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Question of the Week: 113

Pagan Problem Children: What Can We Do About Them?

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 Author:    Posted: Sep. 8, 2002   This Page Viewed: 19,689,648  

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Question of the Week: 24 - 1/15/2001

What is Pagan History and What is Pagan Belief?

We have seen in recent times some scholarly 'attacks'-and many really excellently researched anthropological, archaeological and sociological works as well- which seem to refute the 'historical' basis for modern Pagan beliefs. Have these articles/books changed your perspective? Have you 'lost faith' or been discouraged at discovering that some Pagan 'sacred cows' may, in fact, be making very fine hamburger? Or have these findings actually caused you to become stronger in your beliefs, more likely to examine why you believe as you do or to become more resilient in some way? How are YOUR sacred cows holding up these days?

 Reponses:   There are 44 responses posted to this question. Reverse Sort 

To Me, A Search For A Pagan History Is Largely Meaningless. I... Jan 15th. at 5:39:49 am EST

Skye Cat (Edinburgh, Scotland UK) Age: 27 - Email

To me, a search for a pagan history is largely meaningless. I create most of my own rituals on the spot. I'm happy to learn from previous occultists and older practices, but at the end of the day, I create my beliefs as I live them.

I have to confess I don't understand the drive in some areas to find the "ancient link". One of the nicest things about paganism is that it's a living, breathing tradition, being created as we speak. I feel priviliged to be living in a time where this is happening. To me, history is only meaningful if you can take something from it.

Besides, , I like hamburger!

Any Belief Systm Has To Be Taken With A Certain Grain Of... Jan 15th. at 6:41:32 am EST

Kevin B (Swansea, Massachusetts US) Age: 43 - Email

Any belief systm has to be taken with a certain grain of salt. Having grown-up as a Roman Catholic, and being educated through twelve years of Catholic education, I can tell you that what is taught as history and doctrine, and what really ocurred are sometimes very different. And, how history is interpreted by "professionals" and "scholas" also really depends on their ego being satisfied. Let me give you an example - probably a classic. For centuries scholas debated the existence of the city of Troy. They, "in their esteemed opinion" (sniff, sniff!) concluded that since they hadn't found it, the city, therefore couldn't possibly exist. A certain German archeologist felt though that Homer's story was too detailed: too many things matched-up and made sense. So he went lookng, and eventually found the fabled city. When the bishops of the early Christian church met to develop thir Creed, they had a falling out over the nature of the Holy Spirit. One group felt that the Holy Spirit had certain characteristics, other felt differently. the two groups split, and we had the birth of the eastern and western Catholic church - one centered in Rome, the other in Constantinople. At the core of both stories are that certain truths still exist. And, that is what people need to focus on. Not the issues that inflate one's ego (call it scholarly treatis, or writing church doctrine). The question is "Who is writing the article, and what is their viewpoint?". If they are trying to fit the pieces into a preconceived notion, then they will end-up saying what they had planned all along, no matter what the data supports. Take greenhouse emissions. Pagans and environmentalists will agree that greenhouse emissions are bad and should be decreased. Others, notably big business will come armed with thick binders full of "documentary evidence" suggesting that pollution is actually good! When your head is spinning, and your faith is challeneged remember one thing - consider the source.

My Sacred Cows Have Been Rocked By Myself Far Too Many Times... Jan 15th. at 7:05:21 am EST

Candle Ogham (Sacile, Italy) Age: 22 - Email

My sacred cows have been rocked by myself far too many times to allow them to be disturbed by an article or two. There's as much proof of Paganism as there is of Christianity. I am suspicious of "experts" who write books and articles, b/c it is human nature to be biased. When I first became Wiccan, or Wicca became me, whichever, I studied up on 101 information. When I was rereading the same info all over the place, I put them up on the shelves and started thinking for myself. Talking to people of other religions, intuition, and past experiences became my guides. These are unshakable and not likely to be swayed by someone shaking their finger and saying "tsk, tsk, this is why you're wrong.". I have respect for history, don't get me wrong, but history does not effect what is in my heart. I didn't become Wiccan b/c it is old. I couldn't give a flying fig if Wicca is ancient or 50 years old. That doesn't make it any less real. When my daughters were little, they thought that if they couldn't see it, it must not be real. Did that change my perspective? Nopers. I have never seen Germany, but I know that it is real, and nobody is going to convince me that it is not. You can't disprove a feeling, just like you can't tell someone, "now don't get upset" when they clearly are. Who cares what someone else says when you know that you are right, they are right, everybody is right, really. Arguing about it is futile.

Turning The Proverbial Sacred Cow Into Hamburger Is Something Of Which I... Jan 15th. at 7:43:30 am EST

Trish Telesco (Western, New York US) Age: 40 - Email

Turning the proverbial Sacred Cow into hamburger is something of which I suspect our ancestors would approve (it is, afterall, practical!). When you break something down into it's component parts you see how it goes together too (and may even find a better way to rebuild it later in the process!). Neo paganism has been lingering beneath some ideas that have been shown as having foundations of clay or sand instead of the rock we need to build our future -- so I say let's move!

For years I've been harping about the need to relcaim our roots using balance and wisdom as a guide. Magickal ideas and practices existed in nearly every histo-cultural setting imaginable. Was this called "magick" or "wicca" or "paganism" in that setting - not usually. Each group had a word or description for the Shamans/Priest-esses/Healers/Visionaries. Nonetheless - these individuals and their methods are what we use as our foundation. But to call ourselves an "ancient" tradition is a huge misnomer. As an organized group we are still very young and paying our dues the hard way.

At least in our discovery of some flaws we have found them early in our growth process, not two thousand years later LOL. This is our chance to weed out and retill the soil of spirituality. Does this weeding decrease my faith or make what we have accomplished somehow "weaker" -- I think not. Every faith had to begin somewhere (even Christianity didn't just "appear" in a day or even several hundred years, and I'm willing to bet they had some problems at first too!).

The key here is being honest with ourselves and others. Separating what we know and can show by historical precidence, and what we believe based in faith and ideology. In the past, it has been religions needing to be totally "right" in everything that has caused hanious human error. Let's not fall into that trap by holding so tightly to our sacred cows that we burn with them on the grill.

There Are Fashions In Academia As In Science, And Once A Fashion... Jan 15th. at 11:54:49 am EST

Sungarth (Orange, California US) Age: 55 - Email

There are fashions in Academia as in science, and once a fashion takes hold, further evidence to the contrary sometimes finds it hard to get a hearing. Scholarship is a career path, and once the academic establishment decides a theory is no good, finding further evidence for it is not the way to get grants and a fat university post somewhere. Such is the case with Margaret Murray's hypothesis that medieval and Renaissance withcraft was a survival of pre-Christian fertility religion. Certainly Murray skewed a lot of the evidence gleaned from witch trials, and overestimated the communal organization of witchcraft activity. But more recent evidence from the witch-trials in Sicily has not been allowed to modify the anti-Murray shibboleth. At these trials, no torture was employed, and the (mostly) old women questioned did not face execution. They were regarded as benighted, quaintly old-fashioned, and misled. The interesting thing is, the testimony they gave agrees in large part with that extracted under torture in other parts of Europe. Similarly, evidence of witchcraft from other outlying areas such as Romania, where persecution was always sporadic (Eliade) and never organized, shows a similarity between both witch-trial testimony and known shamanic practices current among the Sami of Lapland and their remote Siberian relatives. Finally, the jury will have to remain out on these and related questions until the overwhelming amount of information on Pagan survivals in Lithuania and Latvia becomes available here in the West. The collapse of the Soviet Union allowed the indigenous ethnic religious revival movements of Romuva (Lith.) and Dievturiba (Latvia) to resume wide-scale activity. Since the mid-nineties, Baltic scholars have improved their knowledge of English and other West European languages to the point where the results of their researches are just now becoming more available to us. Check out for more information. The extensive folklore survivals in Baltic lands show there was a witch Goddess, Ragana, and her followers, who were both feared and respected. A Lithuanian folk tale of Velnias, the God of the dead who bears some resemblance to Cernunnos, relates how the first witch tricked the God into teaching her all of his witchcraft knowledge. Chronicles of the medieval period (Lithuania and Latvia were only officially 'converted' in the early Renaissance) indicate that people from as far away as Spain visited Baltic lands to consult with the many diviners and seers who lived there. As we learn more about the Baltic Pagan heritage, gaps in our knowledge of other European pre-Christian traditions will be filled and the role and place of the witch in Pagan society will become clarified. Additionally, we will see the old Baltic religions throw off their Christian accretions and re-emerge in something close to their original form and content. This should occur in the next generation, and when it does, we will have a standard with which we can sift the false from the authentic in modern Wicca, Asatru and other neo-Pagan faiths. Until then, the issue of neo-Pagan authenticity must hang in the balance.


One Of The Most Important Aspects Of Paganism For Me Is The... Jan 15th. at 12:04:29 pm EST

Torin (Cape Carteret, North Carolina US) Age: 17 - Email

One of the most important aspects of Paganism for me is the lack of rigid, inflexible dogma from which many other religions suffer. Dogma is, by its very nature, irrational. Invariably, when one holds to a dogmatic belief, one has contradictory evidence thrown in his face. Personally, I feel that arguments about Wicca/Paganism's ancient roots are rife with dogma. The facts are readily available that we are not practicing an ancient religion. Why would we want to? Our spiritual ancestors sacrificed people to angry, petty deities for their appeasement. One of the more popular divinations in ancient Greece was to take a bird, slice it open, and "read" the entrails. That's not the path I wish to follow. The "organized" aspect of Paganism is new. At the oldest, perhaps 260 years. What's important, and undisputably ancient, is the love for the Natural Universe, in all Her wonder, beauty and power. The most ancient of deities were scratched into cave walls as a large, round Earth Mother Goddess, and a potent, strong, hunter Sky Father God. Respect for the natural, and by extension, respect for the Goddess and God, are the oldest ideas of human religion. Does it matter if nobody in Ancient Greece knew what a cauldron was, or if people in Celtic Ireland had never seen a pentacle? No. Remember, all organized religions started at a certain point in time and developed further. In an infinitely cyclical universe, we've got plenty of time for organized, ritualized NeoPaganism to grow and mature and develop into the ancient faith at its soul.

Blessed Be )O(

I Read Charlotte Allen's Article In The Atlantic, And Honestly I Liked... Jan 15th. at 1:10:06 pm EST

Cat (Asheville, North Carolina US) Age: 34

I read Charlotte Allen's article in the Atlantic, and honestly I liked it fine. One thing I particularly liked is that it DIDN'T attempt to invalidate Wicca; it DIDN'T say "because the UniGoddess Legend is coming into question historically, the faith is all bunk." With all due respect to Christina Biaggi--since I'm not personally acquainted with the work of Cynthia Eller--Allen's article, at least, did not strike me as an attack at all. If we as pagans are honest with ourselves, and if we understand the functions of metaphor, myth, and story, we have nothing to lose from serious scholarship which, in the best case, seeks historical knowledge and historical fact for their own sakes. Allen was (I hope) seeking truth, and she didn't appear to be using it to denigrate our faith; all she said was that our faith *as we practice it today* was essentially *new*. That's fine. Surely we ought to be proud of that rather than ashamed of it; even if modern Wicca came from a civil servant with a taste for S&M, it showed great imagination and an egalitarian sensibility, and it's given rise to endless (and often quite beautiful) permutations.

The only thing I didn't care for in Allen's article, in fact, was that she may have been reinventing the Hutton wheel. Since the idea of a unified matriarchal culture dominating pre-Christian Europe has already been more or less debunked, why keep at it? What I'd really like to know more about is the NON-unified goddess faiths--the here-and-there, local-deity, honest-to-goodness-polytheistic religions, and their effects on the cultures of those who practiced them. There's no need to ignore all goddesses because they didn't happen to match a widespread recent interest in *one* goddess.

Truly, I find these responses for the most part heartening; they suggest that Wiccans do (unlike a lot of Christians) know a parable when we hear one. However, I do think it behooves us not to bash the quest for factual history unless it's quite clearly expressing a bias (which sometimes, of course, it is.) The strength of our religion is in its beauty, its practicality for life right now, and its regard for the earth--we're worshippers, not historical scholars. One response below, for instance, says, "We do know that Patriarchy was not always the way of the world." In fact, I don't know that myself; without access to control of reproduction, women might well have been victims of patriarchy "since the dawn of time" for all I know to the contrary, with only the most localized and individual sites of resistance. But that response quoted above goes on to add something much more indisputable, and much more meaningful: "We also know that--regardless--a society where women...[or] men are trampled down, degraded and just not acceptable any more." Now THAT's what's really important about Wicca, and I hope and trust that no honest historian wants to deny it.

When someone says to us, "your religion's new, " try saying, "yeah, and?" When someone says, "patriarchy and domination are the way it's always been", let's try it again: "yeah, and? So you think this makes them okay?" If someone says "my religion's historical and yours isn't", mention that stuff about the virgin birth and getting up from the grave, which isn't exactly the stuff history's made of. We've nothing to be defensive about, and (honest) historians will never be the enemy. I'm going to go check out that Venus of Willendorf thing now. :-)

When I Read That Lovely Article From The Atlantic, I Was Angry... Jan 15th. at 1:11:32 pm EST

Morrigan (Indianapolis, Indiana US) Age: 32 - Email

When I read that lovely article from the Atlantic, I was angry. But being the cautious person that I am, I put it aside for a few days to mull over. I then went back and read it again with new eyes. While some of points were valid, most of it was just a lame attempt of attacking the Pagan foundation with a teaspoon. It didn't wash with me. I believe what I believe not because I read it in a book or because someone told me to belief in the God/dess. I believe because it is inside of me, and has been there for more than this life cycle. I don't know how to explain it better, but I have known since I was a child that this was my path. I didn't recognize it until later in life, but it simply is supposed to be this way. I still don't know what I am supposed to do this time around, but there is a purpose to it all and I am slowly learning what it is all about. I don't take attacks to heart anymore because nothing could make me doubt what I am and what's in my heart. Just because my understanding of it isn't clear doesn't mean I am questioning it; it means that I am smart enough to let the entire play run its course instead of walking out in the first act because I read a bad review. I think for myself and don't allow others to lead me on my path. The Lord and Lady will show me what I need to know when the time is right. Until then, all I can do is sit back and say "Next!"

Mm...i Read The Article In Question, And Felt That There Were... Jan 15th. at 3:17:02 pm EST

Raindancer (Christchurch, New Zealand) Age: 52 - Email

MM...I read the article in question, and felt that there were a number of problems with their logic and facts. Earlier, at a message board on another list, I wrote a lengthy reply to the thrust of the article. I don't know if I have the strength to write another, but I will say this:

What they are attempting to do is to discredit a religion that has been growing by leaps and bounds while the mainstream Judeo-Christian, patriarchal religions have been losing their appeal and membership. They seem to feel that if they can discredit the historical background of Wicca and modern paganism, that maybe it will go away.

Their thrust in this article seems to be saying that only Christianity and the bible based religions have historical validity, and by implication, that we should all go back to Jesus and behave.

What they have done though, is to overlook certain facts. First of all, they have overlooked the fact that there is a spectrum of belief within the pagan and Wiccan community. We are not some kind of monolithic system of belief, where there is only ONE WAY.

There are certainly Dianic Wiccans who follow exclusively or nearly exclusively, the Goddess, but that is by no means universal. I personally believe in balance of male and female. We are all children of the Goddess and God, and that we are all equally loved and equally important. In my view, any belief that proclaims superiority of one half of life over the other half on the basis of whether they have a penis or a vagina, is really missing the point and is perpetuating the injustice that has been a cause of misery for thousands of years.

Speaking only for myself, the point is that we are all made of the same stuff, We are all made of the dust that was once stars. We are all, from the ant to the whale, children of our planet, of Goddess and God. We are all brothers and sisters, and as such we all have a spark of the infinite within us. We are all sacred and holy.

We were all made to be free, we were all made to stand on our own, proud and strong, not to be dominated or to dominate others, but to stand together, hand in hand, and to strive every day to live with all life in harmony. If I degrade my sister, or my sister degrade me, how can we escape dragging ourselves down as well?

If I do not respect and honor my sister, or she, me, how can we in turn be worthy of respect and honor?

If there is respect, and honor, and most important, love and appreciation for each of us, encouragement for each of us to touch the highest star, to hold our dreams, how can we not have balance?

There may, somewhere, have been a Matriarchal Society, maybe, maybe not. We may never know definitively if there was or not. But what that article conveniently overlooked was that around the world, there were many goddesses and those goddesses were major players. They were important, just as there were many gods who were also major players. The article overlooks ancient artifacts such as the Willendorf Venus who was clearly a female fertility goddess, tens of thousands of years old.

It overlooks the story of Isis who brought her husband Osiris back to life, after he was murdered, which predates the story of Jesus by thousands of years. We will never know 100% what the whole story is as far as our ancestors beliefs, but then we have to consider whether or not that is as relevant to us as the kind of people we want to be, or the kind of world we want to live in.

Wicca has been called the fastest growing religion in America. Why? People, male and female want to find some kind of spiritual base in their lives, spiritual harmony there. Clearly, if the mainstream religions were providing this, Wicca would at best, be very small. But its not.

Women who are fed up with being second class humans, with being treted as the cause of all misery, of being inferior, are finding here a strength and a power, a freedom from all the old roles into which, the fears, fantasies, and prejudices of male dominated society forced them.

Men, who wanted to be nurturing, gentle, and to feel, but couldn't because it was "unmanly", who could love and respect their sisters and allow them their place in the sun, unthreatened, found an oasis in the spiritual Sahara that is the masculine mask in the patriarchal dominated misogynistic systems of belief.

In finding our way toward this way that we want to be, we have looked back to the ancient stories, the time when women were equally important, when Goddesses as well as Gods were worshipped, revered, and emulated. There is a lot that we will never know, but there is a lot that we do know about those times. The question of the existence of a remote Matriarchal society seems in a way, irrelevant. What is relevant is what it means now.

We do know that Patriarchy was not always the way of the world. We know, that women were respected and honored. There are documentable societies where women were accorded rights and status that was every bit equal to men. Celtic society comes to mind. We also know that regardless, a society where women as well as men are trampled down, degraded and persecuted, one in which any lifw is not honored and respected, is just not acceptable any more.

What attracted me to Wicca was that it honored women too. I have seen first hand some of what women have gone through, and although I am far from a saint, I want to try in whatever way I can to make it better. Regardless of the details, we are Wiccans and pagans, because we want to live another way. We want to live with love and honor for each other, for our Mother Earth, and for all life. All the details and bits and pieces won't change that.

We may or may not be following the worship of our ancestors to the letter, but to my mind, we certainly are following in the spirit. I am the child of my Goddess and my God, we are all Their children. This is not some archeological artifact, or historical re- enactment, this is, to me, a spiritual truth: We are all one. Nothing else matters.

Blessed Be, Raindancer

We know that for those of us who love the earth, we cannot accept, nor can humankind and perhaps life survive

Well Well! A Fine Example Of The Kind Of Challenge To Our... Jan 15th. at 3:54:06 pm EST

Marea (Niagara Falls, Ontario CA) Age: 30 - Email

Well Well! A fine example of the kind of challenge to our belief that I've been posting about the last few weeks! Providing this kind of challenge to our sacred cows is precisely the kind of struggle and confrontation that I believe will make us better pagans. Yes, we all loved the notion that witchcraft and Goddess worship stems from some ancient pre-Christian culture that was horribly wronged and mutilated long ago, only to be resurrected by us. Especially those of us who have particularly stong anti-patriarchy urges (feminist alert!). Truthfully, if you buy that, then you might as well buy the notion that Gardner (bless his well-intentioned soul) really did bring us some unadulterated tradition of witchcraft straight from the forest without doing some serious tweaking first.
We shouldn't be afraid to look at articles that rebut our notions and challenge what we believe. It is the process of asking ourselves Why, What, Who, When, Where, and In What Context that we come to a richer understanding of our own personal truths and beliefs and why we have them. Otherwise we're just spouting ignorant dogma. The byproduct of all of this is - as Starhawk so fantastically writes, a better view of the context in which we place our own belief systems today and the understanding that what we TRULY find meaningful is not the cultural reconstructionism of the past but the way in which we live our lives on Mother Earth today.


I Wasn't Very Far Along My Path Of Spiritual Enlightenment When I... Jan 15th. at 3:58:39 pm EST

Apotheos (Lethbridge, Alberta CA) Age: 24 - Email

I wasn't very far along my path of spiritual enlightenment when I came to understand that myth and legend are simply tools for greater understanding. i.e. The details are unimportant, its the message.

I came to my spin on Neo-Paganism - that of one steeped in the spirit of Unitarian Universalism - as a means to better understand the Divine Mother, whom I had been introduced to via a hindu centric ashram. I felt very comfortable with it.

Unfortunatly is down as of this writing, but it disturbs me deeply that someone whom I respect so much, Starhawk, would be so rash as to claim an application of the scientific method to the history of Wicca is an attack on the Goddess. Indeed, I cannot express how strongly I disagree with that conclusion.

Of all the books I've ever read, a large portion of them seem to be pulling myths and legends out of the air. They pass of large portions of anectdote, myth, and story as fact. The Wiccan Mysteries immediatly leaps to mind as a book that claims so many things, but never explains itself.

The Spiral Dance doesn't really do this, so regardless of my new opinion of Starhawk, I still recommend it. Sure, there is some myth and legend in it. But much of the book is practical hands on material. And once you experience it, you can never deny it.

There is the whole radical feminist tack we could use - that empirical science and the scientific method are tools of the patriarchal system and it is simply spreading lies to undermine the significance of the greatest secret ever kept: that of a matriarchal society of peace and love and joy that was around for countless years. But I myself have looked at the studies, the methodology is sound! The researchers in some cases are even compassionate to the Goddess movement! At the very least, we can take as fact that the 'burning times' is a myth. At that some of the largest matriarchies in the anthropologic record were pretty dang nasty.

I really feel that what some of these pagans are doing is just closing their ears to contrary beliefs, even when the arguments are sound. To do that is a childish denial of what may, or may not, be the truth. We can learn nothing through this process.

The goddess is always with me. While the past of the craft may be founded in untruths, I don't have a problem with it.

In My Opinion, What Makes Us Different From Our Ancestors Is That... Jan 15th. at 6:51:26 pm EST

simona elda (duluth, Minnesota US) Age: 30

in my opinion, what makes us different from our ancestors is that most of them were poor farmers/hunters/gatherers with no education--or at least what we call education ("formal" education had not been invented yet). their beliefs stemmed from taking in the natural world around them, figuring out what it meant, and discerning it for themselves. they discovered that life sprang from the female of mammals, including humans, therefore deduced that the divine source of all things must be female. later, they added shamanic practices, trance work, and herbs to their practices. this is a brief overview, but i'll go no further, since we all know where wicca came from.
eventually, time moved on and pagans began to become scholarly, the great pagan philospher/scholar hypatia comes to mind. we moved from "superstitious" peasants to people who could prove our religions with science. it was realized, that, altho our gods/goddesses were real, they were *not* historical, as the proposed christian god, jesus, was (which cannot necessarily be proven, either). rather, our gods were personifications that we assigned to the way we, and our ancestors, observed/obsorbed nature, as well as they movements of the celestial bodies through the heavens. legends were created to explain how they got there. this has in no way dissuaded me from believing that our gods/goddesses are real--they are the personfications of the energies that have existed from our co-creators since time immemorial.
this is somewhat rambling, but it all boils down to this: in many ways, we are much like our ancestors. we are re-discovering the truths just as they originally found them thousands and possibly millions of years ago. fortunately, we have bodies of work now, both by metaphysical authors such as grimassi, cunningham and all the rest too many to mention here, as well as archeological proof of how the ancient people lived and died. so we don't have to start completely from scratch, and that is truly a gift from the divine. but we are living in modern times as well. we are facing pollutions and global problems that our ancestors did not necessarily face. we are facing overpopulation and sexually transmitted diseases that they did not face. in order to be successful in the 21st century, we must learn to combine what has been handed down to us with our new intellectual curiosity and also what is practical for today's standards. to do anything different would be a disservice not only to ourselves, but to the creators as well.

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