As I scrolled down the list of my Facebook friends, trying to decide who might be interested in this week’s Otherworldly Show, I was struck, as always, by the many people for whom I have true affection, and many who I admire and wish to know better. During this exercise, of course, the question is: Would they like (another) invitation in their inbox, or would it be spam? I don’t want to annoy anyone.
Many I know from pagan events, conferences or Pagan Pride Days: I am pretty sure they’d be interested in the topics I put on Otherworldly. Others I met through the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism), the interactions I remember are mostly about garb and feasts, crafting and history. Many of them are interested in almost anything, as are the Science Fiction fans. Others on my list are family, or old school friends, some I met promoting social causes we have in common, or because of shared interest in sustainability. I have to think “Is this one of my Christian or Jewish friends who’d have a problem with something supernatural?” My personal feeling is that almost everyone is interested in some aspect of what CTCW explores. Dowsers are pretty mainstream, practicing Reiki or studying herbalism doesn’t set you far off the common path. Frankly, my SCA friends are “weirder” (adult acting like kids, doing live action role playing as a hobby), although that seems less odd to me than most sports. One person’s normal is another person’s ‘flaky’. My friends, generally, are pretty open minded. But do I know their spiritual beliefs? Generally not. How would it come up? Religion is not something that pops up in conversation often, and I’m not socially adept enough to notice if they steer conversations away from a topic (all topics are interesting to me).
I often talk about complementary and alternative methods of healing (given the current medical system, since I think we need to be able to help ourselves as much as possible). I talk about ghosts, I have rarely met someone who either doesn’t believe in some type of ‘weird stuff’, or hasn’t experienced at least one thing that makes them wonder. I talk about death, avoiding euphemisms, because I consider death our one universal blessing; yes, I have the usual aversions to ways of dying: accidents, illness, etc., but when the body is suffering I consider it a blessing that that is not going to go on forever.
In my lifetime I have watched the conversations about psychic phenomenon move from “Do you believe in ESP?”, to “Do you have ESP?”, although that language seems to have fallen away. I am more likely to comment “I don’t believe in magick, I use it, daily.” (Does dowsing or energy healing count as magick? Does talking to plants? How about to spirits?) But few people are as open as I am about believing “odd” things. Let’s face it, when you’re an old lady, people are willing to let you be a bit dotty.
Cultural expectations are that Old People™ often believe and do weird things. Some of how old folks think is because we’re coming from a different world (I was going to say “the twenties”, because I immediately think of my grandparents, but I suppose I should say the 50’s or 60s. The way people think is always different depending on when, or where they were raised. We can learn a lot by listening to people who grew up differently than we did (a lot about our own cultural expectations). Still, one aspect of expectations is what one speaks about in public. I know that when income isn’t dependent upon the approval of an employer whose views you may have to guess gives freedom that those who need to keep parts of their lives private in order to stay employed. Any kind of empowerment allows you more autonomy and freedom of expression.
As I’ve studied history, especially occult and religious history, I’ve found that there’s a “New Age” or surge in interest in the supernatural every few decades. Like sex, each generation seems to think they invented it, but as we get older, we discover our grandparents, and their grandparents, and so on…, all were exploring the ghosts they were seeing, the intuitive flashes (natural psychic abilities) they were having, and tried to figure out how these things fit into their world views, because the chances are good that their parents didn’t talk to them about it during their formative years. 20th century American culture tries to teach us that it’s all impossible, and if it happens, it’s probably scary and dangerous. Don’t talk about your ghost sighting, or psychic experience where someone could label you as a nut. We learn as school children that something you mention once will be dragged out for freaking ever when the mean kids want to embarrass you.
So, I still try to avoid bringing up a topic that might make others uncomfortable. That’s courtesy. But at the same time, I hope we are learning that sometimes not speaking of things stops us from addressing real problems. We don’t have the right to ask GBLT folks to pretend they’re straight, or to expect people of color or women to automatically defer to whites or men. We’ve learned, I hope, that pretending there’s nothing wrong can lead to situations getting worse, whether it’s a medical issue or climate change. If we don’t acknowledge that some people interact with spirits other people can’t perceive, how are we to distinguish between an hallucination and a rare ability, and help people who need help? Generally we don’t know what others keep hidden, and while allowing them privacy is fine, culturally we need to stop ignoring the greater reality. Just because it makes you uncomfortable, doesn’t mean it’s wrong, it may simply mean you aren’t used to it.
If you haven’t had hints that indicate your friends would be hostile to speaking of the greater realities, why not try bringing up a topic that might lead to scoffing, or could lead to a “me too” moment. Give it a shot. Bringing these topics out in the open can change the world for the better.