Adventures of a Devil-Worshipping Whore, or, Why I Don’t Believe We’re Arguing About What We Believe

So, earlier this month, in response to a request from Patheos for their bloggers to answer the question “What do I believe?”–I wrote about my beliefs. There were many positive comments and some folks, moved by my words and seeing, perhaps, a reflection of their own views in them, shared what I had written on their own blogs.

I had not realized at the time that there had been an increasingly-contentious discussion occurring in the pagan blogosphere (and also on Tumblr and Facebook) about the differences between the beliefs and practices of polytheist pagans and those who, like me, are less concerned with deity and more likely to engage with the gods on a more abstract level (that is, not as literal beings).

At this point I have only read or listened to a fraction of the ongoing conversation, and somehow I became the target of one of a seeming cabal of hard-line polytheists who accused me of being one of the “enemy” (her word) who “comes into polytheistic space” (on the internet?) to “attack” and “marginalize” her and other polytheists with my “non-theistic horse shit.”

Now, not all of those words occurred in the same conversation, but they were all written or uttered by this person who apparently believes herself to be a victim of some sort of all out war on her polytheistic beliefs. Things have gotten so heated that a number of members of the polytheistic heathen community have announced they are observing a “month of silence” to protest these “attacks” and to “hold the line” against those (people like me, apparently) who would “marginalize” them.

To this, I say: Huh?

First of all, you can’t complain about someone “coming into polytheistic space” as if your Facebook thread, blog or Tumblr page is some kind of brick and mortar temple or sacred grove of trees. It’s the internet. If you don’t want to engage with people, block them or delete their comments or activate the comment moderation on your blog. But don’t tell people they’re “coming into” your “space” when you don’t own the internet or the social media platforms we’re all using for free.

Second: who’s marginalizing you? Other pagans? Really? Aren’t you more concerned about the social or religious mainstream communities of America or the news media marginalizing you? And aren’t you being just a little bit hypocritical, accusing others of “marginalizing” you when you refer to others’ spiritual beliefs as “horse shit?” Just saying. But again, I ask, how precisely are you being marginalized? The fact that other pagans do not share your views does not mean they are marginalizing you. It just means they don’t agree with you and don’t believe as you do. It doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t respect your views, and it most definitely doesn’t equate with oppressing or “marginalizing” them, or you.

Third: why, oh why, is it impossible for so many people in the pagan community to refrain from engaging in “holier than thou” tactics and trying to make those with different beliefs feel inferior? I mean, honestly, who cares? In any given week, you will meet many more pagans who came to this path for its diversity, openness and tolerance than you will those who came to it in order to lord it over others. Yet strangely, these self-serving, attention-seeking narcissists are the ones who seem to dominate the conversation.

Maybe it’s not just paganism, maybe other spiritual communities have these issues (Antagonists in the Church, anyone?), and maybe this will always be the way of things. After all, we as neo-pagans have endured decades of attempts to paint us as any number of scary figures, from bloodthirsty baby killers to brainwashing ideologues, in tracts, in books, on websites, in horror films and in television documentaries. But we have not let such tactics diminish our determination to follow our spiritual leanings. Yet, increasingly, within our own wider community, we are “drawing lines in the sand” intended for each other.

And didn’t many of us decide to embrace the journey on this path because we wanted to create a better world? A world where our respect for nature and our love of myth and history would help ameliorate the isolation and alienation so many contemporary people feel as our culture becomes increasingly distanced from the natural, sensual earth?

It doesn’t matter if you call them gods, or myths, or fairy tales, or trees, or rivers, or porcupines, or the fey, or the Good Folk, or archetypes, or hallucinations. What does matter is that our human ability to imagine and manifest a better world is bound up in our willingness to engage with the wholeness of the human experience, and limited only by our own creativity and courage.

To waste time arguing or feeling offended because others don’t believe as we do, is to miss out on the thrilling opportunity that lies before us: shimmering, numinous, expectant, ripe.

 

 

 

  • Mikal

    The month of silence thing seems to be more about the insanely toxic comments being made more than anything else, not about whether us heathens have any issue with anyone under the pagan umbrella. This whole issue seems to have arisen over a single persons personal prejudices and their decision to voice them, not about a overall viewpoint of anyone else really. I’m pretty sure every group has their Pat Robertson’s, after all.

    • Joseph Bloch

      As a hard polytheist myself, I for one am looking forward to a month of silence from certain quarters.

      • Mikal

        If it gets people on both sides to calm down a bit, yeah.

    • PegAloi

      That may be, but the “month of silence” is being characterized and described as a PROTEST against attacks and marginalization of polytheists, and I have read that now from a number of people. So if it is occurring for reasons other than that, I have not seen evidence of it.

  • Joseph Bloch
    • Mikal

      Exactly.

    • PegAloi

      Yes, too right, Joseph,and if I did not make that clear I should have. I have read your thoughts on the matter and appreciated them; thanks for linking them again here!

  • Lizzietish81

    You can take the man out of the church, but you can’t always take the church out of the man. Some people are just born to be fundamentalists.

  • John W. Morehead

    Thanks for this, Peg. I find your comments interesting as they dovetail with some of my own experiences and thoughts. First, when leaving comments and attempting to interact with Pagans on various blogs and websites I have been accused of violating Pagan sacred space. Like you, I thought this was the Internet and a common place for civil interaction over ideas. Second, it would appear that human nature leads to boundary defensiveness, whether in Paganism or various forms of Christianity. Third, and finally, minority religions are marginalized enough without perpetuating their own marginal status even further. I hope this post stirs important conversations within Paganism.

    • PegAloi

      Well said John, and thank you for those insights.

  • ericjdev

    While I agree in spirit with everything you say my personal experience has been there is just as much vitriol and fundamentalism on either side of the issue and i’ve more than once been attacked for daring to utter the word faith in describing my relationship with the Goddess. I respect someone saying that belief isn’t key to their practice but it is to mine and one can get attacked and marginalized for their theistic bullshit as easy as they can for their non-theistic bullshit.

    • Cindy_Wilson

      I too have been verbally attacked over the years for simply stating I was a polytheist and believe in the Gods. I have mocked and called names by self identified pantheists, secularists, humanists, secular humanists, and atheists…all pagans. The names included: pagan fundie, infantile, and even not a pagan. Little wonder I gravitated to those like my beliefs and spirituality. Anyone can label their self whatever they want, but no one should expect utter acceptance from either side of the fence. Rather than name calling, perhaps some simple civility and courtesy? Live what you believe, don’t proselytize, and grant the same to others. I don’t see a lot of civility or courtesy as a generalization of pagan-dom. I would like to think these are common to all regardless of category.

    • PegAloi

      That’s the point: we all should have better things to do than to marginalize one another within the greater pagan community.

  • Bobbie Ann Ford McKinney

    Love that last paragraph…got teary and smiley… It is so frustrating to feel “kicked to the curb” by some of the folks I share a spiritual space with because I don’t do, or say, or sometimes even pronounce things differently. I already went there and did that while being raised a highly conservative Southern Baptist. I don’t need it again. Thank you for your words here…

  • Rebecca Davis McClard

    I can agree with you that both sides of this issue have made small children of themselves. What ruffles my feathers is hearing people say “It doesn’t matter if you mix this god with this goddess their energies are the same” or “They are all just an archtype anyway”. To those of us who have very personal relationships with Deity, that is rather insulting. It is usually said in a condescending tone of voice that makes the polytheist seem a fool believing in a fairy tale. This is not a new thing, in fact it has been around for awhile.

    You seem like a level headed individual, probably very well read, and personal attacks against you are not justified. Maybe if both sides can take a note from this, it is to be engaging in civil discussion rather than flame wars.

    • PegAloi

      Thank you very much Rebecca. I fear I have not been very clear (or not as adamant as I might have been) in articulating one point I feel very strongly about: that I very much respect any individual’s conception of deity or relationship with same. The fact that it may be different from my own doesn’t lessen or magnify it.
      What I do not like to see is that people within the pagan community speak for entire groups, or proclaim who the “real”pagans are.

      • Lee Root

        I can vouch for that. I am a solitary Wiccan, and was attacked verbally by a group of pagans because I don’t cast spells. One of them said you can’t be Wiccan if you don’t cast spells. Of course they also tried to diminish me saying that you can’t be Wiccan unless you were initiated by a coven too.

  • natcase

    Classic buliying behavior, playing the victim as an excuse for venting vitriol. I also loved this essay. And no, it’s not just pagans. I’m a Quaker, and we get the same thing going on over here, from time to time…

  • Judie

    I so appreciate your position. I started a pagan group in our local Unitarian Universalist church. We had our first circle on Imbolc, and the majority in attendance were NOT practicing pagans, but a few were. I personally believe as you do, that the deities are metaphorical, not literal beings. So I keep my circles very general and don’t appeal to specific deities. After the circle, someone complained to one of our Pagan members that I should not have called a circle to the Goddess because I do not believe in a deity. And the person complaining was not even pagan! We think that all the narrow-mindedness is in the christian church, but there are narrow minded people everywhere. You would be surprised to know just how many people are non-theistic pagans. There are quite a number of us out there.


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