The Ethics of Pagan Childrearing

I just saw someone I follow named Althaea post this, and it was a culmination of qualms I have had with many of the older (usually cis women) pagans who choose to raise their children in the “pagan way”.

So let’s get into this post, keeping in mind that this is obviously my point of view and not something I’m going to actively enforce as if I were a dictator. I’m just pointing out a flaw and a danger here.

The first thing I’d like to get out of the way is the patently fake-seeming way the post is written. This tidbit in particular seems too convenient for me, but feel free to prove me wrong:

One of my teachers, upon hearing that we were raising our then 2 children in our ways, told me how she wished she had. She cried as she told me how it had done nothing but teach her son to always be searching, to never dare to commit, to persevere. It affected all aspects of his life. (And she was not the only of my older & elderly teachers/mentors who shared similar experiences.)

Another quote from her caption on her Instagram post:

I saw firsthand how raising your child with no spiritual/religious structure caused them serious harm.

This is unbelievably and patently privileged. Any gay or trans person could tell you that religious parentage in fact can do grave harms (see: conversion therapy). A Christian woman who forced her son into conversion therapy for his gayness now feels immense guilt at his suicide. So it’s dangerous to make that simplification – religion isn’t always benevolent!

Well, wait a minute, are kids healthier and better off with religion? There are studies being done on this, to which Slate has good responses:

“All that talk of snake-inspired subterfuge, planet-cleansing floods, and apocalyptic horsemen might hamper kids’ ability to differentiate between fantasy and reality—or even to think critically…’The problem with certain religious beliefs,’ according to Bloom, ‘isn’t that they are incredible (science is also incredible) and isn’t that they ruin children’s ability to distinguish between fantasy and reality. It’s that they are false.’ That’s the problem that undergirds pretty much every study about religion and happiness: Even if religion can make you happy, that happiness often requires us to buy into fantasies. It’s no coincidence that the most statistically significant mental health difference between religious and secular children arises between the age of 12 and 15, when nondevout kids go through the existential crises of adolescence while religious kids can dig deeper into their trench of piousness. This mental health bump disappears in adulthood, when religious people—perhaps because they’re operating in the real world—aren’t measurably happier or nicer than their secular brethren (unless they live in a country that favors believers and ostracizes atheists).”

So what exactly is she doing wrong?

Well, first off, teaching kids how to ward is forcing your definition of how the world works! Not everyone wards! I’ll get more into that in the next section. Secondly, perpetuating the non-critical acceptance that what you see is real (i.e. apparitions and spirits) is dangerous for mental health. If these kids ever hallucinate, they will think they are seeing spirits and won’t seek medical help first. Most importantly, there seems to be minimal choice for the kids who are raised under her.

The middle boy resists more strongly. But, he resists in a way that betrays his heart. He may choose to not participate in a celebration for our Lady but he will ask for help in crafting offerings for a Deity to Whom he’s been drawn since 3yo.

This is so weird, and even sounds untrue to me. This kid’s desire to worship someone else should be taken more seriously, on the one hand, but the reason why he even considered doing it in the first place is almost 100% because of the way his mom makes him and his siblings participate in rituals.

Religious indoctrination may involve free choice, but not the free choice of the kids. It is solely the free choice of the parents that determines what values the children will have as adults and how they will view the world.

What should she do instead?

What any pagan parent should do does not differ from what any parent should do. Acceptance of the child as they are is a place to start, instead of trying to mold them into images of yourself. Furthermore, it is a good rule of thumb to teach children to be accepting of different cultures’ beliefs. I again emphasize the need to let the children decide for themselves. Gender and religion are both incredibly intimate, individualized aspects of identity that parents should not be meddling with.It concerns me that I can already see how these children will be messed up after being raised like this, and as a fellow pagan I feel it imperative to call out this behavior. I have already met a few people raised by hippie-era Wiccans who are going off the rails with their practices and UPGs. Can we please avoid continuing that cycle?

Let them be independent, learn, and grow, gods damn it. Giving your kids space to be themselves helps them exist better in the world. I

 

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The Inherent Problems with Wicca

This is an ongoing thought of mine. Full disclosure, I was a secular Wiccan years ago and then drifted towards eclecticism and then Hellenic paganism.

Historical inaccuracy

The Burning Times are most often held up by Wiccans. I think there is a general trend, emphasized amongst neo-Wiccans, to not do any research or reading outside of Llewelyn (which is widely known as being inaccurate). Another problem is the assertion that Wicca is an ancient religion when Gerald Gardner created it in the 1950s.

Traditional Wicca vs. Neo-Wicca

There is also the issue of Wicca being an initiatory, secretive religion which has become warped and watered down into an appropriative mess. I will get more into that later, but due to this there are a lot of differences between ‘trad’ Wiccans and neo-Wiccans in theology and attitude, in my experience. This post will mostly be about neo-Wicca since that is what I was (and therefore am most familiar with) and the discourse that dominates the online pagan/witch communities.

All-too-common Racism

The distinction between ‘white’ and ‘black’ magic is racist, or eurocentric at best. The concept of black as a color being evil, dark and scary is a very culture-specific idea. I argue that the distinction between ‘harmful’ and ‘positive’ magic is nonexistent.

The more oft-discussed, obvious example of Wiccan racism is in micro- or macro-aggressions and violence, as well as cultural appropriation. Soft polytheism (seeing all Gods as facets or manifestations of the god or goddess) is harmful to marginalized communities because it devalues and deprioritizes their beliefs. Context becomes meaningless, history is negated and the Western, white theology becomes the only acceptable way to view reality (as opposed to accepting that some theologies or views are inherently harmful).

Inherent Misogyny

This is one I think about often and wish more people would critique. Wiccans and Wiccan-authored correspondences in magic tend to have very archaic sexist notions of gender. ‘Feminine’ crystals are receptive, emotional, nurturing. ‘Masculine’ crystals are active, aggressive, passionate. The harm in perpetuating these stereotypes in any other medium is shunned for good reason, so why continue it in Wicca? Or any magic, for that matter? Another part of this is the Blessed Be/fivefold kiss, and general Wiccan focus on fertility and birth, as well as the (artificially created!) roles of the goddess. Women do not exist to make babies – as many point out, often women can’t or don’t want to have children. Being able to have children does not make anyone a woman either. The focus on emotion and fertility is something that most Wiccans should want to veer away from (given how many feminist Wiccans I’ve seen), but for most it passes over their heads. For those who argue Wicca can be conducted without this — I posit that is difficult, if not impossible. The great rite and such are mired in misogyny and womb-worship such that it is hard to imagine a Wiccan without an athame (even if they don’t conduct ritual sex, there’s simulated hetero-sex!). I don’t think it is surprising given that a cishet man made the religion. He is rather obviously a creep who is obsessed with uteruses and sex, as can be seen in the Great Rite and so forth.

Inherent Transphobia/Homophobia

This one is a little less obvious. The founder of Wicca, Gardner, was a homophobe (google it!) and the emphasis on the womb and fertility is very exclusive to trans and gay people. Obviously the community itself has issues as well (see: Dianic Wicca).

 

Conclusion: I can’t tell people to stop practicing Wicca (although sometimes I wish I could) since it is a popular religion after all. But there needs to be serious research and reflection done by those who are Wiccan or are looking into it. Perhaps this way some more theological dialogue can happen as well.

The Lie of Neutrality

Many pagan groups like to avoid the topic of politics to avoid controversy, as if politics doesn’t still leak in and as if politics were some distant, separable part of life that doesn’t at all affect how we practice.

This is ridiculous considering how politics permeates our lives – social media is an obvious example, but a more immediate one is legislation or the enlivening of white supremacists as a result. As a result, I argue we are mandated to speak on politics no matter what context.

In order to address the harmful ways our religions have been and are being used in the political arena via imperialism or white nationalism, we must confront bigotry and oppression in the context of our faiths. I admire the work the Troth does, I hope it is the start of a wider trend of confronting hate in paganism.

Magick and Hellenic Polytheism

In light of recent events showing YSEE’s homophobia, I was looking into another major group, Elaion. On their Magic and mysticism page from 2004 by ‘Carolyn’, there are some interesting points made, often quite poorly. Here are my answers to them.

Of course one is always taught that magic works in the most natural way possible, so if you are performing a spell, be sure to also work for your goal in ‘mundane’ ways too. Apply for that job, and then work your spell. When the job is yours, do you have magic to thank or your other efforts? And if the spell only provided confidence, that does not support the reality of magic.

This is how magick works, according to a good chunk of witches I’ve spoken to. I’m somewhere near this mindset as well. If you expect levitation or such, then all Carolyn does is show her gullibility and lack of solid points. This is what we call a reach, in my opinion. Not to mention that there is more than one theory of magick, so her not knowing this means she’s criticizing something she only grazed the surface of!

In Homer (and in the Homeric Hymns), men do not know when they are being affected by Gods, even when the Gods are indeed directly in front of them. Only ‘divine Odysseus’ (as he is called by Homer) has knowledge of Athena’s aid, a testament to his true heroic nature. But not all men are heroes – that is what sets the hero apart is his greatness compared to most men.

This is a very uncritical way of taking the myths. Do the good people at Elaion make it a standard to take Homer word for word, even when he contradicts Hesiod or other writers? Even if I did take the myths literally, this seems to imply that Odysseus is the only ‘real’ hero. Sketchy.

 

I hope you all enjoyed this quick post!

 

Shub-Niggurath; Racist? Lovecraft, Racism and the Etymology of the”black cloud”

WAR , POLITICS , CULTURE

Shub-Niggurath

Shub-Niggurath seems to be the source of a lot of debate regarding H.P. Lovecraft’s racist views and whether they had any influence on this deity’s naming. However, this debate seems to be missing the point. They are focusing purely on the name without considering what it actually is as an entity: “the black goat in the woods with a thousand young”. Each part of that name gives us some idea of HPL’s intentions and the influence of his widely-acknowledged racist/xenophobic views.

DISCLAIMER: I must admit, I haven’t actually read much Lovecraft. But I saw debate over Lovecraft’s racism and the name of the god ‘Shub-Niggurath’ and looked to explore the etymology of the name and whether – based on my very limited knowledge of H. P. Lovecraft – it had any connection to those racist tendencies. Don’t take this as definitive, this is just me throwing some ideas around.

Artist’s…

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Are Pagans Oppressed?

This shouldn’t be a point of contention. Yet, it is necessary. This is a continuation of my Persecution post.

Pagans are not a coherent enough group for this to even be true.

Let’s parse this one out.

Who are pagans?

We are a diverse group of people who worship a diverse group of religions. That usually means polytheism. Being a polytheist does not necessarily make one a pagan, however, as can be seen with the Shinto folks who do not like to call themselves pagan. There seems to be an underlying implication that being pagan equals being unrecognized by the State. So in reality, pagan is an incredibly broad word, but I’m sure you all knew that already.

Rhetorical side question: What happens when pagan religions get recognized by the state? This has happened with Romuva in Lithuania, for instance. That doesn’t mean acceptance, of course. It just means another option on a census and slightly more respect.

What constitutes oppression?

Merriam-Webster defines it this way:

a : unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power

  • the continuing oppression of the … underclasses  —H. A. Daniels

b : something that oppresses especially in being an unjust or excessive exercise of power

  • unfair taxes and other oppressions

Who is in power, then, if pagans are oppressed? I’ve seen people raise Abrahamic religions, which is an absolute farce. Antisemitism and Islamophobia are rampant in many parts of the world. Christianity doesn’t exist everywhere. Buddhists are just as likely to commit genocide as other religious groups, as the Rohingya crisis has shown.

Of course, pagans aren’t in power. But there is no clear party who is oppressing us either. So shouldn’t it then follow that we are not inherently oppressed for our religions?

 

Critiques of Christianity in particular fail to recognize that Ancient Romans crucified Christians while living and broke their legs so that they would slowly suffocate under their own weight. Pagans and more dominant religions have, in the ancient past, traded violence. The violence that the Church did inflict were brought about by racism; the Crusades, the kicking out of Muslims from Spain, et cetera.

The argument about pagan oppression seems to me to be a point for white pagans to stake a claim in suffering and finally get a chance to be the main character of their tragedy. A way that white, straight, cis people can finally, finally take a place in the Oppression Olympics (yes, that phrase has been used badly, but it applies here). If I have learned even one thing from being on Tumblr it is that people think being oppressed is cool; see: various groups trying to weasel their way into the LGBT community, arguments about depression being ‘less bad’ just because society understands it more, et cetera. It goes on forever.

So if you honestly believe you are pagan and oppressed, maybe self-reflect. Maybe write down a list of reasons you believe this to be true. Watch a documentary about the Civil Rights Movement and think, have we been put through this level of systematic violence?

The answer will be no.

 

On Persecution

I’m going to reuse a post I made before elsewhere on this, just FYI.

I’m quite fed up with pagans who fetishize oppression (due to identity politics in the sense of, the more oppressed you are the better, de-emphasizing actually oppressed groups like LGBT people, POC etc.). I’ve seen this all too often in the discourse surrounding asexuality, as well as mental illness. People are, in my opinion, all too eager to claim oppression to gain attention and sympathy. I know this rhetoric is used often in unsavory circles so let me elaborate using an example: there is a big difference between being a Black person in America right now and a pagan in America right now. New Agers like to claim these experiences equivalent, if not the same, which is quite reductive of the experience of Black folks and Black history at large. The problem is that people use any excuse to try to say “Oh, well I’m oppressed too, can I be a part of the in-crowd? Isn’t there something cool and edgy about being oppressed?” There isn’t. Trust me. 

So first, let’s cover the basics: what is a martyr complex? A victim complex? How the hell does this have to do with Hellenismos or paganism at all for that matter?

Martyr Complex:

In psychology, a person who desires the feeling of being a martyr for their own sake, seeking out suffering or persecution because it either feeds a psychological need, or a desire to avoid responsibility. (Source)

A lot of witches and pagans hold some sort of martyr complex; suffering/being persecuted being connected to inherent goodness and superiority. For a lot of people this sense of impending oppression by dominant society seems important and I would like those people to question why. Why would most people care beyond curiosity? Are you neglecting other parts of your life to an overblown fear?

Victim Complex (Persecutory Delusions)

Persecutory delusions are a set of delusional conditions in which the affected persons believe they are being persecuted. Specifically, they have been defined as containing two central elements: the individual thinks that harm is occurring, or is going to occur, and the individual thinks that the perceived persecutor has the intention to cause harm. (Definition)

A lot of non-Christian pagans and witches lament their persecution at the hands of Christians to an exaggerated extent. To be quite frank, I can sympathize but it’s perhaps of little importance compared to the evils wrought by transphobia, homophobia, racism, islamophobia, sexism, and so on which are statistically more violent and common. Few people are kicked out, harassed, beaten up or worse for their witchcraft or pagan ways. LGBT people however, are on a regular basis, and this violence is sometimes even encouraged (see: Chechnya)

 

I have seen a common rebuttal of this critique claiming that yes, pagans/witches are indeed oppressed. The examples cited for this are often on the rarer end and point to bigotry espoused by individuals as opposed to systematic violence, i.e. WWII internment camps for Japanese and Japanese-Americans. Yes, your aunt is being horrible to you, but that does not mean we are all oppressed.

One example of this behavior in Hellenismos is YSEE’s outlook on so-called genocide. In this video they go over in length the history of Christian suppression of ancient Hellenic paganism. Here are a few rebuttals to this common argument.

  1. Our religion is, no matter how much we try, different from that of the ancients. We must accept this and work with it, not ignore that fact.
  2. This is a breeding ground, rhetorically and emotionally, for violence. It grooms people into hating a specific sector of society which, as always, is not a monolith. What will throwing a pity party now do for us anyway?
  3. Romans persecuted Christians too. That doesn’t justify either side, but as Karen Armstrong writes in her brilliant St. Paul: The Apostle We Love to Hate, there was a real concern by the powers that be. Early Christianity was quite communistic, and the Roman elite didn’t like that.
  4. Early Christians were ostracized for refusing to worship any other gods, and arguably this is part of why they were persecuted. I don’t agree with this but I don’t see why that should justify being rude towards Christians or holding it against present-day Christians unless they are actively engaging in this behavior. I enjoy a phrase I read on twitter the other day, along the lines of ‘you have my respect until you do something to lose it’ as opposed to earning respect.
  5. Hating Christianity becomes a lot more complex when you are say, an American, and yet colonized peoples syncretized or adopted to survive. It’s foolish at best to speak for those experiences from the exterior. Newsflash: religion is complicated.

I see these manifest as a part of the common human desire to be special and important. The truth is, none of us is more special than the other. We are all different individuals and that is okay. Capitalism, especially the American kind, has led us to believe that we need to be special and unique in order to be better than others or get a job. The simple truth is there is no need for such superiority; that precise mindset brings about the evils I have been referring to throughout this article. I’ll keep my personal views on the universe to a minimum in this post, but I don’t think how unique or special each one of us is doesn’t matter much in the larger scheme of things considering how infinitesimal we are. I put more respect into how The Fates work my life, who I meet at what timings, how I grow as a person and so on.

Just because you’re a Hellenic Polytheist does not make you superior to your Christian comrades, nor does it make you a tragically oppressed minority. You may be unfortunate in a specific context, but compared to real religious persecution that people conveniently forget about in these instances I’d say it’s nothing (for example, islamophobia). And most importantly, it’s frustrating and disheartening to see pagan “persecution” used to justify further bigotry. People need to stop making false dichotomies and dividing inward and instead enact actual change.