Being a well known Republican Pagan means that I get my share of criticism from people who like to anonymously carp about something that is usually boring and/or inconsequential. More annoying is that often these people prefer to carp either in email form or on some blogspot blog I don’t want to link to because while the owner may be willing to quote me at great length he just can’t bring himself to link to me.
Mainly these people tend to be Wiccans of some stripe playing a gotcha’ game to prove I am in fact not a pagan at all but a Christian pretending to be a pagan for some mysterious motive that they’re never quite clear about. Unless there is some other point to make in these instances I rarely bother getting worked up over them because I have no interest in what the “online neopagan community” thinks of me. I am not a Wiccan (though I was once as I’ve pointed out before) and since I’m not looking to pick up an obese Gorian who speaks Tolkien’s Elvish and suffers from some sortÂ personality disorder my travels through the online pagan community are more focused on causes rather than socialization.
But, I have gotten some interesting questions put to me about some recent events so that I thought the answers to would be instructive for both my pagan and non-pagan readers so here we go:
One question I get, usually in the form of an accusation or an attempt to “expose” me as a “secret Christian” double agent, is that although I always put up a post about Halloween I never have posts about the other Sabbats. Also, I rarely use the term Samhain (pronounced Sow-en not Sow-een) which thus proves something or the other. I will completely scandalize Wiccans now by admitting I refer to February 2nd asÂ CandlemassÂ not the more politically correct Imbloc and I do indeed think that candles made on that day are better than others.
How do I explain these outrageous revelations? As for the terminology I use, I was first introduced to Witchcraft by books on Witchcraft not Wicca. This was in the mid eighties when the so-called Occult Underground was still vibrantly un-P.C. and not overrun with the infamous “tent women” as Israel Regardie would later call them. Thus, Paul Huson and Anna Riva have influenced me more than Starhawk or (shudder) Silver Ravenwolf. As to why I am more public in my celebration (or Hallowmas as we used to call it) the reason is two-fold.
The first is that it is The Grand Sabbat, the first day of the Witch’s year. It is in truth to me what Christmas is to the Christians, the holiday most representative of my entire religious experience. The second and perhaps more important reason I am more public about my Halloween revels is that it is also an American tradition.
Halloween is unique for pagans because it is a holiday that has both religious and cultural significance. Halloween as it is celebrated is uniquely American and many of the things we love to do on that day are traditions that come from this country. It is, like Christmas, something that can be shared with people of other faiths just as Christians you know will be sending you a gift this time of year. My favorite part of Halloween is in fact handing out candy to trick-or-treaters.
Yule is not the same, nor are the other Sabbats. I find it interesting that the same people who cry online about “Christian privilege” and having Christianity inflicted on them by the right wing are eager to bore those same Christians with their holiday schedule. I’m sure the world is as interested in hearing about the other seven Sabbats (and 12 Esbats) that I celebrate as I am in hearing about what people gave up for Lent.
In other words, I don’t blog about Yule for the same reason I don’t blog about my banana pepper plants (which came in quite nicely this year) or the fact that I recently lost 30lbs when I got back into exercising, switched to diet Coke and stopped sitting on my now not so fat ass. It simply doesn’t concern anyone and most people wouldn’t care if I told them.
Halloween, as an American cultural expression increasingly under attack, is something we should keep in the public sphere not just for us but for all Americans. What I did on Yule is simply religious minutia only of concern to a sub-section of pagans who celebrate Yule (all don’t by the way) so I don’t bother discussing it on Red Alerts.
The Wild Hunt had a nice Yule post which makes more sense since that blog is specifically about religion. I prefer The Pagan Temple’s interesting Yule posts concerning divination and a good post on the war on Christmas from a pagan perspective.
In a similar vein, I still get the occasional “why do you hate Wiccans” email/comment/note nailed to my door with a cheap “made in China” athame and the short answer is that I was one.
The longer answer is that Wicca is the bush leagues of occultism that most people outgrow if they’re at all serious, but that answer is actually unfair to the many Wiccans who were serious about their craft and have been overshadowed by the liberal arts college set who think Wicca is some sort of unholy combination of identity politics and group therapy. Therefore, to be more precise, I don’t hate you if you’re a Wiccan unless you insist I actually call you Black Dragon FireCat while lecturing me on the inherent misogyny of pronouns or think that your Harry Potter replica wand actually works. There are Wiccans I respect, even some online. To Know, Will and Dare for example is a Wiccan blog which I think gives quite respectable advice about Wicca to people with questions. The unfortunately semi-retired blog Hecate’s Crossroad was run by a Wiccan and I think quite highly of the author.
But my criticism of Wicca comes from my experience with Wiccans which is remarkably similar to what S. Jason Black and Dr. Christopher Hyatt describe in their book Urban Voodoo:
For example, we have had many experiences with the Wicca community in southern California. These groups were invariably dominated by extremely obese, loud women â€“ Israel Regardie used to call them â€œtent womenâ€ â€“ whose goal at any gathering seemed to be to push people around. This was usually accompanied by the sort of verbal moralizing (â€thatâ€™s black magicâ€ or â€œheâ€™s incurring bad karmaâ€) that many of us can remember from Sunday school. These people claim to be nature mystics, but the clinical obesity, poor hygiene, chain smoking and chronic bickering tell a very different story. Jason was once shown a particularly pompous and moralizing article in a â€œNeo-Paganâ€ magazine and in annoyance, he asked (about the author), â€œDoes she weigh four hundred pounds?â€ His friend replied in some indignation that he knew her and she was quite thin. Looking at him in the eye Jason asked, â€œWhatâ€™s wrong with her?â€ After a momentâ€™s silence: â€œWell, sheâ€™s kind of cross-eyed and has a neurological disorder.â€
It is not our intention to be cruel here, merely to point out some unpleasant truths about the â€œNew Ageâ€ or any other movement.
I feel likewise.
Which brings me to supposed conservative Ross Douthat who I had never heard of, but that could be because I don’t read lefty rags like The New York Times which even communists like Charles Johnson thinks are traitors. He wrote a piece on Avatar and Hollywood’s “Pantheism” which has sent many a pagan to the swooning couch but whose effect on the pagan community is best illustrated by Jason Pietzl-Waters response which though eloquent (and of course steeped in the same sort of sweeping generalizations about Christians he claims Christians have about pagans) misses the point entirely. What Douthat describes in his piece as Pantheism is not Pantheism at all:
At the same time, pantheism opens a path to numinous experience for people uncomfortable with the literal-mindedness of the monotheistic religions â€” with their miracle-working deities and holy books, their virgin births and resurrected bodies. As the Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski noted, attributing divinity to the natural world helps â€œbring God closer to human experience,â€ while â€œdepriving him of recognizable personal traits.â€ For anyone who pines for transcendence but recoils at the idea of a demanding Almighty who interferes in human affairs, this is an ideal combination.
Indeed, it represents a form of religion that even atheists can support. Richard Dawkins has called pantheism â€œa sexed-up atheism.â€ (He means that as a compliment.) Sam Harris concluded his polemic â€œThe End of Faithâ€ by rhapsodizing about the mystical experiences available from immersion in â€œthe roiling mystery of the world.â€ Citing Albert Einsteinâ€™s expression of religious awe at the â€œbeauty and sublimityâ€ of the universe, Dawkins allows, â€œIn this sense I too am religious.â€
Pantheism offers a different sort of solution: a downward exit, an abandonment of our tragic self-consciousness, a re-merger with the natural world our ancestors half-escaped millennia ago.
Wrong. Had Douthat bothered to consult a reputable scholar of religion he’d have found that what he describes isn’t Pantheism but a new- agey combination of Animism, “personal development” and Unitarian-Universalism style pseudo-religion. Oh, have I never mentioned before that Unitarian-Universalism isn’t a real religion? It isn’t.
Pantheism is a term used by academics like myself to describe a tradition in which there is one god who manifests as multiple gods or in some cases things. Some Hindu traditions are Pantheistic, in that all the gods (and reality itself) are thought to be manifestations of the supreme deity. The Upanishads touches on this idea quite beautifully.
Much of what Douthat complains about is what we would term monism. This is the idea that there is an impersonal absolute that gives life to the universe, as opposed to monotheism which puts forward the idea of a personal absolute. Taoism is the tradition in Comparative Religion we most often use to illustrate monism. And it is this dumbed down monism combined with quasi-nature worship that Douthat is talking about. In that respect I agree with him. I don’t like the smorgasbord religion of Hollywood, where they take the easiest to achieve ideals of every tradition that doesn’t directly criticize their callow lifestyles and blend it into a gray and lifeless gooey mass of do nothing feel goodery designed to make self-righteous moralizing about carbon offsets seem less trivial and asinine than it is.
But Douthat misses that point in his zeal to attack a non-existent religion that is only promoted by an online scam called the Universal Pantheist Society and a bunch of morons who are pissing on the graves of every Comparative Religion academic in history by making up a religious tradition out of thin air.