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Becoming Pagan 101

We’re not generally a religion that tries to convert people, but we are sometimes called a religion of converts – even now, very few Pagans grew up in the faith. Pagan Pride Project events might be as close as we come to proselytizing, simply by virtue of being public and publicized events. We’re into Pagan Pride season, and since Pagan Pride events do tend to attract new Pagans and the curious public, I’m willing to bet a lot of them have a “Paganism 101” workshop.


I can’t imagine seeing “Christianity 101” on a church fair schedule. You don’t learn Christianity in courses or workshops like you would a hobby. There isn’t beginner and advanced Christianity (not for the laypeople, anyway). To be considered an active Christian, a person must believe in the Christian God and probably attend services and say prayers. For a lot of Christian denominations, any deeper understanding of the theology is optional, but the books about both Christian belief and Christian action are in the Religion section of the bookstore.


In contrast, to be an active Pagan, a person must often be their own theologian and priest. They have to create their own religious rituals and conduct them. Even as part of an established tradition and a group that practices together, there’s greater demands than to just follow a script. If you believe in the supernatural, than you must be part of an energetic flow at least, and often must be actively working with spirits or deities. If you don’t believe in the supernatural, there’s still a lot of psychology and work involved in being a part of a good ritual, much less writing one.


We’re also generally a religion of orthopraxy – “correct action” – versus of orthodoxy – “correct belief”. To simplify a great deal: Christians believe Christian things; Pagan do Pagan things. We do need workshops and books that treat our religion like a hobby to be learned; we don’t have an equivalent to the sinner’s prayer, unless it is the solitary self-initiation ritual that so many of us fumble through, shaking hands lighting candles while trying to remember which order the quarters are called in or the words to our deity invocations. Those varying rituals, often individual to each person, don’t have to mean accepting the Goddess into your heart, but can be just practicing the skills of setting up sacred space, going through the motions of raising energy, and grounding and closing the space – it is the sampler of Pagan ritual.


There is Pagan theology, of course. It is a growing field, and I’m grateful to see it. After doing all the Paganism 101 stuff, there are philosophical issues to wrestle with, even if we aren’t going to declare some of the answers to be definitive. Still, our books about the various ways to believe in Pagan ways are vastly outnumbered by the books of how to do Pagan things, and both usually end up in the New Age section of the bookstore. It is easy to get a bit self-conscious about our religion that acts like a hobby.


Even at Pagan Pride, we don’t try to convert people to Paganism, but just inform them about who we are and what we do (and, unfortunately for our framing, sometimes what we don’t do). I don’t think we’re even a religion of converts, really; we’re a religion of student practitioners. And I hope it remains so, even if it means that our religious books continue to be put in the Occult and New Age sections of the bookstore. We aren’t the same as most other religions, so maybe we shouldn’t be treated the same. Let’s embrace the Paganism 101 workshops and all it means about who we are.

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