1990’s Paganism Was A Long Time Ago

1990’s Paganism Was A Long Time Ago September 13, 2018

We’ve come a looooong way since the 1990’s, when I started getting into paganism and witchcraft.  Quite a few things have changed — I venture to say it’s mostly for the better.

1990s pagan witch flannel
Oh flannel, how I loved you so in the 90s. CC0

Books are Researched Better Now

I can’t tell you how many times I took a pagan book to heart only to find out years (or decades) later that the author made most of it up.  The biggest heartbreak I experienced was Faery Wicca by Kisma Stepanich, which may have intimated that the ‘Faery Wicca’ practice had been in place for centuries, if not since the beginning of time.  I cried a lot of tears in the 2000’s over that one.  A few DJ Conway books had me fooled, too.

The Age of Information is (Finally) Here

We thought the 90’s was the Age of Information, but we were dead wrong.  Hell, we didn’t even have Google until the late 90s.  We used to type random words into the bar at the top of the page.  I’m serious!  It was either that, or some kind person would send you a link, or you’d find a webpage with links.

Nowadays, we no longer live in an age of mystery.  Do you have a question about a deity or a holiday?  You don’t have to wait until you get home to go through ALL of your books and hope the answer is in there.  Someone already looked it up on the internet and has the answer.

The internet would’ve helped me immensely when I didn’t know who the half-rotted goddess who appeared before me was in the late 90s.  I had to wait several years before I knew her name, simply because I couldn’t look anything up on the internet in those days.

Consent Culture is More Prominent

Sure, the Salt-n-Pepa song Let’s Talk About Sex was released in 1990, but it took a long time to sink into pagan culture.  A long time.  I don’t remember consent being addressed in the festival guides, and I don’t remember any workshops about it.  I’m so glad that, lately, consent culture has become sexy.  Asking about someone’s desires is either a tantalizing conversation or a direct refusal.  There’s none of the beating around the bush. Pardon the pun.



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 The Witch is Out

Witch and Bruja are more common words nowadays.  We’ve reclaimed them, and there’s strength in that.  When we use the words witch or bruja, we have more leverage over both the meaning and the power.

Our Culture is Not All ‘Love and Light’ Anymore

Perhaps the biggest shift I’ve seen in the pagan community over the past few decades is the drift away from blissful empowerment toward something more substantial.  Back in the 90’s and early oughts, workshops were informational and about positive subjects, like the gods, dreams, and past lives.  We experienced rebirthing ceremonies and celebrated a lot.  It was a very positive time.

I remember when mind was blown open in the oughts — in a Voodoo book, the author railed against a pagan community who sent ‘love and light’ to a rapist.  She said they should’ve been sending energy for him to be caught and tried. (I wish I knew the name of this book. It was a long time ago.)

In the past few years especially, I feel the pagan community has shifted.  It feels like Harry Potter Book 3, when Lupin joins the ranks of Hogwarts and makes the kids actually stand up for themselves.  The feeling is much the same.  We’re not kids anymore.  The world is has some harmful people in power.  Defending ourselves against them is the right thing to do, and magic is the perfect way to assist us in these dealings.

Our modern age acknowledges that powerful witches practice all kinds of magic, not just happiness spells.  We live in a time where more people worship death deities and many witches bind and hex.  We no longer covet only enlightenment — we covet knowledge and power to protect ourselves and others.

The Horned God Seems Different…

Faun and Nymph, Pal Szinyei Merse, 1868. Public-Domain.

Is it just me, or has the horned god grown a lot in the past several years?  It seems in the past that most pagans talked about him in general terms.  He was an obedient god back then, dying when he was supposed to and inciting sexual relations when it was appropriate.  He was still wild, but not dangerous.  He was safe.

But now, he’s more powerful.  He’s wilder.  The versions of him among different witchcrafts are varied.  It also seems to me that his worship has grown intensely.

People used to shy away from anything that smacked of the Christian devil, but now, the conversation has shifted.  For some people, that’s almost exactly what their horned god is — albeit without the Christian interpretation.  And there’s no shame or harm in it.  In fact, some of the most ethical and reasonable people I know worship that version of the horned god.  And that’s okay.

Just saying, thought — my 90’s mind would have been blown yet again.

Mainstreaming Witchcraft

Witches and Pagans are out and about more now than ever before, and that’s a good thing. More musicians, authors, and celebrities are owning up to it.  It’s almost as if it’s becoming more mainstream.  Even Sephora tried to sell a commercialized witch kit, to mixed reviews.

Today’s era has way more witches and pagans being represented in modern media than ever before.  Sure, a lot of shows still use the ‘magical witch’ trope, with hands of light and what not.  I still think we need more realistic pagans and witches in modern media, but that’s besides the point.  I love watching them — witches are my favorite genre, whether it’s AHS Coven, Vampire Diaries/The Originals, The Worst Witch, or any others.

And you can bet I’m going to watch the new Sabrina too.  Even though it’s what Christians imagine Satanism is, and is nothing like our spiritualities or Satanism, it’s still good entertainment.

All in all, I like the pagan and witch community more now than before.  It’s a good thing, because we can’t go back.

I was pretty young in the 90’s though, so let me know if I got anything wrong.  I’m always interested in other people’s points of view, especially about that classic, vintage era.


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About Astrea
Astrea is a polytheistic pagan witch, fire dancer, new ager, and writer of fiction. Check out her social media accounts to see all her blog posts and extra special witchy / artsy / personal content. You can read more about the author here.
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  • Prairie Fire

    I was a pagan-curious high-schooler in the early 90s, and remember a lot of things happening at pagan events that make me wonder now why no one called social services on anyone. Also, I remember insisting to my dad that all the things my friends were doing were “centuries old,” but he was a preacher and TRIED telling me otherwise (he was right in nearly every case). Today, I listened to The Queer Witch podcast, and Anna Joy (the host) talked about how she had an imagined memory of the history of tarot and recently found out she was flat-out wrong about it.

    I think the good thing about growing up is learning and evolving, and taking the things we learned incorrectly and fixing them.

  • Kim

    This doesnt make me feel like we are progressing. A lot of witches who feel the need to declare they are “ok” with darker magic, also want a pass to be a jerk. Yesterday, I saw an adult witch online threatening to curse a 12 year old child and declaring they dont “follow the rede.” Pagans might not be bound by religious ethics but we are still bound by the codes of our larger community that we live in. Would I curse or bind in life-threatening circumstances? Sure. But how often do these happen (and I’m asking as a victim and survivor of extreme, prolonged abuse)? Not often. Usually, we can solve problems like logical, mature adults. I never define myself by the exception to a rule. If we treat others with respect, rarely do we have intense social relationships. Any strong adult can cause destruction or creation. I feel the intense desire to warn others we can hex actually comes from a lack of growth and confidence. Of course you can hex. Stop boasting about it like a teen trying to be cool and get in a fight with someone. Pull that behavior out for when it’s truly needed.

    • Adie |

      While I agree that many witches who are vocal about using “dark” magic and hexing have appalling behavior, I would say they are the minority. Like with any group, it is usually the jerks who scream the loudest and most often, especially online where we’re most likely to see such behavior (the veil of anonymity brings out the worst in people–witch or not). Saying that the witch community as a whole isn’t progressing because of the behavior of a small (if obnoxiously vocal) group ignores the vast majority who are growing and maturing in their craft and in their general lives.

    • Nicole Krieger


      The oooOOooo I am so in touch with my dark side thing may even be cheesier than fluffy love and light

  • Adie |

    I’m really glad I came to witchcraft in the mid-2000’s. I was writing an essay for my English class last semester about symbolism in witchcraft and came across several articles from the 90’s in my research. It seemed like a completely different world. I’m sure the pageantry was probably somewhat embellished to make the articles more interesting, but I still couldn’t imagine living in such a time.

  • Blackfrost

    I believe the book was ‘Jambalaya,’ by Louisa Tesh. Published in 1988.

    As to other points: I joined the Pagan community in the 1980s. Yes, Paganism has changed quite a bit, since. Some for the better, some not. I now know how the hoary old farts we laughed at, back then, felt, when they talked about the way the Community was changing, and expressed both their appreciation and their reservations concerning that.

    The growth of consent culture might have a lot to do with region. Where I lived, in the ’80s and ’90s, both in everyday life and at festival, if sex without consent was attempted, the whole community would be going after the aggressor, and while they might not be booted out of the community the first time if they were pressuring rather than attempting to force their victim, they certainly would be booted out, the second time, even if it were still pressure rather than force. The Feminist and Radical Feminist elements in the community would see to that. Rightly so. Other regions might’ve differed, of course.

    As to the emphasis upon ‘Love and Light:” Some of the more insipid-sounding exhortations of that sort used to make my hair clench, as did the “Coming Earth Changes” nonsense that everyone wants to forget — but that was extremely popular back before Y2K. (You remember: There will be massive earthquakes and geographical changes, killing-off 90% of Earth’s population. Atlantis will rise again, and “The Ancients” will return, teaching us all about their truly ancient spirituality and practices, and we’ll learn about their amazing crystal-based technology, which will usher in a new, environmentally-utopian age of enlightenment, magic, and eternal bliss-ninnydom.)

    All that said, the prohibitions against ‘malifica’ did have a purpose. Wicca and other (neo)Pagan religions weren’t yet recognized as religions by any government in the world, and we were still on the tail-end of the ‘Satanic Panic’ of the 1980s. That phrase may seem a quaint joke, now, but it certainly wasn’t, back then. False allegations and accusations were ruining people’s lives, and people could lose jobs (I lost one, myself,) and custody of their kids, simply for being Pagan. The whole ‘Harm none’ exhortation (Note: I’m not Wiccan, so please don’t start with the Wiccan-bashing. They were, and are, the most visible face of Paganism, and they take a lot of guff from people who either don’t know much about Wicca or dabbled in it, then jetted off to another path, believing there was nothing beyond the basics that they’d been taught, and were expected to make their own way, rather than continue to be spoon-fed.) All the legal protections that exist are very nice — if they’re enforced. But saying it’s illegal to discriminate is one thing. Proving discrimination is entirely another, and even if one can prove it, the protections are meaningless if they’re not enforced. I don’t know how many times some naive idiot told me I couldn’t’ve lost a job because of my religious beliefs, because “That’s illegal.” Lots of things are illegal. They still happen, though, with remarkable regularity. Back before the U.S. Military recognized Wicca as a religion, it was laughably easy to discriminate against Pagans. Because (neo)Paganism wasn’t considered a religion back then. So there was no protection if someone got scared and accused you of practicing Satanism, or “Black Magic(k).” And anyone known to be “Freaking the Mundanes” would be in a lot of trouble with the rest of the Community. Rightly so, at that. Folks worked VERY hard at making Wicca (the most visible face of) and other forms of (neo)Paganism into something which appears VERY non-threatening to the general public. There are reasons for that. Ask my initiating HPS, who, with her Coven, spent several hours one Virginia night, being harassed by folks with guns accusing them of all sorts of unChristian things, and repeatedly quoting “Suffer not a witch to live” at them. Even though they were meeting and performing their ritual on private property belonging to one of the Coveners. Yes, it happened. No, nobody reported it to the cops. The cops, back then, and in that area, wouldn’t’ve done anything except ask for proof, and claim it was one group’s word against another. And, of course, one was a bunch of possible Devil-worshippers, and the other a bunch of good, upstanding Christians. That was the way things worked, back then. And that’s why the community worked so hard to cultivate a non-threatening, we’re-not-dark-at-all public image. We forget that things used to be that way, at our peril.

    As to the Horned God: Yes. He’s certainly become a more developed figure in Paganism. Primarily because more men got involved in Paganism, and while they continued to respect the Goddess as chief deity, they insisted upon including the male devise archetype as well. That caused quite a bit of discomfort in many Covens and groups, back in the day, as (to paraphrase the Wombat Wicca laws:) “…the HP is expected to go as far away as possible and not even show up for Sabbats.”

    As to books: The stuff being printed in the ’80s and ’90s was generally thought to be fluff. Certainly anything published by Llewellyn press. (Llewellyn was a major butt of jokes, back in the day, as they were known to print a lot of ‘Witchcrap.’) Samuel Weiser was thought to be a more respectable press, which at least had SOME standards. ‘Serious’ research involved tracking down (generally at used bookstores,) older texts (Frazier’s long-form ‘Golden Bough’ was one. Various 19th century ceremonial texts another. Dion Fortune was said to be a good source, if one took her with an entire shaker of salt and read ‘between the lines.’ Lady Sheba was, of course, a good source, as was Sibyl Leek, before she went off the rails and started speculating about aliens, &c. There was always a debate about Aliester Crowley, with the general consensus that he was definitely worth reading, but that one had to clean one’s B.S. filter often and keep the aforesaid salt shaker handy. (I.e. He wasn’t good reading for newbies.)

    All in all? There are some very good things regarding what’s happened to Paganism and the Pagan Community since the ’90s and ’90s. It’s not all good, and we’ve lost some of the things which were good about it back then, too. But every religion (and collection of religious paths) evolves. For better and for worse. It’s been interesting to watch. Many claimed we woudn’t last this long — that by now we’d be pretty much looked at like ‘Spiritualism’ was, back in the ’80s. Something your dotty old aunt was into, but nothing that anyone would take seriously these days. Thus far, we’ve endured. While I’d like to see that continue, I very much hope we manage to keep our diversity and chaotic nature and never, ever evolve into a more rigid and monolithic entity, as the Christian church did, over time.

  • Gordon Cooper

    Astrea et al: Your description doesn’t tally with the way I saw it played out in the community. The love and light wasn’t so much in evidence in the 1960’s as well, from folks I’ve known from that era. Hexing was usually the first magic discussed. It certainly was the magic most practiced on an inter-community level. Dark deities (quite a binary assumption there) were often encountered and understood. “A Witch Who Cannot Hex Cannot Heal” was and is a common statement. What is less in evidence is a willingness to consider consequences. As Gwen Thompson said “You Will Bide The Issue.” In other words, there is no escaping consequences of actions.

    “Witchcraft doesn’t pay for broken windows” True in 1973 and true now.

    As to public witches-how about Louise Hubner or Laurie Cabot c . 1967? All in black, crystals, heavy makeup, etc. Not much change there. As to information being better. No. Wikipedia and the Net 2.0 have dumbed down research. Reading through a few primary research volumes of field notes then talking to several different researchers was what we did then. All the Internet has done is to sanctify the notion of One Holy Wiki Source. As someone with eclectic and specific research tastes, what I can access freely now is a fraction of what it was c. 1990. Books I could afford then are well over twenty times as expensive thanks to Amazon.

    We are seeing a boom that Gerald and others never predicted. Whether or not that is a good thing is in our collective laps.

  • Biff Jerkey

    First you’re writing that consent culture is becoming more and more widespread, and how that’s a good thing, then you’re writing that the Horned God – associated with wilderness and sexuality – is also becoming more powerful and free. Don’t the two ideas come into conflict?
    You say that there are a lot many more pagans/ witches/ etc. who go public nowadays, but are there really? Save for a bunch of people writing internet-blogs and maybe declaring that they’re Wiccans on some public gathering (whether or not it has anything to do with spirituality or religions), there’s just the occasional celebrity who does it for PR. Yes, people are more open about their religion/ spirituality nowadays, but pagans/ witches/ etc. still have a VERY long way to go.
    Still, the 90’s were somehow more fun. Researching and finding information on the topic that interested you felt like an accomplishment, like you were uncovering some kind of well-guarded secret. Nowadays, the internet is packed with information, and any poseur can label themself a pagan/ satanist/ witch/ etc., and then use this to give everyone else – the actually dedicated people – bad publicity. Sure, insiders will identify the impostor, but the majority of people aren’t insiders, they will start making assumptions, and we all know what happens when the majority makes assumptions.
    As to books that turned out to be fakes: wasn’t there a principle about how one’s belief makes something real anyway?
    Eh, I’m ranting again.