Reflections on Service, Theology, Oppression, and Love

Alley Valkyrie —  November 29, 2013 — 169 Comments

I was just about to get on my bike when I looked in the basket and saw the note.

“When you’re done finding Jesus, come by the shop and say hi.”

It made me laugh, and yet it also immediately brought me back to something I had been thinking about a lot lately. Indeed, my bike, which is well-known downtown and easily recognizable, had been locked up outside First Christian Church for the past two hours while I was inside for a meeting with a small group that included the church’s pastor. The author of the note was a Pagan friend of mine who worked around the corner from the church, and I sensed that the mood behind the note was both joking and curious at the same time. And while I hadn’t found Jesus in the previous two hours, I realized in that moment that I had been finding Jesus popping up constantly in my work over the past few years. It also occurred to me that at this point I had completely normalized these constant interactions with churches, pastors, and those who follow the philosophy of Jesus in a way that many Pagans would find a little strange to say the least.

First Christian Church in Eugene, Oregon.

First Christian Church in Eugene, Oregon.

I find it a more than a little strange myself at times. But the process of building those bridges has led me to not only greatly respect and appreciate those who work with the poor in the name of Jesus, but has brought me to constantly recognize and reflect on the fact that other than the specifics behind the deity that called us all to the table, we are all in the exact same fight for pretty much the exact same reasons. Over time I have unexpectedly come to understand and accept that the church folks are without a doubt my greatest allies, politically as well as spiritually.

I work with the poor and the homeless. I found myself doing so as a result of listening to both my conscience as well as the Gods. I do this work because I was called to it through an unexpected merging of ethics and spirit. It is much more a divine mandate than a free choice; for me it is a calling in the true religious sense, and yet not one that results from any specific belief or doctrine. Most people who work with the poor in the same way that I do fall into three categories: those who work for government agencies, those who work for non-profit organizations or social service agencies, and those who are following the teachings of Jesus. More often than not I find myself to be the only person in the room who stands apart from these three groups.

When I first felt the pull that started me on this journey, I recognized that the spiritual narrative around that pull was much common and relevant to Christianity than it was to Paganism. While I hadn’t quite given up all my worldly possessions and sworn a vow of poverty, I have sacrificed a theoretical life of ‘comfort’ and inevitably accepted a life of near-poverty in order to do this work full-time in a way that at least in America, is seldom seen outside of a Christian context. Jesus tended to the poor, preached to his followers that they should do the same, and an untold number of people since then have dedicated their lives to the poor in the name of Jesus. I had never stumbled upon a Pagan parallel to this phenomenon, at least not in terms of service to the poor. For me, while this work is a spiritual calling, it is not necessarily an extension of my religious beliefs. There is nothing specific in the teachings of my tradition that critiques wealth or that tells me to serve the poor, nor have I ever stumbled upon related teachings or mythologies that command service to the poor and a rejection of wealth with anywhere near the strength and passion that the teachings of Jesus do.

Most Pagan-identified folks that I know personally who have devoted their lives to a cause tend to dedicate themselves to environmental or civil rights-related issues. They do so with the same degree of ethical motivation and spiritual dedication that I see among the Christians who work with the poor, but they do so in the name of the Earth and/or their Gods as opposed to Jesus Christ. My own activist path brought me to the forest years ago, and it was a natural and direct extension of my spiritual path at the time to be protecting the forest from loggers. It was a passion and drive that directly put my religious beliefs into practice, the belief that the Earth was sacred and needed to be protected. It was a passion, but not a calling. The Gods never insisted that I stay in the forest. They do, however, keep insisting that I work with the poor, and by extension of that insistence I find myself constantly working closely with others who are not only acting in accordance with the insistence of a different God, but who also have a solid text of quotes and reference points as to why they are commanded to serve the poor. I don’t have a comparable reference text. In many ways, my only true reference texts are contained in the reflections and thoughts of others and the constant signs and signals from the universe itself.

But in pondering the perceived lack of mythology/theology that could serve as guidance on this journey as someone who is operating on the basis of divine imperative, I’ve also come face-to-face with the other side of the coin: how this lack of relevant mythology can affect those who are on the receiving end of divine mercy.

In my experience, there are a much higher percentage of self-identifying Pagans in the homeless community than there are in the general population. While I would still say that a majority of the homeless population identifies as Christian, the amount of people on the street who subscribe to some sort of Pagan belief system is quite striking and somewhat surprising at first. It made perfect sense to me quite quickly, as it was easy to see how living on the physical and psychic margins of society would bring with it the tendency of adopting an earth-centered, polytheistic, and/or magical philosophy. But what is even more notable, and in time has become more and more relevant to me, is the way that the beliefs and practices of the two groups often blend together in the context of street life and the way that the two groups have found mutual agreement in ways that are quite atypical but accurately reflective of their situation. I equally seem to run across self-identified Pagans who embrace Jesus in the same manner that their Christian counterparts do, as well as many who considered themselves to be Christian and yet are accepting and often even participatory in the beliefs and practices of their Pagan friends and neighbors.

My friend Mary Ann, who lives in a symbiotic relationship with the riverbank, is one of the Pagans I know who has a deep love for and faith in Jesus. Early on in our friendship, I once asked her why.

“Well, there ain’t no pagan Jesus. at least not when it comes to looking after the poor,” she said. “I’m not saying that you can’t compare Jesus to some of the old gods in many ways, but I never heard of Osiris and Dionysis tending to the poor and oppressed, chastising the rich, specifically promising the persecuted an eternity in Heaven. Jesus has got my back. Who else has got my back like that? None of the other gods or spirits I talk to. They got my back for other reasons, but not because I’m poor. They don’t want to liberate me. They don’t inspire masses of others to fight oppression. Not like Jesus does.”

She had an important point, a point which related closely to my own musings around the spiritual nature of my work and what I was increasingly viewing as a theological hole of sorts in Pagan mythology around poverty and the poor. What Mary Ann spoke of not only pointed to that hole, but also reminded me in the instant of how Jesus is framed in both liberation theology and black theology. Mary Ann sought a deity of liberation, and found that energy to be strongest in her understanding of Jesus.

North bank of the Willamette river.

North bank of the Willamette river.

Not long after that encounter, I was on the opposite bank of the river when I came across another homeless friend, one I knew to be a regular at the local Methodist church. He was perched at the river, with flowers and what looked like salt his hand, and from where I stood ten feet back or so it appeared as though he was making offerings to the river. He turned around, saw me, and waved me over.

“What kind of pagan nonsense are you up to?” I teased.

Conestoga Hut

Conestoga Hut

“You’re not the first to ask,” he said. “I’ll just say this: you live our here long enough, and this place becomes alive in a way where you would have to be a fool to ignore it. The least I can do is acknowledge it.” That’s the other side of the reflection, I thought to myself. The missing theology from his own religion, which he supplemented with what he learned from the activities and beliefs of his Pagan peers. I saw this as the inverse of what both Mary Ann and I found to be missing in Pagan spirituality. His words reminded me immediately of conversations I’ve had with friends who identify as “Christo-Pagans”, who have told me that they walk that path mainly because the reverence of nature and nature spirits is for the most part absent from the theology and liturgy of Christianity.

It makes sense that ideological sticking points become rather irrelevant in the face of oppression, desperation, and survival. While Pagans living in housed communities often face the realities of Christian oppression on a regular basis, on the street everyone is equally subject to specific oppressive forces from outside the street community which act with no regard to creed. Those forces cause the community to unite and put differences aside just as much out of necessity as choice, but they put aside and embrace their differences in an honest and authentic manner. While a few homeless Pagans I know have very strong negative reactions to anything related to churches or Christianity, many do not view Christianity as an oppressive and harmful force in the way that seems to be the status quo among most housed Pagans. If anything, the churches are often the only institutions that help and protect them in the face of systematic oppression from both government and citizenry alike. Churches feed them, help to shelter them, provide clothing, toiletries, and other resources, and in Eugene most of them do so with no strings attached, no conversion attempts, and with a sincere respect for the fact that many of those they are serving may not be of the same faith. One of the churches in town housed a Pagan woman in a Conestoga hut for several months this past year. Not only did the pastor welcome the idea of a Solstice ritual in the parking lot, but he advertised the event on his congregational calendar.

I’ve basically been a polytheist since I was first old enough to understand the concept. I have never had either a significant interest in nor a significant resentment towards Christianity, save for an overall wariness and skepticism that I hold towards all institutional powers. Before I ever worked with the poor, I always regarded Jesus as one of a untold number of deities out there, one whose fan club seems to have missed the point of his teachings for the most part. But this work has brought me in contact with so many individuals and communities of faith that have not missed the point, and my experiences in their company have brought me a deep understanding of the energy of love that is Jesus and how it affects both those who serve the poor in his name and those who are oppressed and seek out his comfort. Working in such environments motivated by love and compassion also makes me strongly yearn for such a tradition of service to the poor in my own community. I realize that my experience in itself is most likely atypical and to an extent is a reflection of a community that is known for progressive ethics and religious diversity just as much as it is a testament to the power of those who truly follow the teachings of Jesus. But their example and their kinship helps me to fill the holes I found in my own theology, not so much filled through teachings of Jesus himself but from what I see and learn from those who reflect and emulate that energy in their words and actions and the love shown towards the poor.

While I have no desire to explore religious Christianity beyond the interactions that are already built into my present life, Teo Bishop’s recent piece about why he felt called back to Christianity spoke to me on a very deep level, and was a strong reminder of the sacred aspect of being in service to the poor. The moment that Teo describes in his interaction with a homeless woman, and the way that he was affected by that interaction is the kind of moment that I sometimes experience on a daily basis. And in the desperation and helplessness that I too often feel in those moments, often it is a specific taste, a specific energy that comes through. There is a current of surrender and desperation in those moments where you truly do give your heart, and the essence in that moment is incomparable to anything other than what I have come to understand as the love and energy that is Jesus.

A few days after I read Teo’s piece, I was riding my bike along an underpass when I saw two police officers in the process of rousting and citing a group of homeless campers. I remembered that the owner of the shopping complex next door had been regularly complaining to police about the homeless that take refuge under the bridge. As I stopped and approached to watch, someone came up behind me. I heard a man muttering softly as the police began to write another ticket.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

And there it was, that energy again, that sentiment that has no other comparison. I tried to think of something else to say, but nothing came. In that moment, I was grateful for those words. They were words of hope in an otherwise hopeless moment, originally spoken by someone who I knew for certain had our backs in this.

Alley Valkyrie


Alley Valkyrie is a social activist, writer, artist, and spirit-worker living in the Pacific Northwest. She currently divides her time between Portland and Eugene. Alley has spent the past several years working with homeless and impoverished populations in Oregon. She is also a freelance visual artist and photographer, and produces a clothing line called Practical Rabbit.
  • Boris

    Perhaps you remember the story of Aradia, how Diana sent her daughter to the earth to help the poor to defend temselves against their oppressors?

  • Sam Webster

    Paganism is not a religion founded on beliefs or texts, however many of them we have. It is rooted in action, of which ritual is but one kind. If you find something missing in your Pagan practice, add it. The Gods may not tell you to take care of humans, but They will support your work if you but ask.

    Conditions are different, so the old tales may not give you the stories you need to support your work. Again, ask the Gods and They will tell you new tales that suit today’s needs.

    The Gods are Providence.

    You can find everything you need with Them. )O+

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      That depends on the type of Paganism, surely?

  • Roi de Guerre

    An excellent point wonderfully delivered. Christian and Judaic teachings consider acts of service to be sacred. I agree that we as Pagans have a void in our mythos. Perhaps that hole only exists in comparison to Christian doctrines because we haven’t yet written down very much of what we do. It has been my experience that Pagans are possibly more compassionate on average, and are less accepting of selfishness and self-centerness. I certainly see many examples of Pagans acting in self-sacrificial service. When orthopraxic Pagans and orthopraxic Christians meet it seems that common ground is easy to find.

    I very much like the idea of getting the word out that acts of service are among the most meaningful offerings that we can make to the Gods.

  • TadhgMor

    I don’t know about others, but this does not match my experience. I’ve known plenty of people who interpret hospitality in such a way that it provides the “religious motivation” behind combating poverty and the like, beyond the other reasons. It seems very odd to me to suggest that pagans lack that, but perhaps this is sampling bias from those I know. I see none of this void that others are discussing, and frankly I’m slightly disturbed that some might think we should look to Christians rather than our own traditions (which seems to be an unspoken assumption in the article).

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      I’m not critical of Alley’s words, but I tilt toward Tadghmor on this point. For example there’s a European story (Celtic, I think) to the effect that one is challenged in the afterlife at a bridge. If one has given — iirc — food, clothing and shoes as gifts one gets to cross the bridge; if not it’s over the side.Thing is, there’s no central text or iconic figure to which all Pagans can point in this regard, because there’s no such thing for all Paganism(s). There are individual traditions like this. All Christians can point to the Christ and the Beatitudes and that thing in Matthew about what you do to the least of these, and a lot of the prophets who ragged on treatment of the poor; and they sound like a choir despite having in the past killed one another over disagreements as to how one points to such matter.

      • TadhgMor

        Just out of curiosity do you know what story? Because it’s not ringing a bell for me.

        But yeah I’m actually a little surprised by the thesis here, I didn’t mean to seem overly critical but it surprises me. Gift giving and charity are massively important in ancient pagan societies, even heavily hierarchical ones. If an ancient Irish noble had a client in poverty it dishonored him, as did contracts that were created to legally force someone into poverty. While I don’t know of any communities following the Brehon law on rank, a number of the general ideas have passed on to modern groups, including that one at least among a few people I know.

        It almost seems to me like unconsciously accepting a Christian viewpoint that we lack this, since that is a criticism I’ve heard thrown around.

        • Baruch Dreamstalker

          I have a memory of an overheard recording of a song about the “Bridge of Doom” or something like that.

          • RMMT

            It sounds to me like the song “Lyke-Wake Dirge,” which I believe is Christian, though Wikipedia says the imagery may be older than that. Reclaiming does a slightly rewritten version of the dirge, where each stanza ends with “May Earth receive thy soul” (instead of Christ, or God).

          • TadhgMor

            Honestly it doesn’t sound particularly Celtic to me, off the top of my head I don’t know anything in Irish or Welsh mythology. It’d usually be the sea, or a river, that you cross into the Otherworld if we’re talking water. Otherwise generally you’re talking about Sidhe mounds.

            I don’t even think I remember a bridge mundanely popping up in the stories, it’s always fords, which have a special significance.

        • Alley Valkyrie

          I didn’t intend for it to be a thesis. I thought that was pretty clear. I titled it “reflections” for a reason. This was a musing on my personal observations and experiences. I even expressly stated in the article that my experience is most likely atypical. Not a thesis in the least.

          Gift giving and charity may have been massively important in ancient pagan societies, but where’s that action today? And what about compassion and mercy?

          • TadhgMor

            Your reflections are on a topic of heavy discussion. You’ve taken a position on that, obliquely. That position seems to have been the general editorial bend here and elsewhere lately. What to you might be in a vacuum does not seem so from this end.

            All around you. I do not know your path, but that is something many of us do. It’s explicit in some of the traditional paths. I help others, kin or not.

            Compassion? Mercy? You sound very much like the Christians you mention. Those are important things in a person. I fail to see how they are relevant to me in a religious setting. When I rejected monotheism I ejected their language concerning faith and divinity as well; I find no value in it. I do not want to speak of “love” and “mercy”. Honor and courage? What of those? The Christians often lack those, why should we become them?

          • Alley Valkyrie

            The fact that you consider compassion and mercy to be specifically Christian values only strengthens my notion that there are holes in Pagan theology.

            You may see such values expressed all around you, but I do not. I live in an area that most likely has a higher percentage of those who identify with some type of pagan path than anywhere in the country, and there are next to no pagans on the front lines with me. I don’t work with Christians because I’m seeking out their company. I work with Christians because they’re the only ones out their doing the work.

          • TadhgMor

            I did not say that. I said you are using the TERMS of the Christians. You are working through their worldview.

            That is not something I do. I am a polytheist. I do not need the assumptions and terms of monotheists. In fact I find claiming to be a polytheist while maintaining such assumptions to be contradictory at best, but I understand that many in certain paths do so.

            Then perhaps your community is the relevant variable, not paganism as a whole?

          • Placental Mammal

            I guess I was right, TWH is a place for Christian apologia after all. Thank goodness I never donated to it.

            “I work with Christians because they’re the only ones out their doing the work.”

            I’d argue with you with the fact that not only pagans, but Jewish, Muslim, Atheist, and other groups in the US that do charity, but given the direction of this blogroll I can see where this is going. Waste of time, no point.

          • Alley Valkyrie

            It isn’t Christian apologia, and I don’t know why you have to be mean-spirited.

            Why would you bother to argue with me? I made clear that I’m talking about MY town, MY community, MY experience. I’m glad that there are Jewish/Muslim/Atheist charities in the US. They’re not in my town, they’re not doing work in my community. On the ground, working with the poor in Eugene, Oregon, the only ones who are out there for the most part are trained social workers and Christians. “Charity” is not the same as working with the poor one-on-one.

          • Placental Mammal

            You made a generalization, now you’re backing out of it not even admitting you were in error.

            I regret even complaining about how Mr. Bishop was allowed to keep blogging after the conversion announcement, it hasn’t made a damn difference. So please, by all means, let him back on. Let tons of hippie granola crunching Christians post on this blogroll. And please don’t stop there, add tons of sermons that cherry pick the content of the gospels too.

            There’s no point in postponing the inevitable of what The Wild Hunt is becoming so you guys might as well get the ball rolling.

          • TadhgMor

            I have no love for New Age Christians either, but you don’t need to be so rude here. I say that as probably the rudest person who regularly posts here, so I want you to understand if I find your tone problematic others probably will as well.

          • Alley Valkyrie

            Thank you. I know these are touchy subjects, but we can at least all be civil about it.

          • That’s enough. If you can’t be baseline civil, you’re done here.

          • Alley Valkyrie

            I didn’t make a generalization at all. I stated a true fact about my life. “I work with Christians because they’re the only ones out there doing the work.” This is a fact, about my everyday life. Its not about charities, or Muslims, or anything that may or may not happen anywhere else. What’s so hard to understand about that?

            No need to answer. I’m done engaging with your nastiness.

          • Philip Posehn

            Thank you. Now I can show my friends fighting intolerance in their Christian church that we too have prejudiced hateful people to deal with. I’m sure your words will be a source of comfort to them as they struggle to improve the outdated dogma that they must contend with.

          • TadhgMor

            Now wait a minute. I don’t agree with the tone of that comment either, but what you’re doing here is not a fair comparison (what “dogma” do we have?) and serves to ignore a point.

            There is a point, if badly expressed. Why the sudden push to allow Christians in? Do the superficial similarities of New Age Christianity mean that we should consider them part of our community? What boundaries do we have, if any? Who is part of this umbrella, and do we believe anything in common, or are we defined solely by “style” (nature reverence, etc)?

            There is a deeper issue under all of this, and it’s about identity. We’re heading for something, though what exactly it is I don’t know.

          • Philip Posehn

            I am totally replying to the accusation of “Christian apologist”. That smacks of “Nigger lover” and other similar epithets that I heard all to often in my youth. Bigotry is bigotry. If you feel that Christians have no place in our community, that is a different argument, although I feel that if there can be Atheist Witches, there can be Christian Pagans.

          • TadhgMor

            No it doesn’t. A Christian apologist is someone who defends Christianity. They use the term themselves. You are choosing to read it that way. While I’m sure it was used with some venom, it’s nowhere NEAR comparable. Just the power dynamics alone make that comparison way off course.

            Witchcraft is magic is it not? Not generally considered a faith (depending on who you ask). That comparison seems weak to me.

            How exactly can you be a pagan if you’re a monotheist? What makes you a “pagan” in your mind then?

          • Philip Posehn

            Ahhh! Now we get into yet another discussion that is worthy of its own thread. Does Paganism require polytheism? Does Christianity require monotheism? Many Hindus believe “We have a thousand Gods, but they are all faces of Brahma.” Christianity has at least ten names for God. It has been argued by some they are different personalities. I really have no quarrel with you. I was offended by the other fellow because I have a dear friend who is a Methodist minister and has offered to preform same sex weddings in defiance of church doctrine, at risk of her career and livelihood.

          • TadhgMor

            Yes, Christianity explicitly requires monotheism. They are a bit strict on that bit, something about Commandments I hear. Nor do I see how you can be “pagan” in any meaningful sense if you’re a monotheist. It’s just Christianity with New Age trappings, they like to do the same things (some) pagans do.

            That was the poster’s point, however much I disagree with the method of delivering it. This “everything is fine and good” ideology means the death of any coherent pagan identity, something we barely have as it is. If you bring in the Christians, then you’ll lose the conservative end of the “pagan spectrum”. If that happens I expect paganism and New Age will become synonymous. Which to me would be a tragedy, though I’m in the minority.

          • Philip Posehn

            I have Circled with Christians before and will do so again I am sure, just as I have with Asatru and Druids. That’s where learning happens. I was looking for a discussion with you on Philosophy, not dogma. Oh well. I am done withe the thread. Adieu.

          • TadhgMor

            This drives me insane. I am absolutely tired of the “anything goes” crowd refusing to even have the conversation.

            It’s cowardice. It’s a subtle moral superiority complex. It is a tactic without honor.

          • MadGastronomer

            The commandment requires henotheism, not monotheism. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Other gods may not be worshiped as greater than the God of Abraham, or alongside him, but might be acknowledged to exist by some Christians.

          • TadhgMor

            It might have meant that when it was written, I know of no mainstream church that accepts that interpretation now.

          • ELNIGMA

            are you kidding me?

          • ELNIGMA

            It is not the same but equally crucial. If you can’t afford the rent, you have no building, if you can’t buy food, you have nothing to give. This is just fact.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            Elnigma and PM make a valid point. Paganism is not institutionally built-up the way Christianity is. The Bush II Office of Merging Church and State (I forget the formal title) said Pagans lack “good hearts” because they don’t have soup kitchens. Well, soup kitchen = soup + kitchen. If you lack even one, no soup kitchen.Christianity has infrastructure like diocese offices and congregations with their own buildings. We don’t. CoG and Circle and others are trying to set up institutional infrastructure but it’s a long slog when you don’t have that stable parish base, which covens and the like do not provide. Not dissing covens — I HP for one — but it is what it is.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            “We don’t”

          • kenofken

            Something else lost in all of this is the fact that hands-on work with the homeless, like many specialized ministries – death midwifery, prison chaplaincy etc. – is not for everyone, and a person’s lack of participation does not necessarily reflect on a lack of compassion or deficiency in theology.

            This is very challenging work. It’s scary, for those who don’t know the ropes or who don’t have a certain aptitude for people or street smarts. Many of these folks have serious mental health and/or substance abuse issues, and some are downright dangerous.

            The scale of the problem in Eugene, like many metro areas, is also overwhelming and leads more than a few of the best volunteers burned out. Not everybody is equipped to handle life and work in a tent city or up for getting arrested. Rather than condemning pagans for not just turning up for this work, try some outreach and mentoring within the pagan community. I bet you’d find some takers if you reached out to the right people and invested the work to train them.

            As important as this hands-on work is, I also don’t think we need to accept the premise that it’s the only meaningful work done to alleviate poverty or somehow the most noble form.

          • ELNIGMA

            So much of what you’re saying is right.
            I’ll give this: one-on-one hand-to-hand helping probably is the most noble form, if one can do it. (I have no way of measurement, but I’m going to guess that. ) AV- go you.
            I agree that I don’t think this is something everyone can effectively do, necessarily. but this may be something that is a big problem that can be partially addressed by work done in smaller chunks, if they know what to ask of large numbers of people able to do a little. I don’t know.

          • Political activism involving reducing poverty is another way, in which I engage.
            Imagine, Walmart asking their underpaid workers to donate food for other underpaid workers! The fast food giants guaranteeing their employees in the restaurants never make a living wage due to low pay and short hours, while the top level spends money on a new plane.

            I am glad that Pope Francis is living up to his namesake’s work. He eschews the expensive and grand, because that money could be used for the poor–and because his ethics say it’s wrong for him to live high while others exist in squalor. He leads by example.

            Many pagans share this philosophy and behavior. I keep a box running throughout the year for clothing, food, toiletries, and so on. When it’s full, it goes to local “homed” charities. When we have a local pagan event, and there is a pagan organization collecting whatever, I try to give more than the minimum, even if it means I go out and buy what is needed. Do I have a Deity prompting me? Not that I know of, but I’m doing a drop of water, that multiplied, can turn a mill-wheel in the right direction.

            The “pagan” version of the Lyke-Wake Dirge that I know uses Dis, as in May Dis receive thy soul.

          • Alley Valkyrie

            Giving is charity. Giving requires means. Helping does not equate giving, and helping does not require means. There are a myriad of ways to help people one-on-one without it costing anyone a dime. Many people who help the homeless are also homeless, or are formerly homeless but still dirt poor, or who are a step away from homelessness themselves but still find ways to help. Personally, I’ve found that those who have the least are often willing to help the most. Because they’ve been there, and they understand on a deep level in a way that many who have not experienced poverty simply do not understand.

          • ELNIGMA

            I know as a fact giving can help food banks survive and serve people.Without people sharing their means, some food banks go empty and more people starve.
            If you call one “giving” and the other “charity”. I’m not sure what you are trying to get at with that. They are both gifts.

            I agree with you in part – many times those who have had the least at times do the most because they don’t see another situation as impossible for them.

          • Alley Valkyrie

            The distinction I was trying to make is between actions that involve money or goods and actions that just involve your time. To me, “giving” indicates the passing of money, food, goods, etc. You’re giving something to someone else. That’s an act of charity. Which a lot of people can’t do if they don’t have money or means. I understand that and respect that. But simply helping someone with your time or physical energy and labor can be done by almost anyone regardless of means. People often think that you need money to help. There are many small actions that one can take in the community that won’t cost you a dime but do make a real difference.

          • ELNIGMA

            The gift of someone’s money is often representational of their time and labour or respecting the time and labour/work of another person and it means exchange at the store, etc.. Going out directly with one’s physical energy and labour can be done by some with very little means, that’s true, too.
            good luck to you and all those who are giving.

          • ELNIGMA

            The post was very nice. the comment you are responding to also rubbed me the wrong way.

          • ELNIGMA

            His sole opinion is strengthening that notion?
            “I work with Christians because they’re the only ones out there doing the work.”
            Observer bias. You don’t sound like a newbie, so I’m sitting here trying to think how you possibly haven’t known multiple Pagans who worked in food banks or whatever and drawing a blank.
            Most Pagans who are working in mostly Christian settings or helping with food bank projects typically aren’t “out” within that context. It’s not an appropriate venue for proselytizing and what’s important is people are having their basic needs met – that’s the Work – not that more warm bodies fill open covens or whatever or even that people feel better about Pagans in general.
            Offerings aren’t loud. They aren’t about the show. They’re about relationship with other beings.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            Most Pagans who are working in mostly Christian settings or helping with food bank projects typically aren’t “out” within that context.That’s disturbing. It reinforces the Christians’ notion that they’re the only ones doing it, and that’s pernicious, as we found out in the Bush II administration.It’s not an appropriate venue for proselytizing […]Who’s proselytizing? It does us good to be out of the broom closet, if only in relieving the stress of hiding, even if not another person in sight becomes Pagan. I found this to be the case in Unitarian Universalism, back when “UU Paganism” was a phrase only recently coined. The ones who were out certainly made life easier for those who weren’t and gave some of them the courage to come out. OK, it was a largely Humanist, not Christian, show but a lot of Humanists were horrified at this step backward into superstition — some of the hard-edge atheists were glad the Old Gods were dead, just one to go now, and we were messing that up — and they could be quite as hostile as Christians and no more shy about it.Please do not take the preceding as snark on Humanism or Humanists generally. I used to be one and in some ways still am. Humanists are as diverse as Pagans or Christians, for better or worse. I don’t want to set off another theological range war on TWH.

          • ELNIGMA

            If the work at hand isn’t Pagan Pride Day, there’ may be no reason to make a display. but..Do what you will.

          • Alley Valkyrie

            Again, as I’ve stressed over and over again, I’m speaking as to my experience specifically in my community, where there’s arguably a stronger pagan culture and mindset than there is a Christian one. No, I haven’t known multiple pagans working in food banks, and it’s not because they’re in the closet. I know who I work with pretty closely. And in this town, people tend to be in the closet more about being Christian than being Pagan, believe it or not. This is a tiny place in terms of interconnectedness. Everyone knows everyone, and everyone knows everyone else’s business. It’s not that they’re in hiding, and it’s not that they’re not out doing amazing things. We have endangered old-growth forests here that pagans are utting their bodies on the line to save. But for the mst p art, they aren’t called to serve the poor.

          • ELNIGMA

            Okay. Well good for you for doing what you can. That’s a rare calling for Christians as well when it comes to giving away all they got to do it. Do you have suggestions of what you think other people can do to help?

          • Alley Valkyrie

            More than anything else, people can educate themselves about poverty, and then talk about it. Educate your friends and neighbors, work to fight misinformation and stereotypes about homelessness and poverty, and stand up against prejudice and hatred against the homeless when it happens in your presence or your community. Poverty and homelessness are increasing at a terrifying rate, and public perception is the greatest barrier to action on all political levels. Where I live, people die in the streets for lack of shelter or warmth mainly because the majority of this community believes that the homeless are criminals, that they’re lazy, that they are homeless by choice, that they are “takers” and think they are “entitled” to shelter, and “if they would just get a job, they wouldn’t be homeless”. Most people don’t understand that homelessness can happen to absolutely anyone, and its not always a result of “bad choices”. There is an incredibly strong and powerful false narrative about poverty and homelessness that people buy into, and that narrative is so far from the truth. Those who back that narrative are very powerful, and they have a lot to gain by convincing the middle class that the poor are to blame for their problems.

            The other thing that is so important is to simply connect with people who are out there suffering whenever you can. When people are used to being treated as though they don’t exist, a little humanity can go a long way. Simply saying hello to a street person, just looking them in the eye and smiling with a nod, can sometimes be the nicest thing that anyone ever does for them all day. If its cold, and you have a spare dollar or two, offer to buy a cup of coffee once in a while. Its the little acts of kindness that matter the most. We’re never going to solve the big problems. We will never “solve homelessness” no matter how hard anyone tries. But we all have power in the individual moments, we all have the ability to connect with others and share a moment of humanity.

          • ELNIGMA

            “I work with Christians because they’re the only ones out there doing the work.” sounds more judgmental and generalized than if you just said “In Eugene, Or all the homeless volunteers I work with are Christian”
            Am I right?

          • Alley Valkyrie

            I don’t see how statement that’s talking about what I do can be considered a generalization. I was talking about me, myself, out in the world. In the context of that statement, “out there” means the streets, the riverbank, my community. If that wasn’t clear, I apologize.

          • Dryadia

            I agree with LS, modern Paganism does indeed feel more individually focused overall. There is no large-scale push to help and it is up to each individual how their beliefs and ethics line up with doing good work. This means that there is both a lack of infrastructure from which to launch off from and a lack of focus, which is something that TM has bemoaned. There is no united front. This, however, does not mean there are not dedicated people and some groups who aren’t trying their damnedest to create a united front and some sort of infrastructure.

            But still, there are lots of Pagans quietly working to do good. The number of Pagans in helping professions attest to that. I’ve worked in mental health for 4 years. I’m currently in nursing school and when I’m done, I plan to work in community mental health, which means that I will be predominantly working with the homeless and those who are precariously close to homelessness. I live in St. Louis, which is not the most progressive place in the country, and I know many nurses, techs, therapists, and social workers who are Pagan. Many of them even have told me they were ‘called’ to service. I feel that I was called to help the mentally ill. However, in my work in the healthcare field and in mental health in particular, I have known many aggressive Christians. I have one friend who’s out of the broom closet and she feels constantly bullied at her job. I know others who were out and had difficulty finding a job, in nursing! While it’s all well and good to boast about being brave and representing your community, what would that community do if you found yourself without a job because of your religion? Some of us have communities, I do, but those communities are small and we are not rich. Where is our legal defense? Where is our shelter? I am from the Midwest though, so I don’t know what it’s like to live in another place with a different culture of Pagans. But here, I do not feel at liberty to be out to everyone. At least not until I have a job.

            This is a complicated topic. The one thing I’m not interested in doing is belittling your work or your experiences, Alley. I have utmost respect for the work you do. I also know that context makes a huge difference. The culture of your area’s Pagans might be different than mine. However, there is one large parallel between our geographic locations, the homeless of both communities are predominantly helped by Christian organizations. In StL, if you want to work with the homeless, you have to work with Christians. Unlike Eugene, however, many of those Christians working in the streets are not friendly to differences in belief. I would love to talk more, to share notes so to speak, but I’ve already written a damn novel. It is nice to find another Pagan who is so devoted to working with the poor.

          • Sarah

            Alley, thank you so much for this article and for your service. I’ve been struggling with these issues myself, but I won’t go into that here because it’s a painful process that I’m not ready to have picked apart in the comments section of TWH. I just wanted to make sure someone mentioned that Christians aren’t the only ones out there doing the work, because you are. You give me hope.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Modern Paganisms are far more often about the individual than about community, which seems to have been the more common focus of historical paganisms.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        Until the various Paganisms get over their doctrine phobia, I don’t think there will ever be the level of consensus on an issue that Christianity has.

        Some claim “Paganism” to be rooted in action, not belief. But, really, those actions are seldom any different from other, non-Pagan, peoples actions.

        • Baruch Dreamstalker

          As my wife is a shrink I hesitate to use “phobia” casually. I think “Pagan doctrine” is a virtual oxymoron because “doctrine” means some subset of the group has decided an important issue for everyone else. For all time in some applications. That is so against the Pagan grain. (Unitarian Universalist too btw.)

          • TadhgMor

            Is that really so much different than now? The only difference is your interpretation is on top, so it seems less obvious to you. “Doctrine” is a strong word, but things are being defined and boundaries being set.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            I may be up past my bedtime but I don’t grasp your question or your point. Specifically “now” and “on top.”

          • TadhgMor

            Your vision of pagan identity seems to be the more widely accepted one, and most “mainstream” pagan media is supporting it.

            So the thing you’re warning against is occurring. Perhaps not in a rigid fashion, but a subset (perhaps a majority) is deciding issues for others. It just happens to be along lines you agree with, so that is less obvious.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            Gotcha, thanks. We do have a majority, or at least a hefty plurality, and minorities. That doesn’t give a clue as to who we are; it’s an example of the human condition.You can tell who we are by the way minorities are treated (and I am now repeating myself from a few days ago). You don’t really have a complaint about having majority doctrine forced on you, so much as that the majority doctrine sucks up all the oxygen (or so it appears to seem for you).I posted suggestions about addressing that recently. You said you weren’t temperamentally suited to apply them. Alas, my earlier advice is what I am temperamentally suited to offer.

          • TadhgMor

            There is a distinct undercurrent of the majority, or plurality, or whatever, refusing to discuss certain issues. They’re always “off topic”. So I’m not sure it’s quite as benign as you suggest. It’s certainly not the same as having doctrine forced onto me either, though.

            I am what I am. I am the radical end. The reactionary I suppose. Compromise is important, but I feel I’ve been pushed into a space where any further compromise is too much, I lose too much and gain nothing. There is no benefit to me remaining silent. But what you suggest requires me to play nice and hide certain things, and I’m far too tired of doing so.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            I know one issue you hold dear but can’t get any traction on, at least at TWH, is appropriation. I’m one of those who don’t think it’s an issue, at least in the detail that you do.Is there another issue you think is being slighted? Maybe we could agree on something.

          • TadhgMor

            Appropriation is the big one, but I think identity issues are also being pushed aside a considerable bit.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I would put it the other way around. You can’t appropriate if the identities are not there.

          • TadhgMor

            True, I suppose they really are linked.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Identity is the one ongoing ‘crisis’ for Paganism.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I use “phobia” because it fits.

            I don’t see a problem with doctrine. Many different religions have it, to a greater or lesser extent.

            Heathens are noted for having the Nine Noble Virtues (even if not all Heathens acknowledge their validity), Wiccans have their Rede…

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            I’m not saying Pagans have a problem with doctrine per se. We have a problem with one doctrine for all Pagans.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            That is likely because There is more variety of religion within the Pagan Umbrella than without it.

            It does seem, however, that many (if not most) people who accept the identifier “Pagan” dislike doctrine, dogma, scripture and all the other trappings of organised religion.

            Not something I understand, since I can see the use of all of those things.

    • Alley Valkyrie

      It may not match your experience, and that’s fine. If all our experiences matched, we wouldn’t have much to talk about.

      I saw none of the void I spoke of either, until I spent the past few years working with the poor and with others who do the same. And I’m not saying in the least that we should necessarily “look to Christians rather than our own traditions”. Personally, it doesn’t threaten me in the least that there’s concepts in other theologies that aren’t necessarily expressed as fully in Paganism. I feel that to ignore that is much more disturbing than to express it. But your mileage may vary.

      • TadhgMor

        But they ARE expressed in paganism. Maybe this is a recon thing, because I’ve never heard someone suggest that they aren’t. But I’ve never heard it from any of the less traditional paths either.

        • Alley Valkyrie

          Where are they expressed? Where is the god that tends to the poor, criticizes wealth, and commands his/her followers to serve the poor and treat them with mercy and compassion?

          • TadhgMor

            If you want the Christians demigod, I’m certain they’ll be happy to bring you into their church.

            If you’re asking which of my Gods is going to fill the same role as Jesus, then you’ve already made a fundamental error. You are comparing incomparable things, from different times and places.

            Hospitality. Virtues. The notion of honor. All of those can encompass what you seek, but they do not work through the Christian terms and concepts you use.

          • Alley Valkyrie

            I do not see hospitality and virtue as the same as mercy, compassion, or service. And again, I don’t see the latter as “Christian values”

            And how have I made a fundamental error? Mary Ann believes in Jesus because she finds no pagan equivalent. Do you have a god, a story, a myth, a piece of liturgy that expresses the same contests and values that Jesus does for her?

          • TadhgMor

            I do not know what it means to her. Nor, frankly, do I care. I do not share your and her willingness to mix and match. I am not an eclectic, the traditions matter to me.

            Again. Not Christian values. Christian terms. A Christian worldview. Language shows many things deeper than simply the words themselves.

            Because you are first, implying that somehow that is something I need, that I’m lacking, that I am lesser than you if I do not fill this hole that bothers you so much. The implication is that I am flawed.

            I do not find myself flawed (in that regard). I fail to see why the Christians must be the measuring stick.

            Do I need one? Must I have religious backing for these values? Those values are expressed differently by me, that does not mean they are not filled. You are confusing different terminology with different values. Simply because I reject the Christian language does not mean I reject the value.

          • Alley Valkyrie

            Im not an eclectic either. For the record, I’m a Feri initiate. And in the context of my tradition, I’m not mixing and matching. It was made clear to me in my training that Jesus is just another one of many Gods and doesnt necessarily warrant either special treatment nor condemnation.

            And I didn’t say in the least that you’re lacking or that you need to fill the hole. That implication isn’t coming from me. You mentioned that you thought there were pagan expressions of these concepts, and I questioned you further out of curiosity. No implications, no judgments.

          • TadhgMor

            Okay, though that does not mean you are not following monotheist assumptions. That makes sense for you. Good. That is not the case for some of the rest of us. So please do not expect me to embrace the monotheist assumptions or terms. The middle ground embraced by Feri, some forms of Wicca, and many eclectics between monotheism and polytheism is not for me.

            The entire point, which you mentioned, is that clearly there is something lacking to you. If that is not the point, what is?

            Further, you seem to have completely discounted the hard polytheists from this conversation, which is part of what bothers me. You talk about “Christo-pagans” and talk up Christians, while either not knowing or ignoring practices among recons that could fill the gap you feel you see. I know I’m not the only one who takes sacred hospitality to mean caring for the less fortunate, and I’m fairly certain it’s not just Gaelic or Celtic recons who interpret it that way.

            I’ve been hammering at the topic a good deal lately, but it bears repeating. From where I stand it feels like we’re being forced out of the “pagan umbrella” marginalized, while you embrace unorthodox Christians in our place. Your reflections here reflect that quite strongly from my (admittedly paranoid) seat.

          • Alley Valkyrie

            Yes, there is something completely lacking FOR ME. You say it isn’t lacking for you. That’s why I was asking you for more details. I feel like we’re not actually hearing each other.

            I’m not discounting hard polytheists. But I’m not one, and this was a perspective piece. Again, my own experience, and yours may vary, and that’s fine. And if yours does vary, I’m curious. I mentioned “Christo-pagans” within the context of talking about how boundaries of practice blur more in the homeless community than the do in the housed community. I’ve never met a hard polytheist homeless person who told me straight up why they didn’t need Jesus. If I had, I would have included that in my piece as well.

          • TadhgMor

            Maybe we aren’t.

            You’re part of a narrative here. Unfortunately, your piece can’t be taken on it’s own. It cannot. Not with how frequently this type of subject has come up.

            “When I first felt the pull that started me on this journey, I recognized that the spiritual narrative around that pull was much common and relevant to Christianity than it was to Paganism. While I hadn’t quite given up all my worldly possessions and sworn a vow of poverty, I have sacrificed a theoretical life of ‘comfort’ and inevitably accepted a life of near-poverty in order to do this work full-time in a way that at least in America, is seldom seen outside of a Christian context.”

            That does not quite seem like you’re only speaking for yourself, or a gap you see, rather than an external one. Perhaps it is a problem of language, but that outward facing tone is present throughout.

          • Alley Valkyrie

            And I guess I just don’t see what you’re seeing, and/or we’re going to have to agree to disagree. In that paragraph, I’m making an observation which amounts to “I’m following a path right now that is mostly associated with Christianity.” Am I incorrect in that observation? Am I speaking for someone else there? Is it your position that I’m wrong, that the idea of giving everything up and serving the poor is not an action that most people associate with Christianity? I didn’t think I was going off a ledge with that assertion.

            Perhaps my piece can’t be taken on its own from where you stand, but I made every possibly effort in writing it to stress that this is my personal take, and that it may not necessarily be typical. And that’s really the best I can do. I think that holding “this type of subject” to a different standard than other things one would write about is arbitrary and illogical. But obviously you see it differently.

          • TadhgMor

            Yes, I think that observation is incorrect. It’s certainly what the Christians would like to say, but it’s a tiny minority of them doing this as well. Further I’ve personally worked with plenty of Jews and Muslims doing the same(not on this specific issue, I worked with them on other things), as well as nonreligious people. You are the one continually choosing to put it into a Christian context, using their language and imagery, when it is not necessary to do so, which is making this all less clear.

            Your language is ambiguous then. That’s one of the major issues. You can rarely have too much clarity. It seems, despite your efforts, that you’re talking broadly. That’s the way I and others read the piece. But again, we might be primed for it because this is a “hot topic”, so it’s not entirely on you.

            This type of subject concerns our fundamental identity as a community. Of course it’s going to be different. Even the fluffiest of pagans has some attachment, and despite me being well on the conservative end for TWH, there are those even more passionate than I am.

          • Alley Valkyrie

            And while I understand being admittedly paranoid, I really don’t think your paranoia is warranted in my case. If I had written this as an academic thesis, by all means go after me. But I’m not forcing anyone out, not trying to marginalize anyone.

            I wish there was more of a tradition of sacred hospitality. I wish that idea, that current, that motivation was out there more. But it isn’t. Where I live, I probably know more serious (religious as opposed to cultural) Pagans than serious Christians, everyone from fluffy Wiccans to hard polytheists. But they’re not doing this work for the most part. They’re doing a lot of different work, environmental and social justice work which I deeply respect and honor. But they’re not down at the riverbank with me. And when I’m down at the riverbank and I’m in over my head and desperately need help, I have a very short list of people who I know I can count on. None of them are serious Pagans.

          • TadhgMor

            You’re on a pagan blog writing up very favorable things about Christianity while belonging to a tradition which admits a degree of Christian influence (which I respect a great deal for admitting it, unlike a good deal of Wiccans). You are nearly as far from me as the Christians are, yet you’re discussing “paganism” in general and it’s holes. If I tried to do the same I know exactly how it would end; I’ve seen it here quite a bit. So the paranoia comes from experience (both here and elsewhere. You don’t ignore something that kept you from getting stabbed twice).

            But how does that experience reflect on paganism as a whole. What you wrote is as a whole, but what you’re writing here is about your experience and needs. There is a fundamental mismatch in the tone of your article and this comment.

            For the record, and I don’t mean to sound rude, but you can’t expect everyone else to do what you’re doing. Those Christians have money and support networks for this. We don’t, and there are quite a bit of things we need as a community before we can start talking about putting limited resources out like that. The hierarchy of Christianity serves to their advantage here. I don’t feel like you’re taking into account those practical differences.

          • Valerie F.

            I want to thank you for this interesting blog post. As a pagan-UU identified seminarian at a major divinity school, I have struggled to put many of my thoughts on the ways my interests and theologies blur and how challenged I am by the Christian theology I have studied, both modern and ancient.. I am drawn towards the environmental justice issues, however, not the poor. But I think your experience is quite relevant and important; I think the issue of calling or the language you use may or may not be theologically “Pagan”, whatever that means, but you have expressed it thoughtfully and energetically, and I thank the Wild Hunt for continuing to a provide a platform for these issues.

          • I have an ethnic tradition of hospitality, that I have apparently merged with my ida of sacred service.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Hospitality is a major concept in the Germanic world-view, also.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol


            3. He hath need of fire, who now is come,
            numbed with cold to the knee;
            food and clothing the wanderer craves
            who has fared o’er the rimy fell.

            4. He craves for water, who comes for refreshment,
            drying and friendly bidding,
            marks of good will, fair fame if ’tis won,
            and welcome once and again.

            37. One’s own house is best, though small it may be,
            each man is master at home;
            with a bleeding heart will he beg, who must,
            his meat at every meal.

            47. Young was I once, I walked alone,
            and bewildered seemed in the way;
            then I found me another and rich I thought me,
            for man is the joy of man.

            49. My garments once I gave in the field
            to two land-marks made as men;
            heroes they seemed when once they were clothed;
            ’tis the naked who suffer shame!

            52. Not great things alone must one give to another,
            praise oft is earned for nought;
            with half a loaf and a tilted bowl
            I have found me many a friend.

            Those lines, understood in the right way speak of caring for your fellow man.

          • ELNIGMA

            I feel the compassionate thing is to remind her of the spiritual things/beings that make her happy, rather than try causing a conversion.

          • Genexs

            Ally, sorry to jump in here. But there are any number of Pagan myths which deal with the serious issues that concern you (and should concern many of us). Have you heard of the story of Philemon and Baucis (the story of the Mysterious Travelers, for which a number of Christian legends find their inspiration) as told by Ovid? Or have you read “The Golden Ass” and of the qualities of Isis in that story, as a comforter of those in dire need? IMHO, in that story she matches Jesus point for point.

          • Sam Webster

            With respect, I suggest the Orphic Hymn to Hermes, and arguably the Homeric as well. However, I would take it not as merely serving the poor, but solving the problems that lead to having poor in our society, for which there is no excuse.

          • thehouseofvines
          • Deborah Bender

            Horses for courses.

            How many pagan deities command their followers to engage in any specific actions or behaviors at all, except for devotional offerings and purity regulations for the priesthood?

            Some pantheons include one god or goddess whose province is justice or balance (e. g. Ma’at). On the whole, Lawgiver or Issuer of a Code of Conduct is not a commonplace or normative role for pagan deities. Pagan gods may set an example or inspire their devotees to particular acts or ways of living; very rarely do they command, IMHO.

            The model par excellence of a deity issuing commands to his followers is the God of Israel, who gave the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mt. Sinai and about six hundred others, both general and specific, in the texts of the Pentateuch. The Hebrew prophets built on this base to demand fair treatment for the poor. Jesus, who was a Jew, was speaking from this tradition.

            Within the Abrahamic religious family, prophetic Judaism tends to see poverty as a failure of social justice and therefore Jews are more likely to address the problems of the poor by (for example) supporting labor unions, social safety nets, a minimum wage, public schools and low income housing. Christianity thinks not systemically but about compassion toward individuals, so Christians are more likely to volunteer at the soup kitchen.

            Different religions have different core concerns. It is just not possible for any one religion to cover all possible bases well. The core concerns of a particular religion will garner its deepest thought and greatest resources while some other concerns are going to get less attention. Specialization is why many Japanese go to the Shinto priest for marrying and the Buddhist priest for burying. Christianity thinks that care for the most miserable, poor, outcast members of society is really important and channels resources to that care. There are other issues that Christianity neglects.

            I agree that contemporary neopagan religions are lacking in positive commandments to help the poor. There are multiple reasons for this. 1) Neopaganism’s core concerns are elsewhere. 2) Neopagan religions lack much in the way of exhortation to any kind of action, partly because so many neopagans are refugees from Christianity and hate to be told what to do. 3) Neopagan religions IMHO would benefit from stronger, more specific guidelines on right action, but such guidelines should be developed in an organic way out of pagan worldviews and values, rather than as (alleged) edicts from a deity, which is really not a pagan way of thinking.


    There’s no void/absence to be had of compassion whether Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Pagan, Atheist, Agnostic, or Whatever, unless one can’t find it within themselves. Most people are compassionate. It’s not even that humans are humans, and humans tend to care for each other, (at least if they fit within the right dynamic) – compassion is beyond that. Animals have compassion, they’ll often care for each other and even for us (greater than we deserve).
    I think Jesus put some nice ideas out about compassion – he wasn’t at all the first to do it, nor is it the only religion with them.
    This one’s from Hinduism

    “Yudhishthira arrives at the entrance to paradise, carrying a dog in his arms. His brothers and Draupadi, who left the earth with him, have fallen from the mountains into the abyss along the way. A gatekeeper tells him to abandon the dog if he wants to enter paradise. He refuses to leave a creature so faithful, and is permitted to enter, for this was a test, the dog was the god Dharma in disguise. In paradise, further surprises await him. His enemies are there, smiling and contented. His brothers and Draupadi, on the other hand, seem to be in a place of suffering and torment. Why? Yudhishthira decides to stay with his loved ones in hell, rather than enjoy the delights of heaven with his enemies. This too was a test, the “final illusion.” They are all permitted to enter paradise.”

  • kenofken

    I’m just done with people who insist on measuring pagan religion against a Christian yardstick and griping about where they think we come up short. I find calling to do what I can to improve the world in whatever way I can both through ancient myths and examples, but also through my understanding of the world gained from my own interaction with the gods.

    If you find the figure of Jesus or Christian theology more compelling than pagan practice, then by all means, go join them. But quit trying to sidestep us to conversion in the guise of thoughtful critiques of paganism. “I’m not saying we should be Christian, but they have everything we lack.”…

    Seriously, can we not have one forum, one space in this world where we can be free of this bullshit and do some positive engagement of who WE are?


      I think this post as discussion was appropriate, well-done and pretty much inevitable after the Teo Bishop got brought up.
      But each time someone does say anything not flattering towards Christianity in forums, people are so quick to defend how nice they are or explain Christianity to its critics. Sometimes, not this time, the “righteousness” gets thick.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      Doe we even know who we are?

      • Alley Valkyrie

        I think that on many levels, we have no idea who we are. Thats why discussions like this bring up such emotions.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          And, yet, every time people try for a working definition, others shoot them down.

          Some people like ‘fuzzy and vague’. It makes things easier.

    • Placental Mammal

      I see myself as more of a magician first, pagan second, and I’m pretty sick of this.

      And it’s not that I’m without out some sympathy from a few of the OP’s points, but if anything I think criticism should be at the more militant Atheists who see themselves as progressive, even in the Atheism+ communities because I’ve seen a few VIP liberal Atheist bloggers (IIRC, PZ Meyers being one of them) whine about dare having to work with Christians in activist circles for social change, something which I simply have a problem wrapping my mind around. If anything I’ve noticed liberal pagan and occultist types more willing to work with them than Sam Harris fanboys.

    • TadhgMor

      There has been an awful lot of this lately.

    • Alley Valkyrie

      Sidestep you to conversion? I’m not a Christian, have never identified as one, and have no plan on ever doing so. How am I trying to sidestep you to conversion? I never said they have everything we lack. I focused on ONE point.

      Sorry you consider it bullshit. “Who WE are?” This IS who I am. Who is the theoretical “we” you refer to? The good, pure Pagans who dare not think of Jesus?

  • RMMT

    Alley Valkyrie, I really enjoy your writings at the Wild Hunt and I’m always excited when I see a new post by you. However, I am struggling with some aspects of this piece. I don’t know how much of my feelings are in response to the recent online discussions about Christianity and Paganism (and I agree with TadghMor that “What to you might be in a vacuum does not seem so from this end”) and how much of it is just old wounds from growing up in an evangelical area. So I don’t know that I’m reading the piece with the clearest of eyes. It’s painful for me to read about the fabulously accepting Christians contrasted with the Pagans who don’t do enough, or don’t do the right things, or are lacking in some way, or so it seems. When I look at my life, I see Catholic priests in one of the poorest cities of the nation going on lavish vacations and driving luxury cars while addiction and homelessness are rampant; friends being forced to confess their sins of being Pagan and/or queer in front of whole congregations before they can receive assistance; my own work with impoverished youth.

    Setting aside all that… genuinely asking here, what if Pagans see their work on behalf of animals, plants, fungi, etc as a spiritual mission of working for the impoverished? Perhaps they have less of a human centered view? (I say this as someone who does all my work with humans, unless you count planting a butterfly garden!) And while it’s impossible to speak of “a” Pagan theology, I am curious about your thoughts on the story of Aradia.

    Thank you again for your thought-provoking piece.

    • Alley Valkyrie

      I think that overall, the feelings that I see in this thread are more indicative of the recent online discussions of this subject overall than specifically about what I wrote. That’s understandable. I partly wrote this piece as a reaction to examining my own practices in contrast to the criticism I saw around Teo’s embracing of Jesus. As someone who doesn’t identify as Christian in the least and yet identified with a lot of what Teo spoke about regarding Jesus, I was rather affected by a lot of what I read. I understood it, but it sure didn’t apply to my reality. However, I didn’t write this in defense of Teo, nor in defense of Christianity. There’s a big difference between defending something and pointing out where you think they got some things right. I am an intense critic of Christianity, especially when comes to the wealth, power abuses, all that you describe. But I held those things as blanket assumptions and part of my journey has been in learning that not all churches and not all Christians are like that. Megachurches and the whole gospel of wealth is pretty disgusting if you ask me. But shoestring ministries that don’t even have physical churches and spend all their time and energy serving the poor are worth tipping my hat to. I’ve seen tons of ugliness come out of Christianity. I think that the Religious Right is absolutely destroying this country. But I’ve also experienced the opposite of that. And I’m sure its atypical – I said that in my piece. But the point that I was trying to make is that when people actually dedicate themselves to Jesus’ message about the poor, they often accomplish amazing things and are doing so right alongside me and my work, and I admire that greatly.

      I think that the difference between where I stand and many who are having a negative reaction is exactly what you stated – a lot of it has to do with old wounds on the part of those who have had damaging experiences in the Christian Church. I’m the first to admit – I do not carry that baggage. I grew up in a secular household where the only time I was ever in a church was for a marriage or a funeral. I found Paganism in my teens and I’m still there nearly twenty years later. I have studied Christianity from an outsider religious perspective as well as a historical perspective, but I do not carry the wounds that many do. As a result, I’m not triggered in the least by the idea of Jesus, especially because I interpret him from a polytheistic standpoint. It wasn’t my intention to push people’s buttons. To be honest, I was in a strange headspace while writing this because I knew from the beginning that while I felt there was absolutely nothing controversial about what I was writing, that it would inevitably stir up controversy anyway. And that initially made me shy away from wanting to write it, but that feeling also made me realize that I had to write it. Nobody should be censoring their truth because they’re afraid how people who are supposedly part of their ‘community’ will react.

      I’m also not trying to say that we don’t do enough, and I’m sorry if it came off that way. Pagans do amazing things all over the spectrum. I do think that serving the poor is one place where we could do better. But Pagans do some incredible work, and I don’t want to discredit that in the least. Locally, I have Pagan friends who are resisting the Keystone XL pipeline, friends who engage in forest defense, and friends who work on issues involving rivers and endangered salmon. I honor their work deeply. A decade ago, I was right alongside them. But in the specific line of work I’m in now, I seem to always be surrounded by Christians. It was meant as observation as opposed to accusation, but at the same time I’ll admit it gets lonely sometimes. Its just my personal wish that there was more of a tradition of service to the poor in our community, and in part I think that’s due to the lack of (well-known, accessible) theology that stresses such work.

      I have a friend who works locally on the water quality in the Willamette. Part of the motivation for her work is just as you describe – she knows that the impoverished rely on the river in ways that the privileged do not. They drink the water straight before it hits a treatment facility. They bathe in it. They rinse their cup and fork in it. And she wants to know that the water they’re accessing is clean. I’m beyond thankful that someone like her is working that angle. I’m glad for all the work in the world that Pagans do, no matter what it is.

      Regarding Aradia, my thoughts are as follows: If I remember correctly (and please correct me if I’m wrong) she taught the poor witchcraft to use against the oppressors, in that case being the Church. She was a warrior, she taught them how to be warriors. She helped them fight back. Jesus was a peacemaker, not a warrior. He did not tell or inspire or ask the poor to fight back. He showed them compassion, granted them mercy, told them that their are blessed as they are and that their reward will be in heaven. Most of the poor I know, they are tired, downtrodden, they don’t have the energy to fight. They’re sick of fighting back. The warrior narrative most likely wouldn’t speak to them. Most aren’t looking for a battle-warrior deity who will teach them the tools they need to overtake the oppressors. I can say from personal experience – a huge part of what I try to do in the community is to teach the homeless the tools to fight the oppressors and inspire them to do so – and let me tell you that for so many reasons there are very few who will actually take that step. Most don’t want to fight back. We’re talking about a group of people who plead guilty to crimes they didn’t commit EVERY DAY in this town because its less stressful for them to spend a few nights in jail than it is to fight the system. They don’t want to fight, they just want peace and mercy.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        Here is some controversy for you:

        Many Pagans work hard to save the ecosystem/environment.

        The single biggest threat to the ecosystem is human overpopulation.

        Logically, we need to save fewer people if we want to save the environment.

        (Of course, the people you are working so hard for have a far lower ecological impact than the car driving yuppies out there…)

        • kenofken

          I don’t know that our environmental ethic requires us to advocate some sort of Malthusian “culling of the herd.”

          Most modern pagans seem to hold sustainability as a value, and that is one of the imperatives that motivates many of us to social justice work. The OP seems to feel you’re not helping The Poor unless you’re doing so in the street-level mode of the early Christians, and that the only way to do so is through belief in Jesus. Of course another way to work the problem of homelessness is to walk upstream and try to figure out why there are so damn many of them in a wealthy nation that is supposed to be all about opportunity and advancement.

          When we do that, we find out that there is a broad consensus, and policies, in favor of Social Darwinism. We also find that the chief engineers and a critical mass of supporters of that system are Christian!

          So while these bands of good-hearted Christ followers are in the streets salving the wounds of the downtrodden, their co-religionists are hard at work making more of them – creating policies that have fostered record income disparities, virtually eliminated middle class jobs, given predatory lenders free reign, de-funded assistance programs and enacting laws that make it a crime to BE homeless or even to aid them.

          In this arena, pagans are carrying their share of the load in actions such as the Occupy movement, and in many more mundane ways in their personal and political work.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            As I said, the ones doing the most harm are in the upper echelons of society, not at the bottom.

      • MadGastronomer

        I’ve just been looking at Aradia, and no, she wasn’t a warrior and she didn’t teach the people to be warriors. She taught them to resist and survive, to blight the crops of the rich and make their own crops thrive, how to poison and bespell their enemies, but that’s not at all the same thing as a warrior.

        • Alley Valkyrie

          They we have a semantic disagreement on what constitutes “warrior” and it’s probably best we agree to disagree.

      • RMMT

        Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I am glad we can dialog about these kinds of issues! What I’m left most strongly with after reading this post and its comments is that I need to do some work around my wounds here. I am very much reminded of the trauma work I needed to do to stop me from feeling imperiled by all unknown men — it simply doesn’t help *me* to feel that level of anxiety,and it makes it harder to suss out true threats. Thanks for not hiding your truth! Blessings on you and your comrades.

      • KhonsuMes Matt

        Thank you Alley for this reply and for the article itself. I am awed at your dedication to your work, and also that you have had the courage to post your article. It has caused me to think a lot, look into myself and my own path in Kemetic Reconstruction. For that I thank you. May your path continue to be fruitful and grow in power.

  • ChristopherBlackwell

    There appears to be a lot of emotion stirred up by even talking about Christians in relation to Pagans. Some of this I can understand might be related to bad experiences with Christians in the past. But is either us or them the only way to go. Yes I understand wanting a place to discuss Pagan issues. But I think at some point we will have to develop a more rational view of Pagans and Christians in general.

    To start with, we live in an heavily Christian influenced nation and each of us belong to very small minority religions. While we are likely more comfortable among some of our Pagan community we still have to deal with Christians in our daily life and for our own survival and growth we are going to have to wrk out some kind of relationship with our Christian majority. As some of them may become quite dangerous to our survival our survival may require to build bridges to those who are at least not interested in our distraction ad those who might even stand at our side if needed. Minorities need a bridge with some of the majority in their survival plans.

    Another thing that can do us in is continuing the victim position longer than necessary, this means we have to work on healing ourselves and stop acting like victims. Victims draw those that need victims for their own pleasure. All healing requires our responsibility and our personal effort. Once we destroy our victim mentality we will be much less enjoyable targets of the religious bullies like any other bully.

    Meanwhile read the article and the comments and come to your own conclusions but other wise why not let it die? Develop a little bit thicker skin. We may not control all the stuff that comes at us in life, but we do have full control over how we choose to react to it.

    I learned this the hard way once being a person covered with very noticeable buttons that others rather enjoyed punching to watch my all too predictable reaction. It did not end until I became determined to disconnect those buttons so that I no longer could provide the bullies with their amusement and then they moved on to other people. Then I started becoming good at aiding other underdogs making it even more unpleasant for the bullies.

    Meanwhile our infighting does more harm within our communities then those outside our community could do on their own. Why help those that wish to harm us? At the same time in reacting stop copying the bad habit into our religions that you fled Christianity to get away from.

    • TadhgMor

      I am immensely uncomfortable with your comment, because it veers very close to victim blaming in my reading. “Stop acting like victims”…

      • kenofken

        It’s not on us to “just get over” anything. This isn’t even about whether we can get along or work with Christians. It isn’t, for me at least, about some deep sense of grievance from my Christian origins or youth. It’s about why, on a pagan channel we love and support, do we have to endure Christian proselytizing?

        Her self identity notwithstanding, this piece was a personal testimony for Jesus, along with an assertion that paganism is deficient because we don’t have Jesus, or a figure commanding us to to live the Christian vision of service. And we’re closed minded if we don’t accept this as authentically pagan, because, really, any idea with a positive groove is as pagan as any other. So paganism is fine, but an incomplete vision of the Truth.

        I can get this line from any of the Catholic or Evangelical apologists who dominate most of the religion sites, or from the ex-witch ministries. I don’t need it here, and a “Teo was right” essay is not what the pagan community needs right now to move on from that.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          Half the time, it is about whether Christians will work with Pagans, or other ‘alternative religions’.

  • Guest

    I can’t speak for Pagans as a whole, but I feel that I know who I am as a Pagan. Paganism reminds and affirms that I am part of the soul of nature, part of an interconnected whole, part of the flow of creation itself. Divinity is immanent, manifesting in an endless display of form. This makes me feel much more a part of life than the notion that we are the errant creations of a superior and angry God. As others have evidenced, we do have legends of hospitality within our traditions. For example, the Celts were famed for their traditions of hospitality. If folks, homeless or otherwise, don’t know these stories, perhaps it is simply that they are not prevalent in our society. Our traditions are only being revived, after being ground almost to dust, in the last few generations after all. Also, to me, the idea that the Divine is in every being, and that we are all interconnected, lends itself to a spirit of hospitality regardless of what sort of stories we have.

    I don’t have a problem with Jesus. As a living symbol Jesus is as good as any other. But I do have a problem with monotheism, and unfortunately Jesus comes part and parcel with monotheism. I suppose I also feel some concern about holding Paganism to a Christian yardstick. The day Paganism becomes “same religion, different Gods” will be a sad day for me indeed.

    • Sharon Knight

      Sheesh, I don’t get Disqus at all. That was me, Sharon, who posted the above. I tried to move the comment to reply to the comment “do we even know who we are” and instead it just deleted my identity. Kind of ironic, when you think of it.

  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    Perhaps you’re not looking in the right places, Alley.

    As an example, what about Philostratus’ Lives of the Sophists 2:547, on Herodes Attikos, who had wealth on the level of Bill Gates in the second century CE, and was a renowned sophist, Consul, and hierophant of the Eleusinian Mysteries (amongst other things)?

    No man employed his wealth to better purpose. And this we must not reckon a thing easy to achieve, but very difficult and arduous. For men who are intoxicated with wealth are wont to let loose a flood of insults on their fellow-men. And moreover they bring this reproach on Ploutos that he is blind: but even if at all other times he appeared to be blind, yet in the case of Herodes he recovered his sight. For he had eyes for his friends, he had eyes for cities, he had eyes for whole nations, since the man watched over them all, and laid up the treasures of his riches in the hearts of those who shared them with him. For indeed he used to say that he who would use his wealth aright ought to give to the needy that they might cease to be in need, and to those that needed it not, lest they should fall into need; and he used to call riches that did not circulate and were tied up by parsimony “dead riches,” and the treasure-chambers in which some men hoard their money “prison-houses of wealth”; and those who thought they must actually sacrifice to their hoarded money he nicknamed “Aloadae,” for they sacrificed to Ares after they had imprisoned him.

    And what did this kind of philanthropy get him in his own day? Accusations of attempting to be a tyrant and to wish to overly curry favor with the common man.

    No, it’s not a perfect example of a comparable thing to Jesus’ thoughts on the poor (or, more accurately, what later gospel writers attributed to Jesus’ thoughts on the poor–there’s nothing about any of this in the Pauline epistles, and they’re at least 20 years older than the earliest gospel, which is itself rather scant on pro-poor messages); but, here’s the thing–nothing is or will be. Whether anything in a religion needs to be is another matter altogether.

    I find it interesting that the Christian homeless individual you mentioned does pagan-like practices, even though it takes time and energy and resources to do them that might be better spent trying to find food and other necessities, etc. That these varieties of practice have such benefits to the people doing them, including Christians who are ostensibly against such notions, says a great deal more about the strength of what we have as pagans than the lack of “care-for-the-poor” ethical teachings from a Jesus-type figure is a detriment to what we have.

    • Alley Valkyrie

      Food is easily found, as are showers. Shelter is nonexistent, as is any hope of work for the most part, so neither become worth spending time to seek out. Most homeless folks I know have very little to do during the day, and in many ways boredom is their greatest enemy. And a lot of them take on religious practices to fill that time up. Many spend hours a day at the library for lack of anywhere else to go, and I often see people reading books on a variety of religions. For more than a few people I know, pagan practices and rituals are part of what what literally them from losing their minds from boredom and loneliness.

      • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

        Yes, and that’s what I’m trying to convey: that these practices have value to them as highly as they do indicates one of the strengths of what we’ve got going. No matter what Christian rhetoric on the poor and downtrodden might be, there are ways in which our practices (which don’t have to cost a lot of money, or any for that matter) are useful for all sorts of things, in addition to being of benefit to the gods and spirits of place involved in them. Gospel-preaching (or reading) won’t prevent someone from losing their mind from boredom and loneliness except in cases of the most fervent faith pre-existing the situation, and honestly that’s not very common (and being in bad circumstances undermines it quickly).

        While I’m not well-off by any means at the moment, I’m doing well enough because I have a roof over my head, and I realize that. I have been in many hospital beds and such over my life, however, and hearing “Jesus cares for the sick” in such situations is paltry as a comfort, even when I was ostensibly Christian. Actually having one’s gods present with oneself while undergoing such things, however, is a different story altogether, and is accomplished through practice.

        What you were lamenting in terms of a “lack” in pagan ethical rhetoric, thus, I think is missing an important point (even though there is no lack in pagan lore of the gods looking out for the downtrodden) on the strength of our own various traditions for actually helping in ways that ethical rhetoric–which, even if it exists in huge bold letters, can still be ignored on a daily basis by huge numbers of the ostensible believers in it–will never be able to match.

  • Roi de Guerre

    It’s surprising to me just how many comments here sound like comments I hear often from fundamentalist Christians; just replace “Christian” with “Pagan”.

    If we only define ourselves by the things we oppose then we allow those we oppose to define us. I’d much rather hear us discuss the relevant points that are sacred to each of us.

    I find that Alley is correct and there is a hole in the Pagan gestalt regarding service. We do have examples of hospitality, charity, and service but we have very few reificationa of those examples into real life and current scenarios: “if you have two shirts give one to your brother who has none”, “lend without expecting repayment”, “if you have done so little as to give a cup of water to someone in need”, “repairer of streets, rebuilder of walls”.

    Instead of lashing out at someone who indentifies a need shouldn’t we be throwing our creative weight behind the identification and specific object lessons of empathy, compassion, and community? Shouldn’t we be building our own contemporary ethics?

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      “If we only define ourselves by the things we oppose then we allow those
      we oppose to define us.”

      Exactly. But any definition becomes exclusive, and a lot of people dislike that notion.

      • Roi de Guerre

        Agreed! And I am one of them. (At the risk of defining myself as someone who dislikes a notion 😉

        That said I have found the comments identifying examples of Pagans practicing charity and service to be the most useful and inspiring. They show what is possible as a starting point for us today.

        I pay attention to the things Alley does because it helps me to find similar needs in my own community. When she takes the time to share her experiences it helps me to see the homeless through her perspective. This is important because opportunities for charity abound in the Christian world. Walk into any church and they will gladly help you to satisfy your altruistic impulses.

        As others have pointed out we don’t have that infrastructure; nor am I advocating that we should. Our altruistic offerings will need to be more organic, more face to face, and possibly more opportunistic. The folks here that share their experiences help me to triangulate my own service.

        I really couldn’t care less about comparing Christianity and Paganism. I did that long ago and made my choice. What I do care about is being effective and efficient in offering help to others. If some of those lessons come from Christians I am good with that.

        I would rather they came from Pagans, since they would strike closer to home for me spiritually. I love hearing about Goddesses and Gods that have called others to specific works. I can go have a conversation with Them about those works and get whole new perspectives.

        I share Alley’s frustration that so much of the charitable narrative is sourced from Christianity. Our own stories are at least as good and as altruistic, we should be sharing them more deliberately.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          I’m a fan of infrastructure and organisation.

  • Segomâros Widugeni

    I think we can dismiss from the outset any notions that the Wild Hunt or Alley Valkyrie are secret Christian apologists. Such a thing is absurd, given their record of service to the Pagan Community, and to entertain it insults them and lowers the level of discourse beyond where I want to go.

    Alley’s column strikes me as sincere and serious, raising a real question faced on the front line of the fight against homelessness: where are the Pagans? Obviously, where she is, there aren’t any but her. That’s something that should concern us all. Irrespective of whether it shows a hole in our theology, it beyond doubt shows a hole in our practice. There are all kinds of Pagans in Oregon, so why aren’t there more than one helping the homeless in Eugene?

    The theological issue can be addressed, so some extent, but only to some extent. The generous chieftain is a type of deity and hero found in many cultures in ancient times. The Irish Dagda is one example, with a cauldron from which no one went away unfed. He also wore the clothing of the common people, wasn’t too refined, was approachable, one might say. He had a counterpart in the Gaulish deity Sucellus, about whom less is known, but who appears to have been the same type of deity. Either might inspire us to give of what we have.

    Continental Celtic history contains stories of chieftains who fed their whole nation for a year, without charge, to demonstrate their generosity. Ariamnes was one such. Louernios, of the Arverni, used to throw coins to the people from his chariot. So, the generous chieftain is known.

    So, too, is government philanthropy on a massive scale, in ancient Rome, where many of the poor were fed for free. So, too, healing temples which offered free or inexpensive healing.

    But this is not the same as a deity or hero or philosopher who lives among the poor, gives to the poor, and serves the poor. Herodes Attiks might be one such. But they are not common in our mythology and history.

    Ancient Paganisms had the concepts of compassion and mercy, and regarded them as virtues. The Old Common Celtic “trougocariâ” means compassion or pity, and survived in the Old Irish “trócar”, preserved in the manuscript called Audacht Morainn, “The Teaching of Morann”. The concepts existed, in ancient times.

    In modern Paganism, nurturing Mother Goddesses are common. Surely, they could provide the impulse to those who follow them to serve the poor and homeless? I am surprised that they apparently do not.

    We do not have the same myths and history as the Christians, but I bet we could build something based on the history and myths we do have. It won’t be exactly the same as what they do, but it would be Pagans helping and serving others in a Pagan way.

    Years ago, I encountered a group in Minnesota, at Sacred Harvest Festival, called Sisters Camelot. They served free food to the homeless from their bus. Their sincerity and willingness to live their religion were an inspiration to me, and helped me to decide that rejecting the Pagan label was unwise, that Paganism was capable of inspiring real devotion and real acts of good. I’m not sure what ever happened to them, or if they are still around.

    Many real explanations can be offered to the lack of Pagan service to the poor. Their relative poverty might be one. They are apparently more represented among the homeless than they are among the general population. That should tell us something about the economic position of Pagans in general. Perceived poverty might also be important. Even when they aren’t in fact poor, many Pagans I know see themselves as poor. Perceived helplessness might also play a role. Certainly, I remember when Pagans were a few thousand people, performing whispered rituals in living rooms, with nothing remotely resembling the infrastructure to care for others. To some extent, my emotional reality is still like that, even though I know intellectually it isn’t like that anymore. So, this could be factor. And the famous Pagan individualism too might be significant.

    All of which doesn’t make for much of an excuse, unfortunately. We face real problems in this country. The poor and the homeless are once again the great mass they were before the 1950s and 1960s. The politicians, left and right alike, engage in empty debates, line their pockets, and serve their corporate masters. People grow desperate. The World Tree shakes, creaks, and bends.

    And where are the Pagans?

  • MadGastronomer

    Where is the Pagan god who cares for the poor?

    How about Hekate, in whose name suppers were laid at altars every months, and the poor ate from them? How about Eleos, Goddess of Mercy and Compassion? Hera, Zeus, and Hermes all went dressed as beggars, as did others, seeking alms and aid, testing mortals for charity and punishing them if they did not offer it.

    Homer says, “all strangers and beggars are from Zeus,” and, “we know the gods go about disguised in all sorts of ways as people from foreign countries, and travel about the world to see who do amiss and who righteously.” When Telemachus gave a meal to a beggar in his house (ok, the disguised Odysseus, but Telemachus didn’t know that), that was a demonstration of his virtue and piety, and Athene tested Penelope’s suitors by having Odysseus beg from them, too. Antinous, in particular, is called evil for wishing to drive the beggar out of the house. The entire chapter is a lesson on charity.

    The Emperor Julian wrote, ““How can the man who, while worshipping Zeus the God of Companions, sees his neighbors in need and does not give them a dime – how can he think he is worshipping Zeus properly?””

    Let me repeat this: The Gods of Hellas went about disguised as beggars (and realistically, when these texts are translated as “foreigners,” they are talking about poor people who are not citizens, and so must beg), and punished those who did not feed them and care for them. Not unlike, “What you do to the least of these you do to me.”

    That was about ten minutes of checking the details on the mythology and pantheon I know best. Pretty sure the Norse gods were very firm on charity, too. Sounds to me like you need to do some more research. The stories, theology, and religious obligations are there, they’ve just been hidden by a couple thousand years’ worth of Christians being the ones to write about it, and them not having much impetus to write about the charity of polytheists.

    Do Christians dominate charitable organizations? Sure. But then, they’re the majority. They have long-established organizations for such things, while the various Pagan temples and traditions that provided such services were wiped out hundreds or thousands of years ago… by Christians. I doubt that any smaller a percentage of the pagan population than the Christian population engages in work with the homeless or wish to, but there are so damn few of us to start with, and often people have to work within Christian groups simply because they’re what’s around, and then, often, they have to hide their religion or be actively and specifically excluded from those groups (as a Christian group recently did with a bunch of atheists who wanted to participate in serving food for the holidays). Then, too, many Christian groups that help the homeless exist primarily as missionary groups, and expect the homeless to accept tracts or listen to sermons in order to access their services (like the Salvation Army, which has been known to turn away people for being gay or trans, and left them to literally die in the cold), a practice many pagans will not want to have any part of. It can be difficult for a pagan to find a way to safely join in established groups that serve the poor and homeless, especially in less liberal states than Oregon, and even more difficult to start new, non-Christian groups, just because it’s so difficult and time-consuming to do so with anyone, much less to start from a base of pagans, notorious non-joiners as we often are. It’s also simply difficult for many pagans to be aware of the history of charity in pre-Christian religions, for exactly the reasons outlined above.

    • Segomâros Widugeni

      The Hekate Suppers are well worth mentioning. One could envision a Pagan service organization based in Hekate worship. Or in Hellenic virtuousness more generally.

      • MadGastronomer

        There kind of is one, actually. Pandora’s Kharis ( ) runs on the cycle it does because the night of the dark of the moon is also the night for Hekate’s Supper, so that’s the appropriate time to make charitable donations as a Hellenic polytheist community.

    • thehouseofvines

      That’s actually a misrepresentation of the deipnon, and one that has potentially harmful consequences:

      • Segomâros Widugeni

        Probably not a good idea to call it an offering to Hekate then. But other deities and heroes still remain who promoted charity to others.

        • thehouseofvines

          That’s the thing that kills me! If you want to donate charitably in Hekate’s honor why not do it distinct from the deipnon? Or do it on behalf of one of the deities who are much more strongly associated with xenia and philanthropia such as Hermes, Athene, Zeus, etc. It’s like people heard of this, said “Hey! That sounds neat!” without bothering to look up anything about it and now it’s all over the online community.

  • Raksha38

    I think part of the problem here seems to be the desire to have a single, clear source of a Pagan moral imperative to live a life in service to the poor and oppressed. It’s like there’s a desire to find a Jesus-shaped Pagan element to plug into a Jesus-shaped “hole.” Well, you’re probably not going to find just one in just the right shape our modern cultural expectations demand. But you will find lots and lots of Gods, heroes, historical figures, and mysteries that cover all the square footage of this Jesus-shaped “hole,” and then some. If you don’t see it, you’re not looking.

    As for action on the ground, I don’t think it’s fair to compare Pagans and Christians on this score. Of course you’re not going to find homeless shelters or soup kitchens run by Pagans. We just don’t have the numbers, the money, the facilities and the centuries of infrastructure built up for that. This does not constitute a moral failing on the part of Paganism. It’s just a question of resources. We’ll get there. Plus, it doesn’t take into account the acts of charity and fights for social justice that are on a small, personal basis. It’s easy to overlook Pagans who seriously incorporate values of Hospitality and such into their every day lives because, well, it’s just a part of every day life. They don’t have organizations, it’s not a public protest, it doesn’t involve passing or opposing specific legislation. That doesn’t make it any less legitimate, though.

    • trueinar .

      Thank you. That was well said and expressed well some of the feelings I found hard to put out there.


      Most Christians aren’t called to the clergy or to give all their stuff away to the poor and oppressed (making themselves next qualify).

  • trueinar .

    Wow, this is a charged discussion. It is to be expected that the response to a fairly Jesus focused article on a Pagan blog. I mean a huge chunk of the Pagan population is made up of former Christians (like myself) who had pretty bad experiences (like myself again) and feel bombarded over and over again by Christianity (like myself again) especially at this time of year. Many of us go to work and get Christianity shoved in our faces, many go to school and have it shoved in our faces and spend time with family and have it shoved in our faces. We are bombarded when we watch T.V. or go on the Internet or walk down the street. We want a place of safety so we try places of Pagan community like this and hope that we can focus on us and our community. While I can see the point of working to be okay with and able to work with various Christians and Christian groups this kind of felt like bombardment again. I don’t think that was the idea of the post but it seems like this was a common feeling. I agree that helping the poor is important and a discussion on how we could go about it useful. I don’t see how comparison is necessary or even useful for this. I don’t see how focusing on Christianity was a good idea for a blog that has “pagan perspective” in the tagline. We’re a paranoid lot when it comes to Christianity and it is hard not to feel like we are being invaded. We are having to deal with Christo-Pagans (not saying they are bad or unwelcome but they are confusing for a lot of us and we haven’t, as a community, come to terms with them yet) on a level we haven’t seen before, a prominent figure in the community has rediscovered Christianity and it is being better covered in prominent media outlets than just about anything we do and it is kind of overwhelming. A lot of us are feeling invaded and have read about how that went during the “conversion” era. Of course we are going to be touchy and freaked out. I, again, don’t think this was the point. Had Sikhism been mentioned and the efforts they have to help the poor or the Buddhists or the Hindus or a number of other groups in place of Christianity as the focus of this article (it really feels like Christianity was the focus of this post) it would have been received differently because we don’t have the same relationship with those groups. Most Pagans feel oppressed and attacked by Christianity (or at least the largest and most powerful groups) and again many of us come from painful backgrounds in Christianity. We get compared over and over again and it hurts and it isn’t helpful. Are there things we could learn from some Christians? Sure. This, however, came across as a “look at how much better they are” kind of article. I, again, don’t think that was intended but that is how it came across.

    • MadGastronomer

      Yes, this.

      Also, “Jesus is awesome, he’s good to poor people, he’s better than any pagan gods,” isn’t exactly an unrepresented viewpoint. It is EVERYWHERE in the overculture. Can we not, in a pagan space, have articles about how awesome pagan gods are, and leave Jesus out of it?

      Or, at a minimum, can we have the articles about how awesome Jesus is not actually completely misrepresent pagan gods? Because this is just flat ignorant.

  • Franklin_Evans

    I apologize for what will look like a post-and-run here. I’m about to spend the day with a friend participating in the final rites for her father. Not looking for sympathy, just setting my priorities in public.

    We have a “larger” disconnect in this discussion, one I invite and actually beg the rest of you to consider and perhaps comment upon: We live in a larger society which has Christian-based customs and usages. This is social, this is cultural, and that those two abstracts overlap with our (Pagan) spirituality is an obstacle, not a debate point.

    I grew up in a micro-culture (from the American POV) in many ways at odds with American culture of the time my parents and grandparents arrived here. It’s not an unusual one — the greater culture of Austro-Hungary and its neighbors to the west and south — but to this day I clearly identify differences in my daily life. Some of those differences came to my awareness gradually. Some still smack me up-side the head.

    The very notion of courtesy and its practice is my constant thorn in the side. It’s not that most people don’t practice it. It’s mostly that they seem to need to think about it first in many situations where I find the courteous choice obvious and immediate.

    That’s just a personal example to clarify my point. I find a very strong feeling of “coming home” when I’m amongst my Pagan friends, and I find that feeling quickly when encountering new Pagan acquaintances. But there is one other thing I find in them, and I see it as a reflection of our Christianized culture: The ability to quickly dismiss the “other” based on the superficial.

    I see that last as a feature of American culture. I see it crossing all other definitional lines with the only clear exception being newly-arrived immigrants, and not always amongst them.

    I’m out of time. I hope the thread remains open through tonight so I can read and respond further.

    • I show and sow courtesy and some other behaviors because it’s the harvest I wish to reap, in generations forward, and in this one as well.

  • Stacey Lawless

    I’ve been happy to see the comments on this post that discuss Pagan deities and values that support the poor.

    But (and I’m not being snarky) I feel I should point out that Alley’s homeless friends seem not to have heard of them. No doubt this goes back to the lack of Pagan infrastructure many commenters have mentioned. But if the poor themselves feel that only Jesus among the gods and spirits has “got their back,” maybe that is something we should think about.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      I love the idea of Pagan and Heathen street preachers. In my mind, it would be less evangelism and more street theatre.


      think how? I still don’t think there’s a need to try to proselytize Paganism.

    • Sharon Knight

      Our stories are so much lesser known, because we are such a much smaller group, rebuilding our traditions from the ashes of almost total global genocide. Our stories are simply not baked into our culture the way Christian stories are.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        Because the stories are hoarded, not shared.

      • Franklin_Evans

        It is my ambition and chosen post-retirement “job” to change that. I take the view that the ancient cultures from which we all hail, in some way large or small, continue to live in our stories. I don’t claim a “Pagan origin” for everything. I do see basic themes continued, revisited, but rarely emphasized in their original forms.

        I am an independent theater producer. I have the serendipitous privilege to have a richly talented theater community in my city, and people who really do think about the past when they tell their stories, be they writers, directors or actors.

        Find and read “The Midlife Crisis of Dionysus” by Garrison Keillor. He adapted his own short story to a one-act play, which I produced a few years ago. With the same production partners I produced “Electra” by Eurypides, a faithful adaptation of the original play (translated to English, of course).

        Mine was and will be a small effort in the grander scope. I just mention it to encourage others to make their small efforts. Avalanches are born that way.

  • T Thorn Coyle

    Alley, as always, thank you for the work you do.

    Synchronistically, on Wednesday just this week I wrote about serving at the house of hospitality and its connection to Athena and Telemachus in the Odyssey:

    I’ve worked with homeless and poor people off and on for over 20 years, considering the concept of Immanence all I need. Not that I or anyone needs theology to tell us how to act well toward one another.

    I am fortunate to work with Atheists, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians and some Pagans on social justice issues, though I agree that Christians often are in high proportion.

    As a pluralist, I acknowledge that a wide variety of people, paths, and many other beings are required to keep the worlds healthy and whole. Anyone who is actually doing the work at hand is fine by me. I’ve been arrested alongside many a radical Catholic. Washed dishes with them, too.

    That’s not to say I haven’t grappled with similar questions to the ones you raise here. Just to add to that conversation, below is a link to talking about Christian theology and where similar ideas might be found in earlier Pagan theologies.

    I apologize to you and Jason for quoting myself, but this is germane to the conversation at hand.

    In “By Sun and Earth: Theologies of Justice” I wrote:

    “We are Gaia and Gaia is us. As Gaia, we are also part of the larger cosmos, of the body of what one of my teachers called God Herself. This body is made up of individual cells, each with its own function. The Gods are part of this. The rocks are part of this. The Ancestors are part of this. The trees and soil and stars are part of this. We are part of this. We co-create the unfolding process of reality with the Gods, with the stars, with the sand. Therefore, it behooves us to take care of one another.

    If everything is holy – imbued with divine power – how do we relate to that holiness? We pay attention. We find connection. We give back. One definition of sacred is “set apart and dedicated to a deity.” How do Heathens act in ways that are dedicated to Thor or Ing? How do Thelemites act in concert with the energy of Nuit? How do Celtic Reconstructionists honor the ever abundant cauldron of the Dagda? I could go on, but the implications of these questions should be clear: we bring everything in our lives into alignment with our worship and our practice. We can give food to the hungry as an act of devotion to the Dagda. We can offer protection to the weak, in Thor’s honor. And we can remember: Nuit is everywhere, the circumference of all that lives.”

    This is just a tiny stitch in the larger fabric that I would love to see more writing about – it has been in the back of my mind to edit a Pagan Theologies of Justice volume. Perhaps it is getting to be time to bump that up on the stack.

    That said, my theology is mainly about praxis, not belief. But stories help us.

    in love and honor – Thorn

    • T Thorn Coyle

      And I hope everyone sees Ryan’s response to Alley on helping the downtrodden, Heathen practice, and the Havamal:

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        It’s a good read, and includes the stanzas from Hávamál that I quoted earlier, along with several others.

        Mind you, I’ve encountered quite a few people who resist the idea of using Hávamál, or the Eddas in general, as any kind of scripture or doctrine.

        He is also very spot on when he talks about the “hyperindividuality” of Heathenry and also of Paganism. This kind of focus naturally breeds a self centred view of the world which, whilst not automatically a bad thing, does have consequences in the wider society.

  • EPButler

    Long before these sentiments were expressed in Christian texts, they were found in abundance in the Egyptian “Wisdom Literature” which is widely recognized to have been a major influence upon Judaism and subsequently Christianity. Texts such as “The Instruction Addressed to Kagemni”, “The Instruction of Ptahhotep”, “The Instruction of Amenemope”, “The Instruction of Ankhsheshonq” or “The Instruction of Papyrus Insinger” are not familiar to us today, but that is not the fault of the ethical genius of the ancients. Our ignorance and failure to educate ourselves in our traditions does not justify the calumnies of this article, a benighted and vicious attack on our faiths.

    • KhonsuMes Matt

      Yes. And the importance of compassion and mercy as virtues is also found throughout Egyptian history in the Statements of Virtue found on funerary stelae and in tombs.
      All deities functioned as champions of Maat = Justice, but some are more associated with helping the less fortunate or non-noble people – Ptah, Amun and Isis (in later periods especially) come to mind. That said, there was no God or Goddess _primarily_ associated with the Poor to my knowledge. Mercy and compassion are seen as civic, sacred, and natural duties that benefit the whole sweep of existence, from the day-to-day to the truly cosmic, since they are Maat Herself.
      The notions of protecting the poor are very prominent in the funerary virtue texts. To me, they are powerfully poetic and inspiring:
      “I have done what people love and divinities praise.
      I gave bread to the hungry, clothes to the naked.
      I listened to the appeal of the widow.
      I gave a home to the orphan.
      I turned my back on the lover of lies
      And I did not judge the blameless by his (the liar’s) word.
      I answered evil with good
      And did not seek after wickedness,
      So that I might endure on earth and achieve worthiness.”
      (Nomarch Khety I, 1st Intermediate period, approx. 2100 BCE, from Karenga, The Moral Ideal in Ancient Egypt, p. 58)

      • KhonsuMes Matt

        I need to qualify my yes. I do not believe Alley’s article is in any way a calumny. She is bringing up a real issue and a real experience. I am valuing the discussion. What I am saying Yes to is the fact that we need to try harder to find these gems of ethical thought about justice for the less fortunate in our own traditions.

      • A good ethic to live by.

      • Franklin_Evans

        It occurs to me to mention a point of comparison: pantheons are composed of avatars (representations, aspects, pick a descriptor that works better) of the human experience. For a “local” culture or society, it will reflect their mundane lives in ways they find important to emphasize. A monotheism’s deity is the “one-stop-shop” as it were, the avatar-of-one for an entire culture.

        I don’t mean to make the comparison a value judgment. Nothing is ever easy. But when a culture moves from simple to complex, it will settle on decisions that from our 20-20 hindsight will look convenient or even arbitrary.

        The point to be made, gently offered, is that a saviour (or Saviour) is a single point of focus. The nascent split from their Judaic traditions was based on a monotheistic world-view, during a time when oppression and poverty were their primary experiences. It should surprise no one that it colors the rest of their two-plus millenial history, nor should we force ourselves to compare to it favorably or unfavorably.

  • Sharon Knight

    I really appreciate this discussion. I can’t say I agree with every point made – I think we have plenty of stories of hospitality, and they just aren’t heard by our society because we are still so very much on the fringes – but it does kindle a feeling in me that has been cropping up for the last few years, that I would like to find a way to be more helpful to the world. Maybe it isn’t that we don’t have the stories, but that we aren’t living the stories out loud as much as we could be.

  • Naali

    I personally don’t, but it’s someone’s own business if they find something spiritually meaningful in Christianity. I think it’s incorrect to say there’s a void in paganism concerning poverty and the poor, however. A lot of ancient pagan myths place a great deal of emphasis on hospitality and obligation to one’s community.

    We live in a very different world, so definitions of “community” may vary, but there are many myths featuring gods wandering the land with little to their name, and still others of gods who punish those who refuse to give them appropriate food and shelter when in mortal disguises. If there’s a void in the modern pagan community, I think it’s because we have failed to look in the right places rather than a lack in the lore.

  • Serenity

    Alley, I have approached the pastor of a church in a poor neighborhood about starting a clothes closet. I am in college, taking Criminal Law, with the desire to help the poor go to trials to help convict their assailer. They can’t appear in the clothes they wear for every day, and many of them have no idea of how the courts work. I want to be their advocate, and help them, just as you have helped the poor. I don’t want money for what I do. I am Pagan, and proud of it, but I also include Yeshua’s teachings, as he had a powerful message. I see nothing wrong in what you do. Thank the Lord and Lady that there are others out there, following the teachings of Yeshua, and still being Pagan.

  • Franklin_Evans

    Tell the stories.

    We’ve spent far too long hiding in our secret groves, keeping quiet when lies and propaganda are spread about us within our hearing, living in fear of our jobs, our homes, even our families.

    Tell the stories.

    Don’t pretend that centuries of hegemony, embedded practice and entrenched power can suddenly be wiped away. With that, stop insisting that Christianity is our enemy when it becomes more possible every day to live our lives free of its past tyranny. Stop ignoring the growing numbers of Christians who sincerely stop, scratch their heads and actually look at us as fellow humans instead of scapegoats.

    Tell the stories.

    If the story you want to tell is not being told the way you believe it should be told, step forward and TELL THE STORY YOURSELF. If the stories others tell are not your stories, step forward and TELL YOUR STORIES. If you must of your considered opinion stay silent, STOP TELLING OTHERS TO BE SILENT.

    Tell the stories. It is as true for us and our situation as it was for others in our past: Silence is death.

    Tell the stories. Live.


      a bit preachy

      • Franklin_Evans

        Only to those who are only expecting to hear preaching.

        It’s the one thing I simply have not learned to tolerate and do not expect to learn to tolerate in this lifetime: that a person can only say one thing in one way and it must be heard that way by everyone.

        • ELNIGMA

          I didn’t understand that at all, but Okay.


      I’m sorry considering what you’ve gone through tonight for my comment.

      There are a lot of survivors of Christian religious abuse among Pagans and Christian religious abuse continues. It needs to be said that some who loathe Christianity have cause.

      • Franklin_Evans

        I’ve never doubted your courtesy, I try to at least offer that benefit of the doubt to everyone I encounter, but I’m confused now (my turn?). I’m wondering if you are thinking of someone else for what one has “gone through”, nor am I of that tortured group of ex-Christians.

        In any case, I in turn apologize for being obtuse. I sometimes let my spirit drive my words. I can’t stop to analyze and change them.

        • ELNIGMA

          “With that, stop insisting that Christianity is our enemy when it becomes more possible every day to live our lives free of its past tyranny.”

          You were making a general statement, and I have no clear idea whether things are really getting better (more people free) or worse overall than say 5 years ago.

          • Franklin_Evans

            I must concede that my general statement cannot be validated by such a measurement. I observe, personally to the extent of my awareness, that it is getting better, and I can’t escape that being a subjective judgment. I hear from others, within the limits of their awareness, that their judgment agrees with mine.

            I stand by my exhortation to tell the stories, and not limit the audience to fellow believers either by insisting on the silence of others or choosing to fight against their stories in some fashion. It’s a balance point I find myself seeking, with our friends WAH and TadhgMor here and their ongoing efforts to have their beliefs accurately represented. I want them to consider telling their stories on their own merits, and to not consider other stories as their adversaries.

          • ELNIGMA

            Okay, giving that context I understand your original post, and it’s actually very nice then. 🙂
            Take care!

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol


      Telling stories is not evangelism. It is sharing stories. If people are moved to know more, they can ask. But they have to hear those stories before they can ask, surely?

      It is the best way I can think of to fight the ignorance that is rampant throughout society.

      I think that a lot of Pagans are hesitant to tell the stories as they often reinforce a less eclectic view of the gods. When someone lists Cernunnos, Thor, Dionysus and Ma’at (for a random example) as their personal pantheon, they will struggle to have as cohesive a story as someone who acknowledges an established pantheon.

      But, perhaps, it is time for us to start making new stories. To update the old stories and make them live again. So long as it is done with integrity, sincerity and avoids appropriation, this is a good thing, yes?

  • Joseph Newton

    Beautiful work, Alley. I must say, First Christian in Eugene is a great [place for folks of other persuasions. Pagans have been presenting almost every month there at the Interfaith Prayer Service for which the church so kindly makes space.

  • Thankful for Alley

    And now, I have a deeper understanding of why I am so drawn to following the work of Alley Valkyrie. This kind of reverence and eclectic view of spiritual paths is what our world needs so much. The interfaith service held each month at the Christian church embodies this viewpoint, as does my own ‘abandonment’ of Christianity for a more all-inclusive quest for truth and love. Abandonment is in quotes, because after abandoning it, I learned that it very much belongs alongside all of the other religions I am open to for threads of truth. We are, ultimately, all one. I honor Alley for her recognition of this truth, and for feeling not the slightest need to disparage those who grasp this concept through service to those in need, no matter what their affiliation.

    • Thankful for Alley

      Having just read a comment where Alley said she is not an ‘eclectic’, I apologize for having used that word. Perhaps “accepting” would have been a better way of putting it. For too long, ‘wars’ have been fought because of religious differences, and I feel it is high time that mentality is stopped. I hope that we can all start to find our connections rather than our differences, and to love and help all beings, whether it is because of, aside from, or in spite of any religious beliefs. It is sad to me to see the same kinds of hateful and separatist comments here as I see when I run across other posts where religion becomes the subject. Open-minded people like Alley give me hope that one day some of this nonsense bickering will end.

  • guerrillascholar

    Outstanding post and analysis. My old friend Martin Truther pointed me towards this post. I think you are “grokking” something that too many on the left are wont to miss, and that is the potential synergy with religious groups. This is one of the better discussions of both the “why” and the “how.” Well done.