09 January 2009

Growing Pains

So if your read many pagan blogs you're likely familiar with Deo's Shadow, a popular pagan podcast, and the fact that it's two creators have switched to atheism. There are so many posts about this that it would take forever to link them. Just check out The Wild Hunt to find a few and that will get you on your way if you haven't already read about it. Apparently, this change in two apparently well-known pagans (that I've never heard of btw) has caused a little uproar. There's talk of folks outgrowing paganism and of paganism having no coherent community. Some have explained/complained that all the magic and worship and general weirdness of paganism is pointless. Some have said they couldn't get a scientific grasp on paganism and so left it behind them. And on and on and on. And some formerly die hard pagans have, for some reason, been hit pretty hard by this. They're feeling the need to re-examine their beliefs, or something like that. Personally, I don't get the big deal. So some folks who were pagan aren't anymore? Who cares? We are all walking a comparatively new path and there are bound to be dabblers who drift in for a while, some for shallow reasons, some with all sincerity, and eventually drift out. Why does this cause people to doubt themselves and their pagan path?

It makes me wonder how many of us have studied the early years of Christianity. If you haven't given that fascinating period in history a look lately, or ever, let me just tell you: it was a mess. People didn't understand what was going on because no one knew what they were doing. It was all new to them and they were creating a religion from the ground up. They started form scratch. They had less to work with than neopagans as we have a rich history of ancient paganism to study. The rituals of mass and all that didn't spring up out of the ground; they took years to become entrenched. The organization and power of the Christians didn't rise up from out of nowhere. People drifted into Christianity because it was different, because it was new or because it spoke to them. And not all of them stuck with it. And lookee at what those early Christians created: a religion that has dominated for 2000 years! I'm not saying neopaganism will do the same but what I am saying is that we've just got to expect these kinds of things. Just because these events are new to neopaganism doesn't mean they are new in the larger sense. Of course we don't have much coherence. Of course we don't have much of an established community. How could we? There are only a few of us and many of us are very far flung.

I imagine in big cities and in places like California there are a lot of pagan-y, magical people to form a community so maybe they have a different perspective. But, lest we forget, the greater part of this country is not very densely populated. Yes, I'm talking about the Midwest and the Bible Belt. I'm smack in the middle of it and I can tell you there are very few pagans around here. In my entire county there are maybe 6 pagans that I know of and probably not many more than that in the closet. We can't form much of a coherent community because, well, it's hard to galvanize a movement consisting of only 2 or 3 involved people. This is just a microcosmic example but do you see what I'm getting at? There just aren't enough of us yet to be called a movement in the true sense of the word. And I imagine that neopagans in other countries face the same lack of numbers issue that Americans face. We haven't been around long enough; there just aren't that many of us. Compared to the age of religions throughout history ours is still very young. Neopaganism is a child; we've got to expect some growing pains.


Marion said...

I totally agree. Since I practice my beliefs in a solitary manner, and have mostly done that throughout my life, group worship doesn't call to me. I am happy doing what I do with only Nature as an audience. Good post, Livia!

Livia Indica said...

Hi Marion. Yeah, although I used to like getting together at outdoor camping festivals to celebrate the high holy days I prefer to work magic on my own. That's partly because groups are difficult to get going but also because I've always been a loner. I guess I'm not the only one. Thanks for visiting.

Cygnus MacLlyr said...

You're not the only two. I live in the 4th largest city in our nation, and am sure I could find a group with similar views to mine to socialize with. And have thought about it some. But that's about it.
Maybe I'll attend an 'open' festival one of these days, but part of what I love about paganism IS the "lack" of established doctrine. I'm creative, and like spontaneity, and enjoy creating my own rites and having the freedom to change them if the moment calls for it.Divine guidance and all...

And I'm pretty much new to the computer scene, and like you Liv never heard of Deo's Shadow. Seen a lot of comment of late, but not bothered to look deeper; really doesn't affect me.

Tell me too that even christians don't have moments of doubt, or people who leave the "flock", or that it ties with science...

I dunno. We've all had doubt,regardless what religion we adhere to, if any.

Sorry so windy: it's the second time on this topic (one @ Ancestral Celt's). May be a sign i need to do a post... at risk of being redundancy.


Bo said...

Hi! I enjoyed this. I think you hit the nail on the head, BUT I think there is an issue in that these people couldn't be termed 'dabblers' - they were very serious in their Paganism. I think the wider problem - and the very fact that there's been such an uproar about it shows that it IS a problem - is that there is a pagan brain-drain going on. Paganism is not a happy berth for the highly educated, for intellectuals, or for artists and culture-makers. OK, we all know plenty of bright pagans, we all know plenty of pagans who can paint or draw or write; but why is there not a single public intellectual or major poet or artist *in the whole world* (!) who is a practising neo-pagan? In the UK there are now roughly as many pagans as Jews, but the Jewish contribution to our culture dwarfs that of pagans. So it's not *just* numerical strength.

Generous answer: it's not 'cooked' yet, and as paganism matures, this kind of cultural contribution will emerge in time.

Less generous answer: there's something fundamentally shallow about the neo-paganism that has been built over the last 60 years.

Jopan said...

well said! i totally agree. I don't know any pagans or wiccans near to me either. but that suits me fine. i'm still at the beginning of finding my way, and people trying to tell me what i Should beleive or should be doing would be totally overwhelming for me and so i prefer to be alone. i have to beleive what seems right to me. And thats how it should be for everyone. wow, sorry i hadn't intended for that to come out as a rant. :)

genexs said...

Yeah Livia, I agree and think you hit it pretty much on the head. I've been holding back posting about it, as like you, I had no clue who the two podcasters were. But reading the comments has been fun. It seems the 'academic' pagans (whatever the hell that is!) are most freaked-out by the turn of events. I would guess those most upset would be the ones who are unsure of their beliefs in the first place.

But I admit, it bugs me a bit when I see some of them labeling a sub population of their fellow pagans as 'fluffy', or 'crazy' or 'not serious' , simply because they seem to enjoy Wicca 101 type books or believe in psychic phenomena.
In addition, not everyone's goal in this is to write a PhD thesis.

Livia Indica said...

Thanks all for your comments. Can't type much, left hand bit by dog. Back when it's better.

Cygnus MacLlyr said...

Damn Girl! You're s'posed to go after dirt from the DEAD ones, remember?!?
Seriously though, I hope it's healed soon. I miss your blog and our banter.

On a similar note, I'm officially @ two jobs as of tomorrow, so may not be as speedy as typical in commentary and response, but will try to post my trivial tripe daily.
I've a tentative aim for making a property viewing (in Mo.); will let you know when I can confirm the date off... Ready to work Magic? :D I'll drag my friend mary along...

Be well, Lady!


Moonroot said...

Excellent post, my thoughts when I read about it on Wild Hunt were very similar but you have articulated it really well.

Hope the hand is soon better!

Jenavira said...

I wasn't terribly surprised to hear the news: when I first discovered the Deo's Shadow podcast I fell in love and listened to it from the beginning, but I got caught up sometime last year and gave up on it, because they were spending more and more time talking about things they didn't like about Paganism -- and more than that, there was a kind of Pagan-bashing that I didn't like, nothing I could quite put my finger on but an attitude of "oh, why do they all have to be so stupid?"

So I can understand the people who felt the loss, because I felt the same thing when I had to give up on the podcast. It's sad to find that people you feel you know and have some connection with have decided they don't have that connection any more; I'd feel the same if anyone on my blogroll left Paganism for whatever reason. I can see why it might cause an individual crisis of faith, but I don't really think it's symptomatic of "problems in the Pagan community" or anything like that. If anything, I think the whole idea of a single "Pagan community" is the problem that's giving so many people these crises.

Livia Indica said...

Hey Cygnus, I like the lack of dogma and doctrine in neopaganism too. In fact, it's the rules of Wicca that drove me away from it. I dunno, maybe some of us are destined to be solitary.

Livia Indica said...

Bo, hi there. I see your point. Perhaps "dabblers" isn't the best term. Perhaps I'm a bit harsh in this respect in that, in my opinion, if one doesn't stick with it then one obviously wasn't that serious about it from the start.

Regarding the general lack of professional neopagan artists, etc., aside from popular musical artists (Stevie Nicks, Bjork, etc.) there are plenty of professional neopagan artists. I think the reason none of them can be considered "major" is perhaps because they are fighting an uphill battle when it comes to their chosen themes. There's also the fact that many of them may still be in the process of finding their own voice. From my perspective, neopaganism seems to be more popular among the disenfranchised, those who have fallen through the cracks, etc. These are just theories of course.

I don't know if I agree with you in your assessment of the shallowness of neopaganism. Sure, a lot of neopagans may be drugged out hippies looking for a way to perpetuate their lifestyles. But even those incapable, so far, of depth should not be dismissed as shallow...just as those who claim neopaganism as their own for a while then move on should perhaps not be judged as dabblers.

Jopan, no apology necessary. Feel free to rant. I'd rather read a sincere rant than a repetitive regurgitation from some author any day. I remember when I first started down this path; the rules and methods of others can be quite constricting. Kudos to you for following your instincts.

Gene, nice to hear from you! I think I might agree with you in that those most upset by this are those unsure about their path. It's a harsh way of looking at it but perhaps accurate.

Yeah, the whole "fluffy bunny" issue has played itself out. We can't expect every single neopagan to desire/reach the same level of experience or knowledge. If some folks are happy with the Llewellyn books then I guess we should let them be. That said, I can't help but chuckle at them sometimes.

Livia Indica said...

Hey Cygnus, give me plenty of time cuz I gotta plan my route. I've never been so far east as Texas county.

Hey Moonroot, thanks for stopping by. The hand is better than it was, but still not 100%.

Jenavira, I guess if I had followed the podcast in question, or a fellow pagan blogger suddenly dropped out of neopaganism, I would feel the void. But I'd like to think it wouldn't cause me to question my faith. I just can't quite get my head wrapped around the idea of doubting one's own path simply because two strangers chose atheism.

"If anything, I think the whole idea of a single "Pagan community" is the problem that's giving so many people these crises."

I'm curious about the above statement. Do you mean that there isn't really a community to begin with or that neopagans shouldn't strive to build one? Just wondering.

Griffin said...

Hi Livia, as an atheist, I fully understand the comments of those who don't like the rules!

For me it's about ethics and compassion, regardless of 'religion'. I suspect that maybe for some pagans/neo-pagans the very word 'religion' has some baad baggage with it.

I hope your hand is better soon and that you didn't bite back!!

Livia Indica said...

Griffin, I think you're probably right in that many folks shy away from the "r-word". There have been plenty of pagan-ish folks in my life who refused that label because of its baggage.

I'm actually typing with only my right hand, it's a bitch. But thanks for the good wishes!