Recently I read a mostly excellent article, in which the author asks white people to stop colonizing Day of the Dead celebrations. In exchange, she offers Halloween. I agree with every single word she writes about colonization and how concerning it is to have Day of the Dead celebrations that are populated exclusively by white people. However, I still had an icky feeling about this article.
The problem? Halloween is already part of Pagan culture.
Don’t advocate anti-colonialism while in the same breath inviting people to colonize a religious minority’s holiday. Witches have enough trouble being taken seriously without further appropriation of what is, for many of us, the witch’s new year. Capitalism has infiltrated Halloween already and made it about candy and costumes (many of them racist). Witches still manage to breathe spirituality into Halloween. They do so with grace: I’ve seen many a Samhain altar decorated with things found at Target and Michael’s that still feels like a sacred space.
So where does this leave white people who aren’t Pagan? They still crave communion with and remembrance of their dearly departed. If you’re in this situation, may I suggest that you remember the dead every day. Set up a space where you keep pictures and mementos of those who have died. Smile at that space every day. Keep it clean. Actively remember those who have died. Tell stories to your kids, to your friends. You don’t need a special day to do any of that. What you need is to step outside the culture that advocates silence about death and forgetting the dead. Ignore it. Fight against it. But please, don’t take our holidays. Any of ours. Be they holidays of a religious, racial, or ethnic minority, don’t take them. Make your own.
I’ll say it again: don’t advocate anti-colonialism while in the same breath inviting people to colonize a religious minority’s holiday. Halloween isn’t yours to give. Halloween isn’t an unclaimed holiday. We witches are still here. We are still celebrating Samhain.
Deviating from the Pagan Blog Project yet again because I read this thing and needed to process. As a precursor to this post: in general, I like XoJane, maybe more than I should. But an article I found there earlier today (“I’m Building My Very First Wiccan Shrine – Here’s How”) left a bad taste in my mouth. And not just because of that awful title! Let’s just take a gander shall we?
The author starts the article by identifying Scott Cunningham’s “Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner” as the definitive guide “for us hermetic, aspiring witches”. By hermetic, I hope she’s referencing the “ancient occult traditions” definition, rather than the more commonly known “completely sealed/airtight” one. Mistake #1 (word usage notwithstanding), she conflates Wiccans and witches. I am not a Wiccan, but I’ve known enough and seen enough internet fights to be reasonably sure in asserting that this is incorrect. Many Wiccans would find the conflation insulting.
Mistake #2: “Wicca is a gorgeous religion.” Seriously, who says crap like that? This is where I really started to get annoyed. My faith is not here for you to admire. I don’t do this so you can look at something pretty. This is what I believe. It runs deep in the bone. My identity as a witch is not a fashion statement.
The author says she read a lot, but lists no other sources and appears to be completely ignorant of most things. I will give her props that she can quote Scott Cunningham like a boss, but one book does not a witch make. And one book certainly doesn’t make you qualified to write a how to article on the faith you’re publicly claiming.
Mistake #3: “It’s about becoming friends with these universal forces, feeling supported and loved by these natural energies, and better understanding your tiny little place in this big-ass world. It’s about doing things your way. It’s arguably the punkest of all the world’s religions.” Where do I begin? Does she know how fluffy she sounds? The so-called natural energies don’t give a shit about you. A tornado doesn’t want to be your friend. Punk is a fashion statement. Witches don’t wear leather jackets to ritual. (Ok, maybe some do.) See also: mistake #2.
The author goes on to complain about how Cunningham doesn’t give clearcut, step-by-step directions on how to do ritual and set up an altar. News flash: while Paganism is called the craft for a reason (see here for more explanation on that), you’re not learning arts and crafts. Often there is no one size fits all path, which is something many of us love about Paganism. This is not a Lego faith; it doesn’t all fit neatly together in a prescribed order. Stop trying to make it do that thing.
Mistake #NOWI’MJUSTMAD: “Do I really have to say ‘O Great Ones!’ Feels a little Satany, tbh.” This statement alone proves you know nothing about Wicca. This is especially hilarious in light of the fact that two paragraphs later she complains that having a red and green candle on her shrine “feels inappropriately Judeo-Christian for my purposes”.
There are approximately fifteen more things I could write about being annoyed with in this article, but I’ll spare you. This was painful to read. I have a talent for reading painful things in order to be able to thoroughly critique them (thank you graduate school).
I know it’s maybe a bit of a tired cliché, but it’s apt in this case: ignorance is a choice. While there is such a thing as a n00b whose basic questions should be respected, this author needs to do less writing as an “expert” and more LRR (listening, reading, and research). That’s how the best witches are made.
Week 32 (P): Practical Magic (and other enjoyable fiction about witches)
Hi, my name is Anonywitch and I like Practical Magic. The book and the movie.
I can hear some of you rolling your eyes already. But hear me out.
Books that have positive portrayals of witches are highly valuable. Maybe they’ll make someone think twice about their negative stereotypes of pagans. These books don’t mirror my life, but then I don’t expect them to; they are fiction after all. The books listed below are all largely positive depictions of witches, while not necessarily being all love and light representations.
Some of the fiction about witches that I’ve read and enjoyed includes:
- Chocolat by Joanne Harris
- A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (book 1 in her All Souls trilogy. of course I enjoy the rest of the trilogy as well – I’m about to start the third book and am SO EXCITED)
- Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen (most of her books feature magic and witchy-types, though this one is my favorite)
- Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling (predictable? maybe, but this series keeps me connected to my childhood and I love it for that reason alone)
- Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman
- When Autumn Leaves by Amy S. Foster
- The Wishing Thread by Lisa Van Allen
- The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
Consider giving some of these books a shot when you’re looking for something new to read. Maybe you’ll find a new favorite. Other suggestions welcome.