When I first started searching for other witches in my area, I went to Meetup.com and subscribed to a bunch of the Pagan groups. One of those groups called itself “The Positive Magickal Community” or something like that. The description on the group’s page was lengthy and terribly written–it was easily 2-3000 words and after struggling through it, I could barely tell what the group did–but I didn’t want to judge a group by whoever was in charge of its Meetup page, so despite that initial red flag, I joined.
You know how Meetup groups can ask potential members a few questions to get a feel for them? Usually it’s 2, maybe 3 questions: “What brings you to this group? What’s your favorite thing about X?” Partly these questions can be used to screen people; mostly, though, I see them used as ways to build a little bio for each member. It’s nice to click on someone’s name and see how they answered the questions. Well, this group had a full-length quiz. One of the questions asked me to define white, grey, and black magic.
I’d never heard of grey magic, so I made a guess: it was magic that focused on neither harming nor avoiding harm, but rather achieving a neutral outcome. I submitted my answers and moved on to the next Meetup group.
A few days later, I got an email from the organizer. The email stated that she did not do emails. Every potential member had to talk to her on the phone. Oh, and she didn’t do phone dates. Every potential member had to be available whenever she happened to call them. Could I give her my cell phone number?
At this point I started having some significant reservations, but I hadn’t yet met any witches in LA, so I clung to the hope that this was perhaps a normal group with an eccentric Meetup organizer. Over the next few days, I missed call after call from the organizer–she only called during working hours and grew increasingly annoyed that I wasn’t answering–but she finally managed to catch me when I wasn’t teaching or in a meeting. I went into a conference room. There was a problem with my application, she said, concerned. Could I clarify my thoughts on grey magic?
Sure. I basically reiterated what I’d said in the quiz. I admitted that I didn’t know much about it.
“Ahhhh,” she said, suddenly understanding. “Okay. So there’s a big controversy going on right now in the magical community over grey magic. Some people think it’s okay to just get whatever they want and not worry about who it hurts. Some people think it’s okay to just bounce energy back if they get hexed. But that’s not okay! Grey magic is basically black magic in disguise! And our community only practices white magic! Do you understand?”
“S…sure?” I said. Big controversy? That sounded like a big heap of baloney to me.
“So what are your thoughts on grey magic now that we’ve talked?” she said.
“Well…” I decided to take her at her word for the time being. “I suppose I don’t see much point in it. If someone hexes you and you bounce it back, then they haven’t learned anything, and they’ll probably just become an even angrier person.” Despite my best efforts to sound thoughtful, I could hear superstition coming out of my mouth and it felt creepy. “To me it violates the Jewish imperative to repair the world.”
“But do you think it’s okay?” she pressed. “Would you ever do it?”
Again, I took her at her word. “No,” I said.
“Good,” she said. “You’re in. But–I need you to do one last thing for me. I need you to go back and change your answer to reflect what we just talked about. Okay? Because I don’t want any ambiguity influencing our community.”
When we got off the phone, I decided that I’d try one meeting, and if it was super creepy and weird, then I never had to go back. I went back to the quiz and, to humor her, changed my answer to talk about how awful and evil grey magic is, and how no smart person would ever use it.
What followed was a series of experiences so bizarre they were almost comical. The organizer posted private events on the Meetup page, but hid the member list so no one could tell who else was in the group. You weren’t allowed to RSVP through the site–you had to call her and wait for her to call you back. (That was another rule she had: she had to be the one to call you. But no phone dates!) You had to attend a Dance of Universal Peace first, so that she could get a sense of you in person. Then you’d finally be allowed to attend a Positive Magickal Community event. I went to the damn Dance of Universal Peace and met her in person: she was dressed head to toe in velvet, with about a dozen charm bags hanging off her belt. Clearly she was protecting herself from a lot of hexes.
By this point, she’d been stringing me along for about a month, and I still hadn’t met the actual group. My hopes that the other members were sensible were rapidly dwindling, but when she finally offered me the coveted prize–an actual ritual with the actual group, at which I’d meet the actual people!–I decided to give it a try.
Then I found out that each ritual cost $20 because she needed to rent a massage table. Then I asked her about the childcare she’d mentioned at one point and she sent me an angry email telling me the deadline to request childcare had passed, and she was tired of irresponsible parents.
By the time the day of the ritual arrived (I had no idea what kind of ritual it was going to be, by the way–that information was classified), I desperately didn’t want to go, but I’d already hired a babysitter. I was on the verge of canceling and doing something else with my morning when I got three emails and a call from her simultaneously.
“You’re in another Meetup group!” she cried, outraged.
Yup. It was true. I was in two others.
“Some of the people in that group practice GREY MAGIC!” she said. “I can’t be interconnected with those people! As your teacher, I need you to dissociate yourself from them!”
By this point I’d decided never to interact with her again, so it was more out of morbid curiosity that I let her continue her rant. When she finally reached a pause, I suggested that I might not be a good match for the group.
“I think that intellectually, you’re not ready to commit to us,” she said, seething.
It was more about family-friendly rituals, I said, to be polite.
“You’re still exploring intellectually,” she said. “I’m going to remove you. From. The group. Okay?” She said it slowly to make sure I understood the implications.
When we hung up, I’d never felt so relieved.
A couple of weeks later, when I’d begun to meet other witches, I spoke to someone else who’d tried to join. “They had this grey magic question,” she said. “I answered that true magic isn’t any particular color, and I got this really nasty email saying, ‘you are not on a positive life path!'”
The other witches gasped and laughed, appalled. I told her my story and we all bonded over it.
I fear this post has gotten really snarky, so I’ll stop here, even though there were many more disturbing things about the group. So what are the morals of this story?
1) Always trust your instincts about a group. Don’t let wishful thinking get you caught up in something that doesn’t feel right. I know, this advice is obvious. But it’s so easy to forget when you’re in the middle of a situation. If the group demands exclusivity–especially before you’ve even met them–they’re no good. If a total stranger suddenly starts calling themselves your teacher, they’re no good. If they withhold more information than they give, THEY ARE NO GOOD.
2) Never, ever get mixed up in a group that’s obsessed with “white magic.” This person’s most prominent trait seemed to be that the more she committed herself to positive magic, the more bitter and angry she became. Trying to purge yourself of anything negative will only ever lead to frustration, and the more you dig into it, the more that frustration will make you lash out at other people. This person had a frightening desire for control over the people she interacted with–and every time I spoke to her, it seemed like that control was constantly beyond her grasp. She was a deeply unhappy person.
Was this group a cult, by standard definitions? I don’t know. I think it would have been a more clear-cut cult if this person had been more skilled at controlling people. I think she was striving to completely control the thoughts and actions of everyone in the group, but she couldn’t figure out how to accomplish it.
3) I still don’t know what the hell grey magic is supposed to be. Yes, I’ve googled it. Look, any practical spell is going to run the risk of having an adverse effect on someone, just like going to a job interview impacts someone else’s chance of getting that job. If you need money or whatever, add a modifier onto a spell like “may it harm none” or “for the highest good of all.” Then stop torturing yourself over the billions of lives you just ruined with your all-powerful magical abilities.
I’ve refrained from posting the organizer’s name, because she still has my phone number and I don’t want to draw her attention to me. The Meetup group doesn’t seem to exist anymore. But if you’re in the Los Angeles area, please, be cautious.