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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Proselytizing and the Limits of Hospitality

 Q: What's the difference between a Jehovah's Witness and a Wiccan?

A: Three Watchtowers.


The Jehovah's Witness stood at the door, holding up a copy of The Watchtower. My mouth literally fell open when I saw the title.


Isis Is Still Being Worshiped.

In this very room, as a matter of fact, I thought.

“I don't have time to talk, and I can't give you any money,” I told her, “but I'll be happy to take a look at your literature if you leave it here.”

Turned out to be an anti-Catholic tirade. Boy, was I ever disappointed.

Proselytizers. I hates 'em. Is there anything so non-pagan as a missionary?


I'm a pagan, and one of our people's most important cultural values is hospitality. I try to maintain the highest standards of hospitality towards guests in my home that I possibly can. But I draw the line at proselytizers.

My friend and colleague Cei Serith holds that hospitality rules apply even to roving JWs who show up uninvited on the doorstep.

Well, probably Cei is a better person than I am. He may even be a better pagan than I am, too. Well, let him listen, if he will. I'm sorry, but I just can't.

In my book, proselytizing is a vile breach of hospitality. It's like walking into someone's house and taking a shit on the table: it's unconscionable. The kicker is, that the proselytizers don't even realize how rude they're being. The laws of hospitality apply to everyone, yes, but I'm afraid there's only so far I can go. That's how we went down in the first place.

When someone comes into your house and pulls a gun on you, do the laws of hospitality still apply?

The paganisms are ultimately tribal religions (like the Hinduisms and Judaism, for that matter: two other non-proselytizing religions), and they're not for everybody. When the repairman comes to fix the plumbing in the temple bathroom, I cover the images and put the holy things away. Some things are not for everybody's eyes.

So far as I'm concerned, the Zuñi elders have the final word here. “How can they expect us to take their religion seriously,” they ask, “when they throw it away as if it weren't worth anything?”

A JW came to a friend's house.

“See that?” my friend said, pointing to the mezzuza on the doorpost. “This is a Jewish household. We have our own religion; we're not interested in yours.”

The JW looked thoughtful. “Jews?” she said. “Oh, there's a lot about Jews in the Bible.”

My friend started to laugh.

“You're damn right there is, lady,” she heard herself say. “We wrote it!”


In its arrogant assault on spiritual autonomy, it seems to me that all proselytizing—no matter how well-intentioned—must necessarily in the end be accounted hostile (if not downright violent) behavior.

And that's why we need those extra Watchtowers.


The Prospect Park Witch's Hat Tower (1913), shown above, stands on the highest point in Hennepin County, Minnesota (N 44° 58.125 W 093°). Designed by Frederick William Capelen, it is one of Minneapolis' most distinctive landmarks, and has been the site (as one would expect) of pagan ritual since the late 70s. It figures prominently in Emma Bull's urban elves fantasy, War for the Oaks.







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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.


  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven Wednesday, 12 August 2015

    I get a lot of that sort of folk here in Oregon (back in California, we lived in a remote area, so we never saw them.) My reaction is always to say "I'd love to learn more about your religion, I'll take your magazine. Would you like to learn more about mine?" And then I hand them a copy of Witches&Pagans, thank them for their time, and shut the door.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Wednesday, 12 August 2015

    Ah, the "fire with fire" approach. Seems like everyone's got at least one good story. I'd love to hear more. Folks?

  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Wednesday, 12 August 2015

    I had a co-worker who's mother used to date a Jehovah's Witness he complained that they never read beyond the book of Genesis.

    My Dad used to talk to them. They stopped coming around after he died. I may not have been all that polite myself, I'm a stay at home Unitarian Universalist. Mom was a go to church Presbyterian.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Thursday, 13 August 2015

    I know plenty of folks who regard proselytizer-baiting as an intermural sport. Gods forbid I should interfere with anyone's exercise, but in my later middle age I find myself increasingly unwilling to waste words on those who can't be bothered to listen.

    As convert-seekers never do. Why should they, when they already have all the answers?

  • Holli Emore
    Holli Emore Thursday, 13 August 2015

    Oh my goodness! Steven, I think you have me mixed up with someone else. I do not feel the slightest obligation to listen to proselytization, which is considered verboten by the interfaith community. Heck, I don't even answer the door when it's Jehovah's Witnesses, and my hospitality has some pretty definite limits, too. Took me half a lifetime to figure out my boundaries, and I'm stickin' to 'em ;)

  • Holli Emore
    Holli Emore Thursday, 13 August 2015

    Oh, and I find "proselytizer-bating" rather immature and pointless.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Thursday, 13 August 2015

    Apologies, Holli, I could have sworn that was you. (I can distinctly remember thinking: "She's nuts, but talk about gracious.") Ah, the mutability of memory. I've made changes accordingly, so this exchange may well make no sense at all to those that read hereafter.

  • Holli Emore
    Holli Emore Thursday, 13 August 2015

    LOL You are a dear :) We actually have a printed list of "rules" that we put at each place when we do an interfaith meetup, and one of them is that proselytizing will get you escorted to the door :)

  • Holli Emore
    Holli Emore Thursday, 13 August 2015

    Welcome to the Midlands Interfaith Meetup!

    Participation Guidelines

    We’ll announce the topic and/or guest for the evening at 6:30. We recommend that you order your food as soon as possible since we start discussion about 6:30.

    The facilitator will introduce the topic for the night with a question. After this introduction, all are invited to participate by sharing comments and/or questions of your own.

    Please limit your comments to no more than two minutes. A facilitator will call on people, if needed, e.g., if many try to speak at once or we have a very large crowd.

    Allow others to express their beliefs and practices in the terms that they choose, not attempting to reframe their beliefs in a way that makes us more comfortable.

    Accept that at times people disagree. This does not imply a personal slight, or even conflict.

    Practice the art of inclusive language. For example, when discussing spiritual matters, we often frame our statements with phrases such as, “in my tradition,” or “as I understand it,” or “in my opinion,” as a way of indicating that we do not claim to speak for others when expressing beliefs or feelings.

    Interfaith occasions are never the place to proselytize for one’s own religion. It’s perfectly appropriate to invite others to visit your services and events, but advancing your religion as a preferred alternative is highly disrespectful.

    At 7:45 PM, the facilitator will begin to draw the discussion to a close. If necessary, the facilitator will say how many more people have time for a comment, or point to the one, two or three people who may speak in the remaining time.

    Thank you for attending!

  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven Thursday, 13 August 2015

    Holli et al; I don't consider what I'm doing to be proselytizer-baiting: I'm just returning the favor. Who knows, maybe a secretly dissatisfied Witness will find the Goddess through the pages of the magazine I offer. (I can't tell you how many of my readers have said exactly that: that the came across one of our magazines "by accident" and their lives were changed. After all, *I* was one of those evangelical Christians once-upon-a-time. (Although I never did the door-to-door gig.)

  • Holli Emore
    Holli Emore Thursday, 13 August 2015

    I agree with you, Anne. I took Steven's reference to be about Pagans who like to get into long arguments with, e.g., evangelical Christians about Bible texts and the like. I don't think anyone was ever the least bit persuaded or changed by such conversation, but they do notice whether we are compassionate or not.

  • Michele
    Michele Thursday, 13 August 2015

    I actually find them kind of creepy. They walk around in pairs, two young men in white shirts and black pants, nametags, and a black backpack which no doubt holds a few extra copies of their book to give away. They always come on weekdays... which if you are a stay-at-home mom makes them the perfect cover for nefarious purposes if a couple guys wanted to find a way into a house. Nope, no hospitality here.

  • beth steptoe
    beth steptoe Friday, 14 August 2015

    i live deep in the 'bible belt' and they stop by every 8 to 12 months to make sure i'm still here i guess. They are never invited into my home. i'm an empath and my 'cave' is my escape from the constant bombardment of outside energy. Our conversations take place on the outside step. But each time i've been firm, but polite. I'm not interested in their religion, but i can appreciate that these young people are trying to make a difference in the world. With genuine appreciation i decline their offers to help me with yard work or to bless my home. I send them away, wishing them well. My most recent visit from them, they told me they were conducting a survey. I am all about helping the younger generations learn, so i obliged them. It wasnt until the 3rd question that i realized i had fallen for a ploy. But i answered their questions with honesty. It was mildly amusing when my pagan belief based answers weren't in their script. They left somewhat confused, to say the least.

  • Jenn
    Jenn Friday, 14 August 2015

    I was stalked by JWs in my area for several months. We live very rurally, but they get out to us somehow. I handled it similarly to many of the commenters, I offered to take their literature to read later, but told them I already had my own religion, but like to learn about others' beliefs. We got into a discussion and I told them I was pagan. When I told them, they literally jumped back like they had been burned! I think they made it their mission to convert me because they kept coming back!

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Saturday, 15 August 2015

    I'm sorry to hear that door-to-door religion-peddling isn't just an urban problem.

    Personally, I try to be as polite and as brief as possible. I don't feel that I owe them any personal information about who I am or how I see things. Feeding the stray dog just makes it come back. Why wouldn't it?

    Of course, it probably also helps that my doorbell hasn't worked for years. Bwa ha.

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