Why Paganism Hasn’t Failed…Yet.

John Halstead has written an article around a table lifted from the anthology Deep Green Resistance*. It’s a great piece: go ahead and read it.

I’d say that’s about 2/3 of a perfect assessment of modern Paganism and the current Pagan community…at least in the US, where I am familiar with it. He’s not wrong, and his critiques are apt…painful and embarrassing as they may be for many American Pagans.

John orients his piece around this table:

Now, I think one of the most incisive and true critiques in this chart are that much of modern Paganism has “adolescent values of a youth movement”: black-and-white thinking, knee-jerk resistance to authorities and moral precepts, and a desire to “shock” conventionality just for the sake of doing so.

But this chart, too, says something about the so-called “oppositional” culture.

Being “oppositional” is actually a clinical term. It is encoded in the diagnosis “Oppositional/defiant disorder”, which is demonstrated mostly by people who were abused by authority figures as children.

Being “oppositional” and “resistant” are not virtues in and of themselves, and this is a lesson many who embrace such terms have failed to learn. It is too easy to kid yourself that you’re a hero just because you have a fist in the air.

The point is to be transformational. And being transformational involves embracing some things, rejecting others. Fighting like hell for the best possible outcome, but then not shitting on the inevitable partial loaf that reality produces. Calling that a small victory, and then gearing up for the next fight to make it better.

In short, transformational culture lives beyond self-absorbed, adolescent self indulgence, and beyond reflexive, adolescent rebellion. Beyond childish all-or-nothing demands. Transformational culture understands nuance, which makes it adult.

I’d suggest that the chart should look more like this:

Now, that doesn’t mean that the critique of most modern Pagan culture isn’t apt. Sadly, it is. But there are plenty of voices in this broadly drawn community who are neither “alternative” nor “oppositional”: who stand for the hard work–internal AND external–of changing the world for the better. I don’t agree with these voices on all points but that doesn’t matter. They are Pagans of integrity, and voices for transformation in the world.

John isn’t wrong about his diagnosis. But his prescription doesn’t really address the nature of human motivation. We’re not going to just drop all effort at growth and improvement of our lot in the name of The Cause. That’s zealotry; the likes of Pol Pot leveraged exactly that, to disastrous ends.

No. We must value the individual, the society and the Earth. We must understand that we have responsibilities to each. We must speak truth to destructive power and fight to break its grip, while not lumping all power together and labeling it as destructive.

More than anything, we must understand context. There is a time for playfulness and outrageousness and radical self-expression; there is also a time for coming to meet our fellow humans where they are, and engaging them on those terms. That is key to the art of persuasion, and transformation cannot occur without moving hearts and minds through persuasion. And there is a time to square our shoulders and simply refuse to cooperate with what destroys our world and enslaves its people.

It’s a complicated world and our strategies must, therefore, also be complex. Having a nuanced, adult understanding both of ourselves and the politics of our societies will enable us to find pressure points, leverage points we can flex to accomplish positive change.

And the spirituality of the Sacred Earth is a driving force behind this. Opposition is not enough to create a better world; that can only come about through activism rooted in love.

And what better object of our love is there than That Which Brings Forth All Life, which sustains and feeds and warms and protects each of us worldly creatures?

The Holy Earth, turning in space, home to all of us, is both object and subject of our activism for deeper meaning, more profound joy, and societal transformation.

That is the Paganism I pursue and promote.


*Note: this book and perspective have been deemed highly questionable, at the least, by people I trust, citing them as both ableist (given that it calls for the end of industrial civilization that many of us, including myself, rely on to survive), and also transphobic, so be aware that these critiques are out there. I haven’t read it and don’t plan to, and I honestly don’t know whether John subscribes to their philosophies or simply cribbed the chart from the book as a kind of one-off.

A Sad Reckoning

I had hoped that the American Presidential election would be a repudiation of Donald Trump and the divisive, racist, misogynistic, homophobic, fascistic nightmare of Trumpism.

That hope was not realized. While Joe Biden–a decent man who I think will be a good though not transformative President–will eke out a victory, nearly 50% of the country voted for Trump even after watching four years of his antics and destructive policies.

I could not be more disappointed…unless Trump had actually won.

I don’t link to him very often, but John Beckett has a very fine piece on this. You can find it here. He has said the things I want to say.

I am so saddened by this. Why, why are my people so filled with hatred and fear? Why will they choose leaders not in their own best interests, so long as they can stick it to those who are not like them?

We have so much work to do, friends. The Earth-honoring, kind world we hope for is still a long time in coming, and we must redouble our efforts to bring it about.

Because I Cannot Be Silent

“George Floyd! George Floyd! George Floyd! SAY HIS NAME!”
Protesters in my city, June 2, 2020

There is nothing I can say that has not been said, more articulately and with more authority.

There is nothing I can add that doesn’t come through a filter of privilege.

There is nothing I can do but fight for justice.

But I have a forum, and I will not be silent on this.

Police murder of black and brown unarmed civilians is a pandemic in the United States. It is a means that entire communities are kept under the sometimes literal boot of white privilege. It is the perpetuation of oppression dating back 400 years.

Atheopagans oppose this.

We are explicit about this in our Atheopagan Principle #7: Inclusiveness. We are all equal in value, we humans, and we all deserve equal respect (at least until our behavior dictates otherwise. NOT because of race, color, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, body shape or size, disability or any other human variation).

I am appalled that there is anyone in my country who would not agree that Black Lives Matter. They matter enormously, and they must be treated as such.

White supremacy is an insidious, poisonous mockery of human pride. It is a revolting attitude. It must be eradicated.

As for the nuances of this, and how this is to be accomplished, I turn—and urge you to turn—to black and brown voices who speak with an authority I cannot.

Black Lives Matter.

Black Lives Matter.

Black Lives Matter.