From the department of – “I don’t live under a rock” a couple of articles have caught my attend this week and I wanted to throw in my two penneth worth.
I’m sure you’ve probably been aware of the article published on the Independent website by Ceri Radford over the last week entitled I spent a week becoming a witch and the results were worrying. Ms Radford managed to cause something of a stir amongst the community. It’s been the talk of local community groups, picked up by Pagans on the other side of the pond and even prompted a statement and complaint by the Pagan Federation.
The article, which I initially read on the date of publication, could be politly termed as shallow, though really that doesn’t do it justice. Ms Radford clearly didn’t approach this from a position of genuine interest and curiosity about the subject of Luna Bailey’s book The Modern Witch’s Guide to Happiness and for a “New Year New Me” challenge this has to rank as the worst effort possible. Taking her words at face value Ms Radford seems to think that witchcraft is nothing more than the glitter and crystal version of the salt guy
Sprinkle a bit on and magic happens.
Frankly put the whole article is a thinly veiled attack on modern witchcraft / paganism relying on various straw man arguments and the popular social media / Instagram image of Witchcraft ala the New Age and the Secret™. Ms Radford didn’t take the time to actually reach out and talk to modern witches, relying instead of her one book and preconceptions based on what she’s seen through an Instagram account. From complaining about price tags (to be honest I think we can all agree with Ms Radford on that one) to denigrating the attempt to connect with nature in an urban environment I honestly think Ms Radford leafed through the book and found genuine practices and beliefs to twist and illustrate her own standpoint.
As John Beckettpoints out in his rebuttal of the original article the article hits all the ways you can “do Paganism wrong” and generally be an arrogant jerk in the process. On the flip side the response from The Media Witch perfectly outlines everything that is wrong with the Witchy Asthenic that has come to dominate social media and has clearly played a part in the raising of Ms Redford’s hackles. The Media Witch also touches on the concepts that witchcraft isn’t easy, it isn’t pretty and takes a lot more effort than Ms Radford seems to realise.
She did attempt to play nice when she said
“…On the one hand, it’s hard not to snort coffee through your nostrils when you read that water that has had rose quartz soaking in it can be given to soothe traumatised animals. On the other, witchcraft is no less irrational than any other religion and many of its practices are in fact a fairly reasonable response to the major challenges of our time…”
But her own confessed cynicism managed to get the better of her in the end.
“The answer, of course, is that however benign or even beneficial the rituals, it’s all built on a wobbling base of bats***.”
A genuine round of applause should be inserted here because nothing brings a disparate community like ours together like have your beliefs and practices called bats*t.
When I first came to the article I was genuinely interested in finding out what Ms Radford found so concerning about Witchcraft and I decided to persist in reading the article to try and pick out what they might be. Most of these concerns are, in my opinion, based in her complete misunderstanding of modern witchcraft and paganism. John and the Media Witch have covered these so well I don’t feel the need to repeat anything here.
Instead I’m going to home in on one thing that particularly jumped out at me in the reading.
“… on a broader level, the recent zest for the mystic is part of a worrying backlash against the enlightenment values that have driven human progress. On the one end of the political spectrum, you get the anti-vaxx movement; on the other, climate change deniers. Standing in the light of a full moon to recite our resolutions may be harmless, but as a society we shun science at our peril.”
…Backlash against the enlightenment values that have driven human progress…
Let’s look at some enlightenment values for a moment.
The cartesian split, brought about in no small part by “enlightenment values”, lies at the core of many of the problem that society has to deal with today. Similar to the theories of Mettrie, Diderot and Holbach these enlightenment values not only judge man as a machine but the body and mind as entirely separate.
These ideas have had a massive negative impact upon the way society has handled issues like mental health and view man’s interrelationships with his environment and we are only now beginning to drag ourselves out of it. Indeed the idea that man can be separated from his environment is eerily similar to the nonsense spouted by many climate change deniers.
It seems to me that these are enlightenment values which need to be thoroughly rejected, and I am quite open in saying that in my albeit limited understanding of them I do reject them.
In fairness to Ms Radford I doubt that she intended the phrase “enlightenment values” to be actually examined in this way. More likely, and this is an assumption on my part, she intended to imply that anyone engaging in the “batsh*t” “woo woo” of witchcraft is of course rejecting all forms of modern science and medicine, two things driven forward by the enlightenment amongst other things. If this is the case Ms Radford immediately falls down in the fact she didn’t actually speak to a Witch as part of her writing process. Had she bothered to reach out to some she might have found that there are registered medical professionals who practice witchcraft (and Paganism) as well as scientists of all types. It’s hard to spot us withes as we go to our jobs in scientific laboratories, social care , all levels of education, the banking sector… Don’t look now Ms Radford but we walk amongst you, functioning quite well as we take out medication, catch up on the latest occult conference and chat about how quantum physics and string theory might actually enhance an understanding of magical practice.
Don’t get me wrong, like any group there are witches and Pagans who are anti-vaccination, anti medication, climate and science denying etc. There are also plenty others who are of different spirituality and faiths and even atheists. Ignorance is not unique to one religious group or another. It is generated by a number of factors; social, education and personal circumstances are just a couple of things that play a part in this ignorance. The biggest cause of ignorance however is a closed mind, refusal to see beyond the bounds of one’s own preconceptions.
I am not sure what drew Ms Radford to buy The Modern Witch’s Guide to Happiness. I saw the book myself before Christmas and pegged it as another mass market book that will be interesting to people interested in starting out on the path but not a real addition to my bookshelf. I’ve now bought a copy to see if it really was as objectionable as Ms Radford suggests and my assessment hasn’t actually changed. It’s light and fluffy around the edges but introduces the concepts of the Craft in a broad sense. It’s good enough to sit on my Tweenies bookshelf rather than be banished immediately to the “bookshelf of shame” at least but that’s about it.
Ms Radford has done us a couple of favours however. She’s reminded us that witchcraft is not an asthetic to be shared on social media and Instagram. She’s reminded us that we have to look beyond our own beliefs and assumptions but that this is best done from a standpoint of genuine desire to grow, not with the sole intention of reinforcing your own personal biased. Her attitude and derision has strengthened my desire to engage in interfaith work and increase my own visibility to help remind people that we are here, that we are not the caricature nor the aesthetic, and that we have the ability to contribute a great deal to society.