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A Correlation Between Safe Space & Secrecy In Magic - Synchronicity swirls and other foolishness

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September 4th, 2009

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03:52 pm - A Correlation Between Safe Space & Secrecy In Magic
Another valuable concept when thinking about race issues or any other sorts of prejudice, which I fortunately already understood, is the concept of safe space. I've heard many people (almost always white men) declare that safe space, and in particular space limited to women or to any minority population is an inherently exclusionary & bigoted concept, no different from a white-only country club. Here's an excellent description of why this isn't remotely true in any environment where racism and similar types of oppression are common. The short answer is that spaces inhabited only by people who understand your experiences are very useful for people dealing with oppression.
sometimes I just want to enter a social space where everyone present Already Gets It, where I’m not going to be dealing with awkward questions or pronoun slipups or even people subconsciously taking my trans-ness into account and behaving differently toward me (I wouldn’t claim to understand racism on the basis of being trans, but I’m willing to go out on a limb and assume the analogy holds).

Also, I think you may be misunderstanding the “safe” in “safe space”; it’s not necessarily about fear of physical attack or even open bigotry. It’s as much about being able to “let your hair down”, so to speak, to be able to get away from the persistence of that issue when you’re interacting with the majority. Perfectly kind and polite non-trans people put me on the spot all the damn time, be it with the best of intentions or otherwise. They outnumber me and other trans folk so greatly that the cumulative effect of trying to explain things, let slip the annoying or inadvertently-offensive stuff that wasn’t intended, being diplomatic in the face of socially-acceptable forms of marginalization that look polite to anyone not on the receiving end…

…sometimes? I need a break. And pulling into a sphere that includes only People Who Get it, who will tend mostly to be other trans people, is often the only way I can really experience that break, that sense of it really not being a big deal. Out in the everyday world — at work, at school, at shops, in social settings — I can’t count on that, and in fact will usually be forced to deal with some measure of it whether I like it or not.
In addition to being valuable information, this discussion reminded me of the issue of secrecy in occultism. Secret initiations are common in various occult traditions, and talking about them it often forbidden and is in practice often quite rude, if for no other reason than that it can diminish the experience of the initiation for someone to go into such an experience knowing exactly what will happen.

However, the issue of magical secrecy goes well beyond this. I've seen no shortage of people in the occult community who enjoy keeping various sorts of occult information and rituals a secret from both outsiders and (especially) from newer and less experienced members of the occult community, because it makes the people keeping the secrets feel important, powerful, and in the know. I've also run into a large number of moderately paranoid occultists who keep various aspects of magic a secret because in "the wrong hands" magic can be dangerous – such people live in a world filled with all manner of occult threats, which ultimately, like any other form of paranoia, is once again a way to make these people feel important – if you deal in dread secrets that are inherently dangerous to work with, you must be someone important. I have absolutely no patience with any of that sort of secrecy. I once split up a magical working group that I was go running because I was utterly unwilling to only allow people who had been initiated to participate in magically powerful rituals. This sort of secrecy is IMHO, yet another example of how petty and childish many members of the occult community can be.

However, there is another side to magical secrecy, and last night it occurred to me that in a few ways this sort of secrecy is similar to the concept of safe space. Sometimes there are events that only make sense to people who have experienced them. Various forms of systemic and long-term oppression are often like this, as are a variety of the more unusual subjective & visionary states that most experienced occultists have had. In both cases, if you haven't experienced something, you aren't going to understand it nearly as well as someone who has, and the topic is sufficiently complex that it's easy for someone without those sorts of experiences to make drastically incorrect assumptions about what is going on. Sometimes it's both easier and exceedingly useful to talk about such a topic only with others who understand it, without the constant necessity of explaining the discussion to people who have no had such experiences. Obviously, in many ways the sorts of experiences involving oppression and the sorts of experiences involved in serious occult practice have little in common with one another, but in both cases there is value in spending time discussing these issues with others who understand because they have shared the same or at least very similar experiences.
Current Mood: contemplativecontemplative

(6 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:September 5th, 2009 12:03 am (UTC)
Right. I have a filter on which I only have clinicians, for when I want to just talk about my day, without having to answer countless ignorant questions. There's nothing wrong with ignorant questions, and reasonably often I post publicly about psychological topics, which occasions are ones when I'm feeling happy to educate the public and answer all the questions likely to come up. But I'm no more capable of being boundlessly giving than anybody else, and when the topic of the post isn't psychology, but How Siderea Feels About How Her Day Went ("SOAP: irritation or abomination?"), that's not a time and place I welcome someone changing the topic from Siderea to, say, Clinical Terminology 101 or Health Care Reform Soapbox.

It's not that anything that happens there is particularly secret, or all that confidential, or intimate; many of the people on it aren't particularly well known to me. It's not like I'm talking about clients. It's just a place where I can chat using professional jargon and expectations and not have to worry about the social ramifications of that.
[User Picture]
Date:September 5th, 2009 01:27 am (UTC)
Thank you for your thoughtful post. I'm really glad that someone who understands the importance of keeping initiations secret. I've run into too many people who seem to conflate this type of secret keeper with the pretentious twits you described in the paragraph before that.
[User Picture]
Date:September 5th, 2009 11:39 pm (UTC)
The last explanation makes plenty of sense to me, OOC. There's a lot that's simply hard to talk about with people who have never had a god drawn down into them, say. And I'd really rather not try to explain that to Ye Random Fundamentalist.

Another couple of reasons, somewhat overlapping the above: (4) the discipline of secrecy may be a valuable and easy bit of magical training. (5) New witches and such are often enthusiastic and full of themselves in ways which will embarrass their teachers and their future selves, and shushing them up is all for the good.
[User Picture]
Date:September 6th, 2009 01:01 am (UTC)
And I'd really rather not try to explain that to Ye Random Fundamentalist.

In many cases, I'd find this easier than doing the same thing with the less tolerant variety of Ye Random Geeky Atheist. On a related note, I rarely find myself in a position to talk about occult matters with people who are hostile to or totally dismissive of the idea, but I occasionally end up doing so with people who are interested, open-minded, but are not themselves particularly into such matters, and so they simply lack the experience base that either of us have had. If you've never had a vision of a deity or shared your body with various sorts of other non-physical entities, then your understanding of such experiences is going to be quite different from those of people who have.

I regularly find something similar in discussions of immersive gaming on rpg.net, where it's clear that the wacky sort of dual-consciousness headed a bit towards deliberate multiplicity that is my preferred style of gaming is deeply alien to many gamers, even people who aren't just into hack-n-slash. More than a few either completely misunderstand or don't believe in my style of gaming.
[User Picture]
Date:September 6th, 2009 01:25 am (UTC)
I don't often wind up discussing religion with Ye Random Geeky Athiest, and, honestly, not that often with newbies either. I probably should...
[User Picture]
Date:September 17th, 2009 09:38 pm (UTC)
Might I also suggest that trying to discuss something from a profoundly magickal worldview with someone who hasn't had the same training or experiences (and thus, doesn't share the same basic assumptions) doesn't really impart any useful information? Case in point, a gather that we were at a while back, J- and I were trying to discuss ritual and how it seems to work under certain circumstances with someone who didn't seem to have any training in ritual or magick, and so didn't understand any of the metaphors that were used, nor recognize the distinctions between action, perception, and symbol. We couldn't meet on common ground because there wasn't any.

Trying to explain the mystery doesn't make any sense to the person listening. It's a mystery because it has to be experienced, and the information gleaned from that experience must be experimented with. What was it McKenna said? "The real weirdness does not have to be treated with respect or as though it were fragile. True weirdness is true weirdness: You can kick the tires, honk the horn, and drive it around the block."

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