The other day one of my friends posted about his religious needs on Facebook. One of the things he listed was: “spiritual but not woo.” As a word choice I thought it perfectly articulated his preferences, but it’s not a word I particularly like. I thought I was alone there too, until a mutual friend of ours expressed her dislike for “woo.” I almost went “woohoo!” at my keyboard reading her comment because it meant I wasn’t alone! It was a relief to know that I’m not the only one with an immense dislike of the term “woo.”
I know that no one is using the word as an insult in Pagan-Magical circles. Sable Aradia, for example, who writes over on Between the Shadows has a great ongoing series on what she calls Quantum Woo, and it’s cool with me if she’s comfortable with the term, but I’m just not. Maybe I take myself too seriously, but woo was originally meant as an insult. Here’s a definition from RationalWiki:
Woo is a term used among skeptical writers to describe pseudoscientific explanations that have certain common characteristics.
The term comes from woo-woo, an epithet used in the 1990s by science and skeptical writers to ridicule people who believe or promote such things. This is in turn believed to have come from the onomatopoeia “woooooo!” as a reaction to dimmed lights or magic tricks. The term implies a lack of either intelligence or sincerity on the part of the person or concepts so described.
Woo is usually not the description of an effect but of the explanation as to why the effect occurs. For example, homeopathy may occasionally give results, but as a placebo — the explanations for these occasional results, e.g. water memory, are woo.
Woo is used to blind or distract an audience from a real explanation or to discourage people from delving deeper into the subject to find a more realistic explanation. You can’t make money if nobody buys your bullshit. (As such, “woo” that has zero paying customers is more like just ordinary batshit crazy.)
You can see why I don’t like this word, right?
I also feel that it belittles my spiritual experience. In circle I’ve never said “let’s build up some woo!” or “and now we build the Cone of Woo!” Magic is a very real part of my life, and it’s an essential part of my spiritual journey. I practice magic, I raise energy, I build the Cone of Power! And I realize that not every agrees that those things are a reality, but I’m happy with them being called supernatural or occult.I love the word occult just about as much as I love the word Witch. “Beyond the range of ordinary knowledge or understanding; mysterious” is a definition that fits my magical practice pretty well. Occult is not a dirty word either, and adequately sums up magical practice if magical belief doesn’t work for a particular individual or group.
For many of us magical practice is also work. It’s about more than spells, it’s about connecting with higher powers and developing a greater sense of self. Hearing my work referred to as “woo” makes it feel less like work and more like a party. I love Witchcraft, but it’s not just merrymaking, sometimes it’s about getting in touch with darker truths.
The most sacred and awe-inspiring religious experiences in my life have involved Drawing Down the Moon (or Sun). The idea that deity might want to inhabit my body, or allow me to draw closer to it by entering the physical being of my wife or High Priestess is special beyond words to me. It’s the ultimate act within Modern Wicca, that such a thing can (and does) happen is central to my religious and spiritual beliefs.
Again, I know that not everyone believes in the reality of Drawing Down the Moon, and that’s fine. But to see something so important to me linked to a word that “implies a lack of either intelligence or sincerity” is close to hurtful. Besides, there are other words that can be used here too if the phrase drawing down doesn’t sync with you. There’s always invoke and many of my friends use the word aspect here too. Woo just brings to mind a cheap parlor trick, and there’s nothing cheap or tricky about a High Priestess drawing down the Goddess.
I’m sure that there are lots of Witches and other magical folks who like the word woo, and more power to them. But it’s not a word you’ll ever see on this blog again, and I think there are plenty of better alternatives. I know that as an extremely diverse community we aren’t all going to agree on everything, but I certainly think we can do better than woo.
(And besides, “Woo!” makes me think way too much about Ric Flair.)