What do you do when The Freaky Shit happens?
A woman whose background was born-again Christian told of reading a book on voodoo until deep in the night. She fell asleep and then awoke to see half-human, half-animal figures roaming about on the landing outside her bedroom door. She had never seen or imagined such beings. The book had not included them.
“I was not asleep,” she said. “I was completely awake. I know I was because I reached out to touch the wall beside me.”
“What did you do about the creatures?” I asked, knowing that she had left the religious assurances of childhood beliefs far behind.
“I called on the blood of Jesus,” she said, her voice going high with emotion.
“Good idea,” I said. Old habits die hard, which is sometimes for the best.
Christine Wicker, Not In Kansas Anymore: Dark Arts, Sex Spells, Money Magic, And Other Things Your Neighbors Aren't Telling You
Wicker's anecdote has the ring of familiarity to me. The people I was raised by had very clear lines of demarcation when it came to The Freaky Shit. You had God, you had the Devil, and you gave the latter — even the faintest suggestion of the latter — as wide a berth as possible.
Wicker says contemporary Magi refer, with some impatience, to this attitude as Dualism, a less-than-helpful lens through which to view and interact with the world. And although I maintain a cautious, if not downright skittish, approach to matters of the occult, I'm drawn to wonder if its acolytes don't have a point.
Getting back to my roots, and the skittishness cultivated: “Flee the Devil,” was a motto we strove to live by. Itinerant evangelists who billed themselves “Occult Experts” (or, even more sensationally, “ex-Satanists”) made it easy for us by revealing the depths to which the occult permeated popular culture. Cue the slideshow of album art, and now we teenage youth were seeing vivid examples of Dark Magickal motifs that were in all likelihood squatting in our bedrooms and poisoning the very air with demonic influence. One parking lot bonfire later, youth and parents alike were relieved of these malign forces for once and for all.
Or at least until it finally hit the youth just how badly Christian Rock sucked.
|"Next up: Larry Norman!"|
It was a clear message: stay away from Those Guys and Their Freaky Shit. And if, for whatever reason, you found yourself confronted by it, a Friday night bonfire of the vanities, with invocations of Christ and Christ's blood, ought to be enough to get you out of the jam.
This, then, is the Dualism: two kinds of magic, one good (God through Jesus), and everything else, bad (Satan, “alive and well” as one “expert” claimed, in all the other religions (except maybe Judaism), but especially so in the religion that bore his name).
Still, even in a community free of Ouija boards and Tarot cards, The Freaky Shit occurred. Dreams, visions, visitations, alien abductions — at the outskirts of my village lived a family of five, three members of which had one really wild abduction story. They were sweet-natured people, pointedly uneducated. Which side of the equation were we to park this stuff?
Then there were the Holy Rollers, a subset the Mennonites could in no way avoid. Beyond the usual group-phenomena of glossolalia, Holy Giggles and Slayings in the Spirit, there were individuals who seemed to tap into an elevated vision of things that permitted them a surprisingly prurient vantage point. I knew of one character who developed a reputation for busting in on scenes he shouldn't have had any knowledge of. Some of those groups were up to potentially grievous mischief — go with God, dude. But others seemed completely innocent — none of your business, really, so: why?
I related some stories about this guy to another charismatic, who sighed and rolled his eyes. “Getting 'The Gifts' doesn't make anybody a better person,” he said. “You might have noticed. Some of these people become incredible dicks.”
It all leads me to wonder if the dualistic POV isn't too simplistic, and (ironically) prone to complicate things. Perhaps Dualism is merely Paganism-in-Denial?
Some TFS links:
TFS happens to Mark Twain, among others. So why isn't it a legitimate element in academic study? (My thoughts: a compelling enough piece, but blinkered in a way that seems typical of academia. You want TFS on-campus? Go to the Drama Department. No shortage of TFS stories and happenings occurring there, my dear perfesser.)
TFS happens, with some regularity, to Barbara Ehrenreich. And, like Twain, she still considers herself an atheist (although I can't help sensing a POV that begins with the letter “P”. . .).
Christine Wicker's book is terrific, by the way. She's clear-eyed, disarmingly frank in her self-disclosure, and revelatory about the whole American Neo-Pagan scene. Get it here.