Everything you think you know about Wicca is wrong

This blogpost was inspired by this conversation on Twitter:

The snark quotient of this post may be dangerously high — you’re strongly advised to put your snark goggles on, because I have a snark hammer and I am not afraid to use it.

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Your mountain is not my mountain and that’s just fine

Metaphors for religion are tricky things, especially when we try to stretch them and make them work too hard by trying to turn them into analogies. One very popular metaphor for explaining religious diversity is the idea that we are all walking different paths up the same mountain. However, many people are coming to believe (myself included) that we are in fact all walking up different mountains.

I had noted down the title of this post, and not got into writing it yet, when I saw that John Halstead has written an excellent post entitled which also suggests that we are in fact all walking up different mountains.

Moraine Lake, Rocky Mountains

Valley of the Ten Peaks and Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, Canada.
Mountains from left to right: Tonsa (3057 m), Mount Perren (3051 m), Mount Allen (3310 m), Mount Tuzo (3246 m), Deltaform Mountain (3424 m), Neptuak Mountain (3233 m). Photo by Gorgo.

The title of my post is inspired by the saying in the kink community, “Your kink is not my kink, but that’s OK” – in other words, diversity is acknowledged and celebrated.

I wonder if we actually each have our very own mountain – not just a different mountain for each tradition and religion and denomination, but personal mountains. Maybe our mountains are on the same mountain range, or on the same continent; maybe they are on different continents. And of course continents move around as the tectonic plates shift; new mountain ranges are created, new continents formed. The Pagan continent (like the mythical Atlantis) was submerged for a while, but now it has re-emerged, and we can explore it again, with its polytheist mountain range, its monist mountain range, its pantheist mountain range, and other geological formations. The Pagan continent also has magic portals or bridges to the Quaker realm, the Unitarian Universalist realm, the Taoist realm, the Buddhist realm, the Hindu realm, etc, or maybe whole regions of CUUPs people and Quaker Pagans, and Jewitches. Of course, being a Pagan sacred landscape, there are no centres, or centres everywhere, and no periphery (unless you want a bit of liminality). And there’s nothing to stop you exploring the other continents, or even settling for a while on one of them, as long as the inhabitants are friendly.

Indeed, who’s to say we are all climbing up mountains? Maybe some of us are exploring lush valleys, hanging out in the forest, taking a dip in the ocean, building a beautiful eco-village, or whatever takes your fancy. You can define your own journey, you can walk (or run or hop whilst whistling Dixie) on a predefined path, or discover your own bit of the lush Pagan continent. There is room for all. If I choose to decorate my sacred landcape with shrines to Oðinn, Ishtar, Shiva, and Shakti, and P Sufenas Virius Lupus chooses to decorate eir bit of landscape with shrines to Antinous, and someone else decorates theirs with shrines to the NeoPlatonic Divine Source, that’s all good.

And if you don’t like this metaphor for Pagan religions, it’s only a metaphor, so pick another one, or invent your own.

A while back, I wrote a meditation on religions as trees in a forest, which also emphasises the diversity of religious responses to the world:

The trees and the forest, by Yvonne Aburrow

As we sit in the quiet of the evening, breathing softly, each with our own particular concerns, let us be aware of our common humanity. Each of us has our own hidden wellspring of joy, our own experience of sorrow, our unique perspective on deities and their relationship with the world.

Let us celebrate the diversity of dreams and visions.

Think of the trees in the woods: each grows into its individual shape to fit its particular place and the events that have shaped its growth, but each is recognisable as one of a species: oak, birch, holly, maple, yew, beech, hawthorn.

Religions are like that too: each has its own unique characteristics, shaped by place, culture and history; but all of them have their roots in the fertile soil of human experience, and all seek the living waters of divinity.

Let us honour the beauty and diversity of religions in the world, whilst loving and cherishing our own particular visions and traditions, recognising that we too are rooted in our common humanity, all seeking the nourishment of the endless outpouring of love and wisdom that we call by many names, all of them holy.

Pagan Intrafaith: A Patheos Pagan Panel

This year at PantheaCon, I was pleased to moderate a panel on “Pagan Intrafaith,” discussing how interfaith models might benefit the Pagan community if applied internally. If you’d like to listen to the audio, proceed! Or, scroll down to see the list of presenters and the text of my opening remarks.


Pagan Intrafaith
Patheos Pagan Writers
Panel Presentation, PantheaCon 2013
February 15, 2013 – San Jose, California 

Pagan Intrafaith panel, Feb. 2013. Photo by Jason Pitzl-Waters.

Moderator: Christine Hoff Kraemer
Participants: Eric Scott, Sarah Twichell, Crystal Blanton, Jason Mankey, P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, Steven Abell


Introduction

Thank you all for coming to this panel on Pagan Intrafaith. I’m Christine Kraemer, managing editor of the Patheos Pagan channel, and I’m excited that I’ve been able to gather some of our most thoughtful writers for this discussion.

Before we begin, I’d like to address the question of what “intrafaith” work might be for Pagans. Many of you are familiar with the concept of interfaith work, which involves dialogue between different religious traditions. Interfaith work assumes the following:

First, that diversity is actively desirable. Interfaith work isn’t about tolerating each other, it’s about interacting with and learning from each other for mutual benefit.

Second, that when we are ignorant of other faiths, the assumptions and stereotyped thinking lead to unnecessary conflict. Interfaith work is thought to be a necessary part of peacebuilding and coalition building.

Third, that interfaith work is NOT about assimilation or abandoning our own religious commitments. Ideally, encountering other faiths should help us understand and commit more deeply to our own religions.

And finally, that the core of interfaith work is based on genuine dialogue, which consists of both speaking and listening, agreeing and disagreeing. The purpose is not for everyone in dialogue to resolve their differences, but rather to act on an ongoing commitment to understand those differences.

Interfaith dialogue makes it much more possible for diverse groups to work together on issues they care about. For instance, the Hindu American Foundation has sent representatives to PantheaCon for the past two years: they’re interested in lobbying for minority religious rights, and so are many Pagans. While there are some important differences between Paganism and Hinduism, and some issues on which we will probably never agree, minority religious rights are one area in which we can stand together and protect each other.

This panel proposes that the same kind of work could be done WITHIN Paganism. Paganism is an extremely diverse movement, more of an umbrella for a collection of loosely related religions than a single religion. It seems the more we try to pin down what “Paganism” is, the more tension we create in our communities as people worry about where the lines of inclusion and exclusion will be drawn.

Many of our communities also experience tension around accidental exclusion. So far, many of our groups don’t do a good job about setting newcomers’ expectations around what they’re about. It’s possible for a Pagan to show up at a public Pagan circle expecting a Goddess- and nature-oriented ritual, only to be entirely thrown when the ritual focuses on urban-oriented gods. Paganism has very different threads, and it’s hard to find our commonalities if we don’t have a vocabulary to talk about – and APPRECIATE – our differences.

I’m in favor of a “big tent” definition of Paganism that is inclusive and welcoming – but if Paganism is going to survive as a diverse movement, we need to improve communication between different traditions and paths. I know that meeting Pagans with radically different beliefs and practices has helped me a great deal in developing my own, and I want my community to continue to be a place where that kind of inter-tradition communication can happen.

 


One additional note: one participant raised the question of how “diversity” is defined versus “pluralism,” and I’m not sure we ever gave a completely clear definition. Here are mine:

Diversity is the fact of having variety, such as a group containing people of many different religious paths or ethnic backgrounds.

Pluralism is a social state where groups of different ethnic origins, religions, cultures/subcultures, etc. maintain their separate identities. A weak pluralism is one where diversity is tolerated. A strong pluralism is one where diversity is celebrated and positive relationships between groups are cultivated.

Both “diversity” and “pluralism” have come to have connotations of deliberately nurturing a pluralistic social state, but I think that connotation may be relatively new, beginning in the twentieth century. Would love to hear from anyone who knows for sure.

 

[Many thanks to those who participated in the discussion, including Peter Dybing, Jason Pitzl-Waters, Teo Bishop, and Glenn Turner — and apologies to those participants whose names I did not know.]