Friday, July 11, 2014

Fiction is Fantasy (Or, Don't Get Your Panties In A Wad)

So today, I came across a blog post that showed up as a retweet on my Twitter feed. This post was written by a Pagan author, called Paganism in Fiction, and it piqued my interest. My thought process was something like, Hey, I'm a Pagan, and this is from a Pagan author. Maybe I'll see a unique insight into the use of Paganism and Paganistic concepts and structures in fiction writing! And so, I clicked the link...

...only to be disappointed with the same tired, rehashed, IT MUST BE ACCURATE!!! line of crap I've only seen about a million times in my long, 22+ years of being a Pagan.

This blog post most specifically addresses people writing stories about witches. Good witches, bad witches, whatever witches. Goes on to gripe about "stereotypes" and "misconceptions" about witches in fiction stories. Seems to willfully ignore the fact that these aren't documentaries we're talking about here--it's FICTION.

So, on to arguing some of the points in the blog. Mind you, I tried to have a civil discussion with the author directly about the topic. The author basically blew me off without really discussing anything, saying we'll "agree to disagree" when my logic proved infallible, only to return briefly for some more badly-reasoned arguments that I successfully rebutted, only so she could disappear and not say anything else. I presume it's because she realized she wasn't winning, and that it was best to not reveal her flawed logic to all her fans.

Well, there's a slight problem with that. For starters, I screenshot the whole conversation. Secondly, I have a blog. I can reply and argue to my heart's content on here. Not only that, I encourage interaction and debate, as long as it's civil. 

Anywho...


The whole point of the author's blog post is that fiction writers should only write witches as characters if "they're doing it right." This basically means writing witches that are good little Pagans, who would never hurt a fly unless forced to, and giving loads of useless information about Pagan religious beliefs in the process.

Now, if you know anything about Paganism, you know that writing Pagans is not so cut-and-dried. There are a vast number of religious beliefs and practices that fall under the umbrella term Pagan, of which "witch" is one. Some of the religious paths that fall under Paganism are, in fact, evil paths. There are even "evil" witches out there! Hell, there's even witches who are Christian, NOT Pagan

So, the author asking other authors to only write witches if they're going to do it right essentially translates into only writing witches the way she would write them. She only wants witches seen in one particular light, with a ton of irrelevant background crap supporting that particular light.

This is ridiculous. Pagans come in all shapes, sizes, beliefs, and various levels of good/evil bents. There is no one true Pagan, and as a Pagan herself, the author ought to be ashamed of asking for Pagan characters to all be essentially painted in the same light. She makes no allowance for the extreme individuation within the Pagan community which, quite honestly, makes nearly every Pagan character ever written a valid representation of the Pagan community.

Next, the author discusses the "poll" of the members of a Pagan publication Facebook page she allegedly took. Now, we are not only not given the title of this "Pagan publication" page, we are also not given the questions asked, nor the lean of this particular community. And by lean, I mean exactly that--is this a liberal page? Conservative one (yes, there are conservative Pagans)? Experienced Pagans? Fluffy newbies (this is important, as most fluffy Pagans believe every bit of BS about Pagan history and their "persecution" that they come across)? Wiccan-oriented? Asatru-oriented? and so on ad nauseum. Taking an unscientific poll, then trying to treat it as scientific, does not work here, especially when you consider the immense scope and depth of the variety of religious practices that fall under the umbrella term Pagan.

You see, real polls control for a number of different factors, including political beliefs, income, age, and so on. The alleged poll conducted by this author could be the equivalent of asking 400 Jenny McArthur followers whether or not vaccines cause autism to determine whether vaccines do, in fact, cause autism. You see where I'm going with this.

So, according to this poll, lots (with "lots" being the most accurate statistics provided) of Pagans have this huge issue with how Pagans are portrayed in the media. This is amusing, as I personally know a SHIT-TON of other Pagans, and they all seem to think the various portrayals of witches everywhere--including those cute green-skinned, warty-nosed witches in Halloween decorations--are just fine. In fact, I can say that many of them even enjoy deliberately getting and displaying those very same decorations because they think it's cute.

The point is this--the poll doesn't prove or disprove squat. For all we know, the poll was conducted on NEWBIE FLUFFIES UNITE (fellow Pagans will get this), where every vote is sparkled (South Park fans will get this). That would provide a hugely disproportionate "lots" decrying the stereotyping of the witch in popular media.

Then there's the whole use of the word "witch" to begin with. "Witch" does not automatically equal "Pagan." Let's reiterate: "Witch" does not automatically equal "Pagan." There is a difference here, one this supposedly 30+ years a Pagan author hasn't yet grasped.

As I mentioned before, there are Christian witches. There are also agnostic witches, and dare I say, even atheist witches. The term "witch," in the Pagan community, is a general term referring to someone who works magic (and for you non-Pagans, a brief and simplified explanation of magic is later in this post). Sometimes it's not even someone who actually believes they're working magic--sometimes, witches are those people who believe they are doing rituals and spells to connect with their inner selves and the Jungian collective unconscious. They don't believe in any deities or spirits or magic whatsoever.

So why this author is so determined to have witches "properly" represented in fantasy books is beyond me. "Witch" is, like I stated, a general term referring to someone who does magic. That general term can be molded by an author to be whatever he/she likes--evil witch, good witch, witch in a bubble with a poofy pink dress, witch who absorbs magic from the writing in books, whatever. Every author out there has the right to write witches as he or she sees fit. 

Now, the author in question tried to rebut this by using the Lakota peoples as an example. She stated she didn't think the Lakota would appreciate it if a writer were to take their name and change it to suit the purposes of their story.

Well, she was right about that, except her argument is flawed. "Lakota" refers to a very specific ethnic and cultural group of people. "Witch" does not. There is no very specific ethnic and cultural group of people called witches. There's just a bunch of self-identified witches. And those self-identified witches, as already shown, are so different and variable from each other that, upon meeting them individually, you would never guess they all identified as witches unless they told you they did.

So the author goes on to address an apparently (first I've heard of it) unrealistic portrayal of magic in fantasy books. Now, if you're not a Pagan, let me take a moment to explain the concept of magic to you, as Pagans see it. Magic is using energy to effect a change. This is very similar to prayer, although with Pagans, the "prayer" is more ritualized and is often called a spell. That's the very basics of it.

Now, Pagans are taught that spells can take weeks, months, or even years to manifest the desired results. There is no flash-bang of purple light, no immediate change of circumstances--you just have to do the spell, and see if the spell's goal is eventually reached. This does not make a very good story. I repeat: This does not make a very good story. I shall illustrate:

Suzie was desperate to find her soul mate. Deep down inside, she knew he existed, but she didn't know how to find him. Suzie grabbed her trusty rose quartz, lit five white candles in a circle around her, and invoked the goddess Aphrodite for her help. After the ritual was over, Suzie went to work.

2 Years Later...

Suzie still hadn't found her soul mate. She yearned for him with everything she had, and she prayed that Aphrodite would help bring her soul mate to her.

8 Months Later...

Suzie found a man! But he turned out to be an asshole, so they broke up. Suzie did the love ritual again, and once more prayed to Aphrodite for her help.

3 years, 6 months, and 2 days later...

That is a shitty story. A really superbly shitty story, one that no fantasy writer in their right mind would ever consider trying to put in to print. The above reflects, very basically, what writing a true-to-life Pagan magic story would involve. As you can see, it involves a whole lot of waiting.

Fantasy is exactly that--fantasy. It is supposed to be fantastical. It is supposed to be incredible. Because you see, readers suspend their logic and critical thinking when reading fantasy stories. They have to, or else they won't enjoy the story at all. They'll simply be listening to an inner monologue of that's impossible running through their heads the entire time.

Imagine how well Star Wars would have turned out with that "true-to-life" mentality. After all, cold fusion can't be done--so no light sabers. Hyperdrive? Better cut that too. Not to mention the Force, which as we full well know doesn't exist. If we'd kept Star Wars true to science and physics, the movie would have consisted of a couple of astronauts creeping through the solar system, without a whole lot to do, and would have eventually settled on their dry, desiccated corpses long before their shuttle ever reached Pluto. Not very exciting at all.

The author, in our brief non-discussion, also stated that some people watched the show Salem and thought it was an accurate portrayal. She said this in an attempt to bolster her argument that all witches should be portrayed in the proper Pagan light. This argument also fails, hugely, for so many reasons, I don't know if I have the space to address them all.

First: There are people who believe The Onion is a real news site. Should we ban The Onion from writing satire because some people are too stupid to realize it's satire?

Second: There are actually people out there who were shocked to discover the Titanic really did exist, and it really did sink. You heard that right--they thought the movie was just a made-up story. They had no idea it was based on actual events.

Third: Rabid fundamentalists will always believe what they want to believe. There is no changing their minds. Portraying witches as good little Pagans in fantasy novels will not change this. I mean, seriously, those people believe Obama was born in Kenya and that we're all going to be put in FEMA concentration camps. Why are we worried about them?

Fourth: There are people who don't believe the moon landing occurred, who think there are 13 planets in our solar system, who believe they've been anally probed by aliens, and some who even think they're Jesus. I'm *reasonably* certain a proper portrayal in a fantasy book isn't going to sway these people's beliefs.

The way to get out correct information about a given subject is through education and outreach, not in restricting fantasy authors to one person's egotistical and limited view of what a "witch" should be. Further, ENOUGH WITH THE CULTURE OF THE OFFENDED BULLSHIT. Yeah, you read that right, fellow Pagans--ENOUGH. You aren't being persecuted, so STFU. You want an accurate portrayal of Paganism in fantasy stories, then YOU go ahead and write the enthralling tale of Suzie Waits 16 and a Half Years for Her Spell To Bring Her a Soulmate, and see how well that works out for you.

And before you get your panties in a wad--I AM a Pagan who was persecuted. I've been spit on, physically assaulted, you name it in the support of the right of Pagans to practice and believe what they want. Yes, you read that right too--I am one of those who stood up for the rest of you's rights. And I say any Pagan who is "offended" by Charmed, Supernatural, Snow White, etc. needs to get their heads out of their asses, because you're not being "offended." You're being a dumbass.


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