In the wake of the Satanic Panic of the mid-to-late 1980s, several entities within the Pagan community undertook various efforts to publicize the facts about Modern Witchcraft and other magically oriented Paths. While this was primarily a defensive undertaking, it also made access to what was hitherto a comparatively invisible cluster of religions much easier. As a result, the 1990s saw a dramatic increase in the number of individuals who identified as Witches or something similar. Magical communities became part of a visible and growing subculture. This produced what I feel is the under addressed issue of where exactly we want to draw the line between increasing mainstream acceptance of magical Paths and making those Paths more mainstream themselves.
Part of what attracted me to the Craft and later Crowley and Thelema was the countercultural overtones that seemed, to me, inherent to the study of the occult. Mainstream American culture has, for most of my life always seemed to me a collection of cruelties, ignorance, inanity, fraud, superficiality, and bigotry, combined with a dangerously naïve idealism that valorizes the most sociopathic tendencies of the domesticated primate. Truthfully, I am only interested in being acceptable to the average imbecile to the extent that they will leave me alone. Beyond that, I am perfectly happy to watch this vapid virus of a civilization eat itself alive and wait to help build something better from the husk it leaves behind.
What I’m saying is that, while I recognize the need to educate the small percentage of the population that is actually capable of learning something, I find the prospect of my spirituality itself becoming part of mainstream society undesirable. Because mainstream society sucks a massive bag of pox ridden dicks.
Not that there’s anything to be done about the issue at this point. The Jinn has exited his atomizer, and we are left to deal with the thin film of stink that comes with that fact. Along with the occasional creepy pederast or delusional eccentric, magical communities will now have to guard against the more common pathologies of modern life. Things like racism, sexism, and homophobia.
All of these have been present in occult groups for as long as they have existed. Gardnarian Craft was, for a long time, rigidly heteronormative. The Eurocentric bias of Western Esotericism, along with the average class demographic within groups of practitioners, has always guaranteed that a certain percentage of them will tend toward regressive attitudes. But there has also been an equal if not greater push from the more radical edge of these communities. Those of us who see involvement with this sort of lunacy as being, in itself, an explicit rejection of the reactionary norm.
(I am fully aware of arguments that society has, in fact, become too progressive and “politically correct”, and that right wing tendencies are a necessary balance. This is an issue that would require a major digression to fully address. It will have to suffice to say that these arguments are rooted in a lack of a structural understanding of the system and culture we live in, and confuse the veneer of progressivism within popular culture for long term, institutional change.)
We are used to thinking of terms such as “openness”, “inclusivity”, and “diversity” as referring to things we actually want. The problem is that, in the absence of the above mentioned structural and systemic understanding, they become empty buzzwords that do little more than feed the sense of entitlement from which upper middle class white people will approach almost everything, including their spirituality. As our communities start to reflect a more mainstream cultural background, we will find we have more and more people who lack even a naïve, “fuck the system” variant of such an understanding.
Make no mistake, America is still a racist society. The situation does not improve when we look at other Western nations. In a large swath of Europe, racism and nationalism are considered part of daily life. As we become more “open” and “inclusive,” we will find ourselves increasingly more prone to infiltration by these mainstream realities.
It is therefore important, at the outset, to set the limit on exactly how much we will allow our communities to be a part of the larger culture. Other religious communities do this all the time. The Mormons have managed to establish a parallel culture and gain, if not widespread respect, at the very least tolerance, from the society around them. Immigrant Muslims and Hindus are forced to do much the same, conforming to Western norms only to the extent that they must, and maintaining an apartness from them otherwise.
There is a reciprocal relationship between subcultures and the society around them. As we become more mainstream in our makeup, we potentially take on more of the ideology that mainstream people unconsciously hold. This in itself is a mixed bag. It contains both positive and detrimental elements. At the same time, as more mainstream people adopt magical conceptions of the world around them, those ideas themselves become slightly more “normal.” But this influence is only truly progressive and positive when the subculture itself has a high level of clarity and integrity. That is to say, the core of a meme will only become determinant if it is strong enough to withstand contact with the contradictory memes it interacts with. It will only survive if it is complete and coherent on its own terms.
If magical communities are going to maintain integrity, and retain the generally progressive trajectory of the past half century, we must do something similar to the communities mentioned earlier. Boundaries, intelligent exclusion, and discrimination, are not bad things if done with the proper intent. They are key to the main enterprise of our Paths: Magick.
Yes, Magick is about exclusion. It is the stripping away of everything that is not in concert with your intent. The question is, do we intend a vital, vibrant, alternative cultural community in answer to the everyday idiocy around us, or do we content to remain an inchoate subculture that allows any and all ideas to flourish, regardless of how they undermine us in the long term?