Conversations: The Future of Modern Paganism

Conversations: The Future of Modern Paganism August 13, 2015

In the blogosphere we often talk at each other instead of talking to each other. In order to facilitate better communication (and possibly because it’s fun) I like to round up as many Patheos Pagan writers as possible and have an actual conversation, one where we shoot ideas back and forth at each other. In June we talked about Atheism, Polytheism, and Pagans, this time around it’s the Future of Paganism.

With a Patheos Public Square about the Future of Paganism in the wings at the end of August, and our ongoing series Why I’m Still a _____, this seemed like a good time to discuss the future, and how the Pagan Umbrella is holding up in 2015. If any of this ever feels argumentative while you are reading that’s my fault as an editor. Our conversation was cozy and congenial all the way through.

John Constable-"Stonehenge" from WikiMedia.
John Constable-“Stonehenge” from WikiMedia.

Jason Mankey (Raise the Horns): So I tend to start at the beginning . . . this is for all of you. “How long have you been a Pagan and what brand of Pagan are you?” You are bloggers so I know “short and sweet” will be tough for most of you.

David Dashifen Kees (Editor at Agora): 17 years, Technopagan (short enough?)

Dana Corby (The Rantin Raven): I’m an old-style Wiccan, initiated in December 73. But I’m also a Bard in the RDNA and Companion/2nd° in the AODA, though not active.

Angus McMahan (Ask Angus): 19 years, Celtic Hedgewitch with some Santeria seasoning.

Annika Mongan (Born Again Witch): 4th year, Reclaiming Witch

Gwion Raven (The Witches Next Door): 12 years primarily Reclaiming (Gwion). (My wife) Phoenix 22 years Primarily Reclaiming

Jason Mankey: 21st year, British Traditional Witch, Gardnerian.

Tom Swiss (The Zen Pagan): I count myself a pagan since about 1990, so…25 years? How did that happen? Eclectic. I go by “Zen Pagan Taoist Atheist Discordian”.

Laine DeLaney (Soon to be joining us at Agora): 19 Years, primarily Heathen at this point.

Rua Lupa
Rua Lupa
Rua Lupa (Paths Through the Forest): Left Christianity around 2009, was involved with the local Pagan Association from then to about 2010ish, was mostly druidic via The Reformed Druids of North America. Founded the offshoot of Ehoah and since considered myself a Saegoah and had dropped calling myself Pagan…

Jason Mankey: I suspect many people will drop Pagan over the next twenty years Rua.

Sable Aradia (Between the Shadows): 26 years, heretic Brit Trad with a very eclectic background

Yvonne Aburrow (Sermons From the Mound): Been on Patheos since 2012, Gardnerian Wiccan polytheist in UK. Pagan since 1985, Wiccan since 1991.

David Dashifen Kees: Which is the opposite for me. I’m Pagan first and anything else second.

Jason Mankey: In all of those years have you noticed any changes in the larger Pagan Community? How is it different from four, ten, fifteen, or twenty years ago?

Angus McMahan
Angus McMahan
Angus McMahan: Well this thing called the “Internet” came along…..

Gwion Raven: Oh my! Secret meet up driven, then book driven, then Internet leading to meetings driven, then internet driven. I’ve also seen a real return to small, private work in the past few years.

Tom Swiss: 20+ years ago we didn’t have the web. Some of us techies had BBSes and USENET and all, but our Pagan communities were more isolated. (Which is not necessarily an entirely bad thing, as I think perhaps it gave us more diversity and “figure it out yourself”.)

David Dashifen Kees: I think coming into Paganism with the Internet means that, for me, it’s always been a part of things. It’s part of why I call myself a Techno-pagan because the influence of modern technology on my spiritual self is undeniable. The biggest change is, I think, not really a change. In the beginning, I thought it was all Wicca all the time. It’s all I had access to. I thought people who worked with other gods were just doing Wicca differently. The Internet helped me to more fully understand reality and my own misunderstandings.

Laine DeLaney: A change from a smaller community with a focus on Wiccan-style working groups (covens and circles) to a broader recognition of non-Wiccan traditions and a greater focus on come-as-you-are meet-ups and groups. Also a lot of increased specialization and hiving.

Jason Mankey: Twenty years ago: Paganism was often shorthand for eclectic Wicca, with some consideration given to Heathens and Druids, but those folks often felt like exotic outsiders from far away places. Public arguments were generally relegated to well thought out letters in pages of “The Green Egg.” Bookstores were a social network, as were psychic fairs. “Wicca” was the “in” thing.

Rua Lupa: Haven’t had the amount of time other have had to determine any major shifts. What I have noticed is that most initially introduce themselves by their particular practice and use ‘Pagan’ as a more vague larger descriptor for gatherings of people who share different practices but feel that they have enough in common to gather around that name. What that commonality is is something I am uncertain about.

Sable Aradia
Sable Aradia
Sable Aradia: When I first discovered Paganism as a teen, I was one of the many swept in by the books now derisively known as “Llewellyn-craft.” I first met other Pagans through the SCA. I wanted to get together for Sabbats so I and the 2 or 3 other locals I met formed a Yahoogroup (this was 1993 or 94). That was the middle of the Satanic Panic, so there was a lot of emphasis on not outing people and on outreach. I did a lot of that stuff. First Okanagan Pagan Pride, that kind of thing.

Dana Corby: My Gods, how it’s changed! When I started out it was almost entirely word of mouth, though the media were beginning to discover us. Hans Holzer & Susan Roberts has books out, and the Witches’ Almanac has just put out it’s 2nd issue. It was actually the Almanac that put a name to what I felt I was, and confirmed I wasn’t the only one there was.

Yvonne Aburrow: Biggest change is arrival of the Internet

Jason Mankey: Twelve years ago: Everything moved online, at least that’s how we met other Pagans. We argued over E-mail lists and WitchVox was the big eye in the sky. Now: Many blogs drive online commenting at least, arguments happen in real time, and get real personal, real fast. Our differences are much more noticeable these days and many of us (but certainly nothing close to all) spend more time in our individual camps.

David Dashifen Kees: The key is “more noticeable” in your comment, Jason. I think these differences always existed but we’ve begun to look more closely at them to try and identify ourselves more accurately and, unfortunately, we’ve begun to see a strength in unity rather than a strength in plurality, it seems.

Jason Mankey: They did always exist, I agree completely Dash.

Tom Swiss: Perhaps because we were more isolated in those days, when we found anyone even close we were eager to connect; now we have more opportunities to connect and so perhaps only want to connect with those more like us. (Thus more arguing betweem e.g., “hard Polytheists” and “humanistic Pagans”, a feeling that each doesn’t need the other as much, maybe.)

Sable Aradia: Not long after that (mid 90s I guess) the Re-constructionist movement got going in the communities I hang with. Now everyone wanted historical documentation for everything & everyone thought they were in the SCA. Witchvox was the best place to connect with other Pagans and huge flame wars rocked the Yahoogroups. Then my craft became more community-focused for many years. I immersed myself in the (largely Wiccan of various stripes) community of Vancouver and the Okanagan Valley. Druidry was big for a while around here I remember.

David Dashifen Kees: And, with those opportunities to connect, we also encounter those who think differently than us more regularly.

Annika Mongan: The internet allowed me learn about Paganism. I had met plenty of Pagans through the SCA, Ren-Faires, etc. but it wasn’t until I was able to research Paganism secretly online that it became an option for me.

Gwion Raven
Gwion Raven
Gwion Raven: And within my tradition, I’ve seen it expand and contract and expand again. Reclaiming now has teachers and witchcamps in Europe, England, Wales, Australia, France, Germany US, and I’m sure I’m forgetting places. Activism is still the main focus. What we are activist about has changed too

Sable Aradia: When Hutton’s book came out, everything changed. The Wicca and anti-Wicca camps started to divide. I got taken to task by a list moderator for demanding that a vocally anti-Wiccan Heathen stop telling me that his religion was superior to Wicca and instead starting explaining what his religion actually *was*.

Jason Mankey: “Triumph” was a water-shed moment. It made Pagan Studies a legitimate field of study.

Sable Aradia: Now everybody’s a shaman or a traditional witch. And I spend more time on the internet than I did before (mainly it’s this job).

Laine DeLaney: The speciation of differences is more marked nowadays, certainly. It parallels the development of distinct identities within the LGBT community, for a lot of similar reasons. “You’re all the same.” became, “Well, actually…”

Annika Mongan: “Triumph” is actually what sealed the deal for me. A religion that was able to survive and continue to thrive with that level of introspection and re-writing of its own history? Yes, please!

Jason Mankey: “Triumph” made me a more committed Witch. I actually liked the Gardner in that book, I liked a Witchcraft that was a continuation of the Western Magical Tradition as inspired by 19th Century Romantic and Victorian poets.

Sable Aradia: I felt exactly as you do about “Triumph.” I love that we can see the bullshit in Wicca’s founding legends but know it works and love it anyway. I wish that some other faiths could be as rational about their histories; maybe then we can have more meaningful discussions.

Jason Mankey: Speaking of the internet . . . has it been good or bad? A lot of both?

Gwion Raven: Oh, of course it’s good.

David Dashifen Kees: Keep in mind my own biases (I’m writing computer software on my other three monitors) but the Internet is a net good with bad tossed in as a balance.

Annika Mongan: Personally I’m incredibly thankful for it. I don’t think I would have had the courage to seek out Witches in person without having a chance to interact online first.

Molly Khan: For me, it’s been largely amazing. With a dash of awful, at times.

Laine DeLaney
Laine DeLaney
Laine DeLaney: Good. It has problems inherent to the communication style (the opportunity for bullying and spreading bs) but it has helped a lot of people communicate and grow.

Gwion Raven: Well, I should say (from my Buddhist days) that the internet is Empty. It’s an equal opportunity lover and hater. But it does make Witchcraft more accessible to the kid in Iowa that needs it.

Annika Mongan: Or that lost Christian girl sneaking around on the internet in the middle of the night in Germany.

Molly Khan: Absolutely. I never would have found my local community without the internet.

Tom Swiss: I remember in the 90s, in grad school, thinking how cool it would be if everyone had e-mail. That was before spam. It brings its problems as any tool or technology does, but overall a plus.

Rua Lupa: I may be still Christian if it weren’t for the internet. So I’d say its done a lot of good!

Jason Mankey: I think it makes our disagreements bigger, is bad for the blood pressure, and can be an endless source of headaches. Of course most of you have probably don’t get publicly lambasted online (well Sable probably does). I love that it has connected me to more people. I love that it has made information more accessible.

Gwion Raven: And having said that, raising power, feeling the temperature of the room change, hearing 100 witches singing in unison…that cannot be done on the internet’

David Dashifen Kees: Gwion – but I’ve also never had that sort of experience IRL, either. For me, my community is online.

Sable Aradia: But as a Wiccan, I see that there is a strong sense that it’s all either “hierarchy and personality cults” or “light anything-goes spirituality” and that’s why I’ve been working hard to encourage serious theological discussion as of late. This is true of Paganism in general I think. I really do see us (serious Pagans/Polytheists/etc. of this time) as being in the position of the early Christian church fathers. You can’t help but start codifying things a little in the development of a faith. I think it’s important that we be cautious about what we say and how we say it because it all could have amazingly vast repercussions. I doubt that Augustine had any idea that his writings about the doctrine of Original Sin would produce centuries of systematic oppression.

Molly Khan: I’ve had some yuck thrown my way recently. I still love the internet.

Laine DeLaney: Gwion, true, but having the validation of similar experiences from a worldwide ritual initiated and coordinated online has its benefits, too. (From my Fellowship of Isis days)

Sable Aradia: In general I think the internet was the single most important things to develop modern Paganism, and I love it, despite its problems.

Jason Mankey: Public perceptions of Wicca don’t always match up with the reality. To many, we will always be fluffy bunny “archetypalists” or other such thing. And yes, there’s real power when 100 Witches sing together or 13 Witches raise a cone of power.

Annika Mongan
Annika Mongan
Annika Mongan: Sable – I love it, too. And I think unlike with the Christian church fathers, we have a way to get information out fast and wide, and that’s a game changer in many ways.

Laine DeLaney: I think that’s a result of the popularization of Wicca, Jason, as well as the emphasis that I’ve seen lately of it being an “Anything goes” kind of faith.

Rua Lupa: I agree with Sable, the internet helps facilitate discussions on important issues that impact the future. I really liked the discussions on LGBT rights in rituals that are gendered oriented, the information shared and gathered on making sure you are participating in a safe group versus an abusive group, and especially tackling sexual abuse in the community. Things that are able to reach and improve the lives of far more people than before…

Laine DeLaney: In some ways it feels like it’s losing definition among those who aren’t tied to the traditional coven structure, something that I believe was an initial concern with Buckland’s self-initiation.

David Dashifen Kees: And Cunningham’s Solitary Guide. Formative, necessary, important … but disruptive.

Angus McMahan: I don’t care so much about what “they” think about us. But I adore that I get shy, awkward emails and texts from newbie solitaries in red states, who have no one to turn to, talk to, or guide them along.

David Dashifen Kees: aww … that’s awesome, Angus

Annika Mongan: Angus – yes! I get so many emails from apostate Christians and I tear up just about every time. I tried to reach out for people when I was leaving fundamentalism and approaching Paganism, but couldn’t find anyone who had walked that path before. I love the internet for giving me the opportunity to be the support I wish I had had to those who are just starting that journey.

Molly Khan: Wicca gets a lot of hate in Heathen circles. When people are complaining about my path of Heathenry, they often resort to calling me a Wiccan. Which is at once hilarious and hurtful for actual Wiccans.

Laine DeLaney: Yup, Molly, the fact that respected folks like the founders of the Troth can be dismissed as Wiccatru is insulting to serious Wiccans and Heathens alike.

David Dashifen Kees: Wicca gets a lot of hate from every direction from the most strident of folks. I would love to know how many of them were, at one time, some form of Wiccan. I suspect that, for some, theirs is the fervor of the converted (so to speak).

Yvonne Aburrow: I really dislike the whole anti-Wicca thing because it is directed at pop-Wicca for the most part. Which is not the original form of Wicca.

Gwion Raven: I really, really dislike folks of tradition X bashing folks of Tradition Y. I think that hurts all of us.

Yvonne Aburrow
Yvonne Aburrow
Yvonne Aburrow: Too right! I got told by a polytheist that i can’t be a polytheist Wiccan because Wicca IS duotheist, period. I’ve also been told this by duotheist Wiccans.

Tom Swiss: Free Spirit Gathering and Starwood are a big part of my Pagan experience. I think of all my Blue Star Wicca peeps sharing the horn of mead with my Heathen peeps at FSG and wonder at people talking about Heathen* vs. Wiccan beef.

Laine DeLaney: Yvonne, I saw that. Even when I was Wiccan, I was a polytheist, I don’t understand that.

Yvonne Aburrow: Yes it is crazy. That is why I constantly assert that you can have any theology you want. Even monotheism. lol

Jason Mankey: Sometimes there’s a tendency to define various strands of Paganism by what they aren’t rather than what they are. “You can’t be a polytheist” for example.

Angus McMahan: Bingo.

David Dashifen Kees: I think a lot of the duotheism, though, stems from the Lord and Lady speak that is common throughout a lot of the books we all probably read in the 90’s. It was hard, for me, to ever call myself a Wiccan because of that language. It wasn’t until years later that I actually was able to understand the complexities instead of the black/white nature of things.

Molly Khan: Dash, I totally understand. This was my understanding of Wicca until I actually talked to real Wiccans in person.

Sable Aradia: Guys, there will always be bullies and abusers in a community, unless the members of the community stand up for the ones being abused. If we allow anyone in our midst to insult anyone else’s faith as “stupid” or “lesser,” then those abusers will continue to grow in power because they will have learned that this is an effective way to get shit done. We have to mind our own language and we have to call out other people who do that shit, whether we are part of the group they’re insulting, or even like that group, or not, or it will just grow.

Molly Khan: Sable – 100%. This is such a huge problem in the Heathen community, honestly it breaks my heart.

Yvonne Aburrow: Many polytheist Wiccans see the Lord and Lady as the patron deities of the Craft

Laine DeLaney: I’ve always felt that an intelligent person who explores spirituality will come to different conclusions about theism and the lack thereof over their life. Sometimes that can even change day to day. That’s why I like the new emphasis of practice over belief. Beliefs change.

David "Dash" Kees
David “Dash” Kees
David Dashifen Kees: Plus, for me, reading about a thing in my late teens meant that I may not have had the philosophical grounding to see/understand those complexities either. This is not to say that those who cling to them are intellectually less than I (or we) are, but just that a more broad understanding of theology and philosophy assisted me greatly in my own development.

Gwion Raven: And there you have it – Talking to people in person. Most of the dust ups on the internet are between people that have never broken bread with each other. When it’s a real person sitting across from you, it’s a little tougher to call them names!

David Dashifen Kees: True, Gwion, but it’s also hard to formulate thought in a structured way. I love this sort of conversation because I’m forced to read and re-read my statements (though perhaps not everyone does that) in order to be sure that what I type is what I actually mean to say. In a face-to-face conversation, everything just gets blurted out and I find myself having much more difficulty both understanding others and transmitting my thoughts/feelings.

Yvonne Aburrow: Me too. One of the things i find difficult about the emerging polytheist movement is the emphasis on belief.

Sable Aradia: If you live long enough your enemies will float down the river. I just keep doing my thing. Some like it, some don’t. I don’t much care; you can’t please everybody. I’m open to constructive criticism but oppositional hatred for its own sake is never constructive. When someone starts with “your beliefs are stupid” or “I know your beliefs better than you do” the conversation is over. They already know everything; don’t confuse them with the facts. So why waste your time? Eventually when they learn that dealing with you is inevitable, they learn to be polite or they go away.

Jason Mankey: With the rancor that pops up in our extended community from time to time is the Pagan Umbrella doomed?

Sable Aradia: I worked as a dispatcher for a taxi company. Daily I was called a bitch on the phone. When I started riding around in my hubby’s cab and meeting the people face-to-face who called me a bitch, they stopped.

David Dashifen Kees: Yes, but everything is eventually doomed (one again, I repeat, hail, Eris)

Laine DeLaney: The rancor and conflict are a sign of healthy interest between people with sincerely held ideals. I can’t see the Pagan Umbrella as doomed when that’s still going on.

Rua Lupa: There is a mixed problem – there is actually name calling and unproductive word tossing, and there is actually criticisms that can be done constructively. I often get the impression that people tend to see them as one and the same. And so what ends up happening is that there is enforcement against any criticism and everyone just pats each other on the back – just smile and nod and everything will be okay. I think there needs to be a proper balance. Zero tolerance of hate speech, and acceptance of proper debate on issues. Otherwise you’re prone to Fluffy Bunny Syndrome.

David Dashifen Kees: Skins seem more thin online.

Tom Swiss
Tom Swiss
Tom Swiss: I think that the most rancorous people will take their ball and go home and leave the umbrella to the rest of us.

David Dashifen Kees: That’s likely the way it’ll work out, I think as well. And, those rancorous people will likely have a grand old time doing what they do and doing it well. But, what I fear will happen is that we’ll lose the middle. If we go with John Becket’s tent-pole metaphor, we’ll find some many people around the poles (community, deity, self, and nature) that there won’t be as much room for or conversations about those who (like me) hang out in between those poles.

Molly Khan: Dash, I worry about that too. I see it much like politics – over time, everything seems to be getting more polarized.

Laine DeLaney: Dash, yes, but I also think that people need different things at different points in their life. I am seeing that happen within Heathenry, though – you have SCA level re-constructionists for whom spiritual practice is an afterthought, and then you have screwheads like myself who think the Gods care less about wearing the right underwear or oppressing the right people than having good relationships.

Molly Khan: I certainly don’t think the Umbrella is going away, at least not anytime soon. There are enough people actually out there (as opposed to online) who still identify as Pagan as well as their specific path that it will be around for a long while.

Laine Glaistig: What happens when they don’t, though, Tom? The internet means that a lot of time they will find a way to stick around and be a voice.

Jason Mankey: There are people most of us would consider “under the umbrella” who actively bristle at the word “Pagan.”

Molly Khan: Jason, that’s very true. But I think they are a much greater minority than their voices seem.

Yvonne Aburrow: The umbrella is a big tent, but it is not in decline. The fact that there is heated discussion is a good thing

David Dashifen Kees: Jason – and there are those that many of us would consider male who may bristle at that term (not an attack, just spinning the phrases). It’s up to us to inquire and learn rather than assume.

Yvonne Aburrow: Those who try to define their community too narrowly will find themselves big fish in a tiny tiny pond. Communities/ coalitions of common interest don’t have to agree on everything – only on the topics they are collaborating on.

Gwion Raven: Using the tent metaphor – The idea being that lots of people can fit under it. If you invite many people you get diversity (a plus) and you get differences (also a plus). It’s how those differences are discussed, held and worked with that determines how successful your tent is. I think having many people in the tent that then go out and get their own tents is a good thing in general.

David Dashifen Kees: Gwion +1 – and, it’s also helpful when people with tents are willing to accept that people move between them, visiting one or another for a bit, before returning elsewhere without labeling them Wiccatru or something.

Yvonne Aburrow: I think one can wander around the tent having beer anywhere.

Molly Khan
Molly Khan
Molly Khan: One reason I love ADF – it brings the tentpoles of different cultures together, though most of us seem to fall somewhere in the middle ground between woo and scholarship

Jason Mankey: I for one love the umbrella, I love being able to experience new facets of spirituality and to have new experiences. The great thing about big festivals is being exposed to all sorts of different things. I don’t want that to go away. I will add though that sometimes when the internet is especially cantankerous I like to hide under my nice warm Wiccan blanket. (It’s got a picture of Gerald on it.)

Molly Khan: Jason, it’s funny, my experience is opposite yours! I love the umbrella, and I enjoy the Heathen community from time to time; but when the Heathen community gets to be too awful, I run back to the larger Pagan umbrella.

Laine DeLaney: I like the umbrella too. Not only does it keep me dry and keep the sun off, it means that I can find all sorts of fascinating things to pursue and incorporate in my personal practice.

Annika Mongan: I really love the umbrella. Even with all of the fighting, just think about what Christians have done and continue to do under their umbrella. As long as we stick to online flame wars, we’re in great shape by comparison!

Annika Mongan: I keep coming back to James Fowler’s model of stages of faith development. As we get older as a movement, we will have people who grow up in our traditions and their needs are different. At earlier stages in our faith development we need more certainty, and belief can feel more important than practice. How do we make space for those who need a paradigm with a lot of certainly and literal belief?

Dana Corby: One of the frustrations I’ve experienced in trying to create and manage a ‘pagan umbrella’ organization was getting all sorts of flak because all the events are Wiccan or Wicca-ish, but being unable to get anyone but the Wiccans to come share their ritual style with us.

David Dashifen Kees: I’ve experienced that as well when organizing for Pagan Pride Day in Massachusetts.

Yvonne Aburrow: I was pleased to see that the Pagan Federation conference, London, UK, had a Heathen opening ritual.

Molly Khan: Dana, that’s hard frown emoticon. Our local PPD has been able to get a Heathen ritual and a Kemetic workshop this year (and a Thelemic presenter!) which I’m super excited about. That success has largely come from building relationships throughout the year, and then approaching individuals about maybe doing a workshop or ritual.

Tom Swiss: At FreeSpirit Gathering, we specifically invite a different group each year to do our main ritual. It’s a mixed bag but it get us diversity and has made for some excellent ones — one year was a flaming staff battle between the Oak King and the Holly King…another was a ritual based around Where The Wild Things Are.

Yvonne Aburrow: In the UK, Heathens and Druids and Wiccans have their own camps, plus there are general Pagan camps – benefit of density of population.

Tom Swiss: Rancorous people will still have a voice, sure, but I’m thinking they will leave those on-line and real-life spaces of “the umbrella” and be speaking from outside.

David Dashifen Kees: I wonder, if Tom’s right, and the cantankerous skedaddle elsewhere, does the Pagan label become more generally applicable?

Jason Mankey: So where do you see Paganism headed in the next twenty years? Final thoughts.

Dana Corby
Dana Corby
Dana Corby: I think some of the rise of fundamentalism in the various Old Religions is that we’re absorbing a lot of the walking wounded from other — mostly Christian — fundamentalisms. These folks have a lot of trouble wrapping their heads around a concept of religion that isn’t based on absolutes, and (so it seems to me) when they come to the Old Gods they simply replace one set of absolutes for another.

Annika Mongan: Dana – it’s like we’re becoming their rebound relationship with religion?

Gwion Raven: More of it. More specialization. More political power.

Laine DeLaney: It really depends on the branch, but I see more speciation occuring.

Yvonne Aburrow: I think there will be more community and co-operation and more understanding of diversity

Laine DeLaney: Agreed on political power, there are more and more news stories that are like, “Hey, can you believe that this *nut* wants to run for governor”” The tone doesn’t change, but the frequency has increased. Same with social sway.

Molly Khan: I agree with Gwion and Laine – lots more specialization. There will hopefully be more culturally-specific local groups popping up as Polytheism of various stripes becomes a bigger thing (and I think it will). But I also think we will retain a group identity within that specialization.

Jason Mankey: You all are so much more positive than me. I don’t think we’re doomed, but I think that there are some who will walk away.

Yvonne Aburrow: I actually think there needs to be less secrecy but I suspect I am in a tiny minority. Then again i was ahead of the curve with the theology thing, so who knows?

Gwion Raven: Inevitably, some will walk away

Annika Mongan: I think it’s tricky. On the one hand we can look at the evolution of other religions and see our current problems and trends reflected there, leading us to think that we’re following a well trodden path that every other growing religion has followed before.
But on the other hand we are unique. We are aware of our founding myths (“Triumph of the Moon”) unlike other religions in the past. We have the internet, which changes so much. And we’re at a fascinating time in world history where we face challenges that have no precedent in recorded history.

Rua Lupa: I think any kind of belief system requires some kind of structure, otherwise its not a belief system, and then there is too much structure where the belief system cannot adapt or grow out of its finely tuned niche when the world around them changes – Ecology 101. Fundamentalism dies while more balanced structures adapt and survive. Hence all the churches closing down around the ‘Western’ world and the growing numbers who don’t adhere to a fundamentalist belief.

Yvonne Aburrow: The LGBT issue is a huge reason for the decline of the churches. The fact that we are mostly LGBT friendly is a huge thing.

Molly Khan: Yvonne, I think that’s 100% right. It was a big factor in me leaving Christianity. As a youngster I contemplated becoming a nun.

Jason Mankey: Yup! Paganism in general has been ahead of the curve in a lot of areas. That makes me so happy and to be here and proud of our community.

Dana Corby: I think Paganism as going to be less and less overtly ‘religious’ and far more play-oriented. Wicca will retreat more and more from the ‘umbrella,’ as we get older and less able to tolerate the increasing levels of animosity. What worries me most, though, is that our elders are starting to die in alarming numbers. What will become of their accumulated knowledge? Who will carry the torch, and where will they take it?

Yvonne Aburrow: Interesting Dana i think it is all getting more serious! A bit more levity would be a very good thing though.

Sable Aradia: We will continue to grow, though perhaps more slowly than we have, especially since a lot of our ideas are considered more mainstream now. We’ve already seen a lot more public acceptance, of Wicca, Druidry and Heathenry in particular. The Heathens recently graduated to having their faith being butchered and insulted in mainstream media (Agents of SHIELD) so widespread public tolerance can’t be far off for them. wink emoticon There will be a division in the community – a group of Polytheists will split off – and for a while the less hardline anti-Pagan polytheists will travel between groups. But in the meantime, more groups will choose to embrace the Pagan umbrella. For example, Voodoo and the African Diasporadic faiths have come to participate in a big way. As a result, there will be more intersectionality than we’re currently seeing. However, there will be a general trend towards siloing, and the big Pagan festivals will either die out, focus on one or two groups, or become massive interfaith parliaments. And we will all develop deeper and more cohesive theologies as we test and explore the limits.

Tom Swiss: The subtitle of my book (plug) is “Zen Paganism for the 21st Century.” I think that the leading edge of Neopaganism is about building spiritual practice (‘doxy) that’s compatible with and capable of giving guidance to the world of science and technology. No coincidence that we have so many software folks, engineers, and scientists. That will probably keep making friction between “humanistic Pagans” and some sorts of hardcore “hard Polytheists”. (Only some!!!) I wouldn’t be surprised to see some sort of break-off by a set of hardcore reactionary re-constructionalists who insist on the existence of deities in a straightforward manner (the “magic king” approach, as opposed to those who allow for more theological subtlety).

David Dashifen Kees: I’m fairly optimistic. I think Tom’s right in that the most disruptive voices will eventually hive off even more so than they already have and find a place where they can do what they want to do in peace leaving the rest of us to really start to work together, to find some of the commonalities that might help us to better define who we are collectively since many of us have had the freedom to do so personally. Furthermore, that this collection has room for a variety of religious traditions and thinking within it.

Rua Lupa: I see Paganism growing as seen from those outside it, and those within it reaching out more and becoming more publicly understood. Over time I see that the word “Pagan” may become dropped entirely as the numbers of those who are ‘outside’ dwindle while those ‘inside’ become a majority. The end result being a much more diverse tapestry of beliefs the world over, trickling out from the ‘West’ as we become more interconnected and begin to commonly see ourselves as citizens of Earth, with diminishing nation boundaries. But that’s more like over 50 years in the future if the trend continues…

And with that we mostly went our separate ways . . .

*Tom’s spell-checker originally auto-corrected Heathen to “Heather.” Just thought that was worth sharing. -jason

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33 responses to “Conversations: The Future of Modern Paganism”

  1. I only got through most of this. I’ll come back to it after the weekend starts!

    This question is for Sable, Rua, and Jason (but anyone can step in, of course).

    Sable, when you said “Now everybody’s a shaman or a traditional witch.” I was surprised. I don’t see a super-huge amount of shamanism around in the Bay Area, anyway. Traditional witches? Yes, I can find them. Do you think that’s geographically based preference, or are most “shamans” (ahem, “shamanic practitioners”) cagey about their practice because of the politics around doing anything that might relate to colonialism?

  2. It’s only the size of a small book . . . and it’s only half the conversation.

    I have noticed the increase in Traditional Witches, and it’s everywhere too. I see it online, gatherings, festivals, etc. I don’t agree with Sable about the rise in Shamanism.

  3. I’m honestly unsure what is being asked of me, or why. I did agree with Sable when she said, “In general I think the internet was the single most important things to develop modern Paganism, and I love it, despite its problems.” I don’t really have an opinion on shamans. I know people who were adopted into the Anishinaabe tradition and a few of which became medicine people in their own right with blessings from the traditional Anishinaabe and Lakota Elders they were taught under. In other words, they were directly told they were ready with ceremony acknowledging this. I am particularly proud of one of them who is really making sure that they get it right and continue the traditions. Other than that there is a problem with ‘plastic shamans’ who claim to have native traditions passed down to them and really haven’t and are taking advantage of people’s ignorance to make a quick buck. This appears to be more of a thing in New Age circles though.

  4. Hi Christopher! The surge in shamanism I’ve seen could be limited to Western Canada and many of the people I tend to chat with online. It could be linked to a large shamanic group that is operating out of Vancouver and has become quite popular in recent years. Maybe it’s a Canadian thing and not an American one. Western Canada has many vocal First Nations groups and people in general tend to be socially aware of aboriginal concerns, so I doubt that being “cagey” is a concern. I should point out that the politics here are different. Neopagans here would never use the term “medicine people” because that is what our First Nations use, and they would not want to culturally appropriate. “Shaman” is a safer term. Also, I have found our local First Nations to be quite friendly to Pagans. We’re not experiencing the “smudging controversy” here, for example.

    My observation was meant to convey that, like anything else, faith goes through periods of boom or bust in popularity. In other words, if I might apply so base a term to religion, they go through fads. In the time I’ve been a Pagan, at least in the area around me and among those I speak to online, I’ve seen the most prominent Pagan path go from Neopagan Wicca, to Neopagan Druidry, to more involved Druidry and Reconstructionisms of different varieties, to a return to Dianic and Reclaiming-style Wicca, to shamanism and traditional witchcraft.

    This is not to denigrate anyone’s religious choices. That’s the beauty of Paganism; lots to choose from, lots of different ways to do it, and as Yvonne said, you can travel around the tent and have a beer wherever you like. And certainly there’s nothing wrong with any of these choices, and if they resonate, I say go for it. But it does seem to me that a lot of people who were Druids a few years ago are now shamans, and a lot of people who were eclectic Wiccans a few years ago are now traditional witches. I imagine that in a couple of years there will be a shift to something else.

    I also said (which was clipped from the discussion for brevity) that when I did my book tour of Western Canada, I found that regardless of what happened on the internet, most of the Paganisms I encountered were still grassroots Wicca and Neopaganism, though I also saw a huge upsurge in the African Diasporadic faiths (which I think is a great thing.) So this perceived shift could just be a matter of what’s currently getting media attention (and Pagan media is still media, still limited by what gets headlines and what people want to read about).

    Thanks! That was a good question!

  5. I do think that most shamanic practitioners are cagey about it because of the politics of appropriation, and rightly so. I’ve seen a lot of folks go with the generalized “spirit worker” or something specific to the cultural background of their tradition like Seidhkona.

    I’ve always known “traditional witches” some of them were – the coven I originally trained with was extremely traditional and hidebound. Even so, at the same time, there were always folks claiming to have a many-thousand year lineage handed down from mother to daughter who were the “true” traditional witches. I suppose I’m not really impressed by that claim unless it’s backed up with membership in a recongized tradition.

  6. Christopher, I live in SF Bay area (if that’s the bay area you are referring to). It’s my experience that the word “Shaman” isn’t used particularly much, at least not in the variety of craft circles that I run in. Some of it very much has to do with cultural appropriation. Folks often equate the term “Shaman” or “Shamanistic practices” with being so common that is become a “safe” word, but unfortunately that’s just simply inaccurate. The word Shaman belongs very clearly to one culture but is often attributed across many cultures to describe similar yet distinct practices.

  7. Yvonne, our elders are dying because we are *old*!

    It is a shame to lose the accumulated knowledge, but I also acknowlege that what we know is as much what *was* as what *is.* I don’t want to say that’s either a good or a bad thing; it’s just the way it is in multigenerational anything.

    What we long-timers know — and expect — is based on the way it was when we were coming up in the movement. We were, of course, surrounded by our contemporaries who had the same backgrounds and expectations, and we all grew old together. So, when we’re gone, our worldview goes.

    But since we are multigenerational, there are plenty of people younger than we are who are thisclose to being elders, too. Rinse and repeat. If it’s a movement with any kind of longevity, it has to be able to outlive its founders (already has) and the generation after that, too.

    In the meantime, I’ve got the bug to teach again, so at least some of the “old ways” (as in, 30-50 years old!) get passed along and remain part of the mix.

  8. I owned a metaphysical shop in the early ’90s, which was a big pivot point. I’d often remark that almost all the books we carried in the witchy/magical section had been published after 1990. There was a real Pagan publishing explosion in those years. (That time of glory is now gone; for the past decade, most major publishers have been saying that the market is oversaturated.)

    This was also the time when do-it-yourself Wicca/Paganism/Witchcraft — “No training? No problem!” — began to be a thing, with Uncle Bucky’s Big Blue Book coming out in 1986 and Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary in ’88. To be fair, Starhawk had started the “do what feels right!” bandwagon in 1979. But what not expected was that the do-it-yourself-however-you-want solitary idea would completely take over the landscape. That was a game changer. And of course, little thought was given to the fact that the authors of these do-what-thou-wilt books were coming at it from a trained background. They were improvising off of a structure, not simply making up *everything* as they went along.

    Add to all this the rise of the massive chain bookstores, the Internet, and online shopping, the combination of which killed the independent occult bookstore. (Killed mine!) The stores were as much a networking hub as they were a merchandise source, and no matter how much easier it is to connect online, there is a qualitative difference between online and face-to-face interactions.

    On the upside, the InterWebs give me a nice forum for this sort of blather. So much easier than hanging out in a store waiting for a chance to pontificate 😉

  9. The internet and online shopping killed my little metaphysical store too. I think the only way that occult bookstores can stay in business now is to be *bookstores* with a big occult section. (Especially now that places like Chapters seem to be shrinking that section more and more). That’s working for the bookstore where I read Tarot (and work part time behind the till to make ends meet, like many other Pagan writers.)

  10. Caught my tongue-in-cheek sense of humour I see. 😉 To be fair, I wasn’t sure that “cycles” was the right word, because it has yet to be proven whether or not some of the Paganisms that *were* popular will come around to a place of popularity again. Some will die out, others will remain and gain new life. I know Druidry has been around the block more than a few times, so that’s a cycle for sure. Wicca and witchcraft seem to go through cycles of twenty years. Which means we’d be due for another rise of witchcraft in the next five or six years. Let’s see if I’m right!

  11. Yes, and the term Shamanism has been an issue since Eliade. One serious problem is that the practices labeled shamanism often aren’t all that similar. But, yeah, it’s a historical problem.

    That usage grows out of the racist theories of religious evolution from the 19th century (c.f. E.B. Tylor, the now discredited founder of anthropology).

    It was made worse by the followers of Michael Harner, who tried to bring some sense of the practice in to the West, but IMO got coopted by the human potential movement.

    I suppose the closest generic English term would be “spirit person” or something like that. But who would put that on a business card?

    NAFPS is worth reading, because it makes clear the egregious kinds of really bad shit that happens. And it’s as enthralling (and horrifying) as a train wreck.

  12. I might add that shamanism is popular in Eastern Washington as well. We have three groups, all of which have some indigenous ties, but are not strictly indigenous.

  13. That’s interesting, and quite helpful. In the echo-chamber of the Internet, one might guess that all white people are made of plastic, and that anyone open enough to talk to spirits is also open enough to believe in “UFOs, astral projections, mental telepathy, ESP, clairvoyance, spirit photography, telekinetic movement, full trance mediums, the Loch Ness monster and the theory of Atlantis” — all at once, and at least six before breakfast.

    [I can neither confirm nor deny that several of the things on that list are possible. I can confirm that breathy belief in anything goes against my constitution.]

    [P.S. I can, however, confirm that I probably saw Ghostbusters one too many times. That is where the quote is from.]

  14. We’re looking at the Wicca resurgence right now. It’s been more than 25 years from Solitary Practitioner (1988), and the lineage groups finally getting to a place where they can and have trained those interested. Maybe this is why Jason’s seeing a resurgence in BTWicca?

  15. Well I do sometimes eat breakfast late, always after my meditations, and have a hard time believing in the Loch Ness monster. There is supposed to be a similar creature in Lake Okanogan – I haven’t seen that one either….you’lll have to ask someone else about that….

  16. I believe that we are hard wired as pagans. All the ancient religions were pagan. Even the Catholic Church today, one of the largest churches in the world, is really pagan. You have Jesus who is both mortal and god, angels and saints who are essentially lower ranking gods.

  17. I have friends who say they have seen the Ogopogo. I have not. There’s some compelling evidence that indicates that it’s likely a giant sturgeon, since Okanagan Lake (spelled differently up here across the border) is very large, and very, very deep. 😉

  18. Also I think there is more cultural exchange between Pagans and First Nations in Western Canada, being that Aboriginal Peoples are less segregated and a large visible minority.

  19. I’d really appreciate if Pagans or supporters of Paganism would refrain from making statements that Catholicism is actually Pagan.

    It’s as unhelpful and disrespectful as Christians making statements that Paganism is really Satanic, we just don’t know any better.

  20. Paganism is not satanism. Paganism is really polytheism, which is what I was referring to. No insult to my fellow Catholics was intended. Remember, it was the pagan Greeks and Romans who converted to Christianity, and they took many of the their pagan elements with them.