Who Am I?
There are some things that you can’t know/ unless you’ve been there/ but oh how far we could go if we started to share…
I don’t want to get bogged down in arguments that have nothing to do with the points I’m trying to make so let me make some statements here that are applicable to whenever I write about difficult issues such as gender and feminism and how it relates to witchcraft. Please, feel free to call me out if you feel I don’t understand an issue about class, sex, gender, religion, race, etc. But let’s try to have a conversation and not a shouting match.
I realize I’ve shied away from writing about these issues for a few reasons:
1. I don’t like internet shouting matches and I don’t particularly like being yelled at. Talking about any of these issues is an open invitation to get yelled at. If you’re not sure how to structure your discussion points and you’re feeling mad about something I’ve said but you would like to treat me like I’m an actual human by taking time to frame your discussion points, please consider this article. We may end up agreeing to disagree , but I will be likely to engage with you as long as the discussion is productive and not attacking me personally. If you would like to just shout at me through the ether, I’m going to ignore it.
2. When I first started blogging about magic, I didn’t want to be pigeon holed as a Dianic Wiccan. It’s part of my experience in magic and a very important part to me but I’ve found once you say those two magic words, people have a lot of misconceptions about who you are and what you believe in. At this point, I’ve been blogging about magic for five years and I’ve written over five hundred posts. I invite you to check out my WitchVox articles to get a good idea of who I am generally speaking as a Witch and as a human. Or you know, my archives since they’re prolific.
With that being said, here’s some things about me and what I believe in:
1. I identify as a third wave feminist. I believe anyone can be a feminist, regardless of gender.
2. I identify as a Witch.
3. I have a degree in Women’s Studies from Douglass College with a minor in Pyschology.
4. I have been an initiated Priestess in the Dianic Wiccan tradition for fifteen years. My magical experience is much broader than that, however and includes an ADF (druidry) membership.
5. I am married to a man. I don’t hate men or women or trans* people based on their gender.
6. My sex is female, my gender is female too.
7. I have found/continue to find women’s space to be very healing for me. Women’s space is defined by me as a space where anyone who identifies as a woman is welcome, regardless of biology. It’s not for everyone and spaces that are defined by gender can be problematic for trans* people as well as people who don’t strongly identify with their sex/gender.
8. I am aware that I have privilege as a white middle class woman who lives in the U.S. My feminist struggle comes from that background and is different than a woman of color’s struggle, a gay man’s struggle, a trans* person’s struggle, etc.
9. I live with an invisible conditionthat effects me every day (fibromyalgia).
10. The patriarchy hurts everyone, including men.
11. The Divine Feminine is very sacred to me. I believe anyone who feels called to access that for themselves should have a right to do so.
12. I believe in The Goddess and I believe in goddesses. I believe in God and gods, too.
13. I believe everyone should be allowed to love and marry (if desired) whomever they love in whatever configuration.
The Other: A Primer
I am not an angry girl/ but it seems like I’ve got everyone fooled/ every time I say/ something they find hard to hear/ they chalk it up to my anger/ and never to their own fear/ and imagine you’re a girl/ just trying to finally come clean/ knowing full well they’d prefer you/ were dirty and smiling
Strap in, kids. We’re going to go over some Gender Studies 101 Feminist Theory. The concept of Otherness can very simply be defined as anyone who does not fit into a culture’s dominant narrative. Often, whatever culture is dominant will want to day trip into Otherness and attempt to assimilate the non-dominant culture into the dominant culture in a way that the dominant culture feels is non threatening to the dominant culture. The non-dominant culture (the Other) is then objectified, commodified and (often forcibly) changed into something that the dominant culture accepts. Very rarely does the Other non-dominant culture profit in any sort of way. Not financially, not culturally, not in acceptability to the dominant culture.
Here are a few examples:
In Star Trek: The Next Generation, you could look at the Borg as the dominant culture that seeks to assimilate all other aliens (including the Federation) into their collective. The Borg seeks to take the best aspects of each culture and then homogenize that culture into their own. Each person from each culture either dies struggling against the Borg or becomes part of the Borg collective and loses all individuality.
In March 2012, The Navajo Nation sued Urban Outfitters for breaching the Indian Arts and Crafts Act. Urban Outfitters named products after the Navajo Nation (“the Navajo Hipster Panty” for example) and used “Native American”-like graphics without the permission of the Navajo Nation and did not compensate the Navajo Nation in any way for using their name. Additionally, the products did not stand up to the level of quality that the Navajo Nation prides itself on.
Gwen Stefani received sharp criticism when she hired four Japanese women to be her “Harajuku Girls” and contractually obligated them to only speak Japanese in public and exploited the idea that Japanese women are background objects. Margaret Cho called it a minstrel show (such as when white people would wear black face).
Miley Cyrus. (Enough has been said, if you’re new to exploring these issues, check out the link)
If a whine about not being able to help your privilege is bubbling up inside you, you can explore how use your privilege productively and how to recognize who is privileged and who is Other here. My husband, Jow has described learning to recognize privilege as taking the red pill. Once you learn to recognize it, it never really shuts off which can make enjoying mindless things (such as Sex in the City) more challenging but we live in a complicated world. It’s better to know too much than not enough in my opinion.
Simone de Beauvoir brought the concept of Otherness to feminist theory in her incredibly radical book The Second Sex which was written in 1949, at the beginning of the second wave. She states,
Thus humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him; she is not regarded as an autonomous being. Michelet writes: ‘Woman, the relative being …’ And Benda is most positive in his Rapport d’Uriel: ‘The body of man makes sense in itself quite apart from that of woman, whereas the latter seems wanting in significance by itself … Man can think of himself without woman. She cannot think of herself without man.’ And she is simply what man decrees; thus she is called ‘the sex’, by which is meant that she appears essentially to the male as a sexual being. For him she is sex – absolute sex, no less. She is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to her; she is the incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute – she is the Other.’
The category of the Other is as primordial as consciousness itself. In the most primitive societies, in the most ancient mythologies, one finds the expression of a duality – that of the Self and the Other. This duality was not originally attached to the division of the sexes; it was not dependent upon any empirical facts. It is revealed in such works as that of Granet on Chinese thought and those of Dumézil on the East Indies and Rome. The feminine element was at first no more involved in such pairs as Varuna-Mitra, Uranus-Zeus, Sun-Moon, and Day-Night than it was in the contrasts between Good and Evil, lucky and unlucky auspices, right and left, God and Lucifer. Otherness is a fundamental category of human thought.
There are, to be sure, other cases in which a certain category has been able to dominate another completely for a time. Very often this privilege depends upon inequality of numbers – the majority imposes its rule upon the minority or persecutes it. But women are not a minority, like the American Negroes or the Jews; there are as many women as men on earth. Again, the two groups concerned have often been originally independent; they may have been formerly unaware of each other’s existence, or perhaps they recognised each other’s autonomy. But a historical event has resulted in the subjugation of the weaker by the stronger. The scattering of the Jews, the introduction of slavery into America, the conquests of imperialism are examples in point. In these cases the oppressed retained at least the memory of former days; they possessed in common a past, a tradition, sometimes a religion or a culture.
But it will be asked at once: how did all this begin? It is easy to see that the duality of the sexes, like any duality, gives rise to conflict. And doubtless the winner will assume the status of absolute. But why should man have won from the start? It seems possible that women could have won the victory; or that the outcome of the conflict might never have been decided. How is it that this world has always belonged to the men and that things have begun to change only recently? Is this change a good thing? Will it bring about an equal sharing of the world between men and women?
These questions are not new, and they have often been answered. But the very fact that woman is the Other tends to cast suspicion upon all the justifications that men have ever been able to provide for it. These have all too evidently been dictated by men’s interest. A little-known feminist of the seventeenth century, Poulain de la Barre, put it this way: ‘All that has been written about women by men should be suspect, for the men are at once judge and party to the lawsuit.’ Everywhere, at all times, the males have displayed their satisfaction in feeling that they are the lords of creation. ‘Blessed be God … that He did not make me a woman,’ say the Jews in their morning prayers, while their wives pray on a note of resignation: ‘Blessed be the Lord, who created me according to His will.’ The first among the blessings for which Plato thanked the gods was that he had been created free, not enslaved; the second, a man, not a woman. But the males could not enjoy this privilege fully unless they believed it to be founded on the absolute and the eternal; they sought to make the fact of their supremacy into a right. ‘Being men, those who have made and compiled the laws have favoured their own sex, and jurists have elevated these laws into principles’, to quote Poulain de la Barre once more.
Now, what peculiarly signalises the situation of woman is that she – a free and autonomous being like all human creatures – nevertheless finds herself living in a world where men compel her to assume the status of the Other. They propose to stabilise her as object and to doom her to immanence since her transcendence is to be overshadowed and for ever transcended by another ego (conscience) which is essential and sovereign. The drama of woman lies in this conflict between the fundamental aspirations of every subject (ego) – who always regards the self as the essential and the compulsions of a situation in which she is the inessential. How can a human being in woman’s situation attain fulfilment? What roads are open to her? Which are blocked? How can independence be recovered in a state of dependency? What circumstances limit woman’s liberty and how can they be overcome? These are the fundamental questions on which I would fain throw some light. This means that I am interested in the fortunes of the individual as defined not in terms of happiness but in terms of liberty.
Quite evidently this problem would be without significance if we were to believe that woman’s destiny is inevitably determined by physiological, psychological, or economic forces. Hence I shall discuss first of all the light in which woman is viewed by biology, psychoanalysis, and historical materialism. Next I shall try to show exactly how the concept of the ‘truly feminine’ has been fashioned – why woman has been defined as the Other – and what have been the consequences from man’s point of view. Then from woman’s point of view I shall describe the world in which women must live; and thus we shall be able to envisage the difficulties in their way as, endeavouring to make their escape from the sphere hitherto assigned them, they aspire to full membership in the human race.
Otherness became even more tricky post World War II when white women in particular were supposed to all be uniformly satisfied by the same thing - a home, a family, cooking, cleaning and no place in the workforce. Many women who lived during that time still felt a pervading sense of Otherness. If Nancy next door was happy as hell with this arrangement, why wasn’t she? Wasn’t this supposed to be her complete fulfillment as a woman? Then why was she still so unhappy? Was there something wrong with her? Betty Friedan explored this issue in her seminal work, The Feminine Mystique in 1963.
IT would be half-wrong to say it started with Sigmund Freud. It did not really start, in America, until the 1940s. And then again, it was less a start than the prevention of an end. The old prejudices – women are animals, less than human, unable to think like men, born merely to breed and serve men – were not so easily dispelled by the crusading feminists, by science and education, and by the democratic spirit after all. They merely reappeared in the forties, in Freudian disguise. The feminine mystique derived its power from Freudian thought; for it was an idea born of Freud, which led women, and those who studied them, to misinterpret their mothers’ frustrations, and their fathers’ and brothers’ and husbands’ resentments and inadequacies, and their own emotions and possible choices in life.
The new mystique is much more difficult for the modern woman to question than the old prejudices, partly because the mystique is broadcast by the very agents of education and social science that are supposed to be the chief enemies of prejudice, partly because the very nature of Freudian thought makes it virtually invulnerable to question. How can an educated American woman, who is not herself an analyst, presume to question a Freudian truth? She knows that Freud’s discovery of the unconscious workings of the mind was one of the great breakthroughs in man’s pursuit of knowledge. She knows that the science built on that discovery has helped many suffering men and women. She has been taught that only after years of analytic training is one capable of understanding the meaning of Freudian truth. She may even know how the human mind unconsciously resists that truth. How can she presume to tread the sacred ground where only analysts are allowed?
Even now in 2015, as much as we would like to believe that issues of race, class, gender and religion have all been neatly settled, it really hasn’t been. There’s always an Other.
On a side note, this is also why the concept of appropriation has become so important in Witchcraft. I implore you to look at your practice and your behavior in learning new skills. Do you come from a place of respect, education (how will calling yourself X impact others? Is performing Z ritual something that is done for magic or for a cultural bonding experience? Will you be dishonoring that culture by changing the ritual to fit in with your current practice?), thoughtfulness and self honesty when learning a magical practice from a culture that is not your home culture? Or do you come from a grabby place that likes the “newest” (to you) shiny thing/merit badge/tech/magic and you want it because everyone else does/it seems like fun/it’s novel? Really meditate on that for yourself. It’s okay to have been “both greedy and grabby” as Tina on Bob’s Burgers said, but you need to acknowledge that within yourself and figure out how to move forward in a thoughtful manner.
It’s okay to be electic, lordess knows I am. Putting together a practice is a very difficult endeavour and I tooooooootally get feeling, “ZOMGoats, I just found something that worked for me and now I have to think about all these other implications to my practice!” It’s a very personal line in the sand. Like, it would be great if we could all grow all our own organic food or buy all our food from an organic farm that’s less than ten miles away from our house but for most of us that’s not going to happen. So we have to figure out where we can compromise and what’s a key issue. An example from my own practice: I do Hindu Puja work which is meant for everyone to use in India. Rich, poor, educated, can’t read, whatever. I learned it initially from a white woman but she took me immediately to a very Hindu part of town and I learned more there. I do mantra work but only “seed ohms” which require no initiation. If I want more than that, I need to do the work to find the appropriate teachers to teach me and I can go from there.
Who are you?
and god help you if you are an ugly girl/ course too pretty is also your doom/ cause everyone harbors a secret hatred/ for the prettiest girl in the room/ and god help you / if you are a phoenix/ and you dare to rise up from the ash/ a thousand eyes will smolder with jealousy/ while you are just flying high
So, you practice magic, right? Here’s an exercise to for you to find out just how Other you still are:
(even with Buffy/Charmed, even with the US military recognizing Wicca, even, even, even)
1. Wait for a non-magical practicing friend/relative to have a serious problem with another person.
2. Very sincerely offer to work on the problem on the friend/relative’s behalf. Don’t be specific at all about your methods, past magic. Don’t caveat with “positive energy only!!!11!!” or any other softeners.
3. Look at their face, listen to what they say.
I promise you, 90% of your friends and family regardless to their religious background will look stunned and horrified and will stutter out a “No! No thanks!” (The other 10% will be like, let’s do this) Non-magical people don’t believe in magic until you call them to the carpet about it. Then shit gets real very quickly in my experience.
What is witchcraft?
The answer is simple: Witchcraft is the work of the enemy. Witchcraft is the sex that other people have, witchcraft is the drug that other people take, witchcraft is the rite that other people perform. Witchcraft is the magic that other people do. Witchcraft is the clothes that other people wear. Witchcraft is the words that other people speak. Witchcraft is the Goddess they venerate.
It is impossible to reach any other conclusion. For the whole of recorded history witchcraft has been malefica, venefica, incest and murder. The next village, the next town, the next country, the old woman, the young woman, the Jew, the leper, the Cathar, the Templar, the Ophite, the Bogomil. They do it. Not us you understand, them. You will find the witch at the end of a pointed finger. - Apocalyptic Witchcraft, Peter Grey
No matter how declawed you attempt to present yourself to the rest of the world, no matter how much you try to explain what you do, no matter how many kids you have, no matter how many PTA meetings you attend, no matter what car you drive, no matter what you bring to the potluck, no matter how much recycling you do, you will always be a witch.
You will always make others afraid of what you could do and exactly what you’re capable of. Stop fearing yourself and embrace this power.
There’s glamour in this, too.
All lyrics are by the incomparable Ani Difranco