In the esoteric community you hear a lot about orthodoxy and orthopraxy. The words are Greek in origin, meaning “correct belief” and “correct practice”. Magic, being an active practice, puts a lot of emphasis on orthopraxy. What you don’t hear a lot about is orthoepy, or “correct speech”. This is probably because in modern English it has come to mean “the correct pronunciation of words,” but let’s instead use it to mean “correct choice/use of words” in the style of orthopraxy and orthodoxy. There are right things to say and there are no-so-right things to say.
And everyone has something to say, whether their words are necessary or not. I woke up a couple days ago with my newsfeed/dashboard of every social media site I use up in arms about Peter Grey’s latest blog post “Forging the body of the Witch,” which seemed to be prompted by Rufus Opus whose post in response prompted an outrage on Tumblr and Facebook. He also seems to have conveniently edited some of the worse things he said, and wrote a new post backtracking…but in light of what he said in the previous post, I don’t buy it. I don’t even want to dig up the tumblr thread, but it was a mess. A lot of words were taken out of context, and a few males in the community felt the need to inform us delicate womenfolk that Peter was being sexist, by sexistly telling us how to feel about the original article.
All things considered, “Forging the body of the Witch” is an interesting and thought-provoking read.
Scarlet Imprint is not my sacred cow. My sacred cow is in the sky between Orion and Auriga. I don’t think that an author is above criticism just because I like their work and their message. However, I do believe that criticism should be constructive. I am a fan Peter’s work, and I agreed with a lot of the points he made, but I’m not “defending” how he glossed over the sexualities of queer and asexual women (which we will get into in a minute), I am saying that other men using this as an opportunity to show how “progressive” and what “good allies” they are is disingenuous, and that “firestorms” are not conducive to rational dialogue and discourse. As a devotee of Babalon, I doubt he intends to silence female voices in magic. “Don’t hate: educate” is the best way to deal with men who want to be better feminist allies, which it would seem like Peter does. Whereas Opus and other men were not being an allies, they were was kind of just made it all about themselves. Peter put a lot of disclaimers in his article—that is not how someone who is insensitive to their audience writes.
Word choice, good word choice, is something my composition teachers have always stressed. Orthoepy is an important practice and part of the art of rhētorikē tekhnē, “the art of oration”. From whence we get “rhetoric,” which, modern, political connotations aside, is simply the “art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the use of figures of speech and other compositional techniques.” The role of the rhetor, or speaker is descended from that of the storyteller—the original holy man. The storyteller, or narrator comes from Latin gnarus, which means “knowing,” “acquainted with,” “expert,” and “skillful”. Gnarus is cognate with the Greek word gnosis. Which in modern occultism is synonymous with “divine knowledge or inspiration.” Our words are powerful things indeed.
“The idea of narrative can therefore be claimed to refer to ‘a mode of knowledge emerging from action’ one knows by doing—or, equally plausibly, as knowledge activated through the word in time—one translates knowing into telling. The storyteller, in this sense, finds his place close to the gnome, the wise man, the one who narrates because he has gnosis and is gnarus—the ‘skillful sage’.” -from Contemporary Legend: A Reader, by Gillian Bennett and Paul Smith (p. 97)
If the words we say and the words we write have such mystical connotations, then should we not be more selective in the ones we choose to publish online?
Now everyone who got offended by Peter suggesting vitamins and exercise really needs to chill out. I can’t believe that it has come to the point where you cannot suggest self-care without being called “ableist” or accused of “fat-shaming”. (Furthermore, the word he used is “obese” not fat, and obesity is medically speaking, a life-threatening illness, and it’s preventable.) Also, he was in no way shaming people who need to take prescription meds, he was just making a comment about the over-medicated nature of western society due to the corporate greed of the pharmaceutical companies. Psychiatrists here in the US have admitted to prescribing kids in abusive and unstable homes ADHD and other behavioral medications to sedate them because it’s easier than addressing the real problem. I have a chronic gastrointestinal autoimmune illness. Trust me, I know what it’s like to be bedridden for weeks and have low spoons. Peter railing against apathy and self-neglect and other preventable ailments. (Aside: Ironically, it’s even been suggested by several studies that prescription drugs and pesticides in food and water were what got me chronically ill to begin with. So there’s that.)
Most of the herbs he suggested increase circulation, metabolism, and libido. However, it was pointed out that you should talk with an experienced herbalist before taking a daily cocktail of plants because allergies and other complications do exist. Though that should be a given for anyone who works with herbs at all.
Now for the part where I admit my fave is problematic:
He did gloss over the sexualities of queer and asexual women (and men, for that matter). And it’s mostly a matter of poor word choice. A lack of orthoepy. When a writer chooses poetic, flowery prose, overuse drawn-out metaphors, and utilize loaded terms, readers can get lost down those literary rabbit trails. I feel like a lot of people did not get that 80% of Peter’s post was metaphoric, but another issue is his choice of metaphor.
Scarlet Magdalene wrote a good response to the bits that she felt were problematic from an asexual’s perspective in “Sex, BDSM, magic, and the potential for abuse“. Which you should read, because she covers some of the issues that I do not.
I’m a very sexual pansexual woman, and I definitely have a kinky streak, but I feel like Peter really glossed over complexity of sexuality, especially feminine sexuality.
The emphasis on “penetration” in sex magic is really troublesome. Sure, I get the penetration-as-a-metaphor thing…I mean, he was being kind of metaphorical…but meditation can lead a person to the exact same state of “intimacy that forces us to confront rather than flee ourselves” that he talks about. It’s the whole “Know Thyself” thing. There was a little too much of the lunar=feminine thing, too. (Good gods, that gets so old.) Also, the characterization of one’s flesh being lacerated or pierced as a “feminine” act is such phallic thinking.
Furthermore, putting the weight of the not-so-nuanced-metaphor on the concept of “penetration” reduces the concepts of “fertility” and “intimacy” to their most mundane level by playing into the dynamic of duality. Duality is an illusion, just like the gender binary. We, the witches on the warrior path, are not phallus worshippers, this is not a Wiccan fertility cult. We do not put reproduction-oriented dualistic bullshit at the center of our mysteries, even as a metaphor.
He says that “By this I do not mean that witchcraft necessarily needs a man, or that it cannot be performed alone. Nor does it need a phallus, though that is ‘traditional’ and it does not necessarily have to be attached to a biological male.” but then in the next section goes on to say that “The formula of ordeal is that of penetration, an inescapable intimacy that forces us to confront rather than flee ourselves.” Even as a metaphor, he’s contradicting the spirit of the previous statement. Penetration is such a violent, masculine word. Such a phallic image.
The formula for sex magic/orgasm (or rather, the psychic and physical state it brings us to) is not penetration…penetration is not even the formula for sex. (Come on, the formula is friction, if it’s anything.) Medically speaking, a high percentage of women don’t even orgasm from penetrative sex, and typically have better orgasms through other, less invasive means. And plenty of women are also asexual. His brief nod to strap-ons still ignores the fact that a lot of queer women don’t even use them on each other. And many lesbian transwomen do not feel comfortable using their penises. There are also plenty of gay men who prefer hand or mouth stimulation over penetration, and most straight men just aren’t into getting pegged. (My experience, and that of my partners with various genitalia, has been that non-penetrative sex is preferable for a full-body magical orgasm)
Like, I wouldn’t force a guy who’s not into getting pegged into letting me peg him “for the witchcraft”. So why should a man insist that women should be okay with being penetrated because it’s “for ritual”? Literally or metaphorically you just can’t insist that it is the “right” or “only” way. It’s pretty hetero-centric to insist that duality, and/or penetration by another human, be it physically or emotionally, are necessary for magic. And insisting that physical eroticism is necessary for all witches ignores the entire asexual community.
The psychic and physical state that orgasm brings us to is a powerful magical state to be in, but there are many nonsexual, non-painful ways to achieve it. Notably he gives a nod to yoga, too, but I would like to remind those reading this that the idea of yoga being the practice of contorting your body into painful, impossible positions is largely a Western concept that stems from one type of yoga.
I don’t think Peter was being actively sexist, he’s just genuinely unaware of how queer female sexuality works because he is not a queer female. That’s understandable and forgivable. He simply wrote from his perspective as a straight male, which is his perspective, technically. What he did do wrong was write his perspective in an authoritative manner in such a way that insists that it is how all witches should be, forgetting to take into account that he literally cannot speak for all witches. A lot of well-meaning men do this unintentionally. I’m sure he would agree, when presented with constructive criticism, that the points Scarlet Magdalene and I brought up are fair. That is how you educate men.
I’m all about dance in ritual, and motion in ritual. I’m pro-sex. I’m pro-BDSM. Some of the most brilliant witchy ladies I know are retired dominatrixes. One of my own shieldsisters/packmates is a practicing domme. I think it is an intensely spiritual practice. As a devotee of the Morrigan I’m sure my sisters and brothers would agree that physicality and motion are essential to our practice. The warrior path demands that its adherents be dynamic. The warrior path demands that its adherents push themselves and challenge themselves physically and emotionally. The warrior path also demands that we speak (and write) truly, clearly, and concisely. We are not to litter our language with meandering prose, overdrawn metaphors, and deceptive blinds à la Crowley.
And I imagine the warrior path is not that different than the path of the apocalyptic witch. The gods of war, death, and prophecy are often the harbingers of the apocalypse, after all.
So if our doxia, our “belief” revolves around the principles of warriorship and the immanentizing of the eschaton—and our praxia, our “action” is motion, momentum, and rebellion—then our epeia, our “words” must be true, clear, and fair.
In the immortal words of King Solomon himself: “As iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens another.” If the body of the witch is to be forged like steel, then practitioners should challenge each other to grow and learn with their words. Sling fire and insults when vitriol is necessary, but at least give people with a good track record the benefit of a doubt first. A witch’s words hold power.
I really did like 99% of the article though. I hope if Mr. Grey does not take a criticism on his writing as a criticism of him as a person. (However, I swear to gods if he uses “smudged kohl” or “kohl-smudged” as a metaphor one more time I…well, I don’t know what I’ll do…probably just throw a eyeliner pencil at him.)