Perhaps I’m the Pagan Rip Van Winkle

the Monkey on My Back

In the late 90s and early ‘aughts, I had this Pagan community thing down. I knew what went on online in any semi-public Pagan community.  I even enjoyed a membership to a few secret-ish ones. I got my initiations – yes, all three – and then two things happened:

  • the coven that initiated me fell apart. I heard many things from many people. While I thought I knew what was true at the time, with years, distance and better understanding of why people do the things they do, I am not so sure what parts were true and what parts were drama/outrage addiction.  Speculation – or asserting my  speculation as fact – serves no one. I don’t really know what happened.  I also don’t think it’s all that important.

Covens fall apart all the time. It happens.

  • I went through a divorce. It was not overtly nasty – but looking back, I was subject to much of the same manipulation that hs been the demon chasing me since childhood. So it was a bad, awkward, painful break. Much more painful than it needed to be.

Itching to be away from the limited job resources of my semi-rural environment, I moved to Minneapolis, taking a job with a local nonprofit. The job expected much – too much – and paid too little. Within two months of my move I developed a chronic illness and only came to a full understanding of their cause and how to manage the illness in the past two years.

While I did work with the Pagan society at the local university, I was constantly conscious not just of my age and experience difference but of my privilege difference. It had followed me through school but it was achingly obvious upon going to the U every week and watching white, middle class young Pagans with educational funds provided by their parents do things like present mangled, inaccurate descriptions of Islam and insist Tantric techniques used during my marriage “weren’t actually possible.”  There was lots of drama, most unnecessary, all of  it typical of the age range.

I also noticed that while people liked to research Paganism, few seemed interested in practictng it. It was a hobby, a curiosity, a way to learn but not necessarily a means of incorporation into life. It was during this period I came face to face with people in different Reconstructionist movements. They still fit the Pagan umbrella then – those that operated as sort of free-range Wiccans had yet to drive/push them out.

Hard polytheists don’t do it in circles. The problem is that so many others feel entitled to demand that they do.

It was valuable to me, to have not just my beliefs but my capacity for supporting beliefs I did not share challenged.

Then I drifted from the group and it eventually folded. A new U group rose to take its place. I stepped away from them – they were better off growing on their own terms; besides, after I crossed the line to age 30 I didn’t feel my presence was appropriate.

During that time I also helped organize Pagan Pride and I went to whatever public Pagan events and rituals I could. It was the same people in the community, often covering the same topics. It became repetitive in a deep and frustrating way: there is more material written and experimented involving both Pagan faith and occultism than any one person will ever cover in a lifetime. Yet here I was, in absolutely every corner of my Pagan life, repeating the same stuff over and over – not even new exercises on the same concepts. The same fucking exercises.

I also began running into the same social situation over and over: if a person had never seen me before, that person immediately assumed I was a newbie. I had all sorts of things explained to me without solicitation, both online and off. In a local occult shop I picked up an amethyst, only to have another person explain the stone’s properties to me with no inquiry as to my interest in the stone. I posted in a forum to ask about buying art dolls as souvenirs and got long, patronizing instructions on how to make poppets. Because I was not loudly declaring my authority and Very Spiritual life – people assumed I was new. If I said something about my background, I was called a liar.

Notably no one asked me to demonstrate my knowledge or ability. In the situations where I was called upon to do so, those who had questioned my veracity did not apologize when it became clear I do have some magical competency.

What really tore it for me was how I was treated during a crisis.

After my father died some bad metaphysical stuff happened. I had exhausted all of my own knowledge for dealing with it, I had sought counseling and I still needed help. When I asked for advice, after giving an extensive list of what I had done, I received two responses:

1)pushing me toward Reiki. I am saying it here: Reiki did not fix this problem. Reiki does not fix everything and I am quite tired of how pushy so many Reiki healers are about their practices.  Note I am not dissing Reiki. There’s actually the threads of empirical research into its validity. I am, however, dissing the social behavior of many Reiki healers.

2) I had someone tear into me, saying if I was “really” initiated I would “know how to deal with these problems.” That there might be problems I could encounter outside of the Wiccan training I received was summarily dismissed – even though there are Wiccan trads that do not practice magic or deal in the metaphysical beyond God invocation at all.

These things alienated me from both the physical and the online community. When I got involved with my current husband, the attitude that I was somehow doing something wrong by marrying a non-Pagan clinched my feelings of alienation from the Pagan community.

All this and I have yet to attend a single festival or campout. I do not want to sleep under the stars with people who ask me what I did to deserve an aggressive haunting, or why I couldn’t wick the whole situation away with a flutter of a third-degree eyelash.

That and I hate camping.

But my faith in the God/ess has never been shaken. I am still Wiccan. I still believe this religion is my right path.

I just struggle a lot with the other people on it.

Now I often just do my own thing. I love writing about magic – almost as much as I love trying new magical approaches. But the only stuff I know about the Pagan community comes from some local friends who spend way more time on social media than I do. The way the conversation has taken shape while I was going through the process of tearing my life apart and putting it back together is almost like a foreign language now.  I still absolutely believe in being supportive when someone converts away from Paganism; it’s happened before and it happens again. I’d rather see a person convert to a faith and be active then stay in a faith where they do nothing and gain no comfort or clarity from it.

I seem to have a fantasy relationship about Internet dialogue that began and ended with logic, with additional information, rather than with someone getting upset and defensive at my challenging their ideas.

Some of this  is definitely the idealized memory of my youth.

But there’s definitely a conversation that’s happened when I was off going through what I had to go through. That convo has whizzed right past me. Maybe I don’t know where the club is. Maybe I just can’t stay interested in the conversations. I am definitely not kissing the right asses and I am unlikely to ever know which asses those are, or to ignore them if those holy buttcheeks present themselves to me.

It’s likely a combination of all of these things. So I have missed out – but often enough, I get the impression I am not missing anything at  all.