Being a blogger is a nasty business, I’ve learned.
I started writing this blog for myself, as a kind of spiritual journal. But it quickly drew attention of others.
And then I started to notice that the negative things I wrote drew a lot more attention than the positive things. So I wrote more negative pieces. And that drew more attention. And that trend has continued.
Let me give you an example: Since I left Patheos a little over a year ago, 8 of the 9 most popular posts on this blog were critiques of contemporary Paganism. They are (in decreasing order):
Why Contemporary Paganism Deserves to Die
“You’re Not Fucking Gandalf”: 12 Movies to Remind You That Pagans Need to Grow Up
It’s been 50 years. And what have Pagans accomplished?
5 Ways Paganism Needs to Grow Up
Why Wiccans Get Made Fun Of
Nine Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Became Pagan
These Things Aren’t True: Five Falsehoods in the Pagan Community
Why I’m Boycotting Lughnasadh Again
These essays were among the most critical and hyperbolic I wrote in the past year.
Meanwhile, the more positive pieces received a fraction of the traffic of the negative posts. Here are 8 posts that received very little attention (listed in decreasing order):
3 Reasons to Seek Out Profound Religious Experiences
10 Books that Shaped My Spiritual Journey (Paganism and Beyond)
I am an atheist when the wind is north-northwest.
Losing My Religion: The illusion of choice in religious leave-taking
Why Worldview Matters: A Response to Kimberly Kirner
An Unorthodox Eostur: The Mesopotamian Origins of Ostara?
The Wild Hunt for Justice: At the Intersection of Ritual and Protest
“An Inescapable Network of Mutuality”: Martin Luther King’s Ecological Thought
On average, these more thoughtful and balanced essays received fewer than 200 views, while the more provocative posts (those in the first list above) averaged over 4,000 views. That’s a difference of 1 to 20!
“You’re Not Fucking Gandalf” got over 9,000 views, while the analysis of Martin Luther King’s ecological thought (published on MLK day) got 18 views. 9,000 views versus 18 views!
What is a writer supposed to take away from this?
For years, I have continued to write the controversy-provoking posts because of the attention they drew. Attention is nice. There was lots of negative attention, of course (which I developed a perverse pleasure in). But there was an equal amount of attaboys and verbal pats on the back.
I justified writing like this by telling myself that the controversial posts drew traffic to my blog and that some of those people would end up reading the more substantive pieces. And there’s probably some truth to that.
But I wonder, does the end justify the means?
I do think contemporary Paganism needs more critical voices. But not all criticism is equal. Some forms of criticism actually drive people to deeper entrenchment, rather than opening their minds to consider alternative perspectives. And most of my more controversial writing probably falls in the former category.
And then there’s the personal impact. Writing provocative essays is easier and feels more cathartic than writing the more nuanced and tempered pieces. I get a rush of a adrenaline when I write a post like “Why Contemporary Paganism Deserves to Die“.
But I have to admit to myself that writing in this way has taken its toll on my soul. And I’m not just talking about the effect of reading the comments section. Writing in a negative, hyperbolic style requires less of me as a person. It reinforces my prejudices. It allows me to gloss over nuances. It doesn’t require me to see the objects of my critiques as real people. And so, I am less likely to grow as a person when I write in this way. Deconstruction comes easily to me, but creating space for growth is much harder.
I started this blog for myself. And I have to ask myself whether it is serving me any longer.
I’ve had several online friends reach out to me in the past few months to remark on the negativity of my writing. I appreciate all of those of you who did so, especially those who did so with a gentle touch (something which I have rarely manifested on this blog). I want you all to know that I have heard you. And for the most part, I agree with you.
I’m not sure what will become of The Allergic Pagan now. Over two years ago, I committed to writing in a different way. And I managed it for a little while. But then I fell back into my habitual way of writing. It started to wear on me again and I thought about shifting gears, but then the Patheos exodus happened and I went on a one-man crusade to highlight Patheos’ corporate connections to anti-LGBT groups.
I want to get back to that commitment I made before: to write about my own practice, rather than critiquing other peoples’.
I have enjoyed being the online gadfly of contemporary Paganism (the yang to John Beckett’s yin). But I’m done with that. I’ve said my piece and I’ve been fortunate to have my voice amplified.
It’s time for me to get back to my roots. To my spiritual practice. To my social activism. To my local community. And if I have something constructive to share along the way, I will.
Postscript: If past trends are any indication, this post will probably only get a few dozen views. But it will probably be exactly the few dozen of you who really care and who are not drawn by controversy. And that’s fine with me. Thank you for being here.
Well, I’ll miss ya.
Maybe there is a way to turn critical work in the Pagan community into a more conversational blog..with checks and balances from peers..
…but I think you also hit a nerve in the community. Many have been wanting to movement to become more relevant and mature, and appreciated your critique, even if it did get a little cranky sometimes. We’ll be grateful for that.
Best wishes to you.
I think ALL of your posts–and I have indeed been reading them–are valuable contributions, but I agree with you that the negative stuff is wearing on the spirit and demoralizing. I appreciate all you have done and said and I’m glad you’re going to take care of yourself now. Pat on the back and atta boy and all that to you–your voice has been one of the most valuable to me in the Pagan blogosphere. Please stay in touch.
Thank you Mark!
John, anytime we step outside the boundaries of ‘should’ it’s hard to find a path. In part, and mostly because, our individual path doesn’t have corporate sponsorship. Negative posts, on most any subject, will draw more readers because readers either want to agree or disagree. Positive posts, on the other hand, have less controversy and thus, less readers.
It seems to me that the negative posts took more of a toll on you. And maybe you convinced some to relook at what he or she is believes, but maybe not. We get pretty entrenched in our religious/quasi-religious views. It seems to me that the more negativity we put into the world, the more negative the world becomes. That, however, is a fairly obvious comment.
For example, I’m a priest in an Independent Catholic Church which blesses in the name of God Mother/Father or Father/Mother, however it comes out. But I don’t preach it much outside of church. Getting people to believe in a “mother” side to the divine is a challenge even though all of nature is a blend of masculine/feminine energy. And so, we, meaning my husband and I, continue our quiet work. Sometimes in teaching, sometimes in writing. But fighting the battle against the corporate church which sees “God” by whichever name we call it, as something other than male, is a challenge to say the least.
You’re a good writer. Just keep writing what’s in your head/heart. But fight against or for? Whew. I wonder if it’s worth the battle. Perhaps being who you are is enough. Readers or no readers.
“That’s how we’re gonna win. Not fighting what we hate, saving what we love.” — Rose from Star Wars: The Last Jedi
For starters, I appreciate both your polemic and constructive posts, though I haven’t read them all. I understand what you’re feeling though, we discussed this a bit on my end that one time on Google Hangouts. Here is what I thought reading this piece: You attracted the attention and nods from pagans who want more relevance and maturity… Find them again, don’t lose grasp of them. In many ways our writing is a siren’s call to kindred souls, those who react in a supportive manner are meant to form a network of mutual understanding and support.
Thank you Dayan! I appreciate your support.
You’ve pissed me off now! Having shared your 6th from bottom; obviously those pies, who clicked like on the reblog, never actually bothered to click through… lol
Intriguing, isn’t it, that negative bias so completely trumps our desire for the positive. Would never have considered the ratio could have been quite so skewed, though. 20:1 is certainly an eye-opener…
Keep the faith. Write for yourself (positive or negative) and retain a healthy scepticism regarding the importance of the resulting statistics. You never know; despite the cognitive dissonance, and the desire to attack / defend a controverisal post, you never know which one has succeeded in opening, or changing, a mindset.
Your blog is the one I read the most and will miss it if you stop writing entirely. Reading ALL your blog posts has helped me find my way and clarify my beliefs a bit. Good luck!
Thank you Trish. That means a lot. I will still be writing here, but hopefully with a different pen.
I completely understand where you’re coming from….and do appreciate each post I get to read (I have been a bit of a slacker about reading posts these past couple months). I’ve been where you are, and that was the reason I abandoned my own blog for well over a year. I found I was posting crap just because it was getting more hits. So I walked away for over a year and then came back late last year and began to post what I wanted. I felt better.
I think we need people who are there to bring clarity and maturity to this path. There are so few of us out there who are vocal.
Thank you! You’re example inspires me.
I have not been reading your blog for long, but I have enjoyed the thoughtful and well-informed take all the subjects you have handled. I think that your creative and curious, hard-headed intelligence is a good tool to apply to the subject. That being said, it might be good to remember that like calls to like; negative to negative, positive to positive, and go on from there. I wish you joy in your writing life as well as in life in general!
Yes! Thank you!
I think I enjoyed and derived a benefit from both the negative and the positive posts. The negative posts made me reflect on my own experience in the Pagan community, as well as my place in it (or if there is a place for me at all). The positive posts likewise made me think, and I shared them on social media. A couple of my friends on FB (one of whom I’ve known for over a decade) found them interesting and helpful in contributing to their understanding of Paganism. I think you should write and share whatever you feel called to write or share, and not worry about “blog traffic” or “hits.” Yeah, being well-known makes life interesting, for sure, but if it becomes the only reason you find yourself doing something that you once enjoyed, but has become more like work, then you need to reevaluate. To quote Nile Rodgers: “Do what you wanna do.” Blessed Be, and best of luck in your endeavors!
Good luck to you, John.
Best of luck to you. But I think you are making 2 mistakes. Maybe 3.
1. Titles of posts matter. “You’re not fucking Gandalf” is going to draw more clicks than “Why Worldview Matters: a response to someone most people never heard of.” More people are going to search for “Gandalf” than “Worldview.” And the first title just sounds fun. The 2nd title sounds like an assignment from 2nd-year social science.
2. Your angry posts are passionate. Your not-so-angry posts are not. They are measured and reasonable. I find the writing of the passionate posts to be head-and-shoulders above the others. Most people write better when they are passionate about something. It doesn’t have to be anger, but there is a lot of that going around today.
The 3rd maybe-mistake? Looking at the numbers. I wrote a post that was a throw-away. A link to an interesting story, with a few words followed by “go read the whole thing.” It got a boatload of hits. Why? I have absolutely no idea. The stats only showed visitors. It must have gotten picked up by an email group for some reason. But why not link directly to the article that had all the info? I will never know. And I care less and less.
Do it for your enjoyment, for your own process, and your own reasons or don’t do it. But don’t worry about the clicks, or you will turn to the click-bait. And then you are chasing blogging’s Rule 5.
Like i said. Good luck in your endeavors. And whatever you do, don’t doubt that you can write. A lot of the stuff here is gold.
I agree Zeb
The Coach needs to give him a talking to. This ain’t no time to loose his mojo mid game!
Thank you very much!
I think you’re making a good call, if it means you can focus more on your constructive writing which is excellent, especially when you write about activism and social/environmental justice. The recent flurry of negative posts come off as bitter and cynical and I’m not surprised they’ve taken a toll on you. I think that stepping back, away from the internecine warfare of internet Paganism, and writing for yourself about your Paganism, not anyone else’s and aboutwhat really matters to you is a good way to go, even if fewer people read it – the engagement will be narrower, but deeper and more meaningful. Good luck!
One of the things I admire about you John, is that you constantly examine yourself and your process.
One of my rules of blogging is to never ever attack individuals. There are plenty of people out there who hate me and inclusive Wicca. If they attack, I generally ignore them. By all means write a critique of someone’s ideas (I’ve done that a couple of times) but never attack them or assume bad motives on their part. I also try to go for the “shit sandwich” approach – say a nice thing, give your criticism, wrap up with another nice thing. This comment is also structured that way 🙂
I have to say that I frequently wrote posts taking up some knd of middle ground between you and John Beckett, and both of you ignored me for the most part, or that’s how it felt at the time!
I think critical and passionate posts are fine and worthwhile – but I think sometimes you conclude that just because some of Paganism is woolly-thinking, lazy, and self-absorbed, that all of it is. I posted one of your articles in a group, and people’s responses were that you were mistaking a subsection of Paganism for the whole.
One of the rules of writing in general is “show, don’t tell”. Show people how to be better, more self-critical, more compassionate, etc, by doing it yourself (like you are doing with Pray with your feet, which is excellent); don’t tell them that they are being crap, lazy, etc. Engage in non-violent communication.
Paganism needs your voice and your critique, so keep it up – but don’t worry about the numbers. I rarely look at my stats. I occasionally write clickbaity posts but I stick to the fun ones (“Top ten TV witches” for example). If one or two people are really moved or influenced by what you write, that can actually be more effective than hundreds being slightly affected, or even reacting badly.
The other day I read an article on The Guardian about the archetype of the witch, and some of the comments were about whether real-life witches and Pagans ever engage in activism – and I thought, “Tchuh, they should read John Halstead’s blog, that’d show them our activism”.
Thank you! Your comments over the years have always been very helpful and encouraging And this one is too.
I like the idea of “non-violent communication”! Gonna give that some thought.
NVC is a specific technique / theory developed by Marshall Rosenberg: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nonviolent_Communication
John, you’re a great writer. And you write for you and that has to work for you of course, but before you quit for good, you are also doing a service to the general community. The frustrations of modern paganism are simply behaviours endemic in western society due to our individualistic consumerism. Pagans are Modern Westerners first and foremost. You also criticise paganism in your writing as if you are a Marco Polo outsider looking on or a someone who’s a temporary guest. No John, you ARE modern paganism, a co creator of it. Unlike the LDS you can and do set the agenda. Paganism is greatly influenced and shaped by a handful of people in every generation and one of them today is you and this may sound anti democratic but the mass of average pagans doing currently popular pagan stuff don’t actually matter very much. You ARE capital big P paganism, it is the cos play angry teen wizard recons who are the small p pagans. You undervalue your own significance and leadership skills. And doh! surprise, your more dramatic and controversial headlines get more visits and reactions. This is my attempt at tough love btw.
Thank you Philip! I appreciate your encouragement.
I’m glad you’re reflecting and resetting priorities, and I look forward to reading about how your practice develops from this point, if you choose to write about it. As others have said above, reading your work has been deeply significant in the development of my own spiritual path, and I’m grateful for it, as well as for all of the editing work you’ve done. At the same time, I roundly reject what Philip A. says, about you being “capital P paganism,” and I think your insight about attention seeking is an important one.
Confession: I hadn’t read “I am an atheist when the wind is north-northwest.” But it’s amazing, thanks for linking to it!
John is capital P paganism because to my mind he expresses real paganism and all the other pagans are playing at it and even semi deluded. If you on the other hand define paganism in terms of what many, perhaps the majority, of people who call themselves pagan do or think then the game is up, the battle lost and the brand is irredeemingly tainted. IMO either John represents a better, more valud paganism or no paganism. Excuse my dualistic thinking however.
Philip, but I do indeed reject the notion of a “real paganism” or a “more valid paganism,” as well as any suggestions that JH or any other individual is going to be the savior of Paganism or the planet by bravely cataloguing the faults of Wiccans and teaching us all a new way. These underlying ideas are *exactly* what I have objected to in JH’s recent writings. Reflection and critical thinking are essential for our practices to be meaningful, something we each must do, yes. But none of us are inherently better than others, none of us have license to put others down, or to judge others’ hearts and practices based on how they dress. Nothing is lost for committing to relate with respect to those in under the big tent who think and look and live differently than we do; in fact, we might learn something. So I also reject your battle metaphor.
As always Anna, thank you for walking the talk.
A couple of practical points, added to those above: I’ve been reading you here from notifications, not seeking you out, and didn’t know I wasn’t receiving notifications for the positive posts. Although I probably have missed a few, basically I received and read all but two of your negative posts, but only two of your positive posts – which could contribute to the skew. I enjoyed at least one of these latter more than the negatives. Also, back in the day, it was a positive post that you kindly allowed us to reprint in Greenmantle – because we thought yours was a powerful voice for Pagan theology and clear thought.
Beyond that – what Wrycrow and Yew Tree said.
Strange that I read this on the day that I have finally had the last straw with regard to The World. I’m done, as well. After a break, I will probably do what I can to preserve *other* species from our destruction, but I am through having anything to do with human behaviour. A world where everyone lies and no one can be believed cannot be negotiated.
Not sure why I’m bringing that in, but I think it’s because there are many things in life to be passionate about, but even there, there are great differences in viewpoint. And some of us need a comfort zone in order just to survive, at least for a period of time.
Do what you need to do. There is a negative post I’ve been meaning to go back and comment on for several days, but no, I haven’t felt they were doing you any good. You are talented at clarifying the *gifts* of our particular spirituality, and I hope that, at some point, you will continue to do so.
I fluctuate between periods of despair and hope myself. The Dark Mountain Project (https://dark-mountain.net/about/the-dark-mountain-project/) has given me a reason to keep on fighting, even in my times of despair. Are you familiar with it? (https://orionmagazine.org/article/dark-ecology/)
I’ve run across them before, and recognized kindred spirits, but have not followed them in detail. I’m bemused that you find them a reason to keep on fighting – as, perhaps erroneously, I don’t think you mean only the fight to convince people of the intrinsic value of non-human persons. I very much enjoyed Paul Kingsnorth’s article, thanks for that – I have already adopted much of what he advocates, though clearly I have some technological addictions. I have in fact seen him on television before, doing his scything (which prompted me to look into the price of scythes) but not talking in depth about his philosophy.
I find your writings very thought provoking either way. I’m relatively new to this vlog so I’ve not had many to respond to. But I completely understand why you feel that way. Negativity seems to be running rampant anymore, even in the Pagan community. But now I have a nice list of your writings to read from and when I get the chance, I will do just that. Thank you.