Sunday, August 16, 2015

Witchcraft Revives, Again

You live long enough and you see the same patterns emerge, over and over again. A generation comes of age, falls under the spell of Rationalism but then leaves school and gravitates towards thought contagions that horrify the professors and teachers they once tried so hard to emulate.

And like so many other things that aren't dead at all, Witchcraft/Wicca/ Whatever is not only not disappearing like it's supposed to, it's finding an entirely new batch of converts. Just two years ago, Chaos magician honcho Peter Grey had this to say about the Craft:

“Witchcraft is already dead as a hag, as barren as the moon, as contaminated as the tar sands. Yet Witchcraft is born again in this sacred despoiled landscape, and will be despised as an abomination by those who cannot navigate by the candlelight of guttering stars. Those who seek to escape the fates and furies will learn that they are inexorable.”~ Peter Grey, Apocalyptic Witchcraft
But as mainstream religions now enter their final lap and conservative and Fundamentalist movements circle the wagons, a new cohort finds itself spiritually adrift. The atheist movement might have shamed some people into leaving religions they didn't believe in anyway but as Jung says you don't replace religion with no religion.

 And as many Evangelicals darkly intone you don't replace Christianity - or any other mainstream religion- with rationalism. You replace it with paganism. It may sound like paranoia, but History is on their side.

Human beings are religious animals. Scientists and sociologists will bore you silly with their theories as to why this is so. Of course, my explanation is that the spiritual world is a reality and it has its effect upon the human organism in the same way that many other ostensibly invisible forces do, such as gravity and radiation.

It's not something I need to argue, it's self-evident to me. Probably to most of you as well.

Seeing how human beings and societies function without spirituality-- which is to say they slowly fall apart-- is all the evidence I really need anyway. It's why even doctrinaire atheists like Sam Harris or philosophers of science like John Horgan are so desperate to find a spirituality beyond theism (you could argue that certain forms of Buddhism fit that bill already)-- they know the stakes.

Either way, Witchcraft/Wicca/Whatever is making a comeback at a time when the pundits had declared such a thing an impossibility. Hey, I would never have dreamed that Tolkienesque fantasy would survive the 70s either, but here we are, six Tolkien mega-blockbusters and x-number of seasons of Game of Thrones into it already.

Of course, the vanguard of this new pagan revival are the traditional early adapters, the groups that latch onto thought contagions long before they trickle down into the shopping mall crowd:

How Witchcraft Is Empowering Queer and Trans Young People

Over the course of the 20th century, the popular idea of the witch underwent a transformation. Gone is the baby-eating, Satan-worshipping hag of medieval Europe, and in its place has emerged the idea of female healers. 
Second-wave feminists seeking a strong female subject latched onto the witch as the embodiment of feminine power. Witchcraft entered the feminist consciousness spiritually, though traditions like Wicca, and politically, as groups like WITCH—the Women's International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell—publicly hexed everything from beauty pageants to fees for public transit. Yet while the revival empowered some, it excluded others, and many of the groups that emerged were reserved for women. 
But the idea of the witch has come a long way since then. Witchcraft is seeing a resurgence among queer-identified young people seeking a powerful identity that celebrates the freedom to choose who you are.
What was that mantra from Sex in the City? "First the gays, then the girls?" Well, it seems as if that were a truism, if this next article is any indication.
Meet The Witches Of Instagram 
Between the nascent popularity of tarot, Tumblr horoscopes, candle carving, a brief spike in the popularity of aura photography, and media coverage of witchcraft from Rookie to The Cut, we are in the midst of an occult revival. 
This was first heralded by Newsweek in a 2013 piece published two weeks after the premiere of American Horror Story: Coven, a season centered on a coven of modern-day Salem witches and drawing from such aesthetic interpretation as Pina Bausch’s “Blaubart”, and is going strong two years later with such Buzzfeed roundups as “19 Powerful Tarot Tattoos” and “13 Witchy Instagram Accounts That Will Charm Your Day”. 
Multiple factors are driving this resurgence; for one, tarot and the other tangible aspects of the occult are “particularly suited to the communication age’s current hypervisual incarnation”, according to Maureen O’Connor. “Tarot is, after all, a naturally social enterprise.”
 Then you have your city slickers, keeping an eye on the latest trends. It seems that the urbane sophisticates of New York City are not immune to this latest rebirth of the arcane. As with so many things it's very much the 70s redux, only without the quality pop culture:
How Tarot Became the Trendiest Party Game

In the last year, I’ve seen tarot advertised as a party trick at bottomless brunches. I’ve heard of it offered as parlor games at dinner parties; an opening gambit at gay raves (“Can I read you?”); pun-based entertainment at book events (“a close-read of your future”); and the central activity for girls’ nights in (who needs Netflix?). 
Tarot has become a fixture in my Instagram feed, inbox, and girly group-texting threads. My old roommate got a tarot tattoo —  and her best friend got one, too — and both appeared in a BuzzFeed listicle about “powerful tarot tattoos” that the website labeled with a yellow sticker marked CLASSIC. 
Why tarot? Well, first of all, we are in the midst of an occult resurgencethat has turned crystals and smudging into trendy pursuits. But more important: Tarot is a great way for friends — and, it seems, female friends in particular — to talk about themselves.
But perhaps the olde wytchcraft is still very much with us. One ancient and venerable practice ascribed to magicians is dowsing, the art of finding underground streams of water. And just like New York, even tech-fueled California isn't immune to the lure of the old ways. Just as there are no atheists in foxholes, perhaps there are no skeptics in a devastating drought:
Amid epic drought, California farmers turn to water witches 
LINDSAY, Calif. — Vern Tassey doesn’t advertise. He’s never even had a business card. But here in California’s Central Valley, word has gotten around that he’s a man with “the gift,” and Tassey, a plainspoken, 76-year-old grandfather, has never been busier. 
Farmers call him day and night — some from as far away as the outskirts of San Francisco and even across the state line in Nevada. They ask, sometimes even beg, him to come to their land. “Name your price,” one told him. But Tassey has so far declined. What he does has never been about money, he says, and he prefers to work closer to home. 
 Tassey is what is known as a “water witch,” or a dowser — someone who uses little more than intuition and a rod or a stick to locate underground sources of water.   
With nearly 50 percent of the state in “exceptional drought” — the highest intensity on the scale — and no immediate relief in sight, Californians are increasingly turning to spiritual methods and even magic in their desperation to bring an end to the dry spell.
A must-see doc on a previous occult revival 
As with the 1970s, you also have the reaction among religious conservatives. But with their power greatly diminished, it's highly unlikely that will have much of an effect. Still, they're watching all of this and don't much like it at all.
A Revival of the Devil's Witchcraft Is Rising 
In recent weeks alone, we've seen the devil pressing hard to bring witchcraft deeper into our schools, our homes and our entertainment venues. We reported on how a new witchcraft-inspired challenge is luring kids into summoning demons. It's called Charlie Charlie and it's sweeping the nation and the world under the guise of a carefree fortune-telling game. Faith leaders are sounding the alarm.
But maybe this time the reaction won't come from homegrown Christian conservatives. Remember we live in a world in which witch-hunts are still very much a reality and that people are accused and killed for witchcraft all of the time around the world. Remember also that borders are becoming increasingly theoretical to the powers that be...
Five women lynched for practising 'witchcraft' in Jharkhand, 27 arrested 
Police women march at the spot where five women accused of practicing witchcraft were beaten to death in a village of Kanjia of Mander block of Jharkhand on Saturday.  
Deputy Inspector General of Police Arun Kumar said the women between 32 years and 50 years were beaten to death with sticks by residents of Kanjia village midnight last night.
But we should also remember that there are many varieties of witchcraft and some are not as pleasant as Wicca and its offshoots. Witchcraft and magic can get very ugly in some parts of the world.

Or in these parts as well. If you think magical crimes and satanic ritual murder are just paranoid folk legends, try looking up the "Chicago Ripper Crew" sometime. 

Good and evil are locked in a tango everywhere you look. And to deny the reality of magical crime- or even the potential of it-- is to deny the power of witchcraft and magick and the hold they can have over the human imagination. It's equally misguided to assume all practitioners of the magical are good as it is to assume they are all evil. They are human beings like everyone else.

If we do see a serious and sustained revival of the Craft, we will have to look for more stories like this, whether we like it or not:

Wiccan Community Angered by Police Description of 'Ritual Killing' in Triple Homicide 
The Wiccan community is outraged by police characterizations that a triple homicide in Florida is suspected to be a "Wiccan ritual killing," calling it a "haunting" comparison to the now infamous West Memphis Three case. 
In a phone interview with NBC News, Escambia County Sheriff's Office spokesman Sgt. Andrew Hobbes called the murders, "Wiccan ritual killings." 
"The injuries to the victims, the positions of the bodies and also the person of interest right now is also a practitioner," were contributing factors to the Sheriff Office's determinations, Hobbes said. 
Some in the online Wiccan and pagan community voiced their anger at the officials' characterization of the killings, taking issue with the timing of the homicide — a few days before the symbolic blue moon. 
"My question is, what 'ritual' done a few days before a blue moon would they be attempting and why?" a user posted in a forum on 
Another user on self-described pagan forum The Cauldron, disapproved of the broad strokes with which local authorities painted the entire community. 
"I think if [the sheriff] is going to say that the crime is a Wiccan ritual, he should be made to point out exactly which ritual it was, and where it says in any authoritative work on Wicca that such rituals are permitted," the posting read.
Unfortunately, all communities are painted with broad strokes by someone else at some point. Never has a person risen up when another person has not risen up to oppose them. It's just a sad, simple fact of human nature. If Wiccans become more visible and numerous, they will have to deal with issues that obscure groups necessarily do not.

The question now becomes how resilient this latest Wicca wave will be? Wicca has never gone away, it oscillates in waves of popularity. Many Wiccans will eventually transition into New Age spirituality, which also seems to cresting again. Many will drop out. Who will stay? 

In the past many who became interested in Wicca eventually found their way back to traditional religions, liberal Christianity in particular. But with the latter slowly but inexorably vanishing, the question becomes if Wiccans will finally begin to create more established places and institutions to call their own. 

The next question becomes how will their religion change when it evolves from an informal collection of covens and circles to a more established proposition with budgets, real estate and press relations to worry about. 

These are no small things.

UPDATE: Gordon takes it to the next level, as per usual.