I’m taking a lot of comfort in reading bell hooks right now, and have latched onto this quote from her book Teaching to Transgress (1994):
In all cultural revolutions, there are periods of chaos and confusion, times when grave mistakes are made. If we fear mistakes, doing things wrongly, constantly evaluating ourselves, we will never make the academy a culturally diverse place where scholars and the curricula address every dimension of that difference.
bell hooks was talking about teaching in higher education, but I find this idea translates beautifully to diverse practices of witchcraft and paganism.
As a result, I’m examining my own role as a high priestess within this tradition, looking hard at practices that I took for granted in my own practice and training, and trying hard to unpack my assumptions.
For example, why is that covens tell seekers that they should be prepared to travel great distances to seek training, even if it means paying for a (prohibitively expensive) flight once a month? We (and I’m included in this ‘we’) have taken it for granted that if you’re ‘right’ for this tradition, then ‘the gods will find a way for you to achieve your goals’. But isn’t this the same sort of magical thinking that drove so many pagans and witches away from their natal religions?
Aren’t these sentiments actually just assumptions about income, education, and class? While not everyone will be drawn to Gardnerian Wicca or a good fit for this tradition for very diverse reasons, I refuse to believe than income or class has anything to do with it.
If anything, Gardnerian Wicca has taught me to take responsibility for my own actions, to be aware of my own privilege, and to be skeptical of ‘magical thinking’ in order to manifest real magical workings.
In looking at my own privilege, as both a high priestess and a white woman with a stable life circumstance, I had to ask myself what my role was in this.
What’s actually stopping me from running a coven on-line? What’s stopping me from flying to a member of my outer court to initiate them (rather than the other way around)?
Most of the arguments against online covens have to do with the nature of magical experience in a physical space. That’s not incorrect: a magical working group that has time to build an egregore in physical space, over time, should be ever seeker’s goal. I doubt an on-line coven will be able to fully simulate that experience. But I’ve done enough on-line magical workings to know that they do work in their own unique way.
And I’m keenly aware that a physical coven is a luxury for many. I refuse to believe that income, class, education, race, gender identity, physical ability, cultural background, or geography should prohibit a sincere seeker from studying the craft.
I need to be upfront: I don’t have all the answers. And in coming up with these solutions, I will get some things wrong.
But I trust my love for this tradition and our gods that I will sincerely pass this tradition faithfully and honestly, that I will maintain my oaths to the Craft, and maintain the oath I made between myself and our Ancestors: to live each day to be a better person – to be a better mother, wife, sister, friend, teacher, citizen, witch, and, yes, priestess.
In this spirit, I’ve resolved that Hawkfire Coven is now an on-line Gardnerian outer court, dedicated to those seekers who, for diverse reasons, are unable to join an appropriate physical outer court.
I’m currently developing a structure for this to accommodate different time zones and technological access, but interested seekers should email me at email@example.com. I’ll then reply with a set of questions that will best frame our next conversation.
Note About The Art
Renée Stout (American, b. 1958) is an artist working across diverse media and does the amazingly magical thing of creating objects and worlds for imagined characters. I don’t know what Stout believes personally about the Other World, magic, spirituality, or religion, but I first encountered her work as an undergraduate and have been spellbound ever since. Her artworks inspired my art, writng, and my magical practice for many years more than anyone else. Re-looking at her work now, I hope I can also re-find that inspiration her work gifted me: that magical space where the digital, analog, and earthly united and bridged our world with the Unseen.