This is my 100th blog post, which — considering I assumed Patheos was going to be like, “Nobody cares about Discordianism and you curse too much,” after I launched my column — is quite an achievement, even if I do say so myself.
If I were better at scheduling, this post would’ve coincided with my blogiversary a week from now, for which I’ve got a nifty retrospective planned. (I’ve always regretted not spacing out those New Warrior Training Adventure posts back in August; they threw everything off.) But whatever. It’s all good. Instead, let’s just take this moment to talk about ‘splaining — that is, explaining a topic in a condescending and often inaccurate manner while presuming ignorance on the part of one’s audience — and how it currently contours contemporary Paganism.
Oh, and memes! Let’s talk about memes, too.
Several days ago, Devin Hunter posted the following with the caption, “I couldn’t help myself.”
To which I immediately replied with an appropriate, even-handed animated GIF:
And then I cross-posted the meme to every one of my social media accounts and downloaded it as my desktop wallpaper, because a) there’s no such thing as bad press, b) regardless of my facetious reaction, it was legitimately not directed at me, and c) it made me laugh for like 30 minutes.
In general, the comic went over well and garnered responses like, “Orgies or margaritas? ¿Por qué no los dos?” People understood that the joke wasn’t mean-spirited, and everyone got a good chuckle out of it.
Well, almost everyone. In the middle of all the giggly replies, a prickly remark appeared:
Some of us don’t believe or follow the Threefold Law.
At which point I went outside and banged my head against the brick wall of my apartment building, because OH, MY GODS, PEOPLE, READ THE DAMN ROOM.
Right. Let’s start unpacking.
It’s hard for me to understand why someone would feel the need to make this comment, since the whole point of the meme is that not everyone follows the Threefold Law. In fact, people who don’t follow the Threefold Law are the target demographic — and at this point, I would hazard a guess and say that there are more people out there who do not acknowledge the Threefold Law in their practices than there are people who adhere to it.
And granted, not every punchline is going to land, so maybe the commenter just didn’t get the joke. But I think it’s more likely that they skimmed through the first two panels, saw the phrase “Threefold Law,” stopped reading, and thought, “Well, actually…” and decided to interject entirely unnecessary clarification.
The assumption on the part of the commenter, then, is that whoever made and/or shared the meme needed to be enlightened. And I know this is a lot of conjecture, but perhaps they weren’t familiar with Devin’s works and figured he didn’t have any awareness of the subject.
If that’s the case… okay, I firmly agree with John Beckett that Pagan leadership is not a competition, nor do I think that any one of us has more right to knowledge or the potential for experience than any other. But I do want to take a quick moment to review Devin’s CV.
- A best-selling author.
- An award-winning podcaster.
- Founder of a flourishing tradition of Witchcraft.
- A professional medium.
- Co-owner of a successful occult business.
- On a first-name basis with the Devil Himself.
I’m honestly not trying to blow Devin’s horn (and I could’ve phrased that differently; I see that now). I’m just saying that he knows his stuff, like how a lot of us know our stuff. So why do we feel the need to ‘splain the obvious to each other?
Mat Auryn wrote an excellent article a few years back on how to avoid witchsplaining, which is, as far as I’m concerned, required reading. But I also want to look at what motivates us to ‘splain, because identifying that will be a big step towards preventing it from happening.
Part of the issue, I think, is that many Pagans, especially early on, find themselves in isolation. Most of us weren’t raised in Pagan families or taught Witchcraft by our parents or anything, so when we learn something new, it’s easy to assume that we’re the only ones who know it.
It can be exciting to share that knowledge. But it’s also easy to assume that having any knowledge makes us more evolved than the people around us, especially as we ease into the greater Pagan community and get indoctrinated into the idea that we have to present as experts in order to be accepted as “valid.”
Thing is, unless we have legitimate, documented expertise in a given field, we probably don’t have access to any more information about it than any other Pagan in our vicinity. And there is, of course, absolutely nothing wrong with being self-taught, but it really just puts us on the same page as everyone else who’s self-taught: If we’ve all read the same books and worked our way through the same rituals, we’re all pretty much equals. And we don’t need to jump in and offer unsolicited whys or hows unless we are explicitly asked to be of assistance.
I have only ever attempted to ‘splain once in my entire occult career. I don’t say this to be, like, More Pagan Than Thou or anything: Rather, it led to such embarrassment and humility that I never did it again. And I am sharing that story here, because, to borrow a phrase from Catherine Aird, if I can’t be a good example, I’ll just have to be a horrible warning.
I got into geomancy shortly after my Gardnerian initiation. There weren’t too many readily-available resources at the time, but I tracked down what I could, and I got pretty good at it. No one in my immediate circle (so to speak) knew much about geomancy, and so I quickly became convinced that no one except me knew anything about geomancy.
So one day, I was chatting with a covenmate about how awesome I was at drawing dots, and she was like, “Oh! My friend Iris is interested in geomancy and would love to talk to you.” And I was thrilled, because I was going to get to impart my vast wisdom on a potential acolyte.
I emailed Isis the following morning. I wanted to be polite and accessible, but I was also too caught up in my sense of self-importance and ended up writing something incredibly condescending like, “Hello! I understand you’d like to learn about geomancy. What questions can I answer for you?”
She wrote back an hour later: “Hi! Thanks so much for reaching out! I could definitely use your help. How’s your medieval French?”
Y’all. She was translating geomantic manuscripts from the Renaissance.
Isis presented two workshops on geomancy at PantheaCon the following year. I got to be her assistant and was very grateful for the opportunity.
What I didn’t realize back then, but what I’ve fully accepted now, is that the Johns, Devins, Mats, and Isises of the world are so good at what they do because they don’t ‘splain — they educate. They take complicated concepts and make them digestible, so that their peers and students can grow and benefit. And if we learn anything from them, it should be that we can transmit our own knowledge in a way that doesn’t belittle the people with whom we’re communicating.
I don’t have much else to say on the matter, because even after 100 posts, I still can’t write a decent conclusion. Just don’t be a statistic like me, and don’t waste your energy on ‘splaining — I promise you’ll be a better Witch for not engaging in it.
Although if you find yourself stuck in a conversation with someone who insists on ‘splaining basics, feel free to send them my way. I will be happy to welcome them and break things down in a way that their precious little mind can comprehend.