October is the month we see more fictional witches on TV and more real witches on the news. The news tends to be well-intentioned but weak, like in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation article I wrote about earlier this month. I long for the day when a pagan celebrating Samhain will be no more and no less worthy of interest than a Christian celebrating Easter.
But we are far from that day. And while I generally agree that all publicity is good publicity, most of these “meet the heathen” articles leave me disappointed.
Last week I saw two articles in major US newspapers that were anything but disappointing. And they’ve come to a point where it feels like it’s all going in the wrong direction, that the people who want to bring the country and the world back to 1950 are winning and can’t be stopped.
These articles tell a very different story. And that gives me hope.
In the life of a teenage witch
If there is a current trend in the world of paganism and witchcraft (especially witchcraft), it is young women who have gathered huge followers on social media to talk about their practices. Some older people don’t like this very much, but I follow some of the younger wizards and occultists on Twitter and have found them to be great entry points for people looking to get started.
Last week one of them was featured in a big way.
The Washington Post, the fourth largest newspaper in the United States (and a newspaper with national distribution) had this article From spell caster to podcasting: in the life of a teenage witch by Michelle Boorstein, with photos by Ilana Panich-Linsman. I encourage you to read it: it’s respectful, descriptive, and informative – and unlike many WaPo articles, it’s not behind a pay wall.
It presents Viv Bennett (Continud3ath on Twitter), an 18-year-old witch from Austin. I followed Viv on Twitter for a while – we had a few exchanges. I knew they were young – I didn’t know they were so young. I was 18, but I could never have done what Viv does now.
Whatever you think of witchcraft and magic (and I think about it a lot), Viv’s closing comment is clearly true.
For young people, the witchcraft boom allows you to change your situation, in relation to this feeling of helplessness. Where you rely on an outside source. Watch political turmoil, rising prices, covid – the magic helps you get by. It gives you a feeling of stability, grounding and taking control of your situation.
This article is excellent in itself. But the fact that it appears in one of the country’s premier newspapers indicates that the mainstream is starting to take witchcraft and paganism seriously, even if they don’t see magic the way most people do. between us.
And that is a very good thing.
We’re in the middle of a witch’s moment
United States today (the 3rd of the nationrd larger newspaper) has a more typical article on Samhain titled “We are in the middle of a witchcraft moment”: Trendy witchcraft is on the rise in the United States by Deena Yellin. It has a bit of history, a bit of contemporary practice, and commentary from several notable witches, including Manny Tejeda-Moreno of The wild hunt and Patheos Pagan blogger Jason Mankey. One of Jason’s quotes turned into a title:
Right now we are in the middle of a witchcraft moment… Witchcraft is popular now and the number of witches in America is increasing rapidly.
The article quotes Helen Berger, a resident researcher at Brandeis University’s Center for Women’s Studies, as saying that the number of Americans who identify as witches or pagans is now nearly 2 million.
He cites a 2017 Pew Research Center survey that “62% of Americans have New Age beliefs, including a belief in astrology, mediums, and the presence of spiritual energy in inanimate objects. “
This article also ends with a powerful quote, this one from New Jersey witch Charlene Dzielak. Speaking about how things have changed in recent years, she said that every time she wears her pentagram necklace, she gets positive attention. “People see it and tell me they’re Wiccans too.”
How much do we want to be mainstream?
The United States today article addressed the question of how much we want witchcraft and paganism to be dominant. He cited New Jersey witch Melanie Wilbur, who “is worried that witchcraft has become too fashionable.”
It is a legitimate concern. If witchcraft and paganism become too dominant, there is a serious risk that we will embrace mainstream values and lose what sets us apart. In the words of Peter Gray “In our desire not to harm anyone, we have become harmless. We must never allow our desire for acceptance to stray from the roots and power of witchcraft and paganism.
But that is not the purpose of these articles, and that is not the purpose of this blog post.
The mainstream is more liberal and tolerant than it seems
The point is, two of the best newspapers in the country have written about witchcraft and presented it as a deep, serious and meaningful path, even though they don’t believe the same things about magic and gods as we do.
Ultraconservatives and fanatics will complain “this shows how out of touch the mainstream media is. In this complaint, they make the classic mistake of looking in the mirror and thinking that they are seeing the average American. They forget that while the mainstream media may be at the forefront of society, it ultimately reflects the values of the center.
The media has become heavily balkanized over the past 30 years or so, with many different outlets for many different points of view – and many of them with little regard for the facts. We are far from my youth when there were three television channels, all devoted to information before opinion. No outlet has the scope or influence that Walter Cronkite had in the 1960s and 1970s. But The Washington Post and United States today represent the center of America about as well as anything.
And the facts confirm it.
- From the USA Today article: 62% of Americans believe in astrology, mediums and spiritual energy.
- From the Springtide Research Institute: 39% of young people identify as “none of these” when it comes to religion.
- From the Pew Research Center: much more support than to oppose the separation of Church and State.
- From Gallup: 70% Americans support same-sex marriage.
- From Pew: Even on the most controversial issues, 59% say abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
The mainstream may not be as liberal and accepting as many of us would like, but it is much more liberal and accepting as the Fox News crowd likes to claim.
Minority rule is a short-term thing
To say that I am concerned about the direction of the world, this country and the state of Texas would be a huge understatement. The suppression of voters, attacks on reproductive rights, attacks on transgender children, and how many Republicans continue to support Donald Trump’s big lie create a stressful environment.
The courts – which, to their credit, did a fantastic job after the election – have shown little willingness to be a check and balance against abuses by state legislatures. And even with the presidency and both houses of Congress (albeit with a narrow margin), the National Democrats have been unable to pass anything of importance.
The policy structure of the United States is inherently conservative, in the sense of the little c “keep things as they always have been.” Big-c conservatives have worked my whole life to tear down the social safety net, make the rich richer, and stop the cultural shift towards diversity and inclusion. They largely succeeded on the first two and especially failed on the third. Now they are trying to use their political power to force people into the social order that they could not sell through peaceful persuasion.
They can be successful – for a while, anyway. They are outnumbered, but they played the system in their favor and they still vote. In the meantime, we have relied on the courts to keep them under control. It won’t work anymore. We have to vote in every election, especially in the primary.
The turnout in the 2020 election indicates that we are starting to understand this. Hopefully this will continue until the 2022 midterm elections.
The point is, the culture has changed. Politics and law will follow, possibly if not as soon as we wish … assuming the right people stay engaged.
Until then – and after – we have witchcraft
Wisdom does not require age. When Viv said that magic “gives you a sense of stability, to anchor yourself and take control of your situation,” they were absolutely right.
If we cannot solve the problems of the company, we can improve our ability to solve them. We can protect ourselves by working to protect others. We can do magic to make our goals more likely.
And if we find ourselves in exceptionally difficult situations, we have skills that others don’t.
This is the season of the witch – and the occultist, and the druid, and the wizard of sorts. The general public is starting to appreciate what we do, even if they don’t always understand it. Some of them join us. Others prefer to watch from a safe distance… or what they think is a safe distance.
This path is not for everyone – we will never be the majority. There will always be people who fear witches and other magic users, as we tragically see in many parts of the world.
But the mainstream is much more tolerant than it was 20 years ago. They outnumber the intolerant, in some cases in considerable numbers. And this trend is improving with each generation and with each year.
Meanwhile, we continue to do what we do: honor our gods and ancestors, love and respect nature, and work our magic. Work to build a better world. Everything will be fine, because everything will be fine.
One way or another.