Being Embarrassed by Paganism

Years ago, when I was deciding whether to leave the Mormon church, one of the recurring thoughts I had was that, by continuing to associate with the Mormon church, I was (mis-)representing to the world that I shared all the same beliefs and the same ordering of values as the Mormon church.  I felt that, the Mormon church no longer represented me, so it was disingenuous for me to go on representing the Mormon church.  To put it bluntly, I was embarrassed to be Mormon.  I was attending law school and I was increasingly sympathetic to the three perceived “threats” to Mormonism identified by Mormon apostle Boyd Packer: homosexuals, feminists, and intellectuals.  It got so that I stopped telling people that I had attended Brigham Young University for my undergraduate degree.

After leaving the Mormon church, I slowly came to realize that the Mormon community is not as homogenous in beliefs or values as I had thought.  There are plenty of gay Mormons, feminist Mormons, and intellectual Mormons.  While the LDS church is an authoritarian institution with a more or less well-defined orthodoxy, there are plenty of people who feel more or less comfortable in the church community who do not share all of the beliefs and value orderings as the leaders of the church.  This may come as no surprise to someone who was not raised Mormon.  But from a very early age I had been taught by Mormons that Mormons were all the same, that we all believed the same things and shared the same values.  This belief was reinforced by my observations of what people said and did at church.  Little did I know that beneath the ritualized conformity of the Mormon Sunday worship service, there was a surprising amount of diversity.  I still feel that the Mormon church institution actively works to level out that diversity, but it persists nonetheless.  While I have no doubt I would ultimately have decided to leave the Mormon church in any case, I think that if I had realized this earlier, then my decision would have seemed somewhat less obvious to me at the time.

Years later, I discovered something called Paganism.  As I have written before here on this blog, I discovered Paganism in books, and it was not for several years until I began to interact with the Pagan community — through CUUPS (the Unitarian Universalist Pagans), Pagan Pride Day, pagan festivals and conventions (like Pagan Spirit Gathering and Pantheacon), and through other public Pagan rituals.  While it may seem strange to non-Pagans that a person would begin to identify as Pagan before ever having met another Pagan, this is actually not uncommon in the Pagan community.  Many Pagans today discover Paganism through books or the Internet, and some may never interact personally with the larger Pagan community.

When I did begin interacting with other Pagans at public events though, I was  . . . disappointed.  There, I said it.  In fact, I was embarrassed.  Paganism for me was a rich and complex tradition with the potential to transform consciousness and, dare I say, save the soul of the world.  But the public face of Paganism seemed to me silly and naive.  I’ve written before what I love about Paganism and what I hate about Paganism, so I’m not going to go over it all here again.  And I’ve laid out what my Pagan beliefs are before also, so I’m not going to rehash that.  What I want to do here is explore this embarrassment.

This experience of embarrassment has come to a head in several ways recently.  First, I recently had a job change and had to interview for the new position.  I realized that my prospective future employer may very well Google my name.  And that would lead them directly to my Pagan identity.  Not only do I blog here, but I have contributed posts to the Humanistic Paganism community blog and have been a more or less active commenter on other well-known blogs, like Star Foster’s now-defunct Patheos blog.  When I first corresponded with B.T. Newberg, who runs the Humanistic Paganism blog, he very easily connected me to both the American Neopaganism website I was maintaining at the time and the website of my employer.

I had intentionally used my name here and elsewhere as a matter of principle, and I admire other people who do the same.  I feel that the use of “craft names” and internet handles perpetuates a feeling of persecution that many Pagans feel, as well as perpetuating the perception that Paganism is not a serious religion.  (Just check out one of the many Pagan name generators online and you’ll see what I mean.)  However, when it came time to change jobs, I seriously considered contacting B. T. Newberg to ask him to remove my full name from my posts at the Humanistic Paganism blog.  And I just saw that B.T. had another author who did remove his contribution entirely due to employers Googling his name.  In the end I didn’t, at least in part because of the futility of it (since changing my name on posts would not have eliminated the Google “hits” immediately), but also because I am proud of my Paganism.

And here’s where we get to the crux of it.  I was not embarrassed about my Paganism.  I was embarrassed by “their” Paganism.  I was afraid of being associated with the public face of Paganism as I have come to know it.  Basically, I found myself feeling something similar to what I felt years ago when I was leaving the Mormon church.  This embarrassment came up a couple more times recently: once when my father told me that a friend of his was checking out my blog and again when a couple I go to the UU Church with, whom I greatly admire, asked me if I attend the CUUPS rituals, because they were thinking about checking it out.  Both time I had this same gut reaction — a fear that they would think I was like “those other Pagans”.

Now all of this will probably seem very harsh to some ears, and I expect some people are going to give me slack for it.  I probably deserve it — I’m not nearly as inclusive as many Pagans are.  But I know I am not alone in this.  One of the favorite pastimes of Pagans is to mock “those other Pagans” as being too [fill in the blank].  Paganism has very little of that sense of unity that so characterizes Mormonism.  And yet, Paganism does have a public face.  It is the face that is presented through CUUPS, through Pagan Pride Day, and through other public Pagan events.  Some parts of these events I do like, but a lot of it leaves me feeling mostly embarrassed.

That was why I was excited to read Teo Bishop’s recent post “I Felt Ashamed at Pagan Pride”.   It turns out that Teo’s embarrassment was not so broad as my own.  His specific embarrassment concerned  how a certain public ritual was handled in the face of some heckling by spectators.  But Teo’s post did touch on some of the things I find very embarrassing about Paganism:  The ritual at issue involved imagining “a ball of white light” which enveloped the circle.  And the purpose of this ritual as stated was “protection”, which was expressed by the distribution of stones to everyone which had been blessed and inscribed with a pentacle and the word “protection.”  Teo was embarrassed about the ritual because of how it excluded the spectators.  But I would have been embarrassed, and in fact I am embarrassed reading about it, for different reasons.  To me, the ritual Teo describes is flighty New Age drivel and not fundamentally different from praying to an all-powerful monotheistic God to save us from everything bad in the world.  This single ritual would not be a major concern for me, but for the fact that I think this type of ritual is characteristic of the public face of Paganism.  And it is something I absolutely do not want to be associated with.

I came to Paganism via feminist theaology with its pantheistic conception of divinity informed by process theology.  This kind of Paganism offers a radically new conception of divinity and its relation to humanity.  The Pagan Goddess is not “Yahweh in drag”, but a whole new kind of God.  With Catherine Madsen, I affirm, “as someone who has known only the Father God, but as someone who has known the world: its droughts and floods, its extremes of climate, its strange combination of tender bounty and indifference”:

“However certain one may be that one is loved by some presence in the universe–and it is possible, at moments, to be very certain of that–that same presence will kill us all in tun, will visit our lovers with sudden and devastating illness, will freeze our crops, will age our friends, and will never for one moment stand between us and any person who wishes us harm.”

(Catherine Madsen, “If God is God She Is Not Nice: Roundtable Discussion”, in the Journal in Feminist Studies in Religion, vol. 5 (1989)).  The Pagan deity I know as “Goddess” is not a comforting deity.  In Starhawk’s words, the Goddess is “All Possibility” and “all means all”:

“I proliferate, I don’t discriminate.  But you have the knife.  I spin a billion billion threads, now, cut some and weave with the rest.”

(Starhawk, The Fifth Sacred Thing).  Thus, I believe the only “protection” to be found is that which we carve out of the real world with our own hands, not in spells or prayers.  (For more on this, see my post “God is Change. Shape God.”)

As a humanist and a naturalist, I cringe at the sound of anything that smacks of magic: whether it be an spell of protection or a prayer to God to save us from disease, disaster or death.  Similarly, as a Jungian, I am suspicious of all forms of religion which seek to divide the world (or ourselves) into good parts and bad parts and banish the latter.  Paganism, as I understand it, is radical in its acceptance of the world as it is, the constructive and the destructive; the tragic side of life must be integrated, not exiled.

Admittedly, my “brand” of Paganism, informed by feminist thealogy, process theology, humanism, and Jungian psychology, is not representative of Paganism generally or even common.  But I believe that only when Paganism is informed by these things, as well as the insights of “deep ecology” does it truly represent a possibility for transforming ourselves and the world.  The ritual which Teo described reflects not just a variation on a theme.  It is a Paganism that I do not recognize.  It is a Paganism of wishful thinking and self-delusion.  It is a Paganism which suffers from the same flaws as the 60′s counterculture hippie movement from which it sprang: an overemphasis of idealism over realism, endemic disorganization, and an inability to communicate its vision to the wider culture.  And it is frankly a Paganism I am embarrassed to be associated with.

I suppose this is unavoidable in any religious community.  Mormons have to deal with the image of fundamentalist polygamists.  Catholics have to deal with the image of pedophile priests.  Conservative Christians have to deal with the image of the Todd Akins of the world.  Muslims have to deal with the image of the jihadists.  I guess, in the big picture, its not such a big deal that I have to deal with the image of New Age “white lighters” and hippie nudists.  Still, it’s enough to make me wonder sometimes if “Pagan” is what I want to be.

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  • http://humanisticpaganism.wordpress.com B. T. Newberg

    I must admit embarrassment as well. I’m not proud of my embarrassment, but I feel it. I have to say, one of the reasons I was able to explore so deep into Paganism was that I was in Japan at the time, and no one knew or cared. No one associated my Paganism with crystals, astrology, New Age, hard polytheism, or anything else, because no one had ever heard of it. But as the prospect of returning to the states loomed, that’s precisely when the cognitive dissonance started hitting me hard, and I made the switch to Humanism, which ultimately led to a fusion of the two (Humanistic Paganism). It was literally the idea of facing my family and saying I’m a Pag… a Pag… ugh, forget it. Even though that situation never came up, just imagining it in my mind was enough to bring that embarrassment to the surface.

    Regarding the prospect of removing names to avoid employer google searches, it proved to be really friggin’ hard. You can delete pages, block pages, and tell Google to crawl your site daily, but it will still be weeks or months before your name stops showing up on searches. And just when you think you’ve got them all purged, new ones start popping up in the search results. So, yeah, reader be warned: use your real name and you’re in it for the long haul. :-I

    • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

      B.T., thank you for sharing that. I was very reluctant to admit this because, as you said, I’m not proud of my embarrassment.

  • http://druishinthedesert.wordpress.com wilderquill

    I can relate to your feelings here and after glancing at Bishop’s posting I can empathize with his embarrassment as well.

    Pagan Pride events have never really sat well with me. The first one in our area was very well done and I attended and even assisted the ADF grove I was a member of at the time and I had alot of fun talking with non-pagans about my practice and theirs. But there’s something about Pagan Pride events and the ‘look at me’ factor that I do not like. The second year I spent all of 5 minutes at the Pagan Pride Day event…and vowed I would never go to another.

    About the name game; I have to admit that even though I’m very proud of my Pagan faith and practice I do not use my full name online. Locally people now me and I am very active in my community and I have never used a “Pagan” monicker or nickname. If your using your real name online you’re inviting notoriety on a grand scale, both positive and negative. I’m of the mind that anonymity, at least on a global scale, is important…

    -Todd.

    • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

      Todd: Yes, the demonstrativeness of Pagan Pride Days bothers me as well. I don’t know, but I suspect that this may be the reason some proud gays do not participate in some gay pride parades.
      As far as the name use goes, you’ve got a good point. Setting aside the Pagan identity issue, using your real/full name online is fraught with problems.

  • http://ladyimbriumsholocron.wordpress.com ladyimbrium

    Oddly enough, I’m very proud to be associated with the local pagan communities. We have our share of folks who insist that everything is happy and we’re all going to have a change of consciousness and evolve to a higher state and what have you…. but they’re a minority. Most of the pagans here are down-to-earth folks who, while many believe in magic, prefer to take a more human-powered, hands on approach to fixing their problems.

    Of course, I might be an exception to the rule.

    I find the same thing when I look at the Catholic community which raised me. There are some that will go so far as to create opportunities to smack you upside the head with a bible verse (metaphorically speaking) but most are just regular folks who try to live peacefully with one another.

    Again, I may be an exception here.

    I think the point I’m trying to work toward is that there are always going to be people within a group who are seen as an embarrassment by the more level-headed members of that same group. I, for one, would probably irritate you because on some level I do believe that there is such a thing as magic. I just don’t think it’s what we’ve been storybook and movie taught to think it is. Generally speaking I find myself far more ashamed by my age group peers who insist on being part of the popular music scene, or the party scene, or the fashion scene, or a host of other scenes than by anyone I’ve met in pagan groups thus far.

    This is not to say that I disagree with you, understand. New Age white light happy thoughts irritate the living daylights out of me.

    • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

      Very good point. In every religious community, there are going to be extremes and, for some reason, those extremes often seem to be more vocal/get more attention. I also wonder if Pagan Pride tends to emphasize the constructive/”light” side of things so as not to scare away the general public. The thing that drew me to Paganism was its insistence of balance. I find the self-described “dark Pagans” just as frustrating as the “white lighters”. As far as magic goes, I do have issues with instrumental magic — but I know there are more nuanced understandings of the idea, and those do intrigue me.

      • http://www.fantastical-reality.com Carrie

        As someone who has worked hard to develop both the right and left hemispheres of my brain, both the creative and more linear, scientific side, I can see what you are getting at, but I balk a little at what I see in the Pagan community as a whole generally, and that is a struggle to define paganism in the image of whatever group or philosophy you adhere to. The few times I attempted to reach out to other pagans, I was rudely and roughly told that whatever I was practicing or researching was somehow incorrect or uninformed, and frankly, that dogmatic attitude and hierarchal thinking is exactly why I left the Catholicism with which I was raised. Now I study and do whatever I do on my own and don’t share it with anyone unless they ask.

        I went to one public ritual last year for Yule and it was wonderful in many ways, but the woman leading it did not make accommodations for anyone who was not athletic and there were people who seemed excluded. That to me is the key that brought me to Paganism, the idea tolerance and celebration of diversity. I fear that as people try to stamp this growing religion with their own thoughts, ideas, and dogma, it will become like any of the other religions out there where a few people hold the power and dictate to others what they should think, how they should act, what they should do.

        Bottom line, it comes down to letting the ego run the show. If you are doing interior work, you are hopefully trying to manage the voice of the ego and not allowing it to make itself special and set aside, and in that way I agree with you. When I enter a space that is supposed to be devoted to ritual and I am confronted with self appointed gate keepers and competitive egos who insist their way is best, I quickly turn tail and leave.

        • http://www.fantastical-reality.com Carrie

          Darn, excuse the misspellings and typo, didn’t proofread well enough, obviously, before I hit send and don’t see an edit button.

        • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

          >”I balk a little at what I see in the Pagan community as a whole generally, and that is a struggle to define paganism in the image of whatever group or philosophy you adhere to …”

          Well put. And I am guilty of that. But while I like to celebrate diversity, I think that when diversity and tolerance are the highest values, then community and identity suffer. I don’t think any community, including Paganism, should try to be everything to all people — or they end up being nothing to no one — which seems to be what is gradually happening to the Pagan identity.

          • Wendy

            I can identify with this, I used to attend a beautifully thoughtful open moon circle in Milton Keynes, UK. It was set up as pagan and run that way, then local groups wanted in, so to please them the proud pagan who set it up was ousted and others took over and made it multi’faith’, sadly, the flavour was lost and although the format, honouring the directions was kept, the xtian, who had insisted on being includes and in attendance, stood defiant at every pagan moment, only joining in if he could preach or influence what was said. The circle sadly died after that, it’s meaning lost in a battle of religio/politically correct wills. I suspect this is how the early Catholic Church influenced paganism out of the festivals and feasts of the villages in ancient Britain.

    • http://zenistao.wordpress.com zenistao

      Lady, Well said!

  • http://www.facebook.com/nicole.youngman.7 Nicole Youngman

    THIS. I think you read my mind before writing about 95% of that (which is why I enjoyed your website so much when I found it a while back–is it completely gone now? I think you had an essay about Paganism without magic that really clicked with me). My level of embarrassment isn’t as high, but yeah, going to Pagan events can be deeply frustrating–the level of superstition is just nuts. This is why I’ve ended up hanging with the Druids, but even so some of the philosophy/theology doesn’t work for me–OBOD does a lot of projecting Jungian ideas (some of which ends up turning into problematic gender-role stuff) onto what material we have from the Celts, which I think often just doesn’t work, and ADF is pretty hard-polytheist. I’ve actually just joined AODA because their work seems so much more reality-based (as in, actually studying nature), but there still seems to be a fair amount of magical practice worked in with them too. I really need to find the time to start blogging again and join you guys in discussing this stuff.

    I started using my real name online a while back, and I THINK it won’t be a problem since I’m an academic in a discipline that tends to be pretty liberal. I started a new job at a regional state university in the Deep South this year though and if a student googled me they’d hit my comments over at Patheos pretty quickly. Might create a problem at some point, but I can’t imagine that a complaint against me for being a weird religion would go very far in a university context…at least I hope not.

    • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

      I’ve been thinking about republishing that essay on magic here. I think I will.

      Thanks for the insight into the druid groups. I don’t have much personal contact with druid groups. I went to one ADF ceremony and I’ve been looking for a local OBOD group. I think a guide to the various groups would be helpful. I found a couple online. Here’s one: http://danaan.net/2011/08/07/druid-group-comparison/ (I can’t find the other one right now.) This is something that has been discussed on the Naturalistic Paganism Yahoo group as well. Have you heard of the Druidic Order of Naturalists? http://caerabred.wikispaces.com/home I don’t think they have a working group in the U.S. though.

      Ah, you make me jealous. I should have stayed in academia. Sometimes when I wake up in the morning, I fantasize that I am going to teach a class in religious studies. Of course, I know there are downsides: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=obTNwPJvOI8

      • http://www.facebook.com/nicole.youngman.7 Nicole Youngman

        Oh OUCH that video was close to home. I’m not in the humanities but I suppose sociology is pretty close by some estimations. ;) Ironically, working at a university an hour away is what has allowed me to continue living where I want to be. And I WAS an adjunct for 5 years–this is worlds better, but it’s still got a pretty heavy teaching load and you SO do not want my student loan debt.

        Anyway, I’ve been active in my OBOD grove for going on 5 years and love them dearly. I like our ritual format very much too–it’s more the organization’s first-level correspondence course that I was less than thrilled with. Lots and lots of navel-gazing type stuff, and apparently that just continues through the next level, so I’m going to take a break and try to learn more natural history and the like instead. I had the pleasure of chatting with John Michael Greer at our OBOD East Coast Gathering a few months ago and was venting about how frustrating it is trying to learn just basic plant and animal identification in my local ecosystem when there’s basically no one to teach me–seriously, no one freaking knows this stuff!!–and he said something like “I know–you have to BE that person.”

        • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

          Tell me about it. I started just trying to idetnify the trees in my yard and it proved surprisingly difficult.

        • http://www.fantastical-reality.com Carrie

          This may seem pretty obvious, but I have found the elderly folk in my area to be a fountain of information regarding the local flora and fauna. I suggest becoming aware of octogenarians in your area who still get out and garden and striking up a conversation. Since you mentioned Druidry, might I remind that the Druids relied upon oral transmission of mysteries, and that much of the knowledge about the natural world is not kept in books, but in people’s minds, especially elders. Each one is a library waiting to be explored…

  • http://johnfranc.blogspot.com/ John Beckett

    Yes, Paganism is a new religion that at times is immature. Yes, there are plenty of immature Pagans I’d prefer to disassociate myself from.

    But ashamed of Paganism? Ashamed of the gods and ancestors and spirits of Nature? Ashamed of the rituals that connect us all together? Ashamed of the mystical, magical experiences I’ve had??? Never.

    • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

      Exactly!

  • http://stressfree.moonfruit.com Wendy bradley

    I think pagans at public events are in various stages of development, many are trying to learn from others whilst some think they know it all, but don’t. It is a fledgling community, but also an o so precious movement.
    My first visits to Stonehenge were in search of human teachers, but I soon realised they were mere mortals, however the stones themselves touched my consciousness and I gained great insight.
    Many young people feel drawn to paganism and places of pagan ritual, they are the future of the planet, by paganism is a personal inner path rather than something preached; so the least anyone can do at pagan events is offer some sort of welcome and hope it doesnt look too silly.

    • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

      Yes. I think we could do a little better at not looking too silly, though.

  • http://www.baringtheaegis@gmail.com Elani Temperance

    Paganism is such a broad term that includes so many people, I completely understand. I…identify with the label in that it is useful to have an overarching term to identify yourself by, but when people ask about my religion, I tell them I’m Hellenistic. I’d rather not be associated with the situations you wrote about. I’m not sure if it’s embarrassment, though; I think I mostly object to the association because it’s untrue. What I do has nothing to do with New Age or (Neo-)Wicca or Eclecticism.

    As for using my real name; I don’t. I work in PR, and while I am most certainly not ashamed of my Hellenism, my employer might be. There is a lot of Pagan stuff on my C.V., so I make no mystery of it, but I realize I would not have had a lot of job opportunities if I had used my real name online. It sucks, but there it is. It has nothing to do with shame, and everything to do with the fact that I need to eat.

    • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

      Yeah, I think that a lot of recons and hard polys would probably be nodding their heads and saying this is why they don’t call themselves Pagan.

      I was not so concerned with that my future employer would discriminate, as I was that they might fear that prospective clients would. It’s definitely a legitimate issue and discretion is often the better part of valor.

      • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

        >Yeah, I think that a lot of recons and hard polys would probably be nodding their heads and saying this is why they don’t call themselves Pagan.

        It turns out I was right. http://www.sinnsreachdlife.com/2012/11/19/embarrassed-to-be-pagan/

        • Amanda

          Recons have their own reasons to be embarrassed though.

          I actually am reluctant to identify myself as a Heathen, even though I follow a Germanic tradition, because I’m afraid people will think I’m a Neo-Nazi, or at least somewhat racist. It’s still to easy to Google “Asatru” and get a lot of racist stuff.

          I usually tell people I’m a Pagan and let them think I’m Wiccan, because if I’m going to be associated with someone, I’d rather it be with silly New Agers than with white supremacists.

          • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

            I sympathize. I’ve thought about how unfair it is that Germanic paganism is tainted by association with National Socialism. J.R.R. Tolkien expressed this well when he described his “burning private grudge” against Hitler for “ruining, perverting, misapplying, and making for ever accursed, that noble northern spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved, and tried to present in its true light.”

  • Brian Ewing

    I posted in response to Teo Bishop’s post too. If you see something you do not like at a Pagan Pride event please tell the people in charge, or tell me. Admittedly we will never please everyone, and I understand why some people are against the concept, even if i don’t agree with that viewpoint. But we do want to constantly improve pagan pride days and your feedback helps. They are all run by volunteers and it is not always easy to figure out the best approach to running the event. A great way to help is to volunteer to run a ritual, at some events the organizers try to run the event and the ritual and it is a lot of work, and it can show in the quality of the ritual. But when a local group takes over that aspect of the event and runs with it, the whole event turns out better.

    • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

      Brian: Ah, now you’ve got me. I admit this is best response to any criticism of a group activity: “you take the lead next time.” (I’m wearing my chagrined face. Is there an emoticon for that?)

      However, my issue is less with any single ritual or event, and more with the narcissism of the Pagan Pride culture. I think Pagan Pride should be an opportunity for us court the public and communicate our values and ideas to those willing to listen: this is part of the Pagan Pride Project mission statement. http://www.paganpride.org/who/who.html Instead, it often seems more like an excuse to dress up and put on a show. I support the Pagan Pride Project and I would like to see it grow, but I think Pagans need to treat the event differently than they do Pagan festivals. Teo’s post goes right to the heart of that.

      • http://www.fairpoint.net/~sirpeterj/ Ananta Androscoggin

        That would work much better if PPDs were advertised anywhere besides within their local area’s Pagan groups. The last few times I’ve been to the one here, I am not sure I saw a single non-pagan visitor at all. Not much of an outreach, if you ask me.

  • http://thefirstdark.wordpress.com thefirstdark

    Reblogged this on The Darkness in the Light and commented:
    Add your thoughts here… (optional)

  • Dana Corby

    And now we add a third embarrassment: I’m embarrassed that someone who finds the practice of magic embarrassing is in any manner representing Paganism to the blog-reading public. Modern neopaganism grew out of the Pagan Way, which was constructed in large part out of the non-oathbound parts of British Traditional Wicca, with quite a lot of ceremonial magic added in. Magic is one of Paganism’s foundations stones. Without it, those rituals you enjoy would be nothing but meaningless show.

    • Wendy

      Well said.

    • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

      > “Modern neopaganism grew out of the Pagan Way …”

      I agree with you there. See http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/2012/05/03/american-neopaganism-part-2-i-think-i-may-be-a-wiccan/

      > “… the Pagan Way, which was constructed in large part out of the non-oathbound parts of British Traditional Wicca, with quite a lot of ceremonial magic added in.”

      Actually, the Pagan Way was intended to be a celebratory alternative to the esotericism of traditional Wicca. In some ways, the early Pagan Way movement represented the quintessential example of American Neopaganism with its open, non-initiatory form, its eclecticism, and its celebratory character, with its emphasis on nature, and the de-emphasis of occultism and magic. However, at the time of its creation, Gardnerian witchcraft was still widely perceived to be more authentic than the more eclectic forms of Neopaganism. Consequently, more people were looking for an entry point into the Gardnerian tradition and the Pagan Way groves served this function, and the Pagan Way groves became increasingly indistinguishable from Gardnerian witchcraft covens.

      > “Magic is one of Paganism’s foundations stones.

      That depends on what you mean by “magic”. If you mean instrumental magic, I gotta disagree. Check out my post “All I need is a little bit of magic” http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/2011/09/10/all-i-need-is-a-little-bit-of-magic/
      Here’s the short version: Instrumental magic runs counter to the unifying theme of American Neopaganism: earth-centeredness. The magical control of nature is in opposition to the attitude of reverence of nature and the practice of cooperation with, rather than control over, nature which are central to the Neopagan ethos. Instrumental magic is a vestige of Neopaganism’s origin in the occult tradition, something which Neopaganism should have outgrown when it interacted with the counterculture and the feminist movement in the 1960s.

      • Dana Corby

        I realize you don’t know me. Back in the early 90s, I had the great pleasure to transcribe the fading carbon-copies of the correspondence among the founders of the Pagan Way, and between them and most of the early members, to CD so that Ed could more easily manage the huge amount of material. (We had discussed his editing & publishing them, but I suspect that won’t –can’t– happen until the last of the correspondents have passed.) So I most likely have information about what the founders of the Pagan Way intended not available elsewhere. They intended its adherents to work magic, although there was more emphasis on the celebratory side of it. And its materials were Gardnerian-derived almost from day one, as nobody else back then had anything like a consistent system that could be adapted. It was intended both to be a pan-pagan celebratory religion for the masses and a pool of partially-trained candidates for initiation into Gardnerian covens. That latter didn’t work as well as planned: Ed told me that he was flabbergasted a few years later when he encountered second- and third-generation Pagan Way ‘covens’ (they weren’t supposed to call themselves that) with their own Elders, Books of Shadows, etc., perfectly happy with their ‘tradition’ and uninterested in giving it up for the ‘honor’ of becoming a Gardnerian.

        I vehemently disagree that the practice of magic is contrary to earth religion, and can’t really suss out how you came to that conclusion. Magic works with natural energies inherent in ourselves as well as in the Earth, Sea and Sky. However, I agree with you that neopagans are not *required* to practice magic, and that the ‘magic’ in most public rituals is usually pretty tame. As it should be — responsible ritualists don’t drop powerful rituals on people whose training, ability, and mental state they don’t know. I’ve seen what happens when those considerations are ignored, and it’s ugly. I also agree that most of what happens in public rituals these days is more new age than witchy or Pagan. But magic IS one of the foundation stones of modern Paganism. You’re free — as we all are — to like it or not, and to practice it or not. But it isn’t something over which to suffer embarrassment, like some awkward teenager when Grandma falls asleep after Thanksgiving dinner and drools.

        • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

          I’ve got to pick your brain then. Ed has previously drawn a distinction between the Pagan Way materials and the Outer Court materials. What is your understanding of the difference between the two? Ed writes in the preface to the *Grimoire of Shadows* that he wrote the Outer Court materials as a gateway to Gardnerian witchcraft and then later wrote the Pagan Way materials, which were more as “a pan-pagan celebratory religion”, as you say.

          I have no doubt that Ed and company *intended* magic to be a part of the Pagan Way. He was Gardnerian after all. But as you point out, and Ed has also said elsewhere, the Pagan Way took on a life of its own. There are two very different historical strands at work in this story: (1) the Western occult Hermetic tradition of which Gardnerian witchcraft and its offshoots were exemplary and (2) the blending of the “California Cosmology” of the Sixties and Seventies counterculture, feminist politics and thealogy, and religious ecology. And Ed was publishing these materials just as the second strand was mixing with the first. But these strands eventual unwound. Already in1987, Robert Ellwood and Harry Partin, in their review of the Neopagan scene in *Religious and Spiritual Groups in Modern America*, observed a clear distinction between British-influenced esoteric groups and the more nature-oriented American forms of Neopaganism, with Wicca lying between the two. The term “magic” may be used by both strands, but in very different ways. Some Pagan Way groves, like the one in Chicago run by Donna Cole-Shultz (“Lady Morda”) and Herman Enderle, acted as Gardnerian Outer Courts, while others, like the one in Philadelphia run by Penny and Mike Novack, were more of an independent celebratory tradition.

          Do you think your insistence on the foundational character of magic to Paganism is a reflection of your own history of coming to Paganism through witchcraft and at a time when the two were virtually indistinguishable? My own views on magic are definitely a product of my having come to Paganism in the 21st century and not through any initiatory tradition — i.e., after the two historical strands mentioned above became unwound. I suspect that your views are still characteristic of those who identify as “witches”, but witches are now a minority among Pagans. So when you say “foundational”, I can only agree if you are speaking historically.

          Whether you describe the “energies” you work with as “natural” or not, the fact is that instrumental magic is about the imposition of one’s will over nature. (Take Crowley’s definition of magic, which is borrowed by most Pagans who practice magic.) It is a form of Starhawk’s “power-over”, as opposed to “power-with”. It is fundamentally indistinguishable from technology, as you have preciously pointed out before in quoting “Clarke’s Axiom”. This is why I feel that instrumental magic is antithetical to the Pagan ethos: it is part and parcel of the “technological” way of being in the world. As Martin Heidegger explained, the technological paradigm creates a world of the dichotomous subject and object and turns of the whole universe of beings into an undifferentiated “standing reserve”, available for any use to which humans choose to put it. In contrast to the technological mode of disclosing the world, Heidegger described a “poetic” mode of disclosing the world “lets beings be” what they are.

          The technological character of Pagan magic manifest by the use of terms like “energy” by Pagans to describe how magic works. The “energy” theory of magic posits that there were this neutral “stuff” filling the air, always already available to us for any use (see Tanya Luhrman’s *Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft*), and having no particular connection to our person or the place in which we are, which is a lot like Heidegger’s “standing reserve”. There is another way to talk about magic, which is more “poetic”. This is a kind of magic that requires creating an I-Thou relationship with our immediate environment — really listening rather than trying to project our will onto the environment.

          • Dana Corby

            Hi, John.

            You raise some good points. I do think the ‘do magic/avoid magic’ split is in large part generational, though most of the practitioners of this new ‘left hand path’ group of witchcrafts & lodges, which emphasize magic(k) and power over most other values, tend to be young(ish.) And you’re probably right that the fact that I’m first and foremost Wicca shapes my belief that magic is value-neutral. I liken it to electricity running from a transformer into a neighborhood of houses: at one end of the block it’s being used to run a C-PAP machine and at the other little Johnny is using it to electrocute the cat. In neither case is electricity itself responsible for the outcome. Magic is much the same.

            I also have to say that the ‘power-over/power-within’ dichotomy created by Starhawk sets my teeth on edge. It is not unethical to assert our will over nature. We are permitted to act upon the environment around us; the lowliest earthworm does. I see the idea that we shouldn’t use magic because it’s disrespectful or manipulative or (insert pejorative of choice) as a cop-out. It’s so much easier to avoid the use of magic than to put in the research and self-examination required to use it wisely. We have the knowledge, we have the power, we should use it just like any other kind of knowledge or power to effect needful change. That we’re so much more powerful and self-aware than the earthworm simply means that we must think through our works before we do them. As a dear friend of mine says, “Look at the ripples *before* you throw the stone. The pond will be the better for it.”

            I would have to go back and re-listen to the tapes we made when Ed was visiting the Seattle community to say exactly when he wrote what. My understanding is that “The Road Begins,” his re-working of the Bardonian magical training and the basis for his later “Outer Court Books of Shadows,” was written concurrently with the early days of the Pagan Way. To tell the truth, I’ve gotten lazy in my old age and don’t feel the issue is vital enough to search through all my stuff for it. The main thing is that one way or the other, magic was an important-enough part of the roots of modern Paganism that non-Wicca Pagans are still trying to do it, with varying degrees of success. And, evidently, various degrees of PR savvy.

            I don’t see myself as ‘coming to Paganism’ via Wicca. Back in the old days the two words were pretty much interchangeable. In fact, few of us even used the word ’Wicca’ in public, not even the limited ‘public’ of other witches & magicians. We were Witches, and very proud of it.

            I’ve read Hutton’s theory about the “California cosmology” distorting British Witchcraft into something else. He may have a point. I can’t say, because I came into the Craft in the early 70’s, in Southern California. It was an exciting time, in a vibrant community not only of Witches but of Ceremonialists, mystics, gurus, mediums, and old-fashioned metaphysicians, all swapping information and learning from each other. In my own case, for instance, before the Craft I practiced both spiritualism and Zen, and I brought some of both to my Wiccan practice.

            Speaking of the California cosmology, I’d like to recommend a book, if you can find it. It’s called “Children of the Sun” and traces the California cosmology back to 1890’s Germany. Fascinating!

            • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

              Dana,

              Thanks for taking the time to respond. I agree that it is not unethical to assert our will over nature. I’m still working out how to reconcile that with my concerns about the “technological” paradigm.

              Thanks for the reference to the *Children of the Sun* book. It sounds like something right up my alley. Do you recall the author’s name? There’s a few books with that title.

        • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

          By the way, for anyone who does not know, Dana Corby was initiated into the Mohsian/American Eclectic Tradition (“AmTrad”) of witchcraft in 1974, a time when (in her own words) “there was much more magic and much less theology — and hardly any history”. She co-edited *The Crystal Well*, helped created the Covenant of the Goddess, and helped record Gwydion Pendderwen’s first album. It is my honor and a pleasure to share ideas with her here.

  • Robert R

    Probably most Lutherans would be embarrassed to be associated with Pentacostal Holiness, who in turn would be embarrassed to be associated with Quakerism, who in turn would be embarrassed to be associated with Roman Catholicism who in turn would be really, really embarrassed to be associated with Lutherans. But they are all Christian.

    NeoPaganism is as broad in its scope as it is deep. We disagree as a faith community on even the most basic and fundamental tenets of our faith. We range from “Yahweh with tits” feminist monotheism to “atheism with better parties” pantheism to animism to “true polytheism”, whatever that is. At any event which is inclusive of NeoPagan paths, you will encounter everything from neoGothic punk Crowleyanity to rainbow-chasing smurf-worshippers. That’s ok. If you yourself happen to have a different vision of NeoPaganism than any of the things other people are presenting, then by all means, put together a ritual or workshop or whatever and present that. That’s how NeoPaganism grows, and flourishes.

    And yes, whatever you present, someone else will be embarrassed to be associated with it. And that’s ok, too.

    • http://humanisticpaganism.wordpress.com B. T. Newberg

      Well said.

    • Wendy

      True.

      • http://zenistao.wordpress.com zenistao

        Right on! Can’t please everyone, so we do our best to share ideas and help others on the path by offering ideas/insights they may have not ever thought of, which in turn may aid them in their own walk/path/journey. Well said!

    • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

      > And yes, whatever you present, someone else will be embarrassed to be associated with it. And that’s ok, too.

      That sounds a lot like family! … being embarrassed by each other, together.

  • Dana Corby

    I just read Teo’s post, and the comments, regarding Pagan Pride. What an amazingly thoughtful discussion! i agree that Pagan Way often seems (certainly in my area!) to have become more self-indulgent than educational. And agree that there was a bit of a problem with that ritual: Circle-casting was originally intended to be inclusive, for no one within it to be higher or lower than another because of the circular shape; it also facilitates the flow of energy from person to person. But Circular rituals were never intended to be viewed from without. Once that’s the case, then I have to agree that it creates an us/them dichotomy never envisioned by Paganism’s founders. It becomes counter-productive. And then to do a ‘protection’ ritual in the face of a non-pagan audience! You might as well tell them you hate them!

    Over the past 40 years, I’ve done a great many public rituals. There’s a huge difference between a ritual that happens to be held in a public place but is intended solely for the participants — a handfasting in a park, perhaps — and a ritual designed to be viewed by non-participants. For the latter, I have found that ritual theatre is, in fact, the ideal. My favorite format, drawing on the public rituals of many ancient cultures, is a procession to music and a ritual performance, also well larded with music. Seasonal enactments are good, as are condensed reenactments of ancient rituals from well-known cultures such as Greece, Rome, or Egypt. Most people have had at least some exposure to those cultures in school. And when presenting something to the public, it’s vital that everything gets explained. This usually means someone gets up before the ritual and explains what’s going to happen, but a more interesting approach can be to have an ‘announcer’ proclaim each step in the ritual: “The priest proclaims sacred space.”(he then does) “We now call upon the Goddess Athena to bless these olives.” (They do.) And so on, ending with thanking the audience for their presence.

    • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

      Yes! As I commented above in response to Brian, Pagan Pride Day needs to be about engaging the non-Pagan public, not reinforcing the sense of otherness in our minds and theirs.

  • Dana Corby

    Erg — I wrote Pagan *Way* when I meant Pagan *Pride.” Sorry!

  • http://zenistao.wordpress.com zenistao

    Hey, John, I really liked this post because it really hit at the heart of what I have felt for years when dealing with other fellow pagans. I meet with a bi-monthly study group which can be described as a mixture of philosophical Humanism and Occult Studies and we see how we can take Occult Knowledge and redefine it via our humanism(s). I printed off your post and shared it with our group. What we came up with as a group I will share with you. Embarrassment, everyone in our group holed 99.9% the same beliefs, humanistic/naturalistic paganism. With that said, many use the label of Humanism or Spiritual Humanist when in public… So Embarrassed? Yes, many our. I am no exception. I know many who use a humanist / naturalist core dressed in pagan symbol and ritual (As I have discussed with you in several other post). My own personal story begins with a friend at work who is a Wicca (2nd Degree Gard, 3rd Degree Alexandrian, and several other high levels in other groups). I will call him Fin for purposes of anonymity. He is in his 50s, dresses in black jeans and t-shirts and wears at least 6-8 Wiccan symbol pendants out in the open and has shoulder length white hair and short white beard. Fin is a cool dude, kind of hippy’ish in a way but an encyclopedia the occult none the less. He is factual and knowledgeable in what he is saying and has been practicing for 35+ years or longer. So every time I talk with him about things, he has always given me answers or advice that is sage like and earthy. Nothing you would expect from a true believing Wiccan, he is atypical of any other Wiccan’s I have ever met. The other day he was talking to me and a few others (close friends) about how he was being trained by his Wiccan mentor back when he was a part of a Alexandrian Wiccan Degrees, his teacher was a well know pillar of the Wiccan community, whom I thought he was full of it when he first told me, until he brought a photo album to work and showed me pictures of people in their group, I was shocked and was like WOW, he knows these well know occult figures, how crazy is this. So since that time I have thought he was on the level. Anyway, he was telling us about how his teacher was teaching him. He stated it was telepathic via astral projection, stated that his teacher knew what he did on a psychic level because they had the connection of teacher – student relationship. Well talk about feeling embarrassed cause I was thinking in the back of my head that surely he does not believe this, even had a few friends at the table come to me afterward and say, do you really think he believes what he is saying. I told them that in the time I have known me, he does not play around when he is talking about his faith. So in that moment Fin became “one of those pagans”. Our group discussion has gravitated back to the view that the word pagan is about as generic as they come when describing a great number of traditions which are actually in our mind as numerous different religions. As in, Wiccan’s are a different religion that Druids, and is different than Roman Reconstructionist etc… I think that we as pagans label ourselves pagan, then continue to describe what we mean. As I stated before, Pagan anymore has become a term like the word Christian, an all-encompassing label which a lot of groups do not use to describe themselves. I can say Christian, and ask a Mormon if they are Christian in the same way as Catholic’s and they would be quick to point out what makes them fundamentally different. I find that Evangelicals tend to use the Christian label more than Mormon’s, Catholic’s, Lutherans, etc… I think as Pagans we need to start using better labels. So I use humanistic paganism until I come up with something better. However, getting over the flaky people who make us feel uncomfortable is something that I think we all need to work on. Because as you have said, I feel that there is much to learn and be valued in our path, however, it will take many more of us getting up and talking about it with others and not letting the imaginary ball of lighters (LOL) be the voice for the rest of us. Again, this thanksgiving John, I am thankful for you and people like B.T. who are putting your real names out there and putting a real face on our own form of paganism! Blessings and Peace, Kelley.

    • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

      Thanks for sharing that story Kelley. After reading your story and exchanging thoughts with Dana above, I wonder how much of this is generational. In the 1990s and early 21st century, Neopaganism began to disentangle itself from Wicca/witchcraft and its legacy in the Western occult Hermetic tradition. (I think Ronald Hutton’s work played a big role in this, by taking away the mystique from Gardnerian witchcraft.) Now people who came to Paganism before this disentagling are shocked by humanistic forms of Paganism. But there are still plenty of New Agers in the younger generation.

      • http://zenistao.wordpress.com zenistao

        My question would be, for us 21st Century Humanist Pagans, what will we do to embarrass the next generation (our kids). As a dad I really don’t talk about my HuPag path with them, maybe a little bit with my 11 y/o daughter, which tends to ask more questions than the 5 y/o son (Rowan) and 7 y/o son (Jayden). So mostly, for my kiddo’s its the fact that daddy does not go to church with them and with the wife, its the fact that Kelley is different than everyone else at her church. I think what make the difference in my life between me and the wife is the overwhelming loyalty I have to “us”. That death till us part, till the wheels fall off mentality that I have with her. Understanding and respect goes a long way. I admire that you and your wife have a much closer and open dialog than my wife and I do. I think that where things are they work, but I am hoping and working toward a better more open future. So hopefully my HuPag will not be an embarrassment for her when I hit 60 here in 25 years, guess we will see. Well speaking of church, she will be out and back home here in 30min to pick me up and then off to Sunday dinner at the BBQ dive we end up at every Sunday. John, you have yourself a great day and for the rest of the readers, Peace to all of you, till next time. Kelley.

  • Numinia Bliss

    Thank you for beginning to talk about going public in a Google-able world and how “non-traditional” spiritualities are looked at for business professionals. There is a woman named Elizabeth Quick who is doing reformation work from the feminist cannon and studying bee priestesses in the Mormon religion. I’m sure you can find her via Google. Thank you, again, for braving this discussion.
    PS…BY Who??? ;)

    • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

      Bee priestesses? You’ve got me intrigued. I’ll check it out. Thanks.

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  • http://www.danaseilhan.com Dana

    OK, so here’s part of the issue with me. In terms of classification, I don’t think of Paganism as on par with Mormonism. Mormonism to me is a Christian faith, if a very weird and barely-Christian one. To me the taxonomy goes something like this:

    Mormonism (denomination) –> Christianity (religion) –> Abrahamic religions (what would you call this category?)

    Where does Paganism fall here? In the same area as “Abrahamic religions.” It is not equivalent to a Christian denomination, or even really to Christianity.

    There are SO MANY religions we’d classify as Pagan even if, due to past missionary- or colonialism-engendered baggage, the practitioners wouldn’t call it that. And then some of those religions may be broken down further into denominations.

    On top of that, if Pagan religions are to be nature-based religions, there is no way they can be universalist as Chrsitianity can often be, since it is based in abstract concepts and not in the real world-as-it-is. By necessity, instead, they should localize to the regions in which they are practiced.

    My moments of embarrassment in my Pagan days included feeling very uncomfortable when I’d show up for Sabbats and they’d be invoking deities from halfway around the world and from a culture none of us in that room had ever practiced.

    These days I still feel the spiritual impulse but if I ever follow a spiritual path again I think it will be on the basis of getting to know my local ecology and re-establishing familial bonds with the local flora and fauna. (And, yes, eating both from time to time, as applicable.) I love mythology and world religions; these subjects have always fascinated me. But if it has no bearing on my real life here and now–and of course it usually doesn’t–then there is no point in me claiming it.

    And yet I’ll still be cussed stubborn enough to call what I do Pagan. Because it still fits.

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  • http://valentinathewitch.wordpress.com Valentina

    Interesting read! I believe we come from two different generations of Paganism, as well as different traditions, and we’ve had far different experiences. Over the years I’ve gone through several stages in my growth as a Witch/Pagan, so I feel obligated to share with you and others that what you are feeling is disillusionment with the community. This is natural and a great teacher. It will test you. Let it! I find it to be a very positive thing. Yet don’t let it lead you down a path where you grow to hate, judge, and become prejudiced against people you do not know. Those people you are embarrassed to be associated with, you don’t know what level they are standing at, or what they’re going through, and they deserve every right to worship as they see fit, too. Not every Pagan is the same. We all know this. And why should we let what the cowans think?

    I’ve never really been ashamed of the silly, fringe, New Age-y members of our community, however at one point I was greatly annoyed to the point of irritation. Then I realized what a waste of time it was that I spent complaining about them. Focusing more on what I deemed was important was better. I did not have change the entire religion as a whole in order for me to feel comfortable among my co-workers and other people from different walks of faith and life. If they decide to snicker, I adopt an attitude of being un-spookable, because ultimately my religion is a personal issue that is left out of business. When I’m at a job, I’m there as an employee, not as a Witch. I leave my private life at home. If someone brings up my beliefs, or anything else that is private, I do not discuss those things at a job. That is something to remember while at work in general. If a boss googles you, they are sticking their nose in your personal business. It does not matter if you’ve made it public on the internet or not, that is your personal persona separate from your job as their employee.

    As for being embarrassed about the New Age simplicity of some public rituals Pagans perform, I find it funny that anyone would be because when you described the kind of ritual mentioned in Teo’s post, from my experience I’ve seen some groups dumb-down rituals in order not to make them family-friendly and generic for non-Pagans. Some people, I believe (and I don’t agree with their actions), present a tame, fluffy version of Pagansim in public simply because it is the most positive version of it to present in public. Pagans like me would rather get down and dirty and create some serious ritualistic performance art going on! Yet wouldn’t that be just as embarrassing to see?

    In the late 1980′s when I first was introduced to Witchcraft, I saw a few Goddess-centered public rituals that were pretty damn intense that included nudity, fire, mud, and large statuary representing giant genitalia. Back then more people were frightened by Paganism than they were scoffing at it! I would like to see that kind of creative activism again in Paganism, yet it starts with any one of us — with you!

    I have news for you: don’t let the superficial side of neo-Paganism fool you because there are traditions within it that go beyond the communities that are fostered by CUUPS. I came to Dianic Wicca via feminist theaology — the subjects of study you describe are all ones that are included in the path of Witchcraft.

    I do not apologize for what I am, otherwise I would have never taken the vows and gone through the initiations I passed. I find Paganism is an introduction for many seeking a more specific path that is out there for them. Yet I would advise not to abandon it altogether. If you are feeling doubt, there is a reason for that, and your heart is telling you to stop complaining about it or feeling ashamed, and just go after something that fits you perfectly. I believe you are on the verge of something wonderful!

    Love and blessings to you.

    • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

      Thanks Valentina.

      You wrote: ” Some people, I believe (and I don’t agree with their actions), present a tame, fluffy version of Pagansim in public simply because it is the most positive version of it to present in public. Pagans like me would rather get down and dirty and create some serious ritualistic performance art going on! Yet wouldn’t that be just as embarrassing to see? In the late 1980′s when I first was introduced to Witchcraft, I saw a few Goddess-centered public rituals that were pretty damn intense that included nudity, fire, mud, and large statuary representing giant genitalia.”

      As for me, I’d rather be scary than silly to outsiders. But you’re right that someone will always be embarrassed.

      • http://valentinathewitch.wordpress.com Valentina

        I also think there should be a happy medium, that we need to translate “scary” to serious, and take away the tame from “silly” because too often both tend to invalidate and make us seem inhuman from the rest of humanity. That is the danger.

        • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

          Very well put. I agree.

  • http://valentinathewitch.wordpress.com Valentina

    Sorry, in my first paragraph there I meant to say “And why should we let what the cowans think bother us?” (it’s a little late at night) ;-)

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  • http://summerisle.dreamwidth.org/ Ashley Yakeley

    Like you, I am at least largely uninterested in magic. Modern paganism has a lot of magic in it due to its Wiccan and ceremonial magic roots as Dana points out, but magic is a relatively lesser focus in most reconstructionism (for example), similar to the ancient paganisms being reconstructed, so it’s not a necessary thing. Druidry, even the 18th-century kind, also largely ignores magic IIRC.

    I also dislike pagan “garb”, the tendency to hold rituals on the nearest Saturday rather than the proper day, the lack of attention paid to the particularity of place, the obsession with gender (also a Wiccan influence), the focus on nature over culture instead of balance, and the general disconnection from one’s ordinary culture. My involvement in these things used to cause me a fair amount of diffidence over being pagan, or representing myself as pagans to “ordinary folks”. No longer.

    A lot of my views on paganism are informed by Alan de Benoist’s book On Being a Pagan. Reading his book was such a “shock of truth” that I used it as the starting point for a statement of my own paganism, On Being a Nietzschean Pagan.

  • Wendy

    I’ve read all the comments and replies with interest and this all seems like a bit about pagan snobbery now. People spouting their virtues as opposed to the rather lowly perceived fluffy news agers, who obviously are not worthy of the pagan label. How sad, I am certain that Mother Earth will take whoever she can get, to be on her side and give future generations an acceptable doorway into the realms of earth consciousness.
    And if new agers make a noise, good on them, because, without them, all that would be heard, at pagan pride type events, would be the moans and grumbles of those pagans who consider themselves a cut above the rest, and believe they have a right to sit in judgement.
    Bring yourselves down to the same level as the rest of us, for Mother earths sake.

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  • http://gravatar.com/themonthebard themonthebard

    I don’t think this is in anyway restricted to either Paganism or religion. From 2001 to 2009, I was embarrassed to be a US American. I’m not entirely sure I’m over that.

    As Groucho Marx commented, “I would never belong to a club that would accept someone like me as a member.” I was once concertmeister of an orchestra that made me think of that line at every rehearsal, until I stopped taking myself so darned seriously.

    Any time you associate yourself with a social group, you associate yourself with the best and the worst of that group. If you care too much what other people think, you’ll spend a lot of your life cringing at all of your associations. Unless you are, personally, the worst in the group: then you’ll probably feel pretty good about your association.

    • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

      I feel pretty good about my association with the naturalistic paganism and Humanistic Paganism communities, so … :)

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  • http://www.facebook.com/catwheel34 Carrie Tuttle

    Thank you for writing this, a fascinating dissection of what it means to be pagan and how the many facets of it are challenging to look at, side by side. Sometimes I think it is like a puzzle that we just can not put together. I too read Ted Bishops post about being ashamed at Pagan Pride and I felt embarrassed just reading what he went through. Similarly to Dana Corby, I felt that this type of ceremony is not meant for public view.
    However, I have to admit I feel a little embarrassed myself reading your article. I have considered myself Wiccan for nigh on 33 years now. I came to the path in the late 80′s and was “brought up” in the Gardenarian tradition by some very down to earth folk. But now I am unsure what has happened to Wicca and I look around and everyone seems to bash it and refer it to it as being sort of fluffy. I know what I learned was not fluffy bunny Wicca all those years ago, but has what is called Wicca today morphed in to a giant group of white lighters? And I ask, where did my people go? There seems to be an implication by some that I should be embarrassed for being Wiccan. Maybe I am one of those folks who missed the disentanglement of Wicca as was spoken of in an earlier reply, and if you have suggestions on how to catch up on this, I will happily accept them.
    The truth is that all this distinction and definition of who we are and are not is a bit confusing to me. Are you worried at all that this thinking is setting up an “us and them” worldview? I worry about it because I personally have had the experience of being scoffed at by a pagan, new to the path, because I said I was Wiccan. I mean I barely got the words out before the eye rolling and scoffing began. How can we avoid this kind of judgement, while still moving away from the extreme wishful thinking type of (paganism?) that occurred in Ted Bishops post?

    • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

      You raise some great questions Carrie. To begin with, I want to say that I am not one of those people that looks down on Wiccans, although I’ve had my issues about the conflation of Paganism and Wicca. It seems to me that a lot of Wiccans take their religion very seriously, and I respect that. My own version of Paganism shares more with Wicca than I sometimes admit (a topic for another post). I know something about the “eye rolling” though. I get the same thing over my Jungianism. Both Wicca and Jung seem to have become passe in the Pagan community.
      Regarding the “disentaglement” of Wicca and Paganism, that was not meant as a normative or proscriptive statement. Rather, it was an observation about how our definitions of these terms can be affected by the timing of when we were introduced to them. Specifically it was in response to Dana’s statement that magic was “foundational” to Paganism — as she sates, she came to Paganism when Paganism *was* witchcraft (before it was even called “Wicca”). So, I don’t think there is any need for you or anyone to “catch up”. I don’t think we should be defining our spirituality by what is popular in the religious community, although it is good I think to be aware of these changes in the community and consider how they might challenge our own beliefs and practices.
      I definitely am concerned about creating an “us-them worldview”, as you say. That’s why I wrote this post with a certain amount of trepidation. I don’t like the idea of some Pagans being better than others. But, this feeling of embarrassment keeps coming up, and honestly I don’t quite know what to do with it. Unlike some others, labels *are* (very) important to me, and what other people think of me *is* also important (but not primary).
      Honestly, I just appreciate everyone who has responded here and on other blogs for not flaming me. Although some people might read my post as an attack, it was actually an exercise in vulnerability.

      • http://www.facebook.com/catwheel34 Carrie Tuttle

        I am grateful for your post to be sure. I appreciate your thoughtful inquiry on the subject.That feeling of embarrassment is widespread and for such a myriad of reasons it is worth addressing and I hope it gets a lot of people thinking.
        I agree too that we should keep up with the changing face of paganism, in whatever way we honor it in our hearts. I have not done so well with this. Since my upbringing in the Gardenarian coven, I have not paid an heed to the evolution of paganism or Wicca in general, and as a result often feel stuck in some sort of Wiccan time warp, LOL. I do not wish to follow trends of course, but rather understand the changes..in fact this is something that brought me to your blog in the first place. So please consider that comment one of genuine curiosity, and thank you also for your clarification on the disentanglement.
        To me this blog entry is not an attack, but a bringing of awareness to something we all feel but do not vocalize for fear of being considered narrow minded or what have you. It is a tough subject. I recall an experience in which I was with another Wiccan who saw a horse and neighed at it, at an agricultural fair, in her belief that she could speak to animals. I have never been so embarrassed. But it is taboo still, to wonder aloud at this sort of thing. Kudos for tackling it in your blog and with so many people looking on. I hope that as a larger community we can continue thoughtful dialogue on such things. No flaming necessary because in my opinion, we are all in this together.

  • http://www.facebook.com/catwheel34 Carrie Tuttle

    OOPS, Teo not Ted. My mistake.

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  • Rylin Mariel Hansen

    I really liked your comment “Paganism, as I understand it, is radical in its acceptance of the world as it is, the constructive and the destructive; the tragic side of life must be integrated, not exiled.”
    I agree that all religions seem to suffer from having some faction(s) within them that are “embarrassing”.
    Perhaps it’s sometimes just embarrassing to be human? I feel that way sometimes…
    One thought that I had, which I expressed on a FB post which was discussing your post, was this:
    “I do try my best not to view people with other attitudes with condemnation. One reason for that is that I sometimes become aware that there are others who view me with such condemnation, another being that it is in respectful dialogue that ferment and growth can happen for all concerned, but condemnation naturally causes immediate shutdown in the person receiving it.” Not saying I’m so hot at following through on that – I feel that sort of condemnation toward others too at times, but I think it aids growth for all to try to put that in perspective. We are all, presumably, groping toward the same goal.

    • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

      It’s definitely embarrassing to be human. And you’re right that all religions have their embarrassing aspects. There’s a difference though between feeling embarrassed by someone and condemning them. Although I understand that a person can feel condemned when others express their embarrassment.

      • Rylin Mariel Hansen

        I guess condemnation was kind of a leap – it actually came from other comments I read expressed by other pagan folks re their experiences with having been condemned. (And condemnation can be seen as just another form of negative response.) The more we can be accepting of others differences, it seems the more they (and we) can be open to seeing new points of view. Not to say that’s always easy. I’ve yet to have much success with being open-minded and accepting with individuals affiliated with the Tea Party… that’s more of a leap than I’ve been able to manage. In my experience, however, they express the other reason that people intentional retain closed minds – they don’t want to risk having theirs changed at all. Within the Pagan community, thankfully, I’ve actually not encountered so much of that.
        I think as far as what you’ve talked about here, there’s been so much, as far as way of seeing the world and our relationship to it and to our existence in it, that is in common with how I see things. I’m glad to hear that you aren’t condemning of others – that’s a better position to be addressing differences from, certainly. For myself, as a Pagan now in my fifties, I can remember that there was a time that my primary relationship with the Goddess was more as a supplicant. I think that in the beginning, for many, that is the way they view deity, as a parent figure to be asked for what one needs. People may or may not grow out of that, but if they don’t, that’s ok, too – I believe that each person’s journey is their own responsibility. I have also experienced moments of embarrassment as regards other Pagans, for slightly different reasons though – I am more inclined to cringe when I see people who in fact obviously got their names from a Pagan Name Generator, are wearing cheap polyester witch costume-looking garb and black gothic eye-makeup – folks who are just entirely focused on the public appearance of Paganism (as they see it, anyway). But yet, that’s still part of their journey, and perhaps with continued exposure and participation in discussion about Thealogy and deeper ways of thinking about what being a Pagan means, they may in time come to deepen their own relationship with Paganism. I try again and again to bring my mind back to that point of view, in the hopes I may be of service to a deeper way of relating to the world through Paganism.

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  • Hannah

    I have been dealing with Pagan embarrassment since the start. My university has no recognition of paganism and those who are very outspoken about it are wiccan, which I do not affiliate with. I also have a fear of being thought of as a person who has issues with authority or organized religion. I honestly love religion and came to paganism because it allowed me to believe so many religions together but the image it carries it not something I want to be associated with. I have avoided meeting other pagans because I know being a logical, educated, scientist will not allow me to be as free and open. I hate to be ashamed of my faith and I feel a strong sense of guilt for judging others, this is why I try to keep my beliefs to myself. It gets frustrating though when people in class are trashing ancient pagans and traditions and I have to keep quite.

    This quote,
    “It is a Paganism which suffers from the same flaws as the 60′s counterculture hippie movement from which it sprang: an overemphasis of idealism over realism, endemic disorganization, and an inability to communicate its vision to the wider culture. ”

    really hit hard with me because when I was younger I devoured every book and documentary on the 1960s and was fascinated with the culture and philosophy, but as I became older I realized what they did wrong and how they acted was not any way to accomplish the ideals they preached. Relating this to paganism is genius in my mind because i have come full circle with the same problem. I guess all I have to say is thank you for making me realize I’m not alone here and I think that I need to truly realize what is out there and put myself into a community as a pagan and decide for myself what path is right for me.

    • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

      Hannah, thanks for your response. I feel the same about the 60′s. When I was in high school (long after those days), I stumbled across Theodore Roszak’s *The Making of a Counterculture* and I was like a new Bible for me. I really appreciate hearing from people like yourself and knowing that, as you say, “I’m not alone here.” I will say that I was surprised to discover that there seems to be are a lot more Pagans out there who feel the same way.

  • http://esotericresearch.wordpress.com esotericresearch

    Yeah, I get what you’re saying about the silliness of so much of Pagandom. From Macgregor Mathers going around in a kilt to today’s Lady Raven Moonstar types, there is a great deal of LARP-like stuff in Pagandom. As a magician – my main practice – it felt very funny in the beginning to be chanting all these names but as I got used to it, it started helping me a lot. Of course, my Paganism is not your Paganism.

    There is another thing. A lot of mainstream religions have the elements that you hate about Paganism. Magic, the ‘not that kind of Pagan’ discussion, magical names, weird crystals and incense, and the lack of organization are also endemic to Eastern religions. Some Theravada Buddhists don’t like the Mahayana obsession with saints/miracles/relics. Same with Taoists – actually in China, Taoist is a colloquial term for you’re a New Age nut with past life fantasies, Qigong is slang for bullsh-t and has a similar stigma to the term Wicca here. Or the groups in India like RSS trying to ‘keep Hinduism traditional’.

    It’s actually the same with Christianity. For example, Seraphim Rose was born Eugene Rose. There is a ‘prosperity’ preacher who calls himself Creflo Dollar. There is also a lot of Christian new ageyness out there that people can’t stand but it’s going to be there anyway. You will always hear bad Christian rock at those gatherings too.

    Look, there are people like that in every religion. I’m not sure about Mormonism but it’s probably there. I understand that you are frustrated. And I also wear civvies to Pagan Pride. When I’m not in ritual, that is. I actually don’t get the persecution complex because there are occultists everywhere. Marsilio Ficino was a powerful neo-Pagan in the Renaissance, for example. The main thing I agree with you on is that the persecution complex is a bit frustrating. But the burning times did happen, ask Giordano Bruno. I tend to forget that…

    • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

      “A lot of mainstream religions have the elements that you hate about Paganism. Magic, the ‘not that kind of Pagan’ discussion, magical names, weird crystals and incense, and the lack of organization are also endemic to Eastern religions.”

      Excellent point. Some of the reasons I dislike Mormonism are the same and some are the opposite:

      “#1 I hate magic.” This one this the same, although the “magic” of Mormonism (as with other forms of Christianity) is the practice of prayer to God for health, wealth, and happiness.

      “#2 I hate the “not that kind of Pagan[/Mormon]” discussion.” This one is the same. Usually it would take the form of, “No, I am not a polygamist.”

      “#3 I hate the lack of organization.” This one is the opposite. Mormonism has an excess of organization. It’s called “correlation” by Mormons. There is very little room for creativity. Their ideal is to have every Mormon congregation world-wide having the same Sunday School discussion on the same Sunday, regardless of cultural or personal differences.

      “#4 I hate the conflation of Neopaganism with Wicca.” Not such a big deal for Mormons. Occasionally they are confused with Jehovah’s Witnesses. If I were a member of the (much smaller) Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (now called the Community of Christ), which split off from the Utah-based Mormons in the mid-19th century, though, I would hate being confused with Mormons all the time.

      “#5 I hate crystals. And incense. And magic wands. And fairy art. And hemp. And all the other crap that is hocked at Pagan gatherings.” I just hate kitsch, whether it is Pagan, Mormon, or secular. Of course, one person’s kitsch is another’s high art.

      “#6 I hate that Paganism is taken as a license to confuse fantasy with reality.” While Pagans feel free to believe anything regardless of its plausibility, Mormons are only free to believe what they are told to believe. So, it’s the opposite problem there.

      “#7 I hate the lack of ritual innovation.” Of course, this is a bigger problem for Mormons who believe that the rituals were delivered from on high. Pagans have no excuse.

      “#8 I hate the costumes.” Mormons have the opposite problem with their “costumes”. Too many suits and ties.

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  • http://lokisharrow.wordpress.com Iðasfóstri

    I’m another embarrassed pagan!

    A thing I want to bring up though is your dumping of magic out with the bathwater – I come at magic from the same angle that I come at polytheism: I need to keep challenging the primacy of my own flawed worldview, and I tend to do it by running at whatever seems ridiculous/foolish on the surface and diving into it until I can see the sense and the life in it, rather than dismiss it as error or naivete. It’s definitely a moving-through process, and who knows where I will end up, but I think “magic doesn’t work” is a assumption that needs challenging.

    Folk magic in the modern world particularly is the recourse of people who have no access to the traditional avenues of power. Workings to protect and secure your space, or for justice or revenge when the police system doesn’t serve you, for example. Workings to heal when no doctors have succeeded, or when there are no doctors. I think the person who does magic but no mundane actions when mundane actions are needed is a straw man (I know I can’t “no true scotsman” my way out of addressing certain instances of “faith not acts” actions, but I think anti-scientific-intervention beliefs are not inherently Pagan, and can be addressed as another overlapping circle on the cultural venn diagram) and most people do magic when further mundane actions are simply not possible.

    Like the reality/otherness of archetypes (though archetypes are often dismissed as “simply psychological”) magic done right can have powerful effects on the individuals involved, effects that are – well they are easily explained by chains of coincidence, but I don’t think they are reducible to those explanations.

    The assertion that magic doesn’t work/magic isn’t real seems to me to include the assertion that disempowered people don’t even really have the the little bit of outside-the-system power they are claiming!

    I’m not saying you uh INTENDED that interpretation, or dismiss magic maliciously, I am just pointing it out for your perusal (And I haven’t read your entire archive so you may address the idea elsewhere…)
    Best,
    Gwen

    • http://www.facebook.com/john.h.halstead John Halstead

      Gwen:

      I really like your idea of trying to work through what is difficult for our modern paradigm to accept and to try to find the “life” in it. In a way, that may be what Paganism is all about. I have been dismissive of magic many times here, but I keep returning to it, I think because, subconsciously, I *am* trying to work through it. And I will *not* deny (1) the psychological benefits of magic as a reclaiming of personal power or (2) actual physical healing. (I’ve blogged about different kinds of magic here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/2012/11/29/what-do-we-mean-by-magic/ )

      There is something that seems almost un-Pagan to me though (if there can be such a thing) about certain forms of instrumental magic which are functionally indistinguishable from technology, and, in my opinion, actually contribute to the disenchantment of the world. I’ve blogged about it here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/2011/09/10/all-i-need-is-a-little-bit-of-magic/ . I think I could sum up the post with Leonard Cohen’s lyrics: “Magic is no instrument; magic is the end.” I think there is a difference between sacred magic and profane magic, something I touched on in my review of Lev Grossman’s books recently here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/2013/05/05/longing-and-grace-in-lev-grossmans-the-magician-king/

      Anyway, suffice it to say I have not given up on magic.

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