It has occurred to me that it’s possible that some of the bloggers and readers of this site may not know very much about pagans, so here’s a little New Year’s lesson. The first thing to know is that pagans are almost by definition rebels. That means any generalization anyone may make will almost certainly have a thousand exceptions. You may have heard what Will Rogers wrote in 1932: “I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.” Well, the same goes for pagans: many of us joke that we don’t belong to an organized religion. “Pagan,” by the way, is the generic term. Witches, Wiccans, and eclectics (among others, see below) are specific terms. Many of us belong to what are called traditions, which are somewhat analogous to the Protestant denominations. Some traditions are said to go back to the Middle Ages (or further back), but this is generally nonsense. Paganism as it is practiced today is a modern religion looking for (and—voilà! finding!) roots in the ancient and classical pantheons or in Old Europe, where archaeology shows us that the Goddess was worshipped thousands of years before Abraham met his god, ca. 2000 BCE (see Marija Gimbutas’ text for more information on this).
Although most of us grew up in families in the standard-brand religions, we somehow found a different path, often in our teens and twenties. Some of us say we were “called by the Goddess.” Others use different excuses. But we’re seldom exclusionary, and some of us still cling to our family’s faith, too. I have known Quagans (yes, Quaker-pagans) and Jewitches and people who honor Jesus because of the sweet wisdom of his Sermon on the Mount and the fact that he (unlike too many of his followers, from Paul up to the present day) did not discriminate against women.
I wrote the following piece for my book Finding New Goddesses, which is a parody of goddess encyclopedias. Found Goddesses are made-up ones, “found” to deal with modern issues the classical pantheons never faced. In it, I listed as many traditions as I could think of. As you read it, you’ll get an idea of what they believe; I’ve also just annotated it. Have fun, but for grounded, accurate information, visit The Witches Voice.
Spendifera (spen-DIF-er-uh) Goddess of the Mall
Galleria, plaza, mall, or old-fashioned shopping center—anywhere there are a merchandise display and a cash register, that’s home to Spendifera, She Who Lives to Shop. Sacred Shopping Bags in hand, this Daughter Aspect of Tante Tchotchke [Found Goddess of Shopping] is born each morning in the mists of the Central Fountain of Youth. Her cycle is that of the Cosmic Carousel, and She rides between higher and lower worlds on the Rainbow Escalator. Because this Goddess is our happy familiar, Her invocation is brief and simple:
Hail, Spendifera, Shopper-all,
Lead me to the perfect mall.
When your Shopping Time of the Month is upon you, you can plan an entire day with Spendifera. Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Midmorning snack at JCPenney. Lunch at Saks. Light afternoon snack at the boutique of your choice. Dinner at Nieman-Marcus. Midnight snack at Mervyn’s.
For the Shopping Solstices and Equinoxes, you will need call a meeting of your coven and plan your Shopping Sabbat. How you design and conduct the Shopping Ritual depends, of course, on what kind of training you received:
Gardnerians will work skyclad [nude] in the Loehmann’s dressing room and scourge with price and laundry care tags. The High Priest and High Priestess will Draw Down the Price and recite “Charge It.” [Gerald Gardner was an English civil servant who more or less invented Wicca in the years after World War II. He and Doreen Valiente wrote The Charge of the Goddess. Drawing down the moon is a specific ritual.]
Alexandrians will stand skyclad at each major entrance and invoke the elemental guardians. Because their polarities are so powerful, they will not be arrested. [The “king of the witches,” Alex Sanders, created this tradition in the 1960s.]
Ceremonial magicians will get to wear the most expensive robes. They will journey on the paths of concealed glory from the parking structure of Malkuth to the flowing fountain of Kether. [Because they work with the Qabalah, ceremonial magicians are not technically pagans. But we’re all friendly.]
Myjestyks [pronounced “majestics”] will circle the mall three times deosil [sunwise, pronounced approximately “joshl”], ignoring each other all the way. They will build invisible altars and place upon them three separate incenses, thirty-seven candles, four (each) gods and goddesses, and the cakes and ale. [This is a hugely secretive tradition.]
Dianics will exorcise the men’s department and raise feminist energy by circling Bloomingdale’s and humming the Ma chant, concluding with an enthusiastic “And Bloomie loves Her wimmin!” [Dianic Wicca was founded by Z Budapest. Its rituals are for “wimmin-born wimmin” only. This has become controversial lately because transgender women feel disinvited.]
Strege will gather in large family groups at the Italian take-out and create the very best Etruscan pasta sauce and amulets. [Strege are Italian witches.]
Shamans will travel invisibly to Nature Company (or a similar store), where they will try on the masks, rattle the rainsticks, and put the glow-in-the-dark plastic skeletons back together.
Druids will gather around the biggest planter and study the secret lives of the trees. They will write detailed notes to be published in learned journals and read and endlessly debated by other scholars. [Modern druids attempt to reconstruct the classical Celtic religion.]
Green witches will gather at the more modest planters and clean them by picking up cigarette butts, wads of chewing gum, and discarded plastic packaging. They will spray the plastic plants with Pledge and arrange the silk plants more neatly.
Odinists and other Asatruvians [a word I made up] will swagger into the cutlery store, where they will pour their mead into their horns and swear mighty oaths. [Modern Heathens worship the Norse and Germanic gods. They distinguish themselves from pagans.]
Members of CUUPS [Covenant of Unitarian-Universalist Pagans] will gather at Sears, where they will take great care to give equal time to everyone’s suggestions, including agnostics, intellectuals, and those who haven’t yet decided what they believe but are looking around to see who has the most fun.
Faerie Wiccans will stand in the jewelry departments and scatter Lucky Charms. [Few people took this short-lived tradition seriously. Its author has retired.]
Teen Witches will gather at The Gap and get their Teen Witch Altars and Accessory Kits. [This one comes from a book. It was a fad in the 90s, but most of us never took it seriously, either.]
Eclectics will begin at least twenty minutes later than everyone else and do whatever they feel like doing wherever they feel like doing it. Whatever they do, it will involve ribbons and crystals. [Many eclectics are New Agey, and it’s well known that pagans and New Agers borrow copiously from one another.]
Cast your circle with Spendifera. Here are suggestions for elemental invocations. It’s up to you to fill in the details, draw the pentacles, and hold the shopping energy.
Hail, Powers of Air, lead me to Sharper Image.
Hail, Powers of Water, lead me to the Bed ’n’ Bath.
Hail, Powers of Fire, lead me to Victoria’s Secret.
Hail, Powers of Earth, lead me to Nordstrom’s half-yearly shoe sale. [Get it?]
Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. (www.barbaraardinger.com), is a published author and freelance editor. Her newest book is Secret Lives, a novel about grandmothers who do magic. Her earlier nonfiction books include the daybook Pagan Every Day, Finding New Goddesses (a pun-filled parody of goddess encyclopedias), andGoddess Meditations. When she can get away from the computer, she goes to the theater as often as possible—she loves musical theater and movies in which people sing and dance. She is also an active CERT (Community Emergency Rescue Team) volunteer and a member (and occasional secretary pro-tem) of a neighborhood organization that focuses on code enforcement and safety for citizens. She has been an AIDS emotional support volunteer and a literacy volunteer. She is an active member of the neopagan community and is well known for the rituals she creates and leads.
15 thoughts on “Who Are the Pagans? by Barbara Ardinger”
I agree with you that many contemporary pagans are rebels at minimum against Christian hegemony, though not all of us are countercultural in the old hippie sense, though there are a good number of those among us too. However, in its original sense as you know pagan meant dweller in the countryside as opposed to the city. Country dwellers many not have gone along with new religion or government imposed on them from the outside. However, I would say that their instincts would be conservative more than rebellious. The main point being that they are rooted in the seasons and cycles of the land and in the rituals and traditions handed down by their ancestors. In this regard contemporary pagans are generally speaking not very grounded in ancestral tradition and despite their reverence for “nature” they may also not be very grounded in a particular landscape.
Barbara! I love (as always) your tongue-in-cheek, irreverent, “let’s not take ourselves (or our ‘traditions,’ if any) too seriously” approach to things. I like the idea that one can be thoughtful and actively engaged without becoming droopy about it. There’s plenty to be droopy about, but I find your way of redirecting our attention, through inventive humor, to the positive side of things, a very helpful counterbalance. Great way to start the new year! :-)
I try not to droop too much. Except for the effects of gravity. Which will not pull my imagination down.
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On being “called by the goddess” — “Dea dei gigli” (Goddess of the Lilies) was the name given by excavators to a picture painted on the inside of a large fruit bowl, unearthed in Phaistos, Crete, dated back to about 2000 BCE. It is drawn like a cartoon, and yet it is a deeply profound rendering of the Persephone myth. I seem to have been “called” somehow, when I first saw that picture many years ago and then forgot about it . Still the image stayed in the back of my mind, and I have returned to it, and to the Hymn to Demeter and Persephone with much delight. I like that paganism is not capitalized, has no hierarchy or institution, that it is generally “unorganized,” so to speak, and thus allows enormous freedom for researchers to work with. See “Dea dei gigli” illustration at http://earlywomenmasters.net/demeter/myth_015.html
Well, we do have a few would-be hierarchs. It’s hard to suppress what may be human nature but is probably the product of many years of patriarchal evolution.
Being called by that picture is lovely. Thanks for sharing a bit of your story.
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I found myself chuckling so much while reading this blog- entertaining and informative. And I think you should seriously think about writing a tv series. They have all this fairy tale stuff at the moment (Grimm, Once), I think pagans at the mall would be a huge hit!
I look forward to nmr’s suggestion becoming reality! Thanks Barbara, I learn best while smiling.
Well, it’s an idea, but I don’t have an agent. I’ve written a whole bunch of revisionist fairy tales, some even with fairies in them. Most of them with goddesses.
Thanks for your comment. Let me know if you know any TV producers who are Goddess-friendly.
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And there are even some pagans who are shopping-phobic and believe there is a linguistic connection between mall and maul!
That said, I enjoyed the post immensely!
A delight! Thank you for a great chuckle this morning! Paganism defies any standard descriptions! A huge, often controversial, lump of spiritual paths, living outside the walls!
Thanks, my friend.
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“Oh Barbara, ♪♫•*¨*•.¸¸¸¸.•*¨*•♫♪ Oh Barbara, ♪♫•*¨*•.¸¸☼ ¸¸.•*¨*•♫♪ Oh ♪♫•*¨*•.¸¸ ¸¸.•*¨*•♫♪ (to the tune of “Oh, Johnnie, Oh Johnnie, Oh!”) You’ve pulled out all the goofiness in me as well.
I LOVED this post!! I didn’t know the Faerie tradition had died out, because some of my best friends are faeries/feris. So my only questions are: where are the Radical Faeries (gay men from the Faerie tradition, still meeting in the woods to chant and drum)? And what about the Reclaiming Collective (or Starhawk herself, probably the most famous witch of our time, both from the Feri tradition)? In the first case, I can definitely see some Faerie worship of Spendifera. But not the Reclaiming folks.
I was not describing the Feri tradition but one by a popular author who ran into some issues. This author had no connection with Feri or the Andersons or Starhawk or Reclaiming. She invented her Faerie and held rituals in what she said was Gaelic (or something). I knew a couple Druids at the time. They said neither her tradition nor her ritual language had any historical authenticity. Nevertheless, she’s a pleasant woman and we’ve known each other for many years.
I’ve known some Radical Faeries. Cool guys! One of them was going to write a doctoral thesis on them, but the project never got going. Sigh. I haven’t seen any of these guys in years.
Thanks for reading my blog and commenting.
ba Sent from my iPad
absolutely love this! thanks!!!
Barbara that was both informative and hilarious! I sure could have used that when I wrote my thesis on Goddess spirituality!