A conversation on the state of Paganism
May 24, 2017 7:00 AM   Subscribe

Paganism is dying. "Much of what once made Paganism radical is now widely accepted by those of all religions and none. It is no longer particularly progressive to believe in the central importance of the natural world, or in basic equality for all." It's eating its own. "We are beginning to see those fighting oppression using the tools of the oppressors upon one another." Maybe it deserves to die. "Institutions have a way of taking on a life of their own, so that people start asking how to save the institution, and forget to ask whether it should be saved." No, Paganism is evolving. "Even as parts of Paganism are dying, new parts are being born." It's just fine. "Just because groups like CUUPS or certain Druid orders might be losing members doesn’t mean that Paganism as a whole is headed down the same wormhole." The Pagan world is big and diverse. "So while I believe Paganism is fairly healthy, I could be wrong, but I trust my eyes when my contacts are in and things look pretty good from here."
posted by clawsoon (58 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
 
Excellent post, thank you! Full disclosure: I've been an eclectic Wiccan for nearly 20 years, have received all three degrees, and have been co-running my own group for nearly 10 years.

I don't believe that Paganism is dying, although I did want to highlight this passage from your "It's just fine" link above:
THERE’S ALWAYS BEEN A DOUGHNUT SIZED HOLE IN THE PAGAN COMMUNITY

When I first started interacting with other Pagans all the people I met were either college age or in their forties (or older), and that hasn’t changed much over the years. It used to be something that bothered me, but today I’ve figured out why exactly that is: many people leave the community or at least hibernate after having kids. A lot of our circles aren’t geared towards families (and some practices and traditions never will be), so people disengage after having kids, at least for awhile.

It’s easy to look at the doughnut hole and think the sky is falling on Paganism, but I don’t believe that to be the case. Yes, more and more circles and groups are welcoming of families these days, but that doesn’t mean those families are going to necessarily show up. They may not want to raise their children as Pagans, or perhaps they are simply too exhausted to attend ritual after a week of working and taking care of their children.
As a self-directed and self-actualized religion, no form of paganism has ever been especially good at figuring out how to pass on paganism to our children. We have come, by and large, from other religions into which we feel like we were unfairly indoctrinated as children, and we shy away from doing that to our own kids. That said, kid-friendly rituals are few and far between. We have shared our faith with our kids, but going to the occasional maypole or fairy festival has made it less real to them compared to when they occasionally attend synagogue with their grandmother.

I don't have a solution to that [and the "Teen Witch" phenomenon of the 90s and 00s was awful and should never be encouraged], but it's definitely a problem. My original circle lost steam when we all had kids, and our current circle has never figured out how to incorporate our kids into what we do. I'm interested to hear what other MeFi Pagans have done.

The other, tangential, issue is that running a pagan circle is exhausting. It's a volunteer religion, so none of us get rectories in which to live or stipends from the diocese. Taking responsibility for the spiritual wellbeing of others in one's spare time is a difficult undertaking, so there's a lot of burn-out.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 7:26 AM on May 24 [23 favorites]


There's always the Pagans MC.
posted by jonmc at 7:30 AM on May 24 [6 favorites]


"Much of what once made Paganism radical is now widely accepted by those of all religions and none. It is no longer particularly progressive to believe in the central importance of the natural world, or in basic equality for all."

I intend to dig into the articles themselves anyway, but, uh... That does not ring true to me at all, based on *gestures broadly at the state of the world*.
posted by tobascodagama at 7:41 AM on May 24 [4 favorites]


They're all good pagans, Bront.
posted by The otter lady at 7:45 AM on May 24 [5 favorites]


It sounds like Pagan institutions are dying, but Paganism itself is not dying per se.

I'm surprised that nobody in the links seems to mention something that seems obvious to me (mom was pagan in the 90's, has gradually evolved into a nontheist, tried to get me to be Pagan but was didn't want to enforce it) which is that fewer children are raised with religion these days. The people identifying as pagans in the 90's were more likely to be filling the hole left by a religion of their family of origin that they've rejected. There's a trend among young adults of less formal religious education and therefore they have little to reject and little reason to look for a specific spirituality other than "God exists, I don't care about the details beyond being a good person." (Which I think that one link is trying to say with the bit about it not being progressive any more to care about the environment. Which is true, it's progressive but it's a basic expectation of people who are progressive, it's not groundbreaking.)

And, yes, if my experience is like other young people with Pagan parents-- there's no way to participate until you're older. There is no Sunday School option-- nobody is taking this material and making it appropriate to young ages. It's a volunteer religion and a lot of it is ritual and rules and nobody setting up childcare, particularly in Druidism. Plus you have the lefty problem of collecting a whole bunch of people who have similar ideas-- the female Divine, the importance of the environment, reviving folk traditions-- but the main constant with everyone is "do your own thing" so nothing gets done in any concentrated way.

And I personally had a lot of problems with the God and Goddess male/female duality concept that's central to a lot of people's Pagan spiritual views. I simply don't see gender in a way that meshes with that, and I wouldn't be surprised if the relatively complicated understanding of gender that a lot of young people have-- alternative types, open-minded, the kind of teenager who would have been into Silver Ravenwolf in the 90's are now probably into queer and gender theory-- is causing a gap of understanding that older Pagans need to address. It's certainly not a dealbreaker but Pagan communities that I've (grudgingly, as a tween and teen) participated in with my parents always seemed to have a lot of gender essentialism that is not going to play with a lot of today's youth.

I also wouldn't be surprised if the recent atheist movements may be bleeding off people who would otherwise be "seekers" or find Paganism-- there's a community where you can belong to it without actually doing anything or reflecting much.
posted by blnkfrnk at 7:47 AM on May 24 [18 favorites]


Our UU church has a small number of Pagans (or pagan-inclined) and honestly that's probably the way I'd lean if I wasn't UU. The only other pagan family I know migrated to Kabbalah/Judaism when they had kids, I hadn't considered that it was because of lack of child-centered activities in their original faith.

Most faiths have a donut hole in a different spot; we can do stuff for kids, and we can do stuff for families/older adults, but 20-somethings/younger singles move around a lot/aren't looking for church-type commitments/are hard for us to serve. And the fear of course is that they will never come back, or never come back to us.

My personal take has always been that this is normal and we shouldn't expect young/rootless adults to be looking for a faith community as a general rule. I think it's really interesting that paganism has traditionally been a place for some people that age, though.
posted by emjaybee at 8:02 AM on May 24 [1 favorite]


And I personally had a lot of problems with the God and Goddess male/female duality concept that's central to a lot of people's Pagan spiritual views. I simply don't see gender in a way that meshes with that, and I wouldn't be surprised if the relatively complicated understanding of gender that a lot of young people have-- alternative types, open-minded, the kind of teenager who would have been into Silver Ravenwolf in the 90's are now probably into queer and gender theory-- is causing a gap of understanding that older Pagans need to address. It's certainly not a dealbreaker but Pagan communities that I've (grudgingly, as a tween and teen) participated in with my parents always seemed to have a lot of gender essentialism that is not going to play with a lot of today's youth.

That's an interesting point, and something that has evolved considerably in the last few years. I'm seeing a lot more groups using the male/female duality thing in the archetypal sense - i.e., all of us have anima and animus that is distinct from gender identity. A big part of the training in my circle is about the integration of those various dual archetypes - male/female, good/bad, light/dark, above/below, etc.

That said, I'm part of a tradition that started in the 1970s as a gay male Wiccan circle in Brooklyn, later included a lesbian circle, and ultimately integrated again in the 80s. So there's a 40+ year tradition of pushing back against strict gender roles in the Gardnerian sense.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 8:13 AM on May 24 [9 favorites]


It certainly appears true that many pagan families are turning to UU churches - we've been attending one with our kids for several years now.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 8:14 AM on May 24 [2 favorites]


Something that occurred to me is that you may have a certain reluctance on the part of some pagans to publicly declare themselves as such when you've got a very politically active branch of fundamentalist Christianity that considers Harry Potter books to be a font of devil worship.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:28 AM on May 24 [9 favorites]


(Which I think that one link is trying to say with the bit about it not being progressive any more to care about the environment. Which is true, it's progressive but it's a basic expectation of people who are progressive, it's not groundbreaking.)

Looking a bit closer, it seems to be talking about British paganism specifically. So, fair enough, "maybe let's not build oil and gas pipelines through nature preserves and poor or indigenous communities and force black people to drink lead" is probably a less controversial political position over there.
posted by tobascodagama at 8:38 AM on May 24 [4 favorites]


I sure hope it's evolved. Even at the time I was involved via my parents, I was starting to see some materials directed to GLBT people, and I'm glad to hear from someone who can report back.

I've been thinking about religion as a means to control people lately, and the reports of Paganism in a slump are making me think that there must be a medium between "institutional/has norms and practices that make it workable for families" and "we're not going to tell you how to live your life." Because you need to tell people how to run their lives if you want them to work for your organization, at least to a certain extent. Someone has to run the cry room and the daycare. Someone has to move chairs, someone has to show up every time. "Do your own thing" works for values but not, like, perpetuating an organization with a mission.

The very aspect of control that is great for perpetuating an institution seems to tip into judgement and in-group, out-group very easily and I don't know how Pagans or really nontheists are supposed to handle that.
posted by blnkfrnk at 8:41 AM on May 24 [2 favorites]


John Michael Greer at the Well of Galabes thinks it's just part of the natural life cycle of spiritual movements, 30-40 years.
"There’s always a certain very modest number of people who are drawn to alternative spiritualities, just as there’s always a slightly larger number of people who are attracted with equal force to radical politics of various kinds. At intervals, those cultural minorities suddenly find crowds showing up on their doorsteps, eager to take part in what they have to offer, and then after a certain period the crowds head elsewhere and the people left behind get to clean up the wreckage resulting from what normally amounts to a thirty-year binge."
posted by Atrahasis at 8:52 AM on May 24 [10 favorites]


While I don't consider myself Pagan or even Neo-Pagan, I do consider myself Pagan-Adjacent in that my early reading was pretty grounded in Gardner and ritual magick before being lured away by chaos and eventually girls. Still, I live in a pretty visible Pagan/Wiccan town and in recent years have rekindled my interest in fringe topics, the sort of stuff that's one shelf over from the Pagan books at your local big box bookstore.

One commonality I've noticed between the first article and my own experience going to UFO conventions and the like is the aging of the attendee. Most people I see are going to be on the older side, not a great sign for long term sustainability - especially when you consider the economics of the day. There are young people at these events, sure, but they have no money. They look at, engage, and enjoy just as much as their older counterparts, but they don't buy stuff. Instead, they enjoy the experience and then look online after the event where they can often find the same stuff for less.* The vendors, organizers, and speakers at these events are there to make money, so they focus on the older set that has the cash, which leaves the younger group ever more out of the loop.

As younger people go online, they discover specific communities that fit their needs, which makes the more open-tent physical community less vital. You can easily interact with your particular flavor of belief system and even splinter off and start your own, which as noted above makes it hard to perpetuate any sort of ongoing organization.

* (Dear Producers of New Age Materials: Etsy is a thing now. You need to price your work against that - your $250 wand is being made for 1/3rd the price by a parent in New Mexico. People can price match standing at the table! I've seen it happen!)
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:39 AM on May 24 [6 favorites]


so basically God is Dead updated to gods are dead, but will it make the cover of TIME?
posted by philip-random at 9:41 AM on May 24 [1 favorite]


but will it make the cover of TIME?

or in the modern parlance, your Facebook feed.
posted by philip-random at 9:42 AM on May 24


It is no longer particularly progressive to believe in the central importance of the natural world, or in basic equality for all.

Maybe it's become commonplace to express some kind of belief in these things, but to actually live as if they were true is as radical as ever. It isn't easy, and what little I've known of Paganism suggests that some of them have a better approach in practice than is elsewhere available to most people.
posted by sfenders at 9:42 AM on May 24 [2 favorites]


you've got a very politically active branch of fundamentalist Christianity that considers Harry Potter books to be a font of devil worship.

Which, as we all know, is wrong, Comic Sans being the font—or face, for the precise—of devil worship.
posted by the sobsister at 9:48 AM on May 24 [6 favorites]


but will it make the cover of TIME?
or in the modern parlance, your Facebook feed.


A MeFi FPP surely fits the bill, no?

I wonder if a lot of this isn't about the fact that younger people generally reject labels. Throughout religion in general, far more people now identify as "spiritual but not religious."

I attend a yearly gathering in Western Massachusetts that I would call pagan (and certainly the organizers consider themselves pagans as far as I know) but which bills itself as being about Earth-centered spirituality, culture, and community. Each year, there are a ton of new young people attending, but they generally appear not to want to place a label on whatever it is they're doing. As is their right, of course.

I personally find a lot of meaning in the specific ritual structure, history, and initiatory process of Wicca, but then I'm a crusty old ceremonialist at heart. I can certainly understand wanting to be a part of something Earth-centric without wanting to put too fine a point on it.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 10:00 AM on May 24 [1 favorite]


I drifted away in my mid-twenties largely over the aggressive centring of binary gender in most neopagan traditions, but there are other facets of the movement that have come to rankle me just as much and which I think would present real obstacles for the kind of nerdy, progressive young person who might have been attracted to paganism in past decades. On the matter of sexual identity and politics, you have significant strands of exclusionary, TERFy gender determinism at one end and anachronistic, patriarchal "free love" skeeziness at the other. Eurocentric traditions are, well, eurocentric and tainted by associations with white nationalism, while eclectic traditions tend to be rife with unexamined and deeply questionable cultural appropriation. The literally-religious adherence by many to a lot of (at best) revisionist history can't help in our current climate, or it shouldn't.

Necessarily those things can't all and don't apply to all neopagans, and I know that many people are pushing back against them in concerted ways within their own traditions, even at the institutional level (eg Druids taking a hard stance against white supremacy; queers gonna queer, goddess bless). But my sense is that stuff is still very much in the air, and that shouldn't bode well for any group that can't or won't actively distance itself from it. Nothing but love and respect to the social justice witches making it work and making things better, though.
posted by wreckingball at 10:02 AM on May 24 [19 favorites]


I was in a coven for a few years, but am still a solitary practicing Wiccan today. Amongst my friends, gaining "converts" was never an aim, so they're not real worried about how many Wiccans there are at any given time. Of more pressing importance is how Ásatrú is being co-opted by white supremacists. The Ásatrú folks in Iceland have been very vocal against this trend. Which gives me hope.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 10:07 AM on May 24 [10 favorites]


Nothing but love and respect to the social justice witches making it work and making things better, though.

They have their work cut out for them with the return of the whole Wotan/Volkisch/Neo-Nazi movement.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 10:09 AM on May 24 [2 favorites]


Had to look up TERF (ha, new acronym!), but yes, all of that is correct. I think it's largely a generational thing that will correct itself the way generational issues usually do (i.e. boomer die-off).

Zsuzsanna Budapest (old-school radical feminist) caused a stink a few years ago for excluding trans women from a workshop having to do with the spirituality of menstruation. Even if there was a conversation to be had there, the optics were terrible and it didn't do any favors to the larger pagan community. And others have pointed out the absolutely horrible white supremacy stuff happening on the edges.

The cultural appropriation thing is a particularly hard nut to crack. Unless I want to look into the cult of Czernobog, there really are no "old gods" or pagan traditions that apply to "my people," so I can't help but appropriate. I've had some amazing experiences with Michael Harner's Core Shamanism (which, in my opinion, tries to be sensitive and honest about where it derives its ideas from), but that's another potential issue. The best I can do is try to be respectful to the traditions I'm exploring.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 10:17 AM on May 24 [2 favorites]


It may be a mistaken impression borne of the coincidence that the first transgender person I got to know irl was also the first pracitioner of paganism, but I've long associated the latter with somewhat more flexible than usual ideas about relationships to gender identity. Really weird to see the suggestion that it's associated with TERF.
posted by sfenders at 10:28 AM on May 24 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I know several trans and genderfluid pagans. It depends a lot on the location and the particular community. There appear to be a larger number of radical feminist pagans on the West Coast, having grown out of Starhawk's Reclaiming movement and Z Budapest's Dianic stuff in the 70s and 80s.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 10:34 AM on May 24 [2 favorites]


I was active in my college's pagan association, but after that, it was hard to find a group to do anything with. I petered out in my solitary practice because I was originally raised in a religion full of ritual and singing with other people and I really wanted that social and communal aspect. Every time I tried to find where the local pagans were, it was always something being held 2+ hours away. Not local enough for me. And the few individuals I found weren't interested in doing something together--they either had a practice they were happy with or were sort of 'meh, too much work.' I've also been pretty disillusioned by the appropriation and lack of dialogue around that issue.

Also, the Spiritual But Not Religious segment of the US population (especially 18-29 at 32%) is growing, and most of them aren't interested in joining any religion.
posted by carrioncomfort at 10:51 AM on May 24 [1 favorite]


I couldn't help noticing that six out of six of the essays linked in this post were written by men. But I'm not sure what that signifies.
posted by heatherlogan at 12:10 PM on May 24 [15 favorites]


Nothing but love and respect to the social justice witches making it work and making things better, though.

They have their work cut out for them with the return of the whole Wotan/Volkisch/Neo-Nazi movement.


I'm not sure that it ever really went away. Stephen Mcnallen, who started the Asatrú Free Assembly in 1976, claims to be white separatist rather than white supremacist, but, well, you can read some of his quotes in the Wikipedia article and decide for yourself.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:19 PM on May 24 [5 favorites]


I would like to highlight this comment and this follow-up from, apparently, an organizer within the Aquarian Tabernacle Church.

My partner and I have been growing very interested in neo-paganism. For the past few months, we've been in the process of heavy research, generally trying to find our place within it all, but sure that it's there somewhere. In the process of research, I found a branch of the ATC within driving distance of us... pretty exciting, considering we live in rural western KY! They recently set their Facebook page private, so I wasn't sure they were courting any new interest.

Then, I read the comments linked above. This is the church, less than an hour's drive from us, and the only visible assembly of pagan's closer than Nashville:
Our people are normalizing the craft in the face of bullets and hate crimes in the Mid-South. Church of the Apple Oak had their Yule shot up by a pickup truck full of people. No one was hurt, thankfully. When they ask new dedicants if they are willing to die for the craft, they mean it.
What a blow to the gut of my enthusiasm. That was this past Yule, just weeks after we were considering trying to visit this small gathering. If you don't notice us padding the membership lists of any public organization, don't be too surprised.
posted by gilrain at 12:39 PM on May 24 [4 favorites]


I'm not sure that it ever really went away. Stephen Mcnallen, who started the Asatrú Free Assembly in 1976, claims to be white separatist rather than white supremacist, but, well, you can read some of his quotes in the Wikipedia article and decide for yourself.

Sure, they've been around, but I've been noticing more and more neo-Norse imagery creeping into the zeitgeist. It could be I'm more aware of this stuff now than I used to be, though (I use images from occult texts frequently in my art and I make sure to stop and scratch the surface a bit to make sure I'm not appropriating or spreading unwelcome sigils). I can stop at one of the half dozen Wiccan/witchy/New Age shops in my town and dig up something of problematic provenance pretty easily. Not great and there are some locals who call the shops out on stocking that sort of thing, but they have a way of creeping back on to the shelf.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 1:11 PM on May 24 [2 favorites]


I guess I know a lot fewer people who describe themselves as pagan now than I did in the 90s, and fewer people who belong to organized covens or identify with a particular organized neopagan movement or whatever.

But holy shit I hear a ton of young queers on Tumblr calling themselves witches and talking about altars and sigils and tarot, often in a very free-form and eclectic way. My sense is that the young people getting into that stuff now look at it less as a Religious Movement or a Unified Philosophy and more as a collection of methods and tools that they can draw what they need from. Back when I was a teenager, at least among the pagans I knew, being a totally self-taught solitary practitioner was seen as maybe a bit weird and definitely suboptimal. Now it almost seems to be the ideal. Ideas from chaos magic seem to be getting a lot more mainstream too. I guess probably this is all bad news for pagan organizations and festivals and newsletters, but it seems like good news for the overall cultural normalization and acceptance of polytheism and magic and goddess-worship and whatnot.

I'm kind of reminded of the decline of lesbian bars and bookstores — which is, in my eyes, a sad and frustrating event triggered by happy cultural changes. I'll miss all those old institutions. But I don't want to go back to a world where you needed a festival to meet other pagans, or a bar scene to meet other gay women.
posted by nebulawindphone at 2:25 PM on May 24 [19 favorites]


There's a huge divide between those who deal with Pagan religions and those who deal with paganism as a (pop-) cultural phenomenon. The cultural aspects have mostly been absorbed into "alternative" culture in general; the religious groups have been struggling with the transition from "criminal outcasts" to "exotic celebrities" to "last year's trend," and how those all affected the people who sought them out.

I'm a devoutly religious Pagan; I've been impatiently waiting for the pop-culture trend to fade. It is, as far as I can sort out, easier to find devout Pagans now than it was in the 70's or earlier, which is the kind of progress I'm happy with. Easier, once they have been found, for them to find a place to practice, whether that's a public park or someone's living room.

Those groups that were founded on nothing more than resistance to the status quo have faded as the status quo changed; some have repurposed themselves into activist groups. I don't mind the repurposing; sometimes the way they use religious language annoys me. Mine is not a religion of universal tolerance and love--it's a religion that acknowledges consequences, and that advocates keeping your power. (That includes not wasting your energy on pointless hatreds, but it doesn't mean offering respect to bigots.)

I will be so very happy when the Pagan witchcraft religions can be "those kinda weird people with the chanting-in-the-moonlight thing" instead of "that evil cult trying to seduce your daughters and corrupt your sons" or "those ditzy girls who think wearing a pentacle gives them supernatural powers."
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 4:26 PM on May 24 [1 favorite]


There are also a fair number of young people of color are exploring hoodoo/conjure/rootwork and connecting with each other, through tumblr and otherwise. This is the closest to a good article on the topic I could find though. https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/black-magic-talking-with-hoodoo-witches

A lot of what is considered neopaganism is taken from white and European sources, and prides itself on a clear divide from monotheistic traditions. That's not necessarily the case with rootworkers.
posted by gryftir at 4:34 PM on May 24 [11 favorites]


I've been dealing with some form of Paganism since circa 2000. The Paganism being mourned here is very, very White, not particularly queer, gender essentialist, and culturally appropriative up the wazoo.

There is a massive revival of witchcraft and similarly Pagan practices right now spearheaded by young queer and trans people, especially queer & trans women of colour. It's not just the hoodoo or rootwork gryftir is speaking about, though that's definitely a huge contingent. This is a growing collective of people looking at witchcraft in contemporary, artistic, activist ways: witchcraft as resistance, pop culture paganism, magical activism, reconnecting with ancestral knowledge, incorporating witchcraft into fashion and music and art, finding means of healing and community-building when more orthodox systems fail you.

Problem is, this wave of witchcraft is being looked down upon from old-school Pagan types as "trendy" or "appropriative" simply because the practitioners are young, POC, queer, radical. Hence thinkpieces about Paganism "dying", rather than recognising the vibrant new forms it takes.
posted by divabat at 4:50 PM on May 24 [28 favorites]


It's hard to participate actively in ANY religious tradition when you have kids. Babies and toddlers require so much care all the time. They don't always behave at religious events in a way that allows others to have the spiritual experiences they would like, and babies and toddlers aren't always agreeable to having care provided by someone other than a parent. If you're a working parent of a baby or toddler, you have limited time with them outside of work, and you may not want to spend it at a religious ceremony. If your religious tradition doesn't have specific programming for older kids or teens, or if the programming it does have isn't to your kids' tastes, you might have trouble getting them to participate, too. And with caring for kids, all the stuff you're expected to do for their schools and extracurricular activities, and in many cases work as well, where exactly are you supposed to find time or energy to volunteer to organize religious activities? These and similar issues are probably part of the issue of people dropping out of paganism as they get older. And then you have some people's personal distaste for forcing religion on their children, due to their own negative experiences with religion as children.
posted by Anne Neville at 5:58 PM on May 24


I'm another person who grew up with paganish parents who moved away from it after having children, though pieces of it were there through my entire childhood.

It was probably just meeting the wrong people, but my impression of paganism in the 1990s was all about the skeevy. For a few years it seemed like I met a succession of older creepy guys obviously using it as a way to mack on young women. I know that there was a lot more to it than that, but my brushes with it then didn't make me want to look deeper.

There is a massive revival of witchcraft and similarly Pagan practices right now spearheaded by young queer and trans people, especially queer & trans women of colour.

This is what I have seen in the last few years, with more fully pagan things like brujeria as well as with a lot of more syncretic practices. I like it a lot more than the skeevy guys I used to meet; I'm not particularly a spiritual person but I have enjoyed my encounters with this new direction.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:08 PM on May 24 [2 favorites]


It was probably just meeting the wrong people, but my impression of paganism in the 1990s was all about the skeevy. For a few years it seemed like I met a succession of older creepy guys obviously using it as a way to mack on young women.

IT WAS NOT JUST YOU, THIS WAS TOTALLY A THING. Like, not the only thing that was going on in that community. But definitely one of the things that was going on, in a pretty widespread way, in a lot of the corners of the pagan community that weren't just straight-up women-only spaces.

I get the sense that the younger, queerer, more diverse paganism divabat and I are talking about has also been really successful in adopting a take-no-shit girls-to-the-front attitude that makes them less appealing targets for that sort of predatory crap without needing to adopt rigid gender essentialism as a shield, and good on them.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:16 PM on May 24 [9 favorites]


Yeah, I'm excited by what I'm seeing and looking forward to how the religion continues to adapt.

Even a few of us non-skeevy, middle-aged white men are able to tag along. :)
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 6:22 PM on May 24 [1 favorite]


(Though, like, there were also a lot of girls and women working to resist the predatory stuff in the 90s, and a lot of them had practical take-no-shit feminist values that still hold up, and a decent number of them even avoided the ambient TERFiness of the era. They just seemed to be losing the fight back then, and their counterparts seem to be maybe closer to winning it now, and that's really cool.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:23 PM on May 24 [3 favorites]


There are also a fair number of young people of color are exploring hoodoo/conjure/rootwork and connecting with each other

There are, and I'm happy to see them. However, many of them aren't connecting with any Pagan religion; rather, they're picking up magical/occult practices, and sometimes elements of spirituality not attached to a specific religion.

And I've seen the atrocious ways some of the Pagan "old guard" reacts to them, loaded with privilege and elitism. I wish we had better vocabulary, a better starting framework, to compare the religious activities and various spiritual and magical practices.

It would've been nice if the original articles didn't talk about "the death of Paganism" but "the decline of coven-based goddess-focused initiatory witchcraft," which seems to be closer to what they really meant. I have many long complex thoughts about what feeds into that decline but I'm not sure I should post a wall o' text here.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 6:39 PM on May 24 [5 favorites]


ErisLordFreedom: I have many long complex thoughts about what feeds into that decline but I'm not sure I should post a wall o' text here.

This is the perfect place for a wall of text. I made the post from a position of ignorance, and I've enjoyed all the great contributions so far. The more complex and nuanced and first-hand-knowledge-based the better.
posted by clawsoon at 6:59 PM on May 24


Dip Flash: For a few years it seemed like I met a succession of older creepy guys obviously using it as a way to mack on young women. I know that there was a lot more to it than that, but my brushes with it then didn't make me want to look deeper.

This blog post tries to walk a line between "consent is important" and "but, woah, guys, let's not forget that it's still all about the sex". I'm not familiar enough with the tradition to know if it quite succeeds, but it does point over to the recent book Pagan Consent Culture, which sounds like a positive development.
posted by clawsoon at 7:12 PM on May 24 [1 favorite]


Oh jeez. The sex thing is a metaphor. Fertility of the land, unity of opposites, that sort of thing. I mean, you know, get busy if that's your thing, but actual sex is not necessary.

At my first gathering in the early 00s, a young woman took me aside and said, "Hey, you're in a coven, right? My high priest tells me that, if I want to get my third degree, I have to have sex with him. Is that right?" NO. NO IT IS NOT RIGHT.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 7:20 PM on May 24 [11 favorites]


But yeah, consent uber alles. Across the board.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 7:23 PM on May 24


> IT WAS NOT JUST YOU, THIS WAS TOTALLY A THING. Like, not the only thing that was going on in that community. But definitely one of the things that was going on, in a pretty widespread way, in a lot of the corners of the pagan community that weren't just straight-up women-only spaces.

Nthing that it was not just you, it was totally a thing. And my own experiences involved a certain "type" of predatory women as well, sadly.
posted by desuetude at 10:15 PM on May 24 [1 favorite]


The skeeve was oh-so-real.

In college, our resident missing stair had this colored pencil drawing he'd made of a naked woman with a Betty Page body and almost no face in this weird, ecstatically gynecological pose with rainbow-colored stars swirling out of her cootch and scattering into the sky. It was supposed to be a picture of his spirituality. He used to like to show it to freshmen girls, to demonstrate how pro-woman and goddess-centered he was.

Ugh.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 10:29 PM on May 24 [6 favorites]


probably a less controversial political position over there.

Ummm Brits were the originators of genocide against Native people (in North America especially), along with Spain and France, so a pass is not forthcoming.
posted by spitbull at 8:16 AM on May 25


From the blog post link given by clawsoon above: If the sound of twenty souls all releasing a Cone (cum?) of Power while screaming “Yes…yes…YESSSSS!!!” isn’t enough to wet your whistle you just might want to check your pulse!

Hmm. Young people are embarrassed by this, you say? Finding they have other things to do on that night?

I have a lot of complicated feelings on this topic, but from what I can see, young people, particularly young women, are extremely interested in magic and polytheism. They just aren't interested in going to these parties with people like the guy palmcorder_yajna described. I am extremely suspicious of dudes who like to talk about how magical and worshipful the female body is. It's not as bad as the ones who think the female body is inherently loathsome, because it's only the evangelical Christians who want to legislate their feelings about women. But the principle is the same: women's bodies are for the use of men, and we are supposed to love and submit to this, or else we are disrupting the order of the universe.
posted by Countess Elena at 9:03 AM on May 25 [8 favorites]


"the decline of coven-based goddess-focused initiatory witchcraft"

When I first started learning about different occult/pagan practices, I came to the decision quite quickly I had no interest in wicca. I had no interest in a religion so caught up in male/female aspects and interplay, and it doesn't matter that I could choose to treat the Goddess/God parts as metaphorical aspects of a universal force. Frankly, reading Gardner was one of the less-thrilling aspects of my endless research.

I don't know many pagan/occult types in my age cohort or younger that find that path all that interesting or rewarding. That doesn't mean it's dying out - it just means that the old guard isn't happy with how younger generations are choosing to explore and express their paganism outside of the traditional routes. It is, like a lot of things, gatekeeping.
posted by Windigo at 11:10 AM on May 25 [3 favorites]


I view it slightly differently. Having now been on both sides of initiatory rituals, I view the three-degree Wiccan initiatory path (at least the way I do it) as pagan seminary. There's much more of a teaching aspect to it, first on general basics of magic working (correspondences, divination, etc.), then on the mechanics of ritual crafting, and finally on the ins and outs of being a High Priest or High Priestess and ministering to a community. (In theory, at least.)

There are plenty of people (the vast majority, surely) who just want to attend things and have no interest in leading or running rituals. And that's totally fine. The initiatory paths still exist as an option for those who want to take a more active role.

I certainly don't consider myself to be part of the "old guard" (at least, not how the phrase is being used in this thread), but I certainly appreciate the structural and historical aspects of my religion and the intricacies of ritual craft, and I have found the teaching aspects to be rewarding. Other people find other aspects to be more rewarding. Luckily we're a big tent.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 11:47 AM on May 25 [1 favorite]


Though I now call myself "spiritual but not religious," you could say that I'm a solitary pagan. I love ritual and incense and candles and Tarot cards. But I don't like groups very much, I don't like the flakiness that was an inevitable part of group pagan rituals in the 80's and 90's (back in the days when I was in various groups) and I really, really, hated the smarmy, creepy, predatory men that were drawn to the pagan scene like flies to crap. Palmcorder_yajna's anecdote is sadly typical, in my experience. Ew. Ew ew ew. Now I need a shower!

What drew me to paganism - back in the early 80s! - was reading Jean M. Auel's Earth's Children series, and realizing that I could have a deity that looked like me - a Goddess! a woman! - and not have to choose either Christianity (which I saw as stultifying, remember, this was the dawn of the Reagan era) or atheism (which I felt personally lacking). Back then, if you couldn't find a group, and they were not easy to find, you practiced solitary or just did without. And it was harder to find books and materials - suburban B. Dalton had so little and what was there was filed under, no kidding, "Occult/Satanism."

The internet and the more liberal values in many areas today mean that it's easier for pagans and questioning people to practice solitary or join an internet group rather than having to settle for what's nearest. There's more space for people to find or create community that is more personally friendly - Divabat notes that there are lots of LGBT folks practicing all kinds of magic that is meaningful to them. Back around 2000-ish, I remember Z Budapest (one of the foremothers of Dianic paganism) had a discussion board, and only cis women were allowed! And the Michigan Womyns Music Festival (previously on MeFi) was a pagan/Dianic stronghold and also transphobic in the extreme. Transphobia was rife in the Dianic pagan scene.

If a group demands time and effort, is only attractive to people not caring for children or with extensive work or other commitments, and doesn't offer a lot of structure and support in return (like a lot of churches do) then people aren't going to choose that group if they have alternatives. In my experience, a lot of pagans and magic practitioners are joining Unitarian Universalist churches, which do offer the structure, the professionalism, and child-friendliness of churches along with the ritual and social goodies that pagan groups previously offered.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 12:26 PM on May 25 [7 favorites]


I'm Wiccan, first-degree Alexandrian since about a year ago, and before that eclectic since the mid-'90s. From where I'm standing, I don't see any evidence for "the death of Paganism". As far as I can tell, the initiatory traditions continue to grow, and there's an entirely new branch since the '90s of polytheist reconstructionist traditions -- Heathen, Hellenic, and some Celtic specific-deity devotionals. (I gather that Asatru was around before the turn of the millennium, but was never anywhere near as large as the reconstructionist trads are now.)

One thing that has changed since the '90s, at least where I live, is that the Pagan community is harder to stumble upon casually. I think this is partly because event announcements have been redirected into walled-garden internet channels instead of physical flyers in your local occult bookstore. I had to do some conscious searching and actually go out to a meet-and-greet and talk to people in order to connect to the community. But when it finally clicked for me that I wanted to go deeper and find a BTW coven (essentially, join the clergy), I connected to an outer-court study group within two months (though I may have gotten lucky with that). My current group demands time and effort, because we provide the structure and support to each other.

The last two links, from Jason Mankey's blog, I think are pretty accurate summaries of the (complex, evolving) situation. And anyway, Paganism should be neither a popularity contest nor a consumer market. I'll see your $250 wand and raise you this stick I found outside exquisite natural wood wand that was laid in my path by the Goddess herself and then consecrated in a magic circle.
posted by heatherlogan at 3:35 PM on May 25 [5 favorites]


I'm a devoutly religious Pagan...It is, as far as I can sort out, easier to find devout Pagans now than it was in the 70's or earlier, which is the kind of progress I'm happy with.

I'm a devoutly religious Pagan as well, and I'm always glad to hear from other Pagans who identify this way, especially on a forum that isn't explicitly Pagan. I've been Pagan since the mid-1990s, and Heathen since 2004. When I first discovered Paganism, I was baffled by the fact that it was so difficult for me to find other Pagans who actually venerate and believe in deities. Until I found Heathenry, a great deal of what I encountered in Paganism was LARPing, festival culture, non-monogamy, tarot, magic(k), talk about Jungian archetypes, and vague do-your-own-thing New Age witchy stuff.

I kept wondering: is this or isn't this a religion? Are there any theologians? Are there people who worship? Is it OK to pray, or is that something Pagans just don't do? Do they maintain devotional relationships with goddesses? Are there monastics who live in monasteries and convents? I was almost afraid to admit that I was a "hard" polytheist, as I had not met any other Pagans who were.

It is definitely much easier to find devout Pagans/Heathens/polytheists now than it was even ten years ago, and I'm happy about that. From where I sit, at least, it seems obvious that polytheism and Heathenry are growing. And with groups like the Ásatrúarfélagið gaining media attention as they build a public temple, I think that growth is likely to continue.
posted by velvet winter at 1:20 AM on May 26 [1 favorite]


I kept wondering: is this or isn't this a religion? Are there any theologians? Are there people who worship? Is it OK to pray, or is that something Pagans just don't do? Do they maintain devotional relationships with goddesses? Are there monastics who live in monasteries and convents? I was almost afraid to admit that I was a "hard" polytheist, as I had not met any other Pagans who were.

In the Wiccan context at least, I always tell people that we are an orthopraxy as opposed to an orthodoxy -- that is, we are united by a consistent system of practice rather than a system of belief. Certainly, there are a few high-level beliefs that unite us, but if we are all in the circle together, I don't feel it's my job as a priest to tell you whether Athena is an actual unique supernatural being or an archetypal manifestation of a pervasive spiritual force. If we're engaged in the same spiritual practice, those sorts of theological details aren't necessarily important.

I definitely think there's a swing towards soft polytheism, but I still know plenty of hard polytheists, particularly in the Heathen community. For me personally, I'm uncomfortable with the term "worship", but I certainly have a devotional relationship towards deities, and call on their help in times of need, all the while acknowledging that I don't really know the form in which they exist.

I'm going to step into speculation here, but I think a lot of people are over-correcting from an oppressive Judeo-Christian upbringing, and thus are uncomfortable with the idea of actual gods. They'd rather worship "the Earth" than wrestle with the misogyny of the Greek and Norse pantheons, or otherwise commit to a particular deity with all that entails. I don't say that to be judgmental, because, as I said, if we're raising energy together, I don't care whether you're thinking about Thoth, Coyote, or a tree.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 6:57 AM on May 26 [3 favorites]


I'm going to step into speculation here, but I think a lot of people are over-correcting from an oppressive Judeo-Christian upbringing, and thus are uncomfortable with the idea of actual gods. They'd rather worship "the Earth" than wrestle with the misogyny of the Greek and Norse pantheons, or otherwise commit to a particular deity with all that entails. I don't say that to be judgmental, because, as I said, if we're raising energy together, I don't care whether you're thinking about Thoth, Coyote, or a tree.

I think you run into that a lot - or, as in my case, you have people that came from a lifetime of vague agnosticism and atheism. If you cannot believe in the Christian God, it's not like you are going to believe in a pagan Goddess any more easily.
posted by Windigo at 7:18 AM on May 26 [1 favorite]


I think you run into that a lot - or, as in my case, you have people that came from a lifetime of vague agnosticism and atheism. If you cannot believe in the Christian God, it's not like you are going to believe in a pagan Goddess any more easily.

Yup. I was raised semi-secular Jewish, so I was used to questions about whether God was a real entity being answered with ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 7:29 AM on May 26


I kept wondering: is this or isn't this a religion? Are there any theologians? Are there people who worship?

When I was on this part of my journey, I kept thinking: there are and always have been traditional polytheists and magic-users in the world, billions of them, and they don't live like European or American pagans. Hindu, Shinto, traditional Chinese religions, Caribbean religions ... these aren't people who get together to draw down the moon. They make money, they shout at their children, they buy expensive cars, they have gender issues, they pollute the environment, they go to war. They're human.

Community and tradition sustain these religions, just as they sustain Abrahamic religions. To develop those, you need a lot more than the plain appeal of a creed. You need a lot of things, many of which are pretty unpleasant. I think that the pagans I know -- certainly myself, when I was traveling through -- would rather be solitary or loosely affiliated than live in a Kiryas Joel or Rajneeshpuram based on their beliefs.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:43 AM on May 26 [2 favorites]


I definitely think there's a swing towards soft polytheism, but I still know plenty of hard polytheists, particularly in the Heathen community.

Just a couple of days ago I read the following description of three concepts of deity, which clarified my thinking a lot [from Margarian Bridger and Stephen Hergest's essay "Pagan Deism," originally published in The Pomegranate 1 (Feb 1997): 37-42, quoted in Judy Harrow, Spiritual Mentoring: a Pagan Guide, 2002, page 167] [the colours are just arbitrary tags]:
Red: The [...] orthodox deist position: the gods are personal, named, individual entities with whom one can communicate almost as one would with human beings. They may or may not be humanlike. They exist in a way ("level", "plane", or "dimension") that is far beyond human comprehension, but their existence is objectively verifiable.

Blue: Deity exists. It is the Ultimate Sacred/Great Mystery/Source. It is so great, so subtle, so all-encompassing, that we cannot hope to comprehend more than a tiny fraction of it. Being ourselves human, we relate best to things that are humanlike, and so we have "the gods": humanlike metaphors or masks that we place upon the faceless Face of the Ultimate, so that through them we can perceive and relate to a little of it.

Yellow: The gods exist only as constructs within the human mind and imagination. They are Truths -- valid ways of making sense out of human thought and experience, personifications of abstracts that might otherwise be too slippery for the human mind to grasp -- but they are not Facts; they have no objectively verifiable existence. Like other abstracts (e.g. Freedom, Democracy, Love, Truth), they enrich our lives and are worth believing in, but it is naive to think that they have any objectively verifiable existence. It doesn't matter that the gods aren't factual; they're true, and that's what's important.
The important bit is that each Pagan tends to sit somewhere in the triangle defined by these three extremes, and can move from one point to another depending on circumstance. Personally I'm pretty much "blue" in my day-to-day life and when theologizing, but go hard "red" when I'm in ritual or talking to a deity. And I tend to step back into "yellow" when I have to justify things to an atheist.
posted by heatherlogan at 10:30 AM on May 26 [8 favorites]


I like it. And I like that it's a continuum upon which we can move based on context. I'm generally a sort of hybrid between Blue and Red. I believe that we invented the gods based on our inability to comprehend The Source (or whatever), but that belief made the gods Real (in some sense).

I like to use a metaphor of an ocean. The ocean can be The Source, or The Force, or The Universe, or whatever. But it is made up of individual drops of water (that's us). But as part of this ocean, there can be large waves -- waves that are smaller than the ocean as a whole, but larger than the individual drops. These are the gods. It's not cognitive dissonance to say that an ocean, and water drops, and waves all exist independently and collectively. So I feel it's ok to also believe that deities are both aspects of some larger whole and also individuals in their own rights and also, in some sense, us. Confused yet?
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 11:07 AM on May 26 [7 favorites]


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