I’m inclined to agree with Anne Niven about this:
I do not believe that the [Goddesses and] Gods rekindled the fires of their worship at this fraught moment in history just so we could carp endlessly at one another. What’s more, all of this fractious in-fighting is going to look a lot like a “fiddling-while-Rome-burns” farce very soon. I’m no climate scientist, so I’ll put away the crystal ball, but when — in five years, or fifteen, or fifty — climate change sweeps away our baroque cultural crenelations, no one is going to give a good Goddess-darn whether the Gods are individual beings or Jungian archetypes.
When Nature speaks, there will only be one question: does our religion work? On a utilitarian level: do our prayers bring rain? (Or send it away, if it has been pouring for forty days and forty nights.) Do Pagans have better, longer lives? Do our communities stick together when the going gets tough? When disaster strikes [our communities], do we rebuild, or look out only for ourselves? In short, the question we need to face is simple: are Pagans people that you can trust with your life?
Throughout history, times like these have resulted in two strikingly opposite results: societal breakdown and disintegration, or conversely, communities rallying to rebuild. We should be asking ourselves: which kind of people are we? This is a time of unprecedented challenge, and it’s high time for those of us who stand within the penumbra of Paganism to concentrate on building communities, neighborhoods, families, and tribes based on mutual respect, trust, and, yes, genuine affection.
In the end, our challenge is to create a culture that brings joy to the downtrodden and inspires us to campaign on behalf of Life, even when that work may seem hopeless. What we need from our religion — and what we owe to the [Goddesses and] Gods — is to build a faith that binds us in a single unbroken web to the living, to the dead, and to the generations that are yet unborn.
Only then will we have created a Paganism that is worthy of survival.
I think that Mandrake is making a similar point in this recent Gods & Radicals post:
And so, fellow Witches, Pagans, energy workers, magic makers, I ask you: what is magic for? Is it simply a means to attain what personal desires drive us? A currency to exchange for goods? Must we receive personal benefit from our magical efforts? At what point do we look at ourselves and our practices, and acknowledge that our personal spiritual work will not heal the damaged ecosystem? When do we get smart enough, or scared enough, to use our will and our energy to work to stem the tide of destruction that is taking place right now, under our noses, in our names? If not in the context of an amazingly well-constructed ritual container, the product of dozens of hands and minds and hearts, where will we find the ability to connect to the very real needs of our Mother Earth?
* * *
This is thankless work, and not everyone is prepared for it; not everyone is mature enough for it; not everyone wants to do it. And yet, it must be done. If not by us, then by who[m]? What will it take to encourage action, if not the love of the beauty of the green Earth, the white Moon among the stars, the mysteries of the waters? We are being called to arise and to go unto Her, to be strong, agile, wise, courageous, and compassionate in whatever capacity we are able. We are being called to act in community, on behalf of the community of innocents who have no voice.
I came down from the mountain with a question pressing on my heart: What is magic for? The only answer I can find is to commit to this work: to connecting to the Earth beneath me, to listening to what She asks of me, and to taking action in Her name. By the Earth that is Her body, I sincerely hope that the seed planted in ritual months ago takes root in those who walked with me in sacred space and that we all can grow in community, for the good of all.
I think it’s wonderful that a new generation of Pagans are questioning how we relate to the Goddesses and Gods. This is how theology happens. I think it’s wonderful that people who have no direct experience of the Goddesses and Gods relate to nature in ways that cause them to become Pagan. I think it’s wonderful that we “olds,” as my friend Atrios would say, have our own kind of mushy, fusty, relationship with nature/Goddesses and Gods/the Wheel of the Year. If Paganism has anything valid to add to civilization, surely diversity, and the celebration of diversity, and the leitmotif that values diversity is one of its greatest gifts.
I had a fascinating conversation the other evening with Occult Librarian who noted that our religion is built upon praxix (practices), more than upon belief. Most of us celebrate the turning of the Wheel of the Year, honor our ancestors, interact with the living Earth, and acknowledge The Mysteries. Most of us attempt to live according to the Ballard Query:
Ain’t you people got no gods to worship? No holy days to celebrate? No Ancestors to deal with, er I mean venerate? In short — don’t you people have some sacred work to do? Justice work? Environmental work? Community weaving?
And that’s enough to make us Pagans, to ensure that we’re “doing Pagan right.”
You know, we may all believe different things. (Heck, I believe different things now, on the knife-edge of sixty, than I did at forty. I expect to believe different things at seventy than I do today.) I imagine that’s not really too different from other religions where, for example, Catholics believe in Saint Muerte, or where many Southern Baptists have had (and believe that, for them, the correct answers were) abortions, or where the Amish, at Starbucks, log onto the internet. What matters is, as Ms. Niven says, how we come together in community to protect the Earth, to create the web that binds us to all of life, how we arrange to celebrate bodies.
What matters, as Mandrake say, is whether, when push gets all the way down to shove, we can :
act in community, on behalf of the community of innocents who have no voice.
I don’t care what Goddesses or Gods you worship. I don’t care what scent of candles you burn. I don’t care whether you first call the elements and then cast your circle or whether you first cast your circle and then call the elements. I don’t care whether you are Vegan or whether you hunt and dress your own meat. I don’t care whether you call yourself Wiccan, Pagan, Druid, Polytheist, Reconstructionist, Hemetic, Greek, Celtic, Heathen, or Fairie. I don’t care whether you make your living selling workshops on Wicca, or doing social work, or selling your music on Patreon, or stepping into the circle of sand with your sword and doing law, or doing subsistence farming, or making computers work, or nursing the sick, or drawing plans for new bridges, or consulting with associations, or prosecuting the accused, or reading tarot.
I want to know whether you can do real magic, get along with others, hex those who are killing the Earth, bless those who are trying to save Her, call the rain, stop the rain, teach the children, knit shawls, preserve herbs. I want to know if you can heal the sick, memorize sacred texts, talk to the stones. I want to know whether you have the Power to Stay Silent, the gift of second sight, an ability to call the ancestors. I want to know if you can dream true dreams. If you can, I don’t care to which Goddesses/Gods you burn incense. I want to know if you are in relationship with your landbase, watershed, foodshed, fibershed, polis. I want to know if you’ll be there with me in the Dark Moon midnight forest when the Goddess is alive and magic is afoot. Can you call the same winds that blew away Armada? Can you drum the drums that will stop the enclosures? Can you make the sacrifice that the Algonquian, Iroquoian, Siouan, and Powhatan still want? Do you how how to sacrifice to the animals, pull the Overton Window to the left, slice through the vein that will appease the fire-ravaged land, go out and have sacred sex with the land, hack the computers of empire?
If so, I will gladly call you brother/sister and work with you. We can work out all that other stuff, later, when Gaia is safe.
And then, I will cut you if you are even a little bit wrong on the internet about how to Pagan. No, not really. I really care more about results than beliefs.
Shit is about to get real and I want to know if I can count on you.