The Problem with Paganism

As a refugee of the Southern Baptist Church, my mother raised me completely secular. She wanted me to explore all religions and choose one that felt right for me, or perhaps none. This is how I found Wicca and decided, in middle school, that this was my chosen path.

For the uninitiated, Wicca is a modern adaptation of Paganism using a blend of different ancient faiths. It’s modern day witchcraft, and it’s awesome.

Wicca has a lot going for it considering how socially wrecked most dominant religions are. It’s completely egalitarian, meaning there’s a balance between both men and women’s status. It preaches love, tolerance, and acceptance for all genders and sexual orientations. The golden rule of Wicca is “And it harm none, do what thou wilt.” which is a fancy way of saying don’t be an asshole. These are all wonderful qualities in a faith, but that’s not why I loved Wicca. I loved Wicca for magic. I had loved witches ever since I was a kid and this was a religion telling me I could actually be one. Hell. Yes.

However, as I write this I find myself a 31 year old Atheist. I walked away from Paganism even though there were so many things I loved about it, because despite having a healthy foundation the community has more than it’s fair share of problems.

Magic isn’t real.

This is kind of a big problem. Wishful thinking lead me there but it’s ultimately an empty promise. Magic isn’t without any merit, it’s just not the Harry Potter, Hocus Pocus, Halloweentown experience you’d hope it is when you’re 14.

Magic is a ritual, so it’s as effective as prayer. It can help you focus and meditate on your problem or task. And perhaps that can give you the extra confidence or determination needed to power through your challenge. But that power comes from you. Not from a God, a Goddess or a crystal. It’s human achievement which really doesn’t get enough credit.

Modern day Pagans seem on a constant search to find supernatural meaning where there is none. Wondering around searching for mystical profundity made me miss a lot of the real world. It’s really hard to make positive changes in your life when you can’t even see the problem for what it truly is.

Pagans tend to be a little immature

I say this based on my personal experience, so take it with a grain of salt. What I found in the Pagan community was a large portion of people were responsibility avoidant. Many people seemed to gravitate to the loving world of Wicca basically to get drunk and do drugs without judgement. In hindsight I can see I was also attracted to it because I was very overweight and those witchy skirts hide all manner of flaws. The nurturing image of the Goddess with a full body made me feel as if I was made in her image. In reality I just wasn’t taking care of myself, and barely knew how to.

It’s rife with consumerism

I used to work as a cashier at a store that sold crystals, jewelry and other assorted Pagan sundries. The amount of money people would drop on a dragon sculpture or a rose quarts pendant would amaze you. From what I saw, I think there are a number of people who get into Paganism because they like the aesthetic. You can tell because those witches will be decked out head to toe in full costume just in case you weren’t sure they were a witch. People buy thousands of dollars worth of merchandise, with no clue where it’s made, to feed into the fantasy that they’re a magical person. Those people shockingly don’t make the best friends.

Gods and Goddesses don’t exist

Ancient people believed in deities because the world is a terrifying place. They needed reason and common ground with their community to live in harmony. I understand taking the teachings of a story or finding comfort in a ritual. After all that’s what holidays are all about, they’re comforting rituals. We don’t question why we decorate a Christmas tree or set off fireworks on the 4th of July, we enjoy the rhythm and pattern of it all. It brings us together.

But hoping that magical entities will intervene in my life because I cast a spell or sacrificed some fruit is pointless. It’s equivalent to Christians who insist that Noah fit all the Earth’s animals onto one boat. No he didn’t, and it’s not the point anyway. There’s a lesson about hope there, but it’s often ignored by people counting giraffes.

Believing in science is really important

The mental gymnastics it takes to convince yourself that a 2,000 year old herbal recipe can cure diseases is about how much it takes to believe you can eat Jesus in cracker form. Just because ancient people used sage as an antibiotic doesn’t mean we should, people died a lot younger back then.

Science is the study of our natural world, it’s learning about all the incredible complexities of existence and bending it to the will of humanity. Science has been used for generations to cure diseases and uplift humanity out of the dark ages. Now of course science has been used for terrible purposes, but isn’t that the same as black magic? Isn’t that just the perversion of energy and knowledge to wield power over others? Monsanto isn’t basically Voldemort.

Despite this I still love Paganism, I just wish it could pull it’s head out of it’s ass. Perhaps it’s my secular upbringing and all religions have this problem. I can’t in good conscious believe that the Goddess is watching over me no matter how deeply comforting that would be. But with Halloween quickly approaching I can safely say… I still wish I were a witch.