Religion, Spotlight

Vision of a Different World

I believe that we should respect nature. I believe myths have important lessons to teach us. And even though I no longer believe in souls, I know that spirituality can be a powerful, positive force.

These beliefs of mine are not too different from what many Pagans believe.

I’m not Pagan, and neither are most of you. But I was once, and I believe that movement has a vital message to share with the world.

I just don’t know what it is.

This month at Patheos I share my vision of a Pagan world—a world “that celebrates, rather than demonizes, the rich life of myth and ritual that Pagans bring to the table.”

Small shifts add up to giant changes. A minority religion can become an axis of culture. If the religion is as awesome as Vodou or Paganism, this is a win for both the religion and the society it’s part of.

Getting there, however, will require steps forward on that perennial problem: what the heck is Paganism all about, and what can Pagans unify around? What is the essence of Paganism?

You can see the vision here. If you’re Pagan, please comment there and give your own answer.

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12 thoughts on “Vision of a Different World

  1. I wasn’t going to take your bait, Drew, but I bit. I read your article and I am sorely disappointed in you and angry you would make such a poor comparison between Paganism and Vodou. You have once again made the broad assumption that all pagans are grouped together thinking all alike and we are so flawed that only your vision can save us from destroying ourselves, or you can somehow make us more popular and better. Even though this angers me, I forgive you because you clearly do not understand, and this breaks my heart.

    It is obvious now to me you have no respect for pagans anymore. You no longer believe in souls and therefore how can you even engage in the dance of Vodou, let alone actually see the Gods you are setting out to meet?

    And how can I have faith in you anymore… and in your Great Adventure anymore when you don’t seem to have any true purpose other than some vague claim to meet the Gods after you, again and again, question and critique the beliefs and practices of people who are your allies?

    I am completely vexed, tormented, confused.

    If you don’t know my message. If you don’t know my people’s message. If you can’t see the good we do in the world. If you don’t have respect for me, for us, and write us off consistently as unreliable, well, I will tell you to look at yourself in the mirror. In what ways do you reflect the very things you complain about in others? Your temple closed, you gave up your paganism, and yet you still ask what is our message?

    I ask you then, what is your message? Really. What is your message, Drew? Because I’m not hearing it loud and clear anymore. I thought I knew what you were about. But now I think your adventure is an illusion. It’s an escape from the world you left behind. You abandoned paganism. Are you really out to meet the Gods? Do you want to just be in the wild away from people and not be subject to society’s rules? Just be honest about it. You’re no priest anymore are you? You’re just the rogue now, right?

    I equate priests with spiritual counsel and religious leadership. You can’t be a priest if you have no soul. And if you have no soul, and don’t believe in souls, you no longer have the job to counsel souls. How did you evolve from the brave spiritual young man I once knew to this shadow of a man haunting the internet? I don’t know how to believe in you anymore.

    I want to believe in a hero, Drew. Are you determined now to kill my esteem for you?

    • Erg, speaking of messes to get drawn into…

      Well, here’s the thing. Drew doesn’t owe you. He doesn’t have to be anything FOR you. He doesn’t have to fit into a safely labeled box that meets anyone’s expectations of proper behavior. None of us do. It’s a choice we can make and unmake (though not without consequences).

      Is he being a bad priest? Sure. But he’s doing really well at being a great magician, wandering in and out of definability, playing in the territory of where things slip in and out of realness. Speaking for myself, I always liked dealing with him as a peer magician; the hierarchy of priest and followers in his temple was uncomfortable to me. I think he’s pretty awesome for having the courage to break himself out of the trap of respect and power implicit in such a role.

      So currently he’s not really pagan, and not sure of the value of the movement. So currently he doesn’t believe in souls, which I suspect (lacking a full explanation on that) is partially simply trauma from the death of someone he loved. So? It’s his life, it’s his choice, and he’s actively trying to better understand who he is and what he really believes. His writing’s still good, still thought provoking.

      So more power to him.

      Also, like many other public magicians… Drew instigates. And says things he only maybe half believes just to see how people respond, and then evaluates how that response makes him think about the idea. So do take his more needling points in that context.

      And if you really think he’s fallen down on the job as a priest… Pick up the reins. Take up where he left off, and get out there and do it yourself, if it matters that much to you. As they say, “The hands of the gods are at the ends of your own arms.”

      • Thanks for that insight, Kira. I don’t think he owes me anything. I’m just stunned and shocked and it’s left me bewildered. I don’t know what to believe. I’ve known him on and off for many years. He’s been a great joy in my life and I’ve been working hard to meet up with him at some point during his journey. I love reading his blog, support him in every way possible, and put a lot of faith into him. He’s like family. But people aren’t made of stone.

        And they certainly don’t stay in one place and you can’t rely on them to stay the same either. However, I do not mind the changes, the way he’s grown has been fun to watch, and I’ve admired the way he has handled his life… His aim is to instigate but it isn’t doing any good, it’s only a repeat of the same tactics I’ve seen replayed over twenty years. Nothing new. Words are words, action speaks louder, and I’m tired of my friend constantly critiquing, comparing, hassling, taking a stab at what he gave up. It does not support those of us who have never given up, who remain true and continue to organize and practice as we see fit. I don’t need him or anyone else telling me how I should improve this or that, or could I explain why this is, or ask me what is the essence of what I do, or come up and demand I give him my message to the world.

        Would he do the same to a Vodou priestess? Or anyone from any other religion? Would he have walked up to Santero and ask for their world message? I don’t think so. It would be rude. No, he didn’t do that when he was in Mexico. Nor did he in NOLA. Yet he consistently does so to neo-Pagans, just like many others do.

        Over the last ten to fifteen years there has been a prejudice growing against Paganism, not because they think it’s linked with Satanism (I went through that in the late 80s and early 90s) but because people now associate it with disorganized youth who tend to pollute and disregard the original tenets of belief and practice we fought so hard to protect years ago. In an age of over-saturation of information, where books replace teachers, and fantasy media replace teachers and books, the innocent and ignorant will make religion their escape. It’s true for every religion, but it’s not the norm for the entire religion.

        I am angry that Drew continues to use words that express his disappointment with paganism and that he chose to compare it to another religion as an example which he deems is better. I take it very sensitively because it seems like if he believes paganism is so flawed and defective, then he must therefore not respect or like me anymore either. I feel like the ground from underneath me has been pulled away. It hurts. I really believed in Drew! Not as some God or hero, but as a friend who liked and respected me as a person and as a Witch.

        But with each article he writes, it doesn’t matter what the subject, he continues to critique neo-Paganism in it to the point where it’s the negative reinforcement for the Heroic Life, and that has to stop. He may not like aspects of the fringe element of the pagan subculture, I can understand that, but he doesn’t have to use it time and time again as a basis for what needs to be improved and why his way is so much better and why other alternative religions are better. Every path has its flaws. What matters is what we make of it.

        And, of course, Kira, telling me to take up where he left off, good one, dear, I’ve been doing it before he was out of elementary school. It’s not an easy path, no great job, no one recognizes you for it, people come and go, but that is the way of things, we are free to start up and grow, leave and start our own temples. Paganism is still a new thing, it’s evolving, changing all the time, but there is organization, and it is worth a damn.

        We need a guy like Drew who has the skills and talents and charisma to stop whining about what is wrong with it all and get to work. That’s all.

      • So currently he doesn’t believe in souls, which I suspect (lacking a full explanation on that) is partially simply trauma from the death of someone he loved.

        For the record, no. I got news of my grandmother’s death about four days after I came to my conclusion about souls, which had a lot more to do with neuroscience than with anything personal. (Not believing in a soul did make the funeral quite surreal, though.)

        Is he being a bad priest? Sure.

        I’d love to hear more about this…

        • I meant it insomuch as a priest serves a community, and you dismantled both your temple and community and decided to take a very long walk away from both.

          As for souls, believe what you like… I don’t agree with you, but whatever. I suspect we’re working on different models of the universe – or perhaps different understandings of the same model – but both our models contain beer so that’s the important thing.

          • Cheers :)

            I’d like to think that my journey will either bring me to the community I need to serve, or better equip me to serve community (or both). I’m a journeyman priest, and I have much to learn. I feel like there’s much more to write about that, but not that I’m able to write at present… with time, I guess we’ll see.

  2. I like what your wrote in the linked article about little shrines and that animistic awareness of life in the world. I guess what I think of as paganism’s strength is primarily a respect for life in all its cycles and connections. We ritualize the turning of the seasons and the things we hold sacred, mainly to ground ourselves and not forget that these things matter.

    As far as “mainstreaming”, well, I’d do it with events, and I wouldn’t focus on the traditional gods. For example, I’ve long thought the best way to bring pagan practice into Minnesota (I’m from there and haven’t given much thought to such events in other places) would be to hold a big Blessing of the Hunt ritual in the fall. People could make offerings to the spirit of the forest and there could be a blessing of dogs and rifles – hunters only.

    Later, after deer hunting season is finished, have a follow-up feast celebrating the summer’s harvest and the fall’s take – make it a big family potluck/ barbecue asking people to bring the produce of their gardens and meat from their kills. (And homebrew, of course!) Let their be toasting and celebration and give part of every dish back to the woods, or to the fire. THAT’S the kind of thing people would latch onto and not give up – the sharing, the connection, the acknowledgement of effort and life ending and continuing and people holding together… and also of our connection to and dependence on the Land and its bounty.

    • What you suggest, Kira, is awesome and is something many tribes already do at harvest time. While white folks celebrate Thanksgiving, the Menominee and Chippewa tribes in Wisconsin have harvest feasts where families gather together to have large potlucks where much of the food is also given back to the wild. All the food is either grown or hunted off the land. I wish everyone did something like that.

      I’m solitary and live in an urban area, so I do a much more watered-down version because I’m a tad spoiled. ;-) But thank you for hearing me out and forgive me if I ruffled any feathers. I’m passionate about what I write about and I’m passionate about my friends as much as I am about religion. I don’t know you and want to extend an olive branch as I calm myself down over this.

      Your vision I will focus on tonight/this morning to bring me back to peace. Blessings and love to you for this.

    • Great answer Kira. Thank you. I wonder, if that kind of Blessing of the Hunt happened in MN, would there be pushback from within the Pagan community itself? I can picture a lot of vegan/vegetarian Pagans being quite affronted…

      • So? They’re always offended about something or another. If they don’t like it, then they don’t have to come, that’s pretty simple. Also, I can’t say I’ve ever been the slightest bit intimidated by a vegan. There’s something about putting yourself willingly at the absolute bottom of the food chain that really makes you lose intimidation points. Also, life eats life, and I think it’s incredibly arrogant and shortsighted to put yourself outside of and better than nature. That said, I perfectly understand anyone doing it to avoid factory farmed food, but homegrown and hunted avoid those issues.

        FYI, I had this idea after hanging out with Tony’s Asatru friends. Also for the ditty, “Hail Thor/ Bless my gun/ Got a hammer/ Got the thunder/ Let’s go have some fun!”. They’re all kind of rednecks. Never passed that bit along for fear they’d like it to much…

        • Haha.

          With fear of upsetting my vegan readers…

          life eats life, and I think it’s incredibly arrogant and shortsighted to put yourself outside of and better than nature. That said, I perfectly understand anyone doing it to avoid factory farmed food, but homegrown and hunted avoid those issues.

          …nicely sums up my feelings toward Veganism.

  3. After a calm, Drew, I realize I may have panicked. I love reading your blog and anticipate each post with great joy. Sometimes the pressure is too much, the wait too heavy, and my emotional disorder gets ugly. Please delete and edit as you see fit. I am feeling very unstable at this time. I do not know what to believe about you. This frightens me. I ask you to understand. After this reply, I plan on letting go of coming to your blog because, even though it will feel like it will kill me (it’s my main source of hearing how you’re doing), I cannot take some of the broad statements you make and take them too personally. I’m just taking responsibility for my own actions and feelings, mean no harm, and want everyone to know I’m not a threat or a bad person or even a mess, I’m just a person in pain who asks for your prayers and well wishes. Thank you and Gods bless.

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