Why I’m Pagan

We can’t authentically engage with others, unless we’re self-aware, and we can’t truly care for others, if we’re not also caring for ourselves. I occasionally relearn this lesson at work, when I attempt to care for patients for the duration of a twelve-hour shift without drinking enough water, taking a lunch break, or pausing to at least briefly reflect on the thoughts and feelings that have come up for me during the course of the shift. I may make it to clock-out time, but I’m not providing my best nursing care, and I’m trashed the next day.

John Halstead recently called for Paganism to “grow up,” to “shift our gaze from an inward focus, to an outward focus.” I agree with him, that we’re called to balance self reflection and personal practice with service to community, if we want to reach the most developed expression of our Pagan paths. But I think his piece sets up a false dilemma; we can’t do the outer work, if we’re not first firmly rooted in the inner work. And telling people to “grow up” is not actually supportive of their development.

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Several years ago, Patheos challenged bloggers to explain their religious choices in 200 words or less. Pagans of all stripes responded, and I really enjoyed reading the variety of perspectives: Druid, Heathen, Polytheist, Wiccan, Witchy. In the spirit of doing inner work during the dark of the year, I propose that for the month of December Naturalistic Pagans take up the challenge, too. Here’s my contribution in 166 words:

I choose to be Pagan, because I’m happiest and healthiest when I’m outside. I choose to believe that the World is alive, because believing so colors my daily experience with beauty.

I respect my place in the web of ancestors and descendants. I owe my life to the ancestors; may I make them proud. I weave a web for the descendants; may they be well, and may they know love.

I practice magic, because it works. I understand magic to be the use of symbol with intention, the art of changing consciousness at will. I know from experience that when I change my inner, subjective experience, I have the power to change my outer, objective experience, too.

I believe in all the gods. I don’t pretend to know what they are, but “stories that are alive” rings pretty close. Stories have real virtue and power, but not unless they’re told and retold. Humans tell and retell stories; thus the gods are inextricably linked to us.


I’d love to read other Naturalistic Pagan responses. Please feel free to post in the comments. If enough people respond, I’ll make a round-up post at the end of the month.

6 thoughts on “Why I’m Pagan

  1. “I am at a loss to know where, besides among these dissenting young [and old] people and their heirs of the next few generations, the radical discontent and innovation can be found that might transform this disoriented civilization of ours into something a human being can identify as home. They are the matrix in which an alternative, but still excessively fragile future is taking shape. Granted that alternative comes dressed in a garish motley, its costume borrowed from many and exotic sources—from depth psychiatry, from the mellowed remnants of left-wing ideology, from the oriental religions, from Romantic Weltschmerz, from anarchist social theory, from Dada and American Indian lore, and, I suppose, the perennial wisdom. Still it looks to me like all we have to hold against the final consolidation of a technocratic totalitarianism in which we shall find ourselves ingeniously adapted to an existence wholly estranged from everything that has ever made the life of [humans] an interesting adventure.” — Theodore Roszak

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  2. I’m not a Naturalistic or Atheist Pagan, but here’s my two cents anyway other than just agreeing with you how he presents false choices-

    In addition, that in the wake of Kenny Klien, continual apologia for the Frosts in the Neopagan and Occult community, the fact there doesn’t seem to even be a MeToo yet in these Metaphysical Communities yet, the Neopagan and Occult communities continual enabling support for people like Christian Day, some local Witch Wars in my area which have been rather damaging to put it mildly, I think it’s really messed up that anyone much less John Halstead is lecturing people about their obligation to join and serve just any Neopagan group and how bad they are for rejecting Institutional Paganism without even considering the possibility of harm and abuse, much less not even thinking of giving advice about red flags.

    Safety should be considered more important than his respectability politics and from what I gather an intense drive to impose conformity on the Neopagan communities, and I think it’s very clear that he doesn’t care about it, just community for its sake-and that dare I say is a very toxic mindset to promote.


  3. I don’t know where you are located, but #MeToo and serious work to end the indulgence of any kind of sexual harassment or abuse is RIFE in my area’s Pagan community. So I’m not sure about your claim, there.

    As for Halstead’s argument, it isn’t about “respectability politics”. It is for Pagans actually COUNTING FOR SOMETHING in the affairs of the world, here at a time when so much damage is being done and the stakes are truly for our species.

    I am bewildered at the idea that anyone would find this offensive.


  4. If you’ve actually read what I said Green, you’d notice that I wasn’t denying AT ALL that sexual harassment is a big problem in the Neopagan community, but the very opposite, but I have noticed that as a #MeToo in the Neopagan subculture isn’t as big of a thing as it is elsewhere, and I strongly suspect much of it has to do with social pressures within these circles and the Geek Social Fallacies.

    “It is for Pagans actually COUNTING FOR SOMETHING in the affairs of the world”

    That’s what activism is for, no one needs to be a Pagan to make social change.

    So yeah, I stand by my statement that Halstead’s Community For Community’s Sakes mindset is dangerous as hell, and that no one should rush into joining a group because some Neopagan is pressuring them into it and making them feel like they’re antisocial because they want to be cautious, because there’s still tons of corruption in Neopagan leadership.


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