Green Scares, Tourism, and Alex Mar

I just published a review of Alex Mar’s Witches Of America on Gods&Radicals.

I….didn’t like it:

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.

There are a few things about the review that I suspect may seem curious to some.  Firstly, my references to the Green Scare may seem a bit disconcerting, maybe overblown to some.  Is witchcraft really that ‘dangerous’ to the powerful?

The best person to answer that question, however, would the person asking it.  Is your witchcraft dangerous to the Capitalist, the exploiter, the dominator, the corporate polluter, the greed-soaked entrepreneur, the abuser, to Authority?  If the answer is ‘no,’ you may actually have more to be concerned about than my rhetoric.

Secondly, the question of ‘spectators’ is quite important here.  If you haven’t read Peter Grey’s Beneath the Rose, I recommend doing so, really.  It may, like my analysis of Mar’s book, seem extreme.  But really–why are we making it so easy for people to collect information about what we’re up to?  Why are we ‘checking-in’ on Facebook and telling some corporation who we’re with at the time?

And besides the question of loss of privacy, there’s the problem of the gaze.  I call Mar’s book ‘pornographic’ because it is, and not because there are ‘pendulous tits.’  Rather, its descriptions of what people do are the highest form of spectacle, the sort that arouses, the sort we use to to replace our own involvement–that is, pornography.

An interesting side-note–did you know that the essays I write which are the most personal, the most self-revealing, also happen to be the ones that become the most popular?  Knight of Cups, Knight of Wands, which tells the story of my painful experience trying to come out as gay in a Christian College, has been read at least 10,000 times here and a few other places. It was shared hundreds of times amongst gay post-christians on several threads, read by people at that gods-awful college (I got many emails from people there, also alumni), and yet…well, it’s a story of my pain.

Of course, it’s not just a story of my pain, but a story of how you survive it, which I think is what people are really looking for.  And in that context, I’m quite damn willing to share those stories.  But, still–there’s a bit of delight in other people’s misery that comes into play.  I’m always aware of it, actually–in fact, I use it as a tool.  Sharing vulnerability with a stranger is a great way to get them to see into your world with you, long enough that you can show them something about their world.

But I won’t say it isn’t exhausting sometimes.  That, I think, is why I found Alex Mar’s book so incredibly odious.  She doesn’t share her own vulnerability, unless you believe her that falling in love with creative men or not getting to ride horses every weekend like the other girls in her high-end Manhattan neighbourhood and private school are tragedies.

Rather, she makes spectacle out of other’s vulnerability.

That’s the real fucking tragedy.


11 thoughts on “Green Scares, Tourism, and Alex Mar

  1. “Is witchcraft really that ‘dangerous’ to the powerful?

    The best person to answer that question, however, would the person asking it. Is your witchcraft dangerous to the Capitalist, the exploiter, the dominator, the corporate polluter, the greed-soaked entrepreneur, the abuser, to Authority? If the answer is ‘no,’ you may actually have more to be concerned about than my rhetoric.”


    Loved your review and these additional words on the subject! It helps to process it all. I will certainly never ever again stand in Circle with her.

  2. Well, as a result of reading your review, I really don’t feel bad that she never answered the inquiry e-mail I sent to her when she announced that she was collecting (if I recall correctly) “pagan views of the afterlife.”

    I honestly didn’t like the film, either, and walked out of it at PantheaCon when it was shown. I like Morpheus a great deal, but didn’t really know her at all at that point…I just didn’t like what the film did with the various individuals’ stories, and how it attempted to tilt the whole toward monism, as if each of these very distinct individuals was really living “the same journey,” so to speak. Blech.

    Side question: one of my work colleagues is a South African-born Indian Muslim woman, divorced with two kids, who is a self-described “rabid” feminist and Marxist. A great deal of what I’ve heard her present on and talk about would find affable company at G&R. Would you be interested at all in a possible contribution at some point by her? If so, I can put her in touch…

      1. If she’s muslim why would she be a good candidate for “Gods and Radicals?” Doesn’t that put her in an awkward position? Moreover, bringing her on would be a clear statement that your activism is more important than your Gods.

      2. There have been atheists who have written therein before…she has one Deity more than they do, at least, right? 🙂

        But, as for her being in an awkward position: she is fortunate enough to be a Muslim who doesn’t have to live in fear that her family will be imprisoned, hurt, or killed for speaking her mind on things. And, she has never had a problem with me being a polytheist…but then again, we don’t hang out that regularly, either.

  3. As i said, P.S.V.L, clearly the radical part is more important than the Gods. This saddens but doesn’t surprise and more and more it’s why I have little patience with the SJW crowd. Sorry, Rhyd, but I’m incredibly disappointed.

    1. A well-respected polytheist (PSVL) recommends a non-polytheist writer to the polytheist editor (me) of a non-profit publisher–whose entire board is polytheist, whose site publishes the writing of more active polytheists than the only site specifically devoted to collecting polytheist writing—and suddenly Gods&Radicals is in danger of becoming “Godless&Radicals?” 😛

      Galina, I would never question your service to your gods, nor the paths that service leads you down, nor the sources which help you do that work. I’d ask the same courtesy of you.

      1. I never said “godless”. I questioned what an atheist or muslim writer is doing writing for a polytheist journal but you are correct and I apologize. I won’t comment further on it.

  4. also, re. Alex Mar’s…if folks couldn’t tell from the movie that she was fake as can be well i don’t know what to say. that movie was an exploitative travesty. P.S.V.L., she also blew off my attempts to interview her (was writing for patheos then). As a community it would really be nice if we got over our need to be liked and/or fit into the mainstream. that’s what gave her access. and i’m also sick of how people are slamming her for being rich and pretty. GOOD FOR HER. Her wealth is not the problem. Her contempt for the religions she was exploiting is.

    1. moreover, what no one is pointing out, as vile as I find the woman and her book, the communities with which she engaged used her too.

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