An Open Letter to Everyone Involved in the Pop Culture Paganism Debate

Hello everyone,

I know some of you are sick and tired of hearing about this debate and wish it would just go away (sorry Elizabeth!) but I think I’ve reached the point where I really need to address the stupidity on both sides of this colossal anger-fest that passes for a “serious debate”.

As you know, I identify as a hard polytheist, I believe that deities are individuals, not aspects of One God and One Goddess, or facets of One Ultimate Cosmic Oneness….Thing, but individuals with their own thoughts, feelings, and motivations. I also believe (and this is important) that deities are very Real beings. They weren’t created by humans, and they have an independent existence from humans. I don’t pretend to know the answers to questions like “So, WTF were my deities doing before their respective cultures were around to worship them?” because (on top of being a complete mindfuck) those questions don’t matter to me.

What does matter to me is my relationship with my deities, my ancestors, the land and the spirits that live there. They come first, and they will always come first.

Firstly, to my hard polytheist friends, a few points:

Not all pop culture Pagans are the same. Perhaps you will remember an earlier post I wrote critiquing a post by members of the Raven Radio Crew, and the laughable idea that they were the “moderates” arrayed against “the crazies” (who were basically anyone who didn’t think like them). In case you need to get caught up, my post is here. Please go and read it if you haven’t already.

The thing is that framing this discussion as “true believer” polytheists vs. stupid, fandom-obsessed “all deities are thoughtforms” fluffy bunnies makes just as much sense as “the crazies” vs. the (not actually moderate) “moderates”.

That is, none at all.

Because, as I point out in my original post, there is a HUUUUGE amount of people who hold equal disdain for either party, like, say, ME, and most of my online friends.

In all seriousness, how many people came to Paganism through books like Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, or, Hel, how many people use fiction as teaching tools? There’s a reason I have the Chalion books on my reading list, and it’s not just because they’re great fantasy novels, but because of the way they present deity-human relationships as eerily similar to intense deity-human relationships in real life. (“You are the tool, not the work. Expect to be treated accordingly.”) Hel, as my friend Ken recently pointed out, the Church of All Worlds runs on fiction (specifically Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein). For those who, for whatever reason, aren’t aware of this group, they’re an interesting bunch who put out the magazine Green Egg, which was really popular in the 70s and 80s.

So when some of you complain about stupid pop culture Pagans who are “wrecking polytheism”, you are erasing a significant number of Pagans, polytheists, and others who don’t buy what either group is selling. This includes some people that you probably think of as “good polytheists”.

But no one will take us seriously!” Oh, for the love of everything, where do I begin? Let’s start with the fact that no matter what you do, someone, somewhere, is going to think you’re nuttier than a box full of nuts with ground up nuts inside them. Whether it’s because you believe in the efficacy divination, the existence of Atlantis, or multiple deities in general. Actually, what I find ironic about this argument is that the folks who have made huge strides towards the acceptance of Pagans, polytheists and the like in North America have been some flavour of Wiccan.

You know, Wiccans, the ones who follow a religion that’s about sixty years old. Yeah, those people. The vast majority of which are non-BTW who most likely aren’t hard polytheists by any stretch of the imagination? The same people many of us like to complain about all the fucking time? (I know this because I, too, have my moments.)

Do you know what leads to people not taking someone seriously? Petty Internet drama.

Although, this blog does kind of run on petty Internet drama, so who am I to talk?

Also, as Del points out in this post, there are literally tons of modern things the average Pagan does that no one cares about. Seriously, how many people have talked about or actually made a playlist of songs for a deity? How many people pick out quotes from their favourite books that remind them of one of their deities?

And, for that matter, I should note that NO ONE made a peep about my musing that I might add an image of Yue to a shrine to Mani that I was thinking of setting up. Why? Because Yue is associated with the moon in the Card Captor Sakura universe, and I LOVED that horrible dub when I was little.

“But Gef,” you say. “You obviously aren’t planning on worshiping Yue, so its okay!” Really? Because I wasn’t getting that impression from some of the blow ups I’ve seen, and really, saying “all PCPism is wrong–except when someone I like is doing it” is just hypocritical, either own up to it or stop making blanket statements about really large groups of people!

Elua’s balls, it’s not rocket science!

Now, lest you think that I’ve devoted an entire post to ripping on my fellow hard polytheists, it’s time to address the other side of the debate, which is not without it’s share of idiocy.

All deities are thoughtforms/All myths are made up. I’m of two minds on this point. On the one hand, my own experiences have led me to believe that this is not the case, that there are things out there that weren’t created by humans, and exist independently of humans, but, on the other hand, if that is your belief, I leave you to it.

However, is it really that hard to understand why someone might just be a little pissed off when you go around declaring that their deities are fake? I’m sure you don’t like being told your practices are in any way fake, so don’t do it to other people.

All things are not equal. When I was a Wiccanesque Pagan, I was told “all sex is sacred” and it was some time before I realized that that statement wasn’t precisely true. After all, sometimes sex is “just sex”, it’s fucking, it’s “let us bash our bodies together for the sheer joy of bashing our bodies together”, what matters is your intent.

I would, again, adopt a more moderate stance, and say that while fan fiction doesn’t really have the same staying power or the kind of “oomph” of a Homeric hymn, that doesn’t mean that it can’t be used for devotional purposes or that someone can’t use cosplay as a way to honour a deity.

That said, all these arguments mean absolutely nothing in light of this last point:

Do your deities approve of what you’re doing? This is pretty much the argument that trumps all other arguments. If a deity says to you “I want you to write sexy stories with you and I as the main characters” are you seriously going to tell them “fuck no, that’s fan fiction!”

If a deity appears to someone in the guise of a fictional character? Who are you to question their choice of mask?

If you want to be the person to tell the gods that their way of appearing to one of their followers is wrong because it makes you personally uncomfortable, be my guest. I’ll be over here selling tickets.

Ditto for spirits and other beings.

And you know what, if someone has an experience with a character from a show or a book who doesn’t appear to be a construct or an entity using the character as a disguise, does it really affect anyone but them? Seriously, just treat it as someone’s UPG that you find interesting and discard it.

People share UPG with me all the time, and I freely discard the stuff that doesn’t feel right to me.

Most importantly, I think some folks have convinced themselves that their opinions somehow trump the opinions of the deities and spirits who are pretty much the ultimate arbiters of whether a thing is Okay to Do Spiritually. As such, everything and everyine else takes second base to what they want, because they are the ones who call the shots around here.


And you know what? So far my deities don’t appear to give a flying fuck about any of this squabbling, so you know what? I’m going to close this letter and follow their lead, keep doing my own thing, the usual.

Also, I should take the opportunity to note that I am not the Pagan Police, so chances are if you can agree to disagree with me, I will be happy.

And, apart from sharing my own forays into pop culture Pagany, that is all I will share on the subject.

Be excellent to each other,


P.S. If it sounds like I was a bit harder on the hard polytheist side of the debate, it’s because I am, in truth, most disappointed by the behaviour of some folks on *my* side, because it’s *my* side, dammit! Disappointed but, thankfully, not entirely disheartened.


9 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Everyone Involved in the Pop Culture Paganism Debate

  1. Very good points here, which is why I stayed out of the debate which has really started to sound like a schoolyard brawl.

    My thoughts: Believe what you believe. Do not expect others to agree with what you believe. Be prepared to walk the long road of faith alone with your beliefs. If you find others who agree with you, fine you have traveling companions on your journey. It is YOUR journey and they are along for the ride. So research, take what you need, build your practice, accept bumps along the way, accept that you will be learning all your life when you set foot on this path. Accept that there will ALWAYS be others who disagree with you, accept that move on use it to grow and learn from. Also learn to agree to disagree and let that sort of stuff help you grow or discard it if it stunts you and hurts you.

    Just my idle thoughts nothing more.

  2. I recently had an on-line conversation about talking to dinosaurs as animal spirits. It seems that speaking to dragons was all right but not dinosaurs. Why? Dragons are awesome magickal creatures but dinosaurs are stupid lizards.

    I have been on the edges of this debate in FB pages. I think it is a graduated line between creations of the self such Spider-Man moving along to myths of Gods. At one extreme, people are revering a man-made creation or archetype, and at the other extreme people are revering only ancient myths. Along the line are spots such as Godzilla and Pokemon which have mythic overtones.

    Also, there is the idea that Paganism has to be a unified whole, instead of a mosaic of beliefs. I believe these disputes are an attempt at theological debate over what is and is not Paganism, and how do various groups define themselves in terms of religion.

    For the record, I am a hard polytheist and tend to find monotheistic filters in a great many things. I also talk to dinosaurs.

  3. What astounds me is that the stories we tell about our gods–in my case, as a Heathen, stories from folklore, the Eddas, etc–are all STORIES AND OBVIOUSLY SO. The gods LIKE stories. Stories aren’t truth. All storytellers are liars, even those who “seem” official, because a story isn’t real, it’s a story, and that means facts are omitted, exaggerated, and made into what will be a GOOD story. (As a wordsmith, this fact seems innately basic to me, but others often forget this.) This is why I cannot understand why fanfiction and other forms of modern storytelling is seen as “wrong.” All you can say is, if you don’t like someone’s fiction, is, “I didn’t like how they told stories.” If you don’t like their storytelling, don’t read. Just. Don’t.

    This really actually just reminds me of REAL fandom issues, like in Doctor Who–Old Who v. New Who. I happen to be an Old Whovian, grew up with it since I was 5, and I really don’t like New Who. At a certain point, I actively hate it. What’s my solution? NOT PAYING ATTENTION TO IT. I can’t go online, or around to my friends, saying, “DON’T WATCH IT; I HATE IT; DON’T” because I’d lose all my friends that love it. I just ignore it. It’s called being an adult. If you don’t like something, grow up, and handle it yourself. Don’t like? Don’t go to the site and read it. Like someone that does and they talk about, then you can always tell them that you’d rather not discuss that subject. If someone keeps giving you links to a website, tell them to stop (respectively), or maybe if they don’t, just ignore the links. In other words: If you don’t like it, but other people do, it’s up to you to handle it. (Of course, if you’re someone that does like it, it’s up to you to understand and respect other people’s boundaries. Don’t shove it into people’s face and yell “READ IT READ IT” because that’s why I learned to hate a lot of the anime club people at my colleges, which is sad and disappointing.)

    I know one Rokkatru who happens to not spend time on the internet. At all. Ever. Why? Because they have their practice and its not like others and they don’t really care at all to connect with others, so they just do what they do over there and the end of story. Whatever. They’re not a social practitioner. They don’t care about politics. They don’t /need/ to. So, they do other things. Sometimes I envy them, because try as I can, I can’t stay away from politics (and that’s all this is). It seems more peaceful, really. But the point is: they don’t like some of the online stuff? Not their problem. They’re over there.

    • I generally stay away from places where fans of a show I like congregate, outside of talking about them with friends or people I know who are also fans. It’s almost as if fandom-drama “taints” the experience for me. I just want to enjoy the show (or, at times, rant about what happened in a particular episode with friends).

      • I sort of waver in and out. I do so often to get the information I want, which is related to film production. (So that’s more like film fandom than actual fan-of-the-series fandom that I’m into. This has its own drama, but it’s something I need to deal with.) It’s actually people in real life that bother me more, often, than outside. For the anime club thing, that was me transitioning to college and trying to find clubs to go to, then realized that there were certain things to always stay away from (high fan-related areas, where either screaming was a popular activity or where drama was rampant), but I’ve had enough friends related problems, too. One person once tried to evict me from a room because I didn’t like Firefly. You’re right though, the drama just taints.

        • Oh gods, I would have been in so much trouble! There are so many “geeky staples” I haven’t even watched once: Star Trek, Doctor Who, Firefly, never read Lord of the Rings, the list goes on….

          • Oh, don’t worry! I have a friend who really doesn’t like Star Wars (and I’m not too “yay fandom”-like myself), and that is one of the worst if you’re in a geeky group. It’s really terrible, honestly, that if you don’t like X or haven’t seen X, then apparently you’re shunned, and that’s horrendous to me. I’m a cinephile, myself, and even I haven’t seen Godfather or all of Stanley Kubrick (like The Shining). If I mention it to non-cinephiles, or post-70s cinephiles, they all look at me funny and judge me, yet I can’t really help it–there’s over a century of movies. It’s like ratting on someone who didn’t read Hunger Games when there’s centuries of books and stories and tales. Maybe I haven’t watched The Shining, but I HAVE watched The Great Dictator, or Metropolis, or M, and not a lot of people have seen those.

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