Who are you listening to when it comes to Paganism, polytheism, witchcraft, and magic?
I’m not talking about music. I’m talking about authors, teachers, bloggers, and such. Who’s influencing your worldview? Who’s impacting your beliefs? Who’s helping to shape your practices?
You don’t have to follow someone like a guru for them to have a significant impact on your practice. Even if you don’t do everything the way they do it, just reading or listening to them allows them to frame the issues. You start to see things on their terms, even if you don’t agree with them.
Before you read any further, let me be clear: this post doesn’t assign people to categories. I’m not telling you who I think is a rock star and who I think is a dinosaur. I couldn’t make that list, and if I did it would cause needless controversy.
The purpose of this post is to ask two simple questions. Who are you listening to? And do they have more influence on your practice than they should?
No, you shouldn’t try to do it all yourself
Any time the question of influential Pagans comes up, someone – usually several someones – says “you shouldn’t let anyone influence you – think for yourself!”
While I strongly recommend thinking for yourself, it’s impossible to not let anyone influence you. If you did, you’d cut yourself off from the rest of humanity.
More importantly, advancing knowledge any field is a group effort. One person comes up with an idea. Another critiques it and finds a weakness. A third proposes a solution for the weakness. A fourth tries the solution and finds it helpful, but finds a flaw in another part of the idea. Gradually, the idea – theory, belief, practice, philosophy, etc. – gets stronger and stronger, and thus becomes more useful to more people.
Don’t be afraid of criticism. If it turns out you’re wrong, it’s better to change your mind and be right than to keep pretending you were never wrong. That’s how you end up insisting you won an election you lost by 7 million votes.
And with that said, let’s look at some of the types of people who are influencing beliefs and practices in today’s Pagan world.
Garage bands who never left the garage (for a very good reason)
The music business is brutal and lots of good musicians never get the break they need to make it to the top. But not every commercial failure is the result of bad luck. Some of them are just bad musicians.
Likewise, some people in the Pagan world promote ideas that are painful to listen to. Some are based on bad history or bad science, some are baggage from another religion, and some are unethical and harmful on their own.
Ultimately, the message is more important than the messenger. If the message is bad, don’t try to fool yourself into thinking the messenger is the Pagan equivalent of the Sex Pistols.
Pop stars give us music that’s fun and light and that appeals to lots and lots of people. And that’s OK – let people enjoy things.
Some people really like witchy clothes and jewelry. Or they like dressing like a Viking. They may be able to work some actual magic, and they may know a thing or two about “the old ways.” They’re not hurting anybody – let them live their lives.
But so much more is possible.
One hit wonders
Some one hit wonders are pop stars who release the perfect song at the perfect time. Others are really good musicians who run into complications and can never do it again. And some defy explanation. Regardless of why, they have one big hit and then that’s it.
Some Pagan authors write one good book, they teach one good class, or they have deep and original thoughts on one subject. But for whatever reason they’re unable to repeat that success with other subjects, and now what they’re teaching is leading people in the wrong direction.
If someone is very helpful in one area, don’t assume they’ll be helpful in every area.
Rock stars create music that doesn’t just get stuck in your head, it touches your soul. It’s music that you keep listening to year after year, because it’s just that good.
These are the authors and teachers who you don’t just hear their words, you absorb their thoughts. You incorporate their methods into your practice, not because they’re a “Big Name Pagan” but because what they have to say works. Maybe they’re well-known and maybe they aren’t – that’s not what’s important. What’s important is their work is useful, helpful, and meaningful.
Rock stars come and go, but the best keep on rocking. The Rolling Stones are in their 70s (drummer Charlie Watts turned 80 last month) and they’re still making music. Joan Jett is 63 and now that Covid is subsiding is back to touring as much as ever.
Pagan legends are the writers, teachers, and others who’ve been practicing their craft for years. Some of them focus on one specific area and keep going deeper and deeper into it. Others branch out and bring their rigorous approach to new traditions and practices.
As the financial disclaimer says “past performance is no guarantee of future results.” We still have to evaluate every new work to make sure it holds up. But when a legend publishes a new book or teaches a new class, the odds are good it’s going to be worth your time.
Some musicians keep playing those same old songs from 40 years ago. Or they write new songs… that sound just like those songs from 40 years ago. And as long as people keep buying them, they’ll keep turning them out. Nostalgia is a powerful thing, and the older I get the more I understand this.
In the Pagan world, I’m not talking about those who maintain traditions. For example, the Gardnerian Wiccans who want to do Wicca just like Gardner and Valiente taught. I’m talking about those who were doing pop culture witchcraft in 1975 and they’re still doing the same thing today. That’s not wrong and if people find comfort in it, so be it. But it can be stagnating.
Of more concern are those who cling rigidly to concepts like “gender polarity” despite its impact on trans and non-binary people.
If you like nostalgia in your Paganism and it’s not hurting anybody, more power to you. But don’t use “things have always been this way” as an excuse for excluding others from your circles.
So what do we do with all this?
I could go on and on, but the purpose of this post isn’t to precisely map every Pagan to a type of musician. The purpose is to get you to think about who’s influencing your beliefs and practices.
Are you listening to really bad garage bands with really bad ideas? Or to the one hit wonders who wrote a good book or two but are now promoting conspiracy theories?
Are you listening to the pop stars who make you feel good but leave you with nothing that lasts?
Or are you listening to the rock stars and legends who are creating deep and meaningful works and spreading helpful ideas and practices?
At the end of the day, it’s the ideas that matter, not who talks about them. It’s the practices that connect you to your Gods and ancestors that matter, not whether the person you learned them from has published ten books, or one book, or no books.
Talking about Pagan leaders as rock stars is dangerous – we need to avoid cults of personality.
At the same time, when you get wound up about what somebody said on a Patheos blog, or on Twitter, or – Gods forbid – on TikTok, ask yourself “who is this person?” “why should I care what they think?” and “is this a rock star or just a bad garage band?”
If their ideas are good, stick with them. If not, just hit the skip button and keep moving.