Stockholm memories, scattered and smothered - *First things first, or Loose Ends Tied Up While-U-Wait Department: I arrived at Arlanda airport in Stockholm early in February 1969 wit...
I am no longer a student of Wicca, my teacher having given me the choice of apologizing to the class for being aggressive, argumentative, and intimidating; submitting future newsgroup postings to her for pre-approval; or leaving. I saved the three newsgroup threads that precipitated her action. Thread 1, consists of a single posting, in which I critique a selection entitled Another View of Wicca from our required reading list.
From the reading: “...a group which does not recognize the Goddess as primary deity is not practicing The Ancient Art. Indeed, they, generally, know very little about Witchcraft…”
Me: Wicca is no less sexist than patriarchal religions in its perception that one gender is more closely aligned to the deity than the other. It is meaningless to offer that men and women are equal while at the same time arguing that the dominant God is female, and that this makes one gender of humanity better qualified for leadership.
From the reading: “Patriarchal systems teach that there are a privileged few who manipulate the masses, and we are led to believe that our own self worth is direct proportion to the power we hold over others.”
Me: If rule by men is necessarily bad, is rule by women necessarily good, and is the failure of men genetic or societal? Furthermore, how was it determined that bad governance is a male problem rather than a human problem?
From the reading: “This mind set [patriarchal] leads to the view of fellow humans as being both competitors that must be ‘beaten’ and as potential slaves. “
Me: Such positions are like religious faith in that they are beyond question. For example, when I pointed out that some warring monarchs and slaveholders were women, the answer was that they had been indoctrinated by the patriarchy. Men can only thrive in such liberated environments by denouncing their gender: “I am male; males are responsible for war, enslavement, and despoiling the earth; but I can ameliorate my inferiority by becoming more like a woman.”
From the reading: “With personal power, the need to dominate others subsides along with feelings of powerlessness.”
Me: This assumption is based upon the belief that the need for power arises from low self-esteem, yet psychological tests of bullies have shown that they have high self-esteem and feel entitled to dominate. A seemingly obvious conclusion can still be in error in the absence of supporting evidence.
Thread 2, in which I reply to someone who stated that there are two ways to view the world, the scientific and the occultist, and that the latter is closer to childlike wonder. As he put it, children view snow as magic; scientifically astute adults view it simply as snow. That such statements consistently appeared and went unchallenged by anyone but me indicated to me that I could not be a Wiccan on the basis of a shared wonder and reverence for nature and the seasons because even these aspects of Wicca are underlain by a worldview that I find alien and disturbing. I therefore anticipated leaving the group before my next assignment was due.
Me: Your position reminds me of Whitman’s poem “The Learned Astronomer,” in which he expressed the view that describing the heavens scientifically robs them of their majesty. I would offer a few thoughts.
First, scientists become scientists because they love the aspect of nature that they are studying, whereas mystics might revere the macro but are largely unaware—and in many cases uninterested—in the micro. For example, a Druid might possess a great admiration for oak trees, but have no clue how they make food or compete with other species. Astrologers cast horoscopes, but I have been unable to interest any of them in identifying the constellations in the night sky.
When I began studying plants, my father ridiculed me on the basis that I didn’t need to know the names of trees to appreciate them. Yet, after we took a walk, he could not remember a single specific tree whereas I—through my familiarity with them as individual species—could fondly recall a multitude.
Knowledge of something in no way subtracts from an appreciation of its majesty and even its mystery. Indeed, each answer opens up a multitude of additional questions to those who love an aspect of nature for itself. As for appreciating snow, you are doubtless aware that there are scientists who focus on one or more aspects of snow. Why, if science is the enemy of passion and mystery, do you think this is so?
Thread 3, in which I respond to the Thought for the Day with humor and excite an unexpected response.
Thought for the Day: “Magic lives in curves, not angles.”
Me: But the trouble with round houses is that it’s hard to find a place to hang a picture. Plus, every time you lean a ladder against an outside wall, it slides over sideways just when you get to the top of it.
Response 1: “Who said magic lives in houses? Or needs ladders? Or walls, for that matter?”
Response 2 (the teacher): “Hobbits live in round houses.”
Me: By whose standard is the curvaceous more magical than the angular, and with what device did they measure? If the circle is more magical than the triangle, I have lived in ignorance of the fact for a great many years; but I have no doubt lived in ignorance of many things.
Response 1: “Early folks equated nature with magick and there are few naturally occurring angles.”
Response 2: (the teacher): “Nothing in nature is straight.”
Me: Basalt columns are typically hexagonal due to the cooling process, and I would be surprised if someone should see them soaring into the sky, and pronounce them inferior to the pillow basalt that forms around oceanic fissures. Honey bees—which are surely a magical race—make their homes in six-sided chambers, and snowflakes look to have been drawn with a protractor, yet who is to argue that their symmetry makes them less magical than water in its droplet form?
The curvaceous is more representative of the feminine than of the masculine, and so I ask: if magic lives in curves, what then lives in angles?
Response (the teacher): “As always, no one is arguing that curves are better than straight lines.”
I don’t know what she meant by “always,” but when she next wrote, she labeled my faults as she saw them; said that she was being deluged by complaints about me from other students (some of whom were afraid of me); and told me that I needed to apologize to the class, etc.
I have never had my faults enumerated by anyone who took the time to ask if I wanted to hear them, or who did not regard themselves as my superior if not my victim. Perhaps, my Wicca teacher thought that her position entitled her to take liberties despite the fact that I had just told her, “You can expect no better of me than you have already gotten.” In any event, I responded with a single sentence stating that I would drop my name from the class roster as soon as I copied some of my postings. I did not remind her that she had asked me to stay in the class only five days earlier when I suggested that it was time for me to leave; or that she had claimed to welcome disagreement; or that she told me that Wicca requires no specific beliefs, only to later say that it requires “a leap of faith.”
I suppose that if ten liberals and one conservative (or vice versa) were placed in a group for the purpose of studying and discussing politics, that the conservative would be charged with causing disharmony, and that there would be good reason for the charge despite his efforts to display tact and respect. If the liberals were ignorant of history, government, world affairs, and the reasons for their positions; had chosen their views on the basis of emotion and in opposition to rationality; and had joined the group to have their beliefs bolstered rather than challenged; the break would come sooner rather than later. I lasted six weeks in Wicca, although I had seen the writing on the wall for half that time. I tried to do as the teacher suggested, which was to take what I could use and leave the rest, but neither of us understood that we operated upon antagonistic foundations. Water is not fire; darkness is not light; and a belief in the occult is not a higher form of science. As a materialist, I simply don’t share common ground with one who sees the material plane as a veneer that masks the far more interesting world of spirits.
I don’t know whether to respect myself for my bravery in undertaking a study that I had grave misgivings about from the outset or to consider myself asinine for the same reason. I knew there was no chance whatever that I would embrace astrology or Tarot because these things contradict science. It is one thing to believe something that I do not know the sense of or something about which there is a rational basis for disagreement, but quite another to embrace something that is absurd. The theologian Kierkegaard who coined the term “leap of faith” did not just hold that proof has its limits. He argued that belief based upon proof was ignoble. As Jesus said to Thomas, “You only believe because you have seen, but blessed are they who believe that which they have not seen.”
As I pointed out to the group, the problem with beliefs that lack a rational foundation is that there are no parameters. Telekinesis, alien abductions, reading the future with Tarot cards, and the Virgin Mary’s recent appearance in a drip on the floor of a chocolate factory, have an equal basis. None can be proved or disproved. They are accepted as truth based upon what some call faith, but what I call wishful thinking. Of course I was unwelcome in a Wicca class, and my outspokenness only served to clarify my position sooner.
Posted by Snowbrush