I had an entirely different article prepared for this week, and then I took some time off. I couldn’t bring myself to post my original article, and luckily I had some assistance from a helpful person. Instead of my intended topic, I want to write about the Pagan community and what Paganism has done for me. Hopefully, this will not come across as a spiritual testament. My goal is to explain the profoundly deep ways that Paganism has helped me through insurmountable moments and what came from those experiences.
The scope of this article is to bridge between those who are new to Paganism and the well-versed. This bridge is multifaceted and applies to our connections with each other as Wiccans, Witches, Druids, Heathens, or anyone under the guise of Paganism. This article will have a note of vulnerability, and writing this means a great deal to me. I have felt embarrassed as I fumbled along this path, yet what we do after we dust ourselves off speaks volumes of our being.
Coming to the Pagan Community
Coming into the Pagan community occurred at a very young age. I was only thirteen when I was first exposed to Pagan spiritualties. To say I was awe-struck cannot express my sincere feelings when I opened my first books. Modern Paganism as a whole defined values that matched my view of the cosmos and the world around me. To this day, those same values hold true. It can be summed up in this quote by Selena Fox:
“I am Pagan. I am a part of the whole of Nature. The Rocks, the Animals, the Plants, the Elements, and Stars are my relatives. Other humans are my sisters and brothers, whatever their races, colors, genders, sexual orientations, ages, nationalities, religions, lifestyles. Planet Earth is my home. I am a part of this large family of Nature, not the master of it. I have my own special part to play and I seek to discover and play that part to the best of my ability. I seek to live in harmony with others in the family of Nature, treating others with respect.”
Isn’t the above quote so moving? My mind is still moved each time I read this to myself. This quote summed up the totality of my first experiences as a Pagan. I was physically beaten, threatened with murder, and told that life would be easier without my existence throughout my childhood. Additionally, I was treated with the same level of love as a pebble in my parent’s shoes. The Pagan community offered a refuge from this pain.
Moreover, several other people understood my pain and were proof that a happier life was possible. I felt safe among the Pagans of Salt Lake City, Utah. They ultimately accepted me for the broken teenager who was openly gay. None of these things was a problem. All that mattered was that I had a sincere interest and could respect those around me.
As much as I have criticized the Pagan community for their senseless bickering, I could never wish it harm. How many others can relate to this story? Do you recognize yourself or another Pagan in the painful past and warm embrace of Paganism? So many of us have known pain, and this is why I criticize my fellow Pagans. We forget that we have bonded more profoundly than the label of our religion or philosophical ideologies. We are a modern movement that seeks to express our wholeness with nature. We are seeking to heal our own pasts and promote a better world.
My Largest Gripe with the Community
Right now, we are witnessing the massive gap between those willing to do what is suitable for the community versus what they assume is correct for the individual. Yes, I am referring to vaccinations and the absolute abhorrent behavior within the world at large. This issue is a horrific signal that millions of people have created a fear between science and themselves. Abominable behavior is indicative of several underlying concerns that impact our specific community.
As a whole, we have forgotten what it means to be compassionate. My entire philosophy behind the vaccine, mask mandates, and health protocols come from a place of compassion. I do not want to hurt the community that gave me so much, that truly saved my life. It would devastate me to know that any selfish action I took caused the illness or death of someone I admire. What worries me is that many other people do not seem to see this concern.
Philosophers like Michael Allen Fox advocate the seeking of peace through compassion. His argument is that the etymology of compassion means to suffer with, which signifies something deeper than sympathy or empathy. It is a deep awareness of the suffering coupled with the wish to relieve that suffering through action. Active compassion is a moral stance and the foundation of great thinkers who have espoused the idea of compassion as morality.
Nowhere can this philosophy better be applied than this pandemic. We are all in this together, and we know each other’s pains. There are methods we have to relieve that suffering, and it is a moral duty to champion through compassion. If we can see the value in adopting compassion with the pandemic, we can begin to see its value in other areas.
Compassion for those who are new or new to an idea. There is nothing more distasteful than snobbery within the Pagan community. Whether you are well-versed in a specific path or educated in the traditional sense, spurning others only reflects poorly on you. This does not mean we have to pour all of our time and resources into each and every newcomer. Instead, it means that we maintain awareness of what it is like to be in their new position. What impression would you like to make on this person? It is better to make a positive impression than one of an aloof leader who pretends they are better than the newbie in front of them.
The concept of compassion is nothing new to Pagans. We see this call to action in our approach to nature and the world around us. Heathens have the concept of frith (Those who are frith bound to each other agreed to not cause physical harm to each other, no matter how much they disagreed). Wiccans have the credo of “Harm none and do what ye will,” and several Druid orders call for respect and mutual care amongst the group. Though the above terms are being used loosely, they are still part of a concept that speaks towards an understanding of compassion.
You Mentioned That You Stumbled – What is that about?
In my previous article, I expressed a deep embarrassment for stumbling along the Pagan path. This issue arose because I chose to try Druidry out, felt highly connected, and then some things just did not work. I’ve been asked to expand on the items that did not fit. I have chosen to avoid speaking about this at this time. It is primarily because it wouldn’t serve anything more than gossip and isn’t applicable in my future goals.
The essence of this article has been community and what it has done for me. It is also about our ability to fall, make mistakes, be accountable, and keep moving forward. Admittedly, I am stuck at the moment and unsure about which step to take next. This could mean that I camp out here for a while and simply make observations about my mistake. It could also mean that this is precisely where I need to be now; there are bound to be lessons in this position.
Right now, I am grappling with the sensation of agnostic atheism and everything that comes with this label. I question each area that this touches and what it means for continuing ritual practice. Am I still open to a deity making themselves known to me, you ask? Yes, absolutely! I would genuinely love to experience something deeper than UPG (unverified personal gnosis). Do I still practice magick? Not at this moment, but that shouldn’t mean that I am putting it aside forever. How do I feel about divination? Divination has served as a beautiful personal introspective tool for me. I am fiercely opposed to spiritual mediums but enjoy tools like tarot and oracle for meditative reflection.
What Happens Next?
In regards to my personal practice, I am taking this time to be present in this moment. Fortunately, self-reflection has the benefit of being isolated from larger groups, which supports my views within the community. Our current efforts to minimize the spread of COVID-19 have been pitiful. If group leaders are not choosing to mandate vaccines (medical exemption aside), then groups should not be meeting at this time. This stance creates authentic reasoning to return inward and resolve the cognitive dissonances that I am facing.
After the pandemic shifts to a sustainable level, I hope to see an evolved Pagan community. I would like to see bounds of compassion, humanitarian efforts, and more substantial environmental efforts on our part. Additionally, it would be encouraging to see the dichotomy between scientific reasoning and our faiths begin to break down. Not being a natural leader is difficult, but it doesn’t exempt me from doing my part. My addition to these efforts is my voice and social platform. I want to be an example of the change I wish to see and further my involvement within each topic.
Shifting gears towards my agnostic-atheist concerns, I feel that it is okay not to know. Fortunately, I received countless thoughtful responses to my previous post. The answers enforced my views of the Pagan community. The compassion, tolerance, and understanding of each other’s pain were evident. It is still highly raw to admit openly that I have not experienced the presence of a deity. In some ways, it equates to failure in my mind and can be highly frustrating. While in nature, those sensations of awe are definitely there, but I do not feel it is a divine presence.
I recognize that being in this vulnerable position can be dangerous as well. Those who are in a state of uncertainty can reach for anything that feels like a life-saver. We must use our ability to discern destructive behaviors and use our reasoning to develop rational thought. I do this by using my education and knowledge of resources. It is helpful to have the skillset to discern between popularized ideas and factual information. More often than not, this boils down to having exposure to educational material, to begin with. I am fortunate enough to have this privilege. Though you, too, can seek out verifiable material. Countless authors on Patheos do their best to source material. We know some of the big names that affirm the values of education: Thorn Mooney, Jason Mankey, John Beckett, Philip Carr-Gomm, Ronald Hutton, Ocean Keltoi, and countless others.
My closing thought is this: If you believe in Modern Paganism and that ancient does not equal authenticity, please do not fear scientific reasoning. Additionally, do not misappropriate scientific reasoning to fit your standards by cherry-picking ideas. We hold back ourselves and our species by denying rational thought. I know this can be counterintuitive, especially concerning several tools used by Pagans. I implore you to do your best, and if all you can do is the minimum, that is sufficient.
Be kind to each other and be compassionate. These ideas do not stem from a New Age/Light-Worker. These ideas are fundamental basics to living a better life. We are fallible, everyone feels annoyed from time to time. Realize that those are moments that will fade away, and do the best you can. When we earnestly apply Pagan ideas to our lives, we open up to the interconnection between all things. We are part of a larger whole, which comes with an obligation to care for everything around us. Do what is best for the Earth, for humanity, and in the end, for yourself. Because if we are selfish beings, then it serves us better to be compassionate.