PBP Week 33: Q is for Quackery and Questionable Sources.
In the pagan and metaphysical community there seems to be a lot of tension about quackery and questionable sources. I see these are two separate but interrelated issues. Quackery, for me, refers to people who sell goods of questionable effectiveness or quality. For example, go to Ebay or Etsy and find the metaphysical section; amid goods prepared for magical and religious ritual usage you’ll find “haunted rings” (my ex has one), magic spells for sale, and a ton of divination services. Sometimes quackery comes with a real, physical object and sometimes it doesn’t. Questionable sources are like quackery but I mean this to refer to people who write books or sell courses, in person or over the internet, perpetuating myths, and basically made-up history to make their information seem more legitimate or special. Those people may have magical rituals and systems that performed in the right frame of mind work perfectly well and sometimes they are hawking things of their own invention and probably haven’t done much research. These issues are both about the kinds of crap marketed to pagans, magicians, and people who I think are in some way vulnerable.
I’m not trying to say Pagans, Witches, Mediums, or Craftsmen who specialize in magical items shouldn’t write books or sell their services. I believe people who are so gifted can perform divination, or spells, both ethically and effectively for a price. Do I believe it’s likely all of these spiritual or occult services for sale are legitimate, especially on the internet? No. That in essence is the issue, though something I believe we need to police in our local communities as well. I read tarot cards, most people feel that I’m pretty good at it. I have recently started charging and it doesn’t affect my readings. Am I willing to dress up as a “gypsy,” appear at your party and read for entertainment purposes? Yes, I love to. Do I think this changes my readings or somehow invalidates my ability to help people with the cards? No, even if I dress up and give out information about traditional folk magic, I am not going to lie or purposefully mis-lead people. Even if I have a bunch of people waiting in line, I am going to make sure the client understands what I am saying and the implications of a tarot reading (being that I am not “seeing the future”) so they can properly process the information. If you set proper expectations, you shouldn’t have any problems reading for any setting. The same goes for any kind of magical working. The only thing I will say about magical services for sale is when you perform magic for someone you entangle your karma or wyrd with theirs: consider if that’s really something you want to do.
In the past, and in Wiccan communities especially (let me re-state I am not Wiccan, and this is not a Wiccan blog), there is a “rule” against charging money for magic services. The reasoning behind this is that the money will somehow cloud your judgement. It’s the slippery-slope fallacy in that if you accept money for a working once, you will eventually become so happy with getting money for magic you will be willing to do “bad” magic. Now, as I’ve said this is a thought fallacy in that one thing will lead to another: like saying marijuana is a gateway drug and if someone smokes pot eventually they will end up a heroin addict. Do a lot of people end up on those pathways? Yes. Does that mean you, or anyone is definitely going to become a junkie or a magic working-wage slave? No. I wouldn’t recommend it, but more because I have feel like my karma needs to be protected, I don’t need anyone else’s bad karma. If you are in the mind to do so, I’d say that’s possible but certainly think about setting proper expectations with your clients.
As for questionable resources, before you believe what someone (or a book) says always double and triple check. In the early days of the modern witchcraft revival there was a tradition of making things up and bad Victorian archeology (which is pretty much making things up and ignoring evidence to the contrary). You will have to come to terms with the history of modern witchcraft on your own. When authors write about family practices, take a quick minute and ask yourself if your family had a magical practice how likely would you be to write it up in a book? I think honestly most of us the answer is “not likely”. I don’t want to invalidate these authors because a lot of the ideas are good and rituals certainly work. However, authenticity is important to me personally and I think it should be more important to the metaphysical community. I believe we need to stop being purposefully misleading and take it upon ourselves to do more than diligent research before we publish things. When we’ve made something up and found it to be successful, or even if we see no reason performed in the right frame of mind something shouldn’t be effective, we should simply take credit. Magic, Witchcraft, and Paganism are living practices and as such we should admit they change and adapt with time. Newer practices or invented rituals and spells are just as “real” as old ones. If we can all just be honest and stop using history we know not to be fact, I think both the Pagan and metaphysical community would be taken more seriously in general.