Imagined Insults – A Pagan Rant

One of the supposed advantages of Paganism is its inherent plurality and tolerance. Ancient pagans understood different people in different lands had different gods – there was no need to “convert” them. Modern Pagans understand Cernunnos called me and Isis called you and Ganesha called someone else but we can still get together to celebrate the seasons and work together to care for the Earth.

But apparently it’s not that simple.

Last Saturday Brendan Myers had a guest post on The Wild Hunt where he described the rise of Humanistic Pagans, who he described as “those who want to be part of the Pagan community, but who want to be a little more intellectual about their practices, and [who] don’t care about the ‘woo’ anymore.” The Pagan internet has exploded with responses: 244 comments to the Wild Hunt post as I write this, plus bloggers who’ve written their own posts. While a few responses are supportive, most are unfavorable – some extremely so.

Do these unfavorable responses ask Myers why he has chosen to interpret his religion non-theistically? Do they explain why they have chosen to be theists? Do they build a logical case for polytheism and magic?

No. They scream “I’m insulted!” “How dare you imply theistic Pagans aren’t intellectual!” “How dare you call my religion ‘woo’!”

Myers responded to one of them and plainly addressed the concerns:

I do not claim that theistic or polytheistic pagans cannot be intellectual. No such statement appears in my text, and if others think it is “implied” there, then they are committing a logical fallacy. The general idea is that humanist paganism is an “emerging option” for pagans who want to be more intellectual about their own paths.

Which, of course, did nothing to satisfy those who wanted to be insulted.

highly generalized, but you get the idea

Fellow Pagans, it’s time for us to grow up, have some confidence in our religion and stop looking for insults where none are intended. Are humanistic Pagans “more intellectual” than polytheistic Pagans? Of course they are! But that doesn’t mean humanists are smarter or that polytheists are intellectually deficient. It means humanists value and use intellectual interpretations more than they value and use emotional or intuitive interpretations.

As for “woo” – what else would you like to call divination, spell casting, shape shifting, aspecting, hedge walking and howling at the moon? Are more technically precise terms available? Sure. Is there another short, generally understood term that encompasses what most Pagans do but Humanistic Pagans aren’t interested in? I don’t think so. Is it a big deal in any case? No!

I practice “woo” and I occasionally call it that. Mainly I have enough experience with and confidence in my practices that I don’t care what a group of people whose interpretive outlook is very different from my own think about them.

“But that language is degrading and oppressing!” This wasn’t posted on CNN or on a New Atheist blog. This was posted in our own Pagan sandbox, where the vast majority of people are theists, a large percent are polytheists and most practice “woo” of some kind. You’re in the majority here – you don’t get to claim victim status.

Stop assuming bad will where none exists.

Fellow Pagans, there are plenty of people who insult Paganism. Brendan Myers isn’t one of them. There are plenty of religions that think what we do is evil or silly or both. Humanistic Paganism isn’t one of them.

I’m a hard polytheist. I’ve experienced gods and goddesses, I’ve worked magic, and I’ve “seen” things I had no way of seeing. My intuition tells me that’s best explained by a magical worldview. My emotions tell me the gods and magic are real. My intellect sees how that helps me live a happier, more fulfilling and more productive life and doesn’t see any reason to override the emotions and intuition.

But my intellect also sees how other equally intelligent, equally educated people could have the same experiences and interpret them very differently. I regularly stand next to them in circle, chant and sing and dance with them, and pick up roadside trash with them. They’re Pagans just as much as I am.

As Myers’ essay explains, Humanistic Paganism is growing. Some of that growth comes from Wiccans and Druids and Heathens who find they just can’t believe in gods and magic. Some of it comes from Humanists and atheists and skeptics who see a need to honor the Earth and live in harmony with Nature. They share our values, they honor our heritage and they willingly work alongside us to care for the Earth and all its creatures.

I want those people in our big Pagan tent singing “We All Come From the Goddess” and not driven away to New Atheism where they’ll accuse us of believing garbage and enabling fundamentalists.

Fellow Pagans, grow up. Stop assuming bad will where none exists. Stop assuming everyone who doesn’t affirm your beliefs is insulting you. Practice long enough and seriously enough that you stop caring what anyone thinks about what you believe and do.

Here endeth the rant. Go forth and learn.

About John Beckett

I grew up in Tennessee with the woods right outside my back door. Wandering through them gave me a sense of connection to Nature and to a certain Forest God. I’m a Druid graduate of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, the Coordinating Officer of the Denton Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans and a former Vice President of CUUPS Continental. I’ve been writing, speaking, teaching, and leading public rituals for the past eleven years. I live in the Dallas – Fort Worth area and I earn my keep as an engineer.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09393130637355764229 Velody Dark

    First Thank you. I've been seeing this blow up online and just have stood back in shock. I myself could be labeled a humanist pagan, or call me an atheist heathen ( what I said for a long time before I learned of the term humanist)

    Each person is different but I liked your generalized pie chart. Its true my first response to anything is a scientific answer and for years I struggled with my spirituality. I even immersed myself in hard polytheism for quite some time but it just wasn't me.

    I do think were going to see more and more of this on the rise as our society is moving away from traditional religion ( and diety concepts) but people are still looking for human and earth connections.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18440938543448621585 David Dashifen Kees

    Damn. I missed a fight on the Internet. Great article! Love the pie-charts :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04477224825216198490 Sarah

    Thank you for this post! As you said, there are already enough people out there who actually do bear "us" ill will. We cannot afford to fight over dogma and individual beliefs or the way those beliefs are stated. The Enemy is "Out There", not within our own ranks.
    Love and Light to you all and lighten up folks.


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