Thursday, March 31, 2011

Meeting Ignorance With Ignorance

Many of you may be aware of this report from MSNBC about a witch being fired for her religion. This woman seems like a nice enough woman, and I don't mean to pick on her - but a few quotes in this article hit a nerve with me, and she's certainly not the only one to have made such silly statements when blinking in the spotlight of accusation.

“I told him, that's not what Wicca is. We don't cast spells. That's not witchcraft. That's black magic or voodoo or something else."

Let's put aside for a moment the fact that it (spellcasting, one assumes) most certainly is witchcraft, and that Wiccans do cast spells. "That's black magic or voodoo"? I beg your pardon?

Voodoo (more properly Vodou, or Voudon) is a religion. One older than Wicca, and just as legitimate. This sentiment - deflecting accusations of harmful magic onto another religion - is less uncommon than it has any right to be. I don't understand how Ms. Smith, and indeed many others who have made similar comments, can display astonishment at the ignorance of others regarding their own religion and then in the same breath show equal ignorance of another religion. The hypocrisy is dumbfounding.

Now I appreciate that, in the heat of the moment, put on the spot by a reporter or similar, one is bound to say something silly that one regrets. But this article is (as it should be) on her side. The reporter really had no reason to show her up (and apparently missed this gaff, or otherwise found it irrelevant or unworthy of comment). Perhaps I'm naive to suppose she had the time or opportunity to ask that a particular poor comment be stricken from the record. Perhaps I'm focusing too much on Ms. Smith - it is the sentiment that angers me, and the thoughtlessness with which it is made. And it has been made by others, oh yes. I have seen it in forums. I have seen it in articles. I am sure you have seen it as well. "We don't do black magic, that's voodoo!" And it sickens me.

I recall a similar poorly-phrased sentiment made by a Native American woman, quite sore that the sacred Sun Dance of her culture and her ancestors was, and is still, brutally appropriated by a particular brand of feckless Neo-Pagans. (I find myself unable to dredge up this link, unfortunately, but perhaps it is for the best. It might result in more singling-out, which is not what I want to do.) Now, I side with this woman. Having one's sacred ceremonies misappropriated and robbed of their import and meaning out of some bizarre feeling of entitlement must be very distressing. I, too, would be angry. Hell, I'm angry on her behalf. I understand her anger. I appreciate it. I sympathise. But, in her anger, she said that they should go and steal from the Druids instead.

What? Is this better? Is the misappropriation of the sacred things of the Celtic peoples not quite as important, because they're white? The various Celtic peoples of the British Isles have been shat upon for centuries, their languages quashed, their cultures plundered. And their cultures are still plundered today, by people who think "Celtic" is just one culture, that anyone who wants to can steal a title like "Druid" because they like the look of it, that you're still a Celt even if you haven't set foot in the Old Country for five generations and you don't know word one of Gaeilge. (Or Scots Gaelic, or Welsh, etc.) Need I remind everyone of Douglas Monroe? Of Edain McCoy?

The baying hounds - be they honourless Neo-Pagans making off with anything of spiritual significance they like the look of, or un-Christlike Christians bullying Pagans - should be defeated by education, and if necessary, legal action. You are no less ignorant than they, no less in need of education, for failing to understand the religions or cultures you sic the dogs upon in order to distract attention from yourselves. Please do not decry others for being misinformed by making similarly misinformed statements yourself. Please do not discourage misappropriation of your own sacred things by encouraging the misappropriation of someone elses. It undermines everything you say.

Further Reading:  Declaration of War against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality
                           CELT: Irish History, Literature and Politics

NB: I realise that my particular views regarding the appropriation of the title "druid" will be met by some with a degree of surprise, perhaps defensiveness. (I like to think there will not be any vitriole.) I may write an article on it in the future. For now, I encourage reading into historical and mythological information we have regarding druids (see link above). I genuinely see no reason for a modern Pagan to adopt a title from a deceased Celtic caste to describe their religion.

NBII: I realise also that Ms. Smith, however fulfilling her religious beliefs and practices, is not actually a Wiccan. I say as much as the MSNBC article stated that she practised alone. So you don't need to point that out. 

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