“You Are Doing Pagan Wrong!” and “Does Our Religion Work?” Blogging

Ukrainian young women dressed in traditional clothing jump over a fire at a traditional Midsummer Night celebration near the capital Kiev late Monday July 6, 2009. The age-old pagan festival is still celebrated in Ukraine and many people believe that jumping over the fire will cleanse them of evil spirits. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

Ukrainian young women dressed in traditional clothing jump over a fire at a traditional Midsummer Night celebration near the capital Kiev late Monday July 6, 2009. The age-old pagan festival is still celebrated in Ukraine and many people believe that jumping over the fire will cleanse them of evil spirits. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

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 praxis (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 says, 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. 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 the 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?

Shit is about to get real and I want to know if I can count on you.

If so, I will gladly call you brother/sister and work with you.

I shan’t be gone long; you come, too.

Picture found here

21 responses to ““You Are Doing Pagan Wrong!” and “Does Our Religion Work?” Blogging

  1. This was a really great read and I totally agree with you! ❤ All the in-fighting does seem strange to me from the distance (German small town Witch over here) and I'm always relieved when people choose to focus on the Work at hand. Thanks again!

  2. The last paragraph of Ann Niven’s blog is the only paragraph with which I agree in the whole article, save the last sentence for the Universe to sort. I feel it is our responsibility to create joy and live by example, regardless of religion and Spirit takes responsibility to place us where we benefit the most from the lessons. If we truly believe our gods and goddesses are alive and we are a reflection of Unity with Spirit, then Spirit will guide; therefore, for what do you worry? The “in-fighting” and other ‘wrong’ behavior that happens in Pagan communities happens within all human lives, regardless of religious affiliation and has more to do with the lessons given us than which path we are on. These actions are forever present in humanity and are necessary. It’s unheard of to pop out of the womb with no baggage and perfect in Spirit, or there would be no need for the journey in the first place. Taking the time to encourage and participate in what one feels is good practice, spreads further than admonishing others for practicing in the ‘wrong’ way, or spending countless hours passionately trying to ‘fix’ the spiritual path of others. A ‘wrong’ path usually brings the greatest rewards in self-discovery and shifts the focus to desire more of the same goodness found within.
    I find, from intense experience with the Florida community, these issues are personal; there are many reasons why people are conditioned to act they way they do. People are drawn to the healing path because they have these behaviors; what is gained from the lesson is the responsibility of the individual. We choose with whom to ride the path, negativity be shunned and the issues disappear. One can only be part of another’s journey responsibly or risk choking out their own path; which is also a lesson when it happens. As far as coming together in a tragedy, I think the examples we see in first responders and emergency personnel and heroic stories of rescue prove humans do what we can to help others. The rest is up to the decision made by individuals and their relationship, or lack of, with deity. I believe it is a basic spirituality that will survive as long as humans exist, regardless of the label we give it.

  3. Here with you HD.

  4. If you are truly interested in working together, you might want to consider changing the name of your blog. It is divisive, unnecessarily so, in my opinion. For example, while I share many of your sentiments, I certainly would not join forces with someone who sees me as her enemy. My associates are people whom I can trust.

  5. Aho! Namaste Beloved!

  6. I am very touched and honored that you would comment on my lil’ Rant. Namaste!

  7. Sister, I see you.
    I stand with you, and I will raise my voice.

  8. I am sitting on a covered porch here in Delmarva, thinking the thinks and feeling some big feels, as the Littles say. This, my friends (for I hope Anne sees this, too) is the piece I needed this morning. We have lit the signal fires. We are saving the scrolls. Now is the gathering of tribes across boundaries. Shit has got real–bring the noise. Love you, HD.

  9. “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” (Lewis Carroll) I will stand with you and I LOVED this blog post with the two blogs quoted. Just what I needed too!
    Every time I read your blog it renews my purpose. Blessings upon you.

  10. Pingback: Out of the Bedroom, Into the Streets | GODS & RADICALS

  11. I cannot thank you enough for this article. This is precisely what needs to be said. We are, as Byron Ballard says, in Tower Time. Light the signal fires, save the scrolls, get on the fire lines and do the work. I want us to be honing our skills and getting out there. We don’t have time for egos, including mine, and I don’t give a fig what people believe. I’m in all the way.

  12. Reblogged this on Mysa and commented:
    Yes! I’ve got work to do. And now, a to-do list. 🙂

  13. I heartily agree, and work for unity all the time. See my latest post about this: http://rattleroarandritual.blogspot.com/2015/04/a-come-to-goddess-talk.html

  14. Reblogged this on Blau Stern Schwarz Schlonge and commented:
    A very thought provoking and moving post on what we as Pagans not only believe , but also how we enact those beliefs and live them in our daily lives and in our relationship with nature and the earth.

  15. I notice that far too often, strongly negative or divisive comments in the blogs I read come from the anonymous Guest, whoever any of them might be.

    Can’t even come up with a pseudononymous screenname?

    Interesting collection of thoughts to ponder. Thank you, HD!

  16. I want this more. I have said the very same thing 25 years ago. And still, the hubris of dysfunctional codependents and narcissistic sociopaths function in ageist isolated pockets, mistreat each other, creating a spiral of behavior that mirrors the mainstream zeitgeist in everyway. There are good leaders, who needed good operational people, and members, who rarely got the honest dedicated work that was signed on for. The words up above to put the work and make the sacrifice. There are many who have, got burned out used up, and many passing beyond the veil with out an improving legacy, but one diminished by hangers on versus dedicated apprentices. I can’t encourage people to do the basic meditations to develop their spirit, never mind, getting them to build a community.
    Many just like mainstream america just want to justify the way they live. Healing as that may be, serves no purpose beyond the self.

    Magic, for those of us who can, few if any are willing to do the work to get there. For those of us who are caring facilitators or leaders, who will follow, who will step into the trenches, pick up the plow, and do the work.

    Witches versus Shaman, sorcerors or wizards, the question is whom do you serve. Why witches have been vilified in history initially is their inherent selfishness. Many times for good reasons. Many of these reasons are echoed today of people berift of society, finding personal power, and ineptly working on a social platform without the sophistication and the act of building connections between groups. Radicalness for visibility, without the peacemakers, arbiters, and diplomats to make the roads between us all work together.

    Granted, our culture and the rich insures the dysfunction and denigration of all sub-cultures, but we have let that happen.

    If people don’t like the leaders they have to make them, with out sacrificing them, make them, support them. And trust them, and be there and make sure they don’t get corrupted. Make them remember what the community is for, and take pride in building something beyond the self.

    I Trust the God and Goddess, the creator and creatrix, the powers that be, those who wish for us, unfortunately are tainted by our own visions of them, have been tearing themselves apart like the pantheons of old.
    The portal for tomorrow, starts with us, and even the Gods must pass through working together. Gods without their people will be as nothing as we shall be. Mother Earth, will survive, and it may take another 50 million years to develop a sentient lifeform that is worthy of her.

    We as a people have lost a multigenerational source of wisdom when families were separated by the depression, and WWII that made a powerful elite ruling class managed by the capitalistic rich, that hubris and focus created a disenfranchised youth of the 60’s and divided us amongst the classes. We are not a people, a country, and nary even a clan, and “Family” as in small nuclear, which can only sustain minimalistic conservative thinking, can’t expand to a tribal division of labor with sophisticated cultural and humanistic behaviorisms. Fascinating even pagans, and other sub-cultures are rife with the conservative mindset here in the south.

    My small family came up with the idea of a Tribe, PEC, People Embraching Change, and have had 0 zero interest. Maybe we are too old, or we expect people to work, or don’t have the personality. That isn’t the problem, there need to be seekers who see what we have to offer, not use, but to work together.

    Lets start with a simple question or everyone, Who do you trust?
    Then all of your questions may find a fertile place to take root.

    What I fear for us, is an upcoming civil war where we are easy first targets, to solidify the blood lust that will be used for bigger agendas. Our survival very much depends on what we do now. And what example will we be for the survival of the human race.

  17. Pingback: Godspousing and the Ballard Query | Loki's Bruid

  18. What you describe here sounds like a wholly materialistic view of paganism, one where outward characteristics matter more than inner connection to divinity. People are quibbling over whether their own physical expression matters more than others’. I think it’s an outcome of a hyper individualism and a consumerism which breeds divisions, preying on people’s need to believe to make a sale by flattering them that this purchase was the right choice because it was “the best” or most divine option. It is quite toxic.

    At the same time, many people practice alone and have no outward support for their increasingly eclectic and varied paths, and that can make them rather obstinate and defensive since they have only their own will to fall back on.

    Let’s all just stop attacking one another’s practice, listen with an open and supportive heart, and remember that everything we give to the universe – even our compassion and humility towards an Internet stranger – comes back to us. Pay it forward, as they say. That is what magic is all about… I think we can all agree on that 💜

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