Paganism is a very broad category. It includes a tremendous range of traditions, practices and paths. Which is as should be: people are diverse. They should do what gives them joy and meaning.
So it can be about many things. It can be about rituals and “magic”. It can be about the Earth. It can be about gods. It can be about principles for living. It can be about activism.
But you know, one thing we can say with confidence is that at its heart, Paganism is not about owning witchy clothes, or fancy tools, or other trappings. It’s not about Harry Potter or goth aesthetics or LOTR or Renaissance Faires, however much we may enjoy them.
And it’s not about collecting The Right Books.
Or writing books.
Or people claiming status or authority because they wrote a book.*
It is–or should be–about empowering us, strengthening our sense of personal agency, our senses of wonder and meaning in living, of joy in one another. About respecting our minds and encouraging that we use them. Building community. Fostering creativity in the ritual arts so people find what works best for them. Encouraging ecological responsibility, and making concrete efforts to make the world a better place.
But no, sorry. That isn’t what I see our community primarily focused on, folks.
I see it focusing most of its attention and energy on commerce.
We have a terrible problem in our community of people looking to “authorities” for what to believe, how to think, how to be, how to practice. With self-defined “leaders” who claim to know and teach “mysteries and wonders”—for a price—and with the sheer gullibility such figures encourage their followers to maintain. And the endless flogging of goods for sale.
Don’t think for yourselves, these “teachers” seem to be saying. Listen to me instead, and keep listening. You need what I’ve got. Take my workshops. Buy my books. Buy my products. Here, buy my magic rocks/potions/oils/tinctures/sigils/sex toys!
Buy buy buy buy buy.
Buy my bullshit.
Nowhere in all that miracle-claiming and hocus pocus sales pitching is an adjuration that your mileage may vary, to think for yourself, or to apply critical thinking to discern likely truth from likely nonsense. Nowhere is a suggestion that you don’t need anything from some Big Name Pagan to be an effective ritualist, a wise, strong, effective, happy and conscientious person.
Religion as grift is an epidemic in the United States, with its prosperity gospel megachurches and televangelists. But Paganism suffers even worse from it, proportionately, than does Christianity.
Sadly, I say:
Show me a Pagan who makes their living solely off their religion,
and I’ll show you a modern-day medicine show barker.
There are exceptions, but they are rare, and they tend to be humble, and focused on bettering the world rather than on themselves and their “magickal arts”.
Most of the Pagans I know are bright, interesting and creative. And yet they line up to fawn over these hucksters at conventions. They buy their books and products; they shovel money at them. And no one urges them to do otherwise.
So long as 1) the acquisition of Pagan “stuff” is seen as a significant signifier of “being a Pagan”; 2) “celebrity Pagan” worship continues to dominate Pagan spaces; and 3) self-interest is a primary driver of said Pagan “celebrities”, Paganism writ large will be just another capitalist market, and…yes, I will say it, a complete sham when it comes to reverence for the Sacred Earth.
We could be so much better than this!
What if Paganism as a whole turned its back on consumer culture?
What if we stipulated that the only things that could be sold at our conventions would be things made by hand by the vendor? No reproductions from Chinese factories, no products of Nature like mineral specimens. Hand-crafted art and products, period, full stop.
I’ve dutifully trudged the hall at Pantheacon every year I’ve attended, and I’m proud to say I haven’t seen one single thing I felt an urge to buy in more than a decade. It all just strikes me as wasteful, Earth-destructive and well beside the point of a meaningful practice and path.
I understand that much of what is sold there is handcrafted, but honestly, a lot of it is mass-produced in China and India, too.
I’m not against art, and I want to support our community’s artisans, but I am against hucksterism and mass-produced commercialism. I think we need to go in a different direction.
I made nearly all my ritual tools, and I sourced most of the rest from outside the Pagan marketplace. I’m done: I don’t need another, ever again. Nor do I need a bloody book to tell me how to use each one.
I have a couple of Tarot decks; I don’t need more, what I need is to explore the ones I have more deeply.
I don’t believe in “magic rocks” and I won’t be a part of the destructive industry that pries them from the Earth to market to the credulous.
I don’t need witchy clothing and I don’t need need fifteen symbols clanking around my neck. I sewed my own cloak and that will do.
I have a couple of drums, and that’s enough. Can only play one at a time, after all.
The world is full of sticks; why on Earth would I want a Harry-Potter-style wand?
I don’t need any of the junk being ground from the fabric of the Earth (and often, the poorly paid labor of the less fortunate) to sell to Pagans. I get my candles at a grocery store and that’s the only ritual consumable I buy.
Now, there is a little merchandise offered on this site. Mostly self-identifier items, so people can proclaim their status as Atheopagans to the world when the occasion demands (or not): T-shirts, clerical collar pins and stoles, etc. Small stuff, and none of it expensive. But all of it except the third-party (wooden and metal) Atheopagan symbols generates revenue for our chosen charity, Indigenous Climate Action. Not for me.
You don’t need stuff to live this path fully. As an experienced ritualist of my acquaintance once said, “If you can’t do it with a stick you picked up on the way to the circle, you can’t do it at all.”
Yes, restricting vendors would mean that event organizers would make less money. And it would mean that Pagan artists couldn’t branch out into mass production for purposes of convention sales.
I’m sorry, but I’m okay with that.
Along similar lines, sure, folks: crib ideas from others if they appeal to you. Lots of people have good ideas. And effective ritual is rooted in scientific facts about the way the brain works; we can learn these from others who know about them and be more effective in influencing ourselves and our co-ritualists.
But the only authority on making your ritual “magic” is you. Only you know what is meaningful and evocative for you. So when someone starts going on about how they can teach you “mysteries” or how to “work with energy” or how you need some particular product or book in order to conduct a ritual, it’s time to secure yourself a ten-foot pole.
That’s just marketing, and it’s as credible as a Facebook ad.
If we collectively pulled the financial plug on Pagan hucksterism, not only would our ecological footprint as a community go down considerably, but perhaps more importantly, it would become immediately obvious which of our “leaders” are in it for themselves, and which for the betterment of the community and the world. The latter we can support through vehicles like Patreon.
Shouldn’t we be able to live the meaningful, powerful religious paths we choose without needing them to incorporate shopping sprees for resource-consuming, inconsequential toys and baubles?
Shouldn’t we be able to think for ourselves and dismiss the barrage of hucksterism for the hollow and meaningless capitalistic chatter it is?
In short, shouldn’t we in the Pagan community, the so-called “wise”, be frickin’ responsible grown ups?
My vision of Paganism is as a radically empowering, thoughtful, idiosyncratic, and culturally transgressive path of liberty, community, equality, and service: both to one another and to the Earth. Maybe not everyone shares that, and that’s fine, but I don’t really think that being a community of little capitalist bees busily spinning money for ourselves wherever possible is consistent with Earth reverence or with the values we so often say we represent.
Cue the howls of outrage in 3…2…1…
*Yes, let me acknowledge: I wrote a book, and I offer a class. I hope to support all those pursuing nontheist Pagan paths in the development of the practices they choose, which is why the class costs so little and most of the material in the book is also available here for free. Neither comprises a significant element of my personal financial support. And I claim to be an authority only insofar as my own path. It is my offering and invitation to others to partake of what I create, if it works for them. I do not EVER claim to “know the right way to do things”.