Pagans Need Their Fiction, not Their Lies

In the epilogue of Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief Lawrence Wright says: “Of course, no religion can prove that it is “true.” There are myths and miracles at the core of every great belief system that, if held up to the harsh light of a scholar or an investigative reporter, could easily be passed off as lies.” He goes on to mention tales of two prophets of monotheism — Mohammed (PBUH for those that’s important to)and Jesus.

This mention of lies being in opposition to something other than the truth has an interesting resonance for myself and possibly other Pagan-identified people.

I would be curious what Wright might have to say about the arguments of origin, lineage, and legitimacy that happens amidst different traditions — particularly those of Wicca, where some groupings actually judge other lines by the standards of their legitimacy, despite the possibility that perhaps Gerald Gardner falls into the realm of Hubbard, and simply manufactured a belief system cobbled from the spiritual and occult movement of his time. Certainly Wright knows of some of this on the US American side: his coverage of Jack Parsons, a US based member of the OTO known to Aleistar Crowley, and his relationship with L. Ron Hubbard is very thorough. Was Gerald Gardner a liar, conjuring Dorothy Clutterbuck, in opposition to papers printed in the beginning of one of Doreen Valiente’s books?

Does it matter?

I frequently argue in my role as an Artist’s Way teacher that fiction is not, as Neil Gaiman once said, “a lie that tells the truth, over and over.” Fiction is just the truth. Lies are something else — they aren’t fiction. Fiction is generally in some manner productive. Fiction may be the grounds of religion, because when you look at religion, all its stories, all its practices — someone somewhere had to make it all up. The stories are a bridge between the ineffable something and/or someones that some of us can feel and some of us don’t. Fiction is a way of grasping that ineffable and bringing it into being. Lies are manufactured for the purpose of producing/getting away with an action or avoiding a consequence. Fiction does not do these things.

Unfortunately, the lines between fiction and lies are almost immaterial to narcissists and sociopaths, and that’s what leads a few of them to form negative cults. Consequently there is always that risk — with any religious movement, Paganism included — that what is received as sacred myth, as a bridge of ideas for spiritual learning — might be a baldfaced lie. Were we lied to in order to keep on with some tradition that benefited one person or being?

Wright, at the end of Going Clear, mentions the fate of the people from the Jonestown massacre as well as the unfortunate end Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Latter Day Saints, came to. Paganism, was once thought of as too disorganized for such an event to happen, but given the very serious scandals in recent years around child molestation and festival safety, it seems that people with these personality profiles can and do make their homes in our communities as well. Certainly we are experts at tempests within the teapots we have. Sometimes our teapots become so sloshed that we fail to realize when we are not just having a neighborhood argument — such as in the vitriol thrown during the #blacklivesmatter discussion — because our world and our religious movement is in fact as diverse as advertised.

I would like to contend that Pagans as a group are empowered by recognizing their myths as myth, but even then — truth is wiley and lies are tricky. We are small, and growth has slowed, but just large enough that the risks of our fiction giving way to lies remain.