“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” –Maya Angelou
Remember when I told y’all about the seeker who thought he was possessed by a demon? In light of some events that went down over the last week, I want to flesh that story out for you.
Shortly after we hived off of our mother coven, we posted a listing on The Witches’ Voice to announce our existence to the greater Houston area, and within a few days, we heard from a number of interested seekers. One of the first was a very nice older gentleman. He was kind of quiet, but he seemed sincere, and there were no glaring red flags that any of us could see. We liked him.
Although there was this one incident — something Sarah would call a “human flesh tastes like Spam” moment, which is when a comment raises suspicion in an otherwise unremarkable conversation. He and I were in Trothwy’s den, chatting idly before a circle, and out of nowhere he was like, “I’ve got a video of a skydiver who’s parachute doesn’t open. It’s pretty intense when he hits the ground. Let me know if you’d like to see it.”
I politely declined a viewing. And I started to say something to the rest of the coven about it, but I ultimately went with keeping it to myself. It was unsettling that he’d brought the video up, but was it really worth making a fuss about? Probably not. I did my best to just put it out of my mind and not be judgmental.
And then, a couple of weeks later, he decided that he was possessed. And he said some rather hateful things about us, since we insisted he get checked out by a medical professional before moving forward with any attempt to evict infernal spirits from his mortal shell.
Afterwards, once the dust had cleared, I mentioned the skydiver video thing, and literally everyone else in the coven was like, “You know, he said something really weird to me, too, but I didn’t want to bring it up.” It was like the communication breakdowns leading up to Pearl Harbor: If we’d been more transparent about our individual interactions with the dude, we would have realized that something was not right, and we would have pulled back from him well before he went Hereditary on us.
Another seeker turned up around the same time, one who’d been heavily involved with the local Pagan community but wanted to find her own path. We met with her several times, and while we all got along with her, Trowthy was immediately like, “I don’t think she’s a good fit for us.”
The rest of us were like, “Now, now, everyone deserves a chance,” so we continued to meet with her. And after about six months, we were like, “Wow, this is really not a good fit. What an unexpected turn of events!” So Trothwy took the seeker to lunch to let her down easy, and the seeker was like, “This is such a relief! I never really felt like I was a good fit for your group, but I didn’t want to say anything.” And then she gave Trothwy a big hug and went home, whereas Trothwy remained seated and beat her head against the table for a few hours.
We’ve had a whole gaggle of seekers work out just fine since then, but we learned crucially important lessons from the two that didn’t: Not only to trust our own gut instincts and say something when things felt off, but to trust each other’s instincts and actively take each other’s concerns under consideration before onboarding anyone as an apprentice.
So that was “So Below.” Here’s “As Above.”
Regarding the events of the past week, I’m not going to go into detail, because you can get on pretty much any social media platform and within five minutes be drowning in hot takes. All of the information and allegations are out in the market for public consumption. And a lot of people right now are going, “I noticed that something was wrong, but I was afraid to point it out,” and other people are going, “I did point it out, but I was shouted down and told that I was overreacting, or gatekeeping, or just jealous.”
And to add some frustration and apoplexy into the mix, a big chunk of the demographic responsible for all that shouting down is now like, “HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?! HOW WERE WE SO UNAWARE?! WHY DIDN’T ANYONE BRING THIS TO OUR ATTENTION?!” Which is just a reminder that despite any noises we make about diversity and inclusivity, we’re still not listening to marginalized voices, and our online spaces are nowhere near as safe as they need to be.
With that said, there’s another brand of response that’s worth highlighting, if only because it’s the most insidious. So let’s shuffle back to “So Below” and look at a situation that hijacked the Houston community a couple of years ago.
I’ve never been clear on what led to the falling out, but basically, the relationship between members of a local Pagan group soured, and what probably should have been a private matter got served up across the city for speculation and review: Like, I’d log into a usually sedate social media group to get the date of the next Pagan’s Night Out and find myself wading through post after post about who committed which vague yet unforgivable atrocity against whom.
At some point, one party accused another of gaslighting, which set off a whole round of people zealously using the word “gaslighting” incorrectly against each other. And then, the bombshell: The group announced that the member at the center of the controversy had been officially banished, because he was a white supremacist. And there were receipts, y’all — witnesses and screenshots galore, all exposing the member as an avowed racist with borderline violent tendencies.
It was made abundantly clear that the Circle of the Celadon Okapi (or whatever their name was) condemned racism in any form, which was, y’know, comradely of them… except they didn’t condemn it. They’d known how problematic the member was, and they’d let him stay, right up until such time as his racism became a handy weapon to use against him in an online argument. That’s not condemnation: That’s self-centered complacency. And as Eldridge Cleaver said, “You either have to be part of the solution, or you’re going to be part of the problem.”
For all of their performativity, the Okapis were part of the problem. Even with one member down.
On the grander scale, it can be incredibly difficult to call out online discrimination, hate speech, etc. when the source is a Big Name Pagan, or a content creator with a huge following. But even if makes it past us, y’all, we’ve got to get better at listening to the people who do call it out, especially when they’re the targets. We’ve got to get better at believing each other.
And when we learn about racism, homophobia, transphobia, what-have-you in our own communities, we absolutely can’t keep that knowledge in our pockets like twisted lucky charms. The longer we wait to reveal it, the more we entrench ourselves as parts of the problem. And the more those issues — and the bigots behind them — become forgivable until proven inconvenient.