Edit: I forgot to add the link to Conspirituality Podcast. Oops.
Those of us who were practicing in the 90’s remember the heyday of the Barnes and Noble metaphysical section. It was a whole aisle filled with tarot decks, Llewellyn books, and some on astrology/crystals etc. I bought my first tarot deck from Barnes and Noble and several of my first Wicca/pagan books there as well. I always found it ironic that the Metaphysical section was right next to the Christian section.
Recently, at a Barnes and Noble I decided to check out what they had for pagan/witch books. The name had been changed to “Self Transformation”. While there were still plenty of astrology, crystal books, and tarot decks, the rest was basically wicca of practicing magick. Now, I am not knocking the actual books they had—the authors also don’t control where and how bookstores shelve their books. But the change from “Metaphysical Studies” to “Self Transformation” is definitely a downgrade, and is basically saying Wicca is not a religion. Saying magick is for transforming the self is saying you don’t believe magic has any power beyond the self. The section was also right next to the self help section. The section marked “Religion” was basically Christian and a couple of Buddhist books thrown in.
This is the entire problem with the trendy witchcraft that has become mainstream. Magick is NOT self transformation—it is the power to change the world outside of yourself. The magick might guide you to actions you need to take to make the change, but there is still a physical change outside of you.
The Eastern mysticism and Buddhist trappings that have been filtered through the New Age before becoming mainstream suffer from the same problem. If I hadn’t become pagan, I would probably have become a Buddhist, and I did study abroad in Beijing for a year. I feel confident in saying the community aspect of Buddhism has been completely stripped from the American version. In Buddhism, you aren’t trying to become enlightened for yourself—it is so that, once enlightened, you can return and bring other people to enlightenment, and help change the world to become better. Eastern civilizations, in general, are community based. Eastern philosophy is about living in harmony with everyone in your community, and also harmony with nature. (yes, in Confucianism harmony is achieved by strict hierarchies and people not challenging the system, but that is another post.) The individual, both then and today, is not the primary unit in Eastern Civilization. In short, traditional Buddhism is not about you.
Lately I have been listening to a podcast called “Conspirituality” (full review pending, I am in 2022 right now so I hope to be done and post a review in August. If not, it will be September.) This is about New Age grifters, and the gurus who use charisma to manifest the flow of their followers’ life savings into their own bank account. So I have been critically thinking about a lot of New Age ideas that make their way into Paganism.
While the old adage “the difference between New age and Pagan is a decimal point” is true in my experience (also factor in, most New Age events are for profit, while most pagan events are volunteer) like it or not, there is overlap and cross pollination. I have seen pagan writers more willing to research where ideas actually came from that influenced the development of paganism, and my hat is off to them. It has meant facing some uncomfortable truths.
I admit to growing cynical as I age, but I am getting fed up with confusing working on yourself with actually doing something to solve the world’s problems. We are all human, and personal growth will never be done. I personally believe in reincarnation so I think that is why we get to do this more than once. Go ahead and meditate all you want on world peace and limiting climate change (we are past the point of stopping it) but also donate money to humanitarian relief and cut your carbon footprint while supporting lawmakers who are making change on the systemic level. I don’t care how profound your insight is or how wonderful you feel about yourself—if you aren’t doing the external work to make change, your self transformation doesn’t do the world a lick of good.
Yes, action is hard. There is a lot of contradictory information out there, you can’t do everything, and there are more tools to manipulate people than ever before. Burt we also have tools to make change people have never had before. Yes, many movements that went against the status quo have ultimately been corporatized like punk. In the society we live in, once something becomes popular enough to be possible to make money from corporate actors are going to come in to try to make what they can, with no concern for the community it comes from or the change it was trying to make beyond an image level. It doesn’t mean give up, but it does mean doing due diligence to support the real thing—the real community and the real people leading it.
Which is why I will end with a reminder to support you local pagan community. Shop at your local metaphysical store, buy from pagan crafters, and go to your local pagan events. Coming together and making sure our resources support each other is how we become stronger as a community.