Getting Mad at Our Reflection in the Mirror: Responding to Ceri Radford’s “I spent a week becoming a witch”

There’s an article in the Independent that has riled up the witchcraft community: Ceri Radford’s “I spent a week becoming a witch and the results were worrying,” where she culled tips and instruction from a book she cites, Luna Bailey’s The Modern Witch’s Guide to Happiness.

The community’s response on Twitter?

  • “vapid anti-witch bullshit”
  • “poor journalism”
  • “This bitch has no clue”
  • “written by an idiot only looking to be trendy through appropriation”
  • “hot mess of an article”
  • “absolutely shameful”
  • “ignorant and frankly disappointing and offensive”
  • “piece of shit”
  • “articles like this just piss me the fuck off”
  • “a smug shithead”
  • “I just read the vomit in question and I am fucking livid”
  • “dipshit sneer piece … 85% dumb jokes”
  • “complete horseshit”
  • “wildly offensive article”
  • “fucking idiot”
  • “hex that bitch”

Love and light, apparently.

The salient takeaway point from the article, however, is the one fueling the anger and animosity: Radford’s conclusion that witchcraft is in “dogged resistance to logic” and requires a “suspension of belief in the scientific underpinnings of the universe.”

And my private response to myself after reading her article? Oh, man…  We as a collective (so clearly I’m not saying we unanimously believe, but the dominating voice after averaging high and low and everything in between together) have put out a particular narrative about modern witchcraft, and then when we see exactly that narrative being reflected back at us tinged with a smidge of snark, we go off our rails because clearly none of the shadow work or meditation we’ve been doing has had any success.

As one who is passionate about science, raised by a scientist, engineer, and inventor parent with multiple patents and who made me study his doctorate level textbooks on physics when I was in high school, I wholeheartedly believe much of what we call witchcraft or ceremonial magic can and will be rationalized by science. Now working amongst Silicon Valley techies and cutting edge innovators, I noticed that the most brilliant among them have more questions than answers when it comes to metaphysics. Few of them are zealously atheistic. In fact, most of them adopt the mindset of, “Yeah… there’s something out there, something to it all, I just don’t know what it is.”

The occultist is someone who occupies liminal space, who will never be believed or stand as a credible voice because we are at the frontlines seeing what no one else is seeing, so how do you expect those without the Sight to see? Getting mad at someone for not being able to see what you can, because they do not occupy that same liminal space and have not witnessed it firsthand, is absurd. Getting mad at that person for having a platform to broadcast such an opinion that embarrasses you when you don’t stand on the same authoritative platform is just bitter envy, plain and simple.

Does Radford’s interpretation and practice of witchcraft align with what I know and experience of the Craft? No. But I readily acknowledge she’s pretty accurate about how the Craft is presented to the public at large.

Let’s talk about Radford’s teacher of witchcraft, in a manner of speaking. She cited The Modern Witch’s Guide as her source of inspiration. I cannot comment or review the book because I haven’t read it. What I can say is it’s printed by a general interest nonfiction publishing house, not an occult-oriented press, that covers everything from biographies of historical figures and popular science to sports, arts and crafts how-to manuals, children’s books, and self-help. I might speculate that the acquisitions editor there is looking less at “will this push the envelope of occult philosophy and advance esoteric practice to untrod heights” and more for “will this sell?”

We can also skim the free preview pages of the book that taught Radford witchcraft. Here’s the first page of the Introduction:

From The Modern Witch’s Guide to Happiness

Let’s assess Radford’s article within the narrow context of what it is. It wasn’t journalism. She never claimed it to be journalism. It was a fun tongue-in-cheek fluff piece where she plucks up a book– The Modern Witch’s Guide— follows its instructions for one week to learn witchcraft, and is now reporting back in a tone clearly intended to be humor. Whether Radford’s style of humor misses the mark for you is subjective. I also noticed that the article is categorized under “Books,” not “News” or heck even “Editorial.”

Plus, I’ll have to confess myself that I’ve often stumbled across self-identifying witches saying things exactly like “rose quartz soaked water will calm traumatized animals” with a straight face or adopting the dangerous mentality that there exists a spell and sigil to solve every problem you might encounter without having to do any further Work beyond mixing three herbs, an essential oil, lighting a candle, and whispering an affirmation to Goddess.

We shouldn’t always blame “mainstream media.” A lot of the content generated by the community invites mainstream media’s perceptions and warrants reasonable scrutiny. In too many interviews I’ve done, fellow witches and practitioners of the Craft have pushed me to give sound bites of astrological predictions for all people everywhere for the next 365 days of the calendar year, how do I clear my root chakra in 5 easy steps and manifest prosperity tomorrow, or please teach me a Taoist sigil to help improve my life but oh, can you do it in 15 minutes because that’s the amount of time my producer has allotted for that in this podcast. As a practitioner who is dead serious about astrology, I absolutely loathe those “Jupiter retrograde omigod and also what effing Pluto is doing who knows how many billions of miles away is having an impact on my everyday life, you know, more so than the choices I made yesterday” messages that our very own people put out there. And honestly, the crystal-infused water bottles or cure-all laboratory-manufactured essential oils… ::head to desk:: We’re the ones who have deflated the alchemical quest for the Great Work to self-care, twin flames, and law of attraction.

Whether we like it or not, the voices in our community that speak the loudest, that are most heard, the “witchcraft” most seen by the public at large is the witchcraft described by Radford.

From Modern Witch’s Guide to Happiness

Let’s say today, right now, I want to learn witchcraft but am not quite sure where to start and let’s also say that no one in my immediate circle knows a damn thing about witchcraft. What would the average human being in today’s world do? Well, let’s buy some books. Which books? The bestsellers, of course. So we go on Amazon to check the top 10 most popular books on witchcraft and select a couple of those to read. Then there’s Instagram and YouTube. Surely if I scroll through the #witchesofinstagram and #witchlife or #witchythings feed for 15 minutes I’ll get a good sense for what modern witchcraft is, yes? And I can type in keywords into YouTube to pull up the most watched videos about beginner witchcraft.

Why do we fault someone innocent like Radford for her astute observations? Yeah, I do have critical commentary that’s negative about my community. Astrology isn’t garbage, but a lot of what gets presented as astrology is too reductive to be useful, and the reductive distillation of astrology isn’t coming from “mainstream media.” It’s coming from our own community. Tarot, feng shui, and reiki isn’t junk science, but when you choose to approach these arts devoid of method and reason, then don’t get mad when people call it junk science. There are kernels of important truths to chakras, crystal healing, incense, and anointing oils, but the one-liner buzzworthy memes about these practices do more harm than good. And yeah, go ahead, quote me: I do think a lot of what gets peddled as spell-crafting is hogwash.  So perhaps you should go after me with the same vitriol and ad hominem attacks the community has launched at Radford.

What the article left me with is a reinforced awareness that the general witchcraft community has the tendency to conflate science and religion. Obviously we’re not the only ones guilty of it, but I’ve tried the “but Johnny is doing it, too” defense before and in no rational, enlightened space has that excuse or justification ever worked.

I do believe Craft can be explained by science, but not science readily known today, and so when we are still treading in the realm of hypothesis and theory, we need to tread with care. We also need to train and study and cultivate a mindset like scientists, if we claim we want the Craft to be treated seriously. You can’t put out junk and then get mad at onlookers for pointing and laughing and remarking, omigod, that’s junk.

Also, many of us in the community can agree that there’s no generally agreed upon definition for the scope of “witchcraft” or “witch.” We also, generally speaking, conclude that’s a good thing and we want to be inclusive. As long as you say you’re a witch and you openly claim that what you’re doing is witchcraft, then it is and shall be witchcraft. At the end of a long-winded social and personal analysis, I agree with that position wholeheartedly, because it serves the greater good, but then I also need to be prepared for the consequences of that position.

If anything at all in the marketplace of ideas that wants to be witchcraft is accepted as witchcraft and we live in a capitalistic free market society, then the fun, fluff aspects of the Craft will rise to the top (while so-called serious practitioners of the occult continue to remain invisible and marginalized), the Ceri Radfords of mainstream media will skim from that top to judge the rest, and those of us who say that anything and everything can be witchcraft will need to live with the implications of that all-inclusive position. And again, just to reiterate, I side with the all-inclusive position of an open definition for witchcraft, and because of that, I’m ready to live with the ramifications of that position.

Radford’s final takeaway point: “We shun science at our peril.”

I agree with that, and I believe most of you practitioners of the Craft reading this blog right now agree with it, too.

Of course, I get it. The reason Radford’s article pissed us off is because of the subtext. She’s implying that witchcraft as we all practice it is counterproductive and in opposition to science.

Witchcraft and magical practice, or more precisely, the occult is complicated. It’s the liminal space between science and religion, which is why it’s ideologically dangerous when not approached responsibly and with wisdom.

In the world of research, innovation, and academia, thought leaders in those fields go to excruciating lengths to define method and process of reasoning. In stark contrast to that approach, the loudest and most popular voices in our community have decided “anything goes.” So when rational people point at that and say, “That’s not science,” you can’t be mad. Because they’re right. It’s not science, not anymore.

By the way, Radford is also the author of this article: “Why a book about witch trials feels weirdly relevant today,” where she writes commentary such as “In pop culture, witches are sanitised and sexualised” and “it’s worth remembering that tens of thousands of people were executed for witchcraft in Europe and North America.” Instead of condemning her, if you welcomed her, you might actually find her to be more of an ally than adversary. Just a thought.

10 thoughts on “Getting Mad at Our Reflection in the Mirror: Responding to Ceri Radford’s “I spent a week becoming a witch”

  1. Sally

    I find this commentary very meaningful for me. I won’t go on and on about that. But I really appreciate your analysis of Radford’s article and the issue of science versus the liminal space (that heck I can’t explain). I’m not an atheist but I have my feet in science but my heart and spirit in the metaphysical world. Like my father I seem to marry the two but I sure can’t explain it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mercy Brown

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this! You’ve put into words what’s bothered me about the uproar around this article. We can either be open and accept all views – or draw a line somewhere and leave some practitioners out (to our own peril).

    There’s been so much hatred and anger thrown at this writer. But she admits up-front that she didn’t commit to a long enough period of study in the article title! It’s like a Protestant who went to their first Latin (Catholic) mass and understood nothing. How could they? There are layers to such things as faith and metaphysics. Mysteries need study and meditation and dedication to be understood. You cannot claim to be an expert on the faith from a week of un-mentored practice. You cannot draw blood from a stone.

    All this anger was unproductive. Better to laugh about the click-bait attempt. Better to use the opportunity to teach those who might be interested in the occult. Better to look at what lines we want to draw for ourselves about what is “real” magic and what isn’t. And then let it go.

    Thank you again for saying it much more eloquently.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. BBW, you rock. Thanks for this. Your comments are necessary for triggered folks who shun the woman. I teach critical thinking and read tarot. People find it either hilarious and sometimes abominable. I love it and welcome the conversation with zeal! 💜

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Linds

    THANK YOU for this. I rolled my eyes when I first saw Radford’s article, dismissing it as fluffy clickbait, and I admit being surprised when I started seeing such vitriolic response from the community. Of course, we all want to feel seen and respected and the tone of the article can easily perceived as snarky or shortsighted. And. I agree wholeheartedly with everything you so eloquently wrote in this post.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Gabrielle

    I think there are more important things going on in the world than lashing out at trivial,personally it is better to incline oneself energies elsewhere and stop reading an article if it irritated, let alone respond.

    https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/witchcraft-astrology-modern-witch-guide-happiness-book-luna-bailey-a9276886.html

    What did reading the above article do for me, well it filled sometime and introduced me to “The modern witch’s guide to happiness”. It is just that, a lovely little book for personally wellbeing involving Woo and glorious magazine quality imagery, one can benefit from it even if they do not hold that belief system. Indeed Ceri Radford a successful journalist benefited from it by selling her entertaining tongue in cheek piece.

    I like divination mixed with personal wellbeing and holding space for myself.

    Well Being: Recipes and rituals to realign the body and mind Danielle Copperman (Author)
    Sacred Self-care: Everyday rituals for a more joyful and meaningful life Chloe Isidora (Author)
    High Vibrational Beauty Kerrilynn Pamer (Author)
    Whole Beauty Shiva Rose (Author)
    Slow Beauty: Rituals and Recipes to Nourish the Body and Feed the Soul Shel Pink (Author)

    For those who believe in Woo and want to develop their skill set in the area

    You Do Know: Learning to Act on Intuition Instantly Becky Walsh (Author)
    Advanced Psychic Development Becky Walsh (Author)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Leon

    I don’t comment much but this is a great essay with many profound insights. It is also refreshingly different from almost everything else on the subject in my news feed. Thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Pingback: The Hit List - Putting pleasure on the checklist - The Tarot Lady

  8. The bibliotherapod

    This is very much a piece of entertainment journalism and so I find it hard to feel mad about. I think it inadvertently highlighted how to be a modern witch in a capitalist sense, you really do need to have the money to buy ‘stuff’, which as a poor person, I really notice how little our craft community acknowledges this. I also see how little sense a lot of this ritual makes outside of a context (this particular witchcraft practice is linked to my ancestors/heritage/geographical sense of place/spiritual upbringing/world view) and that when we teach craft to newcomers, that context matters. If we are just plucking metaphysical ritual with no context then it does feel ridiculous.

    The Independent is a centre left leaning British news outlet with a 30% Saudi ownership so while it has biases, it’s likely not involved in a deliberate attempt to oppress insta-witchcraft in the U.S. The Independent is an establishment voice that caters to a mostly white, middle class, atheist, 50+ demographic.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Anonymous

    Great critique and analysis.

    I bristle when I see a new “thought leader” proclaim “use physics to change your reality” and then proceed to use the discoveries of quantum physics without understanding what they are saying, using it to speak of macro-effects, effects on things and people, when quantum physics is still way back at “fundamentals” — focusing on the single particles making up electrons and orbits and wave collapse and probability of particle direction in spaces so inconceivable small — and “is there spooky action at a distance on particles below the Planck Scale? Is there spooky action at a distance on something as “large” as a molecule, a Buckyball for example?”

    Yet we see over and over in the retweeting space “how to use quantum magic” and “use quantum to change your life.” Bologna.

    Using where we are scientifically (we have a long ways to go scientifically until we “detect occult influence) as a basis to understand how to affect flow of synchronicities, how to become a wizard, is so far off the mark it is utter embarrassment to the community of occult. Yet that is one of the birthing grounds of “young new witch learning.” “It’s so simple, in addition to positive thinking which changes the quantum, just add these herbs and say this incantation and hold this crystal…”

    Humanity always looks for the easiest out, the path that appears the simplest. “Thought leaders” are getting rich banking on that tendency. And in the process they are misleading millions, and misrepresenting occulted practice wholly.

    Yet these are the “leaders” with the greatest numbers of followers. So we cannot fault someone taking the “new witch storm” out for an unlicensed joyride. Those banking millions on “teaching simply how to change your reality” are not even teaching critically, but instead are misleading any passing hungry soul and pocketing without scruples what dollars fall from their pockets.

    Why doesn’t the founder of The Secret (if we can call it “founding”) for example, look to where The Secret breaks down, fails? Why doesn’t she post experiments in when positive thinking didn’t work, when it wasn’t enough to cause change to occur over a year’s time?

    Why don’t the speakers of ideas such as Tedx talk “How to use Quantum Physics to Make Your Dreams Your Reality” really try to understand what is quantum physics, and then come up with experiments to test it in the macro world? (This is a laughable Tedx talk, to clarify. There is absolutely no quantum physics in her speech, in addition to the headline premise being very far from current scientific understanding.) Yet she is not alone in this fallacy fed to the public desperate to control their reality.

    These mass-market “leaders” are the entry gates to questioning what-is-witch, and enough people actually do understand the psychological science of positive thought. But those people are a large portion of who is now questioning what-is-witchdom, when positive thinking fails them for their desired life changes, or they still feel disenfranchised and underpowered….and those people are now being misled by the next-in-line-entrance-gate-to-the-masses:
    popular “pop” too-simplistic no-caveats witchy how-to books.

    So now what:
    So it is our responsibility to write about how it is so much more complex than this, it is our responsibility to educate on how it is truly about the great quest, the quest to see beyond, the quest to peer beyond the beyond, for Self-actualization and how that changes our apparent reality, for enlightenment itself, the quest to know the unknowable, the quest for the Holy Grail.

    And THEN it is our responsibility to suggest behavior experiments, thought experiments, synchronicity affecting experiments, journaling results, meditations, to suggest where psychology-meets-neuroscience-meets-physics-incorporating-consciousness can go, to point to the discoveries of shamanism of antiquity, the parallels of religions around the world of old when there was no contact, … it is our responsibility to teach QUESTIONING REALITY. It is our responsibility to teach the path of self discovery, Self Discovery, as the great path to affecting the flow of what comes our way.

    Recently, my home was full of scientists, materialist atheists. What I found was that they had staunch walls of “occult is BS” UNTIL I described events in my life that made me scratch my head, that made me question what is reality, events that had witnesses (so wasn’t just hallucination or wishful thinking), events that made them say “well honestly I know someone that had things like this happen, who knows things ahead of their happening, and I’m not sure what is going on there. We need to look into the Hard Problem of Consciousness…. ” and then they went into the trail of academic funding issues, how do we break through that, and left saying “well you know something here, and we should study this to figure it out.”

    The path ahead is not stating “you are full of BS and this is what I know,” but instead “this is what I question, and what I have seen thus far in that path of questioning, and have you thought of questioning such?”

    The path is not telling someone What Is. The path instead is teaching others to look, possible pathways of looking, teaching how to question and then learning from them when they learn to question more powerfully than we do.

    The path of gaining clarity is not shouting at someone who tried a week’s witchy experiment from a pop-culture attempt, but instead the path of gaining clarity is highlighting what makes us question, to highlight with such shocking evidence that even the hardcore materialist scientist turns her head to say “WTH” and “hmm…. how can I design experiments to test this new frontier…”

    The path is scientific study of consciousness, of human consciousness and animal consciousness and plant consciousness…and then dare I say, perhaps by then science will scratch their head and question “well maybe we should look at earth consciousness and rock consciousness…. and can we MAKE a consciousness?”

    The path forward IS science. But we need to build the bridge first.

    So I suppose this comment should have been a blog post. Ha! Thanks for writing this Benebell. Your thoughtful analysis is exactly what the community needs.

    Liked by 1 person

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