Dear (pagan/Pagan/P-umbrella/ and/or spiritual new age and a few other groups we can never decide who is on this list, or what to call it) community,
Can we put down our torches and pitchforks and all the handfuls of mud we have been throwing at each other and have a frank conversation? The internet is becoming a toxic place in general and I think we need to have a conversation about it. Some people in our community have a big local network, but I think a lot of us have always had a bigger online community than an in real life one. We are a diverse group made up of elders who have been on this path for decades to tweens and teens just discovering witchcraft and pagan etc. stuff and everywhere in-between. We are a generally inclusive crowed too. We are awesome about the fun parts of community. Parties and sharing stories and tips and spells and pretty things. But the hard parts of life. Frankly we suck at.
For this discussion I am going to use some examples. The specifics of the examples don’t matter because news flash sometimes the point isn’t the details. Life can suck. Life can be hard. It can be comforting to know you are not alone. Buckle up because I am rested for once and who knows how long this is going to end up.
I exist in a few different circles, academic scientists, +/-pagan etc., art/photography, and a lot of friends back home in gaming/reenactment. I don’t think I would survive if I only hung out with academic scientists. I am going to use them as an example to contrast against our community. In science, you are your brand. Every once in a while something pops up and we talk about how rampant mental health issues are in our field. But. In general, people suffer in silence. Who wants to be branded the weak one in such a competitive environment? We all know people who burned out so bad then went into totally different fields. We joke about writing our talks the night before, not that it was done 2 weeks ago and you shake every time you practice it and your anxiety about it has you puking every day. In science I have learned, who you know and your reputation matter almost as much, if not more than the quality of your work. So when you are your brand you are selling why would you ever show any weakness? It is an insane amount of pressure to add to the crippling work load. I made the decision that for my mental health I need to call it quits at 5 every day. I am almost always the first person to leave. It is noticed. I only get away with doing this by busting my ass and getting in early. What matters is that I am there when everyone else gets in, even just 5 minutes. Appearances matter.
In contrast to this environment the online pagan community, and my art community can actually talk about the existence of struggles. But we can do better and isn’t that what we should be aiming for? To do better? To serve our community better? Mental health issues are one thing but not the only suckage life throws at us. But we are going to start here. We are good at acknowledging mental heath issues but we could do better at helping each other. We need to encourage and support the open dialog of rough days not just good days. Cat Treadwell is a saint in my eyes. Her open and frank discussions of her mental health, and her book about it make a huge difference for me. It’s hard. And even when its getting better there are hard days. It really does help when you know you are not alone. I think the majority are quiet about the day to day and those that speak out don’t know how many people they are helping, if nothing more than letting them know that they are not alone. You have no idea how many times that “make space mom proud” meme has reminded me to take my fucking meds. Keep sharing it. This is a good start. But just a start. In mental health it can he hard to get to the point where you can ask for help. But if you are in the US that can be just the start of struggle. Finding and paying for that help can almost be harder. We are also an alt-community so finding someone you can really talk to might be hard. We should be sharing resources a lot. Who knows where the eyes are of someone who needs it. Telling a friend is one thing, but what if that friend then had a list of professionals at their finger tips? Or trusted elders to talk to while they look for professionals? Maybe we should have a list of people who have had some sort of counselor training for each local community. And we should support people like Cat Treadwell who are helping more than they know.
While we are talking about being open and sharing the day to day with others… I saw that Juniper Jeni posted that some people had expressed that her frank talk about being a widow of a suicide makes them uncomfortable. I have seen her mention a few times people giving her shit about how she is grieving. I say tough shit. You have no idea how many people she could be helping by showing them that they are not alone. There may be many people struggling with the loss of a loved one (and yes I include friends in that list). I lost a friend over a decade ago and I am constantly reminded of her. Juniper was talking about how many reminders she has in her life every day. I started drinking my coffee totally black when she passed. The very first time I had coffee she gave me disgusting cheap ass coffee black because if you are going to do it, just do it don’t dance around it with fancy flavors and shit. Coffee reminded me of her anyways I might a well honor her and drink it black. Honestly I don’t watch Star Trek that much anymore because it reminds me of hanging out with her and her Dad (who passed when we were in high school) watching Star Trek. One post could help someone on a day they really need it. Juniper has put a lot into the community and you know what? She is helping now by sharing her experience. We should support her because the ugly truth of what happened won’t just go away and we shouldn’t sweep it under the rug. If we want to support each other we need to be there for the bad more than for the good. Its hard, it hurts, and it sucks. But if something happened in your life wouldn’t it be nice to know you could really count on your community to be there for you? Again the details of what happened, and to who almost don’t matter as much as the fact that it is being shared and might help someone who feels totally alone in their experience. Death, even expected sucks. It might be a spouse or a parent or a friend but the hard realities of cleaning up after someone’s death are not always openly talked about. And they can last a lot longer than the outpouring of support when the death happens, and the bills don’t stop. It took over a year for my Dad to deal with all the paperwork when my Grandpa passed, and his affairs were pretty well in order. You cannot live a long life and not be touched by death. Might as well face it head on and not try to hide the ugly reality of being the ones left behind. We can teach and help each other with lessons learned. But if no one talks about it, how will you know who to ask for help? Who knows maybe seeing the ugly side of what your loved ones will go through could help someone not go down the path of suicide. We don’t know, but isn’t it worth the off chance? I don’t know Juniper really well, but sharing can be healing and why would you take that away from her if its helping? We should be supporting the fuck out of her every way we can.
Depression, Death, and now let’s talk about abuse. We need to face the ugly. This next example I will use to talk about abuse has ignited a lot of mud slinging and screaming but I am also going to argue that picking apart the details totally misses the point. Sarah Lawless wrote a piece about her bad experiences and bad behavior she has seen. The details of these cases don’t matter to me at all. That is not the point. Imagine if you were just starting out and you got into a situation with a coven that made you really uncomfortable and everyone around you acted like it was normal. Then you see a post online by someone inside the same community but maybe on the other side of the country detailing something similar and saying NO! THIS IS BAD. If it helps someone recognize a harmful situation and get out of it isn’t that a good thing? We don’t need to nitpick the details of posts like Sarah’s, we need lots of examples of behavior that we say is unacceptable. We do have issues and we can’t just sweep them under the rug. I think some of us have been around a lot time and forget that there are new shining faces in our midst. We should also be working to help and support them. Pull them under our nice black cloaks and welcome them, and arm them with tools to navigate the specific pitfalls of our community while we try to fix it. By saying you don’t have to have sex with a high priest or priestess to practice, and you don’t even have to be naked might seem like common sense to some of us, but to someone navigating our community for the first time it might be what they need to hear. Just because we are comfortable with people having multiple sex partners doesn’t mean it isn’t also ok to set your boundaries and only have one at a time if that is what you want. We should be using these stories as examples we can learn from and teach setting boundaries and consent culture. Only when we start to really work towards consent culture and forming and respecting boundaries I think will be start to see some of the issues Sarah addressed start to fade. The burning man community I have experienced has a strong emphasis on consent culture and I have always felt comfortable going to burner events, more so than pagan events. Every relationship has a power dynamic, and if you can’t tell who is the dominant well then it might just be you. Those power dynamics can make for difficult situations for the less dominant member. Consent culture gives them an “out” and more power in the situation. And trust me, its sexy and awesome for someone to check in and ask where your boundaries are. And remember consent culture doesn’t stop with sexual relationships it extends to all relationships.
You cannot have light without dark. We shouldn’t hide from the dark realities of life we should try to be the light in those dark times. We talk a lot about balance of light and dark, masculine and feminine, the elements. We need to walk that talk and face the dark realities of life head on. Cat Treadwell, Juniper Jeni, and Sarah Lawless are examples in our midst who are facing the dark realities of life and shining a light into the corners. It is impossible to quantify how many people their frankness has helped because not everyone speaks up. So my suggestion is this:
If you see a post that you disagree with the details of, maybe if the message and stories could help someone out of a dark situation, or help them not feel alone, that is the point of the post. Not the details. If the message is depression sucks but you are not alone, death is horrible but you are not alone, dealing with the aftermath of someone’s suicide really fucking sucks don’t do this to people you care about, or this behavior is abusive and you shouldn’t tolerate it, leave the details be. Of course if the message and point of the post is to hurt someone else that’s bad.
Now I hate my writing. I don’t word good. So please just pay attention to my message not the details. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, and by working together we offset those weaknesses with other peoples strengths. But seriously, right now I am trying to help a few friends in my science circle and once you get past the taboo of talking about the darkness its easier to help and we already have that part down. Keep up the good work, but we can always be better! I have a lot more to say about this topic but I think that’s enough for now…
Ok. I guess now you can pick those pitchforks up, re-light those torches, and pick up your handfuls of mud. But please this time can we think a minute before jumping on a bandwagon for the next target? Let’s be constructive and make our community better and not tear each other apart ok? Unless you are a rapey or abusive person then you can fuck right off.
P.S. About that crippling workload? Yeah I think this is the last of after work coherent Kathleen you get until about mid to late April… wish me luck!