Sunday, June 26, 2016

Public hexing--tool of justice or simply overkill?

One of the things that I occasionally joke about is that it is not a good idea to piss off a witch because they will hex you back into the Stone Age. And that is exactly what some witches decided to do earlier this month to convicted rapist Brock Turner.

For those who missed all the excitement: Brock Turner, a Stanford student and competitive swimmer, was tried and convicted of sexual assault on an unconscious woman who attended a fraternity party in January 2015. Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky sentenced Turner to six months in county jail and three years of probation; Turner must also complete a sex offender management program and register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

That sentence, as well as the defense of Turner – including a letter written by the boy’s father stating that twenty years of prison was an unjust sentence for “twenty minutes of action” – exploded on social media. Turner, who had a blood level double the legal limit at the time of the assault, has expressed regret for being drunk, but not for the sexual assault itself. This omission of regret resulted in Turner’s picture being plastered all over Facebook with people calling for the judge to be recalled, and for people to rethink the crime of rape.

One of the people on Facebook that took offense at the light sentence for Turner was Iowan Melanie Elizabeth Hexan, who works as a belly dancer and midwife. Hexan also self-identifies as a Priestess of the Elder Craft. Hexan created a ritual to punish Turner using a hex. “Witches doing spells in times when they’re otherwise powerless goes back thousands of years,” Hexan said on Facebook.
Hexan created a page for the spell on Facebook, which included an instruction to chant, “Brock Allen Turner, we hex you. You will be impotent. You will know constant pain of pine needles in your guts. Food will bring you no sustenance. In water, your lungs will fail you. Sleep will only bring nightmares. Shame will be your mantle. You will meet justice. My witchcraft is strong. Our witchcraft is powerful. The spell will work. So mote it be.” Originally, the curse was meant to be performed by just Hexan and her twelve coven sisters, but thousands of witches joined the event on the night of June 7th.

And as is typical of social media, there are plenty of people who believe that Hexan, and the thousands of witches who joined her, have stepped over the line of what a witch is allowed to do. Hexing people is wrong, and the court has already sentenced Brock, claimed some people on Facebook, making the curse unnecessary.

Now, it should not surprise anyone that I have an opinion about this. Regular readers of my commentary might even remember one of the more interesting times I weighed in on this subject.
A few years ago, an unidentified man was sexually assaulting women in the neighborhood that I lived in. Given the multiple assaults, and the fact that the police had not yet caught him, a few of the local covens decided to get together to bring the serial rapist to justice. The coven that I worked with did such a working. And one of the questions that came up during the planning of the ritual was whether or not the coven was willing to perform a death curse on the rapist, if that was the only way to prevent him from sexually assaulting other women. Those of us doing the working decided that we were perfectly OK if the rapist accidentally stepped under a bus.

This particular working became part of my own instructional material on ethics. It is a weighty question. Part of the origin myth of Wicca is that witches, in the days of yore, would get together to seek justice denied to them by those in power, by performing spells to redress the injustices done to them. The difference between the days of yore and today is that thanks to social media, one is not restricted to the witches of one’s coven when one performs a working. Today, one merely has to post an idea to do a working, and one could potentially have hundreds of witches involved. Most of the time, your idea will reach a few dozen of your friends; but thanks to the power of social media, one could find oneself brewing up a storm in a viral teapot.

Performing mass rituals is not a new idea. During World War II, the English ceremonial magic teacher Dion Fortune sent out instructions to the members of her organization on how to perform a series of meditations designed to protect England from invasion by the military forces of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich. And today, there are occult leaders who organize rituals designed to bind and destroy terrorist organizations, and to protect citizens from the excesses of government.

There is some debate on how effective mass rituals can be. One of the difficulties with mass rituals is that outside of the overall intent, which is often rather nebulous and ill-defined, different people will use different symbol sets and have different ideas of what needs to be done in order to accomplish the main goal of the ritual. Without a common set of symbols and a well-defined goal, a lot of mass ritual simply fails due to the lack of cohesion. It is difficult enough to coordinate and direct a ritual done by a single coven which has been trained to work together; let alone attempt to perform a worldwide mass ritual being done by hundreds or thousands of people.

In fact, the difficulty of doing mass ritual is one of the reasons that I argue that there is often an ulterior motive behind such workings. Fame, the desire to lead others, wanting to appear to be an important voice in the community; these seem to be the real purpose of such mass rituals. I would be suspicious that the creators of such mass workings were attempting to siphon off the energies raised for their own purposes; but given the fact that there are easier ways to raise and stockpile energy, I am willing to give a mass ritual organizer the benefit of the doubt on that one.

The mass hexing of Brock is actually one of the few that I have seen that I think might have a chance to work as a mass working. Hexan gave detailed notes and suggestions, and the participants had a specific target. It is hard to bind an organization like ISIL whose public perception is ambiguous, and which acts like a hydra when attacked—an organization that has its own legion of supporters praying for its success. It is a lot easier to target an individual, where it is a specific crime being punished, and you have the necessary biographical and identity markers to target that single individual. And the rage over the light sentence would be a boiling cauldron which in the right hands could be used to leverage the probabilities surrounding the individual.

So was it ethical to do? Earlier I mentioned a working I had been involved in. Some of the people who heard this story actually decided that based on my decisions that I was permanently unfit to be an occult leader, something that they used to justify the formation of another lodge of the tradition I worked. Maybe they were right. Or it could just be that they wanted to lead the parade, and I was in their way; it is always so hard to tell in these matters. But some of the mental gymnastics that they used to get to the place where they decided my judgment was completely untrustworthy makes me a little sick to my stomach. For instance, some of the people who thought that I was morally unfit declared that we did not even have the right to use a spell to help speed up the capture of the offender. Let me remind you that at the time of the working, no one, including the police, knew the identity of the serial rapist. Declaring that none of us had the right to do such a working implies that no one has the right to magically defend themselves and their community. I can understand being uncomfortable with death magic, but declaring magic to help discover the identity of a serial rapist off-limits seems to be overkill to me.

Was the mass hexing of Brock overkill? Perhaps, if all the spells descended directly upon him. If he burst into flames, then it would probably be overkill. But if it just causes him to feel guilt and shame for performing the crime he did, then no, it is not overkill. And while I am uncomfortable with the media attention that the mass hexing received, for I am still trying to convince people that witches are mostly harmless, it might not actually be such a bad thing. I have argued before that witches need to be visible if we want the government and politicians to take into account our concerns.

And in the case of rape, there is the sad reality of how it is dealt with. When it comes to offenders, the concern is often that it is wrong to punish them for a single mistake, or even worse, multiple mistakes, and that we should allow them some freedom to reach their full potential. The victims, on the other hand, tend to be blamed for the crime, with people asking what the victim did to have caused a sexual predator to descend upon them in the first place. Part of this cultural bias is created by the dominant religions of our culture, which have holy books that state that the poor condition of the world, of mankind’s expulsion from paradise, was caused by a woman. Furthermore, the holy books of the dominant religions state that women are second-class citizens at best, and really should be happy with their place in life as property of their betters, the male of the species. And don’t even get me started on the fact that wealth is used to get offenders off the hook for their crimes, or at least, to get more lenient sentences.

Perhaps, a few more public hexings are in order. Perhaps, we should be loud about the fact that our religion does not give men a free pass to rape and pillage as they please. Perhaps, it is time for us to point out that certain actions are unacceptable, and that our magic is powerful, and that we are not afraid to use it. And perhaps, even, it might be good if Brock suffered spontaneous combustion. Yes, that would be death magic, but it would send a message that rape was unacceptable.

[This post appeared originally in the June 2016 Hearthstone Community Church's newsletter. And if you would like to write an article or commentary about this public hexing, there is room in the next issue of Denver Witch Quarterly for it.]


The ocelot said...

You rock, Morgan.

Unknown said...

The issue here is really "did it work" is the rapist even got a strong head cold out of this? If the answer is no then the whole thing becomes academic.
Sure you can wonder about ethics... but if you can't actually do anything then the ethical questions are moot.