Rebuttal to a Very Sad Piece
A friend sent me this article today. I read through it once and then again and knew I had to respond. There is so much wrong here, so much that could have been handled with a little decent pastoral care, but also a little cultivation of piety. In fact, the first thing I thought upon reading this, was why was a supposedly Pagan site publishing it. We really shouldn’t be advocating for people leaving the various traditions that might fall under that umbrella. It would be nice, instead, to see posts encouraging newcomers and providing guidance for those who may be struggling. We do not proselytize – across the board that seems to be a commonality between Pagans and Polytheists, the result of having our traditions destroyed via forced conversion generations ago. Still, once someone comes into our house, so to speak, it’s only right to provide proper hospitality and that sadly, seems to have been lacking here. I may come back to this, but there are a few other points I’d like to touch on first.
I will say this though before going further, I think this piece highlights more than anything that I’ve read recently the practical difference between Polytheists and Pagans. Should the terms be synonymous? Yes. Are they? Not by a long shot. I think it would have been much, much easier for this person had he been working within an established tradition, other that Wicca, which is pretty much do as you please.
Taking this from the opening paragraph, the author mentions roadblocks as though they only occur when one is meant to leave one’s “path” (1). This simply isn’t the case. No matter how deeply entrenched one is in one’s religion, “roadblocks” occur. That’s a normal part of any faith and working at them, struggling, holding the course or overcoming those blocks is one of the things that makes one’s faith stronger in the long run. It’s part of spiritual sustainability, a necessary part. Nothing true and worth having is without difficulty. One can absolutely be devoted to one’s Gods and working within a nourishing tradition and still encounter “roadblocks.” In fact, it’s often a sign that something is amiss, that one is too complacent if one isn’t occasionally struggling.
I also want to point out sooner rather than later, that in this article (2) there is no mention of any devotion to the Gods, spirits, or Holy Powers of any sort (3). Conversion is a different experience when one is running to a Deity or Deities that one loves. Note, that does not necessarily mean that there is ekstasis or any mystical experience happening. It can and should be enough to simply love the Gods for what They are, that They are (4).
The author mentions conflict over “societal norms” that “came into play from Christian parents.” Man the fuck up. This is inevitable when one converts. Hell, it’s inevitable when you’re a fucking adult. Show a little moral courage. (Even in Christianity, the whole point of growing up is that you start your own family, move away, and live an adult life. See Genesis 2:24 and Ephesians 5:31). This is a matter of personal integrity and character and if one is devoted not just to a tradition but to the Gods Themselves, then what does the opprobrium of family and friends matter? We don’t, after all, honor the Gods to virtue signal or get the pats on the head. We honor Them because it is the right thing to do. This goes back to what I have often complained about in our contemporary culture: the lack of character, morality, and virtue formation in young people. There are consequences for every choice we make. Maybe you will become alienated from your family and that is a sad and difficult thing, but are you behaving correctly with your Gods? Quite frankly, anyone who would put you in that position needs to take a hike. Why would their opinion even matter?
The author mentions having a “mind heavily influenced by the sciences that could not comfortably move forward without help.” This seems to be setting up an equation where science and religion are in opposition. That has never been the case in the polytheistic world. We invented many of those sciences after all. This is a false dichotomy and really, betrays a lack of personal and internal work – which is not all on the author. There IS a lack across our traditions of competent pastoral care. Converts do need help. It’s not a one and done experience but an ongoing and often difficult and painful process. I feel very badly for this guy that he lacked any competent help. He’s also right about the shallowness in so many branches of the community. I think if we focused more devotion and faith and less on acting like a badly dressed, downwardly mobile social club maybe this latter problem would repair itself (5). I may disagree with some of what he writes and his reasons for leaving his faith but I appreciate him writing about this openly because it really draws attention to the deficits in our communities.
I don’t understand approaching a religion with the idea that one will see if it’s a good fit or not, as the author mentions considering, nor relying on social media for one’s spiritual enlightenment. Where are the Gods in this? And if one doesn’t have any interest in or devotion to the Gods of the tradition one is following, then why practice any religion? Part of this really does come down to commitment to one’s practice, and that’s a choice each devotee makes every day again and again. No religious tradition is going to immediately answer every single life question one has. That’s not its purpose. The purpose of religion is to manage the protocols of relationship with the divine. It does not absolve us of wrestling with the hard philosophical questions.
The author opines that it is best to seek out knowledge from “individuals who have put in the effort to establish a level of scholarship.” Yes, provided you’re not expecting them to do the work for you. Go to your clergy, your spirit workers, your mystics, the devotee with a particularly potent practice. Learn from them. Go to your scholars in like fashion. Just understand that, as I noted in a previous article, all the learning and lore in the world isn’t going to make up for a lack of perseverance and piety. There is, after all, academic knowledge and gnosis and one does not take the place of the other. Nor should we prioritize scholarship. Some of the smartest, most devout people are just regular people. They love the Gods and have put in decades venerating Them. There’s no academic degree but a remarkable level of piety and frankly, I’d take that person over someone like Dr. Mary Beard who is going to shit all over our religions as she has done in the past. Again, this comes down to values. What do you value? What do you prioritize? Are the Gods even on that list? You can study until you’re blue in the face, but if you’re not backing that up with ongoing, consistent devotional practice you will achieve nothing.
The author suggests asking “has this path served its purpose?” What is the purpose other than to bring us closer to the Gods, that we may serve more fully and well as Their devoted retainers? Other goals require other criteria but aren’t really part of a religious tradition. I would ask instead, “Have I done all that I can? Is this where my Gods wish me to be?” but that requires a different set of priorities, one that doesn’t put us and our sense of entitlement at the center of our cognitive world.
Moreover, the author notes that our communities have “leaders, teachers, doctors, lawyers, and so on.” I don’t see him mentioning clergy there, or spirit workers, or devoted laity. This speaks to a particular set of values out of alignment I suspect, with any religious tradition. Maybe the problem is that he went to the wrong people for help. Your average lawyer doesn’t owe you anything and your average teacher is tired and underpaid (I’m guessing there was never any question of exchange of services when he bombarded folks with his existential issues). I’d also add that if you demonstrate lack of commitment and devotion, no elder or teacher worth their salt is going to open the doors to Mystery for you. First, you have to deepen yourself, persevere, and make yourself capable of receiving those Mysteries. It’s not a self-help class or a quick fix to making friends and influencing people. The growth does have to start with each individual but the purpose of that growth is to better reach the Gods, a goal I see lacking in the original article. There are no quick answers worth having.
There has been plenty of material written on devotion and how to deal with some of the problems that arise in centering oneself in one’s tradition. Research is exhausting. That is one statement in the article with which I’ll agree but if something really matters, you stay the course. Better yet, balance that research with devotional practices. When someone comes to me asking to join my House, I don’t start them with a ton of academic research. I start them with shrine work, with learning how to pray, with meditation, and making small offerings. The problem with clinging to “modernity” as an identifier (the author says, “Modern Paganism is simply that, modern.”) is that it all but ensures that devotion and piety will be expunged. The modern worldview is part of the problem. The more time one spends cultivating devotion, the more one realizes that modernity is a cesspit and our spiritual goals would be better served by returning to a way of engaging with the world that is far more organic and rooted in an awareness of the divine and our place in relation to it.
The author talks so fervently about leaving Paganism, determining a course of action, creating goals, seeing them through. It might have been more productive had he approached his faith with that same attitude. While the author occasionally mentions “faith,” throughout the article I kept finding myself asking “faith in Whom? In What?” He writes about religion as though it is all about his own “personal growth and knowledge.” That is indeed, a very modern and very self-absorbed lens through which to approach any tradition. I would say the problem isn’t the tradition, it’s that there was no one in his community to help guide him out of this destructive attitude and into an awareness that it is our privilege to venerate the Gods and doing so elevates us as human beings.
Faith, real faith is never “blind” as this author asserts. He seems to want everything laid out for him without contradiction or difficulty. Everyone who takes it seriously struggles with faith and that’s ok. That’s actually necessary. But here we get to the crux of the author’s issues: he reduces “Modern Paganism” to “blind faith in astrology, divination, spells, deities, and magick” (sic). A) I have faith in actually knowing how to spell magic, B) astrology, divination, spells, and magic are all specialties that the lay person has no reason to engage in; moreover, they require training to do well and they’re not devotion; and C). real faith in the Gods isn’t blind. It’s an ever-evolving relationship. Like any relationship, you have to put in the work. Maybe focus less on fumbling spells and more on prayer. Maybe put the books away and sit before your shrine contemplating the Gods. Where your faith is weak, ask Their help in making it stronger. Faith is never blind. It’s a commitment, a light in the darkness, the central core around which one’s life revolves. You know what it isn’t, ever? Easy.
I’m going to stop here. I feel badly for this guy.
- I detest the term “path.” You’re either practicing a tradition or you’re not. It’s not a “path”, it’s a tradition. The difference is between witless meandering and nurturing a container of the holy.
- This is the only piece that I’ve read from this person, so I don’t know if he mentions these things in previous articles. My friend, who read through several pieces said no, and I’ll accept his hearsay in this instance.
- This is perhaps THE major factor in whether one chooses to call oneself a Polytheist or Pagan—do the Gods actually matter to you?
- I again refer readers to Dver’s marvelous piece here.
- A lot of times those who don’t have a very strong devotional practice feel that they don’t have space in the religion – well, reaching out to newcomers and helping them to get oriented, networking, and making sure that folks know to whom to reach out to if there are spiritual issues, well, this is the type of social stuff that those less interested in devotion could be doing. It’s important work and those folks should also be given the resources to help newbies. Some of this clergy need to be handling or at least overseeing but the day to day can easily be done by lay people. This would actually build community in a sustainable way. Look at pretty much any Christian tradition: they have hospitality committees for Gods’ sake. They don’t expect their specialists to be doing all of that AND liturgical stuff on top of it too. We need to adjust our value system, so that we value the work of prayer, devotion, liturgy, spirit work, but also so that we equally value lay people and hospitality. Everyone has something he or she can contribute.
Posted on June 11, 2021, in community, devotional work, Interfaith, Misc., Uncategorized and tagged conversion, Interfaith, Paganism. Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.
This actually touches on a “hot take” I’ve had for a while: the unquestioned conflation between paganism and occultism is a detriment to our community and needs to be outgrown. I think we’d be a lot healthier and more successful as a community if we focused on building actual religions. There’s a million reasons why and I’m sure someone could put all of those reasons more intelligently than I could but I just think it’s not a good base to build on and quite frankly I am convinced that the emphasis on magic is not only due to the aforementioned conflation but is also indicative of the prominence of certain personality types in our community that prefer types of thinking that ultimately prevent us from being anything more than a hodgepodge of esoteric nerds, geeks, and weirdos at best
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He wanted to “find a religion which fit,” which generally means “religion that doesn’t challenge me too much.” Paganism didn’t challenge him. He got bored and decided religion doesn’t matter and you can believe whatever you like so long as you are kind to people—the end.
Though he talks about “Christian conditioning,” I see a lot more Postmodernism in his worldview. The idea that culture is something an individual can appropriate or find in books, rather than a shared communal experience, was one big thing that jumped out at me.
His subjectivism is also more Woke than Wesleyan. He talks about religions in terms of “right for you” rather than “right” or “wrong.” He appears to think that the purpose of spirituality is to keep you endlessly entertained. And his dismissal of magic is scientism right down to the methodology. He tried magic, didn’t get results, and is now convinced magic doesn’t work.
He didn’t walk away from any religious community. Most Neopagans are not practicing a religion and have very little in the way of community. I wish him the best of luck in his future spiritual endeavors, but if he keeps doing what he’s been doing, he’ll get the same results.
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And you just explained why magic/magick isn’t for everyone. People like him are looking for a quick fix. Spells are nothing of the sort. They’re a last resort, when all physical efforts to make a change have been exhausted and the situation is completely out of one’s physical control of being remedied. It’s no different where religion jumping is concerned. “God didn’t answer my prayers, so let me try paganism.” It’s nothing more than sheer laziness and expecting someone or something else to fix one’s ills. Sad, and harsh, but true nonetheless. It’s like the people on social media who are too lazy to look something up on the internet to verity or debunk a claim made during an argument, and they expect the other person to provide a link to prove their claim.
In a time when self-esteem and self-worth are an all-time low, we’re gonna see more and more religion/bandwagon jumpers. They should be encouraged to go on a journey of self-discovery and self-improvement before trying to follow a faith. I grew up Christian, went to a Church of God in my town, and remember a quote from our pastor that I use quite frequently when dealing with “jumpers”: “It doesn’t matter which religion you practice or which god you have faith in, as long as you have faith in yourself first.” Gotta love a pastor who was from the backwoods of Arkansas where Christianity could be mixed with folk magic at any given time. Lol! 😉
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Point #5 is so vitally important for the future of traditions. I’ve repeatedly made the point with people that the folks organizing the potluck or making sure new people have directions to the venue are leaders, because they take responsibility. Not clergy, but a critical form of lay leadership without which traditions are unlikely to achieve sustainable levels of invested laity. While they aren’t (in most cases) leading people to the Gods, they are doing a lot to keep the road clear and navigable in the face of human limitations.
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From what I can see, much of Neo-Paganism seems to be centered on the Internet, which is a terrible place to receive human contact. I do know locally for me, the groups really do not do any laywork or religious work. Even the one group that I respect has their focus on “nature” and how to be in nature.
I wonder how much religious education is needed for understanding the Gods. I keep seeing the same problem of “Gods not real.” I had a discussion on my blog with someone who decided that the Gods were non-existent. They were Polytheist but couldn’t get beyond the awful deeds and the like of the Gods. So they went Atheist.
Coming from a family of Atheists, I understand the problem. You are caught up in materialism and expect certain things to hold in a material world. It is a mind-shift to Gods to Polytheism.
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Then they weren’t polytheist. This is baseline: Gods exist. If you can’t get beyond that, you’ve no business mucking about in our religion. Or better yet: come to your priest, engage in dialogue, keep working at it. but no, that would take just that: work. I think the biggest problem between Pagans and Polytheists is just that: Polytheists believe in and prioritize the Gods. Now, I will say this, people who were raised atheist often have a problem with that (no judgment there. we all bring crap from our birth religions or lack thereof that shape some of the struggles we’ll have spiritually), their default is well, atheism and it takes a long time to learn the place for devotion and how it all works. Again, something good pastoral care could assist with.
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That’s really one of the issues. Neopaganism has become an online phenomenon. We need to get off the web and get back into real life and get real engagement going
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YES, YES, and YES.
The problem is that many converts, especially young ones, don’t wanna hear that there are consequences for their actions, basic moral values to follow, and they get all of their info from the internet like it’s a god. Cue any quote by the “new gods” from the show American Gods.
Wicca, however, is not a “do as you please” religion. It has rules just like any other religion. Many “heathens” and modern Wiccans don’t give a flying rat’s ass about rules and morality, and see polytheism as a “get out of consequences free” path. I blame the age of zero discipline for that nonsense, as well as a strict bastardization of myths and lore, and a belief that the ancient pagans/polytheists had zero morals or rules. I really don’t know where the misconception started, but the label “heathen” sure doesn’t help. Smdh. I’ve encountered so much backlash and ridiculousness on social media, while trying to educate the fledglings, and that’s why I deleted my IG and Facebook accounts. You just can’t teach them nowadays and have to let them learn the hard way. Let them land flat on their faces the way that our ancestors would have. Sometimes the most successful method is letting shit bite someone in the arse. One kid on TikTok posted a video about him making a witch bottle to get revenge on someone for something seriously petty and stupid. Not a week later, he posted another video about it biting him in the arse. The backlash hit him and he dug up the bottle. The only problem is, not everyone is smart enough to recognize their comeuppance when it happens. They’re the ones who remind me of dogs wearing shock collars and still refuse to understand that every time they bark, they’re gonna get zapped. Lol!
So…you can either try and talk sense/teach these newbies until you’re blue in the face, and stressed to the max, or just go by the adage “You’ll learn the hard way, just you wait”. Not saying that every newbie is un-teachable, and they’re the ones who are the hope for our future; but some are just…*insert banging head against wall gif*
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I can understand his point of view. I didn’t read the article before commenting the first time. Modern paganism is a religion, and not a spiritual practice like our ancestors followed. It has been changed so drastically that it just melds into every other organized religion around the globe. He was on the right path, educating himself in every subject possible, but tried to follow the strict guidelines of modern paganism instead of living in the ways of the ancestors. He also should’ve had it explained that spells only work if you have faith that they will, and if you understand the rules of physics; even the ones that are outside of the realm of explainable physics…hence the term “metaphysics”. I, myself, struggled with the rituals and pageantry of modern paganism. There’s no need for any of it. Pretty sure that’s going to ruffle some feathers, but it’s true. There’s no need for daily rituals, altars, shrines, special tools, statues of the deities, robes or ceremonial dress of any kind, etc. It’s all glitz and glam. Our ancestors were farmers, hunters, gatherers, and warriors. Does anyone truly believe that they had the time for any of that? Nope. They were too busy trying to survive by any means necessary. The idea of pageantry in modern paganism, is more for shock value than anything else. Plain clothes and simple practices, as well as hard work, are all that’s needed; as well as faith in one’s self and a belief that something greater exists that guides us along the way, whether it be the gods or our ancestors.
I disagree with you. /We need prayer, rituals, offerings regularly. Daily veneration should be part of any adult’s day. Our ancestors had what we don’t: reverence and piety. I agree though about simple clothes and such. there’s no need to run out and spend money one doesn’t have on things one doesn’t need when prayer and very simple offerings of food and drink shared with the Gods and ancestors suffices.
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Actually, I’m pretty sure the gods consider it wasteful to leave food as an offering to them. The only thing the gods care about is being remembered and acknowledged.
If daily prayers and rituals work for you, then go for it. I’m saying that it’s not necessary. Our ancestors had everything that we have, or should I say “need”; except social media and electronic devices, which aren’t actually necessities. We don’t actually NEED daily prayers, rituals, or offerings. If they make one feel more connected to their beliefs, then it’s more of a want than a need. If one NEEDS to do those things to feel more connected to their faith, then their faith is based in the physical and not the spiritual. Like when one feels the “need” to go to church every Sunday to feel closer to God through a sermon and fellowship with other members of their faith. One doesn’t even need the Bible or to tithe to be one with God. God is everywhere and in everything. Do you see where I’m going with this? Our ancestors showed their respect and adoration for the gods in other ways; ie: Hard work, selflessness, helping their fellow man, etc. We’re gonna differ on this b/c we follow different paths, but the ideal of leaving offerings and daily prayers & rituals was more to gain favor with the gods and sort of kiss up to them. The Greeks built HOW MANY temples to the gods, left offerings of gold and other forms of wealth, and had priests and virgin priestesses who guarded the temples? How did it work out for them when the Persian “horde” rolled through and conquered Greece? How well did it work out for the Roman Empire, when the Barbarian tribes struck a fateful blow? Like I said, if daily rituals work for you then go for it, but they’re not truly necessary. ❤️
“Have I done all that I can? Is this where my Gods wish me to be?” but that requires a different set of priorities, one that doesn’t put us and our sense of entitlement at the center of our cognitive world.”
This is a critical point. WE should not be at the center of our world. Trying to make ourselves that center is how we get 10 million deaths. Science and our natural curiosity is not a substitute for the belief that there is something greater than ourselves. Even when finding an answer from research provides that frisson of unity and wonder. Science just isn’t enough.
And that might be the center of the problem. It was very difficult for our ancestors to develop the objective mind that allows for science. We aren’t built that way, and the price has been a gradual separation from the gods. As Jordan Peterson points out, Nietzsche’s cry of “God is dead” was not one of triumph, but of grief. There has been a price for placing science in the space deity once occupied.
The author said how difficult faith is. This is true. It certainly is difficult. But that is where the work is required. As you pointed out, there was no mention of piety or practice. Feeling a connection to deity takes practice. Even people with a natural talent for it run into problems because life will squash you flat in a hearbeart. The Buddhists certainly know this, even the Christians know this. It is a universal aspect of religion. If one wants to feel the presence of god, one doesn’t just wave a flag. Piety and practice are like putting money in the bank for a those times of trial.
We don’t talk much about – at least in my experience – faith in Paganism. Somehow faith is something for Christians. We FEEL our gods and know they are there because of that. And for some, that is true. But for many, piety and practice is going to be necessary to feel that connection at all. This isn’t something that can be done with the twisty machinations of mind. The tidbits discovered from study can help move one along by acting as signposts, but they are not connection, merely a symbol of connection. To think knowledge is the goal is to mistake the map for the territory.
Softly falls the light of day,
As our campfire fades away,
Silently, each scout should ask,
“Have I done my daily task?”
“Have I kept my honor bright?”
“Can I guiltless sleep tonight?”
“Have I done and have I dared,
Everything to be prepared?”
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re. food offerings; there we disagree. It’s simple piety that our ancestors understood well and I have little time for someone who can’t be bothered to leave the most basic offerings of food and drink. and yes, prayer is absolutely necessary. it’s the least we can do, unless we want to leave ourselves open to all sorts of evil.
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I’ve written and fought over this type of impiety and laziness for fucking years and I”m not doing it here again on my blog. This user has been blocked. Spread your pollution elsewhere.
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Is Officialwitchofhighspire really so ignorant that they don’t know that the Persians did not conquer Greece? Even reading _The Cartoon History of the Universe_ would leave them more educated.
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