Outgrowing Paganism?

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  January 5, 2009 — 37 Comments

Deo’s Shadow, once the most popular Pagan podcast on the Internet, has decided to officially call it quits after several months of hiatus. In their farewell message, co-hosts Deò and Mandy describe how the podcast spurred them toward personal growth, specifically “growing out of” modern Paganism and into atheism.

Making deòs Shadow was usually a joy, and as the show grew more popular, we had many opportunities for new experiences which helped us to grow as people. One of the interesting side-effects of such growth is that one can end up growing out of that which induces the growth. We’ve moved on from Paganism and are now practicing atheists. We’re both in our 30s now, deò is half finished his PhD program (he began the show as an undergrad), Mandy is busy at a successful career, and we’ve got our eyes on the mundane things in life like securing a future and starting a family within the next few years.

In a follow-up post Deò ellaborates on his journey from Christianity, to Paganism, and into atheism (and why he isn’t jumping from Paganism into a different spiritual/religious practice). Spurring the follow-up was a comment by a listener of the podcast who experienced a similar (though not identical) trajectory.

I understand outgrowing things. I was a self proclaimed Pagan for 13 or so years. Recently after much study, therapy and self reflection I knew I had to take the plunge and drop the label. I can no longer label myself as a pagan. Doing this felt amazingly liberating. Who would have thought? Now this wasn’t necessarily a rejection of Paganism. I still find great value in many things deemed Pagan. This was just a moving forward from the need to put myself in a “box” that was stifling my growth. Now I know that this could be very offensive to some and I understand that.

Reading those pages made me think of the excellent posts by Cat Chapin-Bishop on her Quaker Pagan Reflections blog about balancing a Quaker and Pagan identity, about Al Billings’ (from In Pursuit of Mysteries) move from a Pagan/occult identity to Buddhism (albeit one still informed by his Pagan past), and even, briefly, about the conversion of author Carl McColman from Paganism to Catholicism. All of these narratives – Deò and Mandy’s, Cat’s, Andrea’s, Al’s, Carl’s – speak of growth, a growth that in most cases leads them away from a Pagan identity (or at least a displacement of Paganism as their core religious affiliation). Someone “outgrowing” Paganism (or hyphenating their Paganism) seems almost like a cliche nowadays, and it makes me wonder if we are alienating some of our more skeptical and philosophically-minded adherents in ways we don’t realize?

I say none of this because I resent Deò and Mandy’s (or anyone else’s) decisions, or that we should try to win them back. I wish them both the best, and thank them for their years of service to our communities. However,  that the hosts of a popular Pagan program have turned atheist should evoke some soul-searching about growth and maturity in our communities. Chas Clifton recently pointed out that pre-Christian (pagan) philosophy used to embrace everyone from the “hard” polytheists to the skeptical materialists. Who (and what) are we not embracing? Where are we not growing that these smart and talented folks must find their spiritual (or philosophical) satisfaction elsewhere? What do you think?

Jason Pitzl-Waters