Why Hexes Don’t Scare Me
As Pagans, we live in a vivid world full of wonders. For we naturalistic Pagans, those wonders have names like photosynthesis and aurora borealis and cumulonimbus and flamingo. We pay attention to the world around us, and learn about its extraordinary creatures, phenomena and history. Science and reason are our toolbox for discovery of the endless glories of the Earth and the Universe.
For many in the broader Pagan community, however, living in an “enchanted world” means believing in a lot of stuff that doesn’t really pencil out when scientifically tested: omens, pseudosciences, instrumental magic, communication with deities and spirits, fairies and so forth. These things are believed out of simple faith (choice), or out of reliance on unverified subjective experiences, depending for “proof” on the vagaries of our so-fallible human brains.
It takes effort to sustain such a belief system. You have to keep telling yourself that there are mysterious meanings in ordinary events and coincidences, that strange undetectable forces and Participants are involved in your life. As a community, Pagans generally create that consensus reality; as I have written before, in the cultural context of the broader Pagan community it is heretical to dare suggest that supposed omens, magical outcomes, and messages from Invisible Beings are most likely really nothing more than apophenia and wishful thinking.
That is what the available evidence suggests.
As Atheopagans, being naturalists, we understand the line between fantasy and reality. For us, the world which can be verified by science is marvel enough. But we also understand the power of imagination.
In our rituals, we dance along that line, incorporating myth, storytelling, symbols and metaphors through a deliberately chosen suspension of disbelief. This is similar to the voluntary suspension of disbelief we choose when watching a movie or a play, or reading a novel. We know the events in the movie aren’t really happening to us…but for awhile we are immersed, disregarding the fact that we are in reality sitting in a comfortable chair and watching a screen. Effective ritual is similar: an immersive process that seizes our attention and feels absolutely real during its duration.
Atheopagans do rituals because they aid us psychologically, because they feel good, and because they help us to heal and grow and perform at our best–all of which have been verified by scientific studies. When we are done, we return from our suspension of disbelief, grounding our understanding in the good, solid, verifiable Earth.
Living in a fantasy is unhelpful. It can make you afraid of things that aren’t real, and believe that actions which won’t make any difference at all will help you (such as “crystal healing” or “reiki” for real health issues, or spellcasting for money, or prayer to a deity for help). People have died or suffered long-term damage to their health because they refused the treatment that would actually have helped them, as a result of living in such fantasies.
Sadly, there are plenty of people in the Pagan community who are obsessed with “wards” and “magical shielding” against “psychic attacks”, “curses” and “hexing”. These beliefs contribute to anxiety at a minimum and I have seen them extend to full-on paranoia–including the delusion of grandeur that the person is important enough for someone to bother to “hex” them. The fear and sense of oppression that some such believers experience is terrible to see—as is their sense of moral righteousness and sometimes outright glee as they “magically retaliate”.
All this, as a result of a fantasied worldview. Of imagination run amok.
Because there is no such thing as a hex.
Being the kind of angry and vindictive person who so harbors malice that they would try to “curse” another will make one bitter and unhappy, though. I choose not to be that sort of person, so even when I am doing ritual work to establish a boundary or separation of myself from another, I don’t do it with malice towards them.
I’m glad that I don’t live in a world where people’s malevolence can magically fly around and hurt others. So many of us are wounded and damaged and filled with rage and even hatred. I began my adulthood pretty damaged and angry myself, and I can imagine I might have inflicted a lot of harm before I began to heal.
If cursing were a thing.
But thankfully, it isn’t.