A friend of mine recently expressed his dismay at the position he was being put in by some people, since he decided to get involved with running Pagan events. He had been approached for advice, opinions and his perspective on situations that had nothing to do with him and which were in no way his concern.
I can certainly sympathise. As someone who has been involved with running Pagan events for a while, I too have many times been approached in the same way.
Advice and opinions, are one thing. Such as "do you think that this is a good book?" or "do I always need to cast a circle when doing a spell?" I'm happy to engage in those kinds of conversations and generally help people out, if I can. That is one of the main reasons that I volunteer in my Pagan community, after all.
But very often, people have a tendency to want you to weigh in on personal issues of rumour and gossip. "Have you heard about so and so?", "is it true about such and such?", "you'll never guess what wotsisname has done." A variable array of he said she said gossip mongering.
I hate gossip. I've said it many times before and those who know me should be well aware that I have no desire to get involved with it.
Even while everyone else is all aflutter about whatever has supposedly happened, I'll just keep right out of it. Always have. I don't want to hear it and I certainly do not want to be party to spreading it.
Of course, this kind of chatter is not the exclusive providence of Pagans. I am well aware that it is common among many varied social circles and across different religions. But as Pagans - particularly those of us who are magic users, I think it is necessary for us to consider both the moral and magical repercussions of gossip.
Words have power.
I know this is true, as a witch. I know this is true, as a writer. I know this is true, as a storyteller.
There are many different levels to magic. The supernatural, physiological, the psychological and more. Gossip, stange as it may sound, can be its own kind of magic and it functions across many of these levels.
If magic is the transformation of thought into being or the ability to alter the world, then gossip can be a mighty form of magic, indeed.
Words - gossip - has the power to affect perceptions, to change how the world is seen, both by ourselves and by others. Through this, we can change ideas, beliefs and experience. Beliefs, perception and experience are all dimensions of being. They are major elements of what make us who we are and also how we understand the world and other people. With this in mind, gossip can be like a virus to our being, working as a magic that changes perceptions and distorts reality.
You want to really curse someone, all you need is a good rumour.
Rumours, gossip and magic can be incredibly alike and one can very easily be the other. The power in words of gossip, is the same as the power in words of magic. It is potential that has been birthed. But gossip is like a wild hex. Like putting out something magical, without care for what it is or what it leads to. Or, inkeeping with Virgil's conception of Rumour, it is like setting loose a terrible spirit, that none can control and that has all the power to destroy.
Beyond magic, there is also the moral dimension to consider.
What value do you place on the truth? If you consider the truth to be of value, then surely before we speak it should be important to consider whether what you are saying is true and whether or not it serves truth. By "serves truth", I mean that the power of words is like that of ripples on a pond. What we say may radiate outwards and so even if those words are true, one must consider how they are said, how they are received and how/if they may be further spread.
Many Pagans also value honour. So then we must ask if gossip is honorable, particularly in situations where one cannot verify the truth of the rumour and spreading it would risk affecting the perceptions of other people, perhaps unjustly.
There have been times when people have expressed to me their concerns about certain individuals and so for the safety of everyone, I have been watchful of those people. But that is just a matter of caution. Duty of care for the group or event that I am in charge of.
That is not the same as actively engaging in spreading rumours or gossip, nor should it be compared to that. When someone comes to me with a particular concern or story, I must remain impartial and aware that there are two sides to every story. I can be mindful and watchful, but not judgemental.
If there is a genuine, real risk to people's safety, then certainly, action must be taken and maybe in some instances that would include letting people know about those risks.
However, rarely is gossip about anything quite so dramatic. More often it is a social tit for tat or just about the cheap thrill of relaying the "juicy gossip".
But as people pursuing a spiritual way of being, can't we at least try to rise above such things?
Words do have power and when used recklessly, that power can harm.
Words also have the power to heal. To help. To raise us up.
It is always up to us to decide how we are going to use our power. We have the choice. It can become a roadblock on our own path and a whispering beast set loose on others. Or, it can be a song, sent to soothe and elevate us all.