John is a native of the southern Laurentian bioregion and lives in Northwest Indiana, near Chicago. He is a co-founder of 350 Indiana-Calumet, which (until recently) worked to organize resistance to the fossil fuel industry in the Region. John was the principal facilitator of “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment.” He strives to live up to the challenge posed by the Statement through his writing and activism.
John Halstead is the author of Another End of the World is Possible, in which he explores what it would really mean for our relationship with the natural world if we were to admit that we are doomed. More information can be found at AnotherEndoftheWorld.org. John has written for numerous online platforms, including Patheos, Huffington Post, PrayWithYourFeet.org, and Gods & Radicals. He is Editor-at-Large of HumanisticPaganism.com. John also edited the anthology, Godless Paganism: Voices of Non-Theistic Pagans and authored Neo-Paganism: Historical Inspiration & Contemporary Creativity. He is also a Shaper of the Earthseed community, which can be found at GodisChange.org.
I discovered your blog a few weeks ago, and I’ve really enjoyed reading about your experiences. As someone who is new to paganism (in practice anyway) I would really like to hear more about the two years you spent trying to figure out what spiritual path to take. Anyway, thank you for providing such interesting and enjoyable reading!
Sarah, I’ve been struggling to put this into a blog post, so I’ll just try to give you an abbreviated version. There were about three years between the time I formally withdrew from the Mormon Church, at the age of 25, and when I started self-identifying as Neopagan. It was another seven years until I sought out other Pagans in the flesh. The three years after leaving Mormonism and before I discovered Neopaganism were some of the most difficult years of my life. I felt adrift and was desperately searching for … something.
When I first left the LDS Church I still considered myself Christian — which I blogged about recently — and studied liberal and neo-orthodox Christian theology. After being “saved”, though, ironically I was done with Christianity. After that I began studying a little bit of a lot of different things: mysticism, Vedanta, Tai Chi, kundalini yoga, tarot, and liberal Quakerism. This was all book study, though. I intentionally avoided any religious community. I was done with that too. I also never succeeded in developing any sustained spiritual practice either though. During this time, I also discovered transcendentalism, humanism, and feminism, which had been tragically absent from my undergraduate education at BYU. (I had never heard the word “patriarchy” used in a negative context before.)
I’d like to say that my all of my religious studies led me to Neopaganism. But I actually happened across it quite accidentally. After I graduated from law school and passed the bar and we relocated so I could begin a judicial clerkship. It was then I discovered Neopaganism. I had been a fan of Anne Rice’s vampire novels for years and ended up picking up The Witching Hour. This led me to look into witchcraft at the public library, which led me quickly to Neopagan witchcraft. I had no contact with any Neopagan community. Instead, my understanding of Neopaganism was formed by books. The first books I read were Ronald Hutton’s The Triumph of the Moon and Vivianne Crowley’s Wicca: The Old Religion in the New Age.
Because of Hutton, I formed an image of Neopaganism as a religious community that had abandoned claims to historical authenticity. This was important to me because I had left Mormonism largely because I came to doubt the truth of its historical claim. Actually, Neopaganism, as I later learned, turned out to be not quite as postmodern as I had thought. People still argue about the Gerald Gardner’s claims. And then there is reconstructionism, which has always looked to me as retrogressive.
And because of Vivianne Crowley, I formed a distinctly Jungian understanding of Neopaganism. Crowley is a Jungian therapist, and Wouter Hanegraaf has written that reading Crowley, one might be forgiven for thinking that Neopaganism is just Jungian psychology in religious form. I quite disappointed to learn, years later, than Jungianism had become passe for most Neopagans.
Hi Sarah! Thanks for the positive feedback. I started to write a response to your question, but it was too long for a comment box. So I think I’ll make it the subject of my next post. I’d love to hear about how you came to paganism.
John just stumbled onto your blog and like what I’ve read so far. I too am former Mormon with many similarities in experience. Thank you for publishing your insightfull thoughts.
Jongiorgi Enos: Glad to meet you! Is the surname Enos a coincidence?
Jongiorgi, My maiden name is Enos. Is that your Surname?
Hey there! I’ve nominated you for a Very Inspirational Blogger Award. (See the entry at http://wp.me/p179ny-gt) Hope you have time to participate. Stop by and say “Hello” if you get a chance.
I seem to be completely unable to find an email contact for you anywhere on your blog. Among other things, I need to ask your permission to reprint one of your pieces for a community discussion series. Could you be so kind as to email me so I might reply?
I have just discovered your blog and wanted to say thank you for showing me that there are kindred spirits out there. In particular, the “pagan with a small ‘p'” article echoes a lot of my thoughts (and frustrations) with the pagan community and I’m so glad that I’m not the only one who feels this way.
Merry Meet. I found your article about why Contemporary Paganism Deserves to Die, and came here. I see that you are involved in a long list of social and political activism that is not what Paganism is about. More and more of the old time social activist pagans are losing their following while a million and a half young Americans now self identify as Witch or Wiccan. I’m sure you feel strongly about all those causes, but its not where contemporary pagans are going. Pagan leaders need to spend a lot more time listening and a lot less time moralizing and attacking disagreement. Wicca is a religion, not a political party, and Gerald Gardner was a Tory all his life. When we forget that we lose the followers.
What evidence do you have that those million and a half young Pagans–if they really exist–actually *do* anything other than label themselves “Pagan”?
What evidence do you have that they reject social activism? (Most surveys I have read have found that millenials care more about social activism than their elders.)
What evidence do you have contemporary paganism is going in the direction you say (i.e., away from social activism)?
BTW, Gerald Gardner was also a misogynist? Who the fuck cares? What does Gerry’s politics have to do with anything?
For some peculiar reason, this comment came to my inbox. I haven’t been out & about in the blogosphere for a couple of years so I came over to see wtf was going on & ah, I see I commented years ago looking for your contact info., so there must be a request to update me on posts in this thread somewhere out there.
But since I am here, I will just say, “LOL.”
The first comment shows a stunning lack of experience with the various branches of Wicca & Witchcraft of which there are so, so many (Witchcraft is not necessarily a religion at all — it is, first & foremost, a craft). In an effort to remain brief, I would like to mention that when Wicca was imported to the U.S., it underwent an epic change in orientation & if the author was well versed in the history of this transformation, they would know that Gardner’s Wiccan tradition was mostly supplanted by Starhawk-esque Wicca in the U.S., at least in the beginning. To the author: if you haven’t, please consider reading “Her Hidden Children,” by Dr. Chas Clifton for an excellent account of this early history. Starhawk, et. al.’s breed of Wicca **literally employed activism as a magickal & worshipful tool.** (See “The Spiral Dance.”)
It has not been my experience that young Wiccans, Witches & other pagans are disinterested in activism. In fact, I see quite the opposite. (There are alot of complacent gen-X’ers.) Then again, that has everything to do with how you employ your magicks & how you celebrate & honor your gods (or whatever). I think it is very risky to try to generalize pagans en masse — actually, it is pretty impossible.
However, at risk of generalizing (lol), I do see quite a bit of arrogant ignorance (unintentional, of course) from younger pagan folk — even moreso with Wiccans specifically. (It KILLS me when I mention Valiente, Gardner, Farrar’s, Sanders, Leland, Leek, etc…. even Crowley(!!!) & I get blank stares.) In that respect, I am glad that the author thinks the history is important.
I would be curious to hear where the younger generation of Wiccans are “going.” As for “pagans” or “paganism,” which ones? There are a great many of us & we often are inclined to disagree with one another. I’d love to hear new perspectives on where everyone is going since I am cooped up here in Alaska with a bunch of mostly “onesies” or “twosies.” That is, there are only a handful of any version of practitioners of any particular tradition, be that various Wiccan traditions or other breeds of paganism such as myself.
Oh, one last thing: paganism is NOT about “followers.” Period.
Please leave the following to the sheep.
I cannot find the essay referenced in the first comment, so I won’t weigh in on the opinions covered therein but I suspect I might share some of your thoughts, John. I will concur with your thoughts on people who call themselves “Pagan” but don’t actually do anything, be it activism, magick (this one drives me batty) or ceremony. What you *do* is so much more important than what you call yourself. Sadly, there is a great deal of that happening.
I hope you are doing well — it looks as though you have been quite prolific! All the best to you & yours.
~ Moma Fauna
P.S. I’d love to read your essay on leaving the church — maybe later because I just saw “The Book of Mormon” & I experienced much PTSD during the first act. All too real for this SLC native. I’ll gin up my courage & come back again for that. 😉
I found you via your article exploring TOTEG and TOTEM on Pathgeos. I’ve been looking for those TOTEG folks for a decade! The SLC group seems officially defunct and I am longing for more from what Joseph left behind. Getting here and digging in a bit to some of your more recent writings I am happy to have found a kindred spirit. Are you still in Utah? I’d love to chat if you’re interested!
Hi Josh. Feel free to email me: firstname.lastname@example.org. I was in Utah from 96-99 but only have been back to visit since. TOTEG is one of the few Pagan groups which I think I really could have jibed with, but it’s been mostly defunct since before I began identifying as pagan (2003) unfortunately. Same with the other groups that appealed to me. Love to chat sometime.