Tuesday, September 21, 2010

In Praise of Teen Witches

The year was 1973. I was a high school student in a small, very conservative factory town in central Indiana.

There were these two girls in our school. People said they were "witches". This wasn't one of the usual, boringly predictable (while at the same time always crude and salacious) rumors that were routinely spread around, seemingly at random. In fact, this rumor was very persistent and very specific -- completely unrandom. And these were the only two people I had ever heard of being literally accused of "witchcraft" in my whole life.

I knew both of them, but only slightly. Certainly not well enough to just haul off and ask, hey, like what is the deal with the rumor that you're, like, "witches"?

But then I started dating a close friend of one of the "witches". So I asked her about her friend: "hey, like, what's the deal with everyone saying she's, like, a witch?"

Now let me emphasize the time and place again. Time: almost 40 years ago. Not even a full 20 years after Gerald Gardner first published Witchcraft Today. And the place? This was the kind of town that gave the world Dan Quayle. The kind of place where someone like Christine O'Donnell floats to the top, instead of the bottom. The kind of place where public school officials exerted significant effort to thwart the attempts of the Supreme Court to enforce the Constitutional separation of Church and State.

OK, now that I've set the stage, here is what my girlfriend told me when I asked why people said that her friend was a witch: "Oh, you shouldn't say that. They don't use that word. They call it the Old Religion -- but they really don't like to talk about it. Basically it's the religion that the Celts had before the Christians came. It's like, well, Paganism, you know? Nature worship. But really, they really don't like to talk about it, and I shouldn't say anything else. Really -- don't ask her about it or tell anyone what I said."

The little hairs on the back of my neck stood up when I heard the phrase "Old Religion". But that was all I could find out from my girlfriend. I did try to find out more about "the Celts" in the local library -- but none of the books I found said anything about what kind of religion anyone had "before the Christians came."

It would be another 15 years before I happened upon Starhawk's book The Spiral Dance in a B Dalton's bookstore at a mall in Indianapolis (by then I had moved to The Big City). Aha! I thought, this is what she was talking about!

No giggling about "Satanic altars". No dabbling. Just some young people practicing the Old Religion -- and who didn't want anything from anyone else except to be left alone to worship nature in peace. I am getting sick of all the pointless babble about Christine O'Donnell. So I just wanted to tell this little true story about two brave (and very real) teen witches who made a real difference in my life. They let me know that the Old Religion was still alive. And that is some very powerful magic.

"What can the American Muslim community do to protect Molly Norris?" Apparently, nothing.

UPDATED! There is an important update to this post at the bottom.

Sheila Musaji is the founding editor of The American Muslim, a website "dedicated to the promotion of peace, justice, and reconciliation for all humanity." Yesterday she posted a long article titled, "What can the American Muslim community do to protect Molly Norris?" (It's over 3,000 words, and if it were printed out in a 12 point font it would be seven pages long.)

Much of the article consists of Musaji belittling and mocking Ms. Norris, and generally saying that she brought this on herself and that Muslims ("real" Mulims, that is) bear no responsibility whatsoever for her predicament.

My favorite part is when Musaji actually says of Norris:
How she could have been unaware that such a proposal could bring out the extremist element on both sides who would use the event to pursue their own agendas (having nothing to do with free speech) is difficult to understand.
What an incredibly revealing declaration. Musaji comes right out and admits -- no, she in essence proudly asserts -- that Muslims can be counted on to react with bloodthirsty savagery to cartoons! And anyone who doesn't understand that this is just how Muslims roll, well, they'll find out soon enough.

But the title of Musaji's long-winded diatribe said something about protecting Molly Norris, not ridiculing her, didn't it? Hmmm. Well, if we read through the first 2,350 words or so, we finally get to this:
If it was in my power to personally protect Ms. Norris, I would do so. If it was in my power to find and arrest Al-Awlaki, or any other person instigating or attempting to carry out violence against another, I would do so. I wish that I knew what more I could do other than condemn such words and actions.
But I thought that "moderate" Muslims like Musaji were fighting tooth and nail to defeat the extremists!? But according to Musaji they have already given up -- and it really isn't their problem anyway.

Anyone who wants to know how "moderate" Muslims really think should seriously study Sheila Musaji's very enlightening article.

UPDATE: I just noticed that Sheila Musaji maintains a very long list of "Actions" that people can take so that they can "make a difference." There are well over 200 separate "Actions" that people are called on to participate in, mostly consisting of signing petitions, writing letters and "urging" various politicians to do various things. Some of the noble causes highlighted there include the "Leave No Gaza Student Left Behind" petition, five separate action items condemning Israel over the Mavi Marmara incident, a petition "to demand that Republican leaders stop turning a blind eye to violence and hate before it gets out of control and someone gets hurt," and so forth. Nowhere is Molly Norris' case mentioned in any of these ways for people to "make a difference"!

[The cartoon was found at the skeptically.org website here.]