A Foundation of Choice

What is up with people reading newWitch and holding it up as a representative of modern Paganism? You saw my post earlier this week on a commentator poking fun at the ads in the magazine and now Peter Wicks takes a few cheap swipes at newWitch and modern Paganism (in a column that I thought was about astrology) in The Observer.

“As any classicist will tell you, the occult is meant to be hidden and secretive. Witches, for example, are supposed to gather at midnight to perform unspeakable rituals. But according to the typographically challenged newWitch magazine (a publication dedicated to “Witches, Wiccans, Neo-Pagans and other earth-based, ethnic, pre-Christian, shamanic and magical practitioners”) this is all a big misunderstanding.”

First off, since when is newWitch an “occult” magazine? I thought it was a special-interest magazine for a group of new religious traditions based on and inspired by ancient Paganism.

“The pages of newWitch do indeed contain spells and incantations, but none of them claim to involve powers any greater than those regularly attributed to perfumes in glossy advertisements. The rest is numbered lists and astrological sex tips, which only goes to confirm my theory that given enough time, any magazine for a female readership will turn into Cosmopolitan (a parallel rule holds true with men’s magazines and Maxim).”

Are we reading the same magazine? Sure there are sex tips (we do belong to nature religions after all) and “numbered lists” (of what he didn’t specify) but there are also interviews with prominent modern Pagans, music and literature reviews, short fiction, and a variety of columns that don’t talk about astrology at all. I also didn’t know that I was writing for the Pagan equivalent of Cosmo, but then this guy has a Masters in Philosophy so I’m sure I’m out of my depth in questioning his judgment.

If this was the end of it I wouldn’t have cared much, people have been knocking on newWitch from the beginning (and at times it has deserved the knocking). But then Wicks goes on to discuss “neo-paganism” in general.

“Other forms of neo-paganism are even more anemic…Surveying these new spiritualities, they share a discernable thinness. For the most part they invoke the laudable but vague values of tolerance, respect and openness. Where they differ from traditional religions is that they rarely make any actual demands of their adherents…modern spirituality is largely a question of building a house of choice on a foundation of choice…Modern spirituality is not religion with the superstition removed, as some presumed. The superstition is still there. It’s everything else that is missing. “

Dare I say these quotes are ignorant? But I doubt Mr. Wicks is ignorant, I feel it is a matter of him simply not caring to dig any deeper. It sounds like he picked up a magazine, did a few web searches and wrote a little screed to poke fun at what I’m sure he considers a pack of loonies. Suffice to say, anyone with the appropriate time and inclination could find that under the banner of modern Paganism you will find religious traditions that do indeed demand things of the adherents and are not simply feel-good exercises, you will also find thousands of individuals who are practicing in faith traditions that are rich, fully-formed and have their own complex view of the world. But then I guess that doesn’t make for a good “funny” column.

Jason Pitzl-Waters