Water Under the Pagan Bridge

On Friday I found myself unable to escape from the New York Times article An Ex-Mouseketeer’s Journey Back to Christianity From Paganism about Teo Bishop. I saw the article pop up on Facebook and Twitter, and even some of my non-blogosphere-following friends shared the link. Where the link was shared, there were comments too; even when I tried to leave the conversation I got pushed back into it a few times.

As people gave my comments both the old “thumbs up” and “Jason, you are completely wrong” treatment I began turning those comments into a piece for Raise the Horns. I worked on it for a few hours, trying to find just the right tone. I like Teo, but I didn’t completely like the article, and I struggled to balance those two factors. Eventually I set everything down and went to bed, figuring I’d finish it up on Saturday. After a long morning and afternoon of college football I picked up my thoughts on Teo and the New York Times again, but something had changed. I found myself not really caring so much anymore, and no one else seemed to care either.

Facebook, Twitter, my friends on the phone, the whole article was basically water under the bridge already. No one was talking about it, Jason didn’t write anything up about it at The Wild Hunt. It was done, and while it’s a little weird every time Teo’s capped head looks up at me on the cover of Witches and Pagans magazine, it seems we’ve realized pretty quickly that this isn’t really an issue.

When Teo began writing about going to church again and hearing the call of Jesus I had some friends who were upset. They were people who read Bishop in the Grove and liked Teo. Whatever you think about Mr. Bishop there’s no denying that he has a great online voice. (Which to be honest, pisses me off. He can sing, compose songs, and write!?! I can’t do the two former things and can barely do the latter.) I always thought his writing came across as that of a seeker, but we’re all seekers at least once right? That kind of “early enthusiasm for Paganism” is hard to find in the Pagan Blogosphere. That it was all so elegantly and competently written made it even better. People liked Teo as a writer long before we knew the ex-Mouseketeer thing, and when someone you like leaves Paganism it stings. But the great thing about most stings is that the pain doesn’t linger, it happens and then it’s gone.

I liked a few things about the New York Times Teo article. It was nice to see Jason Pitzl-Waters and T. Thorn Coyle quoted (though it might have been nice if they, the Times, had interviewed a Druid, or commented on Christo-Paganism), and Paganism was portrayed pretty positively. This little bit at the end of the article was especially nice:

“There were Pagans who felt like maybe I was turning into one of the Christians who alienated them, like I joined the other team,” Mr. Bishop said. “There were also Christians who said things like, ‘Oh, finally you’re back — we won one for the team.’

“Neither of those rings true to me.”

But what I liked most about the article is that we weren’t really talking about it on Saturday, because ultimately it’s a non-story and doesn’t change anything in the short or long term.

Someone coming or going from Modern Paganism has no bearing on the Paganism of you, me, or anyone else, and if someone thinks it matters, then they probably weren’t fully Pagan anyway. Yeah, it’s kind of goofy that Paganism makes the New York Times because someone is in the process of walking away from it, but no one is going to read that article and think “well maybe I shouldn’t do this Pagan thing.” Teo’s religious awakenings have made for an odd November for some of us online (and shame on anyone who sent him a threatening email, we aren’t those other religions), but ultimately it’s just a bump in the road that most of us will either forget or be laughing about in a couple of years.

Social media has made Paganism far more “immediate” the last half dozen or so years. That’s been both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it’s easier than ever to spread news and opinion and to find other Pagans. It’s been kind of a curse because all of those opinions often lead to hurt feelings and controversies.

One thing I’ve noticed in a year full of slings and arrows is how quickly we get back up off the ground. Yeah, we argue, and we sometimes cross lines that we shouldn’t, but we’ve also proven that we are a community than can sometimes just let it go. The big fights are about things like Pagan symbols on military grave markers and equal rites for Pagan institutions. It’s not about someone leaving the fold or even Christo-Paganism. Those are distractions on the journey not defining moments, they’re just water under the Pagan bridge.

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.

  • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog/ Jason Pitzl-Waters

    For the record, when interviewed, I brought up Christo-Paganism, and pointed him to the Higginbothams should he want to explore that.

    • JasonMankey

      It’s not as much of a story with that sort of nuance.

  • Ash McSidhe

    As has often been said, “the journey is not the destination.” I was a bit surprised that the Times thought it was that noteworthy, but then Teo is well-known as such things go.

  • Belisama

    Great piece, Jason. May we all wish Teo well on his continued journey. And, college football is getting really interesting in these last few weeks, huh? :)

  • 12StepWitch

    What this whole thing has shown me is how useful I find a really vigorous, embodied spiritual community. When my spirituality is just a mirror in which I constantly examine myself, there is a limit to what I am able to see and how long that view will interest me. I wonder how differently this would have turned out had Teo’s experience of Paganism not been so largely a solitary one.

  • http://paganarch.blogspot.com/ rhyd wildermuth

    Great insights.

    I feel isolated. I’d only just heard of Teo five months ago, and then only just heard of this NYTimes article through your post (but, then again, I got my first cell-phone three years ago–I live my life behind).
    I almost wonder if us talking about it makes it a big deal? Also, it really makes me hope that eventually our online presences develop into something much more real-world, because mediated experiences seem just another way of keeping us from the Other–and yes, I realise there’s something paradoxical about being a Patheos contributor and hoping the internet goes away…

  • Alley Valkyrie

    I agree that Teo’s transition itself (I’m not going to say ‘conversion’ until he does) is water under the bridge, but I think that the community’s reaction to this part of Teo’s journey is not. I can’t help but to still contemplate a lot of the anger and harshness I saw come out of many people. Teo himself expressed sadness at harsh words coming from former friends a few days before he shut down his Facebook page. Such reactionary attitudes and language not only show us to be an rather intolerant bunch in a way that is contrary to how we like to see ourselves, but its downright hypocritical given the aspects of Christianity that exist in many traditions that fall under the umbrella of “Pagan”. Personally, I’m very troubled by how this all went down, and its put me at a level of discomfort in expressing my own views and practices with this community. I think overall we took a few steps backwards on this one. And to me, that’s not just water under the bridge… it needs to be critically examined.


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