My Urban Practice and the Invisible Lines in Society

Disclaimer:  Prior to reading this post I would like to point out that this is a introspective post that has more to do with my ability to evaluate who I am and who I want to be.  It is a chance to look at my feelings of being judged, seeing others judged and times when I have also been judgmental.  If you are wondering or thinking whether this is about you, the answer is no.  What I would encourage though is to consider why you might think that, if you find that you do.


pic from hawkdancing, I actually own this hat now!

I don’t often consider myself to be someone other than an urban practitioner.  I don’t know another title for it, I am sure there is one though because I cannot be the only one.  I find it interesting how many assumptions and expectations we put on one another in our society.  We categorize people by what we expect to see and then there is this silent pressure for others to live up to these expectations.

One example I find with this is how being a Wiccan brings a lot of assumptions that I am a lover of all things nature; that I am comfortable in the environment and its splendor.  While I am a lover of the beauty of the outdoors and the energy of the earth, I am not always comfortable in the great outdoors.

Growing up in Northern California and being around Berkeley,San Francisco and Oakland, I did not go camping or other places that afforded me the chance to acclimate to the world of the outdoors.  I always found nature in my surrounding areas and not in ways that I have found other Pagans do.  It was never a priority to my mother; I am not sure if that was because she didn’t like nature herself or if she was just not accustom to it from growing up Black in the South.  (I am sure that in parts of Alabama, or other places in the South, during those times that Black people were not worried about going camping.)

Either way, it is not my strength to be in raw nature, dealing with bugs (ick!), dealing with certain animals or living an overly natural lifestyle.  I am 100% urban Witch.

Contrary to the assumptions from many within the Pagan community, I don’t have a functioning herb garden, I don’t go hiking, I commute to work, my kids go to public school and my children are vaccinated. Did I mention that my 11 year old has a cell phone? Oh, the horror!!

Those statements are often the things that create the “look” within the Pagan community.  It is that “I can’t believe you eat fast food” look that I have seen from other Pagans.  These invisible lines within one culture do not always exist within other cultures or communities.  I think these things are often unfairly used to evaluate integrity, ethics or value to others.  I always chuckle at the thought that my choice to send my child to public school or the fact that I may not like bugs somehow can translate that I am not Pagan enough or I have a questionable moral code.

Within many professional arenas of the world, culture is different.  The same invisible guidelines that are used as markers of authenticity are not the same.  Being a professional career mom that is also a full time college student lends a different cultural aspect to lifestyle choices.  I talk to other people in the same field of counseling that I work in that are not shocked by the fact that my kids are vaccinated or that I might not be able to feed my kids a home prepared meal from the farmer’s market that night because traffic was horrific on the ride home during my commute.  It can actually be the opposite.  I often hear people in my professional life discuss the disbelief that I consider accommodating all those variables, like how I am going to cook dinner and simultaneously write my research paper.  Or I have heard people ask me why I have gone camping for vacation after working such a mentally challenging job and “not taken a real or relaxing vacation instead”.  As my husband said at a recent festival “Pagans are some of the only people I know who choose to be homeless for a week”.  (My husband works with acute mentally ill client’s who are currently or formally homeless.)

Don’t get me wrong, I bump up against those invisible lines within the Black community too; within the California community, the pleasantly plump community and even from the sorta, kind of middle class community I exist in.  Judgments, misconceptions, assumptions and ignorance do not start nor stop with any community, especially not within the Pagan community.  We are equally all those things, just as all cultures of people can be.

One cannot judge another’s moral compass or integrity without first understanding what shoulders that those things stand on.  Since it is impossible to fully understand another’s culture, experiences, thoughts or upbringing…. We can just say that the judgments of judgers are just as faulty as those in which they judge.

And so I will take a quick moment to answer a couple of questions that come from the variety of cultures and communities I am involved in, that bump up against the invisible lines of understanding my urban practice.

  • I am not afraid to work in the “hood” and I am not afraid that I will get robbed by the students in which I serve.  I do not feel “bad” for them, I feel responsible for a society that creates these inequalities and then walks away from it.  I feel an obligation to do this work because of my moral values, not because I feel guilty.
  • I do not feel unhealthy because I am pleasantly plump.  I don’t feel inferior to those who are thinner and do not treat them any differently than I expect to be treated.  I am also not trying to look like them because I go to the gym; some of them are unhealthier than I am.
  • Yes California has better weather but sometimes we also have too many assholes.  I don’t like the bugs in other places either so I guess that makes it all even out.
  • How I choose to raise my child is rooted in a culture that you may or may not understand.  While I have a variety of ideals that aid in my decision making skills around parenting, please don’t assume that your values out value mine or that of my ancestors.

And with that, I will say that I like my multi-cultural, mixed community, diverse lifestyle.  I appreciate contributing to society in a way that fills a void for others and supports my own sense of worth in the world.  It is a career that does not always afford me the financial means to buy from the farmer’s market or have the time to grow my own food.  Nonetheless, my health is also fed in ways that are not easily shown to those who are not looking beyond their own noses.

My magic consists more of words than of candles and I consciously know that I am weaving magic whether I am talking to a child in a school site or casting a circle in my back yard.  Sometimes my magic will look like a stressed out mom, studying in the living room while the kids are eating dinner.  I know the focus of these workings is to plant seeds in my life that will plant the seeds for education and success in their lives.  I may never see that magic come to fruition within this lifetime but I believe in my power to manifest a future for them.

I often practice the magical art of creative shopping on a budget or incredible phone calls that support a shift in energy on the receiver.  I have become skilled in the art of achieving the unexpected by focusing intent and creating momentum in that direction.

I find that being Pagan is more than a set of ideals prescribed by others and comes from a place deep within myself, connecting me to lines of my history and the energy of my ancestors.  Being Pagan is not something I can always articulate into words because it is less of a choice and more of a life path that is passed down from a collective consciousness, generations before my birth.  I also understand that all people on the path of growth are finding their way outside of the black and white culture of choices and understanding the many shades that come between the perception of right and wrong.

My path of urban witchhood suits me well.  It is my choice to live a path in accordance with the way I was raised and with what I also believe.  I get the best of both worlds and I don’t have to be anyone other than who I am and who I have come to be.  I always think I do that at face value for others and yet I feel that everyone wants to put people in a glass house of expectations so that we can take the mystery out of one another, so we can assume that the world is exactly as we think it should be.  I know that I am no different.  Today I know that no amount of asserting conditions on others will create a world that is what I want or think it should be.

I want to continue to work on my own path without others making choices for me or assuming I am other than what I am.  I know that I can not have that without giving it.

And yes, I use deet when I camp, I am afraid of 89% of bugs, I suck at meditation, I have over 300 channels on cable and yet I walk with the Gods, the Goddess speaks to me, I spend most of my time in service and love who I am becoming. I am 100% urban witch and loving it.

  • sunfell

    I am very glad that you are creating an authentic Path and Practice that works for you. Far too many Pagans seem to busy giving each other the politically correct side-eye to really see the Now, or actually effectively work within it. This gets really old and tiresome. Stay strong, and keep laughing.

  • Lisa Spiral

    John is amused that Pagans choose to be homeless for a week.  When I got my first tent it was a rite of passage.  My father said, now that you have a tent you’ll never be homeless.  Different cultures, different experiences and different ways to view the same experience.  All of them are valid.  I think you’ve framed this very nicely, thank you for being authentic.  I think that’s more important in the end than meeting some standard of “Pagan enough.”

  • Marienne Hartwood

    Bless you for this! I tend to avoid the term “Pagan” for my personal beliefs and practices because I seem to have to spend forever and a day explaining the issues that you bring up. When I take time off from my day job and want to travel, I might “rough it” by staying at a hotel without room service–but my camping days are over by choice and find no spiritual need to attend festivals just to “get in touch” with outdoor living and lack of plumbing. I use my iPad as a magical tool more often than a wand. If given the choice between ritual indoors or outdoors, I prefer indoors. I’m okay with LED candles instead of petroleum-based wax candles that spew pollution into my living space. I practice squishing of bugs that make it into the house instead of trying to “liberate” them outside. I don’t believe that choosing poverty is the best way of life for me, and have a healthy relationship with money. My husband and I are raising our daughter to be well suited to live in a techno-saturated world…and to enjoy it and be spiritually fulfilled within it (even if that means we are not raising her as pagan). It makes people around me uncomfortable from time to time, because there is sometimes a presupposition that if you aren’t “nature-based” that you have no way to be ethical within the “pagan community”. It also tends to mean that people don’t know what to do with the skill sets that I bring to the “pagan community”, nor are people able to understand my mindset on many things. At one point, I thought my husband and I were the only folks who were in this pickle, but lately I’ve run into lots of people who seem to be of this mindset. There’s not really a good name for us, but it is refreshing that there are many of us out there! Thank you for sharing your story, and if you ever find a name for it…feel free to share that, too. :)

  • Kat Emralde

    Love this post.  A lot.  Thank you.

  • PhaedraHPS

    I hear you.

    I grew up in the Big City. The first time I went camping  was at age 35. I never much liked it, but I did it because the events I wanted to go to were camping events. Now I’m 60, and darned if I feel the need to do it any more. Get me a cabin, ok? Or a pop-up or something? I can’t sleep on the ground anymore. And please, someplace where I can easily wash my hands after using the potty. Or better yet, a nice room with a little climate control, running water and window screens.

    I hate bugs. I react dramatically to insect bites (not emergency-room dramatically, but pretty impressive welts) The damn things love me.  I will get bit when all around me are doing fine. 25 years ago, my  HPS was an herbalist & I used to use herbal bug repellent. That was until I got so many mosquito bites during a Lammas rite that I had to leave the rite. That time, I almost did go to the emergency room (thank the Gods I had an antihistamine tablet that helped just enough). At that point, my herbalist high priestess ordered me to use chemicals. DEET may not be for everyone, but it is my friend.

  • Auset

    ” I don’t have to be anyone other than who I am and who I have come to be.” Thank you so much for this! I live my life so eclectically, I dont even try to explain myself anymore. I usually sum it up by saying I find can find something beautiful about any philosophy and also things about it that I disagree with. I do tarot; but I dont recycle. I eat dulse seaweed (when I can afford it) but had a chicken sandwhich from Burger King the other day. I believe in astrology more than Christianity but love exchanging heartfelt gifts during Christmas/Solstice & magical holiday lights. I was born in the hood , can fix some mean vegetarian greens  and like Pink Floyd as well as the Isley Brothers :) .  I loove me some kitty cats but am super allergic to fleas (PhaedraHPS- I feel you, the bugs eat me alive too!).  I could go on & on & on …
    Looking at the bigger picture, there is just enough social freedom for people to choose based on how they feel and what works for them rather than living out a controlled conditioned life dictated by others. I love it. It means we have to take time to get to know someone, who they really are & why. Thanks for sharing a corner of your Universe with us.

  • Cheri Haram

    Excellent! I’m so grateful you take the time to write….