As a confluence of Earth-centered belief, feminine imagery, and often radical ideas, one might think that paganism would be more progressive than the world at large. We should be the first to rise up in anger at the violation of bodily autonomy that sexual abuse represents — but instead our subculture has become a prime hunting ground for abusers. The #metoo movement shows no signs of stopping, and the pagan community is no exception.
What went wrong with neopaganism?
The Pagan Community is Toxic Because It Was Founded by Abusers
And in case you thought it was just the Wiccans, even herbalist Susun Weed was arrested for choking a student, and her Wise Woman tradition continues the use of “non violent communication,” which has been shown to be manipulative and harmful.
Take your pick — almost every New Age tradition was created for the purpose of exploitation and commodification of sex, money, or power. While apprenticeships or guru culture might work in other places, when combined with European Calvinism and capitalism it creates an imbalance of power. The wolves are teaching sheep where to graze.
We’re Buying Snake Oil
The ancient ways are not ancient — they’re ripoffs of Masonic rituals, stolen Vedic texts, and Victorian bullshit. Occultism has always been a pursuit of the upper classes, clad in rich robes and high Latin. The practice of Initiation only serves to reinforce this idea — that you are somehow lesser than the Priest or the Master and must meet his standards to continue your journey.
In an era of free and abundant information, there is no need for masters any longer. Witchcraft and folk magic, as opposed to occultism, require no cash, no books, and no permissions. That is what makes it most frightening to those who would control others, and that is why they’d prefer you to think that you have to come through their doors and perform their rituals to have power.
Calvinism ain’t Dead
As much as we claim to be enlightened and free beings, most of us still live with a daily reality that tells us constantly: you are flawed, you are worthless, you need Saving. Even those of us who weren’t raised going to church are steeped in Western Liberalism, where man and nature are separate beings and the body is a burden to be overcome, rather than a source of wisdom.
We grow up knowing that science and religion are separate causes and that there is only one “right” answer on the quiz, despite what we feel. We are told that girls are quiet and emotive, boys are boisterous and violent, and that’s just the way it is. Both the natural world and the bodies of others are seen as exploitable commodities — it is any surprise that rape culture continued unabashed? There is no such thing as a ‘clean slate’ for our organizations — no pagan church can exist free from these forces while they are at large.
Simply saying “we are different” will not make it so, and most groups don’t even go that far. The majority of pagans don’t want to “get political,” and neglect to address social justice at all. Until we start questioning our cultural base, we’ll be stuck in it. The default is misogyny, the default is exploitation — we must be truly radical if we expect to see change.
To use a pop culture example, consider the Church of Night from Netflix’s Sabrina — they’re basically Catholics in thrall to a severe and harsh minister. (Somehow Netflix managed to mangle Satanic ideals and insult the Church of Satan instead of Wicca) But the song remains the same. No matter what the ideology, place, or era, when a charismatic leader has control of an isolated group, it almost always goes downhill. So why do we put our faith in these people? Why do we have priests or gurus?
So where do we go from here?
I call for another Reformation. I need no expert advice to speak to my own ancestors. I need no supply shop when I can gather from the Earth. I need no shepherd to guide me, especially not a man who cannot relate to my lived experiences in the least. Our treatment of the vulnerable, the weak, the soft, the feminine reflects our view of the Earth as a thing, an object to be used. It is much harder to pollute and exploit something you truly love, not just own covetously.
The Earth and her gifts are free and open to everyone who knows how to receive them with respect, but as long as capitalism and neoliberalism reign in our world we will not be able to access these gifts. One cannot live according to the true law of love (or Will, or Dharma, or whatever it might be) if their understanding is clouded by false narratives of power and sex.
Be the cliche, be annoying, whatever it takes. Ask questions of yourself, ask questions of others, and ask them to cite their damn sources. This doesn’t mean that we should be suspicious and mean, but rather confident in our own worth and judgement. Hucksters get their power from being charming and pushy, but the whispered truth is more powerful than a shouted lie. Though it has been thousands of years since the old gods were in power, we still know the true names of the hills because they were whispered down the generations.
When we try to think of ourselves as somehow ‘above’ nature, as the mind being separate from the animal body, we are forced to either ignore the information that the body sends us or to condemn it as false. Not only do our children not trust their bodies, but they grow up feeling that their first instincts are wrong, and that they should follow orders without question. This is not to imply that victims of abuse are somehow at fault because they ignored the messages from their body — but rather to point out that this cultural narrative primes us to question ourselves and trust ‘authority.’
It’s the ultimate anti-authoritarian task, to do a “gut check” for new information. To meditate with every idea, allow it to morph and to change. To admit that you don’t know! It’s hard, tedious, and honestly quite terrifying because it represents the anathema of everything we’ve been taught — it teaches us that being vulnerable is powerful.
Many Gods, No Masters
There are situations where an individual may be called upon to teach, to preach, or even to be an organizer. But that does not mean that they should have the right to control others in mind or body. If paganism wants to survive this cultural upheaval, we have to deal with the cognitive dissonance of living in a violent patriarchy while claiming to worship love, community, and nature. Our knowledge should come from the earth, our ancestors, and our own intuition — not false hierarchies.
We have to be proactive in rooting out toxins in our soil and water. We have to fight for the rights of the Earth and for the rights of each person to control their own body. Until the colonial narrative of ownership and conquest is defeated, we cannot free ourselves by sticking our heads in the sand. We must love fiercely and unapologetically. We must speak truth to power, whether it be human or spirit.