Walking the Path: My Interfaith Journey

A Pagan seminarian's perspective on faith, theology, and facilitating interfaith dialogue.

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In Defense of a Missionizing Paganism

Posted by on in Studies Blogs

 

 

 

***This is a guest post of a friend of mine. I hope you enjoy his perspective.***

 

In Defense of a Missionizing Paganism

I lost a friend to Jesus today.

          The spiritual transformation of “K” was sudden. So sudden that I admit to a rather jaded “which relative is it this time?” reaction to the abrupt flooding of my social media feed with a collection of Evangelical gems ranging in scope from standard social fare about abortion and LGBTQ issues to speculation about the lyrics of Billie Eillish being inspired by Satan. As I sifted through the barrage of spiritual disinformation however, my exasperation turned to shock and then sadness as I realized the poster was a friend of many years who I had served in the military with.

          K was, and is, a good mother with reasonable center-left political leanings. She was raised in a Hispanic-Catholic cultural context. Perhaps most importantly, despite significant stressors such as single parenthood, military and civilian job responsibilities, and school, she always seemed happy. What had brought about such a dramatic spiritual change when, from the outside, everything in K’s life appeared to be well ordered?

          K knows what I am (Wiccan) and so with the aforementioned Billie Eillish example as the catalyst (demonic paranoia has in my experience been a red flag for the more toxic variants of Christianity) I decided to ask her what had brought about her conversion experience. Some parts of her answer were to be expected. She claimed that Jesus found her, that this new relationship with a deity gave her peace, and that she was doing her best to speak publicly about it.

          None of what she said about Jesus was objectionable. I believe that gods, Jesus being one, certainly can call us to their service. Perhaps just as importantly, little of what Jesus said falls short of modern moral thresholds when stripped of its Pauline trappings. How then did this loving person, now in the service of a (theoretically) loving god, arrive at the sort of demonic paranoia that tends to view us as agents of evil and therefore precede our own persecution?

          Some of K’s newfound zealotry can of course be attributed to the Hebrew and Christian texts. While the texts speak to a different historical context, it is easy enough to apply passages about idolatry, magic, and spirits in a polemic against modern culture generally and paganism specifically. I am sure the vitriol of the non-denominational (read: cult) pastors who dominate this cultural milieu haven’t helped either. Yet, while it is easy for us to point a sometimes-justified finger at the Evangelical fringe and their works, I believe it is we who are most indicted in the case of K.

          I had by the time of this conversation with K been out of the military, and thus in a different state than K, for about a year. Since then and before her conversion, K reports that she had begun to practice what she described as “beginner spells” and had found what she believed were “spirit guides” who she described as “threatening” when she began to doubt her magical path. She went on to say that she believed her former guides were in fact demons. While many stories about the demonic are fabricated propaganda meant to villainize us, K has never given me a reason to doubt her honesty or her mental well-being. Without fabricating our own convenient narrative, the simple truth is that a person who I care about and respect took a brief journey into our world and came out with nothing to show for it but terror.

          While I admit that I am pained in my soul that a friend and fellow soldier now sees a fundamental part of my identity as a source of fear and suspicion, my purpose for writing pertains not to me, but to K. There are a few ways in which we might interpret K’s experience. My initial impression was that perhaps she was on the verge of some necessary shadow work and the enthusiasm of her guides was misinterpreted. Equally possible however is that she did in fact encounter something evil. Why should we find such an outcome for a new, empathic, and socially isolated practitioner to be surprising? The world of Spirit is, in this writer’s experience, no more morally upright than the world of flesh. Just as there are good and evil people, there are good and evil spirits. A new and solitary practitioner with doubts seems like an easy target for the latter. In any case, K faced her experiences alone. If she had a teacher, or a coven, or another sort of community to help her contextualize her experiences, would her outcome have been different? I believe it is likely.

          If there was a silver lining to be had in my conversation with K, it is that together we proved civil discourse is still possible in 2019. Though I do not expect our friendship to be the same given the spiritual divide that now stands between us, we both qualified that our mostly gentle criticisms were grounded in concern for the other. It is with reference to this sense of concern that I now address my titular point. Our community insists, almost to the point of pride at times, that we are not a “proselytizing” people. There will be no youths in suit and tie (and perhaps pointed hat, in our case?) going door to door to ask would-be victims if they have heard the good news of the Great God Pan. Curiously, in a community that embraces an eclectic and individualistic understanding of itself, this is one of the few norms I have encountered no exceptions to.

          Yet I must ask, why is this, among so many potentialities, one of our few hard and fast rules? More importantly, who is benefitted by it? Certainly not the Earth that is viewed in mostly utilitarian terms by the Abrahamic majority, certainly not our nation that flirts with theocracy every time it tampers with the rights of women, and definitely not K who I now put before you as a spiritual causality of our own indecision as a community. To be clear, I am as much against the “door to door” model of informing as the next pagan. I do believe however that we have allowed our aversion to proselytizing to become something of a free pass from accountability.

          For you see, our largely self-appointed leaders happily publish books on spell craft, ritual, astral projection, divination and other practices that the stray seeker views with both natural fascination and culturally inherited fear. Gods help the seeker for whom these books work though! We publish, and content ourselves to answering questions if we are sought out, but who is doing the hard work of teaching, and yes, finding our lost sheep? Who will care for the seekers, empaths, and the 1.5 million children of those burned that over the course of two decades have chosen to embrace Pagan ways with little influence, save the written word, from the original cluster of covens and other groups whose numbers were only in the thousands? This is what I mean by missionizing. We do not need to proselytize, but we do need to do a better job of taking care of our own. I believe we also have a responsibility at this point to take the (intellectual) fight to destructive theologies regardless of their origins. While it does thankfully occur with some frequency, we cannot expect people to rise above the moral conditions of their deity. This is a serious problem for everyone when the deity of the majority believes eternal hellfire is a just punishment for the largely arbitrary crime of disbelief. 

          The only reason I can think of for the status quo is our Gardnerian inheritance; the notion that it is through the secrecy of the coven that we will continue to survive. Perhaps such secrecy was necessary for a time. Despite the flaws of our modern politics, we do certainly have more freedom to practice than the covens of the medieval and early modern periods. I will not claim the danger has entirely passed. The masses tend not to look favorably upon those who they perceive to be in league with demons. Yet if safety and convenience are the only reasons for our aversion to missionizing (there is another potentiality, the co-validity of other faiths, this argument is partially correct but beyond the scope of this article) I submit that there are causes worth sacrificing our safety and convenience for.

          In the broader scheme of Paganism, I am no one. I have no storied lineage from an old coven. I am a self-initiated disciple of Scott Cunningham that can charge a sigil or give a reasonably accurate tarot reading on the best of days. The idea of my teaching the craft seems laughable in the face of those better qualified. Yet it does not take an empath to see how many of our people are actively seeking community and suffering in isolation, to say nothing of the suffering of the Earth. We have chosen to make our ways available to the public, and in so doing the Goddess has decided to call her children home. Now we are leaving our younger siblings to flounder about in a stormy sea of dubious literature and educated guesswork. Mother Earth deserves better, our nation can do better, and K needed better. As for me, I will make my stand. When I put down roots in a city, those roots will include a public brick and mortar ministry for all those interested. I hope those of you who are my elders, whether officially or unofficially, will do the same. 

         

 James Bastien

 

 

 

 

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Denora is currently a full-time wife, mother, and chaplain. She is an eight-year veteran of the United States Air Force, an avid writer and blogger, as well as a fire spinner. She is an active member of Circle Sanctuary's Military Ministries team and the Lady Liberty League Military Affairs Task Force. She is also the Ecumenical Program Director for Oak Spirit Sanctuary of Missouri.

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