Thursday, 22 November 2012

Do What Feels Right

This is so frequently stated as wisdom in Pagan Circles.  And indeed I believe it has come from older wisdom, but it’s missing the most important part.

After some research and training, when you know and understand how things work and how they’re supposed to feel, then you are free to do what feels right.

Well, I bet that sounds arrogant and snotty to a few people right now.  But let me describe a few situations where beginners “doing what felt right” went badly wrong.

A lady of my acquaintance fell madly passionately in love with a man who didn’t know she existed.  Her first ever spell was a love spell to make him love her.  They were married, but unfortunately it took over 13 years of mental, verbal and physical abuse before she was able to tear herself away from him.

She wouldn’t have cast the spell if it didn’t feel like the right thing to do, she was perfect for him, she just needed to make him see that.

Another group got all caught up in the New Age buzz for all things Native American.  It “felt right” to them to do a bit of magic calling on the spirits of those Native Americans.  Then things went wrong, they reached a point where they felt cursed and asked for help.  A young Native American man told them what to do to honour those spirits, ask their forgiveness and told them not to mess with a culture they don’t understand, and that it had been deeply disrespectful for them to call on those spirits in the first place.

A lady on an internet forum described a ritual she did.  There were a lot of things about herself that she didn’t like and wanted to be rid of, so it “felt right” to do a ritual to remove them.  She ran herself a bath, and as she washed herself, she saw all these negative traits being washed out of her and then going down the drain with the water.  As the water left the bath, she felt more and more drained and empty, she fell into a deep depression that started with a hollow numbness.  It soon led to suicidal thoughts. She hadn’t realised that when you remove something you must replace it with something else, for instance what you like about yourself, or qualities that you’d like to have.

Challenging yourself and leaving your comfort zone always feels uncomfortable, but its how we grow.  What is “feeling right” anyway?  If something feels uncomfortable, does it mean that it feels wrong?  Will we then stagnate and never grow spiritually?

I’m rather over hearing “do what feels right” as justification for every bit of silliness that beginners (and those who’ve been around for a while) can think of.  I am eclectic myself, but I have made an effort to study and learn about what it is I’m borrowing from, whether borrowing can be done respectfully and if there is something else I need to understand before I use it.  If it doesn’t work outside it’s original culture or path, then I won’t use it, I won’t stop learning about it though.  Most eclectics though are the dabblers with a pretty ‘cut and paste’ morality and don’t see that they can possibly be doing anything wrong because “it feels right”.

I was recently criticised for feeling that New Age practices are polluting Paganism and that there is much about the two paths that isn’t compatible.  It very quickly turned into a “how dare you tell me what I can do” which wasn’t what I was saying and a snotty little cow throwing words around that she didn’t understand.  The same person also suggested that my recommendation against the use of Ouija boards was fear-based, but had no reply when I explained fully why it had nothing at all to do with fear, why I recommended against them (because I end up cleaning up the messes created by those who think they can use them fine and safely, but aren’t around for the clean up) and how they actually work.  It came from a place of knowledge not fear.  

The problem I see is that too many people nowadays dabble in things they don’t fully understand.  They don’t realise that they don’t fully understand it and think they’ve got it sussed.  Based on their incomplete knowledge they think “it feels right” and they create a spiritual mess that someone else has to clean up.

A little bit of training, or having a teacher who can assess your knowledge and abilities can prevent a lot of nastiness, but we are the free-thinkers right?  We don’t need authority or someone else to tell us what to do, we do what ever we want as long as it “feels right”.

I once asked an Alexandrian High Priest what he saw as the single main difference between British Traditional (ie Initiate) Wicca and American (book-learned, self-initiated etc) Wicca.  His answer was simple - standards.  It seems rather elitist at first glance, but think about it for a minute.  In Initiate Wicca, there are things you are taught according to your grade or degree.  When you have learned those things, you ask to go to the next level.  If your teacher agrees, you are tested (and not by your teacher) and initiated to the next degree where you learn things that are better suited to your level of understanding and experience.  We have the same thing in schools, you learn this year what is appropriate to your age, intelligence and understanding of what you learned last year.  You are tested on it and if you pass, move on to the next level.  In American Wicca, where people learn all they know from books and form groups based on their ideas of how it all should be, there is no experienced teacher to watch over  progress, to decide whether they are ready for the next phase of learning.  You do what feels right.

I have oversimplified in my use of American vs British Wicca here - there are American traditions that are well structured and have standards and teachers and there are British groups that don’t. I needed to find a way to differentiate between the two and this was the most obvious - no offence is intended to anyone.

What makes this worse is the prevalence of facebook groups set up by self-styled teachers.  They gain a following of other beginners and fill their pages with utter nonsense.  Any experienced person who comments on the misinformation finds their comments removed or that they are suddenly subjected to rants of “You don’t have to like my page” or “but every one is doing it” or “you’re so mean, why are you bullying me?”

No true or worthwhile teacher objects to being questioned.  They know that there is always something more to learn and those lessons can come from the most unexpected of places.

There is a growing trend among those more experienced people to sit back and let natural selection take it’s course.  The silly child who thinks that making memes of the facebook profiles of those who have questioned her and adding horrendous captions is “standing up for herself” and that it’s okay because “they started it”.  Mind you, the same silly child thinks that she’s been called by the Morrigan and that the Morrigan will give her strength and fight her battles for her.  Her page is somewhat inspired by/based on the ‘Sons of Morrigan’ which I’m told is from a game!  We can only pass around the popcorn and wait for the inevitable.

Even those who raise concern because they see where it is heading are treated as a troll.  This will end badly and all I can hope for is that her children get proper care when it does.  She may have the best intentions in the world, but that doesn’t make up for a lack of proper research and finding out what is right, rather than what *feels right*.


  1. Well said. The 'feels right' people are up there with the 'if my intentions are pure that's all I can do' people. Grr to the lot of them. And it is a shame that people either aren't willing to help them, or they are unwilling to accept the help offered.

  2. As unpopular as saying it can be, my wake-up call for "You will know what feels right" came from a racist. Actually several racists.
    Some were US citizens and they thought coloured people were animals. You kept your dog in a kennel, your pigs in their sty, and you didn't let your family date the coloured folk. To them it was beastiality pure and simple, and the "feeling" was perverse.

    The other came from South Africa. He didn't really think on the K...native folks. They went in the trucks to the work places, lived in nasty huts, and just weren't people. Sure they did the cooking, the cleaning, the manual labour work about the building and streets but that's ok they weren't people. His wife was worse, because she thought they were dirty. "They used to laugh when one of the K.... children got caught by the river or river wildlife" he told me. It was quite the sight with them all running about.
    Now that might sound a bit outlandish to our modern PC drenched minds, but those people were the peak of their civilisation in their area. Doctors, Dentists, Engineers, Market Analysts.

    To them such things "felt right" and standing beside/behind 'one of the coloureds' - let along sharing a table or shaking their hand, was gut wrenchingly Wrongness. It would be like eating from your pets bowl, or frenching it.

    1. That's a frightening picture really Mist. Sadly, it's accurate. I remember my Grandad making rude comments about the smelly hoaries in my class after seeing a class photo, he then asked if they were in the extension class by quota. He genuinely thought of them as the barbarous savages that you read about.

  3. I'm just so over hearing it as justification for mixing and matching things that just don't work together - immanence and transcendence for example.

    The whole "if you intentions are pure" crap makes me throw up in my mouth a little every time I hear it. It's NOT the best you can do, it's a beginning and it doesn't excuse plain laziness or arrogance.

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    3. I was just going to edit the article to add something I meant to put in originally, but you've touched on it there Deborah.

      As we're generally creatures of habit, any new challenge or anything that takes us out of our comfort zone often feels wrong. But without challenges or leaving our comfort zones we can't grow. We stagnate. So if it doesn't feel right, perhaps we should explore why not before dismissing the concept out of hand.