Pink’s Paganism and Being Spiritual (But Not Religious)

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  January 4, 2013 — 77 Comments

Yesterday the BBC News Magazine posted a look at “spiritual, but not religious” people, cobbling together various studies and perspectives to try and understand this rather nebulous (yet growing) demographic. Interestingly, the lump modern Pagans in as part of the larger “spiritual” trend noting that “the spiritually aligned range from pagans to devotees of healing crystals, among many other sub-groups.”

Mike Stygal, is a secondary school teacher who practises paganism in his private life. He believes in a divine force in nature. “I believe everything is connected, I feel very in touch with nature and the changing seasons. Awe is a very good word for how I feel. It’s a sense of deep respect for nature. I can communicate with the deity.”

They also point to a quote from pop superstar Pink where she talks about her spiritual-but-not-religious makeup.

Pink on the BBC, October, 2012

Pink on the BBC, October, 2012

“I love Native American spirituality and paganism, and I’ve studied Buddhism. I think organised religion is one of the top problems of the world actually, so no, I’d say I steer clear of religion and go straight towards spirituality.”

Increasingly, I think more and more people are finding Paganism not as discrete religions, but as a part of an open-sourced kit to build an individualized belief system or practice. They aren’t Wiccans, or Druids, or Asatru, they are practicing “Paganism” as a syncretic and eclectic system in its own right, people like Shirley McMichael a community engagement worker with the Policing Board in Belfast.

“The widow described herself as a pagan rather than a witch — although she does have a small ceremonial broomstick, a wand and casts spells. “Wicca (witchcraft) is more structured than our Pagan Voice group but we have quite a lot in common” she said. For Mrs McMichael, paganism — the worship of natural forces often personified as a god and goddess — is a way of being in tune with the environment.”

I think McMichael’s quote there is important because it highlights that she sees Wicca as a religious system that she chooses to work outside, though finds some affinity with. Likewise, turning back to the BBC News Magazine article, we find a woman reviving “ancient traditions” but with no real interest in labeling herself as a Pagan.

Bridget McKenzie, a cultural learning consultant, does daily walking meditations. “It’s about making time to contemplate the awesomeness of life on earth, the extraordinary luck this planet has in sustaining life.” She is not a pagan but for the summer solstice organises a Garlic Man Parade in south east London to reconnect with ancient traditions. “We all sense changes in the light as the seasons change. It’s important to mark the occasion.”

When the census data for England and Wales was released, I noted that as impressive as Paganism’s growth was, they may have been many more of “us” hidden in other categories.

Bringing to just over 80,000 (or so) Pagans. That number doesn’t count how many Pagans there might be lurking within the category of “Mixed Religon” (23,566), “Own Belief System” (1,949), or “Spiritual” (13,832). Other figures of note in the “Other Religion” category include Vodoun at 208, Traditional African Religion at 588 (both numbers that I think are too low), and New Age at 698 adherents.

The spiritual category might have included the Garlic Man Parade organizer mentioned above, the one who wants to reconnect with ancient traditions, and “mixed religion” would most certainly have encompassed a pop star who loves Native American spirituality, Paganism, and Buddhism. In short, Pagans are indeed much larger that some give us credit for, but our numbers will always be diffused through several categories because Paganism doesn’t demand brand loyalty or exclusive rights to your soul.

People are rejecting “religion” in ever growing numbers, and a growing number of individuals are defining themselves as “spiritual but not religion” even if they claim a religious affiliation. This decline simply speeds the decline further, as it becomes easier and more attractive to jettison religious labels.

Pagans dance in "nonreligious" Estonia. Photo: BBC.

Pagans dance in “nonreligious” Estonia. Photo: BBC.

“The idea is pretty simple,” said Richard Wiener of the Research Corporation for Science Advancement, and the University of Arizona.”It posits that social groups that have more members are going to be more attractive to join, and it posits that social groups have a social status or utility. […]  In a large number of modern secular democracies, there’s been a trend that folk are identifying themselves as non-affiliated with religion; in the Netherlands the number was 40%, and the highest we saw was in the Czech Republic, where the number was 60%.” The team then applied their nonlinear dynamics model, adjusting parameters for the relative social and utilitarian merits of membership of the “non-religious” category. They found, in a study published online, that those parameters were similar across all the countries studied, suggesting that similar behaviour drives the mathematics in all of them. And in all the countries, the indications were that religion was headed toward extinction.

What happens is that you start to encounter cultures where “nones” dominate, and where spirituality is often shaped by the landscape, and by the people living in it. This can be very Pagan as in the Pacific Northwest, where the authors of “Cascadia: The Elusive Utopia,” note residents are “eclectically, informally, often deeply ‘spiritual.’” Specifically, New Age and nature-oriented spirituality loom large among “nones” here.

“According to the just-published “Cascadia: the Elusive Utopia.” … a lot of these “nones” in the Pacific Northwest are actually very spiritual, walking a path of their own making, but not into organized religions and churches. Sociology professor Mark Shibley of Southern Oregon University wrote the lead essay called “The Promise and Limits of Secular Spirituality in Cascadia.” “This region is different. The people here are not as connected to religious institutions,” he says. The alternative spirituality here shows itself in two main ways, Shibley notes: “nature spirituality,” such as you see in the secular environmental movement, and the more well-known New Age spirituality, where the gaze is shifted inward.”

While some Pagans seem to scorn this growing contingent of eclectic, syncretic, label-free, spiritual people, I think it is this growing phenomenon that will deliver vital cultural shifts for those of us who are explicitly members of a Pagan religion. The rise of the unaffiliated in the world weakens the power of the religions that seek to create a homogenous “united” religious identity under their moral guidance. Call them wishy-washy, or unable to commit, or whatever invective you choose, but the “spiritual” people are the buffer that allows for the continued growth of Paganism around the world. Pink’s love of Paganism helps create a future where even more people can learn to love us.

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • I don’t think this is that much different from people who label themselves Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, or whatever but don’t practice a particular denomination or tradition within those religious families. Most of the Buddhists I know will be happy to admit that they grab from both Mahayana and Tibetan practices. I know Jews that aren’t kosher (and don’t worry about it) and Christians who still hold to the Arian heresy. Perhaps it’s more common to find unaligned practitioners in Paganism, but they’re out there in every other modern faith as well.

    That said, diversity leads to strength so this is probably a good thing overall.

    • Deborah Bender

      Denominations (as opposed to schools of thought, movements, and regional differences in practice) within Judaism are probably a temporary (lasting a few centuries) phenomenon. Keeping kosher is not the marker for denominational affiliation. There are three Jewish denominations that don’t require adherence to the dietary laws; one of them, Reform Judaism, is nearly two hundred years old and is the affiliation of the majority of American Jews who belong to a Jewish congregation.

      • Hi Deborah! It was just an example; a for instance. I’m a Jew and my father and sister still practice, but growing up I think there were some in our congregation that were somewhat surprised that we did not keep a kosher house and, perhaps moreso, that we didn’t feel guilty or as if we were somehow less Jewish than others. This was a Conservative synagogue and not Reform, though.


  • The only thing that bothers me about this is Wicca and Witchcraft seem to be used as interchanging and they are not. Wicca is another path under the umbrella of paganism and so is Witchcraft but they are not the same. One can be Wiccan and practice Witchcraft and one can also practice Witchcraft without being Wiccan.

    • People do use these terms in very loose ways – but so what? Pagans need to lose the terminology-nazi ‘tude. Some people do view Witchcraft as a religion, and Witches as the practitioners of that religion. Other people have different ideas and use the words differently. Get over it.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        I disagree. Discrete definitions actually help people more fully understand stances of others they talk to.

        Sure, sometimes it can become over pedantic when sub-sub-sub-categories are argued about (a bit like musical genres), but the basics do have an important role to play in allowing coherent communication with others.

        • Well, in the first place, as far as “the basics” go, Gerald Gardner opened his book “Witchcraft Today” with the proclamation that “Witchcraft is a religion.” And, of course, the religion he was talking about is also now widely known as Wicca.

          Which brings us to the second point. Being precise with words means explaining precisely how one is using a particular word. That is a very different thing from demanding that everyone else accept your own favorite definition.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I like dictionaries. They allow people to use the same words in the same ways.

          • That is not the purpose of dictionaries. Dictionaries document the way that words are actually used. You have it backwards.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            They do so to allow people to understand what each other are saying without having to explain every time.

            They allow a level of flexibility by having multiple definitions for many words.

          • Northern_Light_27

            Dictionaries always lag considerably behind usage. Any controlled vocabulary does.

            I agree with the general idea that words mean things and specificity is useful, but not with sticking with the dictionary.

          • Just a little more on dictionaries. First of all, why does one look up a word in a dictionary? Usually it is because one has encountered a word that one does not know. So one consults a dictionary. Sometimes this helps, but often it is of only limited assistance. Only by repeatedly encountering (and eventually using) a word in context (in both speech and writing) does one develop, gradually, a working understanding of the word.

            Second of all, one should always keep in mind the true story of William Chester Minor, who was one of the most important contributors to the Oxford English Dictionary (which I consider to be very close to a sacred book). The funny thing is, though, that Minor made his contributions to the venerable OED while was resident in an insane asylum, having been declared legally insane during his trial for the murder of one George Merrett.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            And when that word keeps being used in different ways, by different people? What then?

            Dictionaries work as a guide to standardisation of language. Sure, they may not be as useful as an encyclopaedia, but they still help.

            The problem comes when people refuse to agree on what a word means. Take, for example, paganism (lower case). In certain anthropological definitions, it is any religion/spirituality that is not Jewish/Christian/Islamic/Abrahamic. To others, it is a specific form of European alternative spirituality.

          • Northern_Light_27

            I’ve had too much experience with people using dictionaries as a way to shut down conversation to consider them something to rely upon. Particularly “how can you use the sociological definition of racism? That’s not what the dictionary says, so therefore it can’t be valid”. Any time there’s something that a field or a group differs in opinion about, you can pretty much guess that a dictionary is going to be of limited use– dictionaries aren’t meant to be cutting-edge or inclusive of debates over usage when they’re not out in mainstream use. They reflect mainstream usage (and previous mainstream usage, if it has drifted, nothing more.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I’ve had plenty of arguments with people using words in unconventional ways in order to benefit from confusion and misunderstanding.

            I am not suggesting that dictionaries are the ultimate authority on a word, but there does need to be a majority consensus on a word in order for it to be used effectively in normal conversation.

    • kimmis

      People need to believe in something sheena, i think, with time, evolution, people will understand the difference between,,, “common sence”, a sort of bluntish way to put it….. Its about finding yourself, and what really fits. You,ll know

  • Sharon Knight

    I don’t know why some Pagans have an attitude about “spiritual” people. After coming on 30 years of being Pagan myself, and a “serious practitioner” within a specific tradition for a good part of that time, I find I embrace this view more and more. The different paths, religions, traditions, etc. are the map, not the territory. Maybe being a perpetual “seeker” smacks of dilettantism in some cases, but in other cases it may be that the person doesn’t need the structure of religion to experience the divinity of life. Who are we to begrudge others because their way is different than ours?

    • kimmis


  • Cryptic Raven

    I find this new form of choosing open belief systems and philosophies and adapting it to your personal life experience is the best thing possible. Structure and organisation creates issues while with this liberated approach can create a wider freedom and enriched experience of life. Saying that though, I still feel people need to be cautious when dabbling in established organised religions or taking on beliefs from indigenous groups that they do not identify with directly as this can be offensive to existing practitioners. Overall though, if done respectfully, we can actually find ways of living on this planet without fighting wars over who’s god is better or more correct about the meaning of life.

    • Nick Ritter

      Out of curiosity, what issues do you feel that organization and structure create?

      • Debra

        When most people speak of organization and structure they are mainly speaking of how the church seems to want to control your life. Which is very much like a cult. They want you to follow and believe in a fairy tale book (bible) and to never question it. The structure is also trying to make you feel bad about yourself constantly (sin). Asking you to repent, confession, and to have a fear of a one being. Fearing someone is not love. Christianity is a very sick twisted religion/cult. Most Christians don’t even know how that religion even started. They never speak of their true history and what they did to the Pagans. Don’t take my word for it, do your research and they always play it even on the History Channel. Oh and they claim part of their organization is to take 10 percent out of your pay and give to them. So they want to take your money, not want you to question, read a fable that has twisted stories or rape, incest and parents killing their kids, make you feel that you are not a good person (sin) and want you to have fear of their one being. These are all part of the many reasons why people are turning away from Christianity. Christianity does not feed your spirit with positive things, respect of nature, and acceptance of those who are different which is having true love. They instill fear and tell you how your living your life not righteous. They set judgement on you and why would any sane person want to be a part of that.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          I think I must have been raised in a very different form of Christianity.

        • Nick Ritter

          Are these problems with organization and structure period, or are they problems with a particular kind of organization and structure?

          • The whole “organized religion” meme is a distraction. Organization, in and of itself, is a good thing (or at worst neutral). In fact, everything that we perceive as “beautiful” is perceived as such because of some kind of “organization” that we naturally respond to as pleasing.

        • Northern_Light_27

          Err… this isn’t all of Christianity. This is definitely not the Christianity my mother-in-law is part of and raised her kids in (she’s UCC). I’ve got substantive criticisms of her kind of very tolerant Christianity, but I can definitely say that they’re not *these* problems.

          • This is the type of Christianity we see the most of living below the Mason Dixon line, often hardline Protestant, Pentecostal, and nondenominational charismatic churches.

          • And no, I don’t see organizational structure as a bad thing. I see these churches misusing the organization and structure they have. It’s a shame, really, because they could do a lot of good if ‘good’ were really what they were aiming for.

  • It aggravates me that even among Pagans there can be so little acceptance. There isn’t much to “commit” to in Paganism, frankly, as most paths are not very well established or hammered out. They are finding their own way and working a lot of it out as they go, with their connection to Deity. I am an eclectic Pagan, and I love it this way. If I wanted dogma and “you must do it this way to be a ‘real’ Pagan”, I’d have stuck with the idiocy of Bible-thumping Christianity. We are all sisters and brothers in the Pagan belief system, and have so much to share. No matter how we see our beliefs and Deity, there is more to connect us than to divide us. That’s what we need to focus on.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      Funny, I identify with ‘Paganism’ because of my spiritual beliefs, not because of any animosity I may hold to any organisational structure.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    More important than being the growing edge of brand-identified Paganism, the increase in “nones” cannot help but erode the negativity that attaches when those of us who do identify as Pagan announce ourselves as such.

  • cernowain greenman

    I do not think “organized” religion is the problem, as Pink believes. Pagan festivals are “organized” religion (some less organized than others!), and so was the Pentacle Quest that won the Pentacle as a headstone emblem for Pagan soldiers. Without some organization, not much would be accomplished. Let’s not pretend that we as Pagans do not practice organized religion– it is what gets things done!

    • Thriceraven

      Hmmm…. Pagan festivals and the important Pentacle quest were organized community work. Organized religion is being told what to believe by a hierarchy that is given credit by God or a lineage of teachers or divine inspiration. Organized community work among practitioners with some like-minded goals is vital and even developing a hierarchy around that (or at least committees etc) is often necessary and I am thrilled to participate. I personally prefer to steer clear of organized religion, however. Learning from teachers who are more experienced, then taking what works for me under no obligation of fear I am not a ‘real’ Pagan if I don’t do as they say is one of the things I love about the best of Paganism. Also, it should be remembered that members of organized religion also often do great organized community work (church committees doing community dinners etc) and as long as they steer clear of proseletyzing in their charity work I will always applaud them.

      • Kilmrnock

        Altho they do good community work , the big organised religions usualy don’t avoid proselylytising while doing thier work As that is part of their mandate . They must convert as many as they can . I too generaly distrust large centraly controled organised religions . Atleast the Christian churches use that modis operadi.and a colonial/ conquerer model as well.More damage has been done worldwide in the name of the Catholic Church , than any other , ever.
        I’m not condemning all Catholics , just what thier church has done over the years.

      • Nick Ritter

        As it so happens, I consider my religions tradition to be organized religion, and in no instance have I been told what to believe. I think that the term “organized religion” as it is being used here is being used with a lot of baggage that isn’t apparent on the surface. This leads me to believe that the problems that people are ascribing to organized religion have nothing to do with organization or religion, but rather with dogmatism.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          Agreed. Organise the believers, not the belief.

  • This can only be a good thing.

  • The greatest challenge I see is forming social structures, institutions if you will, that will serve this greater community. We have reached a point where there are so many of us, both “committed Pagan/Wiccan/Norse/Druid/etc” and the pagan-leaning nones, that WE are impacting society with our values and ideas, BUT there’s also a need for ways to care for our elders, our children, to make safe our interactions with medical, legal and psychological professionals. This requires building resources, groups, and institutions that recognize our differences and can accomodate them. With such an amorphous “community” getting people involved and, more so, to get them to commit financially to goals such as providing elder or childcare that is Pagan sensitive, or training to professionals, such as doctors and therapists that explains that we are not crazy for talking to our ancestors, land spirits etc., is difficult. Very difficult. I have a professional organization for Pagan and Pagan friendly therapists, for example. While many have joined our meetup group, active members, those who attend our monthly conference calls number about a half-dozen. This makes getting a CEU workshop and (potentially) publishing a journal problematic. Creating a needed website? Hmmm might take a while. Building a clinic or hospital… not holding my breath, although it would be a lovely idea. Imagine a retiree home where you could do spellcraft and that had a lovely garden and offered meditation walks in the woods? When you got old enough to need care, wouldn’t that be lovely? This requires some committment. How to get there, well, we’re working on it, but… it’s complicated, it seems.

    • Medeine Ragana

      You are saying everything I said 25 years ago at one of the organizing meetings of Free Spirit Alliance. The response? Laughter… No one’s laughing now.

      • kenneth

        Human nature being what it is, we tend to deal with issues when they are ripe and when circumstances force our hand. 25 years ago, the movement was much smaller and much younger. On the one hand, we haven’t done all that we might, but neither should we be too hard on ourselves. Some of the seeds planted 25 years ago or more are bearing fruit in big ways and filling some of our needs. We’re taking on some big problems which other religions have had thousands of years to grapple with, and which are challenging even their ancient infrastructures. I find it encouraging in some ways that we’re even big enough to be threatened by organizational issues only 60 years or so after emerging as a fringe movement that was written off as lunatics and devil worshippers.

      • Certainly the more mature among us are not. If we’ve been in a while, seeing a need for this… well, it’s pretty clear. What I think is happening, though is that those that have been committed to these practices long term become less central than the newer, younger folks who are just discovering all this. I think this contributes to a very mobile and loose social structure, which does not lend itself easily to the kinds of things I mentioned. Still, going back in the broom closet just because I got old is unacceptable to me. If I had children, having my kids teased about their beliefs (or their parents’ beliefs) and having administrators NOT take action because they didn’t understand said beliefs, would be equally unacceptable. Every time someone gets prescribed anti-psychotics because they tell their therapist, “Well, I had this very enlightening conversation with a tree (or my dead grandmother)”, as a community we should all be concerned. Because we are so loosely affiliated and because these issues are not generally on the minds of many BNP’s however (not that they speak about in public, anyway), these issues don’t get the traction they deserve.

    • kenneth

      This gets at the central question of how we will engage organization and institutions as a maturing movement. Modern paganism could never have taken root had it not been for widespread discontent and skepticism about organized religion and institutions. With some few exceptions, pagans today have no interest whatever in embracing “organized religion” in the sense of institutions that define and demand orthodoxy of belief or a separate caste of clergy.

      In most ways, that’s all to the good. It does, however, leave us without the organizational and financial framework to do the things you mentioned. We do have some decent legal and other advocacy type organizations, but they don’t have the level of buy-in and generational investment that one finds in a mosque or the ethnic Catholic churches in urban areas back in the old days. Things like clinics and hospitals and old folks homes worked for them because their beliefs were based in institutions AND because of ethnic, social and geographic tribalism. Pagan religions, our movement, and society as a whole has none of those things anymore.

      How can we work around that? I don’t know for sure, but I do know we will have to take the focus to something much more specific than trying to build upon some nebulous solidarity of “being pagan.” Outside of the rare veteran’s tombstone type issues, there just isn’t much in pan-paganism to anchor to. We’ll probably have to build from our own local circles outward. The only other possibility I see is if we see the rise of monastic orders or groups dedicated to particular deities who are seen as patrons of particular causes like healing, the aged, etc. It will require some engagement with theology to consider what, if anything, we are called to do as pagans besides honor the seasons.

      • Baruch Dreamstalker

        The outlook is bleak if we assume the instititional foundation is “strengthened” covens. An alternative foundation is additionally-purposed festival organizations. They seem to be the resilient Pagan instituions, and I’d point out that the veterans’ headstone quest was an outgrowth of one such.

        • …and these very conversations we are having are (and have) grown out of conferences – to wit, Pantheacon and the Conference on Current Pagan Studies, where I was silly enough to say “I will”, when people said “We ought to have a professional organization for therapists in our community and who deal with our community. Someone should start one.” Whether it grows beyond some mature heads nodding at each other over breakfast at P-Con remains to be seen.

      • Yes, we will be discussing how the diversity of Pagan identities may hamper this type of community building at the upcoming Conference on Current Pagan Studies. If you’re in town, come on by. Maybe we’ll figure it out. I do have to say, though “Go P!nk!” I’m happy she’s pagan but not Pagan… 😉 (errr, I meant “spiritual but not religious”)

    • AndrasArthen

      Elizabeth, I don’t know if you’ve read the four-round panel discussion on “pagan clergy” (with Isaac Bonewits, Judy Harrow, Sam Webster, Oriethya Mountain Crone and myself) that the EarthSpirit Community published in FireHeart magazine starting in 1988, which dealt at length with many of the questions you’re addressing here. It’s an interesting perspective on how much we’ve changed — and haven’t changed — over the past 25 years. You can find it at .

      • I think I read it back when it first came out. I’m also referencing a lot of Judy Harrow’s working on Covening and Mentorship. Thanks Andras, for the reminder.

      • Deborah Bender

        I read that panel discussion when it was first published in your excellent magazine. I thought at the time that it was an honorable attempt but one that was weakened by the fact that none of the participants seemed to have considered any other model for religious leaders and professionals other than what Christianity affords. IIRC, they argued back and forth about whether we can get along with volunteers and part-timers or whether we need a full time paid priesthood or ministry, as if those were the only options.

  • Illyria

    You can walk the Pagan path without the magick aspect of it. Just being spiritual and believing that there is both a Goddess and a God shouldn’t be a problem. I’ve been a Pagan for 15 years now, I do the religious part and my best friend walks the spiritual path. That’s his choice. I will say that there are deeper problems between the light witches and the grey. But we all lead our own life. Live and let live. Blessed be:-)

    • Deerwoman

      Out of curiosity, what do you mean by “I will say that there are deeper problems between the light witches and the grey”? What, in your view, are the differences between “light” witches and “grey” ones, and do you propose one variety is better than the other?

      Are you making a statement about about the different deities/spirits, etc. witches may choose to honor and work with, a value judgement regarding a witch’s magical practices and ethics, a comment on his or her hair color, or something else entirely?

      • if i could just say why does it matter why do either of you have to be right or wrong when they are just opions of that persons different beliefs isn’t that one of the reasons why pagans where not understood in the first place or any other religion for that matter? because one belief had to be more believed than others but paganism is not about that everyone has the same belief its what they feel is to be right or wrong the diference should be the acceptance that they are different and that its just their path why should either of u be right or wrong just let it be! blessed be

  • Amanda

    My blog post for today, oddly enough was titled Not Religious but Spiritual. Bless Pink’s little Pagan heart!

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    I have said it before, and will doubtless say it again, I do not see why so many people have such a problem with the organising of religion.

    I used to be Christian – it was how I was raised (CofE). The reason(s) I left that faith system had nothing to do with the people or the organisational structure. My issues were with the pantheon it served.

    When Augustine came over to Britain to convert the heathens, he got a message from Pope Gregory (via Bishop Mellitus) saying:

    “Tell Augustine that he should be no means destroy the temples of the

    gods but rather the idols within those temples. Let him, after he has

    purified them with holy water, place altars and relics of the saints

    in them. For, if those temples are well built, they should be converted

    from the worship of demons to the service of the true God.”

    What this tells me is that the pre-Christian peoples of Britain (and Europe) had established temples, which also implies that there were (likely) those dedicated to the care of the temple – who we would likely call a priesthood.

    Of course, there is no evidence to suggest that these priests were part of a cohesive organisation, but it does show structure at a local level.

    One other thing…
    What of the religious but not spiritual category?

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      What of the religious but not spiritual category?

      That would be me, back when I was a Religious Humanist. I was not a “none” as I was (and still am) a UU. I know there are others like I was out there, and would say they belong to the amorphous cohort we are discussing.

    • Nick Ritter

      Belonging to a (somewhat) organized and structured religious tradition myself, I agree with much of your statement above.

      “What this tells me is that the pre-Christian peoples of Britain (and Europe) had established temples, which also implies that there were (likely) those dedicated to the care of the temple – who we would likely call a priesthood.”


      “Of course, there is no evidence to suggest that these priests were part of a cohesive organisation, but it does show structure at a local level.”

      It depends on the culture one is looking at. For the Celts, there is ample evidence of a cohesive priestly social class that cooperated across tribal boundaries: the druids. In Rome there was the college of major and minor flamens. Among the Germanic peoples, evidence is scarce, but I do think it points (at least among some Germanic peoples) to organized priesthood, at least before the Viking age.

      I could put it this way, too: pre-Christian religions in Europe were complex and had large bodies of traditional knowledge. In order to pass down this body of knowledge and the complexities of religion, special training was needed for religious specialists. Among some cultures, these specialists formed a separate class; among others, they may have been initiated from members of other classes.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        If nothing else, there have likely always been those who devote their lives to their religion.

  • Deborah Bender

    “They found, in a study published online,
    that those parameters were similar across all the countries studied,
    suggesting that similar behaviour drives the mathematics in all of
    them. And in all the countries, the indications were that religion was
    headed toward extinction.”

    I downloaded the study and attempted to understand it. I couldn’t check the equations because I don’t know calculus, but the formulae look simple and I presume that the authors would make sure to catch any basic mathematical errors before submitting for publication.

    The meat, as I expected, was in the assumptions, and I don’t have enough grounding in the jargon to fully understand all of those. I would appreciate it if someone who has the requisite background would read this paper and report whether it is sound. I have doubts, because if I understand correctly what they said about the relationship between a dominant group and a subordinate minority, by the eighteenth century, there should have been no Jews left in the parts of Christian Europe that allowed conversion, and clearly that didn’t happen.

    • Nick Ritter

      “if I understand correctly what they said about the relationship between a dominant group and a subordinate minority, by the eighteenth century, there should have been no Jews left in the parts of Christian Europe that allowed conversion, and clearly that didn’t happen.”

      That’s a good point, I think. When discussing the “utility” of belonging to / identifying with groups, a researcher might miss that there are many kinds of utility, and not all of them are material. For instance, I think many people find a great deal of psychological utility in belonging to a relatively small but tightly cohesive and supportive sub-culture.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    […W]hile science may be able to explain the world, it doesn’t evoke how many people feel about their place in the universe. — BBC
    This is simply not true. Before I became Pagan, I embraced the very scientific theory of evolution as my connection to the great universe of which I am a small part. Strengthening this was equally scientific research to the effect that religion is a normal product of the healthy human brain, contra the common Humanist view of religion as neurotic.
    It still works rather well for me as a Pagan, though my sinews of connection are now heftier, being reinforced with ritual of my own composition.

  • Much of this boils down to the old story of keeners versus bludgers (no, not that kind of bludger – this kind).

    • Deborah Bender

      Thank you for introducing me to this word. The approximate Yank equivalent would be “freeloader”.

  • Star Foster

    Even after sleeping on it, I’m a bit miffed at being characterized as a scorner rather than a critic or skeptic. A more neutral term would have been appreciated for people with valid concerns.

    • Huh? I write: “some Pagans seem to scorn this growing contingent” and you decided it was about you? OK.

      • Star Foster

        Yes, as a classic narcissist I decided it was about me exclusively. /sarcasm

        There is a movement of people who do criticize this amorphous vague Paganism, and I am one of them. To classify us as scorners is to demonize us as hateful snobs, rather than simply state we hold different views. I’m a big supporter of your work, but this was a bad journalistic decision.

        • I think “scorn” is a perfectly adequate descriptor of some of the critiques I’ve read concerning the spiritual-but-not-religious types who engage with Pagan forms and beliefs. Apparently using the descriptor “some” really means “everyone who has criticisms or concerns” in your mind instead of, well, “some” (which is not “all” or even “most”).

          I’ve called no one a “hateful snob” or even implied it. That is your personal interpretation of my writing, and you should know me better than to imply it.

          As for bad journalistic decisions, it’s in the eye of the beholder I suppose. None of us are pure, are we Star?

          • Star Foster

            Sounds like you have something you need to say to me personally beyond this issue. You have my e-mail.

          • Not really. I’m merely remarking that no writer can please everyone all the time, as we both well know. There’s no “tone” here.

            What I comment isn’t Kremlinology, if I have a beef with you I’ll be sure to tell you.

          • Star Foster

            So it’s ok for you to read tone into me, but not ther other way around? Ah, ok.

            Next time for balance’s sake, please mention there are skeptics and critics with valid concerns, rather than just some scorners.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            There is a movement of people who do criticize this amorphous vague Paganism, and I am one of them. — Star
            Perhaps you’d be willing expand on this in a guest post. Jason, perhaps you’d be willing to run it.

          • Star Foster

            I’ve written on this before, and at this time I need focus elsewhere other than the Pagan blogosphere.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            But you jumped into the Pagan blogosphere to accuse Jason of snark (an indictment whereunder you have failed to convict btw). You might at least post a link to where you have written on this before.
            My interest is in what threat, if any, to my legitimate vital interests is posed by “amorphous Pagans” that could not just as well come from well-defined Pagans. I view them positively as part of a cohort less susceptible to the casual bigoty about us that we see so often chronicled in TWH.

          • Star Foster

            I accused Jason of a poor journalistic choice. I don’t owe you a link. Last i checked search engines still work. I won’t make the mistake of commenting on a blog again, i can assure you.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            You owe me a link because you pulled the Scholar’s Ploy on me: I have to read your writings to understand why I am wrong. A competently executed Scholar’s Ploy (a classic error of debate btw) at least includes a reference to the writing in question.

          • Star Foster

            I didn’t say you were wrong. I didn’t pull shit on you. I repeat, I don’t owe you a damn thing.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            I concur in the wisdom of your withdrawal from this comment thread.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      I’m unsure I understand why being a ‘scorner’ would be a bad thing.

  • Kilmrnock

    Quite valid points jason , and maybe even some of them will eventualy find their way into our ranks . Anything that can loosen the RR’s and Christianinty’s stranglehold on the west is a good thing . Kilm

  • I like the way it is framed with Paganism as an open-sourced kit. This is different than anything goes, instead, it’s let’s keep what works. This allows practices and rituals to adapt to different cultures, as well as help us cope with different problems. But as in any piece of code, it has to fit together, and it has to work. You have to test it under varying circumstances. I think the way different localities and different cultures used this kit of similar practices is what religion is generally thought of. Or rather, the spiritual practices kit forms a part of religions, along with other teachings which are cultural or moral or hygienic.