Being Pagan: The Thing Many Pagans Forget to Do

Overlong Intro:

In my decade-plus experience of being part of the modern pagan movement, I have noticed a recurring issue across nearly every tradition I’ve encountered, among pagans both new and who have been involved for decades. It’s an issue that I struggled with for a time and that most first-generation pagans are going to encounter. That issue? Not being pagan. Bear with me.

Most everyone coming to pagan religions arrives with a background in Christianity. This looks different for different people; some grew up being taken to church with family, some went of their own accord. Some had parents who were Christian but not observant, others grew up in nonreligious households. Regardless of this, most newcomers to paganism have at least a somewhat antagonistic relationship with their former religion. Your average pagan almost invariably has a period where they are not so much “pagan” as they are “not Christian.” For many, this phase never ends.

Part of this, I think, is due to the troublesome issue of defining paganism. Most people’s perception of “pagan” simply begins and ends with “not Christian.” For a variety of reasons that I may go into in later blog posts, I believe that definition is no only inadequate as a religious identifier but arguably harmful; this is why I have been a proponent of r/pagan’s endeavor to shift that definition to something more concrete. That definition is as follows:

“Contemporary Paganism is a term denoting modern applications of Pagan religiosity and spirituality. These religious concepts are codified into a wide, disparate terminology encompassing many different philosophical and theological outlooks. It generally encompasses religious traditions focused on reviving or drawing inspiration from the pre-Christian traditions of Europe, North Africa, and the Near East; modern paganism typically does not include African, Native American, East Asian or other traditions who deliberately do not identify as pagan.”

It is a bit wordy, but it can be summarized a bit more concisely as “A group of religious traditions recreating or inspired by the pre-Christian religions of the Euro-Mediterranean cultural basin.” This was chosen for a number of reasons that aren’t necessarily important to this particular discussion. What is important is a definition more clear than “Non-Christian” or “Non-Abrahamic,” because that is where we have to begin in order to resolve this issue.

I’m of the opinion that the most important moment in a pagan’s spiritual development, regardless of which particular traditon they are part of, is the point at which they become more “pagan” than they are “not-Christian.” This is, to put it lightly, one hell of a process, and there are many steps one can take to affect this particular change. I want to focus on a few that I believe are particularly important.

1. Positive definitions

Perhaps the most important step is what I believe should be the first, and which I have already touched on. There are plenty of studies to suggest that the way we talk about things influences the way we think about them, and vice versa; the words we use manifest in how we view ourselves and the world. To that end, maybe most imporant first step in the process of becoming primarily pagan is to be able to explain one’s religious beliefs for what they are, rather than what they are not.

It is an easy thing to define ourselves by what we are not; we are not Christian, we don’t believe in sin (a dubious statement, as mentioned), we don’t believe in hell, and so forth. What is harder, but more useful, is to describe what we are, what we do believe and what it means in practice. This point feeds into one that comes later, because this entire process is in my mind cyclical and must be repeated as we grow and develop. As an example, here is how I describe my religious tradition.

I am a Kemetic polytheist. I believe in many gods; I am a worshiper of Sekhmet, of Anpu, of Djehuty and of Wepwawet. I believe in the principle of ma’at, that rightness and justice and balance should be served in word and action. I believe that isfet- that which subverts ma’at- must be opposed, that this opposition is a made manifest in right-action. I engage in ritual in honor of my gods and offer to them in accordance with the proper forms to the best of my ability. I wear an Ankh as a symbol of life and in particular of the life that I have found in and that is made better by my veneration of Sekhmet, to whom I am indebted and whom I love.

I believe that it is important to define our religious traditions by what they are and by what they mean and by how they manifest in our lives rather than what they are not and how they are opposed to the prevailing societal norms. Despite paganism’s emergence as something of a counterculture, it must at some point emerge as a culture in its own right that does not exist to buck the norm.

2. Religious engagement

The next step, and a key point in developing these positive definitions, is religious engagement. Part of the reason I believe so few pagans struggle to present positive definitions of their religion is because so few pagans genuinely engage in their religion; they treat it as a passive thing, eschewing ritual, moral guidelines and ‘rules’ in favor of a more free-form spirituality. The downfall of these freeform spiritualities is that they do not lend themselves to positive definitions in most cases; they lack structure and established systems which makes them difficult to quantify. Moreover, this noncommittal approach is in itself usually a manifestation of rebellion against and rejection of “Christian” religion, unwittingly disposing of concepts that are in fact common across nearly all religions rather than being specific to one.

The key to religious engagement in most traditions, particularly reconstructionist traditions, is the gift cycle. This manifests in the giving of offerings (in Wicca, the baseline action is ritual magic of some sort; this is outside my area of expertise and so I won’t go into it in too much depth) on a regular basis. These need not be complex; the cost of admission is not high for most traditions, so there is little reason to abstain. The key is in establishing a routine, which facilitates growth by way of keeping oneself involved over time. Falling out of the habit of practicing happens, but it helps stall out one’s growth and can drag out the process of shifting one’s identity into that of being primarily pagan.

My process, which I am admittedly a bit spotty in since my recent move, is to maintain at least weekly offerings. These are simple, consisting of bread and water or bread and milk in most cases (the format of these is described in older posts on this blog). Religious engagement can come in other forms as well; whether it’s engaging in dialogue with fellow practitioners, attending pagan pride events, and the like, but these are ancillary actions. None of these are a substitute for developing an active practice. Religion is often a communal activity, but social experiences alone are not religious action; cultivating a regular practice is key. And practice is facilitated by study, which brings us to the final point.

3. Depth of study

It may seem counterintuitive to place this last, but I believe that it should in fact come after the first two points. Liken it to the process of reading; first we learn words, the basic premise of language. Then we begin to put them into use, simply at first, and finally we expand on what we know, our vocabulary and our use of it growing as our knowledge expands.

This may still be a point of contention, as many pagan traditions present themselves as religion with homework. I am on record in many places saying that I believe in a pagan laity, that these religions must not be accessible only to scholars, and I do believe that. To that end, most of these traditions have much more accessible information than they did when I came into paganism (such as the Larhus Fyrnsida for heathens, Dun Brython for Brythonic CR, and others), which makes studying a much less involved process than it once was.

Even for a lay person, for most pagans their religious activity is going to be an individual practice. We do not have the luxury of temples with large congregations and weekly services, and so while I don’t believe every individual need be a trained scholar, it falls to each of us to familiarize ourselves with our religious traditions of choice at least to a point that we can competently practice it. As we move forward in developing our spiritualities we must delve deeper into what we are doing, study the areas that are most relevant to us and in doing so we further our connection to our gods and our body of traditions.

So my challenge in this area would be to say “Don’t get comfortable.” Seek out new information from time to time, don’t be afraid to branch out a bit in your practice. Keep up with respectable, knowledgeable bloggers or engage with communities to see what sort of discourse is going on; refine your ritual praxis and improve your methodology over time. Never stop learning, never stop growing.

Being Pagan

The result of these processes is, ideally, that one moves away from identifying their beliefs and practices as counterpoints to Christianity and in the process, furthers he development and distinctiveness of whatever tradition they are engaging in. Ours are modern religions, whatever ancient foundations we build upon, and it is only through refinement and engagement that our religions can become what they have every right and potential to be: vibrant religious identities that are complete and whole, that honor the gods and that enrich our lives, that have every bit as much to offer as any other religious tradition in this world. We owe it to our pagan communities, to our gods, and to ourselves to endeavor to be better. So going into 2018, I hope to see this begin a dialogue on how we can each be more pagan, more Kemetic, more Wiccan, more Heathen, or whichever may apply. Let us make our identities positive ones.

 

 

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Your Highly Irregular PSA Re: Bigots in Heathenry

I’ve been away from blogging for like, months. I am trash at running a blog, that much is clear; in fairness I’ve been transitioning to living in Poland which, as it turns out, is like… A bit different from Texas. Part of it is just that I don’t have a lot to blog about that’s pagan-relevant though and I just have not felt like writing in the last while.

That said, I feel like for my relatively few followers it’s worth noting: r/Asatru, whose moderators I took a few shots at in my great book of grudges some months back, who pointedly argue “we are not affiliated with White Marsh Theod beyond one member of our team” has now invited a second member of White Marsh and noted transphobic thrall of one Forvrin to moderate on their subreddit along with Theod-worshiper/possible member/who-keeps-track-of-this-Habsburg-family-tree-anymore Mark Stone.

For those keeping score, that means that heathenry’s largest community on reddit is run by pedophile defending bigots which will come as little surprise to like… Anybody familiar with Reddit. Truly this is the heathen renaissance. You know, because there’s so many more dicks on public display.

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Steven McNallen, The Wotan Network, and How Is This Guy Still Around Even

Steven McNallen, dubious Asatruar of more dubious fame as former head of the racist-as-fuck Asatru Folk Assembly, recently announced his new project, “The Wotan Network.”  In the regrettable video in which this was announced, the old coot has eschewed any real pretense of paganism and has effectively opened the door to anyone of any religion (because he’s such an accepting guy) so long as they’re sufficiently willing to contribute to the fight to preserve the white race (oh, wait).

While I wait for Mr. McNallen’s inevitable appointment to a staff position in the White House following this announcement, a few thoughts are bouncing around my head.  Why do people even still listen to this guy?  How is he still around?  Why is it never these kinds of people who succumb to dementia or something like that, instead of incredible, moral and upstanding people like my great grandma?  What ever happened to Steve to make him such a cunt?

Most importantly of all, though, over all of that, is one thing: Oh my god you are the worst ever why will you not just fucking crawl in a hole and never come out again you are like the worst racist old uncle in the history of racist old uncles why is your search history nothing but “hot gaping Stormfront bukkake.”

You suck, McNallen.  Go away.

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A Follow-Up to a (Mostly) Measured Response

I made a post yesterday which, I want to be clear, I stand by entirely.  There have been a variety of responses to it so far and I expect there will be more, but what I regard as the official response from White Marsh Theod has been offered on r/asatru.  I would like to give answer to it openly and publicly (EDIT: Due to concerns about shifting narratives from respondents and an accusation that my earlier post is “dangerously close to libel” in its citing of a public record of the State of Texas, I am posting a screenshot of the above post where Forvrin confirms that “No question of these facts are in dispute” for posterity in the event of its removal or editing.)

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Heathenry’s Theodish Problem: Sex Abuse, Bigotry and the Primacy of the Tribe

The problem with initiatory traditions, particularly mystery traditions, is that they’re susceptible to abuse and the sheltering of abusive individuals.  This is a problem that Wicca has grappled with for decades and that, from what I can see as an outsider, has improved somewhat.

Heathenry, on the other hand, still has its problematic bastions, in particular in the Theodish community, which today is rife with abuse, cover ups of that abuse, and general bigotry toward several groups. The history of Theodism is easy enough to find online, from its beginnings as a revealed religion when a Wiccan calling himself Merlin (now Garman Lord) allegedly had a vision of Woden instructing him to create the religion now called Theodish Belief all the way to the dissolution of Winland Rice and the subsequent rise of theods like White Marsh and Œþelland today.

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Sutekh and the Black Land

To the west were the great spires of stone, black and grey and red, scraping at the sky with their great peaks.  To the east were the great swamps and the vast woods, stretching off to the sea, spanned by vast rivers and marked by their own green hills.  Between them was a wasteland, an endless expanse of grass; the vast desert plain that brooked neither stream nor tree, where the great herds wandered far and long for good grazing, where the eagles soared over leagues of yellow sea.

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A Tribute to the Double Mountain

The river’s rust and manborne wood,
Chimera’s curse is spoken
The anvil of the gods is gone
The swords of giants high and long
Rake skies that weep, the wind to reap
And Erebor is broken

The dragon’s gone, the forge is cold
Blue skies, like blue eyes sullen
The sand did settle long ago
The wrath that laid the Wanderer low
The threadbare cloak, the dread oath spoke
And Erebor is fallen

The lies of skies that dare defy
The liturgy of Romans
Self-offered water long since spent
The lonely mountain standing, rent
The quaking trust of failing lust
Is Erebor’s fell omen

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On Hearth Cult: Kemetic Edition

I did a post a while back on my Germanic altar, and have been meaning ever since to do one on my Kemetic altar, only to get caught up in all manner of nonsense in the meantime.  Being that I don’t have anything else to do this week it seemed like time to round back toward my somewhat unorthodox altar for my Kemetic practice and the dubiously reconstructed practice that surrounds it.

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Another Tex-Regional Myth: The Birth of Pecos Bill

Something of an outgrowth of the last post, this venturing more into short-story form, and going backward a bit in our protagonist’s timeline, since I expect there may be more where this came from.

For those few of you who have an interest in anything more than my duking it out with atheists and such, here’s some folkoric fusion.

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A Short Culmination of What’s Been On My Mind

Yes, I realize this is totally cheating as a blog post. I don’t care.

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