A woman I was talking to the other day was telling me about how she’d been involved in a Wiccan women’s group back in her college days. She went on enthusiastically about how Goddess spirituality is very affirmative for women. That’s cool, I thought. Remarkably positive, compared to the sort of vague, confused nod a lot of people give me when they find out I’m pagan.
“Paganism is really good for you right now,” she said.
Right now? I wondered. Well, okay, I guess so.
“It gives you a lot of room to grow and is a great thing for now.”
Wait a minute. She didn’t say it just once, so it wasn’t some thoughtless phrase added on to the end of a sentence. It meant something. What she seemed to be saying was that paganism is great, affirmative, freeing. The perfect religion for your college days, while you’re still learning who you are. But once you figure it out? Well, then it’s time for, you know, a real religion. Time to stop screwing around with your pentacle necklace, trying to rebel against your parents. I mean, come on, how could the religion of black-clad teenagers offer any sort of lifetime fulfillment for grown-ups?
If you think about it, it’s not too hard to imagine the genesis of this sentiment. A majority of neopagans are Wiccan, and Wicca does have its fair share of rebellious teenagers. Maybe they thought their parents were stupid, or didn’t want anything more to do with church. Just saying the word “Goddess” felt rebellious, so they googled the forbidden and ended up in our fold. Many didn’t stay long. They read some books, maybe went to a group or two, and felt nice inside for a while. But then they moved on, possibly giving the impression that that’s what we do.
But not all do. I’ve heard of a lot of people who initially looked into paganism or witchcraft because of something like The Craft. While it sounded odd to me at first, I really don’t think it matters all that much how we got here, whether because of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or because we were running from our faith of origin. If our reasons remain shallow, we’ll likely drift away. But if we learn what real paganism and witchcraft are and decide to stay, then the initial spark is inconsequential. We’re here now because something within paganism speaks to us.
The bottomline is that we’ve got a lot of dabblers, and that makes sense. Most of us had to dabble a little to figure out if this set of religions we’d barely even heard of was right for us. But what is it that makes people take us less seriously than other religions? I think it’s, quite simply, lack of knowledge. As I talked further with this woman about my religion, I discovered that she wasn’t at all familiar with the eight sabbats and seemed pleasantly surprised by the symbolism I work with at each sabbat toward personal growth. Paganism holds so much depth that the softcore dabblers have never even touched and probably never heard of. I know it certainly holds much depth that I have yet to touch and, I’m sure, even hear of. We’ve got traditions, theology(or thealogy), spontaneity, wisdom. I believe swift judgments on the supposed lack of depth of paganism, of an entire set of rich religious and spiritual traditions, is likely based on a shallow, elementary overview. Add to that our remarkable diversity, the fact that I can stand next to an atheist in circle and they can stand next to me and neither of us be bothered one bit that the other sees paganism in a vastly different way, and the situation is ripe for confusion for outsiders.
Really, I can’t be the poster girl for long-term commitment to paganism. I can’t say “Look at me. Clearly I’ve found fulfillment because I’ve been here for fifteen years.” But I can say that paganism doesn’t have to be just a way station for me. That if I find what I need here and want to stick around, I don’t need to move on to a more “serious” religion. There is as much room for growth here as anywhere else. As much wisdom, as many beautiful traditions. And I might be a little biased when I say, perhaps a little more magic.