This is the 521st post on Raise the Horns, and out of those posts over 500 were written by me over the last five years. One hundred posts a year is pretty good really. It’s not John Beckett good, but it’s not bad. I’ve seen a lot of great blogs fizzle out after a year or two, so to still have a lot of readers and (often) something to say probably deserves a pat on the back.
But for every one hundred posts on this blog, there are probably another twenty “drafts” that didn’t quite make the cut. Some of them are complete articles that I just didn’t feel like sharing for whatever reason. Most of them never got on the blog because I decided they were too argumentative (though some, as you will see, are for other reasons), and despite what some people think I really don’t like arguing.
Because this week marks my five year anniversary at Patheos Pagan I thought it might be fun to look through the reject pile and share some of my thoughts, that until now, didn’t quite make the cut. It’s like a blooper real on a DVD, but not funny! After each bit of not quite ready for prime time article there are a few “director’s notes” on each particular piece to provide a little context.
So enjoy this (admittedly crappy) look back on things that almost made it. And before I let you go deep into the reject pile, special thanks to my wife Ari for being a part of this journey with me. I’m sorry it’s made my hair prematurely grey in a few places. And thanks to everyone at Patheos Pagan past and present for the friendship and inspiration. It’s been an honor to write here, and continues to be so.
The Pitfalls and Pratfalls of Pagan Blogging
I don’t write to piss people off, but it happens. Sometimes it happens because I’m just not a very good writer. I might make a poor word choice for example, or perhaps I just don’t express myself coherently enough. Those are on me and I generally fess up to them. It can be frustrating because I understand me, why can’t everyone else?
Bloggers exist in a world without editors, and while I sometimes run things through my NA Committee most of the time I don’t. I tend to think I know how something is going to be received, so if I don’t think it’s going to be contentious, why would anyone else see it that way? And when I’m wrong about that it’s a pretty public pratfall. The bad part about having an audience is that people notice when you screw up or you offend someone.
The Pagan Blogosphere is also full of pitfalls, and it’s easy to fall into them. Anytime I write about history, deity, or the definition of a word or phrase there’s always a chance that it’s all going to blow up in my face. (And sometimes it does!) That’s all because the online Pagan world occupies a rather weird headspace. We are often both book smart and passionate about our spiritual experiences.
Notes: We are often both book smart and passionate about our spiritual experiences. This is something I think we really overlook sometimes, and it was most likely the reason I was writing about a very public pratfall. Greater Pagandom is extremely smart when it comes to how their deities were worshipped in antiquity and beyond, but it’s the beyond that’s tricky. When talking about deities, they weren’t just worshipped in the “past tense” they are being worshipped in the here and now.
People have relationships with those deities, and they are most definitely a part of the reality those folks live in. Deity isn’t something from the past, sure we should look to that past for inspiration, but we have to remember the here and now too.
Why Are We So Awful to One Another?
A wise rabbit once said “If you don’t have nothing nice to say don’t say nothing at all.” It’s pretty sound advice, though many of us, including myself, have trouble living up to that standard. I think I called someone a dick-head the other day, but at least it was done privately and only after he called me an asshole. (Note to self: that doesn’t really make it any better.)
If I don’t have anything good to say, I try to keep my mouth closed. Many of the people in the greater Pagan world that I dislike I also acknowledge as being absolutely brilliant individuals. I just wish they’d stop burning every bridge they’ve ever built. There are so few of us, I don’t understand the desire to drag everyone down and alienate every potential friend and/or ally.
Notes: We really are often awful to each other. There’s not much to say there, and I know I’m guilty of it too (but boy do I have to be pushed). My favorite are the Facebook pile-ons (let’s all talk about how awful this person is!) and the comments by people who know the “offending party” despite having only spent twenty minutes with them. It’s not just Pagans of course, it seems that “assuming the worst” has become human nature these days.
A Monster in Loch Ness
Though I’m not currently a member of the Official Loch Ness Monster Fan Club I was a member of my own Nessie fan club in Middle School. Through late elementary school into junior high school (grades 3-7) I was obsessed with cryptids (undiscovered creatures like the Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot). My first ever writing project was a comprehensive scrapbook featuring every newspaper and magazine article I could find dealing with mysterious creatures. Often times the cryptids I collected in that book were more supernatural than zoological.
You may not be familiar with the history of Washington DC’s demon cat but my fourth grade self could talk about it at great length. Before becoming a devotee of the god Pan I lived in fear of his Maryland-area doppleganger, the Goatman, allegedly a mutated scientist who became an axe-wielding half-man/half-goat creature due to a tragic lab accident. In fifth grade I believed this was completely possible and lived in fear of dark deserted roads for years because of it. I can’t remember how many cryptids my scrapbook documented but it had to have been over fifty. As much as my fifth grade self knew about cryptids it was only the tip of the iceberg. The internet has allowed more and more of these creatures to slip into the public’s awareness, at least for a little while. Online articles about “monsters” are a lot like posts in the Pagan blogosphere . . . . . they come and go very quickly.
Nessie has been on my mind a lot lately. Some of it’s the picture of course, but some of it’s because of my lovely wife (I’m going to get in trouble, that was a horrible segue). Even though she’s a complete skeptic she just signed us up for a tour of Loch Ness on our wedding anniversary in September. I’m especially excited about this because it’s been a dream of mine since childhood to visit Loch Ness and try and catch a glimpse of the monster. I’m a long way from my elementary school years these days and I no longer believe with all my heart that there’s a creature in Loch Ness, but you never know . . . . . . Perhaps there is a Loch Ness Monster, just something that’s not a dinosaur. Maybe it’s a giant eel or a sturgeon . . . . sturgeon are creepy enough to account for all sorts of river and lake monsters.
A few years ago at ConVocation in Detroit I did a “Bigfoot is Real” workshop and somehow I still have friends. One of the most beautiful women I’ve ever met (Hi Christie!) once told me that we would have most certainly dated in junior high because of our shared love of weird things.
These Things Aren’t Paganism
The other day during an interview someone asked me how I define Paganism. I hemmed and hawed around the issue because these days I’m really not sure how to define it. Are we a spiritual community? Are we a social grouping? As the people who identify as Pagans grow more and more diverse the word keeps getting more and more difficult to define.
Like many things, I know Paganism when I see it. Now one has to be careful when they think they see Paganism. Native American Beliefs are Native American Beliefs, they are not Paganism even if they sometimes resemble what many of us do. Same thing with Hinduism, it’s not Paganism, it’s Hinduism. If I see something that looks like Paganism and the people doing the thing identify as Pagans, then it’s most likely Paganism (and I’m not the Pagan Police, so it’s not my place to say that it’s something else).
I’m a big tent Pagan, I think there’s room under the big top for all sorts of world views,* and those world views don’t necessarily have to completely match my own. None of us have a stranglehold on the truth, and come to think of it, there might be many truths! While I’m open to many different kinds of Paganism, there are certain things that are simply not Paganism, and if these things eat up too much of your time, you might still be a Pagan, but I’d argue that you aren’t practicing Paganism.
Notes: I really hate seeing Native American or Hindu beliefs being classified as “pagan.” That’s generally not how those folks identify and we shouldn’t throw our labels on someone else. People who identify as Pagans and hold to our shared values are Pagans. Now those values are wide and varied, but are generally the ones you see expressed in places like Patheos Pagan, Pagan Bloggers, Witches & Pagans, even Gods and Radicals. (What I’m saying is that the racist assholes who occupy the fringes of the internet are not really welcome in our shared spaces and are therefore not a part of the Pagan Community.)
Also, Facebook and blogs aren’t really Paganism. If you are spending twenty hours a week trying to tear everyone down it’s awfully hard to practice Paganism.
Wicca Can Be Many Things, But Don’t Tell Me What It Can’t Be
Wicca can certainly be many things. I’m a big fan of inclusive definitions (and inclusive practices) and I don’t think anyone has to be an initiate or take their clothes off in 2016 to be a Wiccan. But if people want to be initiates (yay!) and take their clothes off (double yay!) that too is Wicca.
Despite what many believe, it’s impossible in this day and age to police the word Wicca. That black cat was let out of the bag several decades ago, and while the word Wicca was originally for initiates of specific traditions, I’d argue that it has become something else in 2016.
Notes: I think this one is pretty obvious, and “you shall be naked in your rites (if you want).”
My Paganism & My Politics
I have never been one for Zen Buddhism but there’s a story about two monks who took a vow of chastity. Upon reaching a river they find a woman there unable to cross. One of the monks puts the woman on his back and then drops her off once they all get across the river. The other monk can’t stop thinking about it and eventually asks why his peer carried the woman. The second monk shoots back something along the lines of “I set her down miles ago, but you are the one still carrying her.” I love that story and when I find myself upset about something I tell myself “to set the old woman down.”
Sometimes I think it’s beneficial to set down the anger and not carry it with me all the time. It’s one of the reasons I don’t carry grudges either (edit: until recently, life has gotten more complicated), and even love some of my more vocal detractors here at RtH. I love your opinions and respect them, I love how you practice Paganism and Witchcraft, but that’s not necessarily how I do it, and that’s fine. If you want to be a rage-monster or continually angry that’s also your prerogative, I found it an unhealthy way to live my life.
I’m not wild about some of the Democrats I vote for, but the alternatives are far worse. I’ve supported Green Party candidates for President before (Nader 2000) and watched that backfire completely. I would love to cloak myself in the mantle of an environmental crusader but I’m far more comfortable working within the system. Does this make me a bad Pagan? I don’t think so. There are lots of different approaches to dealing with the world’s problems, all are most likely necessary for long and lasting change.
I don’t think there’s a Pagan litmus political litmus test. We are are trying to do the best we can in the ways we think are most effective. Contrary to what some people believe Paganism comes in all sorts of political stripes too . . .there are conservative Pagans, liberal Pagans, libertarian Pagans, and everything in between. Over a pint of cider or a cup of coffee I tend to think we’d probably all get along, online not so much.
Notes: I have trouble being mad all the time, and I feel like I’m meeting more and more people who live that way. I’m not saying that there aren’t injustices in the world, there’s a lot about this world that sucks. But there’s also some good in it too. There are oceans, mountains, rainy days, even nice people!
Sometimes I Just Don’t Know How to Communicate With Other Pagans
Over the last year, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in Paganism online, the lack of critical argument. I don’t know when it happened or why, but disagreeing with people is now seen by many as “trolling.” Being obstinate for no reason is one thing, but simply engaging in the give and take of ideas is something else entirely.
About a year ago I was kicked out of a Facebook group for arguing that “not all drugs are bad.” If people want to smoke pot everyday and can still function in the real world I don’t see a problem. I know lots of pot smokers who hold jobs, are good parents, and don’t let THC destroy their lives. It’s not for me, but as long as you aren’t hurting anyone (this also means no driving while high) I could care less what you do. Apparently the girlfriend of the group’s moderator couldn’t believe how many Pagans were “druggies” and I was kicked out of the group with no warning, rhyme, or real reason.
I had clashed with this particular young lady online before, most notably when she argued that skyclad ritual was always a sexual thing, and just a way for men to objectify women. When I disagreed and began sharing my own experiences the thread was immediately shut down. Not once in fifteen years of skyclad ritual have I ever felt that the experience was sexual. Liberating? Yes, but sexual no. After a few skyclad rituals I stopped noticing the difference entirely and it became lot like wearing clothes. It just didn’t matter.
If you think skyclad ritual is overly sexual, or that all pot smokers are “druggies” that’s your right to do so, but I think I should have the chance to inform you of your error. There seems to be this weird idea out there that disagreement on a particular issue is something personal. I’ve always had lots of friends from all walks of life and both sides of the political and religious aisles. I disagree on them with a whole host of issues, I still like them as people.
Notes: Disagreements don’t have to be personal. I have a lot of friends I disagree with, I think that’s natural. The problem is when it all becomes personal. That’s a line we probably shouldn’t cross if we want our conversations to be productive.