The Bedamnitudes, or, Curses from the Speech in Galt’s Gulch

A satire on the attitudes of the extreme right-wing in America today:

Cursed be the poor in spirit: for they desire affirmative action.
Cursed be they who mourn: for they expect government death benefits.
Cursed be the meek: for they mooch to inherit the earth.
Cursed be they who hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they are socialists.
Cursed be the merciful: for they are soft on crime.
Cursed be the pure of heart: for they are naive.
Cursed be the peacemakers: for they shall be called bipartisan compromisers.
Cursed be they who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for they promote victimhood.

“Breaking Curses” a fundamental characteristic of “Apostles”

We’ve been hearing more and more about the New Apostolic Reformation lately, led by “apostles” such as Cindy Jacobs, John Benefiel, and C. Peter Wagner. In a book by Wagner about what it means to be an “apostle” today, he lays out “12 characteristics displayed by many (if not most) apostles,” although not all “apostles” have all twelve characteristics.

Number eleven on his list is “Breaking curses of witchcraft,” and in his explanation of a Biblical example, he equates witchcraft with divination and demonic possession. Number ten on his list is “Casting out demons,” by the way, so these ideas are intimately related in this present-day “apostle’s” mind.

Things get even more interesting when I read the actual Bible verses cited as examples of “breaking curses of witchcraft.” In the first one, Acts 16:16-18, a female slave who is possessed by a spirit that allows her to do divination, from which she earns money, follows the Apostle Paul and his companion around, announcing that they are exactly who they say they are: servants of “the Most High.” She urges people to convert to Christianity. Finally, Paul becomes annoyed and casts out her demon.

The message I take from that is that today’s “apostles” are supposed to be aggressive even towards people who claim to be Christian or to be working for the same goals. They are supposed to turn on their allies and coworkers if those people are doing things in an unacceptable way. They will even deprive their allies of a livelihood. I can’t help but think that this is also another example of misogyny: a female slave can’t be allowed to upstage the Apostle Paul, even if she’s telling the truth.

So if you’re Christian but you think a Magic 8 ball or even, gasp, Tarot cards (full of Christian symbolism) might be acceptable, think again. And if you do divination for money, especially if you’re a woman? Forget about it. The NAR are explicitly announcing that they are coming for you.

The second instance, Acts 13:8-11, is when Paul is trying to convert a local government official, but the local “sorcerer” is trying to prevent it. Paul responds by cursing the sorcerer with blindness. Of course, the government official converts, because he sees how powerful the Christians are.

This is the model the NAR wants to follow. This is their stated goal: offensive spiritual warfare with real, physical consequences.

Edited to add: To clarify, I don’t think their spiritual warfare is going to cause physical harm. But they do, and they want it to, and we should take that seriously. If they don’t get the results they want through curses, they might take more direct action.

They certainly want to use government to enforce their narrow subsect of Christianity. That’s what DC40 is all about. And don’t think this is solely about spiritual issues: very few people are talking about it, but their prayer networks in every state could easily be converted into networks for taking political action. Now that Perry has officially joined the Presidential race, I believe those networks and their involvement in “The Response” are intended to be a part of his campaign.

In the face of this effort, it is vital for us to work peacefully to protect our rights in all the ways available to us.

h/t to Right Wing Watch for the book excerpts

Curses, foiled again!

I don’t understand why Wiccans and Pagans continue to shoot themselves in the foot. The latest example is a blog I’ve just started reading that has a three part guest series on curses. Regardless of the good intentions of the author and the blog owner, what these posts actually do is create misunderstanding among people potentially interested in magic and give ammunition to people who want to believe that Pagans and magic users are wicked witches from fairytales. It’s an irresponsible thing to post and is an example of why I am sometimes ashamed of my coreligionists.

Talking about curses as actual magical practices is almost certain to do more harm than good. Most people who are concerned that they might be under a curse or suffering a psychic attack of some kind are looking for an external cause for their problems because they don’t want to face what’s actually going on. Period. Implying otherwise without knowing the exact details of a particular situation is going to add fuel to the fire of people’s imaginations at the precise moment when what those people need most is clear, hard reality.

The author explains that “entropy curses” often manifest as extremely unlikely strings of bad luck, and while he (?) points out that readers should look for very unprobable strings of events, he gives the following example:

If your house gets robbed one day, and then two days later all your pet fish die, and the next day your favorite sneakers go missing, only to have your grandmother pass the next week, well, then that’s possibly a curse.

No, it’s not. Thinking that these events result from a curse is a prime example of magical thinking that fails my “What if I’m wrong?” test. I apply this test on a regular basis: for example, I meditate, and I hold religious and magical beliefs about what meditation means and does. What if I’m wrong? Well, meditation has been proven to have physical and psychological benefits, completely independent of the religio-magical aspects of my beliefs. And if I do it wrong, at worst, I’ve wasted some time.

But what if someone is wrong about the curse? As long as you also file a claim, improve your home security, clean your fish tank, check your fish care guide, buy new sneakers, and get some grief counseling, a little bit of salt around the edges of your property isn’t a huge waste, but the real danger is that people will spend more time blessing their fish tank than learning how to use water conditioner and cleaning the filter.

In part two, the author suggests that we detect “targeted” curses by looking for a pattern of effects that could be taken as retribution being leveled against us by someone we’ve wronged who is known to use magic, and by looking for “the presence of artifacts, both physical and magickal.” (sic)

“Looking for a pattern” invites people to make up a story about how what’s happening to them is being caused by an outside force that means to do them harm. Humans are extremely good at making up these stories. They’re a wonderful defense mechanism that people use all the time to avoid taking responsibility for their own behaviors and consequences, and to keep themselves from seeing the actual problems in a situation:

Say you’re dating someone magickally talented and you slip up and cheat on them, only to have your next three lovers be unfaithful to you: that would likely be a targeted curse.

Or maybe the fact that you described cheating as a “slip up” explains why you’re having trouble establishing and maintaining a committed relationship. This kind of magical thinking is extremely likely to cause major harm and very unlikely to have any positive results, especially if the magical thinking is incorrect, which it is likely to be. The person worrying about a curse isn’t just wasting time, energy, and possibly resources; the magical thinking will perpetuate the problem and actively prevent the person from addressing the actual psychological and emotional issues involved.

The other suggestion, looking for either something important of yours that’s missing or trying to find something “nasty” or out of place in your personal environment – possibly buried! – is also likely to be misleading and a waste. This avenue of investigation is so open-ended that the theory is impossible to disprove, and thus extremely likely to be a refuge of denial.

Finally, the author suggests two main ways to break curses: one is to find the object placed near you and clean or purify it and rid yourself of it, and the other is – surprise! – a purifying bath with salt. Assuming that you do find an “artifact” near you that involves bugs, “fecal matter,” or rusty nails, carefully cleaning it is likely a further waste of your time and hazardous to your health. The author offers no suggestions on how to deal with a curse placed on an object of yours that the curser now has in his or her possession.

The suggestion to take a warm bath with salt is the only sensible part of these three posts. It just barely squeaks by the “What if I’m wrong?” test: a bath will likely make you feel better, and adjusting your mentality to “shrug off” the supposed ill-wish may help you turn the corner. It does promote the idea that the real problem was a curse, though, which is potentially dangerous, so it’s still not harmless. Finally, the author’s self-contradiction and extreme open-endedness exacerbate these issues, so not only are these posts a bad idea, they’re a bad idea poorly executed.

These posts are not helpful advice, and they’re not headology. They’re likely to cause distinct, even physical, harm to people who take them seriously. They certainly encourage the misperception that magic is about curses, which degrades the public perception of Wicca, Paganism, and magic. They are irresponsible and unethical and are an excellent example of what not to do.

NB: This post takes the place of my usual new moon post on divination because this is a perfect counter-example of the evaluation of harm that I do about divination.

Review: Horne, Witch, A magickal journey

Horne, Fiona. Witch: A magickal journey a hip guide to modern witchcraft. (Harper Collins, 2000.) Hardback, 358 pages. Originally published as Witch: A personal journey and Witch: A magical year in 1998 and 1999 by Random House, Australia.

Fiona Horne is a former lead singer for a band. This is the single most important fact that you need to know about her in order to understand what her writing is like. Thankfully, she lets you know this early on and never lets you forget it. Horne’s approach to Witchcraft is that it’s very cool, too, and that you too, can be very cool and Witchy and stuff. Especially if you buy more of Horne’s products.

She uses the terms Wicca and Witchcraft interchangeably, probably because she’s not terribly interested in Wicca as a religion. In fact, she doesn’t believe the gods and goddesses have any independent existence; they’re “projections of our consciousness.” (4) Now, the Jungian archetypes view of deity is a reasonable approach, but Horne isn’t going to bother with the messy business of understanding her own theaology; she’s just not going to let it slow her down.

The next chapter is “Witches’ Britches: Witchy Style and When to Take Your Clothes Off!” It is exactly as superficial as the subtitle suggests. She attempts to deal with the idea of skyclad, but mostly she talks about how she feels, gives suggestions for how to change one’s own attitude through how one presents oneself to others, and basically says, do whatever makes you feel good. She also gives the reader an up-close and personal view into her tattoos and her lip labret, and how cool and spiritually meaningful each and every one of them is. But she does this without actually grappling with any of the issues that people who aren’t comfortable with themselves deal with. As she once posed nude for Playboy with her snake familiar, I feel safe saying that she probably doesn’t understand the body issues of someone overweight, scarred, transgendered, or otherwise not a rock star. That’s my first problem with her.

My second problem is with her total disregard of history, or “herstory,” as she calls it. Okay, reclaiming history in a feminist fashion is important, but that’s not what Horne is about here. She gives a little bit of the Gardner-era history of Wicca, but really what she cares about is that “Lots of present day individuals will make up an ancient history that fits their current view of the Craft. I like this: the stories people fabricate of the past are fascinating insights into the structure of the present.” (17) Did you get that? It doesn’t matter to her whether our stories are true or not, because they’re fascinating insights into ourselves.

She doesn’t care about the distinction between myth and history, and she doesn’t care about our grasp on reality. Insight into ourselves is what’s most important. This fits with Horne’s own entirely inward-focused gaze. The rest of her work is driven by her narcissism and is an account of how she expands herself outwards to make herself more important and all-encompassing. Her disregard for reality may also be a lingering effect of the New Age ideas she says she was briefly fascinated by in her teens. These ideas sound a lot like the Law of Attraction and positive thought and other such nonsense. Horne says she became skeptical when she realized that sometimes bad things happen and that we don’t have perfect control over our universe, but the rest of her writing conveys a strong undertone of New Thought assumptions that she hasn’t discarded. (3)

Her personal stories about ancient history that support her view of the Craft come through in statements made perfectly factually, such as: “It was a tradition among the ancient Druids to wear crowns with open-set jewels in the centre of the forehead for similar reasons,” that is, to stimulate the third eye, and “The infamous isle of Lesbos was colonized by Amazons in the 6th century BC.” (29, 240) That’s my second problem with her work.

My third problem is that this is very simply a badly-written spell book. It’s a grimoire that’s all out of order – correspondences before you have any idea what they are or how to use them, familiars right after correspondences and before any other elements of spell work, and a strange and inconsistent approach to the difficult ethical issues of magic.

She has an entire chapter, “Flying High,” on magical drugs, which alternates between the idea that controlled use of well-understood substances in carefully-constructed settings with appropriate training can be beneficial, and a vague awareness that drugs are dangerous and possibly bad, and definitely hard to use well. She tells about a bad trip that two friends had, says that drugs aren’t to be used as a shortcut, and discusses in some detail the use of alcohol, without exactly saying why or what for. It’s so strange that I have difficulty conveying it.

Another chapter recounts a friend’s use of poppet magic to attack an enemy, but she leaves out specific aspects of the ritual, saying that she doesn’t believe in specific demonic forces. She also includes warnings about the backlash of manipulative, negative magic, and seems to be trying to tell a cautionary tale, but most of the details are about how to stick the pins in the poppet and what to say when doing so. It’s extremely bizarre, and doesn’t seem to be backed up by a consistent philosophy of either “don’t manipulate,” or “take what you want but pay the price.”

She has suggestions for an entire week of magical ritual where one doesn’t go in to work or do any real-world concerns (no washing the dishes?) which is extremely self indulgent, to a degree that seems to ignore the very real constraints on the vast majority of people who will read her book. Looking at her other published works, it looks like this chapter has been extracted and expanded to be published as a book on its own. Similarly, her chapter on magical sex has apparently been published independently as its own work as well. This book is itself a combination of her first two publications, so it has a chapter on the Wheel of the Year in the back, but it is really a tacked-on vestigial approach to what should be a central Wiccan topic.

Horne also has a very odd chapter on “Cyber-Sorcery.” She opens it with the statement “the Internet is the closest humans have come so far to creating psychic thought-transference via technology. Much of the Internet is connected via fibre optic cables along which information is transmitted as light, and mystics have predicted throughout time that humans are evolving to a point where we can exist as pure light: pure consciousness.” (253) Then she goes on to describe how to construct a spell-file, which is a written statement of intention with some symbology worked in, and tells the reader that opening and resaving the file every day resends the energy of the spell. Maybe I’m too much younger, maybe I’ve been around computers so much of my life that they’re just mundane to me, but it just sounds silly.

Finally, it’s worth pointing out that Horne also has a website with more self-aggrandizement, and a spell book, with such gems as “Triple fast acting jinx removing bath and floor wash.” No word on whether it’s a dessert topping as well. Given all this and further information such as this review of her works and products, I am left with no other conclusion than that Fiona Horne is trying to get attention and is harming Wicca’s reputation in the process. I strongly discourage buying her books or products.