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Star Foster’s “13 Things I LOVE about Pagans!”

December 19, 2010

Here’s her post.

Some of these I agree with. Some of them I don’t.

Some of them I don’t, and also find troubling. I’ll focus on those.

13. Eat, Drink and Be Merry!

Blah blah blah, Pagans are fat and it’s OK. Whatever. That’s what people mean when they call someone “jolly,” right?

Re: “we’re a hoot:” a lot of fun people are Pagan, yeah. A lot of boring, easily-offended people are Pagan too. This one is more stereotype than reality.

12. Ecology is Key

No.

Pagans pay lip service reverence to ecological concerns, to be sure. But I can’t tell you how many Earth-worshippy events I’ve been to where no one carpooled.

Actually, I’d agree that most Pagans’ carbon footprints are low when compared to other Americans, but it’s almost certainly because they’re poor. But even that is an overly positive portrayal of Pagans. So let me be clear: Pagans’ ecological behaviors do not differ in any significant way from the rest of America’s.

11. Drama is Life/Life is Drama

I like this one.

10. Sensual Rites

Don’t care, no comment.

9. Words Are Cheap, Actions Count

Theoretically, hell yes! In practice…no.

I look at this one and say: is she joking? Because Pagans are really known for their punctuality, steadfastness, and respect for others, right? Har har.

Many Pagans I know do what they say they’ll do. But most don’t.

8. Yes or No? How About Both!

This one confuses me. Star seems to shift her tone often, going from the over-enthusiasm of the title (hey, HOW ABOUT BOTH???) to the nervously pedantic (“Blending paths is a difficult thing and not to be undertaken lightly.”)

I’d say this one is a huge can of worms, and I bet Star does too.

In any case, is this “how about both?” thing really all that great? Something we should encourage? I don’t doubt that syncretism is a fact of life in religion. I just think that as a whole, Pagans fucking suck at it.

7. An Harm Ye None, Do What Ye Will

Not my thing, no comment.

6. Smaller Is Better

The main reason we “still don’t find the need for large worship centers with 10,000 participants” is because what we do is not that appealing to most people.

This seems more like an attempt to explain away our failings than anything else.

5. Many Gods, Few Masters

Star phrases this weirdly, but I get her.

I was worried this would be one of those “I may be Pagan, but I bow down to NO ONE!” sort of things. Thankfully it is not.

4. Only I Am Answerable For My Soul

Very nice.

3. We Are All Priests and Priestesses

I get the point, but “priest” and “priestess” are terrible terms to use for what Star is describing.

2. Enheduanna, Pythagoras, Julian, Plotinus, Sallustius, Valiente…

Oh great. Neopagans “claiming” the achievements of ancient Pagans as their own.

There are so many things wrong with this kind of thinking. I hate this needless invocation of “pagan” history.

Geez. The general idea is wrong, but the specific examples she mentions are wrong too! Just wikipedia Plotinus. Does he sound ANYTHING like a modern Neopagan? He of the monotheism and the “inherent distrust of the material?”

Arrgh.

1. You are OK, Just As You Are

…unless you aren’t, yes? I mean, if you’re a shitty person who doesn’t keep his/her word, eats too much, is lazy, etc., then you are not OK. Sorry, but your also being Pagan doesn’t suddenly make the above character traits OK, right?

I understand this isn’t the point Star is making. But I’m not sure most Pagans are capable of distinguishing between the two. I know a lot of Pagans who take the “I am OK just as I am” mantra to mean “I am OK just as I am…thus even though I am slovenly, untrustworthy, and unhealthy, I never need to improve myself.”

TPH

Mythos and Logos, Part I

December 15, 2010

I’ve been writing a lot about the impact of Hutton. Now might be a good time to post this.

————-

Pagans: Witchcraft isn’t the Old Religion. We all know this.

Can we please stop pretending we’re not still deeply disappointed about that?

Aidan Kelly, Ronald Hutton, and others really dropped the bomb. Their books crumbled a lot of our worldviews.

People really need to own up to their frustrations about being wrong.

What’s truly depressing are all of the half-assed rationalizations for continuing to believe/practice the same way we always have. Recently, I’ve talked about the (futile) tendency by non-academic Pagans to lambast credentialed historians. While annoying, this is not how (I believe) most Pagans deal with the basic untruth of our myths.

The most popular way Pagans that I’ve met deal with Hutton et al.  is this: they make what historians of religion call a “mythos/logos” distinction between their religion and “the mundane world.”

For context, I’d like you to listen to episode 63 of the Wigglian Way. It’s a great podcast, and the interview with “Uncle” Fritz Muntean shows that this is one Elder who’s really worthy of respect.

He does this weird “mythos/logos” thing though: he says we should continue to put stock in our (utterly-discredited) myths, rather, our “sacred story cycle,” because…well, it’s our “sacred story cycle.”

Huh? So…it’s…wrong….but we should continue to…what? Find inspiration in it? Laud it as poetry? Continue using elements of it in our rituals? Why? I don’t get it.

It’s a very popular idea though. Karen Armstrong, a leading historian of religion, is a famous…err…proponent? of the distinction between mythical knowledge (mythos) and scientific knowledge (logos). Mircea Eliade was all about it as well (maybe he created it, I’m not sure.)

I’m very skeptical about this idea. I think that most people, when confronted with objectively-true information that conflicts with their previous beliefs…revise their beliefs! I don’t think they, instead, split how they view the world into separate, exclusive components.

I’m not arguing the above never happens. But I have no idea why we should accept, much less advocate, this behavior. Come on, the less charitable way of defining the “mythos/logos” distinction is “cognitive dissonance. “ It’s avoidance, it’s a defense mechanism designed to shield your religious beliefs from uncomfortable truths.

Just change your stupid beliefs already!

Certainly, there’s a lot of pain that goes into throwing out wrong, cherished beliefs. If you want to see this process in action, listen to the above podcast. You can feel Mojo’s disappointment right through your earbuds.

It affects him so much that he starts naming all the books he’s read, hoping that one or two of them will still be “right.” His relief (near the end of episode 64) that Karl Kerenyi’s book on Dionysus is still well-liked, is obvious.

Clearly, Moj is not making the transition from logos to mythos smoothly.  In a recent episode, Moj woefully remarks: “I really wish I could still call Wicca “the Old Religion”….but I just don’t feel right saying it anymore.”

But really, why would anybody? It’s not like we can suddenly turn our backs on academia. They’re the ones who spend their lives finding out the truth about these things! Plus, we used to be able to appeal to them whenever someone criticized our past. We could just point them to Murray or other formerly-influential scholars and say “Look, read these. It’s all right here.”

But we can’t do that anymore.

And yet, it seems like most Pagans I know acknowledge that our myths are bullshit…and don’t change a thing in their practice.

I say: be honest. Are you avoiding the implications of Hutton?

Maybe you should cut that shit out.

Validation

December 10, 2010

I continue to be wary of slamming a book I haven’t read, but not wary enough to stop posting. I mean, none of the idiots I cited in this post read the book before posting either.

Another great way of deciding whether a particular book is worth investment is:

“Do people I know to be intelligent like it? No?”*

So:

Chas Clifton’s “Arguments with Evidence – or Ethos?”

Peg’s “Trials of the Moon: a brief critique”

Fun stuff.

TPH

*I’m being persuaded by ethos, here 🙂

Dar Williams – “The Christians and the Pagans”

December 9, 2010

It’s that time of year. I love it.

I don’t love how Yuletide always seems to bring the self-important, chastising nature of many Pagans into greater relief, though.*

There’s tons of great examples of this sort of childishness among Pagans. But since it’s the season, let’s talk Dar Williams’ mewling crap-fest “The Christians and the Pagans.”

To me, this song is the typical Pagan prodigal-son wish fulfillment fantasy: family kicks out Pagan for being Pagan, Pagan convinces family that Pagan’s religion is real and magical and beautiful, family accepts Pagan for who s/he is.

Oh wait I forgot the part where the family TACITLY ADMITS THAT BEING PAGAN IS BETTER THAN BEING WHATEVER THEY ARE. Examples from the song: the presence of magical Pagan girl reminds the uncle to call his estranged brother, the innocent kid wants to be a Witch too by the end of the song,  and of course, “now when Christians sit with Pagans, only pumpkin pies are burning!”

It’s always the magical Pagan girl that heals families and teaches children, isn’t it? And WHY GOD WHY is there always a pussy little jab at Christianity at the end?

It’s never enough for these Pagans to just be accepted. No, they must ALSO CONVINCE OTHERS of their cool enlightenment-cum-pathos-laden-victimhood-cum-generosity, don’t they?

I declare a moratorium on all Pagan/Christian dialogue. Not until we get our act together, I say. This song and all the others like it (the “no, the REAL Christmas is Pagan!!!!1!!1one! ‘Santa Claus is Pagan Too’” comes to mind) demonstrates to any outside observer with half a brain that our religion is just a shallow Mary Sue reworking of Christianity and nothing more.

Fuck this song. Joyous Yule!

TPH

*That article makes no sense, but feel free to indulge in its many gems of territoriality-as-interfaith-dialogue (“Let us remember…that we were here first”) and other puffery, if that’s your thing.

 

“Taking Down” Ronald Hutton

December 8, 2010

The book in question

This guy, and his moronic view that people care about for some reason

The Wild Hunt post about it

I don’t care deeply about the case for witchcraft survivals, so I’ll be quick.

I’m completely, 100% sure that Ronald Hutton made some mistakes in Triumph of the Moon. The book came out over 10 years ago, and scholarship has moved forward since then.

But:

1. I don’t remember Hutton ever closing the book on witchcraft survivals as soundly as his Pagan detractors make him out to have done.

I remember Hutton investigating and discarding very specific claims about some Pagan religions (Wicca) and withholding conclusions on others (1734/Robert Cochrane).

Read the goddamn preface: “The subtitle of this book should really be ‘a history of modern pagan witchcraft in South Britain (England, Wales, Cornwall, and Man), with some reference to it in the rest of the British Isles, Continental Europe,  and North America.’ The fact that it claims to be a history and not the history is in itself significant…”

Seems like Hutton was more than willing to label TotM an “exploratory and tentative” work. Only an unsubtle reader would take it as gospel.

Commenters, please learn about how history is done. It’s not about black and white distinctions, it’s about research, argumentation, and debate.

2. Ben Whitmore seems like a good writer. I’m not going to read his book though, at least not immediately. Why? Because he is “an Alexandrian High Priest, Co-Freemason, Morris dancer, artist and software engineer,” and I’m sure all sorts of other things that don’t help me determine his academic credentials, experience, or qualifications.

I’m supposed to trust this guy WHY?

A Wiccan priest, a Mason, a Morris dancer…exactly the person I DON’T want teaching me Pagan history. Confirmation bias much?

3. Guys, what do you EXPECT Hutton to be wrong about exactly? That Wicca is the Old Religion? That there once existed a Pan-European Witch Cult? That everything Gerald Gardner said was true? That all civilization was once matriarchal? That well, maybe Gardner DID create Wicca, but OTHER witch traditions ARE unbroken magical traditions that go back to the Paleolithic?

All of these claims are stupid. They will always be wrong. They’re not wrong because Ronald Hutton’s secret agenda approves or disapproves of them.

They are wrong because they are absolutely nonsensical.

My head hurts.

TPH

Pagan “Unity” – why so forced?

December 6, 2010

Have you ever been to a Pagan Pride? I did, this year. Mine was extraordinarily divided: excluding the main rite, people only attended their own tradition’s rituals and events.

Commercially-speaking, Pagan Pride had universal appeal:  everyone certainly shopped at more than one vendor booth. But religiously, most people seemed perfectly happy to just do (and see, and hear) their own thing.

Much lip service, however, was paid to “Pagan Unity,” despite the fact that clearly (judging from people’s actions) we’re not all the same anymore and we don’t want to be.*

Sorry.

(I’m not sorry.)

Asatruar don’t believe in the reincarnation that the Celts do. The Celts don’t believe in the elemental attributions that the Wiccans do. The Wiccans often don’t believe in the hard polytheism that the Reconstructionists do. The Reconstructionists don’t care about the Divine Feminine like the Reclaiming witches do. The Reclaiming witches….well, who cares what they think.

These are big, core differences.  You can’t be a unified religion if your divisions are this deep.

I would think that if you were a real (in the sense of “historical”) Pagan, this wouldn’t bother you. Paganisms were local, not universal.

Maybe people are confusing our common past (our Neopagan one, the one that came from 19th and 20th century Romantic writers, magicians, and mystics entranced by the ancient Pagan past) with our much more diverse present?

Who cares about the reason though: division is healthy. We aren’t all one religion any more because we’ve come to very different conclusions and we are exploring them further. Case closed. So why are Pagans so excited by the idea of pagan “unity?”

Probably the main reason we portray Paganism as unified is because we want legitimacy. We’re a little too invested in the idea of being taken seriously as a world religion.

Example: The Druid Network recently convinced the UK Charity Commission that they are both unified enough AND influential enough (lies) to be recognized as a charitable organization (apparently in the UK, this is paramount to “government recognition” of your religion). Despite the fact that TDN is actually a pretty small, inconsequential affair, Pagans worldwide are lauding this as a victory for our side.

I wonder whether a group of 300 or so people who really, really like Emma Restall Orr should be called a “charity” (although I guess some of them plant trees sometimes?). To be clear, it’s a group that has a mailing list and does rituals. It’s not a charity. But most of the Pagan coverage focuses on the religious recognition piece anyway (not that charity one) so we clearly care about showing the outside world we’re here and we’re queer more than anything else.

Even the interview with Phil Ryder on Meadowsweet and Myrrh barely mentions charity. Ironically, most of it is about defining Druidry. Or maybe it’s that Druidry can’t be defined. Or something.

What a triumph.

Apparently Pagans will do all sorts of things to be recognized as “official,” so if we want to be recognized as a real religion, that means we have to be unified. Unity will win us legitimacy, “official” recognition, and cool stuff like Pagan Pride, Pagan stores, Pagan sections in bookstores, etc.

I can see why people find unity valuable or psychologically comforting, but it’s dishonest. Just read that interview above: nothing unifies us all. Not polytheism. Not magic. Not the Goddess. Not even deeper things like similar values, mindsets, or worldviews. Just…nothing.

TPH

*For a hilarious discussion of what happens when some Pagans don’t want to get unified, listen to episode 27 of Raven Radio. The funny stuff kicks in after about an hour.

Margot Adler on Elemental Castings 37

November 16, 2010

http://www.thorncoyle.com/podcasts/ElementalCastings_37_FPG_111110.m4a

41:00: “I would never have been a Gardnerian Wiccan if there had been a Hellenic Pagan group that was in my neighborhood.”

Ha!

TPH