Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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The Gateway Paganism

Oof: is there anything more tiresome than Wicca-bashing?

Funny thing is, many Wicca-bashers seem to spend more time talking about Wicca than most Wiccans do. They invariably remind me of those bitter people who can't manage to talk about anything but their exes. (Not to mention those tedious Wiccans whose favorite topic is the evils of "Christianity.") Gee: if your new relationship is so good, why are you still obsessing about the old one?

Many of us first come to the Old Ways through Wicca. This makes perfect sense: it's the oldest, largest, and most widespread New Paganism in the English-speaking world. It's certainly not perfect, and for many of us it's not, ultimately, a good fit.

It's characteristically adolescent behavior to define yourself by who (and what) you're not. But in the end, we all need to grow up and start defining ourselves by who (and what) we are instead.

Remember all the self-pitying whinging about “Wiccanate” (how this infelicitous coinage differs from "Wiccan," I'm not sure) privilege a few years back? Tedious, tedious, tedious.

If Wiccans are privileged in Pagandom—which hardly seems axiomatic to me—it's because they've been the first to do the long, hard work of breaking virgin ground. They've tilled the soil in which the rest of us are now planting our pagan garden. Surely a more fitting—and honorable—response from those of us who have come through Wicca would be one of gratitude instead.

So, for me, let me say: Thank you, Wicca, for everything that you've given me.

You didn't end up my life-long love, but you did help me take my first steps in the art of loving.

For that I am—and will be—forever grateful.


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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


  • Murphy Pizza
    Murphy Pizza Monday, 01 October 2018


    Thank you for this. I'm also weary of Wicca bashing...tho maybe as a result there will be a resurgence by folks who wish to be rebellious, or who are simply interested in old style old religion.

    Btw it's been my observation based on research that if there is any group in Paganistan getting too much space in the room its Heathenry...I'm getting vikinged-out here...

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Monday, 01 October 2018

    Thanks, Murphy. Personally, I wouldn't begrudge the heathens their moment in the sunlight too vociferously. They bring some important contributions to the conversation: most importantly (to my thinking, anyway) the insight that paganism requires a cultural grounding. In my opinion--along with its lack of mythology and anemic pantheon--Wicca's lack of grounding in a particular culture is one of its primary weaknesses.

    Of course, straddling the hedge between witchery and heathenry as I do, I suppose that's what I would think, isn't it? My own Craft I see as Thedish (i.e. modern Theodish): tribal. I always say that we're too witchy for the heathens, and too heathen for the witches.

    Life is full of pain. ;-)

  • Murphy Pizza
    Murphy Pizza Monday, 01 October 2018

    Ah, but Heathenry's cultural grounding is just as mythic and problematic -- many of us in academe have demonstrated this -- Heathens just believe they are more culturally grounded than Wiccans.
    Truth -- Heathenry is going through exactly what Wicca did about 20 years ago -- now that really good social science and historical work is being don in the movement, we know its much more modern and constructed than many practitioners believe.
    But that's not my issue... not really an issue. I'm just a cranky Italian/Greek- America girl. But you gotta admit, here in MN, you can't swing a dead cat without smacking a Heathen. Its more a comment of the makeup up the region.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Tuesday, 02 October 2018

    Back when I first came into this, I wanted to know: Where are all the songs? The proverbs? The dances? The lullabies? The recipes? The folk-ways? And there weren't any.

    (Well, there were two songs: John Barleycorn--which I already knew--and Greensleeves, which was supposed to be about the Goddess, though I couldn't figure out how. Now that I've been around the Maypole a few times and know about unrequited love, I see what they meant.)

    Now, of course, we have all those things that I was looking for back then, and more; it was just a matter of finding them--or making our own.

    Hence this blog.

  • Murphy Pizza
    Murphy Pizza Tuesday, 02 October 2018

    Indeed. And thanks for it.

    I'm always reminded of Morning Glory Zell's quote in Drawing Down the Moon, where she notes that we weren't sung the old songs and told the old stories... and she added, "We have to start from scratch."

    Or the last part of a poem i always return to:
    "But remember, Make an effort to remember. Or, failing that, invent."

    And there's nothing wrong or less legitimate about that. :)

  • Meredith Everwhite
    Meredith Everwhite Monday, 01 October 2018

    I would almost consider Theosophy to be the oldest "new Paganism", over Wicca. In fact, Gardner was certainly influenced by Theosophy and wouldn't have had as much to go on & stitch together were it not for the work of Madame Blavatsky, Charles Leadbeater, and other occultist and Theosophists of the late 19th century. They were spiritual pioneers in bringing Eastern (among others) esoteric knowledge and understanding of certain mysteries and ritual practices to the West, very much of which found its way into Wicca. Many seem to forget or never even realize how much older, more established and widely practiced Theosophy was, and how much it influenced Wicca. And it's still very much contemporary enough to be considered part of "New Paganism".

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Monday, 01 October 2018

    What's your working definition of Paganism, Meredith?

    Being neither ethnic, polytheist, nor particularly concerned with the natural world, Theosophy just doesn't "smell" pagan to me.

    Insofar as Theosophy may be said actually to be a religion at all--my understanding is that Theosophists differ on the question--if anything, I'd classify it as a Dharmic religion, i.e. in the same category as Hinduism and Buddhism.

  • Meredith Everwhite
    Meredith Everwhite Tuesday, 02 October 2018

    It doesn't "smell" Pagan to you...ok. Well first of all it sounds a bit like you're mostly arguing semantics. Murphy Pizza has already made a good point by calling it a religious system - true, and so far, so fair to thus consider it Paganism as it explores spirituality and magic outside of an "Abrahamic" context. Perhaps it simply covers more ground than what many modern practitioners consider "Paganism". But more to the point, the fact remains that several different mysteries, traditions, practices, beliefs etc that were and are key to Theosophy were adopted into Wicca by Gerald Gardner, who was directly influenced by it, so it can't be too far off.

    What is especially "ethnic" about Wicca, which is quite a hodgepodge? And I beg your pardon, but the fact that you claim that Theosophy is not "particularly concerned with the natural world" illustrates how very little you really know about it. What else then is it concerned with?? For instance, Madame Blavatsky wrote extensively on "Insights into the Invisible World of Elementals"...that sounds most concerned with the natural world to me. It is my belief that Wicca would not exist without the first-established & groundbreaking Theosophy, therefore it deserves to be at least more thoroughly examined and considered, at the very least, a key contributor to "new Paganism", and considered an older and more far-reaching system than Wicca.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Tuesday, 02 October 2018

    No, I'm not particularly well-informed about Theosophy. I fully agree with you that Theosophy was instrumental in laying the groundwork for the later-emerging New Paganisms. I'm just not convinced that, elementals or no, it's pagan in the sense that I generally use the word.

    My observation has been that fully-realized paganisms are ethnic religions as well: i.e., associated with a particular people or group of peoples. That Wicca is not at present an ethnic religion is merely an indicator that it is a still-emergent paganism. In time--if it survives--I would expect it to become an ethnic religion: the tribal religion of the Tribe of Witches.

    We'll see.

  • Meredith Everwhite
    Meredith Everwhite Sunday, 07 October 2018

    I understand that point as well, however we are still speaking in terms of NEW Paganism, which I think makes allowances for a certain system not really being "fully realized" or "ethnic", specifically.

    Paganism is still and actually always has been a fairly broad term, as the Romans originally applied it to more than one ethnic group, didn't they? And, again, that argument seems, as I'm understanding it at least, to be more in terms of older, more traditional and "authentic" Paganism (which Wicca is not, historically speaking), not New Paganism.

    Plus, as a final compelling point, I just have to share what I very accidentally just stumbled upon, that is Eliphas Levi making pointed reference to "pagan Theosophists" in his "Transcendental Magic". So it certainly still seems a fair and logical conclusion that Theosophy is simply complex and encompassing enough to include or be considered new Paganism, and therefore the oldest of such.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Monday, 08 October 2018

    Yes, as New Pagans operating under non-optimal circumstances and having to re-learn as we go, we're not yet the pagans that we need to become, and we're going to make our share of mistakes. (I know I certainly have.) Ultimately, perfectionism is its own punishment.

    The Levi quote intrigues me. Does his Transcendental Magic precede or post-date the establishment of the Theosophical Society? The term was certainly current before the TS, and I'm wondering if he could be using it here in that larger, more general sense of "god-wisdom."

  • Murphy Pizza
    Murphy Pizza Monday, 01 October 2018

    I'll help --
    a theosophy is a religious system -- its a method by which practitioners can work to know the existence of divinity or the soul. Divination, study, systemic practices are all theosophies.
    The Theosophical Society -- Theosophy -- was a club formed by folks who dedicated themselves to the proving scientifically the validity of religion. The Eastern-ish flavor comes from a) an ironic response to Victorian British Colonization, where Eastern religions were disappearing under the weight of Christianization, and Theosophy became interested in the exoticism and the reviving/preserving of those religions and b) Madame Blavatsky's wild tale of learning at the knee of Tibetan Masters. There's nothing Pagan about it -- one can see the Dharmic and Western Christian mish-mosh -- but it is considered, in its first attempts at universalism, to be the earliest New Age Movement.
    Boring lecture over. :)

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Tuesday, 02 October 2018

    Me, I love "elevator lectures."

  • Aline "Macha" O'Brien
    Aline "Macha" O'Brien Tuesday, 02 October 2018

    Thank you! You confirm with eloquence something I've been telling folks for years:

    "Many of us first come to the Old Ways through Wicca. This makes perfect sense: it's the oldest, largest, and most widespread New Paganism in the English-speaking world. It's certainly not perfect, and for many of us it's not, ultimately, a good fit.
    "If Wiccans are privileged in Pagandom—which hardly seems axiomatic to me—it's because they've been the first to do the long, hard work of breaking virgin ground. They've tilled the soil in which the rest of us are now planting our pagan garden."

    I make this point in nearly every interview I do, whether secular, interfaith (more accurately "inter-religious"), or Pagan.

    Murph, Heathenry isn't as prominent here in the SF Bay Area. It's here but not dominant. Druids are at least as common, if not more so. I find these regional differences in Paganisms really fascinating. Hillfolk Hoodoo, for instance.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Tuesday, 02 October 2018

    It's going to be fascinating to see what all this looks like 100 years from now. It's almost enough to make one hope that the reincarnationists are onto something.

    Oh, for a latter-day Pausanias to chronicle the many-colored ways of the pagan world of the future!

  • Murphy Pizza
    Murphy Pizza Tuesday, 02 October 2018

    Oh, I in MN, though, lots and lots.of Heathens. Many of.them polyaffiliate with other trads, like Witchcraft and Druidry, which complicates things...but so many folks here looking for "roots" in Pagan traditions end up identifying Heathen in some way or another...regional differences are indeed fascinating...

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