6 Kinds Of People Who Revert Out Of Paganism And Witchcraft

6 Kinds Of People Who Revert Out Of Paganism And Witchcraft January 14, 2024

Recently there have been a couple of notable cases of people who, after making a name for themselves as witches or other Pagan-adjacent people, suddenly reverted to Christianity. New Age teacher Doreen Virtue was probably the most prominent to do so, in 2017. More recently, tattoo artist Kat Von D shared a video of her baptism and talked about returning to Christianity. There have been other, lesser known people who have done the same thing.

Any time a celebrity (to the extent any of these people can be considered celebrities) makes a public religious change, someone always screams “it’s all about the money!” Maybe it is, in some cases. I don’t think it is in either of these two, and I don’t think it is in most. People who insist politics is all about the money ignore something important: politicians often do terrible things because they believe terrible things. Likewise, people often change religions because their beliefs change.

What follows is not a scientific study. Rather, it comes from a lifetime of observations: in the Pagan community, but before that, in the Christian communities where I grew up and observed people converting and then later going back to whatever they were before.

I’ve identified six kinds of people who revert out of Paganism and witchcraft. If you’ve spotted others, feel free to list them in the comments.

photo by John Beckett

Those who were just visiting

Let’s face it – being a witch is a trendy thing. It sounds cool, it looks cool, and it’s easy to do. No, seriously – it’s easy to do. Just start practicing witchcraft. It takes a lifetime to master, but it’s easy enough to start.

Paganism isn’t as popular as it once was, but there were a couple years in the 20-teens where being a polytheist was the trendy thing to do. Seems impossible now, but it was true.

Whether people are chasing a trend or if they’re just curious, a lot of people stick their proverbial toes in the water, not knowing exactly what they’re getting into. Some decide it’s not for them and move on, and some just move on without giving it a serious thought.

“They were never a real Pagan to begin with” is another common charge thrown at those who revert. In many case that’s a “No True Scotsman” fallacy. But in some cases it’s true. They never became a Pagan or a witch or a Heathen or whatever. They were just visiting, and it should come as no surprise when they decide to go home.

Those who were looking for something we can’t provide

Paganism provides a connection to Nature, to our ancestors, and to the many Goddesses and Gods. It teaches values and virtues and then challenges us to live up to them. Magic and witchcraft provide tools for obtaining what we need and for learning and growth. There is much this path can provide.

But we can’t provide certainty. Now, I don’t think religious certainty is possible. But some religions – and some non-religions (i.e. – atheistic materialism) – claim they can. People who grew up in a high stakes religion (“turn or burn”) sometimes prefer false certainty to honest uncertainty.

Others were looking for something less metaphysical and more tangible. Few Pagan groups have their own buildings, much less the infrastructure of the Catholic church. If you’re looking for dozens of programs all planned and facilitated by someone else, you’re probably not going to find it in Paganism.

No single religion or tradition can be everything to everybody, and trying to do that is a recipe for failure. Some people come into Paganism or witchcraft and like parts of it, but can’t live without things we can’t provide. And so they go back where they came from.

Those who never dealt with their religious baggage

This is the big one.

When I read what Doreen Virtue and Kat Von D said (and when I read between the lines) this is what I think happened to them. They never examined their past religion or mindfully decided what to keep and what to banish. And then at some point, they got scared.

I sometimes come across people who left Christianity who say “I never believed any of that.” Good for them.

If they’re not lying to themselves.

For most of us, going to Sunday School as a child and living in a Christian environment had a real impact. We believed what we were taught, because that’s what you do when you’re a small child. Particularly in the conservative denominations, the doctrines and creeds and hymns and sermons sink into our subconscious at an early age – they don’t go away just because we stop going to church.

And then they rear their ugly heads at the worst possible time. In times of stress, people go running back to what they were taught as children. Sometimes they do that because of nostalgia, but more often they do it out of fear.

“What if I really am going to hell?”

I weep for these people. They had something good and positive and helpful, but they left it because of fear.

I know that fear. It took me years to work through it. But I did, and you can too.

Those who never went past Witchcraft 101

To be fair, I know some happy and committed witches who never went past Witchcraft 101. I suspect most of them didn’t have a lot of religious baggage to work through, and they don’t need a lot of deep metaphysical theory to be happy. Good for them.

But when Christian broadcasters roll out the “ex-witches” every October and I listen to their stories, it’s clear they never learned much about witchcraft, Wicca, occultism, or any of the magical and Pagan traditions. They may have been the high priestess of a coven (of five or six equally uneducated people), but they never read more than one book… and that book may have been fiction.

Maybe they tried to be a witch. Or maybe they just wanted the title and the notoriety that goes with it. But for whatever reason, they never really learned their craft, and then when they faced some significant difficulty – tangible or spiritual or both – they went running back to their previous religion.

Those who couldn’t overcome family pressure

Maybe if I say it often enough people will finally accept it: religion is more than what you believe. Religion is what you do, who you are, and whose you are.

Whose are you? Where do you belong?

My family are mostly Mainline Protestants. They may not agree with my religious choices, but they don’t let that get in the way of our relationships. But if you’re part of one of the more conservative and especially the more insular religions, it’s not so simple. To change religions is to reject part of what makes the family a cohesive unit.

To me, if your family won’t support you being who and what you are – whether in terms of religion, gender and sexuality, or anything else – you need to walk away and build a new family. But some people can’t do that. The bonds are too strong. These people don’t want to leave Paganism and witchcraft, but they feel like they have no choice.

Some of these situations are manipulative and abusive and people really should get away. Others are choices that are made freely, if reluctantly. Either way, some people revert because they can’t overcome the pressure of their families.

Those whose true calling lies elsewhere

Paganism is not a proselytizing religion. Witchcraft is not for everyone. While I don’t think anyone should be a fundamentalist of any flavor, Christianity can be a good and helpful religion. So can Buddhism. So can atheism.

Some people come into Paganism, make an honest and sincere effort to learn and grow, do the right things in the right way, deal with their religious baggage, and still come to the conclusion that they belong somewhere else.

This is a good thing. They leave having learned something and made some friends, still sharing our values, and they become our supporters and defenders in conversations with the less-enlightened members of their religions.

Losing these people isn’t a loss, even though it often feels like it. It’s good for them and it’s good for the wider world.

Reversion-proofing yourself

We’re disappointed when we see people who once shared our beliefs and practices reverting to a religion we left on purpose. We may be angry, particularly if they’re mischaracterizing witchcraft and Paganism, or outright lying about it.

What if that was you?

Don’t dismiss the possibility, at least not without thinking it through.

Deal with your religious baggage, particularly if you grew up in a “we’re the One True Way” environment. Build a strong intellectual foundation for your path, whether you consider it religion, spirituality, or just “what I do.” Study and practice diligently. You can’t simply dismiss bad religious experiences – you have to crowd them out with good experiences.

Pay attention to your dreams. I visited the Otherworld in a dream in 2018 – that was the first time I was sure I will never revert. Though given the lack of troublesome dreams, I think I crossed that line many years earlier.

Perhaps this isn’t a concern for you. Perhaps you grew up in a Pagan environment, or in an environment where all positive religions and religious approaches were respected. If so I’m happy for you – nobody should have to deal with the fears that fundamentalist Christianity inflicted on me as a small child.

In any case, I hope you’ll view those who revert out of Paganism and witchcraft with an eye toward discernment and understanding.

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