Friday, 4 July 2008

Begging, Borrowing and Stealing

Following on from my Definition thread, I am curious as to why people feel the need to borrow terms or labels that don't quite fit. Is it the kudos of it? Is calling yourself Wica preferable to calling yourself a pagan witch? If so, why? I have always held respect for initiates of Wica and I would never presume to adopt a title I had not earned through hard work, discipline and dedication. I wouldn't have dared call myself a nun, just because I believed in Christ. Even when christened, baptised, and confirmed did I ever presume I was anything other than Catholic.

I have to wonder what Wica initiates have done to earn such disrespect from the pagan community at large?

Why, too, do people feel the need to borrow practices that have no real value, such as the use of words like "blessed be"? Is it really going to make all that difference to your life? I have to admit I am not fond of those people who use the term "Namaste", either. Having practiced yoga, I used the term in class with my teacher and fellow students, but never took it outside. It wasn't relevant to the everyday man on the street in a western civilisation.

I can understand borrowing magical techniques from other traditions, as I follow the maxim: "If it works, use it". But why the need for elaborate, high theatre ritual if its not necessary? Okay, if it gets you in the mood, so to speak, but still why not concoct your own based on your own experience of energy, instead of borrowing from others?

I've noticed, too, there are trends in pagan circles. When I first entered the scene in the United Kingdom, and on the internet, everyone wanted to be associated with Wica. So much so, that the term became interchangeable with witch. You just couldn't get away from the word or the practices. Traditional witchcraft seemed a dirty word - this might have been because of the release of Professor Ronald Hutton's book [who knows?] and everyone wanted to link themselves to Gardner or Sanders without being an initiate.

Recently, the trend turned more towards druidism, the most common reason for converting being because "it has less dogma". I find this a little laughable given the druids of old had to learn large tracts of law, history and poetry by rote and their training could be up to 20 years long. They were the keepers of lore and law for their clan, often judging what, when, where and how to approach matters. So, I presume there was a certain amount of dogma.

Over the last few months, I've heard reports from those that frequent pagan-lite boards, moots and events that there is an increasing propensity for pagans to claim to be atheist, and the numbers are rising. So, obviously this is the next big thing. I don't mind as I don't believe you have to believe in any deity, or even the possibility of deity existing to be a pagan.

What I do mind is the fact that these things seem to follow in trends. It was one of the reasons I completely ignored anything "celtic" (if you'll excuse the term being used outside of its strictly linguistic context). Everything appeared to be tinged with the celtic motif: reiki, Wica, shamanism ... and the list goes on. The majority of my own ancestors are Irish, but I took the Anglo-Saxon route and follow my English ancestors rather than delve into the apparently kitsch world of celtic pagan traditions; none of it seemed authentic to me anyways (and that's apart from the ancient potato goddess of Ireland), and the modern druids appeared to be too New Age for me, a scene I had long abandoned.

It was only an encounter with a particular entity that forced me to re-examine my beliefs and change tack. I was loathe to do it, but I dived in regardless. This time, however, I dove into a very different pool and came up breathing the air of my ancestors.

I don't call myself a druid, or even a druid-in-training, as I have no intention of going back to law school, or taking part in overt political actions. I do have every intention of learning the myths and lore of my ancestors as thoroughly as I can. I also don't call myself Irish, I'm not. I'm not Scottish either, though that is where my true interest lies. Nor do I align myself with the Brythonic traditions, though they also form part of my studies. [Note: If you want to truly get to grips with all the history, myth and folklore of any of the people defined as the Q-Celtic or P-Celtic cultures, you need to read the texts from the various countries in order to gain the right perspective, or so I am told.]

I refer to myself as a bog-standard pagan for the most part, adding (hard) polytheist for further definition. Depending on my audience, I might also use the label "(practicing) witch". That should be enough for most people to understand my point of origin.

On another note, why do so many authors think its okay to borrow the work of others, rework it and republish it as their own? Its quite obvious, in some cases, that they've not even practiced what they preach and the lack of experience shows. I recently read one post where someone claims a well-known authoress of wikkan books admitted to them that they had got all of the material for their first book from internet sources. I have never known so much plagiarism to be okay. One author of witchcraft books, Paul Huson, even has a link on his website to report those who are peddling his book around the internet illegally as "Mastering the Dark Arts: A Practical Grimoire for Witches, Warlocks and Covens" and, more brazenly, in its original format.

I've also noticed a propensity for members of pagan message boards to "cut and paste" huge swathes of texts from other sites in response to queries, rather than posting an original thought. The idea that message boards are full of armchair pagans was one I had dismissed until I saw all the links in posts being pasted.

Copyright issues seem to be side-stepped by administrators and moderators of these fora, too. The number of times I've brought this to the attention of those in charge only to have no action taken and, often, no response to my query. I've even resorted to contacting the authors and informing them of the breach.

So much for the honour that so many pagans purport to espouse.

So ends today's rant!

Sorry folks. Its been one of those months where some unsavoury practices have come to light, both personally and for friends. I prefer to write things down otherwise I can spend hours, days and weeks mulling over my thoughts. Thanks for being patient and keep the comments coming, please.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the question of the borrowing of terms come directly back to the definition question once more.

Despite your admirably clear-headed view of the pagan world, and your ability to unequivocally state where you see yourself in that world, many are not so able. They are either not sure, and are using a term in a transitional sense as they believe they understand it, or have actively misunderstood it, or have read other sources which define it differently to the way you do.

Despite my dislike of relativism, as applied to learning about the various pagan traditions, there must be an element of fluidity in definition or dogmatism will rule the day and, in effect, we'll be back to the bad old days.

I doubt very much whether term-borrowing or misapplication is done solely out of a spirit of mischief or one-upmanship. This will always happen as some just can't resist it, but for those seekers who are sincere, there will always be a period of time where their enthusiasm outmatches their knowledge. And for others, it may just be that they have reached separate conclusions to yours.