WIP snippet “What is most feared: Church burn and the Neo-Pagan”

This is an excerpt from the book I’m writing on radical inclusion for the pagan community. Given some of the posts I’ve seen floating around recently, I thought I’d post this here. (I’m hoping that I’ll finish this book in time for Pcon next year.) Also note, that this is from very much a first draft…

“Before we can dig deeper into questions of inclusion, we need to understand how people convert to paganism. Most people who are in the pagan community are converts, or people who have come from a different religions or atheism into paganism. This creates a challenge to paganism as a whole because much of the outer work that groups have done have been reactionary to mainstream religion, and Christianity in particular. As Yoda says: “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

What I see a lot in the Pagan community as a whole is a strong backlash against anything remotely Christian. It’s really not surprising, especially since a lot of new pagans come from Christian backgrounds where they have experienced significant “church burn.” Church burn is a concept that I learned from Bishop Yvette Flunder, and it is the result of abuse caused in a church or spiritual environment. This definition is used particularly in reference to Christianity, and is what will make up the bulk of this chapter, but it’s important to realize that “church burn” isn’t exclusive to Christianity. In fact, when talking to most people who are involved in coven-based traditions, you’ll inevitably have the conversation about coven explosions and most people in the room will roll their eyes and nod in understanding. These explosions can be just as damaging as any of the abuse coming out of Christianity. The difference being that Christianity has more history of it and on a larger scale. In other words: witches, Wiccans, pagans, etc are not immune from their own extremism. We are a group of humans after all.

But back to those who come into witchcraft from Christian traditions. There are a few stages that I think most people go through when finding a new spiritual path that fits their particular needs. The first stage is a honeymoon or zealot stage where one is learning all they can about their newfound religion and is super excited to tell everyone all about it. The second stage is where it becomes incorporated into one’s identity as part of their sense of self and is also incorporated into one’s uniqueness. And third is the integration stage, where the tradition is a part of one’s identity, but they have a more expansive worldview, tending to regard it as one of many aspects of their being. In other words, their sense of self, while strongly influenced by their tradition, is not reliant on their tradition. In my experience, it’s easy for many people to get stuck in the zealot and identity stages for a long time, sometimes never managing to get to a more tolerant and expansive worldview. This, I think, is highly influenced by past religious experience, particularly if one has experienced a great deal of church burn. Also note that these phases aren’t necessarily linear. A person can revisit these stages at any time when new knowledge creates change. There are plenty times in life when a person can find out something new about themselves that they didn’t have words for that can set off the process anew.

In this chapter we’ll look at these phases and how they can be good and detrimental to the individual, the group, and the community as a whole. We’ll also look at some of the hypocrisies that arise in the pagan traditions around these phases that can lead to conflict. Yoda’s words at the beginning of this chapter, while simple, are quite correct. And the suffering that comes from it does more than just harm others, it harms the self.”

2 thoughts on “WIP snippet “What is most feared: Church burn and the Neo-Pagan”

  1. I can’t wait for you to flesh out this discussion. While I haven’t really suffered from church burn — I’ve usually managed to be just ahead of the torches and pitchforks when I’ve left a tradition — the inclusion question is a big part of why I’ve been just circling around the edges of Pagan communities. I call myself a mythic mystic Christian, but will anyone understand what I’m saying, or will the word Christian be immediately heard as Westboro Baptist? I’m a trans woman… does inclusion include accepting me as trans? as a woman? I don’t do doctrine very well — or very willingly — at all, whether regarding orthodoxy or orthopraxis…. does inclusion mean accepting me even if I don’t perform the right rituals the right way? if I don’t study under an x-degree initiate? if I don’t believe the same things about Goddess as others in the community? Hey, I’ve already run across Gardnerians and Dianics — I know there are limits to inclusion in some places within Paganism. But then, I also have friends who are solitaries and/or eclectics… so there are some places where following the path that I am called to is understood and even honored. As I said, can’t wait to read the whole book when it’s done. I don’t know if anyone else is tackling radical inclusion in the Pagan community / in Pagan communities, especially in such a focused way as to write a whole book on the topic. May your Muses be many, and your blocks few and easily overcome.

    1. Thanks so much! I totally understand what you mean about the limits of inclusion that currently exist. It’s very frustrating for me to see it, especially when there’s a hypocrisy where groups of pagans talk about being more enlightened in one breath and then condemning others in the next breath. That’s a huge reason why I’m writing the book, and I hope that it will help people think about what they say and do and help people to be more inclusive as a result.

      Thanks so much for the encouragement! I’ll definitely be posting regular progress reports here, so stay tuned. I’m hoping to have it all done by next February or earlier (if I can manage it). 🙂

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