Pagans Need to Stop Caring About What Other People Think

Pagans Need to Stop Caring About What Other People Think

Author: Clever Brian
It is sound advice in every aspect of a healthy adult’s life: you’ll never be happy, satisfied, or even comfortable if you spend your whole life trying to please others. The only mind you can know, let alone change is your own. Life is short and the only way you can really make the best of it is under your own rules for your own reasons.

I think that a lot of people explore religious alternatives for that very reason. If you are of a character that needs to believe in the Divine in some form or another, but you don’t like to be told what to do or how to think, it’s only natural that you start looking for a set of beliefs that conform to your values and experiences. Paganism offers people a very loose framework where they are free to choose the images and practices that suit them, and have those choices respected in their religious community.

But for all the independence that is innate in choosing a Pagan spiritual path, there is something about the Pagan religious community that engenders a fear of what the religious mainstream thinks about it. Rituals have been bowdlerized, books made obscure, mysteries lost, and compromises made in order to appear “legitimate” in the eyes of the larger religious community.

The unease with the word “witch”, the endless vacillating over skyclad (nude) rituals, the disappearance of the fivefold kiss, the mass publication of “great rites” that are vapid symbolic plays without any context, horror at suggestions of using pain or self-flagellation in rites, the glossing over of the use of drugs in magic… they are all symptoms of the same impulse: The need to make Paganism and Wicca seem friendly and harmless to the mainstream culture.

It isn’t doing us any favours, nor should it. The message it really seems to send is that Pagans are happy to compromise on their beliefs, or that they aren’t truthful with outsiders about them.

Certainly there have been plenty of “Satanic Panic” conspiracy theorists that are happy to point out the inconsistencies from text-to-text and group-to-group to suggest that there are some secret inner teachings, and the public face Pagans present is a pack of lies that are there to suck in the unwary. Consider Steve Russo’s What’s the Deal with Wicca? as a prime example.

Another consequence comes from the bowdlerization of Paganism in the name of maintaining a friendly public face: the watering down of the Pagan religious experience. Many Pagans of my generation learned their practices from the books available at major bookstores. The watered-down rituals, noncommittal attitudes, and dancing around several major issues leads to a watered-down religious experience. For every practising Pagan I know who enjoys a rich religious and spiritual life, I know two who gave it up, because it seemed hollow and meaningless. In my conversations with the latter group I often discover that they were turned off by what they saw as a lack of relevance and meaning to it, or the endless political positioning that happens within the Paganism they learned from the bookshelves of Coles.

Let’s face the bare-bones facts: Wicca started as a sex-cult among a group of wild young actresses and society ladies in Britain. It was a modern mish-mash of Hinduism, Platonic philosophy, Celtic/Nordic folk traditions, magical spells borrowed from medieval manuscripts, and a very modern form of worship of old gods. Gardner then interpolated touches of the Sexual Rebellion ethic and “Babalon” workings from Crowley’s Thelema.

It was a wild, exclusive party that was thick with occultism and dripping with earthy sexuality. There are compelling arguments to suggest that either it grew because of a fluke burst of interest, or as a part of a scheme to provide a massive recruiting ground for the O.T.O., while pushing their sexual liberation agenda ahead.

It included naked worship, sex rituals, self-flagellation, and heavy use of alcohol, suggestions of partner-swapping, and openness to experimentation with drugs. There was no ethic against black magic, just the warning that what you do becomes who you are hidden in cryptic and theatrical language. Their were also tiers of initiation into mysteries borrowed heavily from Rosicrucian/Masonic/Golden Dawn – type sources, that were intentionally not offered to beginners, because some things simply have to be learned with experience, not told.

These are evident; they are our roots, and there is absolutely no use in sweeping them under the carpet.

These things probably don’t appeal to every Pagan, and they are perfectly welcome to take what they want and leave the rest. But should we care that Christians will have none of it? Should we worry if the mainstream media paints us as kooks, or a pack of lusty black-clad teenagers?

Truthfully, I can’t see why we would. Especially not given the damage we are doing to ourselves in the process.

The nature of the human thought is such hat we can never be persuaded of something unless we want to be. You have to choose to have an open mind going into a debate before you can possibly change it. If a person is absolutely set in their beliefs, and those beliefs include either A) that you are evil/insane/damned or B) that you are misguided and need correction, you will never get them to think well of you no matter what you do.

We can scream about not believing about Satan until we are blue in the face, but an Evangelical who is convinced that we are devil-worshippers simply will not be dissuaded from that belief without some immensely grand gesture. And unless that person is a loved one, why would you want to bother?

If a person is dead-set on accusing us of eating babies, do we really even want to give them the time of day or the attention they are so desperate for? And do we want to deal with the idiots who would believe such an absurd claim, either?

Moreover, this crusade for legitimacy has often put pagans at odds with others’ right to religious freedom. Pagan voices have strongly supported attacks on religious monuments in government buildings, openly attacked other people’s belief systems, and the right to practice them. I have personally witnessed Pagans put excessive amounts of energy into berating or limiting the freedom of groups like The First Church of Satan, who in many ways Pagans have more in common with than they ever will with mainstream religion.

It is a fact that we live in societies that remain overwhelmingly Christian. Christian iconography, language, and morals pervade our everyday speech our attitudes, our behaviour and our expectations. The voices of Christians will remain dominant for some time. Religious Chauvinism, the assumption that everyone else is Christian, or that people who aren’t Christian are ignorant and deluded is an inevitable byproduct of our society. Our own apologetics and attempts to make ourselves acceptable to Christians in many ways only prolong this chauvinism in our society.

I propose that we have to learn to simply ignore it, as many varieties feminists have learned to ignore male chauvinists; by assuming they are not worth your time so long as they aren’t interfering with you or others around you. Why bother with people who have such deep-entrenched ideas, what is there to gain out of it?

Of course, this does not mean we should not call “Bullsh*t!” when a person does interfere with a Pagan’s right to practice his or her religion. It is one thing to lightly bandy about the idea that America, Canada, and Britain are “Christian” countries. It is even true, interpreted in a few different ways. It is another to use that as the basis for passing laws that ban certain practices or give special economic advantages to Christian groups. It is one thing to ignore the ignorance; it is another to ignore ignorant action.

In these cases, though, it is better to stop worrying about what the legislator, basher, or bigot has in mind. Reading minds is hard, and inexact work, and changing minds nearly impossible. There is no gain to be made in educating these people. The only place that such actions can be countered is where you are in the same playing fields. Cite your constitutional rights, take people to court, use words to denounce the action (not argue with its author) , and in the case of brutality, answer it with appropriate measures of self-defence.

So long as we insist on holding to our principles as a society, the Constitutions and Human Rights movement will continue to put us in the right. And when those no longer can avail us, look around, because there will be a revolution in the streets you’ll be able to join.

In the end, the continued push to care about what others think will only make use self-censor waffle, and waver further. It will push away people who come looking for a meaningful religious experience, and it will cost us our identity as a religion and as a people… and it will do so without giving us any gains in the cultural arena.

It is far better to maintain a frank openness and honesty to anyone who is willing to take the time and research, or to find a Pagan and simply ask a few direct questions, than to try to persuade the whole world. And for the people who don’t like what they see when they explore Paganism, there are plenty of other faiths, they will find one they like eventually, that is not our affair.

This press for acceptance is also, on another level, incongruous to the position of total freedom that Paganism offers. We cannot really follow the injunction to ‘Do what thou wilt, ” if we are always looking for signs of disapproval in others. That would be bending our ‘doing’ to someone else’s ‘willing.’


Has Neo-Paganism Gone Back Into the Broom Closet?

Has Neo-Paganism Gone Back Into the Broom Closet?

Author: Cathryn Platine

Having been a practicing Pagan for most of a somewhat long life, I’ve noticed what appears to be a retreat lately from organized groups back to a solitary form of practice among modern Neo-Pagans. Thirty or so years ago we were blossoming as a religious movement, new groups forming on a daily basis and frequently cited as the fastest growing religious movement on the planet. What happened?

In many ways those very things that were our strengths at first seemed to have worked against us in the long run. We became a religious movement of mostly chiefs and few Indians. Our leaders didn’t fail us, the idea that we all needed to be leaders did.

This isn’t just a failing of Paganism. It seems to hold true with any marginalized group that has been forced into individualized closets. Thirty years ago while public awareness of Paganism was growing, we still had an era where many local police departments were still operating “Occult Squads” which were little more than modern extensions of the Burning Times.

The more timid did not openly wear symbols of their religion and did not openly belong to groups. Those who were bursting forth did so in independent open defiance of the status quo. All that was required to be a Pagan leader back then was a soapbox, a loud voice and a general willingness to be “out and proud”.

It was an exciting time to be Pagan but it also meant that there were a lot of turf wars over ideology and even legitimacy. These are remembered today as the Great Witch Wars and they did hurt us, but at the same time several of our best known Elders came out of this period.

Just as the Women’s Movement, which came of age around the same time, the GLB movement and today the Transgender Movement, Neo-Paganism thrusts together highly individualistic and independently minded people under a common cause which at first is very exciting but then gets lost in the individual differences. We can do better than this; we must do better than this if we are to survive. It is possible for us to band together in celebrations that actually celebrate our unique qualities. It is necessary we gather in common to fight for our collective civil rights without turf wars. We need to learn that those whose practices are somewhat different from our own are still our sisters and brothers.

A strange thing happened our way towards revival…traditions that were originally spread by oral teachings, plays, storytelling, mentoring and other non-written forms became enslaved in the written word. This actually changes even the way you think and process what you learn from the emotional side to the logical one. An excellent (ironically enough) book on the subject is The Alphabet Vs. The Goddess by Leonard Shlain, which I highly recommend as vital reading for all Neo-Pagans.

An argument can easily be made that the very revival of Goddess awareness resulted from a shift away from the written word to the visual in the form of movies and television that allowed a return to a more ancient mode of informational processing and yet the paradox of the Neo-Pagan religious movement was a rush towards an ever growing number of Pagan authors as it grew!

Over the years I’ve witnessed pagans group together in mutually exclusive groups based on different Occult bookstores in an area, the bookstore owners becoming the de facto local Pagan warlords. The Pagan authors have replaced local deities with completely predictable results. Those Pagan centres won at the cost of often great expense and work have trouble getting community support and frequently find themselves at odds with local governments over issues such as basic recognition of religious status.

We Cybelines find ourselves in that position right now, our property denied tax-exempt status locally despite both Federal and State recognition as a legitimate religious group doing charitable work. While we won the right to Pagan clergy in the Armed Forces back in the seventies, recently a major battle was required simply to get the Veterans Administration to acknowledge the Pentacle as a valid religious symbol. We are meekly allowing ourselves to be shoved back into the broom closet once again.

One of the frequently voiced justifications for less than full recognition of our legal status goes like this: Where are the Pagan hospitals, orphanages, and shelters? Those who voice this then point to Christianity, as somehow more worthy for having them but forgetting the Christians didn’t invent charitable works, they learned them from ancient Pagans. There exists a smallish but growing groups of Pagans who are restoring ancient forms of living together in religious communities complete with the charitable works. Pagan Pride events now routinely do food drives as part and parcel of organizing their events.

We can do this. We can support each other and still respect our individual beliefs and practices. We can live together in supportive communities. We can and must do charitable outreach as part and parcel of our very spiritual nature.

Without taking anything away from Pagans who personify Deities, I have also witnessed a growth of those whose spiritual awareness has moved towards recognition of the Divine in all around us. Most of those with this viewpoint embrace the ancient Mother Goddess traditions, especially what was known in classical times as the Mystery Religions. Many solo practitioners today also embrace this point of view.

If you understand that everyone you encounter is as much part of the Goddess as you are, you don’t need carrot and stick theology to understand that treating others decently is simply another form of worshiping the Divine. You don’t require leaders to spoon-feed you the requirements of “loving” deity to give you your birthright, a personal connection with the Divine that is within you. All you need is those who help you locate the Divine within you and connect with it.

After a lifetime of study and research and soul searching I found this was the “Old Religion” that in the early days of the Neo-Pagan revival everyone claimed descent from. I found it was almost universal in the ancient world going back as far as is possible to go in history.

I saw it first revived in modern times in the “Women’s Spirituality” movement but much of that became sidetracked, in my own opinion, in understandable feminist reaction to living in a world controlled by the patriarchy. I’ve been saddened to see some groups retreat into matriarchal thinking that seeks to replace patriarchy with a macho form of matriarchy. It is not so much the actual gender of the individual that is the problem with patriarchy, it’s the dismissal an entire way of living and thinking embodied in Goddess traditions that seek to live in harmony with nature understanding we are all intimately connected and the ideals of nurturing rather than dominating. Replacing one form of domination with another is a zero sum game.

It’s time that all of us who embrace a Pagan identity ask ourselves exactly what do we hold as core values and do we actually live those values? If your personal answers are similar to my own, how can you celebrate your connection to the Divine without making connections with others part of that?

Why aren’t you seeking out groups that share your core beliefs? If you cannot find such a group, why aren’t you forming them?

Don’t retreat to the broom closets, don’t seek answers from others outside yourself, join in celebrations and living with those who share your worldview. Rather than seeking leaders or worse, trying to become one, why not pursue a life of service to others in recognition that they are part of yourself?

Defining ‘Pagan’

Defining ‘Pagan’

Author: Ladywolf
Pagan, what does it mean? Is Paganism a religion? What is a Neo-Pagan? While the Pagan community cannot agree 100%, there are widely accepted answers to each of these questions. I will present the widely accepted views and then my own. Please note that even the widely accepted views are not accepted by all.

Pagan is, and is not, a term easily defined. The origin of the word is Latin and was first used to describe the people who lived away from the cities and refused to embrace the new Christian religion. The original meaning was country-dweller or peasant and was not complimentary.

Over the years another definition of Pagan evolved and again, is not complimentary. This evolved definition is used mostly by followers of Abrahamic religions and is meant as a derogatory description of anyone who does not follow an Abrahamic system of belief. This definition is meant to convey someone who is immoral, has no religion or follows an ‘evil’ religious path.

Pagans are not people without religion, evil or depraved. While not all Pagan pathways share moral standards, beliefs and practices, most Pagan religions do adhere to strict codes of conduct and do have moral guidelines. Asatru has Nine Noble Virtues, Wicca has the Three Fold Law and Wiccan Rede and Druids have a Code of Honor.

In the Pagan world, the word Pagan is most often used as an umbrella term to categorize the many diverse minority religions that follow or attempt to reconstruct ancient pre-Christian religious paths or folkways, and their followers. Included under this umbrella are the religions of Wicca, Witchcraft, Asatru, Druidry, Celtic Reconstructionist, Norse Paganism, Odinism, Scottish Reconstructionist, etc. Some would also add Native American Spirituality, Shamanism, Vodun (Voodoo) and Santeria to the list.
It is important to note that while Wicca is most certainly a new religion invented in the 1950’s by Gerald Gardner, there are, woven within its framework, ancient beliefs, mythologies and fragmentary practices from many folkways, that survived until this day.

Neo-Pagan simply means New Pagan, referring to the revival of these ancient paths in the modern form, as well as the people that follow them. I am not sure we need this new term, as I do not believe any ‘old Pagans’ are still alive today. Some believe this term separates modern Pagans practicing positive systems of belief, from the old derogatory ‘Pagan’ term; but Pagan is still there and adding the ‘neo’ fools no one.

While everyone can agree that Pagan is an umbrella term covering many diverse paths, not everyone agrees that Paganism can be a path unto itself. What then of those people who do not follow a defined path such as Wicca or Asatru but still follow fragmentary ancient beliefs and practices interwoven with new? I say they too are Pagans and their religion is Paganism.

As our world evolves so too do the words that define our religious and spiritual paths. As new thought forms and beliefs emerge we need to update our thinking and shed our old ways of thought. Why not change the meaning of the word Pagan? Why not claim, as another definition, that Pagan can also mean an eclectic follower of a number of paths with no name?

People are ever changing and evolving and so too does our language. What was called a horseless carriage around 100 years ago is now called a car. Does this mean that the horseless carriage and car are two different things? Is using the new word ‘car’ less valid than using horseless carriage? Does it make the car less of a car? I think not.

In the same way, Pagan should be embraced as the definition of a religious path as well as an umbrella term. Why should those of us who follow the Pagan path allow others to define our beliefs and practices for us? Why should we be restricted to neatly defined little boxes of belief? What if I believe in and follow the Nine Noble Virtues as well as the Wiccan Rede and Three Fold law? What if Kali-Ma speaks to me as strongly as does Pan? Am I not then a “true” Pagan because I do not follow a defined path?

There is no one religious or spiritual path in which all of the practices resonate with me. There are many paths where only one or two practices or tenets ‘feel’ right for ME. I will not follow a belief system simply because it has an accepted definition and label if that system holds no meaning for me. Religion is personal. Religion should make you feel whole and content, not empty and frustrated, as I would feel following a system whose practices made no connection to who I am as a spiritual being.

With that in mind I take from many places, mostly from paths that do fall under the Pagan umbrella, but also from Eastern systems and Native American teachings. I believe in many Goddesses and Gods. I believe in Magick but do not practice rituals. My Magicks are simple and Earthy. I believe in reincarnation and the Summerlands. I fit into no formally defined Pagan belief system, so does that mean I have no ‘religion’?

I don’t think so. What that means is: I have created my own religious path using what is most meaningful to me and what helps me to grow as a spiritual being. It matters not that my path happens to have elements from dozens of other belief systems, there is no cosmic rule saying I must have a label that fits a box. So in terms of spirituality, my particular path of Paganism is a religion!

I am Pagan. That is my religious path. I choose to define it as the name of my religious path. It is a firmly held belief and infuses every aspect of my life, every day. I honor deity, have a set of beliefs similar in form to other religious paths and adhere to them. Under those terms, the U.S. Supreme Court recognizes my religious path as a religion. So I say yes, Paganism is a religion!

Note: In order to be a recognized religion in the U.S you do NOT need a Supreme Court decision. As long as your religious path falls within the definition of a religion that the courts have set- your path is a legally recognized religion!

Spellcraft And The Divine

Some modern religions use spellcraft regularly as part of their worship. Neo-Pagan religions such as Wicca, Druidry, Ásatrú, and other established path such as Santeria, Voudoun, and Candomblé all use spellwork as part of their worship process. Spellwork can certainly be done within a religious context, whether the religion is one of those mentioned or not. Within a spell, the inclusion of a deity or a higher power of some kind immediately transforms the spell into a spiritual act. However, the deity you appeal to in a spell should be a deity to whom you have at least introduced yourself, and have obtained their permission to work with them, otherwise you’re not going to get much out of it. Several spells in the “cookbook craft” category toss around invocations to Hecate as the Queen of Witches or invoke Aphrodite to help out in a love spell. These are ancient deities, now often thought relegated to mythology books. You can’t just harness their energies; there has to be more to it than that., If your spell knocks at their door, they’re likely to take a look through the spyhole, not recognize you, and won’t answer. Even ancient deities understand what dangers lie with inviting just anyone into their home. Conversely, why invoke a deity associated with another culture or religion just because a spell in a book tells you to do it? What do you know about them? Who knows what kind of energy you might be inviting into your spell?

If you function within an established faith, your best bet is to appeal to the deity or aspect of the Divine that you already work with. You have an established relationship with this deity. When your spell comes knocking,k the deity will recognize your energy, and your spell will have the added boost of love and energy freely given.

If you involve a spiritual entity such as a deity or an angel in a spell does it become a ritual? Not necessarily. It depends on your goal. Is your goal to achieve nirvana, or to become spiritually balanced within your religious path? Then you’re performing a ritual. Is it to obtain a new cat, or to release anger or stress? Then it’s a spell. When you’re not precisely sure if your goal is spiritual or practical, then it’s probably still a spell.