Paganism Has Failed Us & We Have Failed the World

If I have already lost readers, or provoked them to blind ire without reading this argument, then so be it. Those were never meant to read past the headline and stood no chance of digesting my comments within. Not that I admit this post to be click-bait. These are truly the feelings I have been harboring for a rather long time: a general sense of defeat and doom.

Of course, it is entirely possible this is only my experience and I’ve been dealt a bad hand so far. Perhaps I haven’t met the right people or had the pleasure of participating in the right communities. I will kindly refuse to take that as any consolation. The accusation stands. If any one of us can suffer outside of the comfort and support of kinship, then all of us are equally lost.

This post does not mean that I am quitting paganism, or that I hold some sort of grudge against the other-than-human beings we walk this path with. To the contrary, they’ve been stalwart companions and I still strongly believe in the worth and role of paganism in the wider world. Please take this post to mean only what it says. Interpret only my regrets laced heavily throughout.

Another disclaimer is needed: by paganism I more narrowly mean the Wicca related paths that have emerged since Gardner, which comprise the majority of modern pagans today. I would also add in Dianic witches, sadly, because of late there seems to be a great deal of TERFs among them. So far, I have noticed that most polytheists and nontheist pagans have hiked up their robes to avoid the general spill on “isle witch” that has come to dominate most of our sensationalist rumor mills of late. Not only that, many polytheists and nontheist paths are extremely dedicated to fulfilling the needs I cite as lacking here. There is strong solidarity and purpose there, enviably. If only the other 75% of pagans would follow suit!

Without further ado…

Paganism Has Failed Us

This section is much of a retread from some of my previous posts (here, here, and here), however, it is far more personal. The failure is almost entirely one of neglect: the movement has not prepared most people involved in it to step beyond their personal self-healing/comforting in order to grapple with larger issues. These larger issues rage anywhere from abuse and rape culture, the inherent fragility and baffling dominance of egos, downright lack of empathy for the dispossessed/oppressed, and making us at all able to come together in any meaningful way.

It is a broad brush I paint with here, so neatly sidestep the bristles if you find the color does not match you.

I acknowledge that most religions draw those that require some measure of comfort and healing, while very few are drawn to serve and minister to the needful. I would not expect paganism to be any different if it didn’t pride itself in initiating priest- and preistesshoods. That is precisely where the failure is most evident. Three or five degrees later, a great deal of pagans are all too willing to let the chaos reign or participate in it.

You know the stories, you’ve seen it happen if you’ve been part of this community at all. The dismissal of the abused, the vanishing sympathy for those in need, the unwillingness to endure even minor inconvenience to support a cause. Meanwhile crystal and herb stashes are replenished religiously… for what?

Why does A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment languish at less than 10,000 signatures if our animal spirits–even our very gods–are in danger of vanishing from the world? Why is it considered “fringe” to localize one’s worship to support the Land and waters that sustain us? Why must we struggle to decolonize paganism, instead of doing the right thing? Why continue the theft of black and native culture to enhance our anemic rituals? Why continue to marginalize the voices and experience of people of color? Why all these things?

This is some ways how paganism, as a movement and a new way of living, has failed us. Paganism has failed to make us this vessel for a better world. Instead, it has allowed us to copy/paste whole swaths of dangerous ideology that destroys people and lands and, eventually, our own privileged lives. It will require years of brave, collective shadow work to process these things and strive for something healthier… If we chose to.

We Have Failed the World

I understand you are not an activist. I understand there is no recognized hierarchical authority to impose these values. But I also recognize the cognitive dissonance inherent in a spiritual practice that doesn’t at least address these issues.

We are meant to be a healing balm for our ancestors and our modern cultures, going forward. We are meant to make peace with a tortured past so that institutions might be restructured. We are meant to be the chorus of the dead, for those beings that pass without notice. We are meant to give voice to those that yet remain, and affirm the relational bonds that weave the Immanent Divine.

With every calling of Mother Earth, great and bountiful Gaia, we are meant to assert the irrevocable obligations life makes upon life and all other beings of Nature. We are supposed to make kin with beings whose lives are our fortune and live in ways of mutual benefit. We are meant to teach this way of living–more than just a way of believing–to a world much in need of it. By creating little and grand rituals, we are supposed to reaffirm the belonginness due to every human.

Why is this so?

It is the way of indigenous peoples. It is our obligation to consult with the dead and remember our indigeneity also, our belongingness to land and water. Our bodies are spun together by a million threads of relation in this life. Every moment that we exchange matter with the world, we become part of it a little more, sharing in a vast exchange between all dynamic beings. No one is left alone, because no one can survive alone.

Does your paganism consist of this? Should it not? It is the much sought-after ancestral wisdom we keep praying for at Samhain. It is the full expression of seasonal sabbats and even the more frequent esbats. Why then do we shy away from it, vast and unwieldy as it might be?

That is how we fail the world: because we refuse to become a vital organ for healing. Perhaps the reasons are not at all personal, but institutional. That is, we fail because we lack the institutions to express this worldview and act upon it with any significant effect.

I do not think so, however. My humble attempt at this, the Pagan Environmental Alliance, stands as a vivid example of lethargy and broken promises to our ancestors. Many other organizations suffer frequent setbacks from lack of membership and lack of interest.

What You Take Away From This

What you take away from this shouldn’t be my bitter ramblings or a sense of defeat. Do not join me in this gloomy place. Strip my words of melancholy and identify the challenges we face, then chart a course to remediation going forward. Do not keep it to yourself. Share this light/hope with others who need it, inspire us.

If you’re serious about paganism, if this is not a weekend hobby, you will find your way to fulfillment. It is not a lonesome path, make kin. It is not meant to be dreary, make joy. It is not meant to stall inwards, but to explode outward and transform the world for the better.

30 thoughts on “Paganism Has Failed Us & We Have Failed the World

  1. Thank you for this. I’ve felt the same myself. Singing songs about the Earth to people who flew across an ocean to attend a Druid event is so depressing. Such gatherings stink of cognitive dissonance and hypocrisy. Paganism has become all about ‘me’.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What I failed to say in my post is this: What we do with this from now on is all that matters. If you cannot find others to make a pleasing “we” then perhaps practice alone, holding out space for a more compatible we. Perhaps you’re called to make this space for others.

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      1. if you leave groups unchallenged then they will simply form an echo chamber that reinforces their views. Its up to all of us to attempt to reform the groups we are in, as well as create new ones.

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  2. I agree. I could comment on many aspects of your writing, but I will do just one for now. I could not sign the Pagan Community Statement on the Environment” because it had no “teeth” to it. Oh, I agree with all the statements, but if I just agree it doesn’t have me commit to anything. Its like some of the annual Earth Day events I attend over the years; everyone says yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ll help the Earth by recycling and reducing my footprint (for example); but when it is all said and done the trash barrels are full of recyclables and people do not practice “trash in, trash out” and take it home. I see it with pagans in my area. I offer the means for recycling a variety of products, but it goes in the trash most of the time. Its like it is too much trouble to do the work, too inconvenient to just take the time to do what is right by the planet Earth. Just believe it in the head, but not the heart.

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    1. I know exactly what you mean, but I would also say that *any* action taken collectively among pagans is already a million times better than anything we’ve done before. That is, none. We start toothless and then we find ways to grow them teeth. But we at least we start.

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  3. I also think a large part of the problem is a lot of “pagans” follow what the leaders/movers/shakers of the pagan movement do. I always like using the biblical description of this, “by their fruits ye shall know them.” So if the peoples see the “leaders” drink from a Styrofoam cup and then throw it away; then it is ok for them to do it. If leaders smoke cigarettes, it is ok for the masses to do it. If the leaders do….. you can get my drift. I see this also at most of the public rituals I attend. And I take a lot of the so-called trash home with me, sort it, recycle most of it (aluminum cans, foil, pans, etc. I take to the local scrap yard for cash), and what is left is just a handful of non-recyclable trash (compostable food goes in my compost pile)

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    1. I think it is fair to say that most of the Big Name Pagans have been much more about hedonism and themselves the they have been about the Earth. Hopefully, that is changing as they die off.

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      1. I notice three of the leaders of OBOD recently flew to Australia to ‘teach’. They seem to be unaware that the main thing they are teaching is that its ok to fly around the world in the name of an earth based spirituality!

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  4. Yes there’s a lot of selfish people who are only in it for the glamorous witchy tat. I’m also seeing a lot of people quietly engaged in getting into right relationship with Nature.

    There’s a wonderful post about what we can do to create refugia (pockets of biodiversity) at the Druid’s Garden. Check it out.

    Meanwhile I’m glad that John Halstead linked to your post, as since I quit Facebook, we had lost touch. Excited to find your blog!

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  5. I have long argued that paganism/polytheism is not merely a belief but also a simpler way of life, one that doesn’t only celebrate our indigenous ancestors (they were all indigenous at some point) but also adopt more or less their practices, in this case towards nature. It may sound like a simple idea but it is the height of revolution, unfortunately. Why? Because it requires not so much the resistance to, but rather the destruction of capitalism and other long-established systems including what may be termed “hierarchical civilization” or more commonly “the state”. This is anarchism or severe decentralization in other words and many people (not including myself) have been taught to fear and loathe it. The history of paganism/polytheism in this respect is also double-edged; it is no secret that empires and imperialism were embraced by many ancient pagans/polytheists because they believed (with great bias) it brought glory to their own Gods and yes, to their own selves. After extensive study, I have found that this toxic way of thinking arises from urban civilizations and population pressure. This is a mentality that has not only continued to the present day, but has severely increased, acquiring the new titles of “human progress” and “global culture”. The advantage of living today however is that we are more conscious than we ever were, but can we back consciousness with sufficient action? My solution to paganism/polytheism is to mix some ideas from stone age animism/anarchism with the more familiar bronze & iron age cultural aspects. But how many others will see the need to act in a similar manner? Not many unless the way people are educated in changes and probably not until it is too late. And yet the Earth cannot really be destroyed by its children; we can destroy forests, pollute oceans, exterminate animals, etc etc. An asteroid can do far more. Earth is a life-force that will rebound, but will we survive its revenge (if we go on at this current rate) and carry the guilt with us? Thinking globally about the environment is an extremely depressing thing to do (I know from experience) and therefore I think it is better to act locally in the interest of sanity. The only serious way to save the Earth is to bring down the centralized state and prevent it from ever rising up again, along with a severe reduction of human population (- %90) but there is only one organization that can do this effectively: Mother Earth herself.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We must try to keep open the spaces for this new culture you envision, eventually we will either bring ourselves to that lower intensity level of habitation, or we will be brought down to it. We must be there to guide the way when it happens.

      That said, though, I am not sure the remains of this civilization can be wisely recycled without centralized authority. Perhaps not a state, but a shared faith? Dunno.

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  6. This doesn’t sound like Paganism has failed anyone. It sounds like your political ideology had failed to motivate people.

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  7. if that doesn’t motivate you to look after said reality, your Paganism doesn’t sound very effective…

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    1. There is literally nothing in Liberalism that involves looking after reality. It is concerned with Individualism and secondarily tends to be Materialist, both of which are not very compatible with a reality in which we are but facets of the gods themselves.

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      1. I’m not talking to you about Liberalism, for one thing we would have to discuss the very different meanings of that word on different sides of the Atlantic.

        I was suggesting that a relationship with Gods (that you regard as the animating forces of reality) that does not change your feelings towards that reality is not much of a relationship.

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      2. It has the same meaning on both sides of the Altantic, just different expressions of it. Both are Individualist and materialist.

        I am suggesting that if the conclusions you draw from your interactions with the animating forces of reality, is to simply do what is currently trendy and socially or politically popular, perhaps you did not examine your experiences very deeply.

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      3. Choosing to restrict your own activities for the sake of the environment is pretty much the least popular thing you could think of right now.

        I suggest that if the conclusions you draw from your interactions are simply to serve your own ego desires, then maybe you do not examine your experiences very deeply.

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      4. Limiting your personal activities has just next to zero impact on the environment unless you are hunting endangered species in your spare time.

        Ego is an empty word from a perverted and overly simplistic philosophy. However if the function of your practice is only to find ways to hurt, limit, or dissolve yourself, it doesnt seem like a very good one to me. Exactly the opposite of improving either yourself or the world in fact.

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      5. Radical change has always started with small numbers of committed people who eventually cause a paradigm shift.

        Realising what you are is the end goal of spiritual practice. Ego reinforcement is counter productive to that.

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      6. Its not causing a paradigm shift if people are just trying to limit their lives and slowly die. There are ways to address environmental problems, but the trendy ones ain’t it chief, they are just popular because they are easy.

        Again, I wouldn’t call it ego, however we were also fashioned by the gods and have a mission on earth. That mission isnt just to seek unlife, its to develop into the best possible versions of ourselves and/or emulate the gods.

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