The Less Talked about gate-keeping: Strictness on “proper” practice and tools.

One thing we talk about quite often in the pagan community is the need to stop gate-keeping. And when we talk about gate-keeping, we do include the usual things like racism, and abelism, and mandates on what gods or beings you can or cannot work with. We’ve even included in that conversation, the idea of not rejecting people over their UPG so long as its not hurtful or in direct opposition of the lore. This is all well and good. We should be open for anyone to practice and follow their gods as they feel called. But, there is one type of gate-keeping that happens all too often, yet is rarely mentioned. And that is being too strict and demanding about “proper” tools, supplies, and style in magik and ritual. Now, if you are trying to recreate an exact documented ritual or spell, or if you are holding a ritual with other people, then it is understandable to make sure that all participants do what is asked and needed for THAT ritual. However, when you start telling people they can only use certain supplies for certain things, or can’t use a certain item for what they want to use it for in their own practice, or that it will not work or will go wrong if they don’t do it a specific way with specific ingredients, that too is gate-keeping. I have been in many groups online and read many articles and blogs where this kind of gate-keeping is almost excessive. The strange part about this is, most of the people who do this still also teach that “the magic is in you” and “intent matters”. And yet they turn right around and tell you it won’t work if you don’t use this specific herb or tool or curio. Or if you do use this particular thing, it won’t work. Now, it is one thing to say that traditionally a spell was done a particular way or that particular ingredients, directions, and correspondences often work better for a specific type of spell. But to tell someone that it is wrong to do it differently or that it won’t work is not only rude, but absolutely not true. Every spell we see, in any book, was made up by some person or persons who decided to give it a try. Yes, it may have come from trial and error. But it still came from someone somewhere making it up and giving it a try. So why can we not make up our own based on what we have available? Truth is, we can. And we always have. Now, it is true that many spell components have properties that have been attributed to them throughout history. These attributes and properties are part of what people used to determine what kind of spells they used them for. Some, of those properties were determined after success. And spells can work better with these attributes in mind when choosing your spell components. However, different places and cultures, and even time periods, had different views of what qualities these components held for magikal use. For example, many practices use sugar for sweetening a person or situation. But, there are also cases, especially in the past, of people using sugar for prosperity because of a time in history when sugar was a rarity for the lower class because it was expensive. There are also people who use it in workings to draw flies and insects to eat away the thing or target being banished. And how many of us, based mostly on UPG or PCPG (peer corroborated personal gnosis), automatically associate Loki with cinnamon even though there is no reference for this in history beyond our shared idea.  Another example of this is color magik. Some people use Blue for psychic ability. Some use purple. Some use Purple for loyalty. Some use blue. Today, and especially in the west, people use the color green for prosperity and money spells. However, historically speaking, the only connection green has to prosperity is that it is a color associated with growth and stability. And these things can correlate to money; especially now that we have green money. But money wasn’t green until the mid-1800s. In earlier times, the colors most associated with prosperity and wealth were Gold and Silver, as in gold and silver coins and riches. Even as recently as the 1960s, we still referred to silver and gold as richness in media and music. Cue Burl Ives here. (Yes, I’m old school. I know. Moving on). The point is, there are many examples of the same components being used for different purposes across the world and history. There is no one and only set way to use any herb, color, stone, or curio. And as much as some hate to admit it, this same rule applies to how you perform the working. Unless you are a practitioner of a set path that has been continuously handed down in a specific way with specific steps and protocol (such as many indigenous groups), most of us do not have a clear record that tells us without a doubt how our early spiritual ancestors practiced and performed their magik and rituals. We have many clues and hints or maybe guidelines. But we do not have specific instructions handed down from the beginning that tells us how exactly anything MUST be done. For the most part, we pagans and heathens are working with fragments and piecing them together. And even if we do find an exact written account of step by step instructions on how the ancient followers performed their rituals and magik, that still would not mean that we could force other people to do it exactly that way. Because even that, would have been written by a human that created that format. And this is especially important when we stand against the other types of gate-keeping mentioned and openly declare “the gods call who they will”. What if the gods call someone in a country that doesn’t have the ability to get the same herbs and curios that are more prevalent in Europe or America? What if the gods call someone that happens to be poor and can’t afford to buy specific ingredients? I can tell you from experience, you’d be surprised what magikal supplies you can by in the grocery store spice aisle. Or herbal teas that you can easily open up the bag and use it in your work. Aren’t good magikal practitioners supposed to be resourceful? Find what works for you. Yes, learn the various properties and correspondences and history, and traditional ways. But, also consider what it means to you. What connections you have mentally to that item are just as important, if not more, than what some book told you. If the spell you’re reading says this herb is good for this spell, but its an herb that reminds you of a bad experience from your past, its not going to do well for you to use it and put that trauma into your spell. If there’s a component that makes you feel happy or empowered, I bet that would be great in your spell. Use what works for you. And do not be a gatekeeper by telling people they must do things a certain way, or that it won’t work (or will work but backfire, etc) if they do it differently than the way you learned it. We do not have a “book” that tells us how we do and do not HAVE to practice. And we do not believe that the gods themselves are the ones who dictated the writings we do have and that it is therefore an unalterable truth. If that is the kind of faith you want, then maybe you need to rethink denouncing that church with the book that you claim to be so different from. Part of the beauty of paganism is the fact that it is so versatile. And for those of us who are Lokean, (aside from ideology and practices that hurt people)  to deliberately talk down on someone or tell them how wrong or failing they are simply because they don’t do something the way WE say they should, is absolutely one of the most hypocritical things we can do. So the next time you speak against gate-keeping, make sure you include this; the most common, but least mentioned, gate-keeping of all.

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    1. It’s a topic that’s been on my mind a long time. I had the idea to blog about it after I saw yet another case of someone in an online group being laughed at to the point they left the group for not using “proper” ingredients and technique. And one even claiming I must be lying about how long I’ve practiced because there’s no way it could work 20 years not doing that particular way. And I put it off for a long time. But, when in the last month or two I have seen even people who are viewed as leaders and educators in their community still spreading this kind of teaching, I figured it was time to stop putting it off.

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