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...for the "Nouveau Witch"
Copyright 1991 by Lynna Landstreet.
Originally appeared in The Blade & Chalice, Spring 1991.
my 13 years in the Craft, and particularly during the last couple of
years that I've started taking on students, I've noticed a number of
traits among many of the younger and newer members of the Pagan community
which rank at various points along the scale from mildly annoying to
supremely obnoxious. Most of these problems fall under the category
of capital-A Attitude.
Now, before I go any further, I should point out that I'm quite sure
I was guilty of most of these things during my first years in the Craft
too. Let's face it, we all were. And in fact, those of us that
cringe the most visibly as the latest "nouveau witch," all
dolled up in basic black with crystals, ankhs and pentacles dangling
from every conceivable body part, insists on informing everyone from
TTC drivers to the waitress at the local greasy spoon that he
is a Witch, or show off her newly discovered Great Psychic Powers
by drawing invoking pentagrams to summon tardy streetcars or (loudly)
reading the auras of passersby in the park, were usually the worst offenders
a few years back when we were new ourselves.
I'm not saying all experienced Wiccans are necessarily perfect angels
either (if you'll pardon the Judaeo-Christian metaphor). While most
of us get over these tedious habits eventually, occasionally one or
more of them sticks and becomes an ingrained habit. And believe me,
it's much easier to try and nip them in the bud at an early stage than
to try and deal with them after they've become established habits.
So, in this spirit, I offer the following Attitude Recognition and
"Look at me, I'm a Witch!"
If you're reading a Craft book on the subway, do you make sure to hold
it up so that everyone can see the title? How many items of jewelry
do you usually wear that are specifically and obviously occult-related?
Do you find yourself talking endlessly about the Craft, especially to
or in the presence of non-Pagans? Does absolutely everyone you
know know you're Wiccan? Within five minutes of meeting you?
I'm certainly not saying we should all go back to the "broom closet,"
but think of how you'd feel if you worked with a born-again Christian
who couldn't stop talking about Jesus. It would get tedious pretty quickly,
wouldn't it? Talking non-stop about the Craft to non-Pagans will most
likely bore them to tears, and also gives the impression that we're all
obsessive religious fanatics.
First, try to be aware of the problem. Each time you catch yourself
talking about the Craft in non-Pagan circles, notice and think about
it. Was it really necessary to say whatever it was you said?
If not, what were your real reasons? Are you simply used to being able
to speak with complete freedom from hanging around other Pagans? Or
are you, perhaps, guilty of trying to "flaunt it" a little
to wow the cowans? Don't worry, we've all done it from time to time.
The important thing is to know when you're doing it, so you can
keep a handle on it.
Set yourself the challenge of thinking before you speak at all times.
Ask yourself: do they need to know this? If not, why am I saying
it? Try to be conscious of how you appear/sound to others. Remember
what we've so often said about fundamentalists and their ilk: that anyone
who is genuinely secure and at ease with their faith doesn't feel the
need to ram it down everyone's throat at all times. That doesn't mean
never mentioning it at all -- just remember, moderation in all things.
Recall the traditional four powers of the occultist: to know, to will,
to dare, and to keep silent. Work on it!
Attitude #2: Living the Magical Life --
24 Hours a Day!
This is closely related to number 1, in that it's another way of making
sure that the whole world knows you're Pagan, but this time we're talking
actions rather than words. Are you constantly performing minor acts of
magic every five minutes throughout the day? And making sure everyone
knows that's what you're doing?
First of all, be aware, as in number 1 above. Think before you
act. Is this necessary? Is there an easier, non-magical way of doing it?
What are your real reasons for wanting to do magic at this moment
and in front of this audience? Again, I'm not saying never do it
-- one of the best things about the Craft is that it is something that
can, and should, be lived at all times. But use discretion. If you want
to practise reading auras on the TTC, go ahead, but you don't need to
announce your results as they come in. There are a million tiny ways to
make your religion and your craft part of your daily life without
showing off. Try to be aware of your motives. Practise using your Art
in non-obvious ways. Re-read the comments on number 1 above.
Some say that gossip is the number two hobby in the Pagan community (after
magpieism -- collecting shiny objects); others maintain that given the
choice between picking up a nifty new trinket or some hot dirt on someone
they barely know, the average Pagan will go for the gossip every time.
To an extent, this is probably natural. Get a group of people together
-- any people -- and the first thing they will start talking
about is, you guessed it, other people. However, there is a very fine
line between the inevitable community chit-chat and genuinely malicious
gossip. If you're not sure of the difference, ask yourself: would I
say this in front of the person concerned? In front of someone I knew
was a friend of theirs? If not, why am I saying it behind their back?
Also: ask yourself if you really know whether what you're saying
is true, or if you just heard it from someone who heard it from someone
who heard it from someone -- etc. And even if you do know the
facts, is it really necessary to spread them far and wide? Do the people
you're telling have any need to know what you're telling them, other
than simple vicarious curiosity?
Much the same as number 1 above. Think before you speak, and remember
the four powers, especially the first and the fourth.
Do not, do not, do not repeat any gossip about other
people, no matter how titillating, if you're not absolutely sure
of your facts. Don't assume anyone is an infallible source of
information, no matter what their degree, tradition or level of respect
within their community. Priesthood are human just like anyone else.
There are at least two sides to every story and usually more. Don't
assume you understand a situation on the basis of one person's account
of it, particularly if you don't know all the people involved. If you're
hearing horror stories from one side of a conflict, of any sort, why
not go to the other person and ask them for their side of the story?
You'd be amazed how different the same situation can look from two different
And even if you are fairly sure you know all the facts, think about
whether it's really necessary to tell what you know. Gossip, rumour-mongering
and "Witch Wars" do little to enhance our community. They
are, to put it mildly, not exactly in keeping with the principles of
perfect love and perfect trust.
If you think someone is a genuine danger to the community or something
is going on that people really need to know about, by all means tell
someone (assuming, of course, that you know it's true). But if
it's just a case of idle gossip, or have-you-heard-the-latest, let it
Also, remember that it takes two to pass on gossip -- the speaker and
the listener. If someone starts to tell you something that violates
any of the above, you don't have to listen. You can always say, "Do
I need to hear this?", "If you have a problem with so-and-so,
why don't you talk to her instead of me?" Or whatever's appropriate.
This is one of the hardest habits to break, and we're all guilty of
it at least from time to time, but it's one of the biggest problems
in the community, so do make an effort.
I'm the greatest!
Everyone has something to teach and something to learn, some things they're
good at and some things they're not so good at. But you will find it more
advantageous, and other people will find you easier to get along with,
if you can refrain from spouting off constantly about everything that
you're good at or think you know more about than other people, and try
to focus on learning from others and improving on your weaknesses rather
than letting everyone know your strengths.
For one thing, if you're like most people, you probably don't really
know as much as you think. One of the first things I realized after
my initiation as a Priestess was that there is a hell of a lot more
out there that I don't know about than that I do. Learning never stops.
Every initiation, every achievement, is just another beginning, and,
particularly when you're still in your relatively early days in the
Craft, it pays to focus more on learning than on teaching, giving unwanted
advice, or flaunting what you've learned so far.
Over-confidence can also be dangerous, leading you to attempt things
you don't really know how to do. A little bit of knowledge is
a dangerous thing. I won't bore you by detailing every botched exorcism
I've ever heard of, or the psychic backlashes and flopped spells I've
experienced myself, or even the case of the past-life regressionist
who ended up talking in four different voices in a locked ward at the
Clarke Institute. Suffice it to say that the power of magic is real,
and so are the dangers. When in doubt, don't.
Try to count the number of times during a typical day that you make statements
beginning with "I", especially "I can...", "I
know...", "I'm really good at...", "I know how to...",
etc., and try to bring the total down. Think: does the person I'm talking
to really need to know this? Am I really as much of an expert at this
as I think? Does this person have something to teach me, something
they know more about than I do? What can I learn from them?
Even a fool has something to teach. Remember the line from Doreen Valiente's
Wiccan Rede: "Speak ye little, listen much." Practise it.
And if you're contemplating doing any kind of magical work that
you haven't done before, ask the advice of someone who has done it.
If they tell you you're not ready, listen to them. Learning the
Craft is not a race. It's not about being the first on your block to
do such-and-such a spell or master this or that talent. Pay attention
to what Starhawk calls the "basic barre-work of magic," and
be sure you've learned that well before trying for fireworks. Or, in
other words, don't try to run until you've gotten the art of walking
well under control.
It's Not Just a Good Idea
-- It's the Law!
Do you take your teacher's every word as Holy Writ? Can she do no wrong
in your eyes? Do you ask his advice every time you need to make any decision,
no matter how trivial? Do you consider every practise of your tradition
to be carved in stone, so that you're horrified to see anyone do it differently?
Are you in the habit of loudly proclaiming that everyone who annoys you
is guilty of violating Craft Law? Do you pounce on newcomers at an open
circle and loudly point out to them every article of their clothing or
jewelry that they aren't entitled to wear in your tradition?
Relax, dammit! Take a deep breath. Unclench those anal muscles.
Pop a herbal nerve pill or three. Then contemplate the following statements:
Your teacher is not perfect. You are not perfect. Nobody
is perfect. Your tradition is not the only one there is. "The law
was made to guide, not to bind" (direct quote). The sky is probably
not going to fall just because someone has wandered into your circle wearing
a $5 cuff from a street vendor that just might conceivably resemble a
priesthood cuff of your tradition if viewed by candlelight through heavy
incense smoke by someone with 20/200 vision.
Now, it might be argued that this particular attitude problem may,
at least for beginners, be less harmful than its opposite, that is the
I-can-do-anything approach cited above. And it's certainly better to
have an overdeveloped conscience than an underdeveloped one. But its
hazards should not be underestimated. Someone who constantly needs to
be told what to do and adheres to the letter of the Law to the point
of ignoring its spirit is seriously lacking in intuition, confidence,
Sooner or later, your teacher isn't going to be around when you need
her. Or there won't be a law to cover every specific situation you find
yourself in (in fact, there probably already isn't -- I've heard a lot
of people with this problem claim various things are "against Craft
Law" that aren't covered in any version of the Laws I've ever seen).
When this happens, you're going to have to learn to do something that
will be more difficult the longer you put off doing it. That's right,
you're going to have to learn to think for yourself.
Properly speaking, "Fundamentalist Pagan" should be
a contradiction in terms. The Craft has always placed a high value on
individual conscience, intuition, and "the free exercise of wisdom."
We are each responsible ultimately to our own consciences and to our
Gods, and I for one don't really envision Them as clutching rule books
in one hand and report cards in the other, eagerly ticking off alleged
offences like demerit points on a driving record.
I'm certainly not suggesting that you go to the other extreme and embrace
the anything-goes, let-it-all-hang-out, you-create-your-own-reality
approach taken by some of the more Californified traditions. The Law
-- in all its numerous variations -- is there for a reason: to provide
a firm grounding in Wiccan ethics, customs and worldview. And if you've
chosen to study with a teacher, you should respect his or her
authority. But that doesn't mean giving up your capacity for critical
Similarly, whatever tradition you are working in, presumably you are
there because you like it and it feels right for you. But that doesn't
mean it's right for everybody. Don't get hung up on minor technical
points -- look instead to the basic ideas and intent underlying magical/spiritual
practises and you'll probably find that the various traditions of the
Craft have more in common than you'd think.
And please, please, resist the temptation to come on like a
drill sergeant whenever you see someone else do something you consider
wrong. The whole ritual won't flop just because some newcomer took two
steps widdershins, or didn't face the right quarter at the right moment,
or forgot to take off their watch, or whatever. Relax. If you
really think they need to be told, tell them -- politely and respectfully,
and after the ritual if possible. If you're constantly panicking
over every misdemeanour, you're just stressing yourself out unnecessarily
and alienating other people. Don't sweat the small stuff. It's not worth
Anyway, that winds up the list of attitude problems that come to mind
offhand. I'm sure there are plenty more, but they'll have to wait for
future issues. In the meantime, if this article helps save anyone's
sanity, it'll be well worth the (recycled) paper it was printed on.
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