After reading a few top ten lists of Pagan blog posts for 2013, I’m really very excited about this community. It’s been so volatile, in such specific ways, that I think it’s poised for another evolution.
The stuff that has gotten people really engaged has been about important questions:
- What does it mean when someone leaves Paganism?
- Can you be an atheist Pagan?
- Is there a deeper reason so many people think Wiccan is synonymous with Pagan?
- Are hard polytheists Pagan at all?
- Is this a movement that is cohesive and willing enough to develop an infrastructure?
- Can someone really marry a god?
These are the queries of a maturing religious movement. In the early 1970s none of them could have been asked, because Paganism as practiced by the early revivers had a lot less diversity — and a lot less internet. Communicating through mimeographed newsletters and almost entirely meeting as covens, those brave souls were the pioneers of a public Paganism in the modern age. People didn’t leave Paganism (at least not with fanfare). They were mostly in covens because Wicca was paved the way for other Pagan paths. Atheists and polytheists (particularly reconstructionist hard polytheists) were all but unheard of. Institutions were beyond imagining — and not entirely welcome.
It was a different time.
And the very fact that it was a different time — that Paganism has survived long enough, and been open enough, to evolve — is a testament to the passion and drive of those “early adopters” of contemporary Paganism. The term now includes faiths that are wildly different from one another, so much so that some consider Pagan conversation to be interfaith work.
But can we have these conversations, these oft-painful conversations, without drama? I believe so, but it’s going to take a deeper form of listening (reading, really, since so much of this takes place in written form) than most of us are exercising. Deep listening, and responding in a way that reflects that listening. From what I have gathered, much of the hurt feelings and umbrage comes from a sense of exclusion, or a presumption of inclusion.
My experience with magic might work as an example. If it weren’t for the Pagans I met as a young adult, I wouldn’t know the concept even existed. They were Wiccan, and their practice centered around using magic. For the most part, mine never has. I have used magic and continue to study it, but I do not “work with” my gods, I worship them. So when I read an opinion that Paganism needs more formalized magical training, I think to myself, no, it doesn’t. Maybe some forms of Paganism do, but there is a growing number of Pagans who don’t touch the stuff, or, like me, don’t consider it part of their religious practice.
That kind of wording can leave a reader feeling excluded, if they don’t practice magic themselves. In the alternative, it can lead others to believe that all Pagans are included in under the “raise energy by invoking the Goddess” umbrella, when that simply isn’t the case. The language is not reflective of deeply listening to the audience, so the point (which is certainly worthy of discussion) gets a bit lost. It may be clumsier to use a phrase such as “those Pagans who incorporate magic into their religion,” but that kind of phrasing helps the piece find its intended audience. (And if a clumsy phrase is used often enough, people are bound to shorten it. I cringe at the thought of being called a PWIMITR, but we all have our burdens.)
Carelessly including those who do not belong, as well as excluding those who feel they do, leads to a lot of distracting, drama-riddled debate. And once someone’s hot button is pushed, it’s very easy for the reaction to push someone else’s. The fact that this is religion makes it all the more problematic, because my experience of Hermes may well be considered blasphemous to another of his worshipers. Our beliefs are the result of long struggles, and challenges to them are often met with force (of words, not blows, but the results can be just as devastating).
We can have important conversations about the future of Paganism, with all the myriad meanings that phrase brings to mind. To do so, we’re going to need to listen more deeply than most of us (myself readily included) are comfortable with. Far, far deeper than drama allows. So here’s to a year of deep listening, not drama.