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Some Pagans and Wiccans in Mexico tend to overrate their lineage from Wiccan traditions and level of collaboration with international organizations. They tend to boast about their links to foreign institutions and about having a history that comes from outside our country, rather than appreciating our own culture when speaking about their backgrounds and instead of working together with local groups for the improvement and wellness of our community.
I recently read a Facebook post that made accusations of charlatanism and abuse within Wiccan and Pagan groups in Mexico that dared to question the authenticity and history of any group and its connection to other organizations. Among the situations denounced, the post mentioned different types of abuse, false practitioners, teachers without a formal background, made-up lineages, and stolen traditions.
I believe in the great relevance of abuse victims breaking their silence to speak up and look for help. But what shocked me was the correlation between abuse and the lack of spiritual traditions and lineages that the post and its comments implied. The post generated dozens of comments, some deviating on whether there are certain Wiccan and Witchcraft lineages in Mexico or not.
I found this debate unnecessary because it diverts attention from topic of abuse and the victims in question, and what could be done to assist them and avoid these terrible experiences. I think that as a community we should focus more on how to help victims or potential victims.
It also disappointed me to see Mexican Pagans once again minimizing our cultural and spiritual heritage. Like I have mentioned in previous columns, we have had a close relationship with magic and witchcraft since pre-Hispanic times, and we grew up surrounded by magical stories and legends.
In an example given in one of my previous columns, Bernardino de Sahagún, a Franciscan friar, registered at least fifteen pre-Hispanic witches, sorcerers, and magicians in the Florentine Codex, and Alfredo López Austin, a Mexican historian, listed forty types in his book Cuarenta clases de magos en el mundo náhuatl (“Forty Classes of Magicians in the Nahuatl World”).
Another example is the stories within our families about our grandmothers and their inherited knowledge of natural remedies and their relationship with the non-physical world that are more than common to hear.
Our own heritage and ancestry have a strong value even when we were not formally initiated or when the traditions does not come from a European spiritual line. This is in our blood.
Most importantly, I found the debate disturbing because speaking of traditions and lineages as if these were credentials that guaranteed a lack of abuse and bad practices can also become a way of abusing others. Abuse can exist in any type of tradition or group, regardless of its origin or lineage.
This debate made me think about how when people belittle someone who is self-initiated, or someone who does not have international connections, or someone who didn’t have a formal spiritual or religious education, they are ridiculing, shaming or denigrating that individual’s religious or spiritual beliefs. This is also abuse.
When an accuser speaks of their international background or connections only as proof of authority towards others, or as justification for being the one allowed to point fingers, the accuser becomes the abuser. These backgrounds or connections should be used to give examples and to use opportunities and knowledge in order to teach, to help, to guide, and to collaborate with others in order to improve the community.
I agree that it is important to investigate a group before being a part of it. There are plenty of spiritual leaders or groups, not only within Paganism, that take advantage of people and lead them toward abusive situations. I agree that analyzing and verifying this information is crucial when making a decision. However, rather than focusing on the international experiences and connections a group has, on the long line of generations it says it comes from, or on the golden diplomas from international organizations that the group exhibits, I would suggest analyzing how a group actually works locally.
My first suggestion is to ask for references. What do other people that have been inside it say about it? What are the comments on the Facebook page of the group? How do people feel there? Are individuals appreciated and respected?
The second is to analyze how the group communicates. What information does the group provide. Is it coherent? No matter the type of background the group mentions, is it clear and objective? How does the group reply to other people? Do they focus more on personal responsibility rather than pointing fingers toward other’s actions, other situations, other factors or other people?
The third is to take into consideration the relationship they have with their land, their ancestors, and their community. Do they honor their ancestors and the ancestors of the land they are at? Do they respect and care about their community? Do they care about what is happening in their community and propose actions? Do they have a mission based on service and work with other local groups towards the betterment of their community or are they isolated and only talk negative of others without proposing actions or solutions?
What a group wants to leave as a legacy for its community is more powerful than how the group or its tradition originated, because those origins were during a time when the context and historical factors were different from what is happening in the present. Actions speak louder than words, and local and current actions are closer and clearer to see.