Unleash the Hounds! (Link Roundup)

Unleash the Hounds! (Link Roundup) September 7, 2012

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.


  • Noted early-music performer Owain Phyfe, a long-time fixture on the Renaissance Faire circuit, science fiction conventions, and Pagan festivals like Pagan Spirit Gathering, passed away this week from pancreatic cancer. Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, who knew Owain, had this to say about the musician: “Thank you, Owain, for good times, friendship, & carrying on the bardic tradition with old & new songs & stories! Thank you for being part of the Pagan Spirit Gathering & Green Spirit Festival! Blessings of our Welsh ancestor Owain Glyndwr, upon you as you make your way in Annwn, the Otherworld!” You can find out more about Owain at his Wikipedia page, or this article from Renaissance Magazine. What is remembered lives.
  • How do you stop a witch-hunt from happening? In rural India, groups of women who met through micro-loan programs are banding together in solidarity to resist the hysteria that can come with an accusation of witchcraft, and have met with some success. Quote: “In one case, a woman was accused of causing disease in livestock and an attack was planned. Members of the self-help groups gathered in a vigil around the woman’s home and surrounded the accuser’s home as well, stating their case to the accuser’s wife. Eventually the wife intervened and her husband recanted and ‘begged for forgiveness.'” So how do stop witch-hunts? Empowering women seems an important first step.
  • Brian Pulliam, a racist skinhead who has been arrested in connection with a double homicide, is receiving scrutiny for his Asatru faith, which he believes requires him to drink alcohol. The story has prompted a representative of the local Asatru community in the Albuquerque, New Mexico area to speak up and clarify their beliefs, distancing themselves from Pulliam. Quote: “…his claims that Asatru requires him to consume mead for various holidays during the year are baseless. While many of us choose to drink mead or other alcoholic beverages during our celebrations, there is absolutely no requirement to do so. People whose medications won’t allow them to drink alcohol, those who are underage, and active service members in the Middle East, to name just a few examples, are capable of fully celebrating without mead.” The author, Sorn Skald, also noted that Pulliam’s racism would not be welcome in the group with which he worships.
  • The Vancouver Sun has more on the unfolding controversy over Public Safety Minister Vic Toews’ move to stop the issuing of new contracts for minority-faith chaplains, including a Wiccan chaplain, because he’s “not convinced” that it is needed. Quote: “For the past six years, Wiccan priestess Kate Hansen has been visiting federal inmates across British Columbia who follow the pagan religion, guiding them in meditation and leading them in prayerful chants […] “If they choose to scrap this, they’re denying the rights of all of these people – their access to spiritual advisement of the religion of their choice,” Hansen told Postmedia News.” For more on this situation, read my post from yesterday, and be sure to check out the comments section, which features input from a Canadian Pagan prison chaplain.


That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

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112 responses to “Unleash the Hounds! (Link Roundup)”

  1. I’m going to miss Owain Phyfe’s presence, courtesy both funny and sweet, and his playing at Ren Faires and at Cerridwen’s Coffeehouses back in the day, along with bands the Pyrates Royale and Kiva. Wonderful. He touched the lives and brought happiness to so many. May the gods bless him on his journey and may he find the fulfillment of his Will whatever that may be. A Toast to the company of his friends and his family.

  2. Oh look, here’s another attack on belief prominently featured on The Wild Hunt. Huge surprise there. THW is starting to become a soap box for the skeptical, agnostic and humanist voices within paganism while ignoring everyone else. A perfect example of this bias in action was the coverage you gave to the responses* generated by Brendan Myers’ guest post here a while back. And by coverage I mean not posting a thing about it. It’s your blog so of course you can choose to push whatever agenda and ideological positions you want … I just expected better of you, Jason. There was a time when you merely reported on what was going on in Paganism. You were fair and balanced and kept out of the disputes. Now … not so much.

    * Here’s a small selection of them. There were considerably more that I didn’t include:

  3. Re the aborted witch-hunt: I’ve heard microfinance can have a huge impact on the economic lives of the rural poor but never before of a positive social impact in other areas. Good news is always welcome.
    Re Brian Pulliam: I’m pleased at the news that mead is not an Asatru requirement. Thinking the contrary has kept me away from blots because you have no idea how much food a diabetic has to forego to take one drink, and besides I don’t like what alcohol does to my vibe (and, it turns out, neither does anyone else).
    Re Naomi Wolf: There’s a fairly calm New Yorker article in the current issue which is pretty balanced even though the author makes it clear she is no Goddess fan. Evidently Wolf had surgery correcting spinal compression of the nerve that connects the vagina and brain, and this has restored her accustomed post-coital altered states of consciousness, which one can understand would be a Big Deal and could lead a person like Wolf to write a book. She has a history at the intersection of sex and feminism, and this book makes so many of the same waves, that a lot of reaction is predictable. I don’t think it bespeaks any particular anti-Goddess sentiment abroad (though some feminists have always scorned Goddess worship as distractive and trivializing).

  4. Not linking to your post nor linking to all the ones you mention (though one of them was referenced already in the Patheos Pagan list since it was written by a moderator) does not means Jason was unfair, when clearly if you post a link, it’ll typically show up on Wild Hunt
    the discussion to some eyes was pretty lively. it can get restarted on it’s own merits, and without trying to insult anyone.

  5. I think that if you’re going to accuse him of becoming a soap box for the “skeptical, agnostic, and humanist voices within paganism”, you should at least specifiy which one of the many links he provided in todays posts is the one that inflamed your anger. I personally don’t feel like reading them all on the off chance that one of they may prove to be the one you’re referring to.

  6. Did he link to any posts? Was there any follow-up about this? If so, I missed it. This isn’t about playing favorites – this is about journalistic ethics, about providing a balanced view of what’s going on in paganism today.

  7. Well, hey now, you don’t need to actually believe in anything if all you want is to be part of a vaguely pagan-flavored social scene, which seems to be what many people are looking for these days. I mean, apparently Faerieworlds now qualifies as a pagan event, even though it has nothing to do with the one thing that would make that correlation reasonable: actual fairies (you know, the kind that people *believed* in and even *sacrificed* to prior to the Victorians making them all cutesy or more recent artists/authors making them all sexy).

    We want religious rights equal to everyone else (a frequent topic here), but we wouldn’t want to have to actually *believe* in anything spiritual or even *do* anything other than dress up and party occasionally.

  8. Maybe it was the one entitled “do we really want to be using this kind of Belief-language?” — all the rest were notices of events, books, and assorted controversies. Nothing to object to there. And I wouldn’t object to the inclusion of SAH stuff, either, if the other side got equal mention. Will we ever see a guest editorial in defense of hard polytheism? I doubt it. And there doesn’t have to be. I promote a definite view of things at my blog — but I don’t pretend to be a balanced journalist, either.

  9. Yes, reading through a few bullet points before making a comment really is too much to ask. (But to save you from the painstaking READING, it’s the second to last point, re: Sam Webster. You don’t have to follow the link and read the whole article to get the point.)

  10. And I only included the link to my post because it highlighted how much conversation on this topic was actually going on in the community. I don’t ever expect anything I do or say to end up on The Wild Hunt. And why should it? I don’t identify with anything that paganism today represents and haven’t used that term for myself for some time now. But this is something that you guys should care about, since TWH is, for many people, the visible face of paganism especially to the outside world.

  11. Again, with at least one he doesn’t have to because its already publicized in Patheos Pagan which focuses on Pagan blogs on Patheos.com, including Jason’s.
    Another blog on your list is frequently referenced positively.. is there anything more that Jason’s expected to do in terms of suggesting its regular readership?
    I can feel you are angry, I just don’t see how that’s Jason’s fault.

    I think you could put that anger to a potentially great blog post about belief (rather than about personal attacks) and look forward to reading it.
    Thank you

  12. I didn’t know that running a guest post from Bendan Myers, and then, weeks later, linking to an article by Sam Webster constituted some biased scheme on my part to boost praxis over belief. Or that not linking to rebuttals was further proof of that lack of “ethics.” Truly, I’ve gone ’round the bend.

    I’m surprised at your sudden attack Sannion. I would have been more than happy to run a counter-editorial to Brendan’s if you had approached me. Heck, we live in the same town, I would have been happy to sit down for coffee and discuss the matter if you felt it so serious. But you didn’t. Instead, you set up expectations for me that I wasn’t informed of, and then when I failed in those expectations, you criticize me.

    Here’s the real deal: I ran that editorial by Brendan because I’ve been feeling burnt out and needed a day off. I think Brendan is a smart guy, and he’s on my short-list of go-tos when I’m looking for fill-ins. I told him he could write about anything he wanted, that’s what he picked. No agenda on my part. It could have easily been a fill-in post from P. Sufenas, or Thorn, or any number of my Pagan friends who’ve done guest posts.

    As for Sam Webster, he’s a big deal in his corner of our community. I think he’s thought provoking. I thought I’d link to his blog because I think more people should read it. I’ve linked to your blog, Sannion, far more than his.

    You know what’s tiring? People ascribing motivations to me and this blog without doing one simple thing: asking me if I have any motivations or bias in that area.

    Personally, if you really want to know, I’m not invested in the belief vs praxis debate, so I haven’t been following it. I think modern Paganism will always have tensions on that axis. But that’s just me.

  13. Did you actually read the article that has inflamed your senses? From my reading of it, it’s a condemnation of blind belief in the sense that Christians tend to use it. Or, to quote the 13th Apostle, Rufus:
    Rufus: I think it’s better to have ideas. You can change an
    idea, changing a belief is trickier. Life should be malleable and
    progressive; working from idea to idea permits that. Beliefs anchor you
    to certain points and limit growth; new ideas can’t generate. Life
    becomes stagnant.

  14. As the moderator of the Witches&Pagans blogosphere where Sam Webster posted about Pagan belief, I’d like to point out that Sam’s actual post argues that *practice* rather than *belief* should be primary in Paganism. This is far from signing off on a skeptical agenda. Here’s a pretty typical quote from the actual article:

    “What I suggest is an exercise in self-conscious language. Try not using
    the word ‘belief’ when discussing your religion. For example one can say
    not “I believe in Thor” but rather “I worship Thor.”

    Sam is advocating for a Paganism in which we *know* our gods, rather than “believe” in them. I fail utterly to see how that position in any way supports an atheist agenda. Sam Webster’s position is about as far away from Brendan Myer’s as you can get. I suggest actually reading the post in question here http://witchesandpagans.com/Pagan-Studies-Blogs/better-than-belief.html before making accusations that honestly make *no* sense.

  15. It’s not just these two isolated instances, there is a growing trend that a lot of people have noticed lately. Of course, a perceived trend does not equal an agenda and you are absolutely right to call me out for not approaching you and clarifying your views on this before saying anything public about it. My bad, and I apologize. In my defense, though, I’ve written to you several times to let you know about events in our local community and to suggest story ideas of national interest as they were unfolding … never to hear back from you or see anything about them on TWH. Not sure if this was intentional or some weird glitch, but it does hopefully explain why I was reticent of contacting you.

    Anyway, I do sympathize. I watched the craziness unfold in the comments to your post about CoG and how everything you said got blown way out of proportion. You do important work, work that brings you into countless lives. Many times we take that for granted or expect more of you than you have ever claimed to offer. So, even though I don’t agree with your infidel agenda, I still do respect the work you’re doing. 🙂

  16. I’m not inflamed with rage; it’s more a mild annoyance with a mix of snark and sarcasm for seasoning. Sorry if that came across poorly.

  17. We very often have people at our blots who for one reason or another need or want to abstain from alcohol, and it’s never an issue. Our holiday celebrations are about making and maintaining right relations with the gods and other important wights, not drinking. I hope you don’t stay away from any more blots if that’s something you’re interested in.

  18. Actually, yes, you do need to read it to get the point. Which is my point. An actual read of the article might have saved some embarassment and unwarranted public anger.

  19. Sannion, I checked my gmail, and the last message I got from you was from November of 2011. So if there’s been a bunch of messages since then, I must not have gotten them. If so, I apologize. In any case, any instance of me ignoring you, or anyone who send me links isn’t intentional. It’s just that I’m buried in email every day, and sometimes things don’t get responded to.

  20. The article itself isn’t too bad — there’s actually plenty I agree with in it — I was mostly using this an opportunity to address an issue that’s been simmering for a while now.

  21. Reading the whole article will indeed give a more in-depth and nuanced understanding of the author’s points. But as regards how these things are covered (or not) here on TWH, it’s actually relevant how the article was portrayed, the quote used, etc., not just the full content of the article itself. Certainly, I would think it obvious that this was the blurb that sparked Sannion’s comment, rather than any of the other bullet points.

  22. As to remaking The Craft: I don’t see how it can possibly be done, as it would be impossible to find another Fairuza Balk.
    As to the possible movie about The Last Witch-Hunter putting down a modern uprising of Manhattan Witches; For-real Manhattan Witches might have to start paying attention to this one-

  23. Hey, Sorn, thumbs up for advocating for Asatru! All of us Heathens need to be doing that so that knuckleheads don’t define us to the world.

  24. Weird. Because I’ve sent e-mails and used the contact form on your site and didn’t get a response either way. Maybe the spam filters know the true meaning of my name and so are flagging me. 🙂

    Anyway, I only brought this up today because I respect your work and don’t want the perception of bias to detract from that. If I didn’t think there was value in TWH I wouldn’t have said anything. But I should have tempered the annoyance in my response.

  25. Use my direct email in the future: jpitzl at gmail dot com.

    In any case, if you’d like to write an editorial in defense of belief for The Wild Hunt to balance things out let me know.

  26. Re: Sam Webster’s rhetorical question: ” Do we want to model our religious thought on theirs?”

    While this question can be a legitimate one, Webster”s focus on the “belief”
    versus “practice” false dichotomy renders the question useless in this case.

    Ancient Pagans had beliefs and those beliefs were central to their world-view.
    To think otherwise is to suppose that as they went about their lives,
    and their religious practices, they were just going through the motions.

    Belief is the theoretical part of religion. “Theology” literally means “an
    account of the Gods”, in other words, what one “believes” to be the case
    concerning the Gods. Ironically, without some such an account as a
    working hypothesis, that is, without “beliefs”, a religious person is
    essentially operating on the basis of blind faith,
    although I seriously doubt that is what Webster is going for.

    Ancient Pagans did not mindlessly follow ritual formulas without some “belief”
    about what the rituals were about, and, most importantly, without some
    conceptual framework concerning the relationship between the Gods and
    us, which is what religious ritual is all about!

    This is yet another painful reminder that modern Pagans need some serious remedial work in ancient theology. Here is a handy reading list for a crash

    Antonia Tripolitis, Religions
    of the Hellenistic Roman Age

    Cicero, On
    the Nature of the Gods

    Sarah Iles Johnsont, Fritz Graf,
    Texts for the Afterlife

    James B. Rives, Religion
    in the Roman Empire

  27. I think Kristen Schaal could do it. She’s so hugely talented, she could play a darker character awesomely.

  28. Owain Phyfe (deceased): Do not mourn that he has died. Celebrate that he lived.

    How to Stop a Witch Hunt: This highlights a basic fact of witch hunting – the accuser picks on someone they perceive to be weak. In this instance, the victim turned out to have a strong support network that came to her aid and, through direct action, convinced the accuser to recant the claims. More than showing that giving women basic rights is a good thing (it is, although they shouldn’t need to be given), this shows that having a close-knit community is good for numerous reasons.

    Vic Toews: I agree that I am not convinced that access to a chaplain is needed. Difference is, I don’t add any qualifiers such as ‘minority religion’. What is good enough for one is good enough for all. If he thinks that a Christian should have access to a chaplain, then that should be the same for everyone.

    Vagina: A goddess shaped hole? Interesting concept. Irks me when people start piling on the ‘divine feminine’ rhetoric, though. I get that it is trying to act as a counterbalance to the patriarchal influence of the Abrahamic umbrella of religions, I just don’t get why. Still, there are worse things to smell of than patchouli…

    Why Christianity and Paganism don’t play well together: “Mine is the One true God (TM; Pat.Pend.)” “No he isn’t.”

    Pe’Sla: Good to hear it is moving in a positive direction. Just hope they get the money they need.

    Hunting Witches: I’d like to make some snarky comment,but I’ll probably watch the films. Nothing like a bit of mindless violence as escapism. (A sequel, rather than a remake of the Craft would be good, though.)

    Do we want to be using this kind of belief language?: Well, yes. Unless you have complete conviction that your beliefs are knowledge, belief language is pretty necessary when talking to others about your beliefs. Not only that, it is entirely possible to believe without veneration/worship. I manage it easily enough.

  29. I don’t think your airing of the belief debate via guest columns quite makes you the Richard Dawkins of the movement! From a journalistic perspective, it is timely and relevant to cover the active discussions and wide diversity of beliefs in the pagan community. It’s a healthy sign that people are seriously exploring questions of theology, and coming up with different answers.

    Agnostic/humanist pagans are a phenomenon that’s been percolating out there for quite some time, but which has had very little ink until quite recently. Hard polytheism is of course still very newsworthy, but those voices have made themselves known pretty effectively in the last several years.

    I hope we see much more of all these viewpoints as time and space allows.

  30. The Craft (Sixteen Years Later): Nancy has just been released from the Psycho-Ward, and reunites with her original coven-mates. Strange inexplicable instances generate suspicion that someone is using Evil Witchcraft against the four: finally turns out to be the Witch-Store Owner, who holds the four responsible for blowing up her store thru Witchcraft, destroying her livelihood. Turns out she has raised Skeet Ulrich from the Dead (Skeet Ulrich dies at the end of The Craft, right?) Skeet is now a Zombie-Warlock directing Bad Mojo Witchcraft against the four, who have to reform their coven and Raise the Powers of Mannon to combat the Evil Vindictive Witches. At the end, they all have children and it’s very Practical Magic-finale, happy fluffy bunny.
    The Sequel to The Craft (or maybe not; an exercise in foolishness.)

  31. “Not only that, it is entirely possible to believe without veneration/worship. I manage it easily enough.”

    On the other hand, as Apuleius points out above, the reverse is not true: veneration and worship without belief of some sort seems like it would be rather empty.

  32. if they did make a sequel years later, sie could do it. 🙂
    (Though right now sie could look more like a teen than Luke Perry ever did for 90120)

  33. I think Robin Tunney and Kristen Stewart look frighteningly similar. I was rather disappointed that there wasn’t a “The Craft” reference in the ‘witch’ episode of The Mentalist, though.

  34. I think, though, that the point is that “belief” is, in some ways, the opposite of “religion” as pagans and polytheists have meant it in the past. That is, “religion” is what ties us together, while “beliefs”, at least when made into the preeminent factor of spirituality, are what tear us apart. The article in question argues that practices should be our primary emphasis, as practices lead to actual experiences of the sacred, while beliefs simply require us to pretend to whatever our chosen in-group prefers.

    This isn’t about pseudo-skepticism or (gods defend us from meaningless neologisms) “humanistic paganism”. It’s about the difference between what-we-want-to-be-true-because-that’s-what-our-role-models-say-should-be-and-it-would-make-them-happy and what-actually-is-that-we-can-experience-for-real-in-our-actual-lives. It’s the difference between playing Farmville and working in a garden.

  35. I see the point you’re trying to make but I get the sense that the post was more to slowly prod the minds of those who don’t even realize the more important meaning of the question he’s asking.

    I can’t speak for the writer but this discussion is way overdue. As someone who grew up Pagan it boggles my mind that people still think like their first faiths and wonder why their belief structures/practices/general life/etc is so messed up.

  36. Exactly!

    Really, the two should be intertwined in some way – Practice what you believe; believe what you practice.

  37. Far from “long overdue”, the false dichotomy between “belief” and “practice” that Webster is promoting is a frequently encountered theological misconception both in the Pagan community and in society at large.

    Practice without belief is just going through the motions. Belief without practice is hollow and pointless.

  38. Whether or not your ancestors based their religious actions on belief, there are modern polytheisms that are deeply sincere without requiring belief. Look at Shinto in Japan, for instance. Close to 100% of the population describe themselves as ‘agnostic’ or ‘not religious.’ Yet virtually everyone visits one of the country’s tens of thousands of shrines. There are no regular services other than festival days, so all traffic is drop-in, unless you’ve commissioned a blessing for your child, business, new car, etc. If you ask someone in line for the altar at such a shrine, ‘Which god’s shrine is this? Who is it we are lining up to pray to?’ the reply is normally, ‘I don’t know, why? What a weird question!’ It drives religious researchers crazy. People will keep multiple household altars and still say, ‘I don’t really have firm beliefs, I don’t think very much about religion.’ It’s a different attitude – stopping to bow to the land spirit of the local park while you dash for the morning train is important, but getting all introspective about it is for priests.

  39. I found the article deeply offensive. I value my beleifs and between this incoming wave of humanist Pagans and now this I feel assailed by my own community for having faith, it’s disgusting.

  40. Couldn’t agree with you more, it’s getting offensive. The message seems to be that those of us with belief or faith need to be saved or changed by these enlightened atheists and cultural pagans.. There is an assault on people of faith within our own community and a strong and relentless message that we are less then. I don’t need someone telling me how to worship and certainly not some glorified cosplayers.

  41. The de-emphasis on “belief” is not about “enlightened atheis[m] and cultural pagan[ism]” at all! It is about avoiding cultural paganism, in fact, in favor of an experiential paganism that doesn’t just ask everyone to pick a group and pretend that their assertions about the gods are the true ones (because “someone said so”). It is not about atheism at all, either. It is about engaging with the spirit world directly, not through accepting what is said to be so about it (by atheists or anyone else). It is about a community of practice and experience, not of uniform thinking with every one in lock-step with his neighbor.

  42. I really don’t think you “get” what Webster is saying. He’s not talking about taking away anybody’s beliefs. He’s talking about the need (for some of us) of going BEYOND the concept of Belief and Faith-Based Spirituality. Belief is fine, but as I said previously, some of us are involved in “Belief-work” and in letting go of Beliefs and embracing a real engagement with All-That-Is. This is MORE than Belief…it is real, and it is valid. All that we are asking is that folks who are into Beliefs also accept our way as a valid path for US.

  43. “My third point is that beliefs do nothing for you.”
    “Practices even without belief, have profound impact”
    I’m trying to interpret that and half a dozen other quotes as not being an attack on people of belief and I can’t get there. Your interpretation of what he said is very nice but doesn’t seem to be based on what he wrote. To me it’s more of the same ‘we need the enlightened, faithless Pagans to save those poor beleivers from themselves’ nonsense. My beliefs don’t anchor me or limit my growth, they saved my life and they guide me and I won’t abandon them.
    “Belief divides” Not so much, assaulting people who have it does though.

  44. I have followed a self-defined shamanic path for over a decade. In my personal practice belief has been much less useful than practice and sometimes even a hindrance. I have no issue with people believing what works for them, but I do feel that strictly defined beliefs tend to crystalize into dogma, and that is a danger. Early Christians were not dogmatic Catholics, but the emphasis on believing certain things led to the dry rituals and heretic hunts that have nearly devoided Christianity of spiritual signifigance since.

  45. As soon as you go beyond belief and into what is ‘real’, the burden of scientific proof falls upon you.

    As such, if you claim that ‘All-That-Is’ is real, expect the response to be ‘prove it’.

  46. Tradition for tradition’s sake. How can you question your beliefs if you do not even think about them?

  47. “belief divides” “beliefs do nothing for you” How is that not an attack on people who believe? I think it’s grand what you are aiming for but I don’t want that. I think that everything I can or will ever need or want exists within my beliefs and the relationship with Her that my faith grants. Abandoning my belief would not give me more room to grow it would kill my relationship with Her. I entirely accept your view as valid, I think it’s fantastic but lately, from my viewpoint, there has been a constant pounding on those of us who have faith and I’m tired of it. I am not restricted or unenlightened because I believe and when one says ‘beliefs do nothing for you’ that makes me incredibly angry, my beliefs have done everything for me.

  48. The idea that Japanese people do not believe in the Kami is completely absurd. And the idea that Japanese people neither know nor care about the names and identities of the Kami is equally absurd. Anyone with even a passing familiarity with Japanese popular culture knows that the Japanese psyche is populated not only with a plethora of Kami, but also with an assortment of Buddhist Gods, Goddesses and Bodhisattvas, not to mention legendary Taoist and Confucianist Sages.

  49. Hi, Eric, I understand your feelings. Yet, that is exactly what I understand Mr. Webster to be talking about. When someone disses our beliefs, we get angry. We set ourselves up to defend them. It’s a never-ending cycle, and it’s not conducive to working with others for the good of all. If you have beliefs that work for you, that’s great. You don’t have to defend them or “prove” them. I don’t think Mr. Webster would want to take them from you. Perhaps his wording could have been more inclusive, but he is talking from his own truth.

  50. I would humbly suggest that being raised in a Shinto culture, and going on to study the religion at a graduate level, gives one a broader perspective on the matter than “a passing familiarity with pop culture.”

    However, I think we may disagree on what it means to believe. Every Japanese knows the names of some major gods and bodhisattvas, and learns in school the story of Amaterasu and the cave or Susanoo and the dragon. But that is not the reason you go to your neighborhood shrine, which anyway is not to such famous beings. Unless it is a very big shrine, it is often to a local god who really has no other name than ‘the kami of such-and-such shrine’ and who has no stories about them. What is there to ‘believe’ about such a mysterious person? But if you sit quietly in their presence and go away with your heart refreshed, you will come back. If you write your hopes on a paper tied around a branch of a tree and your prayer is answered, you will begin to believe. Maybe if the god saves you or blesses you in a special way you will pay to put up an altar or make a big offering. Until then you will go on bowing to the altar, because that’s just polite, and joining in festivals, because why wouldn’t you want to? Some people believe and some people are unsure, but being unsure is no reason not to start praying.

  51. “I don’t have to prove anything. It’s my life; I’ll live it the way I please.”

    But are you able to engage in a reasoned discussion concerning religious matters? If you cannot, then your religious practice is shallow and meaningless. If you can engage in such a discussion, but carefully choose with whom you discuss such matters, that is another thing altogether.

    “Beliefs” pertain to not only the “why” of religious practice, but also to the “how”. An intelligent religious person should be able to provide some reasonable responses to questions about “why” they perform whatever practices they engage in, and “how” those practices actually work. That doesn’t mean that you are required to justify yourself to every Tom, Dick and Jehovahs Witness who comes along asking nosy questions about your beliefs, of course.

  52. That’s a very generous offer, and I’ll take you up on it. I’ll work on the piece over the next week and should have it to you by Monday at the latest. Thank you for this opportunity!

  53. You have put yourself in something of a Catch-22. If Japanese culture is really so indifferent to its religious traditions as you claim, then simply being “raised in a Shinto culture” does not in any way provide you with any authority to speak on the subject of Shinto religion. As to graduate school, well, George W. Bush went to graduate school – at Harvard no less.

    However, let us, for the sake of argument, give your personal, subjective, anecdotal evidence some measure of validity. If some modern Japanese people are really as ignorant of their local religious traditions as you say, then that is a shame. But in any culture there will always be those who care more for preserving these traditions than others (and in any culture, those who care a great deal about such things area always in a minority). Throughout recorded history there has hardly ever been a time when there were not those who bemoaned the lack of attention that people pay to tradition “these days.”

  54. Those same considerations didn’t seem to apply to other controversies that have unfolded within the pagan community in the recent past. Consider the coverage that Z. Budapest’s vitriol and those responding to it received. Much, even most, of the commentary highlighted on The Wild Hunt came from authors associated with Patheos. While I understand the importance of that issue (especially to the trans members of the community) I don’t think that this issue is any less worthy of discussion. Indeed, I’d say it goes to the very heart of what it means to be pagan and raises vital questions about what happens when tolerance is taken to an extreme.

  55. Again, it wasn’t giving the SHA faction a soap-box to get their views out there that offended many of us — it’s that we heard nothing from the other side afterwards. Now, it may have been unfair of us to expect that kind of balanced presentation of things — Jason certainly isn’t obligated to report on every development or give every segment of the population a voice. But it stood out so much because in the past he has often gone to great lengths to do just that with other issues, major and minor. His excellence built up our expectations. Unfairly, perhaps, but in a way it’s a compliment.

  56. Yeah. This is something that’s been going on for a while now. I’ve seen these attitudes for at least six or seven years now — what’s different is that the atheist contingent is getting better organized, more vocal, and more insistent that they deserve a place with the rest of us. Also, less willing to compromise or go along with group consensus. Which they are perfectly entitled to do – but that approach isn’t going to win them many friends, and may create a backlash. I, myself, was responding to this broader phenomenon when I made the above comment — it was less about that single article and more about this whole mess in its entirety.

  57. I wasn’t asking you to prove it. I was merely saying that there are those who would.

    Personally, I feel you should be free to believe whatever.

  58. I found the article refreshing. Within my own religious niche group there is quite a broad array of different thoughts and thus rather lively discussions but quite a bit of similarity in practice. I think the point is more that enforcing a particular set of beliefs (orthodoxy) is divisive because we being human beings are going to have different ideas about the why’s of practice and our own individual experiences. For example, I believe based on my experiences in the individuality of gods. My friend down the road believes all gods are one but we can still light incense together and pray because there is no enforced belief structure to divide us.

  59. I don’t go around telling other Polytheistics how they should and shouldn’t speak, it’s just rude. Belief divides, belief short circuits learning, replaces complexity with amiguity. That’s bordering on hate speech. If he wanted to open up a dialogue about how we relate to our Gods he shouldn’t have started by saying my beliefs don’t have value. “beliefs do nothing for you”. Absolutely foul. My polytheism is hard but I don’t tell my Pagan friends of differing views how they should speak to or view the divine, the arrogance in this community is astounding. And while he may not share the core philosophy of Myers, the message is the same: There is something wrong with people of faith and we need the anoited, the intellectual and the enlightened to bring us forth to the promised land. I’m sure it would just be some grand utopia if we could all just get on board for the big win. I like the idea of community but this moves me further away from beleiving it can ever happen. I believe in Brighid, I believe in Ganesha, i believe I shouldn’t be ridiculed for that within my own community, my Christian friends and family treat my faith with greater respect.

  60. Exactly so. All these attempts to force everyone to think in the same way about things annoy me as much as, apparently, raising our voices against that enforced uniformity of thought annoys a few here.

  61. Would you engage in ritual with someone whose opinion of Brighid and Ganesha is that they are archetypal aspects of the human mind?

  62. I avoid groups, had bad experiences but sure, I can imagine that, it doesn’t trouble me, my wife is somewhere between agnostic and Hellenic and we practice together all the time. I certainly wouldn’t tell someone who had a Jungian view of the Gods that they needed to adjust their viewpoint and verbiage for the betterment of the community or tell them their lack of faith does nothing for them, goes against reason and creates disharmony, it’s just not civil. They should be bale to practice without ridicule just as I should, especially from others who are supposed to be part of the ‘community’.

  63. Then there is really nothing that you have to take offense from in that article other than splitting hairs over the precise verbiage used.

  64. His entire post is deeply intolerant and trying to force those of us that have a faith based viewpoint to abandon it and the way we communicate about what we believe. He clearly favors a non faith based approach to Paganism and is insulting to those that don’t, i find it vile.

  65. No, my problem is with his message. There is nothing wrong with the way I worship or believe and I don’t need anyone in the community telling me there is. My belief isn’t a disease and it doesn’t need to be cured, repaired, intellectualized or watered down. And beside that, I found it anti-Christian. You thinking I have little to take offense to does not make it so. I’ve taken time out to meditate and take my deep breaths and I still think that article is filthy with intolerance, judgement and is deeply disrespectful to those of us who experience our Gods through belief. It doesn’t build bridges, it creates division, the very thing he accuses belief of doing.

  66. I would, because they still believe in the gods. ‘How’ they believe is less important to me.

    They would still have a sincere belief, rather than simply enjoying the community and ritual work. (‘Being there for the food’, as I put it.)

  67. So, to put it another way, you aren’t concerned with their beliefs, only with the fact that they are honestly engaging with the ritual and other practices. Is that an accurate paraphrase?

  68. More or less. However, it is more that I am not concerned with the nature of their beliefs.

    At the moment, I celebrate no festival because I am not attached to any specific tradition. Being involved in any ritual would be pretty meaningless as I would get very little, if anything from it.

    If I just want the social aspect, I could easily just throw a party when I want, without the pretence of religious trappings.

  69. I’d accept that difference in verbiage that follows “however”, as it seems to me to be splitting hairs, and to make no real difference to the statement.

    How do you separate “religion” from “social”? We return to the idea of religion as artistic endeavor. Whether that art is as informal as a “party” (a ritualized, ad lib-style interaction in which certain behavior types are expected and others frowned upon, and which provides particular social and intellectual benefits to the participants) or as formal and rehearsed as a “play” (a different sort of ritualized interaction, to choose an alternate example at random) makes little actual difference.

  70. Religion is the way you live your life, notably how you interact with the gods (whatever they may be).

    Social is the way you interact with the people around you.

  71. So, the gods are not people? I dunno, to me it’s all about interacting with that which is not me, with the Other. (Of course, mysticism is, in part, about determining what is me and what is not-me, and coming to terms with those concepts in the first place, but that’s irrelevant to the main point.)

  72. OK. Do you intend to mean that as a meaningful distinction, such that each must be treated differently in some qualitative way? What do you mean, precisely, by “spiritual”? Do you mean to say that people have no spirits? Are you implying that the gods have no influence on the material world, being contrasted to “corporeal”? I confess to some surprise at the potential implications of that statement, and so have to ask many questions to try to understand what you mean to communicate.

  73. ‘Corporeal’ – having a physical form.
    ‘Spiritual’ – existing without physical form.

    Say I throw a dinner party and invite a bunch of people and gods.
    I can lay places for all those invited, but the gods are somewhat less likely to eat the meal than the people.

  74. Oddly, that’s exactly what we do, in my community. The gods sure seem to “eat” their meals, albeit we have to transform the physical food into a form available to them (generally through the means of fire). At least, the divinations taken afterward generally seem to indicate a satisfaction on the parts of the gods.

    Still, you haven’t given any qualitative difference between the two.

  75. Perhaps not, but you just did.

    You don’t just put down another plate of food, you give up a burned offering. You don’t do that for the people.

    You also don’t have meal-time chatter with the gods, I am guessing. If you did, you wouldn’t need the post-meal divination.

    Put simply, the gods are with you, just not physically.

  76. But these are not qualitative differences. The gods eat with us, they communicate with us. That the nature of the meal and the language of the communication are superficially different doesn’t make the experience a fundamentally different one. We relate to them in generally the same ways that we relate to physical people, even if the precise mechanisms vary. The experience is still a social one. It doesn’t support the idea you mooted above that “religious” and “social” are significantly different.

  77. I never said they were huge, ‘fundamental’ differences, but they are different.

    I think you’d find that a lot of people feel that communication with the gods is a very personal experience.

    Besides, I am not saying that you are doing it wrong. I am merely saying that subtle differences can be important to some and that I am not the one criticising others beliefs.

  78. Calling “religious trappings” a “pretence” seems pretty critical to me.

    Anyway, no one, as far as I can tell, is criticizing others’ beliefs. There is some criticism of making beliefs a central aspect of pagan and polytheist religious life. I have seen some people (who I otherwise respect greatly) asserting that they would not be able to engage in ritual practices next to people whose “beliefs” were significantly different than their own. That sort of thing seems to me divisive and antithetical to a polytheist concept of religion. Certainly, such a concept is alien to the living polytheist religions of Asia.

  79. I’m not sure I can understand how belief isn’t central to polytheism.

    I’m not calling religious trappings a pretence. I am saying that using them as an excuse for a party is offensive to those who hold the religion as important.

    I wouldn’t take part in a Shinto ritual, or a Wiccan one. Not because those are wrong, but because they are not my paths.

    There are some paths that belief is central, and there are paths where belief is less central. Both have their place in Paganism, but I disagree that we should be dropping belief because some don’t see it as valuable.

  80. At this point, let me just recommend The Deities Are Many by Jordan Paper, and A World Full of Gods by John Michael Greer. The former I would recommend in this context more than the latter, but both have much to say on this subject, more than can be easily communicated in the format of the comments section of a news blog.

  81. Is it just me, or do others find a curious linkage among the terms “Naomi Wolf,” “Vagina,” “Shark”? (shades of the Toothed One”!)

    As a Yoni-venerating Tantric of one stripe or another, I find myself quite comfortable with(in) a Vaginal Cosmos of which the Goddess is at once bearer and source and energy and all. But I have a sense that Naomi Wolf’s Tantra is unilke my own, and probably would not weave easily with mine. Perhaps, a little, because hers seems (but I could be wrong here, I admit) too much of thinking and not enough of fleshly, Earthy magic as awareness of the Devi.

    Vagina the Meme more than Vagina the Exceeder of All…

  82. Limits to Belief, Limits to Practice: There’s been a lot of reaction to Sam Webster’s piece, but I’ve noticed that there hasn’t been any reference to the philosophical roots of his argument. While Apuleius Platonicus brings up theology, the fact is that Webster is actually referencing the Anglo-American analytical interpretation of Plato’s notion of ‘true belief’ or ‘true opinion’. For Plato, there is a problematic relation between knowledge and opinion/belief. The methodologies of philosophy are in part designed to distinguish between opinion/belief and knowledge (sometimes referred to as ‘true belief’, thus further complicating a problematic that Webster oversimplifies).

    Theology and philosophy are naturally closely related. Christian theology makes great use of the ancient philosophers, and the theologians themselves were often engaged in philosophical work.

    I think it should be noted that Webster seems to be developing a case for a mode of experience that makes interrogation of reality part of a spiritual practice such that belief isn’t merely an adopted dogma from an institution but a living part of one’s practice. That being said, if Webster wants to use philosophical notions to develop pagan ideologies, there are much more appropriate theoretical frameworks. The phenomenological movement, initiated by Husserl and Heidegger, are much more useful for developing a theory of spiritual knowledge, belief and practice than the rigid and often superficial categories of analytic philosophy.

    I’m not sure if the modern pagan movement will develop without a rigorous interrogation of its philosophical roots. The concept of ‘pagan’ is a modern construction derived from Christian terminology; Webster’s essay helps us to remember that paganism is more Christian (or perhaps: paganism is still entrapped by the socio-logical constructs of Christendom, which still haunts Western culture, and now the planet, as a whole) than may be apparent.

    There’s been a lot of reaction to Sam Webster’s piece, but I’ve noticed that there hasn’t been any reference to the philosophical roots of his argument. Webster is actually referencing the Anglo-American analytical interpretation of Plato’s notion of ‘true belief’ or ‘true opinion’. For Plato, there is a problematic relation between knowledge and opinion/belief. The methodologies of philosophy are in part designed to distinguish between opinion/belief and knowledge (sometimes referred to as ‘true belief’, thus further complicating a problematic that Webster oversimplifies).

    Theology and philosophy are naturally closely related. Christian theology makes great use of the ancient philosophers, and the theologians themselves were often engaged in philosophical work.

    I think it should be noted that Webster seems to be developing a case for a mode of experience that makes interrogation of reality part of a spiritual practice such that belief isn’t merely an adopted dogma from an institution but a living part of one’s practice. That being said, if Webster wants to use philosophical notions to develop pagan ideologies, there are much more appropriate theoretical frameworks. The phenomenological movement, initiated by Husserl and Heidegger, is much more useful for developing a theory of spiritual knowledge, belief and practice than the rigid and often superficial categories of analytic philosophy.

    I’m not sure if the modern pagan movement will fully develop without a rigorous interrogation of its philosophical roots. The concept of ‘pagan’ is a modern construction derived from Christian terminology; Webster’s essay helps us to remember that paganism is more Christian than may be apparent (or perhaps: paganism is still entrapped by the socio-logical constructs of Christendom, which still haunts Western culture, and now the planet, as a whole).

    For example: Roman law permitted the father of the household *absolute* authority over the life of his son. This was a particular legal statute–the father also had authority of life and death over the women in his family as well as the household slaves, but as separate legal privileges. This authoritarian legal method has an inverted reflection in the lord of the pantheon adopted from the Greeks– Jupiter, the Father-Killer. Jupiter’s murder represents a radical break with the past; the father’s power of life and death over his son represents the radical maintenance of the status quo. Thus Rome could conceive of itself as both the most advanced of the city-state empires (thus noting its historical nature) and believe itself to be eternal (thus moving towards political theology).

    Early Greco-Roman theology isn’t separable from its socio-political conditions, anymore than Christian theology can be separated from the history of the Church(es). So the essential question is: if the above-mentioned legal convention seems abominable to us moderns, then how do we relate to the theological constructs that correlate to it? Moreover, if we oppose the brutality of Roman law, from whence do we derive our values (note: Webster’s distinction between belief and value is highly contentious here)? I would argue that paganism emerges in modernity within a highly complex relation to Christianity, and takes many of its basic values from Christianity. Moreover, the interpretation of past traditions, even when engaging with source material, are largely conditioned by concepts that are not wholly separable from Christian concepts.

    It’s been fairly well documented that there were dimensions of Christianity that prepared the ground for the revolutionary periods from 1792 to 1848. The notions of fraternity, equality and liberty can all be found in differing forms in the Christian pastorate, and in the various power/ideology struggles between Reformists and Catholics preceding the revolutionary period. We can say fairly well that by 1848 Western Christendom has collapsed–but where did its values go? At this same period, the precursors of modern paganism began to emerge ever more frequently (this was the time of Levi and Blavatsky, as well as the early anthropological researches which brought up many ‘primitive’ religions, as well as the philological researches which developed source material for Greco-Roman theologies).

    My point here is that the so-called ‘humanist’ movement within paganism is as much a precondition for the emergence of paganism. Without the humanist tendency of modern society (a limited one, to be sure), the socio-political tolerance that permitted the emergence of paganism would have been lacking. That tolerance was a Christian value that became more universal through the revolutionary period (and even prior, in the scientifico-rationalist period of the Enlightenment) and consequently became a condition for civil society: thus was born ‘religious freedom’, an eminently modern notion, as it is only possible in the wake of the greatest period of religious *intolerance* in human history.

    All this is to say, against Webster, that no neat distinction between Christian theology and the pagan movement can be made, and against his detractors, that humanism is not a part of paganism, but is written into its very fabric. Paganism may well be at the forefront of stripping humanism of its anthropocentric tendencies–it will still be a form of humanism after that stripping. How so? Because only humans give a shit about finer points of theory…the rest of the life-system can get along quite well without going to mattresses over dogma.

  83. apologies for the repetition– i started writing on the website, then copy and pasted it to a text editor and then pasted it back…

  84. I find it amusing that you’re decrying being made to feel like you are “less than” yet one sentence later you’re calling everyone who isn’t a “person of faith” a “glorified cosplayer”. Other than that one badly worded phrase of Myers, I haven’t seen anyone imply that people “of faith” are lesser, but I’ve seen comment after comment after comment saying that if you don’t properly believe you’re not a real Pagan and you’re not welcome at the commenter’s reindeer games, and comment after comment slurring people without perfect faith as “cosplayers” or “there for the food”.

    Belief isn’t an on-off switch. It’s not a choice. It’s incredibly frustrating that the same message people who can’t summon up belief within themselves get told in Christianity (“just believe”, and if you can’t, you’re defective and can’t truly experience the “glory of God”) is being repeated in Paganism.

  85. “beliefs do nothing for you” “Belief replaces complexity and the anxiety of ambiguity with the comfort of false certainty” “Belief short-circuits the process of learning” “Belief divides”
    Seriously, you don’t think there’s anything in there offensive to people of belief? I guess it must just be me.

  86. I can’t help but feel people are misusing the phrase “cultural Pagan” if they aren’t meaning those who were raised by Pagans/Witches, are grown up but aren’t Pagans. (Whether they are Witches comes up for debate) I think there’s an erasure of the kin of Pagans and Witches at this particularly important juncture, when those who started involvement when many of these Pagan paths first bloomed large now have grown offspring or even grandchildren.

  87. You’re getting something completely different than I did out of what he said, then. The word “belief” *does* do those things– as is aptly demonstrated in these posts, this argument over how high your belief needs to be to get on the Pagan metaphorical ride. My impression of the article is that, as people steeped in a Christian culture, we’re inculcated to treat “belief” as a closed, locked, settled question that must be defended against all comers– and that includes any kind of belief, not just religious belief. He used a political analogy too, and I’m ashamed to say that he’s right. Someone saying, for instance, “I don’t believe in rape culture” is going to get my hackles up in a picosecond. Someone saying “I think the term ‘rape culture’ is problematic, and here’s why” has a chance of opening a nuanced discussion with me where “I don’t believe” as an opener already closes the door on meaningful discussion. Similarly, coding my thinking about the intersection of rape, feminism, sexism, and culture as “I believe rape culture exists” may be unnecessarily simplifying what I think. “I find ‘rape culture’ a useful term to signify these particular things existing at that intersection”, or something like this, doesn’t open it up to all of those preconditioned things that the word “belief” does to many people brought up in Christianity. I think, in short, that he’s talking about the associations the actual word “belief” can cause.

    I don’t think “I revere Thor”, “I worship Thor”, “I am Tru to Thor”, “I have faith in Thor”, etc. does quite the same things, even if the “faith-based” Pagan is saying the same thing with them. I don’t think he’s telling anyone to stop having faith in their Gods, I think he’s inviting people to see if anything changes for them if they use a less loaded word. I also think he’s saying that putting experience front and center rather than belief is community-promoting, and I tend to agree. We don’t all have the same degree of belief, the same kind of belief, but what we do have is informed by experience. It’s actually not, to my mind, exactly the -praxy vs. -doxy debate, it’s more an acknowledgement that our practices tend to be experiential ones– we generally don’t simply believe because we’re taught to, we believe because we’ve experienced.

  88. Another prominent member of the pagan community has died. If I can be paranoid for a minute, it seems maybe the hateful and destructive energy of the fundementalists may actually be knocking people off.

  89. “I don’t think “I revere Thor”, “I worship Thor”, “I am Tru to Thor”, “I
    have faith in Thor”, etc. does quite the same things, even if the
    “faith-based” Pagan is saying the same thing with them.”
    I don’t do any of those things, but I do believe in his existence. Belief can happen without reverence, veneration or worship.

    “we generally don’t simply believe because we’re taught to, we believe because we’ve experienced.”
    The point is, though, that you do believe.

  90. If you are talking about a theistic system, why should people that are part of it not consider belief integral (if not actually important)?

  91. That’s very interesting, it’s not at all what I took from it but it provides me a framework to view it without hostility so thank you, really, a lot. I was still hot from the cultural Paganism article and I’m sure a measure of my reaction was carry over, like the inappropriate comment I made about cosplay. I personally value faith over experience, knowledge, praxis and whatever all else. My relationship with Brighid is undoubtedly colored by the fact that I am a recovering alcoholic and depend on her for my sobriety and have for years, it fosters a relationship based on reliance and complete trust and I think it puts my perspective off from most other Polytheistics. I view myself as a servant/supplicant and what I seek from my relationship with Her and the other Deities is a greater knowledge of their will for me that I might do it. I appreciate how Christians worship as often it more resembles my practice than that of my fellow Polys. That disturbs me, I want to fit, I know I don’t so I’m throwing my elbows around, trying to figure it out and getting less and less serene. I came out here right now looking to fight and you brought me back to my center, thank you for carrying that message to me.

  92. @facebook-1197543165:disqus Really interesting reply, TY! Would you by chance be interested in continuing this conversation backchannel? It’s fascinating to me for a number of reasons that I’d rather not post so publicly. I think we’ve got a lot in common in the “I want to fit, I know I don’t” sense, just put it that way.

  93. At my dinner parties, the Spirits and Ancestors partake of the essence of the food and drink. This is an ancient ancient rite. Later, the food is sometimes eaten by the people and other times, given to the Earth or burned. Think, for instance, of a Vodoun ceremony.

  94. But they do not physically eat it. That is the difference. I am not saying do not make the offering (quite the opposite, the offering should be made) I am merely saying that the gods do not sit down, pick up knife and fork and literally eat the food. (Although, that would be pretty awesome, wouldn’t it?)

  95. Leoht, I’m really not sure what you are getting at. In their dimension, they “eat” it….that is, they take the energy at some level. Or not. It’s up to them, obviously. Yes, they are not “at home in the 3rd dimension” as we are. However, they can affect our dimension, and sometimes, we can access theirs. I am a multidimensional Witch.