Editorial: 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?

Jason Pitzl-Waters

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