Confession: Pagan Fundamentalism

Confession: Pagan Fundamentalism May 21, 2012

This post is part 1 of a 3-part series.  Previously, I posted a 3-part series about my vision of Neopaganism when I came to the movement.  The previous series was a kind of retrospective.  This series will be more forward-looking.

I have a confession to make.  I have been guilty of a kind of Pagan fundamentalism.  Here on this blog and on the website I maintained ( for the last several years, I have tried to define Paganism in a way that privileged my own beliefs and practices.  I have imagined myself somehow at the center of the “Pagan umbrella”.  I have presumed that my beliefs and my practices represented a pure “core” of Paganism.  This is particularly embarrassing to admit in a community that places a high value on diversity and tends to eschew dogmatism.  If there were a Pagan Ten Commandments, I’m pretty sure my attitude would have broken at least one of them.

This fundamentalist attitude may have been a vestige of my upbringing in a Christian tradition that insisted it was the “one and only” true way.  While acknowledging that other churches have some truth, Mormons claim that only their church has the “fullness of the gospel”.  I remember, a few months after I left the Mormon church, my wife pointed out to me that my dogmatic attitudes had not changed since leaving the church: when I was Mormon, I was dogmatically Mormon; when I left the church, I was dogmatically anti-Mormon.  I hope that I have evolved somewhat since then, but then I realized that I still have a tendency toward dogmatism, even in my Paganism.

Shutting down the AmericanNeopaganism website (and the project that that site represented) has, I think, freed me up to take a new look at the Pagan community and my own place within it.  Previously, I imagined circle of “pure” Neopaganism that was “infected” by the overlapping influences of esotericism and deity-centered Paganism.  I imagined that it was possible, by conceptually removing these influences to get at a “core” Paganism — of which, of course, I was representative.

Gradually, I have come to realize the ego-centrism of this whole project and recognize how my “core” Paganism inevitably mirrored my own personal brand of Paganism.  This insight allowed me to entertain the possibility that my own Paganism is not — not even conceptually — centrist, as well as the possibility that there is no conceptual “center” of Paganism.  What if there is no one center?  What if there are multiple centers?  And what if my own Paganism is not even representative of any of these centers, but is just another hybrid of multiple centers?

In the next part of this series, I will discuss my new conception of the Pagan community.  In the last part, I will discuss where I think I fit within that community.

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  • Oh, man. You have just given me some work to do.

    Have I, too, been guilty of thinking of my own brand of Paganism as the “center of the Pagan umbrella?” And am I OK with the hubris it implies if I am?

    I tend to be least accepting of those whose Paganism does not embrace some core spiritual value in caring for (if not honoring–I realize not everyone worships Her) the earth. That does seem to me to be a value worth some conflict. I think often of Mark Twain’s adage that he could not respect the religion of any man “whose neighbor and whose dog were not the better for it.” I’d add whose ecology to the list.

    Is my individual passion for that value, plus the passion of the Pagans I have known longest and loved best enough justification for that, however? How much of my insistence on an ecological vision for Paganism is inspired by Spirit/s, and how much by my own arrogance?

    While it is possible to be both right and arrogant, it’s still a trap. Ah, damn you, John Halstead! You have made me THINK.


  • It’s a great thing, though, to have the necessary amount of self-reflection to realize this about your previous approaches, and it’s even better that you have the guts to stand up and say “Here’s where I think I was wrong” in a public venue like this. So, kudos to you for that! 🙂

    I think I’ve resisted the temptation to put my own pagan practices, theologies, and ideas at some sort of normative center or core by two main things: 1) constantly reminding myself that my role is to be liminal, the deities that I deal with are liminal, and that no “centering” ideology really fits my own overall theological projects; and 2) simply being very aware (and having experiences regularly that re-affirm this awareness) of how my own practices and ideas are at very large variance with many other forms of modern paganism, and thus cannot be considered “majority” or “centrist” positions. It’s not to say that I’m doing something “right” and others aren’t, or even that in reigning in the tendency to see oneself as normative and others as not is necessarily a good thing or even the best thing, but it is what my own experience has proven to be the case for realistic questions of self-assessment almost since the time I started in modern paganism twenty years ago.

    • Thank for that! I like the idea of playing a liminal role. It’s one I had not considered for myself.

      • It’s one of those paradoxical positions to be in, where one finds that it fits one perfectly to not quite fit perfectly anywhere else, as it were. When I came to terms with that being a characteristic of a great deal of my life–not just spiritually–it helped me to be able to know how to better negotiate that role with others, and to everyone’s benefit. (Not infallibly, of course, but one does try!)

  • “Pagan Fundamentalism” is a value laden term with extreme negative connotations for common people. I have documented in the below linked article how results of existing Pagan scholarship are already being misrepresented on Christian blogs with a distinctively negative agenda towards Paganism. I am very concerned that the present discussions about Pagan Fundamentalism will be used against Pagans in the same manner. See my article on this important issue entitled:
    “Pagan Scholarship and anti-Pagan Propaganda” at

    • Thanks, I’ll check out the article. I do agree that the term is value laden, especially in the post-911 West. Of course, the term also has a dictionary definition, which is how I meant it. But I have noticed that the term, in its pejorative sense, is being slung around the Pagan blogosphere a lot recently.