Friday, 15 December 2017

Donating to Charity

Most of us like to donate something to Charities where we can and when we can.  With Christmas fast approaching it's something that's very much talked about.

This week, a Maori Women's Refuge Charity - The Aunties - spoke out asking that people don't give them tinned tomatoes, chickpeas or lentils.

In an article on Stuff, they explained that they have pantries filled with tinned tomatoes and nothing else and that is not useful to a woman with young children who have just arrived, ripped out of their home, traumatised and grieving.

They point out how much better it is to find out what a charity actually needs and that most publish wish lists that are easily found.

This has led to a sadly predictable uproar.  Many people are offended at their pickiness, saying things like "beggars can't be choosers" and "I can make a decent meal out of tinned tomatoes along with x, y and z, why can't you?" and "If you can be picky you're not that needy".  Many commenters have sworn off ever donating to Women's Refuge ever again.

I believe this is missing the point.  Actually, it's missing several.

Yes, tinned tomatoes are useful and many people (myself included) would go through at least a tin a week.  But not on their own.  They need meat and onions and herbs to make a bolognese, they need other veges to make a curry, they need bread to go on toast.  The article said the pantries were filled with tinned tomatoes and nothing else.  The problem is that they have plenty and need the other stuff to make the meals with.  Giving them recipes and teaching them how to cook with tinned tomatoes isn't going to make the other necessary ingredients magically appear.

Donating to charities, giving to those in need is supposed to be about what they need not about what you think they should have.  It's also supposed to be about compassion for their circumstances not about judging them for not needing what you think they should have.

Donating to charities isn't about you.  Feeling good about having helped is supposed to be a side effect.  Having your feelings hurt because a charity has asked you not to give something says more about you than it does about that charity.  And it says nothing good.

Have a little empathy.  This is a Women's Refuge.  This is a place where women arrive in the middle of the night with usually small children in tow.  They've often just had the crap beaten out of them, they're emotionally drained, they're in shock with a side order of terror because they've finally done something to get them out of that position and they're afraid it won't last or things will get worse because of it and they're trying to keep themselves together for the equally traumatised children.  Try putting yourself into that place, try imagining the complete shock and trauma they are going through.  Now imagine trying to function well enough to whip up a delicious middle class healthy meal.  If you tell me you could do it, I'm going to call you a liar.

It's not as though it's a family at home who are having some rough times and need a food parcel to help them out this week because money's tight and they can't afford to feed their children.  This is a totally different situation and unless you've actually been there, you are in no position to judge what they need.

I think everyone's first reaction was to be a little offended.  "What do you mean my donation isn't good enough?"  In most of my friends, I'm glad to say, they took a step back and examined why they were offended and were good enough people to own it and accept that they were wrong.  It's a shame that more people aren't like them.



What Makes An Elder?

Elder is a term that gets thrown around a lot.  I believe it's a misunderstood and misused word probably 90% of the time.  Or perhaps it has too many meanings.


adjective, a compar. of old with eldest as superl.

1.  of greater age; older.
2. of higher rank; senior: an elder officer.
3.  of or relating to former times; earlier:
 Much that was forbidden by elder custom is accepted today. 


4.  a person who is older or higher in rank than oneself.
5.  an aged person.
6.  an influential member of a tribe or community, often a chief or ruler; a superior.
7.  a presbyter.
8.  (in certain Protestant churches) a lay member who is a governing officer, often assisting the pastor in services.
9. Mormon Church. A member of the Melchizedek priesthood.

Okay, so perhaps there are too many meanings for it to be used in a meaningful way.  Maybe if we look at it in context.

In the case of the Pagan Community, an elder usually fits meaning number 6 best.  An influential member of a tribe or community, often a chief or ruler; a superior.  It can fit the 'higher in rank' definition too.  Personally, I think it is a combination of these definitions.

An Elder is an older, wiser, experienced member of the community.  Someone who can guide and advise.  It is a position of respect not one of power, although it is a powerful position in a different sense - influence rather than authority.

Simply being older means next to nothing.  Plenty of people come to Paganism later in their lives.  Age does not equal experience, knowledge or wisdom.  Quite frankly, in our modern times, it doesn't take any great skill to live a reasonably long and healthy life.  It's what you've done with that life that counts.

Elder is a term of respect and like respect it is earned.  

In some traditions there are criteria to be met before the title of Elder can be conferred.  Make no mistake, it is a title and not just a description.  It is also a title that is given by the community served by that person and not something you can claim for yourself.

Common requirements are things like having had a leadership role in your community for a reasonable period of time.  A Wiccan Elder, as an example, must have attained third degree and led their coven for several years.  However, alone, this is not enough in most cases.

Coven experience needs to be balanced with life experience.  Someone young, while they might be already wise or an 'old soul' is not going to have the range of experience to provide useful advice or guidance.  They haven't had the opportunity to see the long term effects of simple actions.

Some traditions have Eldering ceremonies - Croning and Saging.  Usually your second Saturn return is the first criteria for these titles - which puts you roughly mid to late 50s.  Although I have heard of events where anyone who had been part of the community for more than 5 years was declared an Elder and given an Eldering ceremony, such ceremonies and claims seem to be treated mostly with the contempt they deserve.

In other traditions, anyone who wants the title is deemed to be unworthy of it.  True Elders fight against the title as long and as hard as they are able.  They don't want to be put on a pedestal and treated like some precious object, they still want to be in the thick of things, doing important work and creating change.

Degrees and ordinations do not necessarily make an Elder.  I know of one lady who claims she has a Masters degree in Wicca.  She clearly knows very little about actual Wicca and is a fount of eclectic neo-Wicca cliches and misrepresentations.  I found where she got her 'Masters' from - The Universal Life Church - for $32.99 you get sent a copy of Scott Cunningham's Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner, a certificate, a bumper sticker and a clergy badge.  Or for $13.99 you can buy the certificate alone.  There is no study, no tests, no standards to meet and nothing to prove you've done anything more than click a link and enter your credit card details.  

Founding a group, on it's own, does not make an Elder.  I've personally experienced several groups and organisations (even charitable ones) that have been founded by people hoping to be called Elders, if not now then some day soon.  Some may have been created to provide a service to the community, intentions may have been good, but personalities, ego and self-importance make it clear that the good of the community is not the first priority, or that the service being provided is not necessarily needed or wanted by the community. 

This becomes worse when the group's name states or implies some sort of overseeing council that speaks for all.  American Council of Witches leaps to mind.  There have been several attempts to relaunch the 1973 Council whose only achievement was to publish The 13 Principles of Belief before disbanding.  Most of these attempts appear to be people who are hoping for their 15 minutes of glory or to impose their own narrow worldview on everyone else.  The Council gets filled with people no one has ever heard of, adding their cronies and sycophants.  A few years ago, someone named a couple of genuine American Elders as Council members, but without their knowledge or consent and those Elders publicly distanced themselves from it.

There are some wonderful groups out there, doing some wonderful work for the wider community and they do contain some genuine Elders.  However, the obvious difference is that those groups work to support and help their communities, quietly in the background. They don't try to speak for them, or force them into a cubbyhole of their own values or throw public tantrums when questioned or challenged in any way.  The organisations have had changes of leadership and continued going strong.  Their purpose is to serve the community, not their leaders.

Like other titles, Elder has little to no meaning outside of the community being served.  In a recent storm in a teacup, a local chap who is largely unheard of even in our tiny community, claimed to be a Pagan Elder and made a statement to the press that upset and offended many in the local community.  Five minutes research showed that he might be perhaps a Heathen Elder, although given his age and time in the community, I question that too - however, that's not my community so my opinion rightfully means nothing.  Given that most Heathens distance themselves from Pagans and vice versa, how is a Heathen Elder able to claim Pagan Eldership?  He founded a group which does provide service to their community.  Great work.  I'm all for that kind of thing.  But as explained above, that alone does not make an Elder and neither does his claiming of the title.  Then I noticed in his online group, anyone he promotes to an admin he also grants the title of Elder.  Given that one of his groups "Elders" was openly brand new and asking for advice on Beginner's books only two or three years ago, I am horrified. 

Being famous or a Big Name Pagan does not automatically make one an Elder, although this is probably the most common way Elders do get named.  Some deserve it and their on-going service to the wider community is how they became famous.  Others are narcissistic drama queens who seem to believe that any publicity is good publicity when in reality they are harming their wider community more than helping it.  There are also demagogues who seem to believe that likes and followers equal proof of how right they are.  BNPs can become a cult of personality rather than a positive resource for their community.

So when trying to define an Elder, I find myself thinking of the older folk who have been in the community for a long time.  They have seen groups and individuals rise and fall.  They have seen the community go through many changes and shifts.  Their work may not be obvious or well-known but their experience shines through.  They will be the ones who challenge you and sometimes make you uncomfortable or hurt your feelings when they do, but when asked the right way will offer up useful advice - even if it's not what you want to hear at the time.  They demand that you own your shit and you can see that they do the same.  They will judge, be brutally blunt and direct and sometimes give you more chances than you deserve.  They make mistakes and they own them.  They don't need anyone else to apologise for them and they won't apologise for anyone else.  They accept, even invite, being questioned and challenged because they understand that you never stop learning and at no point does anyone know it all.  They don't expect you to follow their advice as gospel, they are not offended if you choose a different option and they won't get pissy and refuse advice next time.  They expect you to take it all on board and think for yourself.

I do have a group of wonderful people like this.  If I told them I was talking about them as Elders, I dare say I'd be slapped into next week.  But they are who I go to for advice.  I respect their experience and honour the hard roads most have walked to where they are now.

In doing some research for this blog, I found that I'm not alone in questioning this.  The Wild Hunt asked several well-known people in the wider Pagan community the same question.  The comments page also raised some valid thoughts and experiences.  Some of which I have used in this blog.

Interestingly, I also found this piece by Shauna Aura Knight which goes into the next step of Pagan Elders.  Accepted Elders who have become abusive and what can we do about them.



Saturday, 25 March 2017

Taking Credit Where It's Not Warranted

I've found within the Pagan and Magical community a tendency for self-aggrandisement. This isn't a new thing, not by any stretch.  There have always been the people who are so uber powerful and so much more special than everyone else.

But the one I've noticed the most lately is taking credit for other people's misfortune, or taking credit for surprise or miraculous major events.

As examples, one chap took credit for a storm changing it's predicted path and turning away from a major city, another claimed they'd caused a huge cluster of destructive earthquakes.  Another has taken credit for one man's death and another's misfortune.

There was a guy a few years ago (I think I mentioned him in another blog) who rang me to tell me he'd changed the weather so that I had sunshine for a party and was seriously expecting me to thank him.  Even though the weather was completely seasonal and fit what had been forecast.

There is also the mass curse of Daesh a year or so ago, it was a public event and because Russia did a bombing run a week or two after the curse, success was claimed.

I've recently had a bad run. I know the causes, they were rooted in choices made years ago and actions taken or not taken way back then.  It's not my personal misfortune, it's extremely bad health in someone very dear to me and while it's partially their own fault and partially genetics, it's still very distressing for me.

I find myself reluctant to talk about it though.  In many of the places where I would normally be asking for support and would normally get it, I find it difficult to raise.  This has hit me on a personal level and I realise that my struggle to ask for support is rooted in fear.  I don't want to have it come back to me that anyone I might have upset or offended over the past few years is taking credit for this.  And word of that will come back to me, it always does - just because I don't react publicly or obviously doesn't mean I don't know.

I think if I was to hear of someone bragging about how they caused this to happen, I would lose my shit on a spectacular scale.  All of the rages and tantrums I've ever had combined could not equal the reaction I would expect to have.  I would, in the end, be most likely facing some serious jail time and the loss of everything I hold dear.  And I would feel my wrath was justified.

So I don't talk about it with anyone outside of my close inner circle.  And it sucks.

I also find myself angry that my fear of other people's narcissistic behaviour and my potential reaction to it holds me back and prevents me from asking for what I need.  I am angry mostly at myself for buying into this shit, for letting it get to me before it happens and for overthinking myself into expecting it to happen.  It might not, although there are people in my wider circle who have done this sort of thing repeatedly so not being prepared for it would be equally foolish.  So I am also pre-emptively angry at the people who have done this in the past who may or may not try it with me this time.  Even though right now, I haven't given them the opportunity to be good people to me, I feel as though I'm punishing them (to some extent) because of what they might do.

And that sucks.

I find it a challenging and painful thing to talk about anyway.  I often cry when I am talking about it with the few I do trust enough to talk to.  I hate showing any weakness, I hate not being strong enough to cope with this.  I'm everyone's rock, I'm always okay, I'm not okay with not being okay.  I don't do vulnerability when anyone else can see, it's a secret and private thing that I am always a little ashamed of and embarrassed about.  Yes I've been lectured about it and I know that's not healthy and I am working on it.

And that sucks some more.

I sometimes wonder if this is part of the Keep Silent part of the pyramid/cornerstones/all sorts of different names depending on who you're talking to.  Even if you believe your magic caused this result, claiming it publicly makes you a wanker.  Save yourself the ridicule.  Especially if it's equally likely that it was nothing at all to do with you.



Monday, 20 March 2017

Hexing, Jinxing, Cursing and Binding

The Mass Binding of Donald Trump came up on a local group that I'm in.

As you can probably imagine, all the usual pearl-clutching and wailing about the consequences of taking part followed.  I patiently tried to explain the origins of threefold law, that it's not that simple and that it's a belief you need to buy into to have an effect.  I received a terribly funny condescending response from a girl younger than my oldest daughter telling me that it didn't matter what I believed, it was a law and would happen whether I believed it or not.

Such things continued rather predictably, apparently they're entitled to their beliefs and I'm not entitled to mine if they're different and so on.  Then one absolute gem of a respondent piped up.  I should trust him, my soul is in danger and I need to do some serious cleansing, my soul will thank me for it.  Blah blah blah.

Then I got a rather arrogant and terribly funny private message demanding I explain myself (because Hexing is Baaaaaaad) or he'd be forced to name and shame me and ban me from anything to do with their society.

It was the best belly laugh I've had in about a year.  I am open that I will hex and curse and bind where I see it's needed.  I have never had a backlash or bad consequences follow.  I am also smart enough not to blame the slightest little bit of bad luck or misfortune on anything than what actually caused it.  I don't see a hoofprint and expect to see a unicorn.  So, since I am so open about it, just who is he planning to name and shame me to?  What is this society that I'll be banned from?  Who is this guy anyway and why should I change or edit myself to suit him?

I've been active in our local community for most of the last 15 years.  I ran coffee meets for about 10 years, I've run several Pagan Festivals and I've had the only Pagan and Witchcraft stall at the Body Mind Spirit Festival for 12 years - although to be fair, there was a new one at the last festival.  I was part of a group that ran open sabbats and esbats in Christchurch.

As such, I know most of the people worth knowing in our local community.  Before his arrogant assumption of group conscience, I had never heard of him.

I have met busybodies of his sort before, they believe they have some sort of responsibility for the "spiritual wellbeing" of a group, they are self-appointed in this role and are usually overbearing, filled with expectations of gratitude for providing a service that is neither needed or wanted.  I have never seen it end well for the person concerned.

Anyway, because it was so politely requested (*eyeroll*) I have decided to "explain myself", just so that we're completely clear on my views.

I will hex, curse and bind where I see a need.  However, that need must be genuine and not something I do lightly.  A decent curse or binding takes planning and work, it takes my time and energy and for me to bother with one requires more than boredom and feeling a little offended.  I am not going to throw down because someone insulted me on the internet or hurt my feelings in some way.  I'm a big girl, I can cope without resorting to petty revenge.

I am specific in my curses and bindings. I make it clear exactly what outcome I am working for.  Whether that is the target suddenly starts to take responsibility for their past deeds, or they are unable to speak falsehood or gossip regarding specific people or that they get horribly sick from their continued alcohol abuse or they see people they've been favouring for who they really are.

While I have worked on behalf of others and will continue to do so, that also requires an explanation of why it's needed and for me to believe that it's necessary.  I don't do it for just anyone either, only people who are important to me in some way.

The only way a curse ever backfires or has a backlash is when you believe it will and you build it into your magic unconsciously.  Or when you plan and craft your spell badly without proper attention to detail.  There may be unintended consequences that come from poor planning and a lack of attention to detail, as with any spell crafting.  

A well-planned and crafted spell cast with no guilt or expectations of backlash should cause no issues to anyone except the intended target.  You have to mean it, you have to know (not just believe) you're doing it for reasons that are right to you and you need to be certain that you know what you're doing.

So to be clear, I do not and will not recommend firing off a curse whenever you feel a bit pissy, someone disagrees with you or for any real or imagined slight you suffer.  Raping my daughter and claiming it was consensual - that will get you bound and cursed.  Continuously attempting to sabotage my place of employment - that will get a lesser curse.  Repeated stalking and harrassment of people who matter to me - that curse is ongoing and cumulative.