Modern Paganism has no unifying characteristics. That’s a bold statement and not entirely accurate, so let’s think about it this way. What are 5 qualities you attribute most Pagans of sharing? How does that look on a material scale?
Got it? Good, hang onto those and leave a comment below with your 5, because we’re going to come back to them in a second.
New Agers, Wiccans, Heathens, and all who practice under the great tree of Paganism or Witchcraft are a diverse lot with, likely, more differences than similarities. A lurk fest or a quick graze across the various social media platforms will show crystal and gemstone hordes, tarot/oracle deck mania, and an assortment of herbal concoctions and plant matter held hostage in pretty apothecary bottles. There almost seems to be a misconception that to practice means to have a full Witch’s cupboard of things on hand.
Now, just for comparison, here’s my list and this is just a reflection of my top values and preferences but my top 5 are as follows:
It’s easy to dismiss my following argument by saying that all practitioners have their own path and the reason there’s only a general consensus about certain issues is due to that fact. There are covens, groups, and denominations within Paganism that have their own creeds, rules, or laws.
But on the general overarching scale of Paganism are there NO attributes we can say we all share?
Let me put into another perspective the ‘need for stuff’ and by stuff, I mean the material possessions we tend to buy for our practice, regardless of whether we’re a Wiccan, Heathen, Gardnerian, Dianic, or Witch, etc. It doesn’t matter which branch you sit on in the great big tree of Paganism or within the New Age community, you’re buying things for that craft/practice.
Now, for a quick disclaimer. I am in no way trying to shame people with my opinions or beliefs. This post and my blog are primarily a way for me to work out my understanding of the world and interactions with it (like everyone else on the planet). I’m also someone who has purchased stuff for my practice and but then began wondering about the consequences on an ecological scale.
With that out of the way, my next question is this. How do you define spirituality/religion? Is there really a difference between the two, especially in terms of the end result?
For me, this has been a long struggle and not an easy one by no means. I turned to Wicca when I was a teenager and Witchcraft shortly thereafter. No, I don’t mean I practiced. I mean on a theoretical scale, as a means to try and make sense of my feelings and beliefs about the world. I’d also be lying, if I didn’t say the society and culture I live in haven’t pushed me to seek ways that empower the feminine spirit as being something other than subservient, a tool for procreation, or a weak lamb that needs tending.
If I’m being perfectly honest, I may have come at this in an almost backwards way. Most teenage girls will jump into Wicca and Paganism (and all things black eyeliner) as an experimental phase, then grow out of it. Some don’t (raises hand), some will continue to practice and carry their ways with them into adulthood.
Eventually, at some point, they’ll begin to take their practice less from a practical stage and into a theoretical one. This, theoretical stage is when they begin asking the bigger and deeper questions about why they’re doing what they’re doing. Some will use the term ‘shadow work’ to reference this kind of period but I don’t think even that phrase fully captures what I’m talking about.
Enter, philosophical dialogue with self…ethics and morality have also joined the chat. This can take a lot of different directions, one of which, almost invariably, is the research into the historical perspective and relevance of certain practices.
Now, if you’re culture or spirituality draws from a society that wasn’t totally wiped out by Catholicism and Christianity. Congratulations! (And I mean that with the UTMOST sincerity, your people and their ways have survived, they now endure through you.) Truly, it’s a beautiful moment when you realize you’ve picked up a torch that’s long struggled and has throughout the ages flickered weakly in the darkness of man’s soul but still has continued to persevere as a beacon, to provide meaning and hope in a difficult world.
The ultimate end goal of religion, or spirituality, is to make life not only bearable but to inspire you to live as a better human being. One of the driving forces that helped me to stay with Paganism is the belief that man was not made to dominate the Earth or given “dominion” over the land and all its creatures. That life is cyclical, not just on the scale of time, life and death, the seasons, but that humanity is very much just a small piece of nature. On the grand cosmic scale, we probably couldn’t comprehend the smallness of our existence.
So, when I say that at a certain point those of a Pagan practice move from the practical aspects to the theoretical, I mean they contemplate more deeply their values and existential matters. Being Pagan and escaping the dogma that is monotheistic religions doesn’t excuse that part of the human experience that searches for a deeper meaning and explanation in their lives.
Now, returning to our 5 things that are generally or universally applicable to Paganism, aside from the general fringe of society that most exist at, I’d say the lack of unity is probably our biggest. You’d actually have an easier time defining Paganism by what it’s not rather than by what we share as a whole.
Things we do seem to share is the apparent materialism we display to fill our need for meaning through crystals and gemstones mined out of the Earth, altar items, and other statuary made from petroleum or faux-brass, herbs unsustainably harvested, thousands of plants culled for a single drop of essential oils, and divination tools that we never think to question what they’re made from.
The desire to ‘manifest’ and use your own power for wish-fulfillment in conjunction with the universe to affect change are frequent discussions on YouTube and various other platforms. Not so, the ethics, principles, and value system behind their craft. This, I believe, can be explained by a major tenet of Wicca and Witchcraft that comes from the Witches Pyramid, “To Keep Silent.”
The Witches Pyramid isn’t entirely without merit either, ‘To Keep Silent” is just as much about preserving the integrity and strength of spell work as it is about privacy and safety. It may be 2022, but a recent lawsuit following the harassment and eventual termination of a Panera bread employee who brought up that they were Pagan to their manager, is proof enough of that.
The ultimate question that I want my fellow Pagans and Witches to ask is this, does the spiritual benefits, peace, or Divine connection you receive outweigh your ecological responsibility?
Not an easy question, and it’s certainly one I struggle with regularly both in a theoretical context and a practical one. It’s also a struggle I don’t see a lot of other Pagans openly discuss regularly, or at the very least it’s something that acts as a secondary topic to spirituality.
It’s not as if there aren’t alternative options to the tools and materials used in Pagan practices though. As mentioned before, if you’ve entered your theoretical stage then you’ve probably researched the historical origins of different cultures or Pantheons. If so, then you know it’s highly unlikely that the ancestors of these practices ever had access to things like Lapis Lazuli in Ireland.
People from these cultures would have sourced items locally and made them themselves from wood, stone, or other textile materials, materials they had access to at the time. Which is something we've disassociated from today because we have the internet and overnight shipping.
Whatever tenets, ethical codes, or laws you believe in they should reflect in your spiritual practice and not the other way around. If you’re just using magical systems and spiritual tools to make yourself feel better without seeking deeper meaning behind the use of these tools, then you’re just spiritually bypassing. Religion and spirituality are meant to help provide a context for psychological wounds, emotional issues, and acceptance of existential dilemmas, they themselves are tools to help you improve as a person.
If you’re consciously participating in the stripping of the land and Earth for your spiritual happiness then I’d ask that you seriously reconsider, weigh your spiritual goals with your Earthly principles and values in a way that’s integrated into a more holistic way of life.