“I had no doubt that the gods accepted my sexuality” – Mo Batchelor on social change and the Craft

Welcome Mo – we have known each other for many years. If my memory serves me well it was in 2002 when we first met. I think we both attended the PF conference that year. In any event, we have many mutual friends. Can you please introduce yourself?

Mo: Hi Morgana, yes we have known each other for at least 20 years. I am a 65-year-old Witch living in London UK. I am somewhat independent, not belonging to a specific tradition or coven, but Wicca has been a powerfully formative influence on my spirituality, along with Thelema. I have explored many things over the years, from Sufi teachings to Diabolism, but the god of my first devotions was and is the Horned God of the Witches, whom I first encountered in the god Pan as an adolescent. I am also a gay man and a painter.

Morgana: We have seen many changes within the Pagan/Craft/Gay community in the last 20 years. When we met recently I was curious about your experiences and views on social progress, gender and related subjects. Could you tell us about that?

Mo: I think it’s important to try and gain clarity on these things, as it can be a tangled web. I view magick and Witchcraft as being both in this world and beyond it. These are not unchanging things, though they have roots and branches in the eternal. We need to distinguish those deep and soulful movements where magick itself is responding to the world, or moving in concert with its deeper currents, from the impact of social and political fashions upon those involved with magick and Witchcraft.

I think there are times when the two seem to overlap, at least to an extent. The decline of monotheistic authority over society had an inevitable impact upon the manifestation of magical currents I believe, because one of the great inhibiting factors of the centuries was now lessening. Concurrent with that were changes in social mores around the roles of the sexes, the place of women in society, and a freer approach to sexuality, aside from anything else. Both these areas moved at the same time, as both were being freed, and I think it does point to the magickal nature of sex and sexuality. I would note that these were not truly ideological changes though, rather they were instinctive and intuitive, broadly historical and largely spontaneous. They seemed moved from within. If you felt close to magick and Witchcraft, I do not think you could always say which was leading which. The times changed in magickally significant ways, and magick accompanied them.

But I should backtrack here to my own personal memories. The call of Witchcraft was very powerful for me, and my contact with the current as a teenager was deeply affirming. There was no doubt for me that what I felt sexually was confirmed as a part of Nature, and I as a homosexual boy felt accepted by my gods. That sense formed the fulcrum of my approach to life as a gay man, that and not politics. The gods accepted me, and I was part of Nature. Politics was an insubstantial human creation by comparison, even where it was materially necessary. My sexuality was not a social construct, and it had roots palpably in common with the rest of Nature.

However, the Craft that I saw depicted was overwhelmingly heterosexual in form, and this rather continued the trend of 20th-century esotericism that I was used to (which viewed male homosexuality as, let’s just say “not promising”). I did find voices of support eventually, but it felt like the Craft back then was not directly there for me. Yet I had no doubt that the gods accepted my sexuality as part of Nature, and I truly felt that Witchcraft (as I simply called it) was a religion of love. The religion of love, for me.

I didn’t approach the Craft and attempt to change it. I felt it would be stupid to think that I could attain something by seeking to change the very thing itself. It was not about me, and I didn’t want it to be about me, however important it was to understanding myself.

Now, was I a progressive person? Growing up as a teenager in the 1970s, I was part of a changing world. It was that same changing world that brought Witchcraft into its high streets in the form of books and magazines, and into its living rooms on TV. But that was the “progressive” of 50 years ago, and it was a rather humbler affair than what seems to have followed.

What we generally see now does have that old sense of progress, the onward march of the “right side of history”, even where we were told that history had ended. But the “progress” in question is not necessarily designed for you or your loved ones, except as consumers, data sources, and cyphers in a social algorithm. I’m often surprised that no one seems to have noticed just how overwhelmingly corporate the idea of social change has become. There was a time when things were more chaotically grassroots, more manual, more “amateur”, more DIY. Not anymore. The approved rebellion is suitably branded, with the right flag.

Where once you owned, now you subscribe to a service. Where we used to mistrust psychiatry and pharmaceuticals, people now jealously seek diagnoses and prescriptions. Where we once knew we might have to fight our corner to survive, people now protest to authority that it should protect them. But who protects you from the authority? Who regulates the regulators? How much freedom can you expect in an institutionalised world of diagnoses and treatments?

The internet, and especially social media, has brought about a steep rise in aggressive divisiveness, and a reactiveness which is often neither coherent nor compassionate. The polarised responses to this simply feed the same phenomenon. Most of what is manifest on the internet does not count as thinking at all in the philosophically sound sense. It is simply mental activity. However, that it manifests in the realm of politics is worrying, because people who act this way politically often feel like they have a mission which blinds them to other concerns, and the reality of other human beings.

In LGBTQ politics I have noted an increasingly totalitarian attitude growing, whereby it is seen as necessary and morally required to control expression in an authoritarian manner, which in turn coerces what people feel free to ultimately think. That’s putting it bluntly, but I think it’s accurate.

In present-day trans activism, there is a tendency to define all things in terms of power and power relations. Mental constructs and word meanings seem to be everything. Some of this tendency I think has always been in LGBT politics over the last 40-odd years, but it’s only become dominant in the last 12 or so, and it dovetails very well with the abstracted and alienating mentalism of the internet.

Our civil rights movements used to be based on what we were and how that was treated under the law. Getting rid of the laws that discriminated against us. Now ‘identity’, or who we are, something that sounds so much more creative and brimming with possibilities, has completely eclipsed the what we are that grounds us in Nature and physical reality. It’s all about what people think and say and are called, and how to get the government or the police to control it. This isn’t what we knew of as “civil rights” even 20 years ago.

In my experience identity politics is the perfect fit for dysfunction. Again, is this about what you are, or who you are? It’s a crucial distinction in my view. The requirements of “what” are relatively objective. The requirements of “who” are potentially unlimited. I can’t see this and not feel it must be leading to increasing mental health problems, and if the anecdote is anything to go by, it certainly is in the young.

Over the years I’ve thought about gender and masculinity and femininity a great deal, from different perspectives. Ultimately I have come to accept that however complex and nuanced gender is, it is like a profuse pattern circling around (but not identical with) the dimorphism of physical sex. This is actually where our sense of gender, and the word itself, has its roots, way before we were aware of things like sex chromosomes. Gender is not just about men and women, but its roots are in what the experience of men and women, and male and female have meant to us for tens of thousands of years. Physical variations away from this dimorphism have always existed, and always been rare, but far from insignificant spiritually. Everything exists in relation to the pattern of the whole. But that whole has roots.

I have always supported, and continue to support people with genuine gender dysphoria who seek to live as men or women. I support anyone seeking to live as the person they are, without harming others, free from molestation and abuse. I never imagined this would end up at a place where people deny the reality of biological sex, or pretend that life is made of mental constructs, but here we are.

For decades those transitioning were a small minority, and by far the majority were males transitioning to live as women. In relatively recent years, however, this situation has shifted dramatically. Not only have the numbers mushroomed, but the majority are now young girls seeking to transition (and transition here can eventually involve irreversible surgery and testosterone therapy). If this was leading to happy and successful outcomes I’d say “great, fantastic”. But mounting numbers of detransitioners have also emerged, and most seem to be young women. It should really be obvious to anyone that girls have all kinds of pressures on them in our societies as they enter and go through puberty. Some might be trans, but most will likely be girls living in a world where they might not want to be what a woman means in our society. Is it really a surprise that puberty blockers, surgery and cross-sex hormones don’t turn out to be the answer for those girls? Might there be something inherently misogynistic going on here?

An ultimately temporary form of gender dysphoria (resolving in adulthood) is actually very common in gay and lesbian children and adolescents. Increasingly the language of gender politics has assigned feminine males and masculine females a “transgender” status, as if one couldn’t simply be a feminine man or a masculine woman. This is something that seems incredibly retrogressive and conformist to my generation of gay men and lesbians, who argued against the dogma of men having to be masculine and women having to be feminine. However you think of yourself, whatever you call yourself, however you dress, it’s all fine if it’s what suits you. But when you’re talking about kids being put on track for transitioning, this starts to look like the reconditioning of gays and lesbians into surgical-pharmacological straight people. It’s oddly close to conversion therapy in effect. As I said, social change has become corporate. It’s business, on so many fronts.

In this environment, how much serious appreciation is there likely to be of mystery, of magick? How much sincere respect? How much humility? With the ideology’s obsession with identity, approved causes and entitlement, is mystery not anathema? Mystery, oaths, history, elders, and that which is greater than ourselves, can they not all be grist for its mill? I think inevitably they will be, and that needs to be borne in mind.

Now this is what I understand, and I’ve been plain about it. But I think it’s important that we can be critical and reasoned, and at the same time come from a non-divisive clarity. People have to be able to disagree, have their own perspectives etc, but we need to establish that the holders of opposing views are not enemies, and not there to be defeated, but instead there to be learned from, to clarify issues, facts, lines of reasoning, established results.

We cannot approach discourse with the need to “win”. In that there is no discourse, no tolerance, no listening and no coexistence. Interpersonal relations have been polarised almost as a matter of course by social media. We have to refuse this polarisation, this “message of the medium”. If someone cannot accept this (as some ideologies will certainly not), then we know that there is no intellectual goodwill there, and we should ignore it. But we should expect the same of ourselves as we do of others.

Magick, and the Witchcraft are a garden within a wall, under a night that you are fortunate to hear of. No one enters the garden “by right”, and no one who enters that garden should come with an axe.

My love for the Craft, whatever my differences with some of its forms, has left me with the conviction that Witchcraft is something to which one aspires, and does one’s best to live by, to follow and respond to, and well, that’s about all I can actually say. The process of mystery is not an ownable quantity, but once your foot is on the path, the path does not leave you.

Morgana: thank you Mo for sharing your thoughts on some controversial topics. May we continue to walk the path in grace and compassion.

Over Morgana

"Morgana is Anglo/Dutch and lives in the Netherlands. She is a practising Gardnerian HPS. Over the years, she has facilitated a variety of Wiccan groups. She is co-editor of the international and bilingual "Wiccan Rede" magazine, which was launched in 1980 and is coordinator of Silver Circle, a Wiccan network in the Netherlands. As International Coordinator for PFI she travels extensively giving talks and workshops about Wicca and Paganism."
Dit bericht is geplaatst in English articles, Interviews met de tags , , , , , . Bookmark de permalink.