Paganism Isn’t Dying; It’s (Finally) Maturing

There’s been some discussion of late in the pagan blogosphere as to whether contemporary paganism is dying.  I think the answer to that is a clear, obvious, and resounding “No,” but more than that, I think it’s important to address what I believe is happening to paganism.  I believe that yes, as John Halstead and Mat Auryn state, paganism is changing.  But where they see it pulled apart by entropic forces or hijacked by hostile ones, I rather see a different direction to the flow.  Paganism is finally starting to take the first incremental steps to emerge from its overlong adolescence.

One of the biggest symptoms that seems to be cited as evidence for paganism’s allegedly impending demise is that its institutions are beginning to fail.  While I’m willing to allow that this is the case, I don’t believe that it’s indicative that paganism itself is failing. Jonathan Woolley seems to have been the first alarmist in this particular train, and I believe it’s telling that the first man to sound the death knells of (in his case, British) paganism is a figurehead of one of Paganism’s most outdated institutions.  It’s no great mystery that I believe paganism must move- and is moving- past its feeble, ill-defined roots as “nature-based religion.”  The first post I made on this blog was a testament to that.  But it seems that some people would rather it stay the same as it’s always been.

Woolley laments the decline of the OBOD and its aging membership, but he seems to fundamentally misunderstand that that organization is part of the old-new paganism.  It’s a vestige of a historically illiterate romanticism that yes, has played a large role in defining modern paganism, but is beginning to decline.  While Wicca and Druidry still enjoy preeminence in the pagan sphere, reconstructionist traditions are coming into their own, in large part due to increased accessibility afforded by social media and to the efforts of knowledgeable individuals within those traditions to open doors once shut to those without fairly rigorous academic training.

It is my belief, and my hope, that paganism will continue to diverge as it presently is, to encompass a number of traditions and to fulfill its definition of being an “umbrella” under which many distinct religions may be found.  Part of this process is going to be the decline of Paganism’s more “venerable” institutions, as people move to more distinct and indeed more clearly defined and, from my view, more spiritually fulfilling traditions.

I will allow that British paganism in particular may yet be declining.  I am less familiar with that particular community, though I do speak with a number of British pagans on a semi-regular basis.  I simply think that is important to not confuse paganism for pagan institutions, which rarely prove to be especially durable, particularly when they are built on such nebulous foundations.

While Woolley provides a fairly thorough examination and does, at least, allow for many explanations for the problem he’s perceived, John Halstead takes a rather less nuanced view.  At one point, he offers pagans’ self-absorption as an explanation for the decline.  Even so, the way he actually quantifies that decline is rather suspect; he mentions that Cherry Hill Seminary may be on the verge of ceasing to exist as it does now, that CUUPS is faltering, and that a glorified pan-pagan petition is lacking in signatures.  Once again, institutions are mistaken for the community itself, with the addition of conflating paganism with common pagan politics.

The issue with Halstead’s assertions are that institutions like Cherry Hill, while having some value, were never particularly viable in the first place.  They cater to a fairly murky, broad-spectrum notion of what paganism is to begin with; a seminary such as Cherry Hill simply is not adequate for actually producing tradition-specific clergy, and with “paganism” alone meaning nothing definable in religious terms, “pagan” clergy are similarly undefinable.  It’s rather hasty to ask why Cherry Hill is failing, rather than asking why it existed in the first place.

Likewise, CUUPS, as an extension of Unitarian Universalism, could be said to be failing for the same reasons that UU churches more broadly have failed to gain traction in a great many places.  Of all the UU churches I’m aware of in my state, very few of them have a sizable congregation, let alone manage to attract a significant number of pagans.  Most do not even have a CUUPS chapter in the first place.  In truth, CUUPS falls victim to the same faults as the UU organization itself; it is an ill-defined, superficial substitute for a real spiritual endeavor. These churches provide little more than a meeting place for pagans, in practice; they may host rituals, but in many cases that I know of there are a number of different types of pagans at any given chapter, with little real cause to share in disparate rituals.

Halstead’s solutions, as ever, primarily focus paganism into a force to further his political views rather than to serve as any sort of religious expression.  A great deal of time could be spent on this, but it really comes down to the common issue of his posts and his interactions throughout the pagan community: Halstead is an atheistic humanist first and foremost.  He is not a practicing pagan and engages in nothing identifiably pagan beyond the same outmoded nature-centric quasi-spirituality that the movement is beginning to discard.

While he may raise a few good points about pagans’ obsession with identity and with how we are viewed, I don’t believe these are the core issues facing paganism.  Rather, they are a way to distract from the development of truly distinct religious traditions within paganism- traditions that do not preclude working together, mind you- in favor of a monolithic pagan identity that can be channeled into serving a particular political slant.  It is a rejection of paganism as religion and an embracing of paganism as an activist ideology, where the gods are secondary to politicking, if not outright discarded.

Which brings me to Mat Auryn’s post on this subject.  He does take the time to refute the politicization of paganism into one or more echo chambers, but still misidentifies what I believe is actually occurring.  After all, institutions like that Asatru Folk Assembly show that for good or (far more often) ill, pagan groups have always been politicized.  But the fact of the matter is that these divisions and demarcations within the pagan sphere are not a bad thing, in and of themselves.

Twenty or thirty years ago, newcomers could not reasonably find reliable information or communities for traditions like Fyrnsidu, Brythonic paganism, Kemeticism, and others of their nature.  When I first came to heathenry, there was no identifiable Anglo-Saxon Heathenry.  The best one could hope to find was something along the lines of Swain Wodening’s books; badly edited reskins of Norse heathenry, which in itself was barely distinct from vapid chest-beating Asatru.  When I was introduced to paganism, for several years I wasn’t even aware of any kind of distinct traditions outside of Wicca, Druidry, Asatru and eclecticism.

Yes, paganism is splitting, dividing down into smaller and smaller groups.  And that’s okay, because while not every group is good, while not every community is constructive and helpful, a whole new generation is beginning to take shape.  New traditions with distinct, clear-cut rituals are forming, information is available for people to formulate true religious practice rather than only giving lip service to the gods.  Paganism isn’t perfect, and it still has a great many problems.  But it isn’t dying.  It’s finally growing up.

 

 

 

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80 Responses to Paganism Isn’t Dying; It’s (Finally) Maturing

  1. A well thought-out response except for this statement:

    “He is not a practicing pagan and engages in nothing identifiably pagan beyond the same outmoded nature-centric quasi-spirituality that the movement is beginning to discard.”

    Your presumption that nature-centric spirituality is not Pagan is unfounded.

    Liked by 1 person

    • hrafnblod says:

      I tend toward Michael York’s interpretation of paganism as either being revivalisms of cultural traditions from the European/Mediterranean world, or traditions directly inspired by those traditions (such as Wicca or Druidry). Vague, culturally non-descript nature spirituality does not really fall within the scope of that.

      I don’t believe it’s presumption, or that it’s unfounded. Rather, I am stating plainly that I do not regard such things as pagan, because there is nothing that makes them fit within the scope of paganism. Vague nature-centric spirituality has more in common with the New Age movement than with paganism. The closest it gets to anything distinctly pagan would probably be modern druidry, but even that at least upholds some pretense of Celticism.

      Liked by 6 people

      • Mark Green says:

        Paganism has been primarily characterized by Earth-honoring spirituality since the late 1960s. To claim that such practice is not Paganism is patently absurd.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Correction: The term paganism has been co-opted by romanticists or poets since the 60’s. And that doesn’t make it correct, no matter how many times you read Keats, Yeats, or Graves.

          Liked by 3 people

          • Ancient pagans didn’t call themselves “pagans” fool. If there is any anachronism here, it’s yours.

            Liked by 1 person

            • You should learn to read, you boob (I mean, you called me a fool, so I figured since you were being an 80s cartoon villain). It’s co-opted no matter who used it. Christians or “pagans” themselves. The argument is with what it meant and who it was meant for.

              So whatever point you tried to make was moot.

              Like

              • So you’re mad that I’m misusing a Christian term of derision?

                Liked by 1 person

                • You are using a term that describes people from districts that have no converted to Christianity from their ancestral culture, albeit derisively.

                  And you’re doing this for the reason of politicking and controlling the narrative of pagans. It’s clear you and Green have an agenda against polytheists as pointed out by Lettuce.

                  Liked by 2 people

                  • My only agenda is to shut down literalistic polytheists who claim the whole of Paganism and the whole of Polytheism for themselves.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • Mark Green says:

                      Roger that. Mine, too. The idea that polytheists get to define what Paganism “really is” is both absurd and offensive.

                      Like

                    • hrafnblod says:

                      At least we’re confirmed now that your agenda is to shut down polytheists. Since I’m not claiming all of Paganism for myself (because Druidry and Wicca both tend toward non-polytheistic philosophy), you don’t really have a leg to stand on. I am not saying “No one but polytheists can be pagan.” You’re inventing that statement and accusing me of it. I’m saying “Bigoted atheists who resort to making snide remarks about theistic pagans not being progressive and having imaginary friends do not have a place in paganism and I will do my part to make them feel like they are not at home here.”

                      Non-polytheists are more than welcome in paganism, as far as I’m concerned. Bigoted antitheists like yourself and Mark Green who simply want to mobilize the community for your political projects while insulting pagans with actual religious practices are not. I’m not going to apologize for taking that position.

                      Liked by 9 people

      • aurorawillow says:

        Why is modern Paganism that doesn’t draw on ancient traditions not really paganism to you, though?

        Also, I’m finding this trend of pagans arguing with each other through passive-aggressive blogging is reductive. This behavior is not helping paganism.

        Liked by 3 people

        • thelettuceman says:

          “Also, I’m finding this trend of pagans arguing with each other through passive-aggressive blogging is reductive. This behavior is not helping paganism.”

          Not helping, kind of like a bunch of atheists brigading a polytheist blog in order to silence dissent in the public sphere isn’t helping, huh?

          Liked by 5 people

          • First, you’re assuming everyone who disagrees with you is an atheist. Which is wrong. Second, you’re confusing disagreement with silencing. Third you’re confusing a few people commenting on a blog with “brigading”.

            Liked by 1 person

            • thelettuceman says:

              No, it can’t be that the guy who runs the Atheopagan blog is here (Who also commented on your own personal Facebook page about believing in “fictional characters”), and a guy who derided polytheists on social media as not being progressive for “believing in imaginary friends” aren’t atheists. The guy who said he was Pagan because he “fucked in the woods”.

              No, never. They’re only atheists because they disagree with me.

              And it can’t be that every time you, or your followers, are criticized you come out in force to try to silence the opposition. Who are generally polytheists. Or attempt to portray us as trying to push you out when we are literally saying “this definition doesn’t fit everyone and should be expanded”, while clinging to painfully out of date terminology that fits your political ends.

              No, never.

              Liked by 6 people

              • Fucking in the woods is awesome!

                Liked by 1 person

              • Mark Green says:

                I’m an atheist, and proud of it. I see zero evidence in either history, etymology, or common usage to believe that to be a Pagan, one must be some degree of reconstructionist. That’s just a baseless claim.

                No one is trying to silence you. We’re trying not to be defined out of existence by your distorted definitions of what Paganism “really is”.

                And yes, I believe they are fictional characters. And yes, I’m allowed to do that and still be a Pagan.

                Like

                • hrafnblod says:

                  No one is claiming that you must be reconstructionist to be pagan. You’re building strawmen. If you can’t engage in this discussion without putting words in people’s mouths, perhaps you should extricate yourself from it.

                  Liked by 3 people

                • thelettuceman says:

                  “I’m an atheist, and proud of it.”

                  Congratulations. Do you want a cookie? You can join your neckbearded cohorts over in the corner, or on r/atheist, whichever you prefer.

                  “I see zero evidence in either history, etymology, or common usage to believe that to be a Pagan, one must be some degree of reconstructionist.”

                  No one is saying that you, specious fuck. We’re trying to chisel out a place for ourselves at the Pagan table that you flip-side Protestants want to dominate, and say “Hey, maybe the definition of Paganism isn’t as expansive as you otherwise believe it to be”.

                  But it’s well known that you lot don’t want us around.

                  “No one is trying to silence you. We’re trying not to be defined out of existence by your distorted definitions of what Paganism “really is”.”

                  Bull fucking shit. You’re brigading fucking polytheist blogs any time they dispute you. You’re so indoctrinated into a Protestant worldview that you think you’re above it, and you can’t allow anyone else try to crawl out from under it.

                  If you’re an atheist, why the hell are you clinging to a religious identity, other than to masturbate in your smug, imperious way? If you want to be next to nature, go join a trekking or woodscraft society. The Catskill 3500 club lets you join after you hike 39 mountains and give them 20 dollars.. If you believe in the divinity of nature, then you’re a shitty fucking Atheist.

                  “And yes, I believe they are fictional characters. And yes, I’m allowed to do that and still be a Pagan.”

                  Again. Congratulations. Only in your dissonant, cognitively diminished way could you ever reason that you should have a place in public while you routinely insult and disrespect other people.

                  Liked by 7 people

                  • Mark Green says:

                    Seriously: ever look in a mirror? Words fail me.

                    Like

                    • hrafnblod says:

                      Everything you’ve had to say in this comment section has amounted to you wanting to go around beating your chest telling people their gods are fake and they’re backwards savages and expecting polytheists to respect you for it and pat you on the back. Forgive me if I think the actual religious have more right to a seat at the table than someone who just plays pretend and mocks those who take their religion seriously.

                      Liked by 6 people

                    • Mark Green says:

                      Forgive me if I think the actually religious–like me–deserve as much respect for their beliefs and practices, which we take quite seriously, as those who congratulate themselves that they are talking to invisible people when conducting theirs.

                      Like

                    • hrafnblod says:

                      What beliefs? All you’ve done is make the biggest possible show about the fact that you don’t believe in anything, and anyone who does is a fool.

                      Liked by 3 people

                    • Mark Green says:

                      I believe in the Universe, as revealed through the process of science. I believe it is magnificent and worthy of reverence. Your suggestion that atheists don’t have beliefs shows how little you know about the subject.

                      Like

                  • mattygsite says:

                    >If you believe in the divinity of nature, then you’re a shitty fucking Atheist.

                    While I don’t necessarily disagree with you that this is an atheistic (or at least pantheistic) view, does believing that material nature is divine make one non-pagan? Historically, there is some indication that this may very well have been a theological outlook of some pagans. In the Roman Epicurean poet Lucretius’s work, “De Rerum Natura”, or “On the Nature of Things”, he makes the following criticism:

                    “But well and excellently as all this is set forth and told, yet it is far removed from true reasoning. For the very nature of divinity must necessarily enjoy immortal life in the deepest peace, far removed and separated from our affairs; for without any pain, without danger, itself mighty by its own resources, needing us not at all, it is neither propitiated with services nor touched by wrath. The earth indeed lacks sensation at all times, and only because it receives into itself the first-beginnings of many things does it bring forth many in many ways into the sun’s light. Here if anyone decides to call the sea Neptune, and corn Ceres, and to misapply the name of Bacchus rather than to use the title that is proper to that liquor, let us grant him to dub the round world Mother of the Gods, provided that he forbears in reality himself to infect his mind with base superstition.” (2.644-660, trans. Rouse-Smith)

                    He certainly agrees that it’s incorrect to identify the Earth, the sea, corn, and liquor as gods themselves, but the fact that he raises this criticism indicates that this view must have at least been widely held enough in his pagan culture to warrant correction from a literate, philosophical class. I don’t personally hold this view (I’m more of a Neo-Platonist myself), but if big-umbrella-paganism is seen as drawing its various traditions from pre-Christian pagan cultures in Europe and the Mediterranean, it seems like this view would not have been non-existent in at least one of those cultures.

                    Like

                • swf541 says:

                  As a general rule of thumb, you cant claim to be a believer if you believe in nothing.

                  Liked by 2 people

                  • Mark Green says:

                    I don’t claim to be a “believer” in tbe sense of believing in that for which thete is scant evidence. But you don’t have to be that kind of believer to be a Pagan.

                    Like

                    • No, you just claim to be an Atheist who wants people to accept his non-religion as religion because reasons.

                      Liked by 2 people

                    • Mark Green says:

                      And that, fundamentally, is where you are simply wrong.

                      Like

                    • Selgowiros says:

                      “I believe in the Universe, as revealed through the process of science. I believe it is magnificent and worthy of reverence. ”

                      A worship of a concept, like a universe, is not rational thing. The universe, if you count it as a thing with no being/consciousness, does not supply one with what they need or want because it is beneficent towards beings who live it. It would be an after effect of how it runs.

                      You might as well thank your car for getting you to a gas station before it ran on e.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • “I believe in the Universe, as revealed through the process of science. I believe it is magnificent and worthy of reverence. ”

                      I think dinosaurs are cool and awe-inspiring. Doesn’t mean I’m going to make a feeble attempt to construct a masturbatory religion around them.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Mark Green says:

                      Ever heard of live and let live? Tolerance? DIVERSITY? Just because my religion doesn’t look like yours doesn’t make yours “real” and mine not. And the more you double down on this nonsense, the more unreasonable you appear. Do you consider Zen Buddhism “not a religion” because it has no gods? If so, you dispute the overwhelming majority of religious scholars.

                      And really, chum: “feeble”? “Masturbatory”? You’re revealing yourself to be a defensive and angry person who is a lot more insecure about your position than you represent.

                      Like

                    • hrafnblod says:

                      Since someone was kind enough to share this with me: http://i.imgur.com/McFbDdy.png

                      Presented for your consideration: Tolerance in action.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Mark Green says:

                      Your point? At no point in that quote do I claim that yours is not a religion, nor that you don’t belong in the Pagan community.

                      Like

                    • Mark Green says:

                      For the record, tolerance doesn’t mean agreement. It means willingly sharing a community with those with whom you disagree. Tolerance doesn’t mean that I have to respect your beliefs…merely your right to have them.

                      Like

                    • Y’know, I’ve given it some thought and I take it back, the dinosaur thing makes more sense than your Neil deGrasse Tyson lecture of a “religion.”

                      Don’t worry, I *tolerate* you, I just think what you do is pointless and asinine.

                      Like

                    • Mark Green says:

                      Well, and I think that what you do is going talking to yourself. But if that gives you some kind of satisfaction, by all means, carry on.

                      If you tolerate me, that means I get to be in the Pagan community, too. That’s all I’m advocating for here–it’s a big tent, and I’m in it, and so are you. hrafnblod has made clear that his bigoted intent is to drive Pagans like me out of the community, and that is textbook intolerance.

                      Like

        • The author of this blog was not passive aggressive. The authors he mentioned in said entry were passive aggressive. This author is just aggressive.

          Liked by 1 person

      • I agree that nature-centered spirituality has more to do with the New Age movement than *ancient* paganaism(s), which often were no more ecologically responsible than modern monotheists (albeit with less technological power to destroy).

        But I too go with Michael York’s definition. I’m not sure what source you’re working with though. In *Pagan Theology*, he defines paganism as the “fundamental and atavistic human urge to express honor and homage.” He explains:“Worship at this nonreflective and almost spontaneous stage of human growth, stripped of its theological overlay or baggage and expressive of the root level of religion, is what I am identifying as pagan.” According to York, “pagan” behavior “is unconscious, automatic, or reflexive” and “is natural and becomes part of the consequences that spring from any fundamental human need to worship or express veneration.”

        This human urge which York describes is common to deity-centered polytheists, nature-centered eco-Pagans, and even atheistic Naturalistic Pagans.

        Liked by 2 people

      • hrafnblod says:

        The issue is, John, that accepting that definition doesn’t mean “Interpreting anything else in York’s work as loosely as is required to include atheopagans.” You’ll forgive me if I’m not going to adopt your particularly colonialist interpretations of pagan primitivism.

        As it always seems to, this boils down to the root issues that paganism is, and must, move away from. The idea that it is “religion without rules.” A community where anything goes, where anything can be included under the umbrella. If we accept York’s definiton of modern paganism as based in the pre-Christian cultural traditions of Europe and the Mediterranean, then we can’t really also include any “unconscious, automatic or reflexive” exercise of religion under that banner.

        Liked by 4 people

    • “Your presumption that nature-centric spirituality is not Pagan is unfounded.”

      You could make that argument for a few *very* new traditions. That is only a small piece of Pagan religions. However, historically informed Pagan religions usually are based in the continuity, and preservation of the tribe or, I guess, society.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I’m not trying to exclude retro-Paganisms, just include Neo-Paganisms.

        Liked by 2 people

        • It’s clear you’re trying to include all versions of paganisms. That’s very clear. What is being seen is that you’re trying to include said other paganisms in this vision of a sky falling, where only the “deserving” get to survive. And it’s only if we all pull together under some “community” or “leadership”. Because if we don’t, things will change even more than they have, and you (and co.) won’t like the end result.

          “Pagans tend to be a ego-centered bunch (myself included).” You were at least half right.

          Liked by 1 person

    • Oh look, another deity worshiper succumbing to dogma pushing. I’m a Pantheist, I worship Nature first and foremost and rarely deal with god/desses and I will stand in immovable defiance of anyone who tries to tell me I’m not “pagan enough” or who wrongly supposes that nature-centric spirituality is “vague” and “New Age” and only considers it worthy if it somehow, someway includes deities.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for your article, it made for an interesting read. Although it’s nice that you think so, I am not a “figurehead” of OBOD – I don’t have any formal role within the Order, other than being a current member of the Ovate grade. I’m also very grieved that have got the impression from my article (as others have also done) that I was claiming that OBOD was currently declining in membership. This is actually not the case, and indeed is rather the opposite (the membership has grown to some 20,000 people worldwide – up by 4,000 since 2015). My point was actually quite different; that in the UK, few people under 40 are attending Pagan events (camps, moots, gatherings, conference), and fewer people are organising events on a voluntary basis. This is coming off the back of a gradual decline in the number of specialist Pagan and MBS bookshops, that took place throughout the late 2000s, tied to broader trends in the industry. These factors do not evince a collapse in numbers; but they do represent a decline in “the Pagan community” and could indicate problems further down the line (if groups like OBOD aren’t appealing to younger generations, for example).

    One of the things I find deeply ironic about reconstructionism as a whole (and the reason why I do not practice it myself) is that the religious epistemology it adopts is basically identical to that of Christian Primitivism. The idea that there are certain authoritative sources of information, that must be consulted in order to re-create the religion of an ancestral generation who had (somehow) “better” access to the gods than we do today – it’s utterly typical of Mormonism, and is pretty concordant with all Revealed Religions. Druidry and Wicca, by contrast, are primarily focussed upon gaining direct access to the divine; through procedures (some of which are innovations, some of which we’ve inherited from our ancestors) that we find work. I find this to be far more true to what we know of the spiritual priorities of our pre-Christian ancestors – who in general seemed far more concerned with getting it to rain on time and punishing thieves than they were with an abstract “divinely sanctioned” standard from their distant past. It’s worth remembering that they wouldn’t have called themselves “Pagan” either.

    Of course, I do not believe that this rather obvious adoption of the spiritual architecture of 19th century Christianity by Pagan reconstructionism in any way reduces the spiritual validity of the enterprise: I daresay the gods are rather flattered that you’d go to all that trouble on their behalf. But to adopt a position of superiority based on this effort, compared to other traditions runs the risk of missing the point of the practice itself – that is, to get closer to the gods – and rather reaffirms the proximity you have to Christian Primitivism (who make a similar kind of claim to back up their authority relative to other Christians).

    Most scholars who study Paganism today agree (contra Michael York’s rather exaggerated and actually rather colonialist theory) that “Pagan” religions are a bunch of very different traditions that are united only by their common history, rooted in an intersection between Romanticism and Enlightenment philosophy. This is as true for the Reconstructionist movement as it is for Neo-Druidry or Wicca.

    It’s curious that you’d say that “Nature spirituality” is outdated, when we are currently living through a period of time when concern over our environment has never been greater, and a broader passion for nature has scarcely been more strongly voiced before now (I think of the new Nature Writers, the power of conservation charities, and the positioning of nature and wellbeing alongside one another). To suggest that our ancestors employed the category of “Nature” and related to it as we do is clearly nonsense; but most of the OBOD members I know are well aware of this (far from being “historically ignorant” as you allege). The point is that this category – and our relationships based upon it – is important to us today, and for good reason. This doesn’t mean our ancestors can’t inspire us in new ways to honour and celebrate that relationship.

    If you would prefer to look to the ancestors for a Rule, rather than ideas, that is of course your choice. I do not believe you are wrong to do so. And it’s clear we’re engaged in quite different spiritual projects. But this does not negate the common history we share, nor does it mean that what I am doing is bunk, just because it doesn’t look like your way.

    Liked by 4 people

    • hrafnblod says:

      For what it’s worth, of the three articles I linked in this post, yours was the one I took the least exception to if only because it was narrow in its overall focus and wasn’t quite so heavily slanted as Halstead or Auryn’s. That being said, this comment is a doozy. Let’s get started.

      You are a figurehead of OBOD in the sense that you are speaking as a member of the group, publicly, online. Frankly, your blog post probably represents the most publicity that OBOD has gotten in years. You can’t speak as a member of the group while avoiding the burden of your voice being associated with that group, much as people seem to want to do that. I certainly understood the thrust of your post, that conventional pagan communities, as they’ve been known since the mid-20th century, are in decline in a lot of ways. That’s why the bulk of this piece addresses that.

      You can attribute to me the position of a strict reconstructionist, and you’d be wrong, and you can talk about how reconstructionism is no different than hated Christianity, and you’d be a cliche. Likewise, I know that pagans in the past would not have called themselves ‘pagan.’ That’s also why I took the time to address in my post that I believe that part of the maturation process for contemporary paganism is to divide itself, for people to focus in on more specific religious identities, which themselves grow more distinct. It’s maturing in the sense that paganism looks less and less like a product of the ’60s and more like a broad swathe of only tangentially related, primarily polytheistic religious traditions.

      As to the outdatedness of nature spirituality, I stand by that. And I don’t think that the politicization of paganism and environmentalism is doing either anything other than disservice. But there is a difference between placing a priority on ecological responsibility and engaging in directionless, ill-defined and frankly vapid “nature worship.” I’m not saying that reconstructionism (a word that, oddly enough, occurs only once in my entire original post and even then, is effectively mentioned in passing) is the only proper avenue pagan spirituality or religious development can take. It is, after all, only a methodology, it’s not an ideology unto itself. I’m saying that unapologetically religious, typically polytheistic traditions are finally developing in earnest after decades of archetypalism, murky pantheism and outright atheism without defined praxis or frankly defined anything. And I believe that’s a good thing.

      As to your assertion that I am looking for “Rules,” I would say only this: take your reactionary, empty-headed rebellious inclinations and shove them up your pompous Druidic ass. We may share some history in the origins of the modern pagan movement, but I’d just as soon we don’t share a future in it.

      Liked by 4 people

      • *There’s* the hrafnblod I remember!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for this, I love a good tête-à-tête. I’ll address your comments in turn.

        You are quite right to say that my comments will be associated with the Order of which I am part. I have never denied this. But this is not what being a figurehead means. I’ll defer to the Cambridge Dictionary:

        “someone who has the position of leader in an organization but who has no real power” http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/figurehead

        I was simply assuming this was what you meant. As I have no leadership position within OBOD, with real power or otherwise, I felt it was important to clarify this, rather than let you masquerade under any illusions about my role. As for publicity, it is true that OBOD is quite selective with the amount of exposure it courts formally, but having seen the response to my original article, I now see much of the wisdom in that – especially as the Order is continuing to grow, regardless of its “low” profile. While I do think there are signs this growth might not be sustainable long term, I don’t view publicity as a good metric for assessing this. If it were, then the Loyal Arthurian Warband would be the largest and fastest Druidic group in Britain (it isn’t).

        In drawing a comparison between Christianity and reconstructionism (strict or otherwise), I was not making a criticism. Nor was my remark about “Rules” meant as such either. I have a great deal of affection for (and respect for) many forms of Christianity, although there are some churches, individuals, and teachings that I would strongly criticise. My point is simply that reconstructionism is no more able to escape modern religious sensibilities, needs and contexts, than syncretic forms of Paganism; and that both syncretism and reconstructionism have parallels to pre-Christian practices. Both have their own, distinct virtues; I just happen to be more drawn to the former. I don’t have a problem with people who are drawn to the latter. What I do reject utterly is the sort of disdain that some reconstructionists and hard polytheists have for supposedly inauthentic syncretism, as “something out of the 60s” or “directionless, ill-defined and frankly vapid “nature worship” or “archetypalism, murky pantheism and outright atheism”. When you speak of atheism, Jungian archetypes, pantheism, and eco-spirituality in those ways, it’s pretty clear you think they’re bad, not just that you’re not into them yourself. By contrast, I’m just saying different strokes for different folks. And that my land worship is anything but vapid, thanks.

        In terms of your point that the “Big Tent” definition of Paganism is being moved away from, in favour of an efflorescence of smaller, more defined religious traditions: I actually agree with you, certainly in America. In Europe, the trend is slightly different, however – rather than becoming more avowedly (and particularly) religious, there’s been a tremendous growth in small-p pagan “cultural” forms – particularly around environmentalism and nature-reverence. But people remain apathetic – even downright hostile – to belief and religious identification. If you check out my most recent article in G&R, I talk about some concrete examples of this. The distilled point of my article was that established Pagan organisations like OBOD could do more to engage with this groundswell of interest. Rather than forge a grand “Pagan” category, I suspect what we’ll see in Europe is Pagan traditions integrating smoothly with the folk cultures of their respective countries.

        I’ve clearly hit a nerve with my rather arch response to your article. But I hope you will forgive me, as this post is one of a number of responses to my own writing that have both taken my nuanced critique as an opportunity to give OBOD a kicking, and have also disagreed with my piece only after misconstruing most of what I was actually saying. I love OBOD, and believe it represents a powerful storehouse of wisdom – so to have my arguments used in this way is really quite aggravating.

        Liked by 2 people

        • mattygsite says:

          I just want to say, in this entire thread full of people I should agree with, you’re just about the only one whom I can safely say “wow, they seem reasonable,” about. You carry yourself in debate very honorably.

          Like

  3. Pingback: Paganism is Changing | Sacred Blasphemies

  4. ganglerisgrove says:

    Reblogged this on Gangleri's Grove and commented:
    a good thoughtful article (and a particularly entertaining ‘cherry on top’ of Halstead getting his ass handed to him lol).

    yes, “paganism” is growing up, finally growing out of its ‘nature religion’ roots and into thriving, Deity driven cultus. it’s about time.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. swf541 says:

    Was linked here by a friend, interesting article (Im not a pagan or anything similar but i enjoy researching that sort of thing, I identify as a Christian and have no plans to change that)

    Now the previous nuke zone of the comment section i seriously moronic, paganism in the traditional sense of the word (not the weird co opted versions by the hippies) it does infer some belief in theism or at least some vague form of spirituality, you cant be an atheist and a pagan at the same time, thats about as moronic as a guy as a idiot on reddit describing someone as a communist nazi. Just seems to me as an outsider that people are just taking the word “pagan” back to what it means from people who use it as a political rallying point for their edginess, personal gain or weird faux atheistic views.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. logician89 says:

    The all-in-one structure is intrinsically unstable and for that reason no more viable as a blueprint for religious organization than as a blueprint for any other sort of organization.

    What is bound to die is the all-in-one way in which we have tried to organize Pagan traditions. The only structure left by which to organize Pagan traditions will be and is as panta-en-pasin.

    Here alone will all our traditions be free to mature and flourish autonomously, rather than as through common denominators inevitably treated by all-in-oners not only in isolation from but as more fundamental than the traditions themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. To create a dichotomy between “nature worship” and deity cultus is like asking, “Did you walk to work or did you pack your lunch?”

    Deities are whatever they are. “Nature” is everything not under control of the human ego. It is the orbits of planets, it is trees and flowers, it is most of your bodily processes, and it is most of your psychic processes.

    You can be in awe of it. You can see it as the source of Power and Mystery. But “worship” seems like the wrong verb, if you mean by that praising it and asking it for favors.

    Obviously, to the extent that gods are not controlled by the human ego (and I realize that their artistic representations are such), then they would be in Nature too. And we know that even the gods are subject to Fate.

    I am off to Heartland Pagan Festival later today, where I will be speaking about “nature religion” and other things. Thanks for giving me some new talking points. 😉

    Liked by 3 people

    • mattygsite says:

      There was a good post on /r/AskHistorians recently about the degree to which Greek and Roman polytheists believed their gods to be anthropomorphic people, or the degree to which they viewed them as identical to the forces of nature: https://www.reddit.com/r/AskHistorians/comments/6cr4sl/just_how_literal_did_the_greeks_believe_their/

      The top post is worth a thorough read, but if I’m not misremembering, the conclusion is that both views likely did exist, as evidenced by Lucretius’ criticisms of the latter idea (the idea must have been broadly spread enough for someone to feel encouraged to write against it).

      Liked by 1 person

    • Mark Green says:

      I don’t, actually, use the word worship for what I do. But you don’t have to be a worshipper to be religious.

      Like

      • thetinfoilhatsociety says:

        Yes, you do. Religion: relinking. The human soul with the divine. You know, GOD(s). What you have is a vaguely defined spirituality, NOT a religion. Please do yourself a favor and look up the word religion and its origins and stop placing yourself in a position of authority on something you quite obviously know nothing about, since you are an atheist. Which is totally fine in my book, have at it. Just don’t call it religion.

        Like

  8. Pingback: The Marginalization of Polytheists in the Public Sphere of Paganism | Of Axe and Plough

  9. Not surprised OBOD is having a hard time. Recently OBOD friends started kicking out everyone who was either conservative or not an environmentalist. One member, before I was kicked off for saying it’s wrong to want to harm someone for hunting WITHIN THE BOUNDS OF THE LAW, was making a list of every member that either made positive comments for hunters, conservatives etc. or liked such comments.

    Like

  10. witchesbrew says:

    Interesting read. My spiritual community is in the Greater Boston Area and it has been booming in the past five years. That being said, it looks nothing like the Pagan communities I grew up with. CUUPS is largely extinct as is the long standing Dianic organization. I think all of these changes are an opportunity to grow, diversify, and deepen.

    Like

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