I am a Northern European (Dutch) person, carrying ancestral memories of the period of the witch hunts in my blood. I doubt that I am the only person who feels unease at the popular phenomenon known as Call-Out Culture or Cancellation Culture. Actually, I have asked around and I know that I am not alone.
By means of a quick explanation: the general idea is that someone does or says something another person (or group of people) perceives as wrong or misguided and sets them straight. At its most basic level the sequence goes: do or say something wrong – be told in no uncertain terms that you are in the wrong – done publicly (with a large audience watching, following and chipping in with accusations and criticism) and this (supposedly) shames the person into a re-evaluation of their values and behavior.
A related phenomenon (in a more severe form), I guess, is exposing individuals or organizations who do something wrong: the charity caught not spending donations on a promised cause, the respectable figure who is involved in a paedophile ring (here you can think of Jeffrey Epstein, a financier and convicted sex offender and how Prince Andrew has just been taken off royal engagements for the foreseeable future, if not for life, because of his dealings with Epstein and his circle).
The fact is (and I want to acknowledge this!) that many situations in society have changed due to determined activism and exposure. Placing such situations in the public eye generates great pressure for people (or organizations) to change their way. In order to get to the focus of this blog I will therefore make a distinction between criminal misconduct (clearly breaking the law, harming people/animals or the environment and so forth) and the criticism of personal perspectives and individual choices. My blog is only about the latter. In Western Culture we all value freedom of speech highly. Freedom of speech of course has a unique shadow all its own, just like everything that exists on Earth.
I have made an active decision not to engage or participate in “calling out” because I perceive it as VERY divisive. I also happen to think that publicly shaming people rarely brings the hoped-for result. If people truly believe something, then the issue will go underground and re-surface at a later time or in a different place.
I have been at the receiving end of public calling out twice, in recent years. In October 2017 I wrote a blog where I questioned a series of phenomena associated with the MeToo hashtag. This infuriated some people to the extent that they called me out (in a thread on my own Facebook page) as traitor of my own sex. How dare I do anything but speak in support of my sisters who have suffered abuse?
The thread soon turned so menacing and emotive that I let it “sink” by refusing to engage in further discussion (participation is a form of feeding something energy). There is no point in discussion if the other party is not even listening to the points you are making. People were jumping on the thread without even bothering to read the original blog post, just to air their personal agenda (or trauma), and everything was pulled out of shape and context. I made a point of not deleting the Facebook thread and I also left my blog up. It did feel like tiny witch hunt. It awakened ancestral memories of a dark period in history, in my ancestral Northern European history to be precise.
I have since written a blog that got a far better reception – but it only represents only the flip side of the same coin: The Night Garden of Forgiveness.
The second occasion was far milder (also far more serious in my opinion) and I remain grateful to the person who challenged me. During years of attending courses in shamanism I had ended up cloaking myself in certain simplistic and morally "cheap" beliefs, which I had heard repeated many times by people I respect. You could say that they originate in the New Age movement. Here are some examples:
There are no limits!
Have no fear! Make no fear-based decisions!
We create our own reality!
All we need to do is drop into trust!
I had found a quote, from an article I wrote in my early days as a shamanic practitioner (today I don’t even call myself a shamanic practitioner any longer!), on a webpage dedicated to quotes by well-known spiritual teachers. Vanity got the better of me and I shared the link and quote on Facebook. It was about how we all create our own reality. I have tried to find this site again but could not. Perhaps the page was taken down.
A Facebook friend based in Africa wrote in immediately and asked me to reflect deeply on the following question: “Do young children in an African village, about to be raided and become victims of genocide, really, and actively, “create their own reality” or might there be more going on here? Would “dropping into trust and releasing all fears” have saved them?!” I sat with that and realized that she was absolutely right. I was horrified!! It was like waking up from a trance state or dream! My words, written at time of riding high on over-simplified spiritual fare, were actually offensive rather than uplifting. I wrote a retraction and told this person that she was absolutely right and that she had really made me rethink the issue. She accepted my words with grace and said that she admires and follows my work (in general) but could not let this comment go. I thanked her for stopping me in my tracks and forcing me to raise my awareness, in contemporary language “be woke”.
Now one could say that this is exactly what “calling out is meant to do”. I was most fortunate in that this person phrased her challenge as a carefully yet passionately worded question. She didn’t share my original post all over Facebook, inviting people to unfriend me or write in en masse to tell me that I am the scum of the earth, a despicable person. In truth, the shame and public disgrace involved in such a scenario will make it very difficult for people to actually absorb the message and change their thought pattern. Most people will either go on the defense (often by means of counter-attacks) or they will go into hiding until the heat dies down.
The thing is...
There is no human being alive who does not make mistakes, it is part of the human condition
Can you really truly say that you have never messed up big time?! By calling out another person you position yourself on the moral high ground (and are you sure that no one can knock you right off that perch with some well-chosen words? Is there no one in your past, who has an embarrassing story to tell about you, or have a bone to pick with you?)
To me calling out feeds Us-And-Them style thinking: you are completely wrong and I am completely right. It is incredibly divisive.
Observing these situations always make me wonder how much shadow work (fearless inner work) is done by the person doing the calling out.
When we scapegoat, we project what is dark, shameful and denied about ourselves onto others. This “shadow” side of our personality, as Carl Jung called it, represents hidden or wounded aspects of ourselves, “the thing a person has no wish to be,” (Collected Works, Vol. 16) and acts in a complementary and often compensatory manner to our persona or public mask, “what oneself as well as others think one is.” (Collected Works, Vol. 9).
There are groups that I am a member of, on Facebook, where I no longer post or interact as I observe with dismay how people egg each other on to engage in calling out:
This person made an unfortunate comment in another group!
Don’t read books by that author, they once made an inappropriate comment in an interview!
Don’t read this male author, he is a sexist shit who deserves to ….. (think castration)
Because indeed, the phenomenon also appears to work in retrograde. Some authors who published their books in a very different era (say the post-war Europe of the 1940s and 1950s) now get slammed, in no uncertain terms, for not playing by the standards of political correctness we currently aspire to, about 70 (!!) years later.
I recently observed a group of women ganging up on-line to destroy the reputation of one such male author, with crude sexual references thrown in for good measure. Well, hang on!
This man is no longer alive so he cannot defend himself!
To state politely that you personally don’t value or recommend his books is one thing, but calling for posthumous castration? Do you really think that your own attitudes and posts on social media will stand the test of time (fast-forward by approximately 70-80 years or a human lifetime...)
Think carefully before you cast the first stone! Are you sure you don’t live in a house made of glass? That your children will not be affected by acts of social media aggression you commit today?? Some have called the Internet the "bad version of Akashic Records" - whatever is on there, can be never be truly or fully deleted again. For good or for bad most of it does end up "drowning" in newer stories that grab our attention (briefly).
Calling out is very divisive. Bearing in mind that the root meaning of the word healing is “making whole again, restoring to sacred wholeness”, I observe that calling out generally creates greater division, not increased awareness.
Calling out (when not all the details are understood or minutely examined) can lead to a contemporary form of mini witch hunts. There is a reason why we have courts of law and highly complex legal procedures! We have all seen people’s personal reputation and careers destroyed before our very eyes. I am NOT saying that those people did nothing wrong. What I am saying is that the total destruction of a reputation after decades of hard work in their chosen field, may not be an entirely fair outcome (not fair on them, not fair on their profession and not fair on their colleagues or families).
The Bible reminds us graphically enough:
You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye!
Before we pelt horrible accusations at a person, have we done the moral legwork of also finding out and naming some of the good things they do, or have done?!
I am currently reading transcripts of witch trials in The Netherlands, in the 16th and 17th century. Those accounts paint a terrifying picture of a general atmosphere where everyone in a village (or town) suspects everyone else of "working magic" (and not infrequently correctly so!) People are tortured and told the torture will only stop if they reveal the names of local "witches". Many blurt out names - and still die at the stake soon after. A new batch of people is immediately rounded up and the process starts all over again. There are heart-breaking stories of mothers knocking on doors and begging people in a village to look after her child, because she knows she is next in line for execution, ritual and public murder.
(And, for fear of making myself even more unpopular, could I just point out that for many centuries working magic was often the only course of action left open to disenfranchised person wishing to gain more control over their lives and circumstances!)
In a bookshop this morning I happened to pick up a book about World War II where a Jew describes the atmosphere of the pre-War years, where neighbours from different ethnic background, who had previously coexisted peacefully for years, turn on each other and everything turns toxic and dangerous. As a Dutch woman I too hold those memories in my bloodline and ancestral field. My grandparents and parents lived through the war and have told me about their experiences. My maternal grandfather once had to flee the village and go into hiding, (for hiding a Jew in a secret alcove in their kitchen) as his warrant of execution as a "traitor" had been served. Fortunately the war ended soon after and he lived for twenty more years.
This week I got talking to someone on Twitter (of all places), who described for me how she had been expelled from a private boarding school for dressing in black and developing an interest in the Mother Goddess (as opposed to Mary Mother of God). The most timid and religious girl in the school had reported her to the Head Teacher for “worshiping Satan”.
To me there is something horrifying about this trend for blaming and shaming others without reflecting deeply on where we go wrong ourselves, how/where/when we ourselves harm others. I observe that some people now love acting as self-appointed police officers. They claim to be educating others. This will work only for as long as you don’t put one foot wrong and absolutely no one from your past holds any grievance against you (does that even exist?!) It brings the personal responsibility of being utterly unbiased, with an immaculate track record for (private and public) behavior, since your 18th birthday, ideally from birth (for people the age of my own children, born in the year 2000 or more since, the Internet Generation).
Cycling back to the issue of spirituality and courses in shamanism or spirituality in general: on a professional level am saddened to see professional contacts engaging in calling out. On the ultimate level spirituality and healing are about making whole, not about fragmenting things some more. We are living in times of immense turmoil and upheaval. To add to the level of division our world already experiences, feels wrong to me.
A related (and milder form of) the issue is running posts on Facebook announcing that “if you vote for a certain politician, unfriend me right now!” (or similar). I too have been known to “unfriend” people whose posts I find offensive. We all need to choose where to draw the line, what is in and what is kept out of our life. That is called boundary-setting. However, the unfriend or unfollow option on e.g. Facebook now allows us to weed out everyone who annoys us slightly, or holds a different opinion. I happen to believe that it is my moral duty to listen to opinions very different from my own. Not to be converted or swayed (necessarily), but to stay informed of “what is out there”, to try to understand what makes people believe certain things or subscribe to a certain world view. Today we all need to get in the habit of checking our privilege, yes. But being born privileged does not automatically make people criminals. Young people born privileged often need time to unlearn assumptions they hold. (And admittedly some never do).
If you have an issue with something a person says or does, raise the issue by means of a personal (passionate but politely worded!) message and invitation for a dialogue. Use supporting evidence. This will not always work. I myself have received messages that were so absurd or disrespectful (or bristling with unresolved shadow projections from the sender) that I have refused to engage in further dialogue.
If you want to take an issue into the public domain, use words that invite empathy and emotional engagement, (criticize the behaviour, not the entire person):
I would like to offer a different perspective
Personally I feel…
It upsets me that so-and-so appears not have considered X-Y-Z dimension of the issue
This is what psychologists call “I statements”. The moment we start shouting: “You this! You that!” our shadow is engaged. Material we are not even conscious of is clouding the issue, and the space between us and another person.
This is why I made a point of drawing a line between criminal behavior and misguided beliefs or actions at the beginning of this blog. There is no doubt whatsoever that criminal behavior needs to be exposed and punished.
But most of human behaviour occurs in the grey zone.
Looking at my family of origin and who I am today, the difference between me at age 22 and me at age 52 (my current age) is that I have spent decades actively unravelling old programming and messages internalized while growing up in a very dysfunctional family. Along that road I did not always hold the politically correct take on everything – and even today I don’t. Not always. For me some issues just are not black-on-white. The older I get and the more silvery my hair turns, the more grey zones I discern; the continuum and fluidity between entrenched positions. This is the place where learning occurs and human consciousness evolves.
Another obvious issue is that clashes will inevitably occur between politically correct values and traditional values observed by various communities. One of my sons has a friend who is the product of a mixed race marriage but his family practices an evangelist form of Christianity. In a youth group run by his Dad (the priest of their Church) a teenager feeling safe enough to come out as gay was publicly shamed and told to see the error of their ways. Naively (perhaps) I thought that a mixed-race modern inner-City family would show more-than-average empathy for gay people or any other group (often) experiencing challenges in social perception and attitudes.
I did not forbid my son to attend the youth group, much as I would have liked to! It would only have made the youth group forbidden fruit, more attractive! And I can’t really dictate where a 16 year old person hangs out at all times – I would rather know than force him into keeping secrets!) but I did urge him repeatedly to reflect on the damage he saw inflicted on a vulnerable young person before his very eyes (he was the one who told me the story because it upset him greatly).
This same boy (by now young man) has also been brainwashed (as I perceive things!) into knowing that he will be a Christian for life and that he may only date Christian girls (with a view to marrying them). That a 19-year old boy, living in London today, plays by those parental and Church-imposed standards will never fail to astonish me. Yet the parents obviously feel that they have given their children "a proper Christian upbringing".
Values are deeply personal things. If we all agreed on one indisputable set of values presumably religious wars would be eliminated overnight. As a teacher of Seidr and Northern Tradition material I watch with horror how neo-fascism and white supremacy is on the rise. Repulsive as their views are (and terrifying as it is to observe things today which remind of Nazi Europe) even I know that other groups exist which try hard to keep bloodlines “pure", for various reasons:
The Talmud holds that a marriage between a Jew and a non-Jew is both prohibited and also does not constitute a marriage under Jewish law.
Christian rulers regarded unions between Jews and Christians unfavourably, and repeatedly prohibited them under penalty of death.
Most modern people will also take issue with the following guidance:
The minimum age for marriage under Jewish law is 13 for boys, 12 for girls; however, the kiddushin can take place before that, and often did in medieval times. The Talmud recommends that a man marry at age 18, or somewhere between 16 and 24.
To my mind our “global village” is headed for devastating collisions between different belief systems (also known as religious wars) the moment we believe that we can dictate what another person “should think”. I think there is far more to be gained from respectful dialogue and, that old chestnut, challenging (or questioning) the behavior, not the person. First take a moment to also see the good things a person does or embodies. Relatively few of us are cold-blooded psychopaths (consult the statistics on this).
We have a complex law enforcement system to deal with criminals and to take issues out the realm of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” or the honour killings of both Vikings and Mafia bosses.
But really, I’d rather not to return to the menacing atmosphere of witch hunts and witch trials, where children as young as seven years old (yes, really!) were burned at the stake with the whole community watching. And no, I am into vigilantism either. Law enforcement and our criminal justice system evolved over the centuries, for good reason.
Imelda Almqvist, London UK, 5 December 2019
Imelda Almqvist is an international teacher of shamanism and sacred art. So far she has published two books: Natural Born Shamans: A Spiritual Toolkit for Life (Using shamanism creatively with young people of all ages) in 2016 and Sacred Art: A Hollow Bone for Spirit (Where Art Meets Shamanism) in 2019. She has presented her work on both The Shift Network and Sounds True. She appears in a TV program titled Ice Age Shaman, made for the Smithsonian Museum, in the series Mystic Britain talking about Neolithic arctic deer shamanism. Her third book, Medicine of the Imagination (Dwelling in possibility) will be published by Moon Books in 2020.
Imelda was a presenter on the Shamanism Global Summit in both 2016 and 2017 and on Year of Ceremony with Sounds True. She is a regular presenter on The Shamanic Path with Sounds True. She appears in a TV program made for the Smithsonian Channel (the series is called Mystic Britain) about the Mesolithic site Star Carr in Yorkshire talking about arctic deer shamanism! Imelda divides her time between the UK, Sweden and the US. She is currently working on her fourth book, about the pre-Christian spirituality of The Netherlands.
Imelda dreams of being a full-time Forest Witch!