Wednesday, September 10, 2014

90's Teen Witches - We Didn't All Stay Dumb

I was one of *those* teenagers.

I was wearing black and listening to grunge, Tori Amos, Marilyn Manson and of course, Hanson and the Spice Girls. I wore my hair long and parted in the middle. I wore multiple necklaces and rings on multiple fingers. I only really enjoyed Art and English in school and usually bonded with the teachers of those classes instead of my peers. I got straight A's, had a spotless behavioral record, and had no real friends.

When The Craft came out in 96, I begged and pleaded with my relatives to take to me to see it. I saw it in the theatre twice before it very quickly disappeared. The first cd I ever bought was the soundtrack for the movie.

There was an attitude in the 90's, at least coming out of the East coast, that wearing black and pentacles openly was helping to increase public awareness about Witches. The idea was that people are more likely to be tolerant if they personally knew and liked someone who was a Witch, gay, whatever. Today I would say that it was naively idealistic, but at the time I was all about it, though I drew the line at wearing eyeliner, if you'll pardon the pun.

I am not embarrassed or ashamed of any of this. There are plenty of people who still hate that movie. There are still people complaining that The Craft/Charmed/whatever did a public disservice to Wiccans and Pagans and French girls named Manon. There are people my age and younger who have a real rage boner over the whole thing. Fuckabunchathat.

There are plenty more who like to pretend they didn't like or even see the movie. "Oh, I came to Wicca because I had a vision of the Lady, and I was always looking for a feminist eco-spirituality yadda yadda yadda veganism and crystals." 

The thing is - most of us who came to Wicca were looking for that, on some level. Though not the vegan bit, in my case. A great many of us were passionate in our study and worship. A lot of us are still here, having grown to adulthood worshiping the Old Gods and shaping our lives around what that means to us. None of that precluded us from looking dumb and wearing saucer sized pentacles in public. It doesn't mean we weren't also trying to draw attention to ourselves while also being sincere in our practices.

This is a huge mega stereotype, but the kinds of teenagers who were drawn to Wicca at that time were typically not football players or head cheerleader. We *were* the weirdos, whatever the hell that means. There are still burned out hippies who look with derision on younger people in Paganism in between their bong hits and begging people online to pay their bills - all without the slightest awareness of the irony there. Our predecessors in Paganism weren't exactly Homecoming King or Queen material, either, or the sort of people who had heard of life insurance or a retirement plan.

Did all that stereotyping and unkind generalization piss you off a little? Good! Now you know how it felt and you can do penance to the Lady and promise to never do it again.

On a personal level, I can't tell you what it meant to me to have these movies and tv shows happening at the same tame I was struggling through adolescence and figuring out what living life as a Pagan meant. It's comparable to how I felt the first time I ever saw a gay character in a movie or tv show that wasn't a joke and who didn't die a brutal death before the program was over.

I never once thought about rushing out to invoke Manon on the beach with an ad hoc coven put together from the other misfits at school. I didn't try to float pencils like Willow did on Buffy. I wasn't worried about demons coming after me and warlocks trying to steal my BoS every week. I wasn't dumb enough to confuse the real world with some harmless fantasy.

This all brings us to September of 1998 when Silver RavenWolf published Teen Witch. This is not going to turn into SRW bashing because it has been done to death for sixteen years, and people are STILL not over it. I remember the scandal. There were calls for boycotts. There were angry letters published in periodicals. Websites were devoted to trashing her and the book. When it was announced that a Teen Witch Kit was coming, you would have thought SRW had slapped all of their mamma's.

I hadn't read any SRW at this point, but all of the vitriol and HERMAGHERD WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN!!!!! convinced me to not only buy Teen Witch, but everything else SRW had published. Yep. The Pagan community, in trying to keep SRW's books out of the hands of teenagers, convinced me to buy her books. Jokes on you!

My friends and I lovingly call them the "Wiccan Power Rangers." The thing is, in my experience, none of us looked like that. The idea of casting a circle with teddy bears did not amuse or inspire me. Casting a spell so that my friends and I could enjoy a sunny day at the beach was not on my list of priorities - I've never even been to the damn beach. 

I'd already read the Farrar's, Valiente, Buckland, Huson and Adler at this point. I'd read The Golden Bough, The White Goddess, and Isis Unveiled. I wasn't really the books target audience, and I moved on. I wasn't damaged psychologically, I didn't burn down the kitchen, or declare myself as Oak DragonNuts before Gods and men for all eternity and lifetimes to come. I know plenty of people my age who read this book and either thought it was meh or fucking loved it. A lot of them are still around, running covens or starting traditions or publishing their books.

All of them are far smarter than the worried Pagans at the time gave them credit for.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

From Teen Witch to Grump Ass

In two months I'll be turning 30. Goddess, help me!

All of this has lead to much reflection - mostly deciding it was time to buy a better moisturizer and wondering where the hell the last twenty years went. I've also been thinking about how my practice of Wicca has changed over the years. I've also been thinking about how fucking cool it was to be a teen Witch in the 90's.

I miss the 90's. I'm not alone in my nostalgia, as I've seen plenty of my contemporaries of late waxing nostalgic about that time period. I miss the music, the movies, the fashion, the bright eyed newbie excitement I had for Wicca. I've thought about The Craft, Charmed, Buffy, Practical Magic, the Lilith Fair and all the sort of stuff teenaged me couldn't shut up about. I've thought about how it's now totally uncool to admit that media or literary depictions of Witches ever influenced your thinking, religious choices, or fashion sense.

When I think a lot, I start making lists. This is a rough timeline of Witch related media events:

The Craft - May 3 1996
Lilith Fair - September of 1996 and the official tour in 1997
Sabrina The Teenage Witch - September 27 1996
Witchvox launches in 1997
Buffy The Vampire Slayer - March 10 1997
Godsmack by Godsmack - August 25 1998
Teen Witch by SRW - September 8 1998
Charmed - October 7 1998
Practical Magic - October 16 1998
Voodoo by Godsmack - music video - October 20 1999

Somewhere in there the internet became a thing that everyone had access to, Llewellyn went through a big publishing boom, big chain bookstores started opening in previously book-dry areas, and more people started thinking about witchcraft, Goddess spirituality, Girl Power, and alternative healing/spirituality in general.

When I discovered Paganism in 1994, it was through coffee table books from the 60's. It confirmed for me that such things had existed - and not too terribly long ago - but I had no idea if people were still doing it. I spent the next few years, and indeed the entirety of my teens and early twenties experiencing huge growth within Paganism but also with a pop culture that was saturated with Witches and Witch-related content.

The Goddess was alive. Magick was afoot. We were Everywhere, just not anywhere near me. None of that prevented me from having a really dumb haircut, bad skin, and no friends but it was really fucking cool.

Until it wasn't.

West Memphis 3 happened. Columbine happened. Someone I considered a friend told his evangelical parents that I practiced Witchcraft and they called the cops. That was the end of wearing black and Pagan jewelry openly for a while.

In the time period, I read everything I could get my hands on. I read great stuff. I read absolute garbage. I read a lot that was in between. I participated in chatrooms and "online rituals" back in the days when every Pagan website had dozens of pentacle gifs and Enya midi files.

I had some dumb ideas - though most of those were accepted as facts at that time. I had very pretty altars and everything smelled of sandalwood, sage and chamomile tea while Loreen McKennit gave us Celtic Realness in the background.

Eventually I went to college, met other people who identified as Pagan, and I cannot thank the Gods enough that we didn't form a coven or do much Pagan stuff together. I don't want to imagine the emotional and psychic scars we all would have walked away with.

College meant having access to better libraries and money to buy better books. It's also where I started thinking about the Pagans I knew and how different we all were - so different that we never ritualized together because no one agreed or was on the same page about things. I always knew that I wanted to join a coven and have a traditional background - I just wasn't sure what kind of coven or tradition I was best suited for. It was several years before I met people who hadn't cobbled something together via books and personal invention.

I recently found that first pentacle I wore. It was sold as "sterling silver" but  it's so obviously fake. It's huge and tacky and the silver plating has fallen away to reveal cheap brass underneath. There's a perfect metaphor in there somewhere.

A Whole Blog Post Without Swearing!

Hello again! It's nearly October and I haven't posted anything here since early Summer. What else is new? I solemnly swear that my h...