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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: 14,755,332  

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Question of the Week: 77 - 9/15/2002

Pot-Kettle: Do We Have Our Own Fundamentalists?

Does religious fundamentalism exist in some Pagan and/or Heathen communities? Can a closed group or tradition be considered as fundamentalist? Are there some Pagans and/or Heathens who 'preach' one true Pagan or Heathen way? Is resistance to the 'mainstreaming' of Paganism/Heathenism a form of fundamentalism? How can we approach the preservation of Pagan and/or Heathen spiritual and/or cultural integrity and identity without falling into fundamentalism? Is fundamentalism even necessarily a 'bad' thing? You can also check out Isaac Bonewitt's essay on fundamentalism at: A Call to Arms for definitions and other background material.

 Reponses:   There are 91 responses posted to this question. Reverse Sort 

Simple Answer No, Long Answer Yes Sep 18th. at 10:47:32 pm UTC

Jason J. (Baton Rouge) Age: 24 - Email

The simple answer is nobody BUT Christians can technically be Fundamentalists, as the term applies to an treatise on the fundamental theories of Christianity. But, by modern standards, yes, anybody can be a fundamentalist, even Pagans. I don't think of it as really being fundamentalist in nature, more along the lines of extremism. There are definitely a lot of Pagan snobs, my-coven-is-better-than-your-coven attitudes. But that's true of all spiritual paths, and its a trait of 21st century human nature to want extremes, to turn the amp to 11, so to speak. And extremism isn't necessarily a bad thing, as long as there are defined limits acceptable to ALL parties involved, believer and infidel alike.
Recently here in Baton Rouge, I witnessed a Fundamentalist Christian preaching his religious doctrine on LSU's campus. No blowing up abortion clinics. No gay bashing. Only one reference to witchcraft being an evil. If you've been a Pagan long enough, you've heard it all before. But what really caught me was the reaction of the oblivious undergrads, taunting and baiting the evangelist, calling him names, etc. I actually felt sorry for the guy, not because he was a "Fundie" or because he'd made some comment derrogatory to my faith, but because he was being percecuted for what he believed, for his speech, by a bunch of kids wearing Abercrombie & Fitch and flip-flops. I've had a similar experience with people I've worked with, been in relationships with, etc. Its things like that that define our limits. The 9/11 hijackers weren't Islamic fundamentalists, abortion clinic bombers and militiamen are not a Christian fundamentalist...people like that have stepped outside the boundaries of civility into a realm darker than anyone needs to know.

My 2 Cents Worth Sep 19th. at 2:01:39 am UTC

Morrighan (Somewhere in the South) Age: 24 - Email

I agree with the first post. Technically, only Christians and other religions with an actual written doctrine can be fundementalists. However I also agree that all religions have the potential for extreme negativity. Honestly, I've seen it in some of the responses to the question. People, while arguing against fundementalism, have been black-balling various Wicca/Pagan/Witchcraft traditions.
Its hard for us, because we *don't* have a set doctrine. We don't have set rules, unless you're specifically Wiccan and the threefold law applies. We are coming from a reanimation of ancient traditions that have been changed, lost, and misinterpreted over the years. So its hard for us to really find common ground. Sometimes, I think, it seems that a fellow practitioner is being extreme, but really its just an attempt to understand something that is over a few thousand years old.
We have to be careful and not be the pot calling the kettle black. We have enormous potential for a very open minded network of various faiths and traditions within Witchcraft. I don't think there are people who are experts on the subject, because of the fact that the information that we have today is conveluted at best. Mostly, Witchcraft is an extremely personal religious or spiritual tradition.
For me to say, "The Goddess has changed my life," may be viewed by some as being a kin to a Baptist praising Jesus. However, it is only that I am admitting my faith. On the same hand, some one telling you that a particular tradition is the only correct tradition is similar to the accusatory dialouge between Catholics and Protestants. So we have a bit of a harder time coming to the table.
Many of us are so anxious to get out of the rut that major religions have thrown us into. We can have a tendency to get blind sided. It is only by looking at both sides of the coin that we are able to extricate ourselves from extremism. That's, of course, true of any religion, but I think we have a real opportunity to put it into practice given our historical problems.

One Pagan Fundamentalist Or Many Sep 19th. at 5:30:18 am UTC

Tyrvald (Santa Clara, CA) Age: 20 - Email - Web

I've only ever met one definite fundamentalist Pagan. He was almost always in the old Ask a Witch chat room on America Online. He wasn't just one of the many bitter Pagans I've met there, who yell at newbies, he was a fundi, and even self proclaimed and proud. His definitions of Paganism, Wicca, and such were all written in stone. Anyone who disagreed was seen by him as his enemy. He made the chat room a very miserable place for almost everyone.

Very strange he was, among Pagans. He was cruel and arrogant. I've been lucky to have never met any Pagan like him since. I've dealt with many evangelical Christians, some very cranky Pagans, Wiccanites, and devil worshipers and Christian magi claiming to be Witches, but no other definate fundamentalist "witches" or Pagans. I'm happy about that.

Those who call themselves "wiccas" and "followers of "wiccan" and believe every Witch to also be such. Yes, they get the noun and the adjective confused.
Those preachy Pagans who insist that every Pagan must follow the modern "wiccan rede", especially as translated to "harm none". Perhaps this form of Wiccanite is fundamentalist, but merely in the lesser sense of the word. Not evil, not stupid, just poorly read and annoying. I actually prefer these over the stupid Wiccanites of definition #1.

By The Book..? Sep 19th. at 8:52:10 am UTC

Hawthorn (east tx) Age: 22 - Email

Where I am from we have many of what we call "Book Wiccans" They form there beliefs completly from what they read in Wiccan texts. Personally I feel books are a great beginning and work well as a refrence. But I believe I can honestly say that a few of these witches have never so much a written an orignal spell or ritual. Also they enjoy refering to themselves as High Priests or Priestesses after they have only studied for a few months, and love to brag about there degrees. They refuse to accept anyone who dosent follow the degree system, and they automaticly assume anyone with any occult interst is a Wiccan. They also have a tendency to buy the most expensive and elaborate looking tools, and they wear about 12 pentagrams in pulic. I don't know if that is a form of fundieism or not, but its most certainly annoying and they set a bad example for other pagans of the area. I chose to end this post now before I starting ranting... well at least before I ranted any more.... :->

Response To Your Question Sep 19th. at 10:37:15 am UTC

Allison (Florida) Age: 40 - Email

"Does religious fundamentalism exist in some Pagan and/or Heathen communities?"

I believe it does, yes.

"Can a closed group or tradition be considered as fundamentalist?"

This has to be judged in an individual case-by-case basis. There are some traditions that, in my observation, are clearly fundamentalist in their methods of practise but if they are happy that way then that is fine by me. I choose to be a solitary so that I do not have to deal with other people's egotism and politics.

"Are there some Pagans and/or Heathens who 'preach' one true Pagan or Heathen way?"

Oh, indeed yes. And I just let them talk while I politely smile and nod and pity them.

"Is resistance to the 'mainstreaming' of Paganism/Heathenism a form of fundamentalism?"

No, quite the contrary actually. This is a difficult religion in a way. It shares the same downfalls with any other religion, but the one thing that Paganism/Heathenism has to deal with that other religions don't is the trend factor. In my observations and experience with people I have noted that there are a great many people who claim to be "Pagan" (or Heathen) who haven't a clue what it's really about and they misuse sacred symbolism, subsequently misrepresenting us. Then there's the ones who never pass up half the opportunity to waffle on about they are the third degree high priest/ess this and ordained that and lineaged from whomever. Those kind of people I do not consider to be Pagan, they are posers on a power trip. And it's precisely these people who want to keep this religion underground because it increases the "coolness" factor of it. The more the religion is veiled in mystery and secrecy the less chance it has to be mainstream. Personally, I would like to see Paganism/Heathenism mainstreamed because I think that a lot of positive things could come of it and these children and teens who genuinely want to follow this path would have more free access to information, training, etc. without legal repercussions from their parents against people who want to help these kids along what is a very positive path.

"How can we approach the preservation of Pagan and/or Heathen spiritual and/or cultural integrity and identity without falling into fundamentalism?"

Well, that's a difficult one to answer. I think a good way to start though is by being tolerant of every tradition of Paganism/Heathenism and respecting them all as part of a collective. Learn from each other rather than criticise each other's methods. Each tradition has its own origins and having said that, there are some that cannot be totally sure of their origins save for a very few preserved manuscripts. There's nothing wrong with studying outside of one's chosen tradition. It can only breed tolerance. :)

"Is fundamentalism even necessarily a 'bad' thing?"

Fundamentalism is ok as long as it is based on historical FACT and not on doctrines that have been written and re-written and edited many times to suit the self-proclaimed elders of the religion. It's nice to know the history of one's belief system, provided the history given is an accurate one. With regards to practise - I think this is where fundamentalism goes awry - especially in a Nature-based religion. People tend to read books and feel that if they do not recreate an ancient ritual down to the very last detail that it won't work. One must move with time here - 3000 years ago things were different and those people had to adapt their practise to fit their resources and environment as did those before them and since. I believe that if one is truly in touch with the Nature and elements around oneself, he/she will be able to very easily adapt because the Nature will guide them and present solutions to questions concerning these

Fundies Sep 19th. at 10:55:15 am UTC

Joy J (Maine) Age: 30 - Email

I agree that without doctrine and/or dogma, written down or otherwise there can't reaally be a fundamentalist pagan in the traditional sense. Are there people out there who think that their personal belief system is the only system that is correct, oh definately.

The times that I have run into people like this I find that they are so much like fundamentalist christians it is almost creepy. They tend to have a set way of doing things and any variant of that way is heresy. They get the same feverish look in their eyes when they zealously expound on how right their beliefs are. They can get almost violently angry when some one should contradict them. Personally I try to avoid people like this.

Are There Pagain Fundamentalists Sep 19th. at 12:34:53 pm UTC

Nitestar Boudicca (Hammond, Louisiana) Age: 49 - Email

Yes, paganism is a broad fold, embracing a great variety of beliefs and practices. It would be pretty hard to define exactly what fundamentalism would be for us, though the first thought that comes to mind is any mindset which says: "My path is the only right and true path". There really is no RIGHT AND TRUE path, for what is right for one is right for another.

Now, we come to the underlying emotion related to the above: intolerance. I know because I struggle with an intolerence towards Christianity every day. But then I am new to the Craft, so perhapst this is just a "phase" in my development. But phase or not, I do struggle with it because I honestly believe that there is NO right and true path for everyone.

Closed Covens and Groups: are they fundamentalist? No, I don't think so. The Burning Times are not so far behind us that everyone in the non-Pagan world is going to embrace us with love, light and understanding. It is frustrating to me to live in rural Louisiana and not know of any open groups, but I really can understand privacy and safety concerns. In some parts of the country and the world in genearal, keeping one's existsence a closely guarded secret is not being fundamentalist; it is good common sense and shows a desire to survive!

As long as pagans try to understand and tolerate others' paths, including those of the non-Pagans, I don't believe there should be a problem with fundamentalism. At least I hope not!

A Questions With Many Layers... Sep 19th. at 5:27:55 pm UTC

Hazel (Regina, SK) Age: 27 - Email

The beautiful thing about Paganism is that one can define one's own path. There are guidelines and basic truths, but within the framework of these there is ample room to play. The lack of dogma, of written laws, and of the assumption that everyone involved believes exactly the same thing is one the reasons that I feel comfortable as a Wiccan.

Of course there are Pagans who preach one true path. Personally, I have never met one, but I have seen evidence of this tendency in a fellow witch who acts shocked every time we add something new to the list of beliefs that we do not share. She is not a fundamentalist, but the trait is there. It is a part of 'us and them'ing. It is the nature of human beings to want what we believe to be correct. We have an innate ability to convince ourselves of our own rightness to the point where everyone else becomes wrong. The majority of us can logically recognise 'what I believe is right for me, but it might not be right for another'. Those who cannot do this become fundamentalists. As a community, we would be deluding ourselves if we thought that pagans and witches were immune to this aspect of human nature.

It is difficult to create and build upon Pagan identity with most practitioners hiding in their basements. I mean no disrespect. It is a function of self-preservation that we have developed this means of protecting ourselves from the fates our predecessors. The burning times are not that far in the past that we can feel perfectly safe proclaiming our beliefs to the world. Therefore, a closed group is not necessarily fundamentalist. To know whether they are or not, it would be required to talk with them and discover what they teach. The problem is that we are not doing ourselves any favours by hiding. It is not impossible to avoid fundamentalism (and, yes, it is a bad thing) while upholding our integrity. What we need to do is stop hiding. There are voices out there, but not enough.

I'm not referring to preaching on the corners or mass recruitment. I am talking about visibility in the communities that we live in. Through indirect means we can educate those people who know nothing by simply treating the subject as everyday life. If your co-workers are discussing Christmas traditions, why not mention some of your own Yule traditions. It is surprising the amount of honest curiousity you will generate, as well as having an excellent opportunity to de-bunk common myths. Not only is mainstreaming possible without jeopardising our spiritual integrity, it can strengthen it.

My only piece of advise would be to those who think being a witch is 'cool' and treat paganism as a fashion trend. If you are going to lay claim to something openly, be prepared to own it. There are many negative people out there as we who have followed this path truthfully can attest to. Walking it requires spiritual fortitude as well as more than a little research and understanding. So don't get into a religious debate with your Christian father-in-law and don't offend a male witch by calling him a warlock.

My Answer: Yes Sep 19th. at 6:36:44 pm UTC

James (Louisiana) Age: 17 - Email

It would be arrogant to say that fundamentalist's do not exist in the pagan community.

I'm not going to say what I would consider a fundie or whatever, I'll just be saying that I am wiccan. I know that am part of no traditional path, but I am not part of any particular non-traditional path either. Eclectic? I don't know about that,either. I've only practiced for five years and, well, I am obviously seeking many answers.

But I do know that I don't feel that I have to please any single group. We all have our own paths to follow and I will be just fine following mine without any other persons approval.

When it all comes down to it, we are all brothers with many of the same basic beliefs. We just have to remember to love one another., how are we ever going to find peace in the mainstream world if non-pagans see us fighting amongst ourselves?

Fundamentalists And Learning Sep 20th. at 2:28:08 am UTC

WInter Moon (Great Falls) Age: 29 - Email

Of course we have fundamentalists in pagan religion and beliefs. Its only natural to defend what you find to be true. I can't call anyone "wrong" anymore because every person is learning what they can in this lifetime. I do enjoy a good philosophical argument every now and then because it makes me think. It makes me defend what I believe and what I've seen to myself, and I learn from it. Even listening to others berate the "evils of witchcraft" or "You don't know what _____ is?" helps me learn (sometimes painfully) what I am and what I am becoming. The universe put these people in your path for a reason. Learn, laugh, or cry foul- Winter Moon

Fundamenta-pagans Sep 20th. at 10:36:40 am UTC

GodIsAWoman (London) Age: 27 - Email

Oh, there certainly are fundamentalist pagans, and ihave been on the receiving end. I won't bore you with the full stories but basically I was told I am an 'armchair pagan' because I don't use mind-altering drugs. I was also told that I couldn't be a pagan because I didn't believe that every plant has its own sentient spirit. Last but not least (this is the funniest) I was told that unless i gave blood to a tree in return for a branch, then I certainly could never be a pagan. So
So there you have it - fundamenta-pagans do exist. Hurrah.

Unfortunately Yes There Are. Sep 20th. at 11:56:38 am UTC

Thaelo (central Illinois) Age: 50 - Email

I tend to find fundies or fanatics of any ilk to be rather irritating. The unfortunate thing with discovering pagan fundies do exist was seeing how their contentious 'more pagan than thou' attitude has caused the local pagan community here to splinter apart and form great rifts between various 'strong personalities' who view themselves as most 'right' in their beliefs. It is one of those well known and silently acknowledged facts here where I live. I've kept myself a solitary for most of the years I have recognized my own spiritual beliefs (about 25-30 years) because I just don't want to be judged by those who consider themselves more perfect, knowledgeable and 'right' in their beliefs. About 2 years ago when I did comment, in the spirit of seeking to bring the community together to share our common beliefs and for celebration, that there were too many closed groups I was severly flamed by several people who didn't even know me! Their primary attack was "who the hell are you to come forward and make this observation?" The truth often hurts, especially when it comes from an outsider looking in. If there existed a spirit of true community it would seem to me the better response would have been to embrace an outsider and work toward building a more open community.
I learned that I will probably continue to remain solitary and silently keep my own spiritual practices because I simply will not deal with fundies or other brands of pagan politics anymore.

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