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.