bad lodge member.

What's your take on secrecy in the occult?

Multiversal Tone

The hypnotic movement of the music,the sashay that calls for a steady shuffle as you and I move in time we create this altered reality a place of eyes, your eyes staring into mine mine staring into yours Your soul baring its truth to me showing all your possible timelines realities unfolding as you say, "Here I am in all my multiversal glory." You are everything and nothing Your eyes are eight arrowed stars that portray entropy The music swirls, stings, rattles its not just a sound its an experience shaking the very boundaries of the bodies engaged in this dance of robotic, synchronized movements back and forth, back and forth all is bliss, all is bliss Reveal yourself to me and I'll show you a new reality in my own eyes as I unveil my secret self displaying the glories of my true nature the celestial nature of my tone I bring to the universe perfect sound joining other perfect sounds we create this harmony gears in clocks, the ticking of time the movement of space Here we are you and I.

Radio interview with Crystal Blanton part 1

In this show, I interview Crystal Blanton about Pagan Group Dynamics, instagroups, and her book Bridging the Gap. Next week I'll be interviewing her about the upcoming Shades of Faith Anthology. Click below, to listen to this week's show!

Listen to internet radio with Experimental Magic on Blog Talk Radio

Belonging and Occult groups

I've never belonged to an occult group, and only briefly considered joining two, before I determined that I'd rather just pursue my own path. But recently on Facebook someone revived the Zee List and for a time I participated on that list way back when and it was interesting to observe how different people responded to the revival of the list in a different forum. The desire to belong is a current that seems to run strong in general in occultism and the forms it takes, whether it's a virtual community such as the Zee list or the more formal organizations such as the OTO or Golden Dawn. The desire to belong isn't the only reason someone will join an occult group, but I think it's fair to say it's a major reason people join. It's not a bad reason to join either, but it is an interesting one, because so much of the occult memes about being on the fringe. At the same time, it's natural that people will want to group together based on similar interests.

I never joined an occult group or lodge because I've always preferred my independence. Even with the zee list, which was never a formal group, it was more about sharing experiments, than actually being part of the group. My experiences with occult lodges in passing has been mostly negative, but I'm always open to the idea that someday I could change my mind.  But I don't think belonging to an occult group is an absolute essential. It's something many occultists do, but its equally possible to focus on your own studies or getting together with friends to discuss experiments without necessarily making it into a group organization.

Some observations about on Religion and business

In my other business I go to a lot of networking meetings and it's always interesting to observe the intersection between religion and business. At a recent meeting, a person brought up that he was making Christian movies, which most everyone there seemed fine with, and in other meetings I've heard other people mention the intersection of business and Christianity as a matter of fact kind of reality for them. At the same time, I've also seen the intersection of new age beliefs in business as well, with people talking about mindful awareness and conscious intent or discussing their healing practice and how they use energy work. It seems to me that there is this interesting place where business and spirituality or religion come in side by side. At the same time, I'd have to admit that unless people asked I never volunteer information about my own beliefs or spiritual practices. It's not really anyone else's business and more importantly it's not relevant to my other business. I favor a partitioned existence when it comes to my different businesses. What I do with one business has little to do with what I do for another business, so it isn't important overall. But I also realize that because my beliefs aren't necessarily accepted by the mainstream that I also don't have the same comfort or freedom to express my beliefs that a Christian has. I could couch my phrases in new age terminology, which is a bit more acceptable, or I could use NLP as a descriptor of techniques, but being able to mention my beliefs, or spiritual practices at a business networking event is just asking for problems. Christians, on the other, can discuss their religion with impunity at such meetings. They are the dominant religion, so its perfectly acceptable for them to speak up and while it might make a few people uncomfortable, it won't be something people comment on, unless it gets excessive.

Personally, I don't think religion and business should mix anymore than government and religion should mix. It's best to just keep it separate...so that's what I do. It works overall, and I've never had anyone ask about my beliefs. And if they do ask, I'll be honest, because it's not like they couldn't find out anyway...all they have to do is a google search and there my beliefs are. But I never volunteer, and so it never comes up.

Does magic still have a role in Paganism?

I've never really identified myself as a Pagan. I think of myself as an occultist, when it comes to my spirituality, and I'd have to say that what primarily defines my spirituality is my practice of magic. To my perspective and experience with Pagans, there's been a tendency to treat magic as a religious practice. It's not a primary concern, and as such it hasn't surprised me when I see blog entries such as this one, which shows the deepening awareness that some pagans are turning away from magic. I think the reason for that is due to a desire to be perceived as a legitimate religion, and because magic always carries a stigma with it, some pagans want to divest themselves of it, and embrace more traditional religious trappings. Then too, the traditionalism that grips a lot of Pagan practices strikes me as similar to the fundamentalism that I've encountered in Christianity. I've encountered pagan fundamentalism at various times and usually it's been a reaction to magical practices that didn't toe the traditional line of thought and inquiry.

It seems to me there is a definite subcultural difference between occultists and pagans, as it applies to magic's place in spirituality, and for that matter experimentation with magic. When there is drive by some pagans to remove magic altogether from the equation, it seems like their also taking an essential part of Paganism out as well. But then again, are they really if magic is more of a secondary concern in paganism?

I couldn't imagine a life without magic or magical practices. For me, my spirituality is my magical practice, with all that entails. I've always identified as a magician and an occultist as opposed to a pagan, because of my own negative experiences with pagans. While the majority of experiences have actually been good, the experiences where pagans tried to naysay my approach and practice of magic have been experiences that demonstrated that what's really important is not the label so much as the practice, but that people will use your practice to label you and if they don't like what they see, they will attack it.

Does magic still have a role in paganism? It's up to the pagans who practice it to make a case for it. I hope they do, because I think getting rid of magic is getting rid of part of what has made different pagan traditions what they are.

Magic vs Magick

This is an article that was originally published in 2004 on Suite 101. In my Magical Experiments class, a question was asked about magic vs magick and one of the other people searched and the first result was this article...so I decided to republish it on my blog. To me it illustrates how much can be read into the even spelling of a word. The other day, in my livejournal, I got into a discussion about the word magick and why people use it. It occurred to me that I had been using this word for a long time, so much so that it had become automatic for me to write the word magick, without even thinking about it. I suspect this is also the case with many other magicians who use this word. If we use a word automatically, without thinking about it, can we really appreciate it, or what it represents?

My argument here is basically this: A word such as magick is a word that is loaded with meaning and ideology. A person who automatically uses such a word without thinking about that ultimately doesn't appreciate or realize that s/he is representing more than just his or her own take on a word. Am I being pedantic? Perhaps, but then again how you use the language says a lot about your ideologies and what traditions or beliefs you hold valuable.

The urban legend about the word magick is that Aleister Crowley appended the k to magic as a way of differentiating it from the magic practiced by illusionists and stage magicians. However, in looking through his writing on the subject, I was unable to find any explicit reference by Crowley for the reason he chose to add k to magic. The closest I came to finding a reference to the matter is in the following quote: "I chose therefore the name 'MAGICK' as essentially the most sublime, and actually most discredited, of all the available terms. I swore to rehabilitate magick, to identify it with my own career; and to compel mankind to respect, love, and trust that which they scorned, hated, and feared" (Crowley, 1994, p. 127). Now Crowley clearly states a reason for choosing the word magick, but not a reason that justifies the spelling. This matter gets even more complex because many magicians, in fact, use magic, not magick, when talking about their beliefs or spiritual practices.

In the discussion that occurred on my livejournal as a result of my post, one person told me the following: "I'm so used to seeing scholars and other outsiders spell it "magic," and practitioners spell it "magick," that it looks like I'm pretending to be an outsider when I drop the k" (Ulbh-Livejournal Comment). The irony here is that its not just scholars or other outsiders who use the word magic, but also fellow magicians. What's equally fascinating to realize is that the majority of writers in the occult industry do not use magick, but do use magic. Why is this important?

To me, it suggests that the use of the word magick is associated with one specific ideology, in this case Thelema. This word is not necessarily associated with other pagan belief systems and in fact there is sometimes tension between the choice of using magick or magic: "What follows is unashamedly and perhaps blatantly about something which up till recently has always been called 'Magic' (Without the k please, Mr. Crowley!)" (Gray 1984, p. 9). As can be seen, despite the seeming lighthearted joke, there is in fact some tension between the choice of magick and magic. And one author's choice to use magic as opposed to magick is indicative of not just a choice in words, but also ideologies and the traditions that inform those ideologies.

Unfortunately I haven't found any other writing that suggests an overt disapproval of either word. At most what I find are different definitions of what magic is and why it's practiced. And I find two discourses, one discourse which promotes magick, and Aleister Crowley, and another discourse, which uses magic and seeks to distance itself from Crowley. Neither word is inherently wrong to use. I think what it really comes down to is personal choice. But it's also important to know the history of the word you use. Knowing that history allows each of us to make an informed choice. Further it allows us to understand our cultural and spiritual history, which is something we need to know. Such history is easily lost and without knowing why a word is used, you cannot really know the power behind that word or what that choice says about your beliefs and ideologies. You may think as well that using magick or magic says nothing about your beliefs and ideologies, but it does, because people will identify, correctly or incorrectly, the traditions and beliefs that you draw in your spiritual practices. This, again, is why it is important to know the word you use, as well as what it means to others.

When we know our cultural and spiritual heritage, we will also know much of what informs what we do today and why. The attitude that it doesn't matter why you do something or use a particular word is ultimately apathetic, suggesting as it does that you don't really care about what informs your beliefs. Knowing the why of a matter, the how it came to be, is essential to knowing what can be done by using a word, by representing yourself and potentially other people of your beliefs. I know, if nothing else, that for now I'll use use magic, if only to question why I previously used magick so automatically that I didn't think about it.