Archive

paganism

It’s interesting to watch a phrase transform over time. Usage often indicates the function of the phrase in the context of a community’s current relationship with the rest of the culture. A meme, such as “The Burning Times” can serve, among other functions, to increase or decrease the distance the individual employing it intends to create between a subculture and its parent.

The idea of the “Burning Times” seems to excite less solidarity these days as it does animosity toward the people who reference it. It has become one of the several tropes that will have the “anti-fluffy” crowd (who spend an inordinate amount of time evaluating others’ practice, to the extent that I often wonder if they’re doing much of anything else) target one for the sort of viciousness once reserved for heretics. The stated reason for this is that historical inaccuracy causes the mainstream to look down on Pagans.

There are a number of reasons why I find this debatable. What I really think is going on is a generational shift from the counterculture pose of the mid-seventies through the early nineties to the more (for lack of a better term) integrationist bent of the current decades. Very early uses of the phrase (in the works of Gardner) seem to be mainly aimed at giving a pedigree and also of justifying the secrecy and obscurity of the teaching. The Wiccans of that period were arguably bohemian, at least some of them, but not counterculture. Gardner was, after, a postal worker. In the seventies, we see the Craft develop into a spiritual path for radicals, and as an adjunct to the women’s movement. The usage of “The Burning Times” changed accordingly: into a narrative of past persecution that formed the template for all future persecutions of women and indigenous peoples.

The years through which we currently pass are of a different character entirely. Whether we like to admit it or not, the conservative backlash against the counterculture has marked our thinking. In some ways, this was a good thing, in others bad. One of the more detrimental outgrowths was the Neoconservative movement, which began as an internal reaction to some of the New Left’s more “radical” aspects and drifted steadily rightward. The early core of the Neoconservative movement was heavily academic, and brought with it both a sense of being part of an empowered elite (mostly through the influence of Leo Strauss, who is far less egregious than the movement created by his “followers”) and the new disciplines of postmodernism such as Deconstruction.

It was this latter that allowed them to “reframe” many policies, such as international interventionism, that were extremely unpopular at the time. They also became masters of co-opting the language of the oppressed, much in the same way that Ayn Rand attempted to with her insistence that the wealthy were the most oppressed group in the world. One would hear a Neocon referring to “prejudice” against the wealthy or “bigotry” against those who stood for “traditional values.”

The Neocons understood the media better than the Left, because they either owned them or were part of “think tanks” who conducted studies on how to use media and language to maximum effect. The furor over “political correctness” was almost entirely orchestrated by media moguls connected to the Neoconservative movement. In many cases they outright lied, insisting that people were being fired for not employing the most ridiculous linguistic spaghetti to describe simple differences between people. There is absolutely no proof that the term “political correctness” was used in the specific sense that it is used to day before the Neocons used it that way in the 1990s. Before that, it was an ironic term used by some sectors of the New Left. Regardless, the stigma of being thought “PC” can be quite difficult to remove.

This is just many of the ways in which our current culture has been marked by the Neoconservative movement. Long after the actual political clout of the New Right fades, we will still be hearing the phrase “PC” as a snarl word, with all the unexamined assumptions that it brings to the table.

Bringing it back down to the micro level of the relationship of Modern Paganism to the broader culture, I think the current reaction to the “Burning Times” meme is a manifestation of the overall tendency to deradicalize and identify with the mainstream. We saw early, but still quasi-radical in praxis, movement in this direction with the attempt to disidentify with Satanism. This was, it must be noted, almost never attempted simply by pointing out that Pagans don’t (generally) believe in Satan. The point was not distinction but self defense. Thus the image of Satanism promoted in the mainstream was tacitly accepted and made the target of sometimes open hostility. That this was also helping to criminalize a religion, something should never occur in a country with a separation of church and state, didn’t seem that important at the time. Twenty years on, the damage is clear.

Personally, I think courting or even expecting the respect of the average secular/agnostic zombie is a waste of time at best. I think we will primarily receive a kind smile and a damnation by faint praise. But, given that Modern Pagans emerge from the same cultural stew as others in our society, the shift seems inevitable. Our use of language and our attitude toward memes such as “The Burning Times” will adjust accordingly. I can only hope that sacrificing our distance will not prove to be a mistake. We can only know what the change will look like after its done happening.

Advertisements

We are aware of something called a “past.” In the realm of common human experience, at least, we find ourselves remembering something which happened “before” the current moment. Leaving aside the metaphysical questions around this, our human brains require that some kind of pattern or story be imposed on this collection of memories. On the personal scale, we are all familiar with how we create a personal narrative around the events of our lives. Likewise, on the larger scale of human societies, we craft what are known as “histories.”

Part of Industrial Civilization’s story concerns the notion that there can be some “objective” account of the world, and this includes the idea of “history” as a scientific pursuit rather than an art form. Despite the long erosion of the modern progressivist notions concerning objectivity, most of us tend to approach the study of history as though it were the impartial uncovering of fact. I think that when we reflect on how difficult it can be to get two married people to come to agreement on something that happened to both of them years before, we can understand how this notion of an “objective” history is little more than a conceit. The events of the past, like those of today, did not occur at all in the neatly packaged, definite way that we are accustomed to thinking. True, one can find undisputed commonalities. Wars, for instance, would be tough to mistake for something else. (Unless they’re call “police actions…”) We are sometimes fortunate enough to have the diary of someone in power, or other writings. And large scale undertakings leave a definite paper trail. But the assemblage of these items into a coherent story is the job of historians.

Which is where what I call the psychic balkanization of our society comes in. While many are aware that the evaluation of facts is largely guided by social programming, there is still pressure to find a “true” story. This is largely the province of amateur historians who are intent on proving some pet theory, or worse “debunking” someone else’s. These individuals will largely rely on secondary sources, and these sources will be of a particular “school” within various history departments. Thus, you have numerous groups of individuals all reading from their pet clique’s historical material, and creating what amounts to propaganda for the viewpoint that attracted them to that school in the first place. The result of this is the nauseating circle jerk mentality found in internet forums, where those not initiated will be mocked, abused, or condescended to depending on how polite the person they encounter happens to be.

This is important for Pagans, since we are often embroiled in historical controversy, generally centered around the assertions of non-professionals. So we hear that so and so has “debunked” the Burning Times “myth,” for instance. To begin with, the word “debunk” is almost exclusively used by that odious group of reductionist materialists who have the audacity to call themselves “skeptics.” It means nothing more than arranging facts in a way that suits certain a priory assumptions and then be unusually snarky about it. Second, the use of the word “myth” in this way is denigrating to Paganism. It simply means “fiction” or a “lie.” The allied assumption then, is that there is some generally agreed upon, uncontroversial “true story” when such a story will never be found. Because history isn’t an account of facts but an interpretation of them.

I could belabor the particular example, but I won’t. The specifics are far less important than the general tendency. Quite often, when we approach history, we don’t realize that there is a kind ideology behind the way the facts are being presented. It’s premature to jump on a particular book or article and say that this has, once and for all, proven or disproven this or that idea. No discipline actually works this way, and I think it’s important to remember that. It might, at the very least, increase the general level of comity in our community, which I feel is something we need.

I came across this recent article on Witchvox. The author, one Juniper, gives her rather caustic opinion of why we don’t see “greats” like Crowley or Dion Fortune these days. A sample:

There are no more Gardners and Crowleys because we are afraid. Afraid of controversy, afraid of not being politically correct, afraid of being judged, afraid of ourselves, afraid of what the neighbors might think. Afraid of what the rest of the pagan community might think or do.

Hmm…

There are a number of things that are simply wrongheaded here. The usage of “politically correct” as a slur or snarl phrase, for instance. But the main interesting question is: why do we consider Crowley, Fortune, Gardner, or anyone “great” in the first place? I know, I know “trailblazers” and so forth. But a pioneer is just that. The first or one of the first to do something in a particular field. This is important in the sense that everything afterward will have to refer back to the pioneer to some extent. Beyond that, all this talk of past greatness compared to today’s mediocrity sounds downright reactionary.

One big reason that we don’t find breathless, cult-like followings around legitimate magickal groups and individuals is, I think, because such hero worship is inappropriate in the context of postmodern society in general and Occulture in particular. An individual such as Gardner or Crowley or Mather could pull off something like a claim that they were in touch with an unbroken tradition or the “Secret Chiefs.” That sort of assertion was quite popular back then, and widely believed in. Today, people who make such claims are much more likely to be greeted with well deserved sarcasm.

With the possible exception of Dion Fortune, the “greatness” of most historical occult figures was the result of sheer self-promotion. If Crowley were alive today, he’d be publishing with LuLu and running a daily blog in which he ranted about gun control. Mathers was almost all bluff. And Gardner… we won’t talk about his quirks.

The implicit assumption of Juniper’s article, that notoriety equals greatness, misses the point of engaging in a spiritual discipline in the first place. Being “great,” if it happens at all, should be an accident. The first job of any magick worker is to wake up. Then, later, if others listen and are aided on their journey, that is good, and shows a certain degree of attainment on the individual’s part. Starting on the journey with the idea of being some great Uber-Magus is a good way to ensure ego inflation and becoming the master of your mother’s basement.

The reason we don’t have people like Crowley anymore is that we’ve grown out of needing them. There are too many valid voices and perspectives, too many avenues to explore for us to get caught up in the game of treating an individual as if they had the Keys to the Mysteries of the Universe. The very notion that such a single Key exists is both naive and dangerous.

I’ll grant, we may have lost some “edge” as Neopaganism and magick become more visible in the “mainstream.” Then again, would the “edge” we had even mean anything today?

I would say, if what you end up doing disturbs people, that is good. If it does not, that is good too. So long as it is what you are truly lead to do. For my part, I would rather be a person than a personality. Should anyone ever claim me as a “great” anything (blessedly unlikely) I hope I am many years dead so that I don’t have to hear it.

I have just done an initial read through of “Beyond the Burning Times: A Pagan and Christian in Dialogue” by Gus DiZerega and Philip Johnson. My reactions to the book are quite layered, and I thus feel it most appropriate to write more than one review of it, focusing on a different train of thought triggered by reading it.

When reading both the introduction and the section on the Culture Wars, I was reminded of a talk I saw by Slovak theorist Slovoj Zizek entitled “Maybe We Just Need Another Chicken.” The title refers to a tale Zizek often tells about a man who visits a mental hospital with the complaint that he sometimes thinks he is a chicken. This is not the first time he has been through treatment, and the staff remind him that he knows damn well he’s a man. “Yes, I know,” the man replies. “But I don’t think the chicken knows it yet.”

The point of the story is actually to highlight the elements of our feelings that must remain buried in order to maintain civility. Zizek goes on, in his usual ponderous way, to make the case that this tacit ignorance of certain factors is not really a bad thing, so long as it is acknowledged and recognized as an act, that the conversation isn’t fully authentic. On the other hand, there is much concerning the notion that we live in a “post-ideological” era, a point of view which both Zizek and I agree devalues the political nature of controversies such as those involved in the Culture War.

This “post-political” perspective was one of the first things which jumped out at me when reading the introduction. Oddly, the first place I noticed it was not in Philip Johnson, but in the introductory note by Don Frew:

Unlike relations between other faiths, the relationship between Paganism and Christianity has been mythologized into an epic struggle between good and evil, leading on both sides to a continuing demonization of the “other.”

What the statement that “both sides” of the Pagan/Christian divide have “demonized” each other does is ignore the power dynamic in mainstream society that favors Christian over Pagan. Frew’s constant use of the word “faith” highlights this subconscious dominance. “Faith” is appropriate to Christianity. It is simply a null category in a belief system favoring experience to intellectual comprehension.

To “demonize” someone, it seems to me, you have to have a lack of experience with that group. Unless an individual had been raised in total isolation from any of the influences of Western Culture, they’ve encountered Christians of many varieties. If they’ve ever “come out” in a predominantly Christian environment, their beliefs were probably met with derision or outright hostility. Young people who decide to study Paganism or other, more occult paths may have even had to deal with the “Deliverance Ministry” or heard of others who did. People lose their children, their homes, their jobs, even their lives because Christians have not only failed to accept them, but don’t even want to try.

Let me put it another way. Say there were a group of kids in a particular school that belonged to a certain club. Part of this club’s ethos was that they were better than everyone else, simply because they had joined up. Some members of the club took this to the extreme, and started using their putative superiority to actually beat up and harass anyone who hadn’t joined yet. The other members of the club said little, either because they were philosophically in sympathy, or they feared losing the privileges accorded to group members, or simply wanted to “keep the peace” within the club. Then, one day, the milder members decided to start reaching out to those out to those who wouldn’t join, not in any attempt to coerce them into joining, but because they saw that the animosity between “ins” and “outs” was having a negative effect on the school.

What would the “outs” think, what would they be forced to think in the interests of self preservation, when they saw the “good ins” coming? Anyone whose ever been robbed on the street can tell you this: you assume that anyone approaching you late at night wants to mug you. To do otherwise is to invite bodily injury, or an unpleasant and lonely death.

Have the “outs” in this story “demonized” the “ins” as a whole? No. They have a rational aversion to dealing with a member of a group which has persistently beaten them up. If the “good ins” turn around and claim that they are the victims of prejudice, the response would be something like “where were you when I was getting beaten?”

Pagans have not “demonized” Christians. We are the “other” in a predominantly Christian culture. (Even atheism is really an argument with Christian theism, not any other religion.) Christians have, however, as a general rule, demonized us. This is not some dim memory shaded with myth, like the Catacombs. This is a daily occurrence, where children are taken away and jobs lost right in front of us.

The tacit agreement to not talk about the power dynamic also shows itself in Lanie Peterson’s response a the end of the book. She asks why Gus DiZerega “raised the specter of Falwell and Robertson” at all in discussing the Culture Wars. The answer is simple: these are the representatives of Christianity that most non-Christians see. It is assumed, since atrocities such as Proposition 8 in California pass, that their perspective finds at least partial sympathy within the greater Christian community that votes. (If anyone tells you they voted for Prop 8 for non-religious reasons, they are kidding themselves. The question is so purely metaphysical that the only secular response would be to vote “no” simply because the issue is meaningless to anyone but a Christian.) If more moderate Christians don’t want people like Robertson speaking for them, then it is their responsibility to speak up, loudly and in force, against their ideas.

This is not to say that, on this one issue, I think the project of the book fails. Indeed, it’s a very informative read. But the omission of an acknowledgment of the political context does make it less satisfying than it could be. Now that I’ve gotten the “chicken” out of its coop, subsequent reviews will be less abrasive.

Of late, the Pagan blogosphere has been abuzz with the startling news that Kathy Lee Gifford is an ignorant twit. This came on the heels of the announcement that George W. Bush is a fascist douchebag and Brittany Spears is crazy. So many shocking revelations are apt to give one the vapors!

Actually, that’s not what has some Pagans upset. It’s more that she was an ignorant twit in our direction. But let’s face it, with the number of things this particular piece of ambulant plastic in the shape of a human female does not know, the probability of her saying something stupid about Pagans was fairly high. It’s kind of like getting upset when a kitten shits on your floor. Yeah, it’s irritating. But was it really unexpected?

For some reason, when I saw the clip, I couldn’t help thinking of the scene in the Castle Anthrax from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. “Nasty, bad pagans!” “Wicked, bad, naughty Zoot!” So I may be having trouble taking this as deadly (and I do mean deadly) serious as, for instance, as The Faery King who posted this warning on youtube. Apparently, Gifford’s comment, made during a silly quiz, is not merely stupid and non sequitur, but also an incitement to violence against pagan children at school, and a sign of creeping theocracy in the United States.

While the groggy lot of middle schoolers who get liquored up every morning to go off to beat up whichever group Kathy Lee Gifford says something ridiculous about present a clear danger (to themselves as much as anyone else; the double barrel loss of brain cells renders such wild youths incapable of operating heavy machinery at the very least) I can’t imagine it being very big. Much like the Montel Williams Kindergarten Mafia, we’re dealing with a limited, niche demographic.

More seriously, the influence of the Religious Right is, in fact, a grave danger. But Kathy Lee Gifford hardly qualifies as a new Tinseltown Torquemada. If television is intended for the lowest common denominator, The Today Show is targeted at the lowest common denominator before it’s had its coffee. The notion that anything said on it has any relevance to real issues actually tends to minimize the real importance of these social problems in the minds of those paying attention. Tying an idle comment to a polemic on an important and dangerous trend derails any discussion of it, simply because it looks like an overreaction.

There are basically two mainstream views of Pagans. Either we are weird and evil, or weird and harmless. This is the reality we deal with in a culturally and spiritually dead society in which the highest goal is to make enough money to isolate yourself in front of ever more sophisticated technologies of sedation. In this context, people who believe in something greater than themselves, who have an imaginative relationship with the sacred, will tend to be viewed in a negative or condescending light.

I ask no apology from Kathy Lee Gifford, any more than I would ask one from the kitten mentioned above, or the lunatic that shouts insults at me on the street. It is not in their nature to truly feel remorse, and any apology would be hollow.

Instead, I laugh. Because the situation I find myself in is absurd, as it always was before.

(Oh, and stop watching so much fucking television. Honestly, if you have to be up that early, take a walk and say a prayer to the Sun instead of staring at the Spectacle sent to enslave you.)

French’s “Law”: As an internet discussion exhausts the ability of participants to form a cogent argument, the probability that a Godwin-class “law” will be coined approaches one.

When I say “Godwin-class ‘Law'” I am referring to aphorisms taking their inspiration from of Godwin’s “Law.” This “Law” states that (if you haven’t encountered it -lucky fuck-) “As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.” The idea was to reduce inflammatory comparisons, but over time it people began to assume that any comparison to Hitler, even if it was appropriate, made a person’s argument weak or invalid. It’s become a paradigm of its own, with people exchanging the terms to suit what ever analogy annoys them the most.

Such “Laws” actually say nothing, and only serve to make the individual employing them appear intelligent to their peers, who probably share their perspective. We have here not an example of wit, but of one of the most onerous aspects of internet discourse. I call this the “pre-established circle jerk.” The internet is filled with little enclaves of intellectual incest, in which cadres of “friends” get together to re-enforce the narratives and memes they brought with them. When someone from with an perspective outside the view enters such a group, they are automatically labeled with whatever snarl word or phrase is used to designate those who don’t belong. They will generally either engage in futile attempts to cut through the thicket of strawmen erected in their path in order to get their real point across, leave, or gradually be bullied into accepting the groups perspective.

What we have here is the marriage of over-active Third Circuits with misdirected Second Circuits. Since this is a text based medium, people tend to forget that they’re talking to humans that might actually have feelings. With linear mentation placed into high gear with too much caffeine and repetitive action, the wires get crossed and the affluent individual with no real survival concerns transfers their territorial instinct to the defense of their mental boundaries. “Our Truth has been blasphemed,” the cry sounds. “Once more into the breech, dear friends, and we’ll plug up their firewalls with our biting second hand wit!”

In the Pagan community, there are numerous examples of this. The movement is broad enough, and some areas so highly specialized, that one can be accepted as wise in one clique and branded as bereft of merit in another. If one is not careful, on might even get saddled with the most dreaded title, the blackest curse any internet witch can cast upon another, the perspective that dare not speak its name.
They might be deemed “fluffy.”

Over time, the usage of this label has evolved. In the dim past (roughly four years ago) it tended to show up as a synonym for “New Age.” It connoted someone who was a bit too pollyannish, timid about working with “dark” deities, or afraid to use magick in a way that wasn’t quite “nice.” Lately, however, it seems to have taken an interesting new direction. Now, it seems that “willful ignorance” is the stigmata of the fluffy. “Ignorance,” of course, being defined according to the standards of those same incestuous bastions of online “wisdom” mentioned above.

The tone and content of such condemnations demonstrate quite clearly the over-stimulated Third Circuit activating the dormant territorial Second Circuit. An entire website devoted to “Fighting the Fluff,” Wicca For the Rest of Us, contains startling examples of this. It is as if someone had too much coffee and went to town with Dreamweaver in order to shun entire segments of the community based not on skill or aspiration, but the degree to which the “fluffy” holds views which diverge from the website’s author.

What I find interesting about this is that it bases judgment of a person in a spiritual context on their relationship to the rational content of their mind. While this may be important, I think the internet’s hyper-discursive nature distorts its overall significance. A person may be able to perform and invocation that curls your hair and brings through a divine presence without any doubt that you are witnessing something truly transcendent, and still hold firmly, even dogmatically, to the most ridiculous aspects of say, the Burning Times narrative. Who would you rather have in Circle or Lodge, a well educated incompetent, or an “ignorant” person with some real magickal chops? Ideally, of course, one could find in depth, current knowledge and occult skill in the same person, but I’d be going with the “fluffy” who can run energy over the brain that can barely do an LBRP.

The Western Mystery Tradition tells us we have five “souls.” The mortal ego, the part that assimilates discursive information and rearranges it into patterns, inhabits the outskirts of what is called the Ruach. On the Tree of Life, it’s called “Hod.” It’s one of Ten. This means that focusing exclusively on the facility and content of the rational, discursive mind, is downplaying or ignoring all but one tenth of a persons being, one fifth of a fifth of their souls. Put this way, it seems rather myopic.

The counter argument is that “fluffies” make us “look bad” in the eyes of the mainstream. As if historical “accuracy” (a debatable concept to begin with) would make people who view us as arrested adolescents LARPing any less derisive. No, they would likely just see us as bigger dorks. Fundamentalist Christians will never respect us, because it would mean giving up their own psychic “turf.” The more open minded Christians generally treat other religions with respect regardless of how “silly” some members seem. So, who are we trying to impress here?

I would submit that this preoccupation with how mainstream society views us is far more harmful to the community and to occultists in general than any historical inaccuracy. It was this that lead to the Llewellen book boom. Concern over mainstream acceptance caused Pagans of a few years back to tacitly condone the rhetoric of the Satanic Panic of the late Eighties. We were so worried about not being associated with a fiction created by Charismatic lunatics that we played into the criminalization of a religious perspective, something which should never be allowed in a secular Democracy under any circumstances.

We will probably always seem a little strange and silly to most of the society we find ourselves in. Pagans at the very least profess belief in or experience with realities beyond the range of the five gross senses. Some even act on such beliefs. This makes us weird. Anyone who takes time to do something other than acquire pieces of plastic imbued with programmed obsolescence is weird in our society. That’s simply the reality we live with. No matter how much we try to look like scholars and gentlefolk, to the ordinary robot on the street, we’re freaks. Deal with it.

The final thing I would point out is the depressing degree to which this drive to purge us of fluffies resembles the worst aspects of our current social situation. While the discussions I’ve seen stops far short of suggesting actual physical violence, the language and attitude looks a great deal like the eliminationism that has become ingrained in our culture over the past decade. It’s the same miswiring, playing out differently.

With the internet as our main communication tool, we forget that we have bodies. That we are more than a brain hooked up to fingers tapping out words. Paganism, however, stresses the sacredness of the flesh, the holiness that lies in “irrational” experience. While being true to history is important, it is equally important to not commit the same errors as the society around us in trying to achieve this.

Failing this, we will be little more than another set of lofty notions, adding to the sea of noise emitting from chattering sacks of meat and wires that have forgotten they are more than the words spilling out across the liquid display.

Pagans face an interesting quandary. One of the main aspects of the Path that we find attractive, even key, is the thing which makes the “mainstream” shun, mock, and otherwise revile it. Actually, there are several items which that statement could apply to, but I’m speaking specifically about the perceived “looseness” or individual nature of the various strands of religious experience that fall under the Pagan umbrella.

Our society inherited a set of assumptions about what a religion “is” from the various Judeo-Christian traditions. A religion must have strict rules. There must be a sharp line between what is deemed holy and profane. Beliefs must revolve around the words or life of particular individuals. These are just a few of the elements of what most people in our society view as essential to a “real” religion.

From this perspective, Paganism looks a bit silly. It looks, in fact, like a kind of spiritual anarchy in which the only standard is the set of personal prejudices the practitioner approaches the Path with in the first place.

I won’t deny that there is some truth to this. It only takes a few minutes in a chat room or an e-list to see the “free for all” attitude taken to an extreme. People often come to Paganism from extremely dogmatic forms of Christianity, and any suggestion that there might be something which is critical for defining what is or is not “Pagan” tends to sound a lot like what they’re trying to get away from.

The primary assumptions of both perspectives need to be reassessed. “Religion” need not look like the quasi-historical, book based religions we are used to, with clearly defined rules and concrete moral proscriptions. A general guideline or set of ethical behaviors does not have to degrade into dogma.

A big part of the problem is that “Paganism” is an umbrella term for a number of belief systems that have, in some cases, little to do with one another. Many of them do not preclude adherence to other systems. To a certain degree, the word “Pagan” has little meaning without a qualifier.

What amuses me about this is that it puts the term in almost exactly the same boat as the word “Christian.” While the common source material that the various Christian traditions draw from does create a certain specific language and one or two main things that few actually agree on, the various denominations diverge at least slightly in most cases, in others quite widely. There are, for instance, vast differences between a Quaker and a Southern Baptist. About the only thing they have in common is that they read from the same book.

Modern Paganism simply has more books, and more importantly, many Gods. While two Pagans might not have the same ideas about religion, if two devotees of Hecate are actually contacting and dealing with Hecate, their experience will be quite similar. It will be different the way two people’s experience of another person would be, rather than the way a Catholic’s experience of Mary is different from a Fundamentalist.

The key to making Paganism comprehensible as something other than another New Age trend, it seems to me, is emphasizing it’s polytheistic nature. Polytheism, by its very dynamic, includes many different ethical experiences and approaches.

From this reverence for many deities, we can start to imagine a more holistic, less dualistic ontology. The dynamic becomes less about the difference between the “Sacred” and the “Profane” but between the Part and the Whole.

This may not in itself make Paganism acceptable to those who see religion as a question of following God given rules and cannot see it any other way. But for the truly narrow minded, nothing will.