Archive for the ‘publicity’ Tag

(Re-)Huttonizing our Sensibilities   3 comments

NOTE: Normally I steer clear of politics, not because current events are insignificant, but because too often they’re already sufficiently chaotic and jangling in themselves to sway us from a focus on things of our own wiser choosing — things we need to hold in our loving attention, if we’re to transform ourselves first. This is indeed the only method I’ve found, over decades of living, to effect lasting and positive change in anything else. Of course, your mileage may vary.

In addition, often we know more down the road from an incident. Immediate commentary is frequently premature: we simply don’t have the overview and detail we need to make an informed assessment. Yes, we have freedom of opinion; no, not all opinions are equal — like everyone else, I’m free to be an idiot, or to act with discipline, love and wisdom. (Most of the time I arrive somewhere in between.) Political and cultural analysis isn’t my forte.

A year from now, it’s guaranteed some other event will have kindled outrage in at least some quarters.

However, silence can be assent. So if I raise an issue, you’ll know what you want to do with it.

With that said, therefore, if you’re seeking upbeat post-Thanksgiving reading, you won’t find it in this post. Instead, save it for some other time, or not all. OK — you’ve been warned.

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British author and religious scholar Ronald Hutton, no stranger in Pagan circles, sets forth an admirable and down-to-earth “mission statement” for Pagan groups. In a December 2016 interview called “Reframing Modern Paganism” with Pagan Dawn magazine, Hutton observes,

For those in traditions which stress group work, training, initiating, supporting and coordinating is vital. The end product should be people who are decent to others in the group, as to humans in general, good communicators and effective ritualists, loyal to their fellow initiates and their tradition. They are the best advertisements for that tradition. Any Pagan who wins the respect of non-Pagan neighbours and fellows in a workplace, as a person, and then informs them of her or his beliefs, is doing invaluable work to gain regard for those beliefs.

While Paganism and Druidry certainly have their share of colorful characters who often seem at least subconsciously to resist any movement towards normalization, Hutton adds:

Pagans don’t squabble as much now as they used to do, at least in Britain. In my opinion Doreen Valiente – with whom I had a very strong mutual respect and affection – got it right at the beginning, in the 1950s, by recommending that Pagans spread knowledge of their tradition by writing attractive books about it (nowadays, we would add websites and social media), avoiding journalists and publicity stunts. Also important is a sustained, effective Pagan presence at interfaith meetings, cultural events and demonstrations concerning environmental issues.

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The wise counsel Hutton gives above unfortunately flatlines in the face of events like the Saturday, October 20 hexing of U.S. Supreme Court judge Brett Kavanaugh in a Brooklyn bookstore. Whatever our politics, we cannot honestly characterize this as a “sustained, effective Pagan presence”.

Event organizer Dakota Bracciale told Newsweek, “If [the hex] causes suffering and harm and trouble and chaos and mayhem for anyone in the GOP, I’m happy”.

The hex, according to another article in the Independent, was “livestreamed on Facebook and Instagram on Saturday” October 20.

Huffington Post notes, “Kavanaugh will apparently be a focal point for the hex, but not the only target. The public hex is meant to exact revenge on ‘all rapists and the patriarchy at large which emboldens, rewards and protects them,’ a Facebook page dedicated to the event states”.

Part of the ritual intent was to provoke and anger those on the right. The brief flurry of sensationalistic reporting from a number of news outlets made this possibly the most successful aspect of the ritual.

Bracciale conceded, “I don’t for a second shelter a hope within me that he [Kavanaugh] would ever have some change of heart and become a human being”.

In  what must be one of the more remarkable assertions of brash naivete and dubious publicity, “If you put it out there, then it’ll happen”, another participant said. “If you watch Oprah, then you know how to do witchcraft”.

Bracciale apparently proclaimed at one point during the ritual, “I will have my justice even if I have to face your jealous God, look Him in his eye and walk backward into Hell”.

The Mercury News recounts how San Jose exorcist and Catholic priest Fr. Gary Thomas offered masses to counter-act the hex. “This is a conjuring of evil — not about free speech”, noted Father Thomas.

Protestors outside the bookstore offered prayers and chants during the ritual. Presumably that also qualifies as “putting it out there” — the fighting of “ritual fire” with fire.

Reuters provided the most nuanced and objective comment:

The planned casting of an anti-Kavanaugh spell, one of the more striking instances of politically disgruntled Americans turning to the supernatural when frustrated by democracy, has drawn backlash from some Christian groups but support from like-minded witch covens.

By the sound of most reports, we can probably call the whole thing a draw. Like two competing cheer squads at an athletic event, whoever offers up more energy may help tip the scales slightly one way or the other, though usually without supplying a defining element of victory or defeat. Strength of intent, however, doesn’t equate to “justice”, or this would be a very different world.

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Bracciale reportedly announced a secondary goal for the event: “If [attendees] come in beat up and leave with a renewed hope and a fire in their belly then I’ll know I did my job”.

Though it mostly got lost in the psychic noise around the event, here is a much more positive ritual goal anyone can set for themselves. Rituals that purge us of unproductive emotion have their place, freeing us for more clearly-defined action that can make a bigger difference. As a small example, after my first serious girlfriend broke up with me when I was in my twenties, I burned her picture — a common ritual many do at some point — and dumped a lot of anger into the flames, because I no longer wanted it. I certainly felt better afterward. With much of my anger out of the way, within a year I was freer to move into a relationship that has become a successful marriage.

If such uplift comes at cost to another, I need to examine my motives and priorities. Given the nature of magic, with dark workings any spear I choose to cast must pass through me first to reach and harm my enemy. That’s a cost few sane people are willing to pay. The mixed motives, ritual targets, sensationalism, scattering of focus, and admission of larger defeat permeating this recent hexing ritual simply do not model either best practices or beneficial outcomes for the greater good. We can understand and stand witness to the anger, bitterness and frustration of the hexing ritual participants without copying their methods.

We can do better.

Mending human relations has become even more challenging, and hence more necessary, at present. Not easy work — I can also testify to that firsthand. Frustrating, but worthwhile. I’ll close by reiterating Hutton’s words from the opening section:

The end product should be people who are decent to others in the group, as to humans in general, good communicators and effective ritualists, loyal to their fellow initiates and their tradition. They are the best advertisements for that tradition. Any Pagan who wins the respect of non-Pagan neighbours and fellows in a workplace, as a person, and then informs them of her or his beliefs, is doing invaluable work to gain regard for those beliefs.

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