This morning, the lovely Angela posted a link on FB to an article which speculated about the reasons behind the decline in Pagan and/or witchcraft-centered books. You can read the article here, but a quick recap would be that the author noted the course of modern Paganism and witchcraft, based around the publishing industry. Then comes a discussion of how lineage traditions are fading and how forums and websites now abound with folks who offer "home spun charm" and "cute little spells" and how these folks are hurting lineage-based traditions.
With respect and love and a deep need for peace, I call bullshit.
In the beginning (and I'm talking "hanging out in caves" beginning, people), humans didn't have to pay for spiritual guidance. You know how you got spiritual guidance? You sat around the firepit and listened to your elders: the hunters who observed nature, the women who gathered food and linked their fertility cycles to the moon and told stories to soothe children, the shamans and priests and priestesses who gathered all of this information and their own observances and hammered out a belief system. Were any of these people touched by Deity? Maybe. We can't know this because not only were we not there to hear them, but we weren't walking around in their skins.
Fast forward a few ten thousand years. People realized that they could PROFIT off of faith. Orel Roberts, Jimmy Swaggert, Rick Warren? Yes, ma'am. But also Scott Cunningham, Ellen Dugan, and, yes, Raven Grimassi, the author of the above blog.
Now, please don't read me wrong. I'm not saying that any author who writes a book about witchcraft or Paganism for profit is a bad person. Far from it. As a writer of fiction, I know the time and preparation and research and actual WORK that writing a book is and I believe that folks should be paid for that work. (After all, the teachers around the ancient fires existed in a community in which every contribution to society was rewarded some way, even if it was simply a place by the fire.)
I further understand that there are writers, such as Mr. Grimassi, who have studied and read and researched for their own spiritual benefit and who are justifiably proud to be able to claim years and years of that study and spiritual growth. My goodness, how wonderful to be able to have felt your faith for thirty years. I often wish that I could feel my faith for longer than a half hour before it turns to something different. (Read: Humanistic Paganism. "Sigh. But I NEED a deity.")
And to defend Mr. Grimassi, I don't believe that his intent was to cause division or anger. I believe he was stating his fears and concerns, and good on him. Honestly. However, as I read and reread the post and then read and reread the comments, and then became engaged in a discussion, I became more and more...well...angry. *Note: Mr. Grimassi is being nothing but kind and clear in this discussion. The anger I feel comes from some comments to his post. I am actually writing this post AS I have this discussion with Mr. Grimassi, which means that this post might be even more disjointed than usual. Wheee!* I read comments from people who talked about more guidance and central organization, NOT as a way for the community to be stronger, but for people to learn the "right way." I read comments that used the f-word--there should NEVER be any shame in being wide-eyed and innocent in your faith. (Oooh, how can a word like "fluffy" piss me off so much??) And I read the seemingly obligatory comment that raked my friend over the coals for doing things like--gasp--having coffee with friends. THE HORROR. A Pagan having coffee with friends!!! (Pardon while I bang my head on my keyboard.)
Here's the thing: the years and years of experience that SOME Pagans or witches or whathaveyou have are beautiful things. And the sharing of their knowledge is also beautiful. HOWEVER, the idea that there can only be one (or a few...let's say seven just to give it a nice, magic-y, historical feel) way of embracing your craft or spirituality is, I think, one of the reasons that folks turn off from this particular path. If you read one book, and it says you should do Lammas this way, and you read another book and it says that you should do Lammas THIS way and one author is of the Stregheria tradition and one is of the Dianic tradition and BOTH have different ideas but believe that they are correct, how is the new Paganista to feel? Which path is best? How many books does one have to read to become a "true" initiate into a path? I give up, let's go get a cheeseburger and watch Dr. Who. (Not, you understand, that watching Dr. Who is ever bad.)
I've read everything from To Ride a Silver Broomstick to A Compedium of Herbal Magick and I have no idea how many more I will read. I relish a good Magical book, both for its knowledge and for its potential. I have learned things and received instruction and felt grounded and centered and happy after doing the learning.
BUT I also have received guidance from folks who started on the path less than a decade ago. Or who never fully embraced ANY path, but wander many. I have learned and grown and thought and dreamed and shared my frustrations with a community that, yes, looks to long-time practitioners, but which also tries to build its own base-faith.
There is a sense, I believe, in established communities that when folks go out on their own, everything falls apart. Look at all the examples: the early Christians (branching from Judaism), the American colonies (branching from Britain), the Protestants (branching from Catholicism), Justin Timberlake (branching from N-Sync.) And sometimes, the new thing fails. But sometimes, SOMETIMES, the new thing brings sexy back.
And maybe, just maybe, that is what "new" Pagans are doing. We are creating our own lineage. That is not to say that we aren't respecting those who went before us. We HAVE to rely on their teachings. But we are also, just maybe, creating our own paradigm in which we also rely on ourselves and our friends to teach us. It's new and different and frightening and frustrating and intuitive and...sexy. We are fricking bringing sexy back to Paganism, my friends.
(Please don't even think about how when I got up from the yoga ball I use as a desk chair, it stuck to the back of my thighs. That is not sexy or magic. It's just humidity.)
Look, I'm absolutely serious about and dedicated to the idea of a central council for Paganism. And I am all for relying on elders in the faiths to provide guidance and knowledge--and to be paid for that. But I am absolutely AGAINST the idea that lineage-based traditions are the only way to be "good" Pagans or witches. And I am absolutely against the idea that new (relatively speaking) Pagans have nothing worthy to teach. And I am absolutely against the idea that the community we are forming here is not in and of itself a lineage we will one day be proud of.
A sexy, sexy lineage.
(I know. I almost fell over when I found this, myself. Thank yoooouuuu, whichever deity is responsible for internet Paganism.)