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HomeReviews Respect and Responsibility


Respect and Responsibility

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(Daven’s Comment: This is an article written by a friend of mine whom I have much respect for.  I can’t draw to save my life, and Zak of CrazyQuiltArts does wonderfully.  He’s the author of Journey to the West and Nine Lives, Many Masters.  He claims that he can’t write.  I call bullshit on that statement.  Enjoy this as an adjunct to my review of the Grimoire.)

I’ve been reading the various comments on Oberon and the Grey School with much interest. A number of significant criticisms have been raised, as well as the occasional snarkiness or ad hominen. Perhaps the most significant issue raised, I think, is one of — here it comes again — responsibility. Several folks have noted that Oberon, and others in the GS, are Old Time Great Pagan Leaders. This has occasionally been used to imply that they are somehow above criticism, that respect means giving them a pass. I feel that, in fact, the opposite is true. To cop a move from Oberon himself, as Spidey’s dad says, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Oberon, et al, undeniably have a great deal of social capital. What they say is likely to be given much greater weight by the average Pagan — and, moreso, by the neophyte who only sees Oberon’s self-aggrandizing copy — and, as such, is likely to have an exaggerated effect on the tenor and practice of many Neopagans. That being the case, I think that the criticism that has been leveled at the Grey School is not only valid, but necessary. Further, I think that this criticism should be spread far and wide.As put forth in Grimoire for the Apprentice Wizard, many of the bases of the Grey School are both flawed and deleterious to the Pagan communities. In many ways, they encapsulate what is often criticized as fluffy.

1. False history: There is a lot of solid history in the Grimoire. There is also a lot of absolute bunk. The most egregious, and, not coincidentally, the most self-aggrandizing, is the Grey Council itself, “the secret network of Wizards, Mages, and Sages that spans all of history and includes wise and magickal people of many cultures and traditions.”[1] Add to the false history loads of false mythology, (“[Cerberus] was brought out of Hades’s realm by Heracles, who apparently lost it in a bet to Rubeus Hagrid, who installed it at Hogwarrs to guard the Philosopher’s Stone….”[2]) and slander against other religions (“According to the Koran, Paradise…is for devout Moslem men only….Moslem women, believed to have no souls, simply die.” [3]) And false science: “[snakes] evolved from a kind of eyeless, earless, legless, worm-like burrowing lizard. They had to reinvent eyes entirely, as well as other senses unique to them, such as infrared heat receptors. But they never reinvented ears…” [4]

2. Irresponsibly teaching religion to minors: First, OZ claims that wizardry is a profession, and distinguishes it from religion. Considering the contents of the remainder of the Grimoire, this is disingenuous at best. He talks about morality, afterlife, and a great many deities, and how to work with them. If it quacks, it’s a duck, says I. As if this isn’t enough, Trish Telesco, seemingly taking a cue from Ravenwolf’s Teen Witch and improving upon it slightly, suggests that “it’s best to keep mentions about that part of your life for appropriate times and places.”[5] Unlike Ravenwolf, she doesn’t come out and suggest one lie to one’s parents, but, rather, that one attempts to be a Good Upstanding Child, and, “hopefully your folks will let you hang out with your magickal friends. You’ll have this book, and they’ll probably have some others, and these books will give you all kinds of ideas for things you can do together.” [5] Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

Aside from these not insignificant issues, the Grey School has all the problems that are attendant with online learning of spiritual matters. There is no personal contact, and IM and email are not enough. Facts can be taught, and tested for, online. Spiritual growth is another matter entirely.

Finally, the tone taken towards kids is, when not condescending, fawning. Over and over, the young reader is told how special they are, how they have been Chosen, how, even if they are born into “Mundy” families, they are magical Changelings. This plays into the toxic narcissism that underlies the majority of what are termed “fluffy” beliefs and behaviors. It creates and/or fosters the belief that “it’s all about ME.” And it ain’t necessarily so.

3. Intentional blurring of fact and fantasy: This is the most egregious part of the Grimoire, and I strongly suspect that it is one of the major underpinnings of the Grey School as well.

Forget all those letters and articles you’ve read, or maybe even written, about how real witches and Pagans understand that Harry Potter is just a story, and that it isn’t a come-on to join the magical underground. OZ comes straight out and says of Rowling’s creation, “This is my world; and if you wish to make it so, it can be yours.” [6]

It seems to me that one of, if not the, primary distinction between fluffy and “hard” practitioners is that the hard practitioner is attempting to directly grapple with the problems and possibilities of existence, while the fluffy is trying to escape into a self-centered world of wish fulfillment. In promulgating the practice of “living in story,” as he has termed it, OZ does a disservice to the community of serious spiritual seekers. This disservice is compounded by the aim of the book, that is, towards beginners, particularly kids.

More specifically, OZ is not merely advocating “living in story,” he is advocating living in a particular kind of story. Specifically, he wants the apprentice wizard to live in a world where, with a little willpower, some cute props, and with a clear-cut enemy to strive against, all their wishes can come true. Even in works where those things are not so clear-cut (eg, Le Guin, classical myth) OZ extracts the most simplistic explanation.

Furthermore, OZ creates a clear-cut dichotomy between the World of Magic and those unpleasant “Mundies” or “Muggles.” He, and several other authores in the Grimoire, underline this theme over and over. Whether it’s Telesco’s talk of Changeling children trapped with Mundy families or Jesse Wolf Hardin’s paean to the “I’m So Special” credo that he titles, “The Calling” [7], the theme is clear: Wizards are special, and they are fundamentally better than the crippled mundanes. Indeed, they inhabit an entirely different world, one that works by its own rules, and is, at least in part, not subject to the authoritarian rules of the Real World. [8]

This is extremely toxic. It is particularly so because OZ is attempting to inculcate this model of reality into the next generation of magickal folk. Oberon’s words undoubtedly carry more weight than those of many individuals within the Pagan communities, specifically because of the respect he has earned with some and his undeniable notoriety. This wish-fulfillment, sweetness & light, magical-at-the-expense-of-mundane world is, in fact, the core of what is so often criticized here and elsewhere by serious Pagan seekers. I believe that OZ and his group really do believe, at least on some level, that they are doing the right thing, that they think they are being helpful. They also, I would guess, recognize that this is a good business opportunity; anyone who makes one-horned goats and sells them to the circus has to have a little PT Barnum in them, no matter how they try and talk them up.

Do we want our communities to head out of the real world, or into it? The Grey School, judging by its available materials, wants the former. They are certainly free to do so, and equally free to put their perspectives out there. There are those, like me, and, I suspect, many of the readers here & elsewhere, who vehemently disagree. And so I believe it behooves us to make this disagreement, and its reasons, as widely known as possible.

For myself, aside from writing (and I’m working on an open letter to the Grey School) I also create my comic Nine Lives, Many Masters which strives to satirize a lot of Pagan silliness. Because, sometimes, if I don’t laugh, I’ll cry or just go nucking futs. I have, and will continue to, work in my local community and confront those whom I think slander the good name of honest spiritual seekers, whether they are outside the Pagan communities, or within them. I don’t think this is a cop out in any way: The first step to removing the power of destructive influences is making their actions public. If I can do it in a humorous way, so much the better.

[1] Grimoire for the Apprentice Wizard, p. x
[2] Grimoire, p. 326
[3] Grimoire, p. 308. This is flat out wrong. See here.
[4] Grimoire, p.256. Snake evolution seems a pretty complicated, contentious area. But OZ’s assertions don’t seem to have a place there. See, for example, here, for some modern, scientific discussion of snake evolution.
[5]Grimoire, p. 10
[6] Grimoire, p 3
[7] Grimoire, p.ix
[8]  “I used the word mundane just now, to distinguish the ordinary, everyday, so called “normal” world form the World of Magick. We that world ‘Mundania’ — and the people who live only in that world and know no other, we sometimes call mundanes or mundys. These words are not intended to be taken as insults, nor should they be used in that way. It is only a way of acknowledging that there are, indeed, different worlds.” (p3) The injunction not to use “mundy” as an insult is ridiculously disingenuous. It’s like saying, “Well, we call ’em coloreds, cos that’s what they are. They got their own schools. They’re not worse, just different.” He doesn’t even have the [ahem] good graces to say “separate but equal.”

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