Anyone with an interest in the history of both Neopaganism and the wider magickal movement should understand just how deeply people who claim to control unseen forces are mistrusted by the mainstream. Even before the days of the organised church those with a calling that could be considered mystical were doomed to be ostracised by others around them. Only to be tolerated when their particular set of skills could prove useful to the wider population, these almost folkloric individuals became a bridge between heaven and Earth. In the ancient world both priestly classes and itinerant sorcerers shared a common bond as outsiders, living on the fringes of the civilisation and seen as in some way untouchable by those who sought them out.
Though each undoubtedly held power over the huddled masses in their own way it was the lone magus who had to fear the knife, while the priestly sects instead consolidated their power over the globe. In time these godly men began turning their weapons upon the competition, setting themselves up as the only true route to the miraculous. Over the years the Vatican proved to be especially adept at rooting out this competition, though while the burning times gets a lot of press they were far from alone in bleeding the esoteric world dry. The humourless Puritan clergy also slaughtered outsiders just as zealously as their Papist opponents while utilising a lot of the former denomination’s barbaric techniques too.
In England Matthew Hopkins, the self appointed Witchfinder General, hung more people in twelve months during the Civil War than the entire justice system had similarly sentenced in the previous hundred years. In hindsight his motivation may have been the fabled twenty shillings he charged per town for his dubious services, as well as a sadistic love of torture, but it was the religious climate of the time that enabled such small scale genocide. Yet history remembers him as a misguided and perhaps overly brutal defender of the faith, while his victims are simply dismissed as more of Satan’s servants sent back to Hell.
When Gerald Gardner’s Witchcraft Today hit the shelves many years later the Witchcraft Act of 1735 had already been superseded by the Fraudulent Mediums Act of 1951. Along with a growing agnosticism, this seemed to usher in a new air of tolerance towards those trafficking in the occult realm. Unfortunately it was just for show. Soon the the media, preoccupied with what such groups of outsiders did behind closed doors and spurred on by films such as Rosemary’s Baby, began to look for a new witch to burn. This short sighted zeal, a burgeoning televangelist genre, unethical hypnotherapists and the claims of a few delusional authors led to the rebirth of prejudices that had lain dormant for centuries.
Black magick conspiracies, murder, sacrifice and molestation on a truly international scale became big business again through the medium of ritual abuse. Child molestation is a dark enough facet of human sexuality without the need to coat it in the bloody trappings of the supposedly diabolic, and if anything the very act of doing so in some way cheapens the plight of the victims who are sadly experiencing it on a daily basis. That we would be seen as somehow in league with these abhorrent pieces of subhuman excrement by virtue of our chosen spirituality by a misinformed public makes my blood boil.
Of course the delusional can always find an audience, and if the modern conspiracy genre is anything to go by the satanic panic is still in full swing. Not that the purely scientific viewpoint is any more accommodating of the esoteric, especially when it comes to organised Skepticism. Seeing no problem with editing huge chunks of Wikipedia to devalue any references to occult concepts, they also specialise in hounding those who post on such subjects with an endless stream of derogatory comments until they break. Freedom of thought is obviously not something these people have any respect for, nor was the idea of strength through diversity ever taught at their bastions of lofty academia either.
Skeptics view us as a throwback to irrational ideas that are not in keeping with the needs of the modern era, and as far as they are concerned we are the bad guys. Ironically, in their eyes we should be shot out of the same airlock as anyone else who claims a spirituality other than Humanism, including the very Christians who would happily damn everyone anyway. When you realise that this same religious tensions that created the witch craze also sowed the seeds of modern Atheism, it is hard to suppress a wry smile. When you then accept that we magickians are equally hated by everyone because of what we can do, that smile becomes a deep and knowing laugh.