Do Pagans Proselytize?

Each entry in my Gateways to Paganism series generally begins with the line “Pagans don’t proselytize.” The most recent entry in that series drew the comment “‘Pagans don’t proselytize’..right, they just market.” That comment got me to thinking about Pagans, proselytizing, and marketing. Merriam-Webster defines the word proselytize as:

1. to induce someone to convert to one’s faith

2. to recruit someone to join one’s party, institution, or cause

In the most general sense Pagans don’t normally proselytize like Christians or Muslims. I’ve never seen a Pagan group set up a booth at the local farmer’s market in an effort to convert complete strangers. I don’t know any Pagans who go door to door handing out Books of Shadows or collections of Norse Mythology. I’m also unaware of any trips into South America to convert people to Wicca. We generally refrain from the loudest sense of the word proselytize, but I’m not sure that means we don’t do it.

While I don’t think I’ve ever actively attempted to convert someone to Wicca (Jason is Wiccan, it’ll be OK), I’m sure that I’ve done so in a more subconscious way. I love my belief system, I love my gods, and I love the people I do ritual with and have met as a Pagan. It would be hard for me to not talk up my faith when asked about it. I’d never tell someone that they weren’t going to be reincarnated if they refused the invitation of Pan, but I have an excitement for Paganism that might feel like proselytizing to some.

Thinking back on it I can even picture a few of those times. Periodically you just meet someone who seems Pagan on the outside even if they aren’t in the spiritual sense. I’ve met a lot of love the Earth and Led Zeppelin type folks who share my interests and many of my values. I’ve often wondered why they aren’t Pagan, and a few times I’ve wondered that out loud. That doesn’t mean I handed them a copy of the Farrar’s The Witches Bible and asked them to pray to The Lady with me, but sometimes you can’t help but be curious as to why our path is not the one they choose to walk.

I’ve participated in various interfaith things over the last fifteen years. In none of those situations did I ever seek to convert anyone. I was generally there to answer questions and convince everyone that we don’t eat babies. After those type of events there is sometimes an opportunity for fellowship and during some of those periods of inter-mingling I felt as if some of my Pagan brethren were actively proselytizing to the Christians. I remember being on a Christian/Pagan panel once where one of the Christian girls made a comment about how a vivid drop of dew on a plant led her to Christ. Her moment of experiencing the divine in nature led to some of the Pagans I was with prodding her towards our way of thinking. (These incidents were over a decade ago while I, and my peers, were in college. That doesn’t justify anything, but it does explain the exuberance.) In many ways it was a quiet form of proselytizing.

While Pagans don’t normally go around spreading the Gospel of the Horned God* to their neighbors, I often feel like we proselytize among ourselves. Certain groups are more likely to engage in this sort of behavior than others. Many of my friends who have been involved with the O.T.O. over the years have actively tried to get me to join, and at some Pagan events I’ve felt as if they were recruiting. This is not an indictment of the O.T.O., there are a lot of O.T.O. folks I love to pieces, but I’ve felt a little peer pressure at various times. When someone tells me that The Covenant of the Goddess is the most important Pagan organization in the country it also feels a bit like proselytizing. For all I know maybe it is the most important Pagan organization in the country, but I still feel like I’m being recruited to join someone’s party.

Again, my hands are probably dirty here too. I help run/organize a local open Pagan group out here near San Jose. One of the reasons I signed up for the job was to help grow the group. I view my efforts as “outreach” but I’m sure that’s how most Pagan groups view their interactions with others already under the umbrella. Of course we don’t have dues and if you’re broke you can get into our rituals for free, but it’s probably all essentially the same thing.

I do think we Pagans have begun proselytizing causes more and more often. I think this is always done with the best of intentions, but there’s a limit to how much money I want to throw at Kickstarter and Indiegogo. I dropped two hundred bucks on a local ritual just last week and it all adds up. When it comes to some of these causes I often feel like there’s a little peer-pressure involved, it’s probably unintentional, but I feel it none the less.

I’m thinking more and more I’m going to have change the opening line of my Gateways series to “Pagans don’t proselytize in the traditional sense.” While I’m revisiting the opening paragraph of this piece I’ll add that many Pagans certainly do market themselves, their products, and their services, and what’s wrong with that? Perhaps it’s a little hokey that Silver Ravenwolf is essentially a brand name like Coca-Cola, but people have to eat and support their families (not that Pagan writing generally allows for that, most Pagan authors have day jobs). We’ve been marketing since our earliest beginnings; Gerald Gardner was appearing in newspapers for a reason.

Marketing can be a bad thing. Advertising worthless junk or cigarettes to kids is certainly not good, but marketing in and of its self is not necessarily negative. When links to this blog are shared on Facebook or Twitter that’s a form of marketing and it’s what keeps RtH alive. If no one was reading I’d probably stop writing. If Paganism wasn’t marketed at least a little bit (getting you to pick up a book is a form of marketing) many of us wouldn’t be here right now. You can make your own judgements as to how much is too much.

So yes Pagans market, and sometimes proselytize (according to the dictionary definition) especially among ourselves. As long as no one is attempting to thwart another’s free will both things are generally positive. As for me, I promise to never make anyone feel guilty for not loving Led Zeppelin or worshipping the god Pan.

(Feel free to market Raise the Horns by sharing this article and others on whatever social media sites appeal to you. You can also add RtH to your RSS links, you can also Subscribe to Raise the Horns by Email.)

*I call all of my Pagan work Come to Pan Ministries, it amuses the two of us.

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About Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey has been involved with Paganism for the last twenty years, and has spent the last ten of those years as a speaker, writer, and High Priest. Jason can often be found lecturing on the Pagan Festival circuit, so you might just bump into him. When not reading and researching Pagan history he likes to crank up the Led Zeppelin, do rituals in honor of Jim Morrison (of The Doors), and sing numerous praises to Pan, Dionysus, and Aphrodite. He lives in Sunnyvale CA with his wife Ari and two hyper-kinetic cats.


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