Religious Leave-Taking as Asking Different Questions

When I left the Mormon church in 2000, I had to figure out a short way to explain to people why I left.  I knew nobody wanted to hear my Mormon version of Luther’s 95 Theses.  I think the most succinct (if not the most satisfactory) explanation I came up with was this:

I started asking different questions.

As I started to move away from Mormonism, I realized that Mormonism doesn’t just claim to tell you what the right answers are–it claimed to tell you what the right questions are.  I think this is true of all of Christianity, and maybe all of Western religion.

Maybe that’s what being a part of religious community means–not necessarily having the same answers, but having the same questions.

When I was Mormon, my questions were: How do I get closer to God? How do I deal with the feeling of guilt my sins? Is the Mormon church “true”? Does the Mormon prophet speak for God? Is the Book of Mormon historical?

Mormons claim to know the answers to all these questions.  And every Sunday at the Mormon church is an exercise in affirming collectively what the answers to those questions are.  Sometimes people are seen to doubt the answers, but no one ever seems to doubt the questions.

My departure from the Mormon church started with my doubting the answers, but it ended with me rejecting the questions.  Over a period of about several years, the questions Mormonism asked became less and less relevant to me, and I started to ask new questions.

Within a few years after my formal leaving-taking, I could no longer muster up the energy to even argue about the question of whether the Mormon church was “true”.  Similarly, after experiencing a saving moment of grace, I longer found questions about Jesus to be interesting in anything other than an academic sense.  I continue to have a passing interest in all things Mormon.  But I rarely look beyond the headlines.

Now, I find the same thing happening with Paganism.

I am still drawn to my altar, which looks very pagany (whatever that means).  A while back, I took it down but found myself longing for it, so I put it back.  And I still am drawn to my irregular morning and evening devotionals, which also look and sound very pagany.  And I still call myself “pagan”–albeit with a small “p”.

My blogroll is still filled with Pagan writers.  I still peruse the Pagan Community Notes column at the Wild Hunt.  And I still read the titles of John Beckett’s posts at least.  But I feel a growing disinterest with all of these.  I think this is because my questions are changing again.

The questions that obsessed me not very long ago are becoming less relevant for me.  I am no longer interested in bridging the gap between Pagan belief about the sacredness of the earth and actual Pagan practice.  I am no longer interested in the resolving the tension between the Pagan desire for legitimacy and respect, on the one hand, and the anti-institutionalism and insularity of contemporary Paganism, on the other.  I am no longer interested in the tension between Pagan hyper-individualism and the Pagan belief in our interconnectedness.  I am no longer interested in what the growth of literalistic theism means for contemporary Paganism.  I am no longer interested in the persistence of belief in supernatural phenomena among Pagans.

Other questions now consume me …

I’m interested in what a truly spiritual activism looks like, and the corresponding question of what an activist spirituality looks like. I want to find a way to integrate ritual praxis and political action in way that retains the power of religious ritual without alienating those who are put off by religion.

I also am interested how the in the various kyriarchies–from patriarchy to capitalism to racism to anthropocentrism–overlap and weave their way insidiously into our individual and collective psyches.

And I am interested in practices for cultivating an immediate and sensual relationship with the land I stand on and the other-than-human (as well as the human) beings that fill the world around me.

And I’m increasingly curious about something I’m learning about called “enchanted materialism”–a “third way” between the Scylla and Charybdis of a reductive materialism and an alienated supernaturalism.  It’s also been called the “new materialism, the “new vitalism”, “interanimism”, “naturalistic animism”, and “agential naturalism”. Some of the people writing about this are David Abram, Jane Bennett, Eduardo Kohn, as well as Mathieu Thiem and Émile Hart.

As I understand it so far, enchanted materialism strives to recognize the agency of the more-than-human world without anthropomorphizing nature.  It is an attempt to break down the boundaries between the human and the other-than-human, the self and the other, subject and object, person and thing, culture and nature.

There is some overlap with with the animist thought in the contemporary Paganism, but it seems to be on its fringes and not at its center, which is where I had thought to have found it.  The questions which seem to circulate at the center of Paganism have to do with belief in literal, anthropomorphic deities and literal, practical magic, neither of which I am interested in any longer.

There are some self-described Pagan writing about the same questions I have  But, by and large, the central concerns of contemporary Paganism seem to be different.  And that no longer really bothers me, since I no longer feel bound to the Pagan community.

It is disappointing to have lost a connection to yet another religious community.  I feel like I’ve been through all the stages of grief in my relationship with Paganismdenial, anger, bargaining, depression–maybe several times over.  Now I’m finally accepting it: I may be “Pagan-adjacent”, but I don’t belong anywhere near the cultural center of contemporary Paganism.  Paganism’s questions aren’t mine anymore.

I have new questions now.

16 thoughts on “Religious Leave-Taking as Asking Different Questions

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  1. Hey John,

    I love your blog; I have been following and reading it for a few months now. Your experience detailed here is similar to what I have been going through recently as well. I had a falling out with Neo-Paganism and all the new-age trappings that came with it, such as what may be seen with crystals working. It was at this point that I found humanistic paganism, and even further, atheism. Thankfully, letting go of the beliefs that no longer serve me has been less cumbersome than what it may be for most people.

    I am a Comparative Religions major, and I think you and I share a similar value for academia from what I have read here. Studying various traditions and religions have put my mind at ease in this in-between period, where I can search for the place that I feel best suited. I hope you feel similarly, and I trust from your down-to-earth frame of mind that this will be an enjoyable journey for you, myself included.

    -Jay

  2. All of your current questions seem like pagany ones to me; they’re certainly more salient for my pagany practice than the first set of questions you described. The first set of questions seems to be about the integrity of other people’s practices, while the second set is about the integrity of your own practice as it’s developing. I wish you all the best, all ways, always in your continuing practice, under whichever label or tradition that might be.

    1. Thanks for your support Anna!

      I agree with your observation about the two sets of questions. It’s interesting because I did come into Paganism with another set of questions and over time I became more concerned with the questions about other people’s Paganism.

      I think my original questions included: What does a more embodied spiritual practice look like? How do I “let go” in ritual and let my more-than-rational self speak? How do I distinguish the gods of my conscious imagination from those potencies which reside deep within me? What is the connection between my deep self and the natural world? What is the connection between those agencies of my unconscious and the other-than-human agencies that fill the world around me?

      I still have those questions, actually. I just keep getting distracted from them by other things going on in the online and offline Pagan world.

  3. Yes I agree with Anna and Mark. I don’t care about most of the questions you described as pagany ones; I do care about the new ones. I also don’t care if that makes me a peripheral Pagan. I am what I am. Personally I can’t let go of the label Pagan – I tried doing that and it hurt too much. I will keep asking those questions from within the Paganosphere.

    But you are what you are, so you have to do what you have to do, and I wish you well.

  4. Anna above said it far better than I could. I think your new questions are still relevant to a Pagan (or “pagan” or “*pagan”) worldview, if not more so than the first set, and away from the endless internet shouting galleries, there’s a goodly number of Pagans who are much more concerned with the second set of questions.

  5. Over here in the UK, I’m still distressed by your leave taking of Paganism because as I’ve mentioned on your comment feeds elsewhere, you are a shining light, a purveyor of sense and reason in the paganosphere. However at this moment it is hard not to feel you are behaving like the proverbial baby throwing his toys out of his ‘pram’ (or as you yanks call it, the Baby Buggy) Harsh, but I think you need to hear it.

    Sure, take time to reassess and consider your next step, but not for too long. Instead of giving you ‘support’ by a series of sympathetic platitudes, I want to spur you to a course of action. I’m a fan but I would like to be the annoying gad-fly that tries to draw your attention to a big picture that I think you might be overlooking in the middle of your private hurt and uncertainty. I’m not a troll, because I say this with purpose, to try to encourage you to create something new and wonderful from the bits of paganism that remain meaningful to you. You have led us a certain way, but I hope you can take us to the promised land!

    I get the whole ‘questions’ thing; you’ve personally been ground down, especially by the Patheos travesty/betrayal, at the same time that you lost interest in the fight. I don’t blame you. These dark moments of introspection are part of the ‘hero’s journey’. The pagan community desperately need a new direction. It needs you in short. There are many pagans, and those who don’t identify with that label who agree with you. In the UK though most pagans pay lip service to environmentalism, economic and social radicalism and ‘earth centered’ spirituality, that is not where the most fervent pagans put their energy. Many (actually most) of the active pagans I meet want a solipsistic and super-naturalistic, literal deity centered religion with a big R. They want the devotional experience they believe the ancients had minus the messy, inappropriate and gory bits. The truth of course is it is impossible to reconstruct any ancient culture today, in any form or to any degree without an extraordinary amount of intellectually dishonesty.

    Modern paganism is hopelessly confused. I’m sure you are familiar with the ‘pre/trans fallacy’ concept of Ken Wilber. To my mind, whatever your view of Ken, his concept rather ‘explains’ my and your problem with modern paganism. For you, and me, the ancient symbolism and mythological motifs of the past are potentially transformative in aiding a change of consciousness. However for too many pagans their interest in ancient mythology is differently motivated. Whatever they say they’re doing, in reality they are in unconscious retreat from the stress of modern life into a pre-rational bubble. Personally satisfying maybe, but socially irrelevant.

    You abandoned Mormonism, but maybe this time you could be a reformer or indeed a pioneer of a new movement based on the ‘ashes’ of your pagan experience. Why not? Please, please organize something. Some years ago I was a member of the UK based Druidic Order of Naturalists. One problem we had is that while we knew what we were against, we didn’t know ‘what we were for’. You however do seem to know.

    You’ve already got the influence and contacts to actually make something new. Maybe an Order, maybe a ‘Network’ but in any event an Earth Centered Movement. This is what I hope you will build: something that is actually organised, it will have ritual -personal, seasonal and rites of passage; it might be expressly pantheistic but make a very clear statement that anthropomorphic deities (including Jehovah) are not taken ‘literally’ but as symbols and archetypes. Your movement without dogmatically holding to a naturalistic materialism as such will still make clear its reliance upon a naturalistic epistemic methodology to sort unverifiable private truth claims from evidence based public truth claims. The movement will be holistically activist and radical. And maybe it won’t use the name ‘pagan’ because the word is too tainted now. I’m sure your new movement would attract the rank and file of not only many disillusioned pagans, fed up with the retreat into pre-rational worldviews, but also many religious liberals, atheists and secular people.
    Yes you might have to appear to be occasionally ‘illiberal’ by taking a stand for evidence based objective truth. We mustn’t be afraid of ideology and staking your claim to be ‘right’ certainly when it comes to the treatment of the poor, migrants and their children as a pertinent example. The left needs ideology and the ability to make value judgments in a positive, constructive as well as a critical way. There is always ideology. Humans crave ideology because they crave ‘meaning’. If we don’t create an ideology that is earth centered and about social justice then many horrible ideas or mere tribal partisanship will fill the ‘vacuum’. Which is already happening, and this is because dare I say, of a modern liberal failure of nerve (e.g. to take the civil rights movement far enough) and associated failure of commitment by our generation, Generation X. You are our prophet. Give us a new movement with such an ideology John to help get our feet marching. Just make it a good one!

    1. Hi Phil!

      I really appreciate all of your comments here recently, including this one. And I do appreciate the “tough love”.

      Like you, I think, I long believed that a naturalistic version which we endorse is the most genuine expression of contemporary Paganism. When I came to Neo-Paganism, I thought it was naturalistic at its core, and I thought the supernaturalism was aberrant, an unfortunate consequence of a historical accident, the infiltration of occultism via Gerald Gardner’s Wicca and the adoption of Wicca by feminists in the 70s. And there were several academics whose work supported this notion (Robert Ellwood & Harry Partin, Joanne Pearson, and Wouter Hanegraaff). I thought these strands could be separated and so I set about trying to unwind them.

      And that might have been possible, but for the fact that my timing was terrible.

      Little did I know that I had discovered contemporary Paganism just as it was moving toward its own version of the Great Awakening, with the growth of devotional polytheism. I have been swimming upstream ever since. As you acknowledge in your comment, most Pagans don’t want what we’re describing. And I think there’s historical reasons for that. Devotional polytheism is a reaction to something–it’s a reaction to an over-rationalized Paganism, which had embraced a watered down Jungian archetypalism and which had grown shy about ecstatic ritual, in part due to a desire to be seen as more mainstream. The pendulum of the collective Pagan imagination was swinging away from that, just I came along, and found myself trying to pull it back in that direction.

      What the devotional polytheists didn’t see was that I was also working on the other end, trying to pull naturalistic Pagans away from the excessive rationalizing of religion. Incidentally, I think don’t think I’ve had any more success on this end than I did on the other.

      I realize now that Neo-Paganism was never what I thought it was. With a few prominent exceptions, it’s always been a supernaturalistic religion. I was looking at it through a lens, skewed by the writing of academics who were trying to make Paganism seem like a respectable subject for study. And I was very selectively choosing from available examples to support my vision of what Paganism should be.

      I also realize now that most Pagans are not going to have any interest in what you and I are describing As you said in your comment, “Modern paganism is hopelessly confused.” I’m familiar with with pre/trans fallacy, and I agree with your analysis. I have written about it in relation to Paganism here. The distinction between the pre- and the trans- is just too subtle or nuanced for most people.

      Now, as you say, there are a fair number people (who may or may not identify with the word “Pagan”) who are interested in a naturalistic small-p pagany religion. But here’s the dilemma: It seems that, as people move away from religious literalism and pietism, and their religion becomes rationalized, and they loose enthusiasm. I see this in Unitarian Universalism, but also in our own naturalistic pagan communities. Oftentimes, it seems the pendulum has swung too far in other direction. So, while many supernaturalistic Pagans confuse the pre-rational with the trans-rational, naturalistic Pagans, on the other hand, make a similar mistake of failing to see any distinction between the pre- and the trans-, and condemn it all as ir-rational. Supernaturalistic Pagans are stuck in the pre-rational, and naturalistic Pagans are stuck in the rational.

      I would love to be a part of an organization or movement like you describe, whether it bears the “pagan” label or not. But there have been so many attempts to do this already which have failed. The Druidic Order of Naturalism is just one example. It seems to me that we’re caught in a Catch-22. When we reject the literalism of theistic religion, we loose the enthusiasm (from enthousiasmos, meaning the indwelling of a god), and without the enthusiasm, we can just sustain a religious movement. This has been true of UUs, who have been limping along since the time of the Transcendentalists, and it seems true of naturalistic Pagans today as well. We love to talk about religion, but the actual doing of it makes us uncomfortable, and so we don’t. (No I don’t count having a potluck on the solstice as religion, nor do I count an exegetical sermon on the meaning of the equinox.)

      I think we do need a kind of prophet, but I don’t have the qualities of a prophet. I’m a critic. I lack the charisma (from charis, meaning a divine gift) of a prophet. There are other people who are doing this work, some quietly, some a little more publicly, who might fit that bill. Steven Posch is one of those people, I think. He’s more poet than critic. And I am fortunate to be going to a long weekend ritual he is organizing next month. I’ll let you know how it goes. Speaking of poets, Ruby Sara was another person I think could have been our prophet, but she quietly left Paganism–as so many others have. (Are you familiar with her writing? You can’t find much of it online anymore, but I archived it. I’ll send you some if you like.)

      There are other people, too, but they are mostly going about their work alone or in small groups. Cat Chapin Bishop, Anna (Brianna) Walther, and Alison Leigh Lily come to mind. They strike that balance I think we need–rational without being rationalistic, spiritual without being supernatural, activist without reducing religion to politics, etc. But they seem to have little interest in leading anyone (except by example. (By “leading”, here, I mean organizing others.) Those who do have the inclination to be organizers–like Mark Green, Jon Cleland Host, B.T. Newberg, Rua Lupa, myself–I think we struggle with the balance I described, and (forgive me) I think we lack that undefinable quality that makes a prophet, what I’ve called “charisma” (meaning it in the archaic sense of the word).

      (Is it a coincidence that four of the five people I listed in the first group are women and and the four of the five I listed in in the other group are men?)

      Another problem is that I think we expect too much of online community. There is no substitute for the flesh. The kind of communities we need to build aren’t communities of the mind–and that’s all you can have online. We need communities of bodies, or it’s really not pagan. (Reminds me of a quote from one of Anne Rice’s novels: “In the flesh all wisdom begins. Beware the thing that has no flesh. Beware the gods, beware the idea.”) Have you ever tried to do an online ritual? Might as well be a contradiction in terms!

      I hope I’m not throwing the baby out with the bathwater, as you accuse. As I said in my post, I’m still interested in “practices for cultivating an immediate and sensual relationship with the land I stand on and the other-than-human (as well as the human) beings that fill the world around me.” I think that’s pagan, if with a small-p. In fact, for me, that’s the real “pagan” deal. For me, that’s the “baby”.

      The “water” I’m “throwing out” is any association with a community that focuses on belief in literal, anthropomorphic deities or on literal, practical magic. And honestly, I don’t think I’m giving up very much. When I think about my most “pagan” experiences, most of them have had little, if anything, to do with the contemporary Pagan community. There were ecstatic experiences, like those I had in a redwood forest, on a rocky beach on the Pacific ocean, or on Pike’s Peak. Or there were more subtle, but no less profound experiences, which I could have anywhere, like the smell of burning autumn leaves, or discovering the Dogwood blossoms on a spring morning, or feeling my fingers digging into black soil of my garden, or eating a really ripe mango, or the sound of the wild geese “harsh and exciting–over and over announcing [my] place in the family of things.” And, yes, there was that one time, as I watched somene I don’t know dance around the campfire in the dark at a Pagan summer festival, that I felt like a goddesshad been “drawn down”. And there were a few other experiences like that, times that I danced too. But most of my experiences of contemporary Paganism have been disappointingly shallow. The few experiences I have had in a capital-P Pagan context just don’t justify all the effort I have put into trying to reform the rest.

      Anyway, I’d love to hear your thoughts on all this.

      John

  6. Thank you John for your very considered and detailed reply to my previous comment. As you usual I feel your analysis is spot on. I particularly agree with your comment that ‘rationalist’ versions of a religion doesn’t seem to attract long term and deep emotional commitment or excitement. Attempts to create a communal naturalist spirituality don’t appear to have staying power. Is this because a world view that gives a pre-eminent position to rational discourse doesn’t speak to the inner person, to our deep and unconscious self which we can only communicate with via symbols, archetypes, music, art and physicality. I suspect as much. And what if religious enthusiasm must inevitably goes hand in hand with an element of blind devotion that a rationalist would not want. Can we have one without the other?. I think the ‘jury is out’ on that question. Both of us also talk in formal terms about religious experience as separate from its interpretation, but in terms of actual experience this seems another ‘distinction without a difference’.

    I appreciate John that you cannot take up the prophetic ‘mantle’. Reading your comments – and inappropriate as it seems in this ‘pagan’ and naturalistic context – I couldn’t help musing that in the religions of the book the prophet is usually portrayed as reluctant to accept his divinely appointed role. I remember my undergraduate Old Testament classes and form criticism of the prophet stories. Stereotypically the prophet would first protest their inadequacy or try to ‘flee’ the call, the Prophet Jonah being the more extreme example! Okay, so you are not going to be suddenly called by Yahweh (or any other God) for this mission though you might want to avoid boarding a ship for a while…

    You’re really are done, so what to do? As for me, my love of mythology and my animistic/pantheistic/nature/landscape/ancestor loving spiritual inclinations have not changed, nor the rationalism and knowledge that prevents me having faith in personal anthropomorphic God or Gods. How do I label my ‘spirituality’ now? I think it is still pretty coherent and not diffuse and wishy washy..
    And socially what do we do? I lost a great number of – arguably fair weather – ‘friends’ when I left finally fundamentalist evangelical community nearly 20 years ago, and I’m now reluctant to lose the friends I’ve made in the pagan community. I think it is inevitable those relationships would suffer if I ceased going to pagan events at least. I would be interested in hearing how you handle the practical and social consequences of leaving a religious community. On the other hand I believe in the interest of authenticity I have to stop calling myself a pagan if the label gives a false impression of what I believe and do.

    Part of me wants to get angry: how dare those irrational devotional polytheists hijack and try to define neo-paganism on their own terms! (Rather as evangelicals insist on their definition of what ‘Christian’ means). Ironically a few years ago, I know a number of leading devotional and re-con polytheists in the UK were disassociating themselves from the ‘pagan’ or neo-pagan label because they felt it implied a New Age mish mash of non-theism or soft polytheism – all the stuff they hated. Strangely the devotional polytheists have gone quiet in the UK too (I think the high tide of organised and vocal paganism has greatly receded in the last ten years or so).

    Finally, I’m going to confuse everything by mixing metaphors now. Rather than joining the prophets, are we perhaps called to adopt warriorhood instead?
    Your leave taking of paganism also feels like we’re losing our best battleship/ace pilot in the war for the heart and soul of paganism. As a peace loving, social activist, environmentalist and introvert, I imagine you will also be disinclined to identify with the ‘warrior’ archetype. Of course I’m using ‘battle’ and ‘war’ here as metaphor (I know that real violence is generally abhorrent in its execution and consequences). Still I have the urge to metaphorically war against the devotional polytheists, who I’m staring to see as the pagan version of fundamentalism. Must I struggle against fundamentalism (Christian, Pagan even Atheistic) everywhere I go?

    When all is said and done, I feel I’m on a similar journey/trajectory to you John. If you’re definitely leaving the pagan community, then I won’t be far behind. But (to mangle the words and meaning of our national poet Dylan Thomas) I don’t intend to “GO GENTLY INTO THAT GOOD NIGHT”

    1. >”Attempts to create a communal naturalist spirituality don’t appear to have staying power. Is this because a world view that gives a pre-eminent position to rational discourse doesn’t speak to the inner person, to our deep and unconscious self which we can only communicate with via symbols, archetypes, music, art and physicality. I suspect as much.”

      So do I.

      >”what if religious enthusiasm must inevitably goes hand in hand with an element of blind devotion”

      I don’t think blind devotion is necessary, but I do think it is necessary for rationalists to *temporarily* suspend the left braininess in order to experience the depth and power of religious devotion.

      >”Stereotypically the prophet would first protest their inadequacy or try to ‘flee’ the call, the Prophet Jonah being the more extreme example”

      Yeah, that example (and others) came to mind. But all those examples presume a divine calling. And I haven’t heard mine yet.

      >”And socially what do we do?”

      That’s a good question. My 2 cents for what it’s worth: If you enjoy pagan events, then keep going. I’m going to one later this month–though it’s atypical for Pagan events and it’s likely to be my last. The thing about Paganism is, you don’t have to be a Pagan to participate. Whether you still identify yourself as Pagans to other Pagans and to non-Pagans is a different question (or two different questions). Will your Pagan friends will care very much if you stop calling yourself Pagan, if you’re still attending Pagan events and you go on treating them respectfully?

      Leaving Paganism is easier for me, I think, than it would be for you, because I’ve never had a local Pagan community that I called home. There are several local groups here, and I have tried to connect with them, but almost every time I was turned off. And also, I still have my UU congregation. Although I’m ambivalent about UUism, I’m not at all embarrassed to identify as a UU. I left Mormonism when my embarrassment/cognitive dissonance over being associated with the LDS Church overrided what little benefit I was getting from participating in the community. The same is true of my experience of Paganism. In both cases, I waited until my angst became so acute and until I was getting such little nourishment from my participation that it felt like I really didn’t have any alternative. Also, as you noted, I’m an introvert, so I can sustain myself on just a few relationships, if they are deep enough.

      >”Part of me wants to get angry: how dare those irrational devotional polytheists hijack and try to define neo-paganism on their own terms! … Rather than joining the prophets, are we perhaps called to adopt warriorhood instead?”

      I was both relieved and disappointed when a contingent of devotional polytheists started distancing themselves from Paganism. On the one hand, I was glad not be associated with their dogmatism. “Good riddance!” I thought! But, when I looked around at what was left … well, “New Age mish mash” is a good description. I always admired the seriousness with which devotional polytheists approached their religion, and I found myself frustrated again with the frivolity of many of those who remained. Revelry has its place, but I think it needs to be balanced with reverence. As much as I relished waging verbal “war” on the devotional polytheists, I didn’t like what was left of Paganism without them either.

      (Incidentally, I think the devotional polytheists only perceived what I was doing as waging “war” on them, because–like other fundamentalist–they can’t tolerate criticism. I swear I feel like I have been just as hard on the naturalistic Pagans, but they not only tolerate, but invite, criticism.)

  7. Thanks John. All good sense again

    Your explanation has spurred me on in my ‘new’ spiritual journey too and I hope our paths continue to cross online. I do wonder about the fate of your ‘pagan’ blogs like this one. Unless perhaps you’re done with all forms of spiritual path and/or blogging, which I doubt you are, I look forward to your new post pagan/trans-rational blogging endeavors!

    As a ‘former’ pagan leader who’s leaving the fold, you are actually in good company. A recent British example of pagan leader leave-taking is Emma Restall-Orr. This talented poet and author, proclaimed ‘Druid Priestess’, and co-leader of the BDO and Druid Network expressly said on her website that she no longer calls herself a ‘Druid’. Reading this a year ago I was “Gobsmacked”. As a former, occasionally active, camp attending Druid Network member (and leaving aside my guilty secret of a slight crush on her personage!) this announcement came as a shock to me somewhat analogous to an IT Nerd learning that Bill Gates was fed up with computers. In other words, my shock/surprise had an existential quality.

    Even OBOD leader Philip Carr-Gom has hinted strongly over the last few years that he wants to develop his path toward a more universal perspective. The reasons may be unrelated but he recently said he intends to step down as OBOD leader, though unlike Emma Restall-Orr, he pledges to remain involved in the druid scene. Interestingly he has been reacquainting his ‘followers’ with the positive side of Eastern Mysticism for some time.. I think this would be unthinkable even 10 years ago. Any express reference to the spirituality of the East was thoroughly rejected in many pagan circles (though there are a few “Zen” Druids I’m aware of) In any event Philip PG has more than signaled a move away from ‘labels’ and is happy to call himself simply a mystic and adherent of a humanity wide perennial philosophy. This is a departure from the particularity Zeitgeist of 80s through to early 2000s paganism which was focused on trying to reconstruct a nativist (in the white anglo-saxon sense) religion. The inference for me being that his spiritual quest has also outgrown the confines of pagan-druidry.

    As I’ve said, your commentaries on modern paganism passim have many times spurred me on to the next stage of my own spiritual/life journey. This journey began in fundamentalist ‘childhood’ where I didn’t think for myself – a period extending long beyond actual childhood – I’ve been through spells of ‘pure’ atheism, and then a 15 year pagan ‘adolescence’ to achieve, I hope, a greater spiritual maturity (or maybe not, time will tell!). This process was accelerated in recent years by the dialectic tension of wanting to retain my experience of embodied transcendence in the face of the new atheist and naturalistic critique. Your blogs helped me navigate that debate by acknowledging the religious experience of pagans rather than dismissing it as ‘just another delusion’.

    If we don’t just lapse into a state of no-religion or religious nihilism, I feel the western spirituality of the future must re-capture something of transcendence in the sense of attending to ‘something’ greater’ than the individual’s self-centered concerns, that unites us in “love for all existences”*. This must not be more escapism but practical and good for the world

    As we both leave big P paganism and start our new and different journeys, I wish you the best of luck!

    1. Best of luck to you too Philip. I have to say, people like you have kept me going over the past 15 years. Your encouragement has helped sustain me. I thank you for that.

      P.S. I didn’t know about Emma Restall-Orr. That is, indeed, shocking!)

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