What Paganism Offers Me, What I Offer Paganism

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  November 30, 2013 — 35 Comments

It’s rare that I use the forum of The Wild Hunt to engage in columnist-style musings, but I felt called to do it in the wake of recent events, posts, and comments that have swirled around this site. I’m used to flare-ups of controversy, issues that are divisive among different populations within our larger movement sparking heated comment, it comes as part of running a journalistic outlet. Through it all, I have tried to stay true to my inner convictions, because, frankly, the editorial buck has to stop somewhere. As a result I’ve grown a pretty thick skin, and learned to largely stay out of Internet debates, even when folks started becoming downright conspiratorial about my motivations. So today, I thought I’d speak on my motivations, and why I do The Wild Hunt, why I’m a Pagan, and why I care about a larger religious movement that some call “modern Paganism.”

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary leading a Lammas bonfire ritual.

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary leading a Lammas bonfire ritual.

I became a Pagan, or more precisely, a self-dedicated Wiccan at the age of 17. I sat in a damp copse of trees, lit a candle, and used a dedication ritual written by Scott Cunningham. It was hardly a dramatic or theatrical affair, but I do confess to feeling different afterwards, as if I had finally made a choice in a choose-your-own-adventure novel, and took my thumb out that was holding my place in case I did the wrong thing (admit it, you all did that with those books). I went right to the local gift shop in the mall, bought a large-ish pewter pentacle, and I never looked back. Over the intervening years I’ve worked with a variety of groups, some formal, some not, had a couple initiations, and weathered some dark corners within our community that few like to talk about. I never lost sight of what Paganism offered me, what the promise of these emerging religions were.

For me, the offer of Paganism was no less than an entirely different lens through which to see the world. To literally re-enchant the world, to see a place that was full of gods, powers, myth, and yes, magic. To offer a paradigm that was very much at odds with the midwestern baseline protestantism that was a part of everything growing up in Nebraska in the 1980s. Even in my younger (and rather naive) days, I sensed the revolutionary potential of Paganism, that it if allowed to grow would literally change the way we think. Now, I had no grudge against Christianity, I do not have a horror story of my younger days of mistreatment, persecution, or alienation, so this wasn’t a personal matter, I simply found Pagan religions more alluring to my sensibilities. A childhood entranced by fantasy, mythology, and art. Here, I thought, was a place where difference, and different ideas, would be embraced.

I think I should also make clear that I saw Paganism through a lens of an aspiring artist. For the bulk of my younger life, my main aspiration was to create a life in which I could paint and draw in some professional capacity. I was entranced by romantic ideas of large studios, and block-white gallery cubes hosting swanky parties while featuring my work. I thrilled during my 20s to the melodrama of the Abstract Expressionists of the 50s, or the Neo-Expressionists of the 80s, thinking that someday I too would find a creative tribe to break through with. The gods, of course, often have other plans. Instead of the swanky galleries, I did a run of smaller local shows, tried to organize some smaller initiatives, and slowly drifted into a variety of graphic design jobs in my late 20s. So for me, Paganism was as much an aesthetic choice as it was a religious choice. Despite the great Christian-themed art of the past, I felt in my heart that Paganism offered me the spiritual freedom to really work. To imbue what I was doing with the numinous.

Pagans at Stonehenge.

Pagans at Stonehenge.

Given this, I thought what I had to offer Paganism in return for what Paganism had offered me was my creative work. That my art would help shape a fine-art aesthetic within my religious community, one that was still very much enchanted by fantasy-style illustration (not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind you). That, however, was not what Paganism, the gods, the powers that be, wanted me to offer them it seemed. They wanted me to write, to do this. Something I would have never anticipated, especially since I never considered myself a gifted writer. Certainly not someone who could serve as a journalistic mouthpiece for a movement. Yet, something I started on a lark, as an experiment that I hoped would garner the attention of the “professionals” out there in the nebulous distance, became a phenomenon a couple short years into its existence.  Suddenly “The Wild Hunt” was not a repository for my art and varied musings on culture, a host to a variety of mini-sites that I had created out of boredom or new enthusiasms in the wild, wild, West days of the Internet, no, The Wild Hunt was now the adolescent version of what you read here.

March, 2014, will mark ten years of doing this, nearly every day. In that time I believe I’ve become a somewhat better writer. I’ve been honored to meet, talk to, and interview a variety of people I had once only read about. Better still, I was able to approach them as peers. In many ways this project has grown to a level I could never have conceived of when I started it. That I would be able to raise a budget, pay contributors, and grow to size that is impressive for an independent site like this is remarkable to me. Naturally, when you grow in size you also become a bigger target. Few people cared what I said or thought back in 2005, but in 2013 what I publish here is given a weight that can be daunting at times. I would be lying if I said that the strain of expectation wasn’t sometimes more than I feel I can bear, and for the last several years I have wrestled with intermittent bouts of burn-out. No matter how excellent you strive to be, there will always be someone who is unhappy with the way things are done. The main accusation made against my person is that I’m some sort of sell-out, that I’m secretly batting for some faction, religion, or viewpoint. The truth is far more mundane, and far less exciting.

jason

The simple truth is that I’m a simple Pagan. I still think of Paganism as a lens that I choose to see the world through, I still do my best to honor that point of view, while allowing the people who write for me to be true to their lens. No one is more consistently aware of my imperfections than me, and certainly no criticism I’ve received has completely surprised me. Part of that is because no matter how total my Pagan worldview, real life is messy, and imperfect, and sometimes doesn’t hew to a rational or logical party/theological line. However imperfectly, I have tried to report on modern Paganism with the messiness intact, because I think what those cracks say reveals important things about our own process. I fight the urge to defend myself, for the most part, because I hope that my legacy as a whole will speak for itself in the longer run. That the number of articles about our triumphs, our advances, our struggles, will always outnumber the articles that stop for a moment and question the messiness of our life on the ground. Naturally I will endeavor to always improve, and I hope to make some announcements soon that will make The Wild Hunt even better.

What will the next ten years hold? I cannot say. But this is part of what Paganism has offered me, and what I offered Paganism in return. How has this exchange manifested in your lives?

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  • Mary Hudson

    Thank you for you. The gift of the bard is a wonderful one which should allow us to look at ourselves and the world around us to figure out what is really important. I know that the road ahead of each of us is long, no one can see the end, but I’m glad I have your little piece of the internet to keep me company along the way.

  • Stef

    I have learned from various Pagan faiths that the Divine is much, much bigger than the dominant religions say. I have also learned that the dominant religions are themselves more Pagan than any would like to admit.

    I’ve been hanging out with Pagans for over three decades. Worshipped with Pagans. Given time and money to Pagan causes. Have many Pagan friends. Have a ginormous Pagan library.

    Am I Pagan? No. Paganism is only part of my spiritual life. Does that make me an uncommitted wuss? Don’t know. Don’t care.

    Be well, Jason. You’re doing fine. *hugs*

  • T Thorn Coyle

    Much love to you, Jason, and gratitude for all of your work, from one Pagan to another.

    May one thousand blessings pour upon your head and through your mouth and hands. May the ancestors guide you and the descendants bless you. May the Gods and Goddesses gift you with clarity, fortitude, and kindness. May your vision rest lightly on your brow. May your heart and body ever know they are beloved.

    May your work be blessed. May your work be a blessing.

    love – T>

  • Erynn Rowan Laurie

    I’m glad you’re still here and still doing this. It’s important work. Thank you.

  • Sharon Knight

    I love this, Jason. I would say much the same, were I to write a similar piece. I too believe that by viewing our world through the lens of Paganism, we have the potential to re-enchant the world. We affirm that we are part of the pulsing aliveness of everything, and in being part of, not separate from, we can care for the world and each other from such a much better place.

  • Pam Snider

    Great read sweetie, just keep doing what you’re doing and don’t let the nay sayers get you down. Blessings and big hugs to you.

  • Colleen Faler

    Thank you for sharing your views and for creating TWH!!!

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    How has this exchange manifested in your lives?Succinctly, addiction. I run through my internet crawl daily, and always save TWH for the last because I learned early how to value dessert.It was also TWH that brought me to use my Craft name on-line instead of my mundane name, under which I was mildly famous long ago in one corner of Paganism. Nothing I’m ashamed of, but there was politics, and if I were going to encounter snapping and snarling here I wanted it to be about new issues (and I haven’t been disappointed), not a rehash of two decades past.Pagan journalism is an essential part of our community, and you have advanced that significantly, for which everyone who reads or comments should be grateful.

  • Segomâros Widugeni

    Well, I think the notion that you’re somehow a secret Christian apologist, which I’ve recently seen voiced, is beyond silly. Or would be if it wasn’t also sad. One would think that it would occur to people that secret Christians are unlikely to make themselves into Pagan leaders, significant voices for Pagan rights and religious pluralism, but whatever.

    Your work has done much to raise the profile of Paganism and to further the re-enchantment of the world you see as a goal of Paganism itself. You have built something really impressive here, and something well worth preserving. And you have become one of a new group of Pagan leaders who supplement the older leaders, and who seem to do so with a responsible voice.

    All writers have opinions. It is your right to express yours, and your writing cannot help but be informed by your values.. Sometimes people will agree with you, sometimes not. It is their right to disagree, but I would hope they would do so with civility, and with appreciation for all the hard work and care that goes into producing a major outlet such as this one.

  • Shauna Aura Knight

    Thanks for posting this, Jason. I totally hear you on so much of what you’ve written here. The more people read your stuff, the more you become a target. I’ve experienced that myself. The more people read my work, the more I get hatemail or grumblings from people who disagree or think I have some ulterior motive.

    My big ulterior motive? Well, it’s simple. My motive is for me to have a big enough voice in the Pagan community that I can help make our community/communities healthier and more sustainable. A bigger voice means a bigger impact, and I’d happily just hide away in my studio and paint and write fiction, but for whatever reason, I was called to teach leadership. It wasn’t what I planned.

    So, cheers to you for stepping forward and bringing this amazing resource in the Wild Hunt to the broader Pagan community.

  • Genexs

    Wow, Jason. One powerful thing comes through for me, and that is your concern that what you are doing is indeed in service of the Gods and Goddesses–and the community at large. But I think the facts speak for themselves: You have turned The
    WildHunt into the gold-standard of Pagan online presence. Your work is standing the test of time. In addition, your post convinces me that no matter how intense the collective flatulent yatterings of the armchair Pagans among us–you will never have your creativity or dedication stifled, or suffer from writers block.

    • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

      I would just add that the Wild Hunt is not just a Gold Standard for Pagans, but for the entire Internet generally. The “cyber” world has, as a whole, fallen woefully short of the starry-eyed hopes that many had back in the 90s. These hopes tended to be especially high among Pagans and other denizens of the “alternative religions” sphere. And the results in this particular sphere have tended to be especially disappointing. It all boils down to content and substance. You either have that, and have it consistently, or you don’t. The Wild Hunt has it.

  • Serenity

    This column, and your input, has given me much to think about. I, too, dedicated myself at a young age. There weren’t many Wiccans or Pagans that would admit to it, but I learned many things from those I hunted down. I didn’t join any specific group until 2001, 28 years after I dedicated myself to the Lord and Lady. I still practice solitary, but that is by choice. Sometimes what you write, or one of your contributors writes, hits a sour note with me, but not often. I don’t complain, or make accusations, because, as you said, we each view Paganism through our own lens. Keep writing. The Muse has called you.

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    I used to self define as Pagan. I did this because I thought that Paganism could provide me with a stable framework for my convoluted beliefs, primarily in the theological sense.

    As it turns out, it doesn’t have what I was looking for and, quite honestly, seems to dislike the very concept.

    I have moved across to the Heathen Umbrella and am in the process of crafting my own religion.

    What I want to offer Paganism is friendship. To be an ally in wider society that will have Paganism’s back, when needed.

  • Chip O’Brien

    Thanks for writing this– as you wrote, it’s rare that you post your personal musings and reflections, and the insight is rare and welcome. Funnily enough, Alley Valkyrie’s (well-considered, insightful, timely– I don’t have enough positive adjectives) guest post about service led me to wonder about your service to the Pagan community. You’ve helped to establish a 21st century Pagan media that’s gaining the resources and legitimacy to help our community define itself as an increasingly coherent set of voices. Your work is as profoundly valuable as it is necessary. I hope that what the community offers you in return is at least commensurate with the service you’ve quietly, consistently given us, day in and day out, over these many years.

    For myself, I think it’s time to find more substantial ways to support the community. A few years back, I sensed a bit of what drove you to found the Wild Hunt but without your insight. If you remember Thorn magazine: my gods, who tries to found a print magazine in the 21st century? I’m putting that one down to youthful stupidity and ambition. So I tried to do too much, overwhelmed myself and our staff, and dropped out for awhile, figuring the Pagan community had evolved past the world of big-name, Highly Respected authors implied by traditional print media. I lost sight of why I’d believed so strongly in the value of a Pagan community at all, given our diversity. Then I lived in Shanghai for a year, a city of 25 million people where I couldn’t find a single Pagan by any stretch of the definition. After a few months of posting lonely inquiries on the internet, I think someone from Beijing, 800ish miles away, responded to one of my posts and we corresponded for awhile. That was a good way to learn that community matters. Even if we never worship the same gods in the same space, we share a common perception of a re-enchanted world (lovely description, BTW), suffused with the sacred. The connection of sharing a worldview is worth working for.

    So, Paganism has given me a great deal, and thus far I haven’t offered much in return. In the next little while, part of my path will be finding ways to usefully contribute. And that will be an interesting task in itself.

    • T Thorn Coyle

      I *loved* Thorn magazine and not just because that is my name. What you were trying to do with it was marvelous, and worth the effort. I was sorry to see it go.

      • Chip O’Brien

        Thank you! There are parts I’m still proud of; it was a worthwhile idea, probably implemented in the wrong form. It may still be a decent idea. Our ideal publication, which we we used as a model for our own goals and strategy, was the Atlantic (ambition was the one thing we didn’t lack). Our thinking was that Pagan media was beginning to gain its feet in terms of news reporting, and the next step was opinion-making, deeper news analysis, and rigorous political and cultural interpretation from a Pagan perspective. Now, a few years later, it’s incredibly exciting to watch the professionalization of Pagan news media taking shape through TWH and the PNC’s efforts. As Pagan journalism becomes more of a forceful presence in our community, I hope we might see it branching out to become an important cultural presence as well, somewhere down the line.

        • Lupa

          Thorn mag was one of those things I was sad to see not make it–but thank you for giving it a go nonetheless.

    • Lyradora

      I loved — and miss — Thorn magazine, too. I have every issue. :)

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

    Jason, I don’t know much about your art, but I know there are many fine artists within the Pagan community. I don’t know of anyone else who can – and will – do what you do here. Thank you.

  • Crystal Blanton

    I loved reading this because it is a genuine reflection of the dedication and the challenges that are behind the work that you have done. I am so grateful to what you do within our community and for being the face of professionalism in the Pagan media for us. That has pushed progress in many ways for us.

    Many continued blessings of the Gods on you.

  • Turtle

    Praise and thanks for your service; would that more of us could do as much! Because you have done so much work, there are avenues for expression for all Pagans that did not exist before. May you feel the appreciation, community, and love that you so much deserve.

  • Franklin_Evans

    I become more convinced of the label “Pagan” every day. It serves me in every aspect of my daily life, and elevates itself to lowercase “pagan” as an abstract concept that connects me with every other living entity on this planet.

    Not every religious person, of any religion one can name, thinks of himself or herself as being Of Service. We connect with each other, and there are exchanges of physical presence, spiritual energy, emotional touching and sometimes a strengthening bond that brings us to travel together for a day, a year or a lifetime.

    I see my path as one of seeking balance. It is not a destination, it is a process. One expression of balance is being of service to others. It is not the only expression by a long stretch, but it is on the short list of expressions that get widely noticed.

    If I were to choose a way to look at myself and the world around me, a single point of description, it would be this: We are all agents of balance.

    Keep telling the stories, Jason, and keep asking others to tell their stories. Being on that short list of heightened notice can be uncomfortable at times, something that should be obvious to all readers. Please know that it is worth it to the rest of us. If there is any way one of us can be of service to you, to lighten the load or just provide a verbal back rub, please don’t hesitate to ask.

    • http://saffronrose.livejournal.com/ A. Marina Fournier

      Franklin, I resonate strongly with what you’ve written here!

      In NROOGD, we are each supposed to be In Service. I think I got that message, long ago, while/before NROOGD was a glimmer (during the Vietnam War), at a very early age. It was a sermon on a nearby NAF base, from the base’s Catholic chaplain. It was a message consistent with the social revolution of that time, to help those in pain and sorrow, yourself, rather than expecting The Right People will do that.

      I think some of that influenced the political (not just electoral) choices I’ve made–boycotts, letters & petitions, where I chose to buy, and how I choose to give (goods, money, or service), and what issues concern me most.

      Balance. That’s always the tricky one. Once I was dx’d as bipolar, I sought mood/mental balance via medication; balance is an important point to my dancing and my daily activity, removing a bone spur in 2010 from my right heel and learning to rebalance my leg muscles, having my cataracts removed and having my eyes more in tune with each other allowed me better depth perception and other balance issues. I can stand in dance pose on one foot again–not as long as I’d like, but I’m working on those quads.

      There are other places in my life when I seek balance, and have to find what works to establish it. I suppose some of the random advice I give encourages balance in others…

      Stories are oral history: if we have little by the way of recorded history, we tell and remember through our stories, and some get recorded and live as long.

      I’d like to echo Franklin’s last paragraph. At next Pantheacon, I’d like to share sustanance with you. If Islay single malts are your thing, have I got a few for you! I could provide some healthy snacks for keeping your energy and glucose levels where they should be when you miss a meal. I could meet you for a meal, whatever suits you best.

      • Franklin_Evans

        Marina, you don’t know how tempting single malts are for me… maybe we are all better off not knowing, eh? Pantheacon is on my short list of gatherings to attend, being on the opposite coast a significant obstacle. This year, I have additioal one-time burdens on my schedule that are likely to keep me here. If I can make it happen, though, I will be accepting your invitation.

        I’m mulling over another “invitation”, to post about the apparently pan-Pagan hostility with money. It did inform my post above, and I’m not pushing an ulterior motive here, but being of service is an important aspect of that (or so I observe) and somehow being poor ourselves first got thrown onto the qualification list for serving.

        Anyway, thank you very much for your warm response.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          “…post about the apparently pan-Pagan hostility with money.”

          I’d like to read that.

  • Cara Elizabeth Hoglund

    Well said. Thank you for making this site possible. I can say ditto to much of the story you shared above, minus the emphasis on making art and the creation of this website. It’s great to find places like this where news about all things modern Pagan is valued and seen as important; it adds depth and relevance to the work that I do on my own. Heil the messenger!

  • trueinar .

    I really appreciated this article and I really appreciate The Wild Hunt. I have promoted it multiple times and recommend it to every Pagan I have dealings with. Whenever I criticize it or the posts within it I hope it is clear that I have two main goals in mind: 1)To present ideas for improvement and 2) To express my feelings and reactions in a way that is hopefully constructive. With how diverse and turbulent the Pagan community is it is tricky to be such a huge voice in it. We are small and feel vulnerable and that can make us snippy at times. For all the faults I love the Pagan community and feel I learn a lot from it. I also love that as I grow and change there is room for my growth and change within Paganism. It is a good home for someone who was raised in a religious setting that used shame, emotional manipulation and lies to control and use people. It heals me and helps me be more understanding and, hopefully, helpful to the people I deal with. Life is complicated. People are different. The differences and the complications are often very beautiful and I am so happy that I have learned this from Paganism.

  • Lupa

    You offer paganism–and the people in it–a rare thing in the form of consistent news and commentary. I know every day when I come to this site that there’ll be something neat and relevant and worth reading, and that it was chosen with care from among an ever-greater cacophony of media reaching for attention from every direction.

    As to how it’s manifested in my life? By breaking out of the confines of “spirituality” and entwining itself firmly among all the areas of my life. I could be cliche and say “Pagan is a verb”, but even that’s too limiting. How do I describe the process by which every action is an attempt to connect with something greater than myself–not so much gods as the Everything Else That’s Out There?

  • Larissa Guran

    Thank you, Jason, for the gift of yourself in this personal reflection. I enjoyed reading your story.

  • Linda Slack

    Jason – You are very much appreciated and only you could get me to use PayPal to support you! LOL You ask how this exchange has manifested in my life? I am willing to be a monthly supporter to ensure the longevity of what you are doing. I give back to you and this site what I can while reaping benefits of perspective, knowledge, actions, and thoughts from Pagans and Wiccans and Druids and all the flavors that we are. I don’t believe I can measure how touched I am or enlightened or fired-up or amused by what I read on your site. This is what the Gods and Goddesses would have you do and you do it well. As all those who have responded already have said, Thank you for you…

    Blessings,
    Faelind

  • ChristopherBlackwell

    I make a point of stopping at The Wild Hunt because it is always interesting and sometimes it gives me idea of people that I want to learn more about in my own interviews for ACTION. Each of the Pagan media offers a different perspective. When I do get an idea here, I make a point to mention where it comes from.

    I appreciate the difficulty of producing on a daily basis, something that I would not be able to do. Jason is not afraid to bring up the problems in our community and the controversy. A lot of people try paper over them in the name of unity, but then nothing gets improved and the problem festers. Admitting the problem exists is the first step before we can start looking for a solution.

    Meanwhile with all the Pagan media that has come and gone, lasting ten years is rare in and of itself. I wish him another ten years as I will be interested to see what he will do, and what The Wild Hunt will become.

  • http://saffronrose.livejournal.com/ A. Marina Fournier

    I’m not seeing ANY dark motivations or goals in what you’ve presented! What I get out of TWH, and why I make an annual donation, is NEWS, information I might not otherwise get, some idea of other pagans in the Americas, if not throughout the world. It might never occur to me to go looking for this info–nor any other topic of whose existence I am still unaware–but I love having them delivered.

    Since I get TWH in my inbox through a mail client, one thing that never seems to show is *the author* of a piece, the way one does on the website. If that additional line could be in the header, or the “author block” at the end of the web entries, be appended to what goes out in mail, I’d love it.

    There are other info sites that have the same issue–don’t know if it’s WordPress or Disqus or what–but as a would-be librarian, attribution and provenance are important to me.

  • Lee Shawnus

    Jason – I think you can see from the previous 33 comments how well you are loved, respected and appreciated. I have been blogging for two years and TWH was the very first one i followed, as i do so today. Blessings!

  • Daniel June

    Hello, I read your article, thank you. You found the mythological world of paganism liberating in comparison to that of your Christian upbringing. Ditto me. I never met a pagan before, but I decided to experience the divine on my own terms. Rather than a male father, male son, male holy spirit, I view the universal All as our mother. How could we be “born of the spirit” if god is male? She is all, both male and female, and I experience her as Mattriama — Mattria, the material universe, Ama the spiritual universe. Ama is father, mother, son, and daughter. Such a few is so much more fulfilling to me than the male-drenched “monotheism” of the trinity. The “Mother” is the holy spirit.

    I have attempted to unite all religions, including paganism and christianity, in one great vision called Allism. This poem about the mother explains how they can all be brought together and out of opposition. Than you for your consideration!

    http://www.perfectidius.com/mama.htm