BY BEX VANKOOT
The rules and regulations of Wicca have always felt foreign to me, even as an eager sixteen-year-old babywitch devouring every new age book I could get my hands on and trying desperately to find a path I could call my own. Goddesses, nature, make love not war, dancing naked under the full moon, songs, drums, and magic circles. Okay. Sure. But that whole threefold law thing? Mehhhhh.
Wicca is a new religion, no matter from what angle you look at it. Modern pagans of all kinds may be inspired by ancient traditions or ancestral bloodlines, but a very few of us have any lineage to claim. This doesn’t invalidate our practice, but it does put things into perspective when we interact with witches who come from other traditions, whose guiding principles don’t always match our own.
I consider myself a pacifist. Justifying violence is not something that comes easily to me. But some violence just isn’t mine to justify. In fact, it is more useful for me to question if in fact it is violence in the first place.
Many pagans I know would consider hexing to be a “violent” magical act. Something that could put their own lives out of balance, bring negativity into their lives. Which is why it wasn’t surprising to see people responding to the recent article on Jezebel about Brooklyn witches hexing Trump with one or another version of, “After that, anything you get you deserve.”
Similarly, media tends to report destruction of property during protests as “violent” action, words that are then used by those watching from the comforts of their home to condemn the people fighting for their lives in the streets.
This has been obvious as #BlackLivesMatter activists face more criticism for not being nice enough in the fight against anti-black racism. These critics, if they can be allowed such a title (suggesting they actually have an argument), are the same comfortable white men condemning Latinx witches from Cuba banding together against Trump with a series of spells designed to shut him up, protect people from his evil eye, and hopefully get rid of that nasty comb over once and for all.
Harm None as an ideal is, in many ways, about as effective as the “I make fun of everyone equally” argument people make to get away with saying really oppressive stuff. But you can’t excuse being a racist by making a few white-guy jokes. There is a difference between stepping in between a bully and his victim…And being the bully yourself. There exists a line between using violence to gain power and defending yourself against violence. And there is a big, smoky, delicious gray area between using magic to manipulate people into positions of submission and employing your skills to protect vulnerable people.
This is especially true when privileged people consider the discomfort of facing that privilege to be just as “harmful” as their own act of cultural appropriation or misogyny, for example.
Who gets to define harm and in what context?
It’s nearly impossible to take an objective look at hurt as it’s happening to you, to get outside the pain and decide if this is something that will help you grow–like a hard run in the woods on a gorgeous day–or something that is going to have long-term or even permanent consequences–like tripping over a tree root and breaking your ankle halfway through your circuit.
Am I feeling uncomfortable because something in me is growing, learning, having to absorb new information? Or is this the pain of hot-fire-coals-burning? Most people are pretty good at figuring it out for physical sensation, but privilege dulls the senses, I think. We’re taught specifically not to empathize with the plight of others, not to see ourselves in them, those people over there. I think a lot of pagans have had a taste of what it’s like to be that person over there, but if we use that hint of empathy to lecture people how to fight their fight?
That’s not revolutionary. That’s 100% status quo.
Editor's Note: This originally appeared on our old site.
Bex vanKoot is writer, nerd, unicorn-lover, proud sjw, wannabe vampire/nazi slayer, and reluctant oxford comma user. http://bexvankoot.com