Recently (but definitely not the first time) I saw some threads going around ye old interwebs that centered around a virtual event with the commentary of “I don’t recognize any of these names…”
And I thought, “Well shouldn’t that be an EXCITING thing?”
The Way Back Machine
When I first started attending Pagan/Witch events in the mid 90’s, the online community was nowhere as huge and expansive as it is today. With far less people being out of the proverbial broom closet back then, most real names and faces weren’t public-facing. To find out more about someone, you generally just had to show up and listen or ask around. My main sources for name recognition up through the mid 00’s were:
- They were mentioned in Margot Adler’s Drawing Down The Moon
- They had a book I could find on the shelf at the local bookstore (used or new)
- They contributed to a print magazine such as Green Egg, SageWoman, Crescent, etc
- They were friends from IRC (#paganteahouse) or mentioned by those friends – or perhaps an online forum or yahoo group.
- They were listed on Witchvox
- They were in my local scene/area
If you’ve been around, you’ll know that 4 out of those 6 things on my list aren’t exactly cultural touchstones anymore. DDTM hasn’t been updated since 2006 and with Margot passing in 2014, it won’t ever be, unless someone takes that project on (NOT IT). Most print magazines have ceased to exist physically, or if they do, they only come out a couple times a year instead of monthly, bimonthly, or even quarterly. My art was recently on the cover of SageWoman and I was amazed of the number of folks commenting who had never heard of a magazine that’s been around for decades, but I get why. You could say Discord is the great grandchild of IRC, so that’s a bit of a side-step change, same for Reddit replacing those old online forums and groups. Witchvox has been retired and nothing has replaced it as a resource in the same grand-scale similar usage.
So outside of the folks I know and visits to bookstores, if I kept only using those limited sources, I’d be pretty out of touch with what’s happening in the Pword world. Especially if the folks I associate with are all in a similar boat. Which leads us to:
Gated Communities & The Social Bubble
One thing I love about my partner is that he’s always reading, from a wide variety of sources. Every day some conversation is going to start with “In this article I read” or “There was this thread..”.
The other week he was referencing an article that talked about the majority of social media platforms basically being like walled or gated communities. Unless those apps are owned by the same corporation, most social media networks don’t want you to leave their site to follow links to other parts of the internet. And we’re generally content to be where the folks we know and like are hanging out. They become our cliques and social spheres, even though the boundaries are only virtual.
And as we typically collect folks who are similar to us in interest, age, region, background, etc, we do tend to exist in a bit of a bubble. (Side note: this season of the podcast of Invisibilia is on the intricacies of friendship, and it’s definitely a great listen.) This reality applies to all of us, we all have our own little maps, which we might know REALLY well, but they really don’t take us that far off the beaten path. So we have a limited perspective or awareness about what’s beyond our charted territory.
I’m on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Youtube mainly, but I also keep an eye on some other platforms. But it’s too exhausting to join them all, so I focus on the ones I enjoy (usually for different reasons). That means I also know there are people doing stuff in other places that I have NO IDEA about. My lack of knowing who they are by name doesn’t invalidate their work.
Breaking and Bursting Bubbles
We tend to think we know everything, but as I just explained, our views can be limited. For example: the Pword community has a weird love-hate relationship with authors. We simultaneously seem to expect that anyone worth knowing should have written a book while also hating that they’ve done just that – either because of what they wrote on, who published it, or their history.
To be able to teach or talk about something competently, we need to have had experience. Books tend to come out of experience (though not always the most thorough), but experience can also come from leading groups, crafting ritual, practicing divination, owning a shop, running an event, being a service clergy member, making a podcast, keeping a vlog, and many other ways. That means their focus may have been more regional or based in a specific tradition, directed toward a particular age group, or available in other formats we may not be familiar with (video, podcasts, in-person events, etc).
Unlike way back then, we have two notable things in our favor: people are much more public about their practices and paths now and because of that, we can use some pretty powerful search engines to find out more. So when I’m confronted with a list of names I don’t know, but I’m interested in what they’re teaching or simply who they are, I can google them. And chances are I’m going to see what they’ve been up and where in seconds.
Despite having been involved and around for over two decades, I still run into names on events I don’t recognize, and they continue to be a mix of folks who have been around as well and those who are newer to the “scene.” Both are an opportunity to become more informed. And while it’s good to learn more about movers and shakers from way back when, it’s equally fantastic to see what the rising generations are up to. Because there’s always something new to be considered.
But How Do You Not Know The Band?
Someone recently asked me, “Don’t you get upset when someone doesn’t know who you are or your work?” No, I don’t because it’s new to them. It’s an opportunity. (Unless it’s someone who has decided to witchsplain my own work to me, then I’m amused.) You see, it’s just like discovering a band that’s been around yet is totally new to you. Rather then saying “omg, how can you not know them?! ugh!” – I say, “welcome! if you liked this song, you should also check out that album too!” That is EXCITING AF.
How boring would it be to believe that you’ve already heard and seen everything? That you know it all and everyone worth knowing? The best teachers I have known throughout my life have always had an appetite for learning and seeking opportunities to view the world with different eyes.
Change Is Hard
I do understand that it’s disorienting to go from knowing who everyone is and what they’re doing to “who the fuck are these people and what the hell?” It’s natural to feel upset, uncomfortable, and even curmudgeonly. Even left out. I have had those moments and moods myself. But life is constantly moving and shifting. We can either roll with it, or be stuck. The choice is ours.
I find it helps to think to the root of my own practice and my understanding of how magic works. We do magic to change ourselves, to influence and change the world around us. Sometimes part of that magic is the world nudging us to recognize that change is part of the path. Change is rarely easy or comfortable, but it certainly does challenge us often in the best of ways in order to reveal the world more fully. It reminds me that I can either complain about it OR I can create opportunities for the change I’d like to see in the world around me.