It’s good to get out of your bubble sometimes. A few days ago I was listening to a podcast called “Sawbones.” It’s a humorous take on medical history hosted by a Dr. Sydnee McElroy and her husband Justin. The episode was on the history of acne treatment, and boy was there some crazy stuff people used to do to get rid of their zits.
Rub baby urine on your face? Check.
Abstain from sex? Yep. Indulge in sex. Yep, that too.
Long, supposedly medical treatments involving multiple rounds of cutting into and scouring the skin with various instruments that seem much worse that just allowing your pimples to run their course? That was in there too.
I was laughing along with them, and the hosts came to a treatment that they called a “Wicca chant” to get rid of zits. I don’t know the original source of the spell they described. It may be from one of the many books on teen witchcraft, but I did find it posted here. The mockery of the hosts was only barely hidden as they described this supposed magickal working that instructs facially disadvantaged teens to rub dirt and vinegar on their faces and chanting these words:
Cure my skin of zits and rash,
And make it smooth in a flash.
Blemish vanish, pot-marks too,
Magic make my skin anew.
This one hit me from several angles. I was outraged that anyone would instruct a person suffering from acne to rub dirt all over their face. I suppose the idea was that the receptive Element of Earth would receive and transmute the infections that fuel the pimples, but there was no discussion of that. Plus, rubbing soil all over your face is a pretty good way to make your acne much worse. This was no ancient working from a dusty grimoire; this was a modern Internet user knowingly posting a “spell” that would only worsen the condition.
Then there was the misuse of magick. The author of this spell not only has people smearing potentially infectious dirt onto their sensitive faces, but also chanting some pre-written spell without any real understanding of what they are doing and why. It’s completely out of context, which is why the hosts of the show were so derisive. There’s no talk of magickal philosophy or a discussion of the components; there’s just: rub this on your face and say these words. I can just imagine some poor, desperate kid dutifully slathering their face with dirt to cure their current breakout then arriving at Prom with the worst facial condition of their lives.
And, of course, this was targeted at teens. Acne is generally a teenage condition, and the teens are also the time when children begin to question whatever faith they were raised in and explore alternate spiritualties. Wicca and other forms of Paganism look attractive because of their counter-cultural vibe. What better way to flip the bird at your parents? Unfortunately, this little spell ends up hurting the poor trusting kid who tries it.
Sometimes trusting is a problem. Sometimes we need doubt.
The word has long placed fear in the hearts of mankind. The world’s most dominant faiths got to where they are by suppressing and even executing those who openly doubted the tenets of their faiths. Severe punishments are listed in each of the three major monotheistic religions for those who doubt the truth of the scripture.
Those who come to the Craft are often fleeing the mainstream religion in which they were raised. In the process, certain elements of what it means to have religion tend to make the crossover. One of them is the idea that doubt is bad. We must have faith in what we are told; we should never doubt, for doubt reveals a lack of faith.
But this is not a mainstream religion. Doubt. Please doubt.
Doubt makes you stronger. Doubt allows you to look at a statement, spell, or argument squarely in the eye and decide if it is either physically safe or magickally effective. Doubt spurs research, which makes the practitioner smarter and smarter. Doubt gives us the presence of mind to question even our own thoughts and ideas, thereby refining them and coming up with the best possible product, whether it is the wording of a spell or the quality of your most recent homework assignment. I work with teens every day. I see them turn in big tests after 20 minutes and fail them – all because they were so certain of their answers they refused to go back and check them. A little doubt could raise a lot of grades.
Doubt helps you clarify your intent. The key to any spell is a clear intent, and the more your doubt your procedure for setting that into the world, the more you will question and sharpen your method.
Doubt encourages testing. Scientists doubt everything they hypothesize and try to prove it wrong. If they fail to do so, they can conclude that their hypothesis is supported. Magick is the same way. Keep track of the details of the work you did and the results. Over time, you can get to know exactly what works for you and what doesn’t and come to a clear, effective practice that goes beyond just The Power of Positive Thinking. In this way, doubt leads to greater knowledge for everyone. We question, we test, we learn from the results, we learn more than we knew before. Without questioning, that progression never occurs. Doubt is a natural part of being a functioning human being, and where other religions and societies have suppressed it over the centuries, pagans should encourage it.
Doubt protects us from abuse. Charismatic leaders from just about every Western faith I can name have taken advantage of gullibility to manipulate their followers, and this does not exclude modern Paganism, Leaders should be respected, but should also be open to penetrating questions. The questioner should decide for him/her-self if they are satisfied with the answers. Questions are the use of the rational mind, the Element of Air, and are to be honored. Doubt is sacred.
Skepticism breaks us out of old paradigms and opens up new pathways. Doubt is a beautiful thing. It leads to greater understanding and more effective practice. Honor it. Listen to it. Answer it.