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My thoughts about Traditional Witchcraft, Wicca, cooking, gardening, and anything else that catches my fancy.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

"Traditional" Doesn't Always Mean "Good."

While knowledge of, and respect towards, tradition is important and will always be a part of Witchcraft, the fact cannot be denied that in some cases, practices and beliefs, no matter how "traditional," are better discarded.  While much has been written of the dangers of super-eclectic, "New Age" approaches to Witchcraft and Wicca, relatively little has been penned about the opposite, but just as unfortunate (and sometimes more so) extreme: that of slavish devotion to real or fancied traditions, no matter how irrelevant or even barbaric they might appear to modern practitioners and humans in general.

It is my opinion that practices that involve cruelty to animals (and this includes animal sacrifice) have no place in the modern world.  As scientific discoveries progress and our knowledge of the animal kingdom expands, it's become increasingly clear that, far from being dumb, mute commodities to be exploited at our whim, animals instead have the ability to feel emotion, process complex thought, and form social and family units.  Even the simple crow, once thought to be "just a bird," has been found to possess an almost unbelievable intelligence.  Pigs, some say, have the brain capacity of a two year old child.  Apes can form complex social hierarchies and have different, unique personalities.  The amazing dolphin can recognize itself in a mirror, and indeed enjoys examining itself as much as any human teenager. How, then, can we justify the barbaric treatment we give these creatures?  I understand that people are omnivores, and I myself eat meat; I have no illusions of some vegetarian utopia.  However, gone are the days when people hunted wild animals for food, where the choice was "hunt or die" and where everything belonged to some great food chain.  Now, animals are kept in cages so small that they literally cannot move, turn around, or stand up.  They are tortured and butchered in ways that, were you to behave thus to a domestic dog or cat, would land you in jail for animal cruelty.  Worse, they are hunted to extinction or poached solely to have pieces of their bodies stolen for "magical" use, leaving the rest to rot.

Magic doesn't require the use of animal parts to be effective, and it's time these practices ceased once and for all.  There are newer, and better, ways of doing things that do not require animals to die (though of course, using the bones or similar from an already dead animal is another thing entirely.)  While in a more primitive time people may have believed that the growth of their crops, or the happiness of their clan, depended on sacrificing animals to appease the spirits, we now know this just simply isn't true. Crops will grow without any rituals to "make" them, and rains, storms, and droughts we know to be the result of air belts, climate changes, and other factors that need no supernatural force to explain them.  Can we influence these things?  Maybe, though I'm not so sure; I think magic works much better on the small, person-to-person level than on a very large, global scale.   With current scientific knowledge, there can no longer be justification for any kind of animal cruelty.  It simply isn't needed.

The same can be said for practices that are regional but which have no bearing when performed elsewhere.  For example, I once saw a BTW practitioner get very angry at an Australian coven because they celebrated the Sabbats in reverse. Since the seasons are the opposite below the Equator, it makes no sense to hold a harvest ritual in what would be their spring, or to hold a summer-time Sabbat whilst shivering in the cold of winter.  By flipping things around, this coven in question was keeping these celebrations in their proper context, but this person was furious because "it's traditional to hold Beltane in May, so you should do it regardless of the seasons!"  In this case, rigidly following "tradition" and going by calender month, rather than by actual season, would have rendered the Sabbat meaningless and would have been equivalent to mindlessly reciting prayers on Sunday simply because it was required of you.  It would have transformed a meaningful rite into an empty ritual.

We've all seen "tradition" used a an excuse to uphold backwards and antiquated thinking.  "Traditional marriage is between a man and a woman!" is used to deny equal rights to gay people, and to paint them as enemies of the family. "Traditional values" often means the same, and also extends to attacks on single parents, non-married partners, and other forms of blended families.  At one time, "tradition" was used as an excuse for slavery, and to keep Blacks and other non-whites "in their place." In some places, "tradition" says that women are evil temptresses, and must have their genitals mutilated and then hide themselves under cloth shrouds lest their faces and hair "tempt" men. People quote things that happened 400-500 years ago as reasons for modern Witchcraft practices and beliefs, forgetting that at that time, people were lucky to live to be 30, women were property more or less, and medical care consisted of bleeding and useless remedies.  We don't demand a return to this state of affairs, so it's curios why we glamorize others of the same period.

My point is not that we should discard all traditions ( indeed, there are many worthy ones that must be preserved) but that we re-examine them with a modern eye and using modern methods.  At all costs, we must avoid clinging to beliefs and worldviews that are absurd or patently false, lest we end up similar to the Christian "creationists" who insist on believing in 4000 year old Earth, made by magic in 7 days, despite all the vast evidence to the contrary.  There is room for both tradition AND common sense/modern scientific knowledge in all branches of Witchcraft, and unless we embrace that fact, along with humanist ideals and a compassionate approach to our dealings with the animal kingdom, we will end up as a footnote in the history books, lumped in with other radical fundamentalists religions who refused to change, and died out because of it.

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