The Pagan Heart
Myth, Magic, and Madness

August-September 2005 Issue

Playing at Paganism

By Axiom


I have been wondering about the growing numbers of Pagan-lite Pagans appearing all over the place. At one time the only people you ran across who called themselves Pagan were serious Pagans - they studied (at least to some degree) and took their faith as an active choice which required more than lip-service. Not all were "out", but all were serious enough about their faith and beliefs that is was only a matter of time until that changed.

They had opinions on Pagan topics - which they could back up with research and argument. They were interested in meeting other Pagans to exchange ideas and learn.

They were excited about their faith - with not only a certain delirious joy, but also a deep, solid contentment arising from a confidence in self and path. They believed so utterly that you couldn't fail but feel it.

I still see these people today - meet them, talk with them, learn about them. Some are so new they've yet to pass their first year marker, others so long-standing they've grown moss. But increasingly I have to wade through the Paganlites to find them.

Paganlite. Apt description I think. Lite being the commercially acceptable term to use for products that aren't "really" light in fat or sugar or whatever - thus the use of lite rather than light - but want to seem so. Reminds me of quite a number of the Pagans I meet these days.

Some fall under the Fluffy Bunny umbrella, but not all. I am bumping into more and more people who've put a bit of effort into learning their chosen brand of Paganism. They walk the walk, talk the talk, and chant the chant. They know their marjoram from their marigolds, their Wicca from their Picts. And yet something isn't right.

The belief is lacking - although it's easy to miss while being dazzled with the arcane knowledge, the easy grasp of Herbalism 1700, the radiant energy use. But link up with one of them, or sit and talk awhile, and you start to realize something is badly lacking. You may be less fluent in your Old Latin, and less evocative in your description of the Goddess you worship, but suddenly that's not what you're aware of. It's the emptiness into which your words are falling. Pebbles dropped down a mineshaft that just…vanish. Not echo. No noise. No return.

These Paganlites remind me of the various mainstreamers we run into - you know the ones. They walk the walk and talk the talk of their faith. They even attend a regular service. Do all the right things - but something in the way they speak and act screams out the lack of belief.

Have we become mainstream enough to be developing the hypocritical believer syndrome? I hope not. Because I fear these more than the Fluffy Bunnies and Charmed-Wannabees. The RPGamers who bring their fantasy world with them into their faith - hey, at least they believe. But a Paganlite? What does such a person teach others? We have a hard enough battle convincing the world our resurrected belief systems are valid without these non-believers wandering around pretending to believe.

And don't misunderstand me here - it's not the lack of belief that upsets me. Secular Paganism is a very valid path, as is Pantheistic Paganism. Seeing an old religion as a series of symbols for the human condition, as a metaphor to be used in the search for spiritual growth is just another path - no more right or wrong than any other.

No, it's not the lack of belief, but the pretense of it. The lip service. If seeing such hypocritical behaviour in other faiths riles so many of us so regularly, clearly we as a group feel strongly about pretense of faith. Maybe it arises from the large number of Pagans who "escaped" other faith systems - who spent time paying lip service while they worked out who and what they were. People who eventually couldn't live the lie any longer and converted. Maybe it arise from the numbers who are still living a lie, partially anyway, unable to "come or" to family or friends for fear of ostracisation or worse.

Maybe it's something else entirely. The thing is, just as we find it relatively easy to identify the unbelieving believers outside our faith, so to will non-Pagans pick out the Paganlites without any difficulty. And, again just as we find it hard to not see such behaviour as indicative of flaws within the faith itself, so to will those outsiders looking at Paganism.

We can't afford lite Paganism - the threat it presents for acceptance of us and our beliefs is insidious and passive. Hard to fight.

I don't have any suggestions or solutions. Only questions and fears. But I believe that awareness of the issue, maybe even a steering of such people towards secular practice, is crucial to the health of Paganism as a whole.

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