I’m Bridget Owens and you're listening to the Waxing Soul podcast where we're adventuring into the world of mindful modern magic and authentic spiritual practice. It's November 11, 2021, and today's topic is modern magic going mainstream. Are you ready to grow your soul?
Welcome back to season 2 of the podcast. Today’s topic came up from a few things in my orbit lately, and it’s going to take a few different angles as we go.
My wife and I recently took a trip to visit her parents in Myrtle Beach, and we made it into a road trip with a few stops along the way there and back, and part of my plan for what to do in our stops was to find a good metaphysical shop to visit. Not that I necessarily need any more witchy stuff or crystals or whatever, but it’s not like I don’t need any more witchy stuff, am I right? But I went online before we left and looked at listings of metaphysical shops and read the reviews and picked, like, the most promising one for each city and planned to go visit.
So, first of all, there’s this thing of, you know, when I first started getting into witchcraft and pagany things, getting this stuff wasn’t quite as easy. Not that it was even that long a go, a couple of decades almost, but at that point there was one store where I live that functioned as a metaphysical shop, although it tried to kind of fly under the radar a bit. They didn’t call themselves a metaphysical shop, it still is called a book and gift shop, but it’s totally a witch shop. I remember buying crystals either there or online or at one shop in town that had stones but sold them in more of a jewelry making context. If I couldn’t find it locally, I went to Ebay mostly. There were beginning to be positive media portrayals of witches and magic users, but only in the fictional way. Not in the real life, the person next door to you practices witchcraft as their spirituality but they’re totally not weird or scary or evil kind of way.
So it’s been… I can look back and see the progression over time of things becoming more accessible, more accepted, more mainstream. To the point of, actually, the first metaphysical shop I went to on this road trip to Myrtle Beach was in a mall. Not a gift shop, not pretending to be just a book shop, just a full on witchy shop in a mall. Someone in a local pagan Facebook group shared a pic from a toy catalog or sales flyer thing for a kids cauldron with a wand and little toy potion bottles. There’s the Disney movie that’s about to come out called Encanto, I think, that, like, my wife and I saw the tail end of the commercial and she was like, “Is Disney making a film about a bruja?” And I think it’s even more significant in a way that, like, our own local mall has at least one shop now, not counting Earthbound, which carries witchcraft books and tarot decks. That’s true mainstreaming of witchcraft, right? When you can run to, like, Target and pick up a few daily necessities plus a new set of runes.
Plus, beyond the stuff that’s just blatantly traditional witchcrafty, neopagan stuff floating into our day to day, there’s the fact that, you know, new age stuff has always been the slightly more mainstream side of the witchy world, and now that has bloomed into the mainstream. Law of Attraction stuff, spiritual principles finding their way into things like leadership training, that kind of thing.
I work in the business coaching world and our whole program centers around mindset and shadow work and all of that as a foundation to business building. There’s this more open flow of ideas between what used to be very closed off, traditional, magic-based spiritualities and fields like psychology, business, health, etc.
So the interesting thing in all this isn’t just… I didn’t just pick this topic because I wanted to be like, isn’t this awesome? It’s a kind of a complex issue, right? Not everyone feels the same way about it. There’s so many aspects of this transitional experience, which is what this is, and I’ll get to that more later, but there’s a lot of aspects to it. Lots of little moving pieces.
For instance, part of what’s going on is that certain ideas and concepts and practices which have been part of pagan and witchcraft traditions and not considered very legitimate in a more professional, more mainstream environment are now getting adopted and renamed and recontextualized to grant them legitimacy. And for some that feels like the mainstream world suddenly taking hold of ideas it used to scoff at and rebranding them so they don’t have to credit where it came from. It feels like appropriation. And for some others it feels more like the ideas from the world of magic and spirituality are being adapted to the modern world, like we’re breaking down magical practices into their component elements and that this mainstreaming of magic is really the rest of the world recognizing that magic isn’t the scary, strange, weird thing they thought it was and that there really is power in it.
There’s those who feel like the younger witches, the surge of popularity of witchy stuff on social media, is a dilution of the practice and the traditions, that it’s damaging to the culture and tradition of magic, and there are those who feel like the old ways aren’t for everyone and are happy to see resources and dialogue being so open and openly available, to see newbies be welcomed in and to see other takes on witchcraft being shared and explored. There’s a sense for some of this exhale, this ease of getting resources and not having to jump through hoops and hide to participate in their practice, but for others there’s a sense of suspicion, like the more accessible, more openly available resources can’t be trusted because when things open up we lose control over them and don’t know the provenance, if you will, that it becomes watered down or tainted or less powerful.
There’s, you know, the pagan community and even the new age community have all gone through a history of being othered, needing to be hidden, that kind of thing. I’m in the middle of the country, and around here there are still a lot of people who are in the broom closet, not open about their spirituality because there’s an element of danger to that, and that’s been the reality for a long time. And there’s this super interesting paradox of, you know, if you’ve had to hide and protect yourself in certain ways for a long time, you naturally have a resentment for the threats that keep you in that, the mechanisms that cause the danger, but also you naturally develop a reliance and attachment to the safety of that hiding and protection.
So if you’ve had to hide your spiritual beliefs, keep a part of yourself secret, hiding all your ritual stuff in a trunk and casting circles in the dead of night when everyone else was asleep, all of a sudden seeing that stuff in the mall or offered in kids versions is going to poke at you on an emotional level. Maybe you feel relief that finally the threat is lifting. Maybe you feel angry that people are suddenly taking pieces of something you’ve made personal and sacred and aren’t respecting or acknowledging that it’s been a source of pain. Maybe you feel distrustful. Maybe you feel excited. Maybe you feel total apathy about it.
With all of this stuff, there’s a range of reactions you can have, that you might be having, and all of those reactions are legitimate, right? Maybe you haven’t really noticed this change, maybe you weren’t aware, maybe it never occurred to you that people had strong opinions on this. So does it matter? Or is this all just growing pains as things change? In a moment I want to dig into all of this and get down to what it all means for each of us and our individual spiritual practices, wherever we sit on the spectrum.
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Now back to the episode!
Does it matter what our opinions on all of this are? That’s the big question, right? Does it matter? Or, if we twist this around a little, what DOES matter in all of this? What I can say for absolute certain is that your opinion on the matter, your feelings about it, whatever they are, matter to you. They matter to your spirituality and your spiritual practice.
I don’t mean that the opinion itself matters, like… If I feel like it’s the best thing ever that I can buy tarot cards at the mall, that doesn’t have to be a concept, an idea that forms the center of my spiritual understanding. Like, just because I think that’s good doesn’t mean I have to convince others that it’s good, I don’t have to buy a bunch of decks at the mall, any of that.
But that judgment, that feeling is spiritually significant because there are reasons, personal and individual reasons why I feel that way. And those reasons are extremely significant. They say something about us and they say something about how we’ve come to be who we are. And here’s the thing, when we have a position on something, an opinion or a conclusion we’ve come to, we tend to focus on, first of all, why our position is superior to any different ones and, second, the arguments we can use to prove that superiority, to argue it to those who don’t agree. And if we have a lack of opinion, that’s a position or opinion, too. It’s usually really the opinion that something doesn’t matter or shouldn’t matter. And no matter what our opinion or viewpoint, our reflex tends to be to become an apologist for our opinions and viewpoints.
That’s… if that’s a new term for you, an apologist is someone who argues in favor of a position. To defend it. Religious apologists, and since I grew up in Christianity this is my reference point for it, Christian apologists work to not just explain but to justify and argue to try and prove the tenets of whatever flavor of Christian faith they believe.
But it doesn’t matter what we’re apologists for. There’s always a real danger in apologetics when it comes to our authenticity, to our evolution, to the integrity of our spiritual practice because apologetics is by definition a defensive intellectual position. It’s not fundamentally curious or flexible, it’s fundamentally defensive and inflexible. There’s a significant difference between looking at two different viewpoints and saying, “How can I prove myself correct?” and saying, “How can I better understand the disagreement?” There’s a reason we don’t all agree on things, and it’s not that other people are bad people or whatever.
Getting to the bottom of what has led us to have the viewpoints that we have is of just, like, immeasurable value on a spiritual level whereas this thing we do of becoming apologists for our spiritual worldviews, defending what we already think, actually shuts us off to evolution and growth. Because when we dig around for our justifications, we invariably end up attaching to arguments that back us into corners not just in the discourse we’re attempting to have, but in our own thought processes. Like, the more we pile onto the “these are the reasons I’m right” pile, we end up with a lot of stuff that we then can’t intellectually afford to question without feeling like we’re conceding and therefore losing.
For example, I’m absolutely a feminist, and one of the great things I see in the pagan community overall versus mainstream religions is a more equal inclusion of women as both deities, figures, and as leaders. But I also see this “women are goddesses” thing in the mix. And I don’t want to argue whether that’s good or bad or whatever, that’s another discussion, but here’s what happens with this: At some point in the process of arguing against the oppression of women, one of the arguments became, “Yes, women are different from men, but they are different in special ways that give them their own different type of power.” Kind of a thing of if men have power on account of being men, then women have power on account of being women. So we begin to accumulate goddess aspects, divine feminine, all of those ideas that expand on that argument which aren’t bad in and of themselves. But the moment those ideas become foundational justifications for feminist ideals, when they become the reasons we point to to legitimize our position, they also become a liability because it becomes that impossible to have discussions about, you know, what does femininity really mean? How do we define womanhood? Are those concepts just cultural baggage? What about the people who are excluded from traditionally gendered systems? Instead of those questions being the path to deeper understanding and evolving connections and spiritual growth, they become an attack on the underlying feminist worldview they were brought in to defend.
The defensive position closes us off to discourse and only leaves us open to justification and argument. And the same thing happens with all opinions, including whatever we think and feel about witchcraft becoming less marginalized and more mainstream. Becoming apologists for our own points of view, whatever they are, shuts down the mechanisms that drive our spiritual development. Exploring these kinds of questions from a genuinely curious, inwardly focused position becomes a real opportunity for us to do our shadow work, to explore ourselves more deeply, and therefore to grow and evolve spiritually, not by figuring out what we think is the right answer but by figuring out what attracts us to some ideas and what makes us react to other ideas.
So that’s my first challenge to everyone as far as putting ideas into action. To practice in whatever way you practice – meditation, journaling, divination, conversations with friends over coffee, whatever – to practice exploring your opinions and reactions and arguments as opportunities for greater self understanding and greater understanding for others first before you do the thing we inevitably do and settle on a personal position to hold onto. And in a moment, I’m going to poke at all this from a slightly different direction.
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Here’s the flip side, I guess, to looking at this whole thing. Our opinions on the matter are windows to our authentic selves, they’re tools we can use to explore our connection to the world around us and all of that. But while we’re delving into ourselves, there’s still this external thing going on. There’s change happening, there’s a shift, and no matter what anyone thinks about it, it’s happening. Not because someone is making it happen, but because a zillion little decisions get made every day by different people, by those who want to share their craft, by those who are interested in it, by consumers and marketers, by people who create art and media, by people who choose what gets published, by communities opening themselves up where they used to be more closed off, by individuals coming out of the broom closet, by people reacting to that…
This is what life looks like. If things aren’t changing, there’s no life. Change is inevitable. And every community undergoes change. Humans are social creatures, we form social communities, and they are constantly shifting things, as are the people outside that community impacting it. So I think it’s easy, sometimes… often too easy to get into this spiritual mindset where we’ve decided that if our opinions aren’t externally meaningful, then we shouldn’t have opinions, we shouldn’t care about things, whatever happens outside of our lives is just external distraction, and the only important thing is inside us.
And, man, when we get to the point where we’re entirely wrapped up in our own thoughts and feelings and disconnected from the world, not only are we absolutely intolerable to be around, we’re also pretty well spiritually stagnant. We’ve cut ourselves off from the forces which drive evolution at that point. Not to mention cut ourselves off from the mechanisms by which magic works. Like, okay, you can continue to explore your inner self without engaging with life, but when and if you find your shadow aspects and want to transform them, good luck doing that in a spiritual vacuum.
But I’m veering off topic.
Here’s the thing about engagement with the culture and environment we live in: Once we understand why we have the positions and opinions and desires and visions we have, once we understand those things as something individual and deeply personal, the next layer to that is to understand what place our individual and deeply personal motivations have in the larger context. We as individuals are the building blocks that make up society. We’re not insignificant. And while it’s one hundred percent true that we can’t go out and, regardless of the power of magic and intention, we can’t go out and change everyone’s minds and behaviors to shape the world to the way we would like it to be, we can, and authenticity demands that we must, engage with the world in a way that’s true to our selves.
Now, our positions can change, and really if you never change your mind that’s a pretty big red flag, but at any given moment we have an obligation not to other people but to our souls, our deep selves, to be authentic in how we engage with the world. The big challenge is to separate our authentic motivations from the stuff we feel we should do and the stuff we do just as unexamined reactions. It’s easier when you’ve gone through the shadow work part, the bit I talked about earlier about treating our feelings and opinions and reactions as ways to explore and understand ourselves and not as something we focus outwards. That part has to come first, really.
But once we understand where we sit, how we got to that place, what it means about us, it’s part of magical practice and spiritual practice and belonging to a community to then live out that understanding. Again, it’s not about other people. It’s not about changing other people, it’s not about accepting or rejecting people based on what we think, it’s not about what’s good and bad or right and wrong. But we all make those decisions day to day of whether – sticking with the topic – whether we’re someone who wants to share our craft more openly or learn more from others, whether we want to work to preserve and protect the traditions we come from, what we consume, what we create, how much we make our practice part of our external identity, how we treat people who make different choices from us, what communities we belong to and participate in.
The thing is that we can make change in our own lives, we can make change within ourselves, and that’s the only change that can make change around us. Forcibly trying to change the external changes nothing, not even ourselves. And that’s the biggest fundamental lesson in magic.
Thank you so much for listening. New episodes of the Waxing Soul drop every Thursday. All materials and resources except the music are copyright Bridget Owens. Many thanks to my readers, listeners, friends, mentors, inspirations, and my framily for riding with me into season two. Until next week, blessed be and be good to yourself.