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Eat, Prey, Learn Magic: Alex Mar’s Spiritual Tourism

Reviewed in this Essay: Witches Of America, by Alex Mar

(not recommended)

It is for us to build an alternative through our present actions, our explorations, our play: all done without any spectators. This is more powerful than uploading a picture of your engorged genitalia. Love one another. Resistance and knowledge begins in your body. Secrecy remains an essential power of the sphinx.
–Peter Grey, Beneath The Rose

In the early part of the last decade, just after the destruction of two buildings in New York City’s financial center, a witch-hunt began. Armed with the power of law and absurd injections of fear-appropriated money, many Capitalist governments began searching for an elusive group of people known as terrorists.

Of course, like many other state-sponsored pogroms, ‘terrorist’ was an empty category, easily filled with whichever group of people threatened some aspect of Authority. For most, terrorist meant a brown-skinned, bearded man who prayed five times a day towards a middle-eastern city, a resurrection of 20th century orientalist fears (and desires) of the swarthy, virile assassin come to steal wives and undermine imperialism.

But within the borders of these countries, spurred by the economic interests of petro-chemical extraction companies and large agribusiness, the Eco-Terrorist was re-born. Younger—usually light-skinned—activists, punks, and hippies who’d gone rogue for Mother Earth attracted intense surveillance attention from security services using the same tactics used against Black and leftist radicals in the 60’s and 70’s (MKUltra, for instance).

One particular tactic was quite effective, leading to multiple arrests for uncommitted crimes and the destruction of many large activist groups from fear and in-fighting. In multiple circles, sympathetic-appearing agents would befriend key members and leaders—often the one with the greatest charisma and the strongest trust—and become their confidants. Once close to this key member, they were able to gain the trust of others, borrowing respectability through association.

Many such infiltrations later led to arrests, often through entrapment scenarios where the infiltrator would urge the group towards stronger, more violent actions and then help provide the means to accomplish them. Other times, mere surveillance of the groups’ activities was enough to provide evidence for arrest. But perhaps the worst damage done was not to any particular group, but to leftist environmentalism and anti-capitalism as a whole. Stories of these arrests triggered re-evaluations of trust, suspicions, and accusations which destroyed the morale, cohesion, and relationships of activist groups, many of which were dedicated to complete non-violence.

The most insidious aspect of the infiltrator is that they prey upon the openness of their targets, their friendliness, even their desire and love.  In this way they are not much different from the missionary, the spy, the opportunist, the colonialist, or even the spiritual tourist except in motive—the damage wrought by their duplicitous insertion into a culture or community to which they have no vulnerability (and towards which no obligation) can be as long-lasting as a carpet-bomb or an aerial drone-strike.

Opportunist or Tourist?

I want access to the level of witchcraft that only time and training and trust can earn.
–Alex Mar, Witches Of America

Such thoughts came to mind mid-way through reading Alex Mar’s first book, Witches of America.  Much touted by the internet press—but met with muted reservation by most witches, her book offers a sordidly pornographic and self-aggrandising narrative disguised as an elucidating look into the way witchcraft is practised in the United States.  Belonging alongside a 1980’s issue of National Geographic (we’ll get to the pendulous breasts in a bit), exploitative British-tourist narratives, and freak-documentary, Mar’s book tells the tale of her search for authentic witchcraft in the most ‘extreme’ of American Pagan experiences.

Though quite unlikely on the payroll of any government security service, the writer’s strategy is certainly the same.  Befriending a likable, attractive, caring and well-connected witch (Morpheus Ravenna) and then borrowing that persons’ respect to infiltrate other groups, Alex Mar inserts herself into a world of witches and magicians to which few ever attain such quick access.

While maintaining a separate life in a downtown New York City apartment, Ms. Mar manages to gain the trust of Thelemites in New Orleans, a Feri coven in New England, a Morrigan priesthood in San Francisco, the leader of a Mystery School, the founder of the largest Pagan news-site, and then, even faster, writes a condescending tourist memoir which will likely cause great damage to the communities she exploited, engendering the same mutual distrust that led environmentalist groups to disintegrate since 2005.

Such has happened before, and opportunists are hardly unknown to American Paganism.  The very tradition which Alex treats most severely in her book suffered a schism at least in part after such an infiltrator, and the meteoric rise of a former member of the Mickey Mouse Club—into the ranks of ADF leadership, a position as a columnist for The Wild Hunt, and even a feature on the cover of Witches & Pagans–before ‘returning’ to Christianity was written about in The New York Times.

Pagans are, of course, a trusting lot, and it’s rather tragic to see their trust abused yet again by an admittedly upper-middle-class Harvard graduate who presented herself as an authentic seeker.  No doubt she used her arts-connections as lure for access to make herself, her publisher, her agent, and her marketers quite a bit of money.

But let’s be even more charitable here, and assume Ms. Mar was, at least in her own mind, an authentic seeker who also sought to write a book about her experiences.  If so, she did certainly find herself amongst the authenticity she sought, though she never actually finds it.

In fact, read as a search for authenticity, Witches Of America becomes not a work of propaganda but a comedy of errors with Ms. Mar the protagonist, as group after group risks helping a hopeless bourgeois Harvard-grad break free of her wealthy upbringing and find the self-knowledge she sought.

It was a risk, though, that we shall all now share.

Pendulous Breasts and Goddess-Issues

Witches of America begins with Morpheus Ravenna, who becomes the author’s access to many of the other people she encounters.  Mar met Morpheus while filming a popular documentary, ‘American Mystic,’ and mentions in the opening chapter that her experience with the priestess whet her appetite for deeper magic.

Alex Mar’s respect for Morpheus borders on fanatic adoration, a fascination evinced heavily in her lavish descriptions of Morpheus’ body, clothing, and presentation.  In fact, Morpheus is the only person in the narrative who receives exclusively positive description, and such effusion contrasts starkly with later descriptions of older and and overweight women.

Readers familiar with the photos of African indigenous women, bare-chested, with low-hanging breasts displayed as commodity for a Western white male audience in National Geographic will no doubt find resonance in two of Mar’s descriptions:

[Regarding a woman in a Feri ritual at Pantheacon in which ‘shame’ was invoked:] “One very obese woman has chosen to go topless: her breasts are so pendulous they hang nearly to her navel, flattened into thick slabs. It is clear she is dancing a word that means something to her. She’s dancing it off, waving her arms , her skin rippling, and her long, frizzed-out hair askew. A large-bodied misfit.” (p. 52)

[And from an encounter with the founder of Circle Santuary at Pagan Spirit Gathering:] “Leading the ceremony is Selena Fox, in a gauzy sheath that shows her figure–her pendulous breasts give her the look of a stone fertility goddess (the Venus of Willendorf?)…” (p.70)

The bodies of women become a constant obsession for Mar, but not so much in the manner of arousal but in a dichotomy of goddess/disgusting. Only one other female in the book gets positive description of her form–Sophia, part of a Thelemic Temple, who Mar imagines several times embodying, wondering in the book whether she might one day find herself laying down on the altar as Sophia does.

Despite comprising a higher portion of the population within Paganism than the rest of society, Mar makes no mention of the bodies of trans or queer people (suggesting a very narrow experience of witch ‘community’), and remarkably little mention of men’s bodies.  The author’s search for authenticity, then, becomes her struggle with the female body (including an obsession with white, thin, female bodies) and with ‘the goddess,’ a fact she admits several times in the book:

“I’m surprised by how hard I have to fight not to dismiss the idea of a Goddess at the helm of the universe, rather than a handsome, full-bearded Jesus type. Why does that continue to sound like crunchy hippie bullshit? I should want to pray to something female—I’m her demographic. I am a little bit shocked to realize that I may be sexist in my view of the gods.” (p. 126)

[and in her description of revulsion to Dianic Witchcraft:] I want this communion—but I can’t relate. I feel embarrassed: this is precisely the kind of dated, pro-women gathering that most of my female friends would balk at, and I don’t know how to embrace it.” (p 77)

In Morpheus Ravenna, Alex Mar finds the sort of woman-ness she’s looking for and can accept, but despite her own admissions to internalized sexism, she presents Morpheus as a foil for all other sorts of women, the old, the overweight, and particularly the poor.  Women she likes and women she does not like become equally objectified, reduced to symbols of their existence, rather than their embodied being.

Destroy Everything You Touch

The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society… All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned…

The Communist Manifesto

Poverty, actually, is another common representation in Witches of America.  No doubt it was a bit odd for a writer who admittedly grew up wealthy, in a wealthy neighborhood, in a private school, in New York City to see how witches actually live. Her disgust is palpable. In fact, this is where Witches of America becomes not a narrative about alternative magic traditions in the United States, but the confrontation of the Bourgeoisie with their own Disenchantment.

Alex Mar admits her class-difference from those from whom she seeks authentic witchcraft, but her confession itself reveals her failure to understand her privilege:

“I have always lived as an insider’s outsider: raised in a high-end part of Manhattan, but to immigrant, so-called New Money parents; educated as a private school for girls, but one of the few who were not ethnic blondes who rode horses on the weekends; certified by an Ivy League university, but as a ‘creative type’ determined not to take advantage of its business-government matrix; an attractive woman, but with a challenging, overly rarefied taste in ‘creative’ men.” (p. 110)

Though I, too, have an “overly rarefied taste in creative men,” it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain a charitable disposition towards an author who speaks casually of traveling every weekend to the west coast in pursuit of magic or her film-maker boyfriend and then, later, balks at the request of a Feri teacher for $100 compensation to help pay rent.

In fact, it’s in the parts of the book where Alex Mar pursues Feri training where both her classism and her disgust for non-perfect women’s bodies becomes most apparent–and awful.

Using access from one witch to gain the confidance of another, the author pursues a relationship with Karina, a teacher of the Feri tradition of witchcraft who lives in Western Massachusetts.  Readers may already be familiar with the Sundering of Feri, a split of the tradition caused in part by the aforementioned infiltrator, as well as the decision of some initiates to teach for monetary compensation (Mar spends extensive time discussing this).

This question of payment for teaching affects more than Feri, but Mar’s casual treatment of the issue, her reprinting of emails and rituals (herself for profit, at that!), and her relentlessly negative descriptions of the single-mother’s home and appearance reveal Ms. Mar to be precisely what she later asks Santa Muerte to help her become: ruthless.

The scene in which Karina confronts Alex Mar with her suspicions that she’s only doing all this to write a book is quite tragic, leaving the reader with the hope that someone may finally stop her.  But Mar only half-answers, manipulating her teacher, yet also reveals her ruthless motive (and disgust of the embodied experience of the witch) for the rest of us to read:

“My desire to get in on secrets, to earn them, is very separate from this idea of witchcraft as my life’s work. as a newly claimed identity. A belief system, a spiritual calling, seems like a life in the arts: if you’re questioning yourself, questioning the work, the struggle loses its value, and you’ve simply exiled yourself to the outskirts of any mainstream life without benefit….[emphasis mine]

I say to Karina, knowing full well that my answer will have a serious bearing on our relationship. ‘It’s up to me to prove to myself whether or not I’m a witch.'” (p 157)

It is precisely here that Witches of America unfolds not as a search for magic or witches, but the story of bourgeois obsession with the exotic.  Rejecting her own spirituality even as she reports clear visions of rituals on Crete and childhood stories of matriarchs seeing the dead, Mar repeats the precise traumatic cycle of the Western colonist.

Severed from ancestral ties through the unholy bargain of Capital, the capitalist subject then seeks to regain a sense of authenticity by pillaging others.  Those others, be they the subaltern colonial subject or the poor witch raising two children, offer access to their wisdom and traditions out of sympathy, unaware that the seeker has no intention of ever giving up her position of wealth and privilege.

Just as the worst spiritual tourists later go on to sell the wisdom freely given them by the colonized in expensive New Age retreats, Alex Mar has done the very same thing, ruthlessly—gleefully—selling on the Capitalist market the stories of the witches who offered her their knowledge, friendship, and trust.

The Witch as Body, The Body as Witch

Our struggle then must begin with the re-appropriation of our body, the revaluation and rediscovery of its capacity for resistance, and expansion and celebration of its powers, individual and collective.

Silvia Federici, In Praise of The Dancing Body

Here, too, we can now understand the mystery she fought so hard for, always within her reach yet never grasped. Perhaps more than any other formal initiatory tradition, Feri teaches a fierce truth of the witch-as-body, and with such disgust of the bodies of so many women—as well as the material experiences of the poor—Alex Mar ran headlong into the mystery of the body… and fled.

What starts out as a hope to obtain the wisdom exuded from Morpheus Ravenna and others who inspire her (T. Thorn Coyle gets some mention, as well as Anaar Niino) becomes an obsession with the body-of-the-witch similar to that which burned, tortured, dissected and pathologised the witch’s body.

The Witch is her body, though, and his, and theirs.  That body is not just the physical form, its appearance, the ‘white flat stomach’ or the naked form of dancer or the temple priestess.  It is also the body of the overweight woman dancing with ‘pendulous breasts’ in ecstatic release; it is also the body of the crones who disgust her.  And it is never just one body, but all the bodies which comprise the witch–that is, relationship, community, and love.

By failing to see the actual bodies comprising the witches she meets (equally objectifying the ‘pretty’ and the ‘ugly’), and the bodies extending beyond the visual, Alex Mar misses the entire point of witchcraft, harming those she admires as much as she harms those who disgust her.

The witch-as-body is also the body-as-witch, the raw experience of the poor, the Necromancer cradling a skull and crying, the tired single-mother sipping coffee in mis-matched pajamas.  Herein is the secret that cannot be learned, cannot be understood, cannot be comprehended or dissected.

It cannot be known. You can only become this truth, and it teaches you to become it. It grows within you, it becomes you.

It is the secret that cannot be bought, a wisdom that cannot be sold.

And it’s what makes all witches dangerous.

The Coming Storm

We are those who have always existed, initiates of a revolutionary current, citizens of an Other world we know is possible because we’re from there.

Rhyd Wildermuth,

from the introduction to

A Beautiful Resistance

I opened this review with a description of the Green-scare for a reason.  There are relentless overlaps between so-called ‘mainstream’ Paganism and the revolutionary current of witchcraft, and Witches of America touches uncomfortably close to who we are and what we’re doing.  Though the author misses the point laughably throughout the book, the attention drawn to certain aspects of our experiences promises to cause strife, regardless our vigilance.

Terrorist during the Green Scare became an imaginal container into which the body of any state enemy could forced; like witch in the period of Capitalist expansion, any threatening behavior, belief, or dissent was enough to call for a hunt.  And despite her laughable effort to warn against the pogroms of the Satanic Panic, Alex Mar has given Authority more than enough sensationalised detail to trigger something even worse.

She may eventually even find she has blood on her hands; then again, this is what she admits in the book she wanted, what she asked Santa Muerte for:

In the spirit of things, I ask for an injection of ruthlessness, just enough to lose my fears and hesitation and to feel less beholden to people: an antidote to the caution that prevents success. (p. 205)

One can easily imagine the potential fallout from Alex Mar’s opportunistic and exploitative work, but what’s coming is unpredictable.  At best, a rich Manhattan woman will make some money off her stolen stories and go in search of yet another exotic culture to exploit.  At best, most won’t read this book, or will question the author’s depictions of those she chooses to denigrate. And, at best, this won’t happen again.

But we’ve said that before. “Never again the burning times” may need to be updated to “Never again the search for fame” or “Never again the exploitation of our stories.”  There are many lessons to be learned from Witches Of America, not least that we should question our own inclination to become spiritual tourists and infiltrators into communities towards which we refuse obligation.

Worse may come, of course.  Work with the dead will now be quite suspect. Evidence of possible and reported illegal activities may be investigated, smears and allegations of cult-like manipulation may ruin some people.  Some people will profit greatly from the strife this will cause, some witch wars may come.

And worse still? A new witch scare. Traditions will (and probably should) go on lockdown.  Certain figures may find they’ve lost trust from other Pagans, particularly those she effusively thanks in her acknowledgments—Alex Mar doesn’t let her ruthlessness end at the last chapter.  But we should not fall into the trap of blaming the people she praises and thanks, nor of blaming the people she uses.  To do so would be to miss the real exploitation here, much like blaming the single mother for her poverty.

And either way, we’ll also see more seekers, hoping to find the wisdom we embody.  Many of them may be authentic, honest. Many of them will be tourists—some opportunists, some infiltrators.  All of them will be starving for magic, suffering from the damage of Capital and disenchantment, inadvertently spreading their pain like a disease.  May we be ready with the cure, and gods help us all.

[disclaimer: while I have had working relationships with many of the people represented by Ms. Mar, the opinions expressed here are my own, not done at their request.]

 


Rhyd Wildermuth

https://godsandradicals.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/rhyd.jpg?w=80&h=80Rhyd often lives in a city by the Salish Sea in occupied Duwamish territory. He’s a bard, theorist, anarchist, and writer, the editor of A Beautiful Resistance and co-founder of Gods&Radicals, author of Your Face Is a Forest and a columnist for The Wild Hunt. He growls when he’s thinking, laughs when he’s happy, cries when he’s sad, and does all those things when he’s in love.
He worships Welsh gods, drinks a lot of tea, and dreams of forests, revolution, and men.
His words can be found at Paganarch.com and can be supported on Patreon.com/Paganarch

76 Comments »

  1. Thank you for reading this awful book so that we don’t have to.

    I really hope that the damage done will be the absolute minimum possible.

    But this sort of thing is exactly why it behooves us to be cautious and cynical – sad though that is.

    I feel a poem in praise of “pendulous breasts” brewing in the depths of my psyche.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Yes, thank you for such an excellent effort to address, and at least slightly redress, the damage this book does. What a horror show, I feel for everyone touched by Mar.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a thoughtful review! I had enjoyed the American Mystic documentary but wondered why such a bland and not terribly astute Wiccan was the top choice to represent paganism. Now I get it. I do want to read this.

    Like

    • To be clear, this wasn’t the fault of the people of the who participated in the documentary or who were “profiled” in the book. They are the victims here. The fault lies in the perpetrator who took advantage of those who welcomed her into their communities. The lesson here is kinda simple. You can do research and come to your own conclusions, but don’t lie to people while you are doing it and don’t be an entitled ass when you write about what you learn.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Rhyd,

    I want to kiss you so hard for this review. Thank you for taking the time and spending the energy to really expose this awful piece of work for what it truly is. Your deep dive into the book shows not only that you have read the book, but you have not been caught in the glimmer in which Mar casts herself.

    Admittedly I am a character in her tale, one affected first hand by the atrociousness of her misrepresentations of people I hold in high regard and in love. Her words have threatened the safety of the innocent and the families of people dedicated to becoming self-possessed. I will personally share this article with every mention I see of this terrible book, every mention of Ms. Mar’s name that I hear, and throughout all the communities I participate in. It is my wish a copy of this review get sent with every sad purchase of this book.

    THANK YOU! Endless blessings to you and yours.

    J.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Brilliant as always, Rhyd.

    There is a very insistent voice telling me that this does not have to be the horrific blow we think it is. That this is another opportunity to circle the wagons and show what we’re really made of. If we’re aiming for revolution, this is the least of what we will have to deal with. Will we latch onto the woe of it, or spur our work ever onward?

    Holding those who have been directly injured by this book in love, and getting a special something ready for Alex Mar. Then, back to the battle.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m grateful and relieved to read your review. As a living, breathing, feeling, embodied Human-Wild-Divine-Witch, betrayed and reduced to a one dimensional “character” within Mar’s book, I thank you for humanizing me and calling out the author for who and what she is. Words continue to elude me and so, I remain mostly silent. Thank you for having the words and for presenting them so compellingly and with such heart. Blessings of Love & Power be upon you, Rhyd.

    Liked by 8 people

  7. Thank you for this very articulate and damning review of this parasite’s “reality show” book. Two things, though, hit me. One: “the capitalist subject then seeks to regain a sense of authenticity by pillaging others” and “we should question our own inclination to become spiritual tourists and infiltrators into communities towards which we refuse obligation”. As I was reading your review, I just kept thinking of all the times I have come across precisely this sort of desperate need to make money, to lie, to cheat, to steal others’ cultural identity in order to feel “authentic,” and this not from outsiders to occulture, but our own people. At one point a year or so ago, I got very disgusted by all the self-deception, fraud, and cultural pillaging and thought seriously about just leaving occulture, but I love witchcraft and the spirit tie to the land that I see as a major part of that type of magic. And further, I came to see that this theft of others’ culture in order to make oneself feel authentic was going on all over US culture, not just with us.

    Acting like we own others’ culture is reprehensible, but it indicates something positive–a complete disenchantment with mainstream culture, a seeking for something with more meaning. Anyway, that’s what I keep telling myself. I don’t think this author is part of that–just wanted to make a buck. But I like that you have raised these questions in your review. Thank you for that.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you for this. It is very well written, if devastating, and you’ve made some very important points for the magical community. Some of my friends were and will be hurt by this book. It angers me that no one stopped Alex Mar and revealed her as a fraud to the groups she was infiltrating. It makes me wonder if any realized it but said and did nothing. I’m with Peter Grey, we need to relearn when to be silent, when to say no. Is a promise of possible fame, of being on a screen or in a book, worth more than protecting ourselves, our traditions, and our current freedoms? I think it is too easy to forget how quickly it can all be taken away, thank you for the reminder. May it not make us paranoid, but stronger.

    Liked by 4 people

  9. I think Syren has it right. This will not be the worst that happens to those seeking change, but it will be a way to measure their meddle.

    Like

  10. This is an interesting post, though I think that you’re letting the folks involved off the hook a bit too easily. The history here is that Mar previously did a documentary featuring one of the main characters in this book, so everyone involved knew that she was a film-maker specializing in documentaries. That should have been enough to warn some folks off. The fact is that the working relationship she developed in that first film continued to open doors for her in the wider community… giving her access to people and information she had no business getting in the first place. While it’s easy to blame the author, she had (according to her) five years of access to these networks… and few if any questioned her motives. So they’re all culpable.

    Like

    • That’s precisely the mechanism which triggers the destruction of radical communities.

      We all get duped at some point. I fell pretty hardcore in desire for a man who I’m now quite certain was a provacateur; I ‘should have known better,’ of course, but how could I have? Again, I think blaming the people whom she befriended first is actually compounding the damage Alex has wrought.

      Even in her ‘acknowledgments’ at the end she lavishes praise and thanks on people which would lead the reader to think they were ‘in on it.’ It’s a brilliant tactic on her part, one government groups use quite often to destroy radical communities. Those who take her bait by blaming the people she names become dupes, too.

      Liked by 9 people

      • I totally get your point. But at the same time, the choice to appear in a documentary was a conscious one. Whatever the initial motivation was, it resulted in an increase in popularity and exposure. I think experienced witches are expected to have a more developed sense of discernment, and it looks like that discernment was either missing or over-ruled. The consequences to the traditions involved never seemed to be much of a concern. This is what happens when mystery traditions become a commodity.

        Like

      • Rhyd, am I to infer that this person was able to con her way through some mystery traditions and received special consideration for certain initiations? Did not these groups have a vetting process?

        Like

      • I am primarily going on her narrative, rather than following up with the people she mentions (I don’t have time, and I’m sure they’re having an awful time of it right now!).

        I’ve the impression, from her narrative, that she may actually have honestly–at some point–sought to become part of the communities she was in, tried to ‘go native.’ If that were the case, then this book should be read as a revenge narrative, rather than mere spiritual tourism.

        She never finds the magic she seeks (and end the book with some trite thing about how you should trust suspicions that there’s something greater than yourself out there….if only she’d meant ‘community!’). Really, I have the sense that she made some choice at some point to choose the ‘safe’ and well-heeled life she lived, with all of its trappings, rather than give up her socially-constructed values in exchange for integration into a new way of living.

        She definitely seems very out-of-touch with her own self, desires, and fears….perhaps she doesn’t even understand her motives, either.

        Liked by 3 people

      • That piece you emphasized about “and you’ve simply exiled yourself to the outskirts of any mainstream life without benefit” seems VERY telling and informative. It reminds me of the Guardian of the Gates in some witch traditions, that entity that confronts you when you’re starting to step into your power and must be contended with if you’re to progress. It sounds like she approached something real and threatening, saw that the costs were too high for her, and now this is kind of her repentence so she could reclaim mainstream acceptability.

        Liked by 4 people

      • That line bothered me more than anything else in the book, because it became an aspersion on anyone who’s rejected mainstream life (witch, artist, or otherwise) as if it were just a ‘lifestyle choice.’

        And yes. She confronted a guardian, refused to offer what it asked of her, but figured she could cut her losses by turning a profit from her story.

        All the money in the world would not be enough to make me comfortable with running away from what I’ve tasted, felt, and seen. But…in some way, growing up poor, I learned the illusory nature of capitalist wealth early, so I’m immune from the allure of that choice.

        Liked by 4 people

      • It also indicates her relationship with the mainstream. Many who come to witchcraft find the mainstream stifling, oppressive, and limiting and are fed by the liberation and support of the margins. She seems to see the mainstream as safe and nourishing and any departure from it as potentially fatal. She also talks about wanting a “benefit” as though to depart from the mainstream one is owed something other than freedom and self-responsibility.

        Liked by 3 people

      • It won’t let me reply to Sindarin Sprecher directly :/

        the choice to appear in a documentary was a conscious one.

        Sure it was. But that’s not an innately bad decision. Many, perhaps even most documentarians and documentaries are sincere, and our extended community has legitimate needs for better interfaith outreach if we’re to be understood by the mainstream.

        You’re suggesting we hold them responsible for guessing wrong. Okay, so they’re responsible for guessing wrong. And the consequence for that should be… what?

        Are we not to discern the difference between an honest mistake and malice?

        -E-

        Liked by 1 person

    • The bits and pieces I have seen in excerpts and my recollection of meeting Alex Mar at Pantheacon lead me to speak firmly that she is sociopathic and preyed on our community based on the goodwill she earned by making a tasteful and respectful film about Witches, Spiritualists and Lakota Sun dancers to write a tabloid novel about us. Her tour of paganism is something that likely will pain every pagan woman who reads any of it. I felt wounded realizing I could have been duped by the likes of her too and my body and sexuality grossly described and objectified as my own is so similar to those examined in her book.

      Pagan women and witches in general are open to seekers and share with them because paganism has meant so much to us and we have found our sharing to mean south to our mentees. Any member of my coven knows the same kind of personal details about me as Mar learnt about her targets. From my sexual history, to my visionary experience with the dead, to the messy state of my home and attire when things are bad financially and I am overworked. I can see myself in all the women she describes either as I am now, when I was younger and thinner and sexually experimenting, and in my future when my breasts are pendulus. Try and put yourself in the shoes of her targets without the 20/20 vision current knowledge of her intentions beings. If you have ever shared with a friend personal details or brought them to your home when it wasn’t spotless, this could have been you.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. Reblogged this on Loki's Bruid and commented:

    One can easily imagine the potential fallout from Alex Mar’s opportunistic and exploitative work, but what’s coming is unpredictable. At best, a rich Manhattan woman will make some money off her stolen stories and go in search of yet another exotic culture to exploit. At best, most won’t read this book, or will question the author’s depictions of those she chooses to denigrate. And, at best, this won’t happen again.

    But we’ve said that before. “Never again the burning times” may need to be updated to “Never again the search for fame” or “Never again the exploitation of our stories.” There are many lessons to be learned from Witches Of America, not least that we should question our own inclination to become spiritual tourists and infiltrators into communities towards which we refuse obligation.

    Worse may come, of course. Work with the dead will now be quite suspect. Evidence of possible and reported illegal activities may be investigated, smears and allegations of cult-like manipulation may ruin some people.

    Like

  12. In my struggles with my own tradition, leaving me often driving down the freeway in tears and shaking with frustration, I have been forced to this surrender: we turn to the natural world to recover the things that people steal from us, but still crave the approval of the people that hurt us. We are driven either by the idea that humanity must maintain its own balance, or by the conviction that we must redeem our oppressors.

    It was only in realizing that my body is the tool by which I serve others that I was able to escape this trap. I no longer judge others based upon how I feel in their presence – I judge based upon the nature of the energy that I feel flowing from them to others. What I have as a result is self-acceptance and peace. I am doing the best that I can.

    So my advice is this: Don’t attempt to analyze “why” – it happens everywhere, and will continue to happen to even the best. When the initiate arrives, express your intentions towards the people you nurture, and if this book comes up, simply observe: “The author is a foolish person. We teach people where the danger lies, and she embraced it.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • May we should stop seeking approval. Judging others by their energy is a good approach, but it can lead to misinterpretation. One of my associates has very dark energy and tends to creep people out, but it is because he got shot a couple times and his nervous system is a wreck. Yes, he is somewhat negative, but if I were filled with titanium plates and my nervous system needed to be rebooted, I might be the same way. Yet, I think the bottom line is “be careful who you trust.” It is okay to give people a chance but don’t let them into your inner circle, or access to your inner thoughts until you really know them. This is reflected in witchcraft by a year and a day or by accepting someone for further training on the third try. To quote another blogger: “ust be careful who you let in your life, every part of you is precious and sacred, don’t just let everybody into your soul, and take time out to get to know people first.”

      Or: “Life has taught me that you can’t control someone’s loyalty. No matter how good you are to them, doesn’t mean that they will treat you the same. No matter how much they mean to you, doesn’t mean that they’ll value you the same. Sometimes the people you love the most, turn out to be the people you can trust the least.” -Trent Shelton

      It is a lesson I have learned the hard way too.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The primary argument of Peter Grey’s Apocalyptic Witchcraft (and his essay, Rewilding Witchcraft) is precisely what you speak to.
        Our search for approval from the ‘mainstream,’ our desire to get recognition, and our hope to be represented in the Market and in Politics has led to the diminishing of our power.

        We start to believe the lie we tell them, that ‘we’re not that dangerous’ and ‘we’re just like everyone else.’ If we were ‘just like everyone else,’ we wouldn’t be on this path at all.

        Basically, we’ve said “Hey, we’re just like the leading brand.” And thus become a brand, too….

        Liked by 3 people

      • We should not make our private groups easy to join. We should adhere to high standards in our applicants.We should not try to sell ourselves It is hard to grow in number without being proselytizing. All groups want to reach that critical mass necessary to do the great things we dream about. Yet witchcraft is not about being mainstream.

        One of the issues I meditate on is how we, as Pagans, can avoid becoming too exclusive, while being inclusive. I look at and try to draw upon historic examples. The Gnostics, for example were declared heretics and their brand of Christianity went extinct. Taoism never became the mainstream religion of China (or anywhere else for that matter). Sufism is a minor sect in Islam. We have many things in common with all three of these examples. They are not for everyone and we are not for everyone. Will ours be the same fate?

        We are dangerous, not because of our ability to overthrow the present order, but because we present an alternative to that order. The current order cannot control us and that is the perceived danger. We can teach people to think for themselves, to overcome their own Shadows, to use their energy wisely. Worse, in the eyes of the order, we do it mostly for the greater good – something the order should be doing, but has become so corrupt that it can no longer.

        Some of us go the route of political activism in the resistance. I don’t see that as the most effective way to get things done, plus too many activists are “against” rather than “for.” That leads to negativity, anger “the dark side.” Rather, I advocate learning about the intent of the Universe, or the Earth of you want to think small, and then support that intent where I can. The earth is evolving, the Universe is evolving, our species is evolving, society is evolving, I am evolving. Our goal should be to do what we can to support those evolutionary paths. Canute I am not. I’m not even that much of a water person.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Your point about negative energy is a extremely valuable. To struggle with such a burden is a great work, and should be supported to the degree that we are able. Each practitioner has to judge for themselves. In “A General Theory of Love”, three psychologists offer this warning: in the psychotherapeutic process, the therapist walks the patient up to the moment of their trauma, and then tells them “No, not that way, go this way instead.” The most critical factor in success is the courage and moral integrity of the therapist – if either of those fail, the therapist becomes trapped in the trauma.

        But I should clarify: I was focused on the nature of the energy transmitted from the practitioner to his or her peers. Yes, dark energy can be frightening, but many people that struggle with it send out a great deal of light to those around them. That may include gratitude to those that bring healing. That’s intrinsic to the relationship, rather than to the individual.

        Shelton’s point is symptomatic of the problems that I have struggled with as well. As the possessor of skills, abusers are going to look for tokens to offer that you will accept in exchange for knowledge. My advice is to ignore that, and decide who you bring close based upon how they treat those that have little or nothing to offer them.

        Liked by 1 person

  13. Reblogged this on Gangleri's Grove and commented:

    While I wish Rhyd had left the Marxist rhetoric out of his review, his review is worth reading. Alex Mar’s book was a piece of entitled, condescending, and at times immoral (given how she deceives her Pagan and Wiccan correspondents) trash.

    In fact, I’m surprised the woman isn’t facing a police inquiry given that she claims knowledge of grave robbing (apparently she found it easier and more spiritually fulfilling to consort with necromancers who perform foul experiments with the dead instead of honoring her own ancestors properly. Speaks volumes right there).

    It’s not just spiritual tourism, but spiritual colonialism. The level of disrespect for her “subjects” is truly remarkable.

    Liked by 3 people

  14. And now, elsewhere, those who were ridiculed and shunned for predicting this would happen are being accused of malicious hatefulness for their exasperated cries of ‘Well, what did you expect?’

    Verily I say unto you, no prophet is accepted in his own country.

    Liked by 2 people

    • unless the “prophet” gilds the message as a marketing opportunity, lol, now it’s a “thing”, because yanno, peter grey sez so….. to steal a line from frank Herbert- “opportunities within opportunities…” and so the opportunists exploit someone else’s misfortune to promote their own ideologies.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sharpening knives, stalking wounded prey, pursuing the taste of blood on the water–these are all the tactics of an opportunist. Your comments make me think of the scene with the skeksis in Dark Crystal, all eager to snatch a crown that no-one deserves.

        Therein’s the foul magic of Alex’s work, that people would be so eager to blame each other rather than the dishonest infiltrator. That you’re so eager to fall for that saddens me.

        Liked by 3 people

      • who said anything about blame? but then you only know a ‘story’ or two, and are only fresh on this scene, so perhaps you should examine what you’ve ‘fallen’ for. As has been often said, gods have agency…ours are no different.

        Liked by 1 person

  15. This books sounds terribly sensationalist. Thank you for the detailed review. I hope Ms. Mar has sense to continue any obligations she is incurring with Santa Muerte. That Lady is not kind at all to those who don’t continue giving her tributes and attention,because Death is always ravenous.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. First if all, I think describing Teo Bishop as an infiltrator is terribly uncharitable. Lots of people ultimately find their religious path taking an unexpected turn. To assume (and declare) that those who ultimately turn away from Paganism were deceitful and exploitive is bitterly unfair.

    I haven’t read the book, and will reserve judgement until I do. But I have to ask, why haven’t you asked the people this author allegedly exploited to come out and say so? Do we know if they were given advanced copies, or if they’re even upset by it?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Many people definitely have turns in their religious beliefs.
      Very, very, very few people willingly get interviewed by the New York Times about it.

      The reason why I did not ask the people the author mentions about their feelings regarding the matter is that it would not be for me to write about their experiences and opinions.

      In fact, had I tried to write a piece about that, I’d be guilty of the same thing Alex Mar is doing.

      How they feel about what was written is for them to speak to, not me.

      Liked by 2 people

      • besides, this is not just about the people interviewed and exploited, it’s about damage to the traditions involved as a whole. That, imo, is much more important, and the potential for long term harm much more devastating.

        Like

      • I don’t see how getting interviewed by a newspaper makes one traitorous – Thorn Coyle and Jadon Pitzl-Waters were both quoted in that article, but does that make them co-conspirators? Bishop was a public Pagan who publicly became Christian. He didn’t “infiltrate” in order to evangelize for some church or bring Paganism down from within. He just changed course. Freedom of choice is a value we care about, right?

        Liked by 1 person

      • I should be clear; at no point do I mean to imply Teo was a ‘traitor.’ Opportunist is a better fit and, as I say in the first section, the harm caused by the opportunist, the infiltrator, and the ‘tourist’ are the same, despite their very different motives.

        Like

      • in response to ganglerisgrove,as an initiate of one of the ‘trads’ involved, Mar did more damage to her ‘profession’ than she did to feri. The damage to the order had been done long ago, and created a fertile field for her to harvest.

        Liked by 2 people

      • I’ve gone back and read the comment, and my heart goes out to her. I hope that she and others with the tools to do so will find the strength to speak their truth and counter Mar’s version of events, if they feel so moved. If these allegations of deceit and invasion are true, I would hate for this to go unchallenged by those whose names appear in the book.

        Like

    • Generally speaking, peoples whose names, locations of residence, and other identifying information (some of it commonly considered obviously confidential even by non-pagans, like sexual history, relationship changes, ongoing legal concerns, or membership in recovery organisations) are not interested in shouting to the heavens that hey, they’ve been doxxed, everyone go look.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I just went back and read Karina’s comment. I was only responding to the post itself. I’m saddened to hear that confidences were violated, and I am pretty shocked by it. That’s why I want to hear both sides – if this author/journalist has misrepresented herself or revealed things that weren’t hers to divulge, it must be addressed.

      Like

  17. Sophia does not lay down on the altar; she sits on the altar. That is the usual position of the Priestess in the second half of the Gnostic Mass. It also has to be said that Mar eroticizes the Gnostic Mass far more than she should.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. I’m totally not a pagan, but loved your review! Your conclusions about her seem so true and damning. Although, I think the implications for pagans are likely going to be exceptionally minimal – more likely increased interest than anything – but I haven’t consulted my crystal ball about that! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I am deeply sorry that this happened. For what it is worth, I will not be buying her book or watching her documentary. I guess I will have to wait a little longer to come home.

    Thanks for the review. It was very good.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Alex Mar is not a very talented film-maker(I saw ‘American Mystic’, give it 1 star), and her seeming obsession with ‘pendulous breasts’ is just awkward. I have no desire to read her book, and feel that you should write your own…about a lost soul(Mar) who just can’t find a place where she belongs.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Alex Mar is completely unable to grok the most basic of instructions given the seeker of all things occult: “Know thyself.”
    Or, as my gods have told me:
    “Seeker yearning after me, look thou only within thee.
    Nought within? then nought without. For I am, all ways, all about.” (©2000, Deborah Snavely)

    Liked by 4 people

  22. Reblogged this on Mysa and commented:

    Nemesis will take care of this woman. I shan’t waste any time reading her book. I feel awful that my people were taken advantage of this way and I hope our community can come together over this instead of breaking apart.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. I am saddened that someone who had trust and access to the Spiritual community debased the ethics of true reporting and resorted to a litany of sensationalized half truths and “Foxsonian Hearst-inspired Yellow Journalism”. The very fact that she described a plus-sized woman who was communing with Spirit in a way that was shaming and belittling cheapens her own soul. There will be no way that she will now be taken at all seriously, as a journalist. However, I am sure that Fox Network and the Christian Broadcasting Network will welcome her with arms opened. I do believe that she will one day soon have her own dramatic Saul on the Road to Tarsus moment, and, because of what she has done, sadly no one will believe her.

    Like

  24. Look, Alex Mar was clear with her subjects that she is a journalist as well as a spiritual seeker. I liked her book and felt like she portrayed the various groups she worked with in an empathetic and honest way. One of her subjects has publicly stated as much. If you actually read the book, you’ll see that she does her homework, participates in these groups, and really tries to understand her subjects. I was left wanting to learn a lot more about some of the traditions she explored. So I’m pretty surprised by this intense defensive, negative reaction… I think it says more about the community itself than it does about Mar. It seems like a lot of people have an axe to grind, or have some stake in feeling persecuted.

    Like

    • I am not a pagan or part of any occult community. I just read this book out of an interest in the subject after seeing a glowing review in the NY Times. Appalled, I did a search for reviews to see if anyone was also disgusted by her sexism, willful cluelessness, and derision for not just the poor but many others she encountered in her “search.” This review came up and I have to say Rhyd Wildermuth expresses everything I felt while reading the book, and he did a great job highlighting her most abhorrent commentary and getting to the heart of why it is offensive. If you don’t understand his critique, then you and Alex have a lot in common. I think anyone who is able to read this book through a filter of empathy for the subjects and criticism for the author will find value in learning about different practices and their histories, but clearly there are better sources for this knowledge.

      Liked by 1 person

    • You know, if somebody’s been wronged (not “persecuted”) via a trust violation, the last thing that someone needs is somebody suggesting it happened because they wanted to be hurt. Or that alerting the community of that person’s lack of honor is their axe to grind.

      Like

  25. I completely agree Isis. I am here for the same reasons you are and was appalled by Alex Mar’s lack of integrity and the nasty way she described people. I’m not sure she is a sociopath, but I would wager she has more than a few narcissistic tendencies. Excellent review.

    Like

  26. To be frank, this was a classic infiltration. The techniques she used to gain trust are the same techniques taught and used by any intelligence service. Gain entry by building trust. Build trust by seeming to be sympathetic and then be completely open and honest. Gain further trust by “seeking to belong” by “adopting the group’s values”. Use different people of varying degrees of importance as rungs on a ladder to be climbed upon one by one which gains deeper and deeper entry into the group. You “live the life” of the group. You “become” to gain access. In a way, you almost lose your own identity.

    Any undercover PO/DET will tell you this is exactly how it is done. Anyone who has had any training at Camp Peary or Fort Monckton would understand exactly how she achieved what she achieved.

    I have to question her motives though. Was it purely self serving or was there a glimmer of belief? Even if she had some hope of achieving enlightenment of a sort, the publishing of the book destroyed any small part of her that was genuine in this search.
    Don’t blame the Teachers, don’t blame those who were befriended by the author. People adept at this kind of behavior are almost impossible to spot. That’s why they are so good at at and are still among the living (those who do this in dangerous environments). They are, to some extent, sociopathic in their personalities.

    I am more than merely disappointed in a depiction that I find slightly degrading, dismissive and disinclusive. If you’re not part of the “cool kids club” then your practice is somehow of lesser value. This book has done damage. Solitary practitioners, like myself, are not the exception but the rule. This book made me feel somewhat diminished. I wish I had never read it. I am working in some small ways with one of the people outlined in the book. I feel terrible for this person and, in a way, it makes it harder for me to be genuine in our interactions going forward. Now I feel that I must be clear that I am here, not because of this book (I read it long after we began work) but because I am genuine in my seeking. If I put a hand out in friendship to anyone in this book I need to make it clear that I am not expecting some “super secret decoder ring” in return… just friendship. Her book makes it harder for all of us to trust one another if we do not already have a history. See how that makes you feel when you are “coming in from the cold” after decades of absence.

    Bernard Rizzo
    San Leandro, CA

    Liked by 1 person

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