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General Blog Description: Exploring Southern Hemisphere neo-pagan practice and culture from the point of view of a progressive witch living south of Perth, Western Australia.

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A Case for Radical, Progressive Paganism


When witchcraft first flourished in the 20th Century, it was cutting edge. Hot on the heels of the feminist movement, the fledgling environmental movement, and a time of great social upheaval, neo-paganism opened a whole new realm of possibility that at once called to our roots but also challenged dominant paradigms. At the same time, a lot of us are drawn to pagan beliefs when we ourselves undergo inter and intra-personal change. To dedicate yourself to a pagan path is a challenging step to take, and the journey is a difficult one. If it was easy - everyone would do it. To be a pagan is already a radical and progressive act. But is it enough? I'd like to offer my own interpretation of what radical, progressive paganism can look like.


I've always subscribed to the notion the the personal is political is spiritual. And there's a bit of a shift happening, and as usual during times of upheaval, there is resistance in various quarters that make the now large umbrella uncomfortable indeed. As a self-declared pagan, witch and devoted priestess, there are some things that frustrate me where I think we, as a community, could be doing better. Gender essentialism, transphobia, cultural appropriation, environmentalism as a spiritual choice - these are all hot button issues (or they should be) and we need to keep the conversation going.


Let us be progressive and gender inclusive


Once I saw how the patriarchal notions of gender binary infiltrated the very core of most modern pagan writing, I just couldn't unsee it. I felt like I had just been unplugged from the Matrix, and I want to rattle the cage of everyone who continues to insist on perpetuating a harmful paradigm. And yes - it is harmful, to those do not fit into the pink and blue barriers of gender, some things seem to be getting worse rather than better (look at the toy aisles for examples), and in our spirituality we can do so much more. No longer do I want anything to do with practices that have a heteronormative patriarchal fertility narrative at its core, and this has opened my eyes to the deep wisdom found in practices that reach far beyond dichotomies of black and white. Is a binary structure really a beneficial core teaching point as I so frequently hear it insisted? Or does it perpetuate ideas that exclude those who don't fit, creating a foundation that alienates people who are standing in our circles? Whether it is deliberate or not, it is certainly outmoded, and we are being told that it is causing harm and we need to stop. We should listen. Transphobia is rife in the pagan community and we seriously need to cut the crap and call out those who express bigoted and misinformed notions spread from their own fear and lack of education, and look at how our own liturgies support the seeds of such bigotry.


Let's show respect for other cultures


We've been told over and over again, with voices of increasing intensity, that cultural appropriation in paganism is not okay. So why do we keep doing it? If we're told that certain words and appropriation of practices is harmful, we need to stop and listen and make the change that will be minor to us but major in terms of the difference in preventing the erasure of cultures that are not on top of the power pyramid. And yet I still see pagans, witches and leaders in our community throw terms around like gypsy, smudge, voodoo, tribe and totem usually to sell goods and services in a postcolonial white fantasy.  This has made me ashamed and disheartened when individuals have been presented with education but have chosen to do nothing with it. Here we are still on the merry go round. Let's listen, and let's stop.


Let's treat our planet and ourselves with care


The earth is hurting, and she needs us to stop participating in the machinery that is breaking him down. I would love to see more pagans withdrawing from consumerism, growing their own food, choosing more ethically what they consume and where it comes from. There is no doubt that issues such as privilege come into play here - but if you are privileged (and let's face it, if you're reading this you probably are), and you are able to choose to shop more sustainably, or even shop less, then why don't you? I have seen a lot of environmental laziness especially from pagans who drown themselves in plastic, cheap crap from dollar stores, and fast food for agape feast, without a second thought for buying locally or considering where the food might come from. I want to see more pagans at environmental protests, more pagans advocating for political candidates who can instigate policy change, and more pagans taking little opportunities like boycotting plastic bottled water or plastic bags, or just arguing with their high priestess when they suggest buying plastic plates and cutlery for the feast because it makes for an easier cleanup.


Let's get louder and brasher with our insistence for change. Do we really want to fit in? Or do we need to lead the charge in getting our peers to wake up? Let's be more inclusive, more sustainable, and the change starts with us - the individuals. Whose cage can you rattle today - or could it just be your own?


Blog image is 'Ace of Pentacles' by me, see more at my website.
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Lee is an artist and witch hailing from Western Australia. Her practice is one woven from both an intiatory eclectic Wiccan circle and a rigorous solitary practice that is heavily coloured with chaos magic and probably too many unicorns. Sarcasm, dry wit and Happy Squirrels are par for the course.


  • Peregrin
    Peregrin Sunday, 10 April 2016

    Hi Lee, thanks for this great post :) Some points (more like a rant) if I may … and I feel free to mutter curses at me for pedantry if you wish :)

    You write: “To dedicate yourself to a pagan path is a challenging step to take, and the journey is a difficult one. If it was easy - everyone would do it.” Well … let’s change the word ‘pagan’ to ‘Christian’ and see if we still like this sentence :) Some folk, ease or no ease, are actually, genuinely more fulfilled by paths like Christianity, like Buddhism etc. We are not all Pagan deep down … :)

    I wonder what time period you are referring to when you write that Witchcraft in the 20th century was cutting edge and was hot on the heels of feminism, the fledgling environmental movement, and a time of great social upheaval? This certainly applies to modern Neo-Pagan traditions like Faery and Reclaiming from the 1970s, but I hardly think it applies to the start of modern Neo-Pagan Witchcraft in Wicca.

    Wicca was started by social conservatives full of love for ‘Olde England’ and the Empire. I’d probably cross the road to avoid them. You might too. Just as the layout of each layer of a box of oranges is determined by the pattern of the first layer, so too I think the frustrations you discuss were determined in the Pagan community by its foundation. Modern Wiccans and Witches are just continuing the tradition :(

    Gender essentialism and transphobia
    Gardner was clearly homophobic (as were most men of his age and time) and would hardly have even considered transgender folk enough the vilify them. The heteronormativity of Wicca was never seriously questioned, even by Alex Sanders (d. 1988) who was himself bisexual. This is because it was and IS embedded into the very fabric of Wicca itself. EVERYTHING revolves around it. Yet, like the Cabala that teaches us to use our logical, analytical brain to go beyond that mode of consciousness, active and CONSCIOUS participation in the Wiccan Binary CAN lead us beyond the gender binary. I say ‘can’, cos I have rarely seen it happen…

    Cultural appropriation
    1940s British social conservatives had no conception of ‘Cultural appropriation’: they hardly at any conception of other cultures. They were still fighting for, and hoping for, the maintenance of the British Empire that had destroyed, swallowed up and subjugated dozens of cultures for centuries. All approved of as necessary to civilize the wogs, you know? Since Wicca itself was never a fully formed tradition, it simply took bits and pieces from various sources, just as the British colonialists had always done. This tendency is retained in modern spiritual culture and Witchcraft’s Cultural appropriation is just a part of such appropriation. Bah.

    Really, despite the myth, this was never part of Wicca. Gardner adopted a romantic English agricultural cycle from a couple of literary sources without reference to actual agriculture practices and cycles worked by the peasants a few miles from his home (Plough Monday, anyone?). He worked this cycle in a London flat as much as elsewhere. In its development after Gardner’s death Wicca was largely practiced by many Wiccans who also worked their Pagan ‘earth-based’ traditions in a plastic circles in London flats.

    Radical and Progressive?
    The aim of Wicca was NEVER social transformation. End of. And one can argue it was never really depth spiritual transformation either:

    “…I think we must say goodbye to the witch. The cult is doomed … good weather reports, good health services, outdoor games, bathing, nudism, the cinema and television have largely replaced what the witch had to give.” (Witchcraft Today, p129).”

    Gardner here is clearly seeing Wicca as something other than a depth spiritual tradition. However, one cannot invoke and worship the Gods without something changing – and so it quickly developed into a vehicle for personal transformation.

    However, and I think this is crucial, until hopping across the pond, Wicca never connected the spiritual and personal with the political. This is because the tradition was and largely is a vehicle for forces and myths developing in the British culture for a couple of centuries prior to the 1940s inception. Wiccan Craft is BY ITS NATURE socially conservative, designed to reflect and spiritualise the broader myths and concerns of the culture around it. If homosexual folk are afforded some acceptance in Wicca today, it is because such acceptance started around the 1980s in our culture. Wicca and Paganism in general (at least the non-political varieties) are not harbingers of social change; they reflect cultural changes within a ritual and spiritual framework.

    That there are good folk like yourself and SCOTIF in Perth wanting to dig down and change the layers of oranges, to destroy the damaging transphobia and invisible normativity, to link political and spiritual makes me very, very happy. I wish you all the best in this … I tried and failed dismally in the 1980s. But with the grace of the Gods, you will not. Make it so!

  • Lee Pike
    Lee Pike Tuesday, 12 April 2016

    THANKS, Peregrin, for your thoughtful comment. I have to say I knocked this post out in a bit of haste with no regard for academic rigor. Shame on me. (I also had to go back in and edit a few times for grammar when I noticed it got reposted a few times! Yay for enthusiasm for whatever this is). I could have clarified a lot of what I said a lot better here, and I don't disagree with any of your points. My post comes from a bias of being more personally influenced by the American brand of Wicca that is seen in the 'blogosphere' where this conversation partially operates, and also my first few sentences were definitely referencing traditions such as Reclaiming and Feri, which form more of a foundational influence on my own path, and a strong current influence for whatever it is I'm doing now (it's a hot mess). I didn't use the 'W' word (Wicca!) in my post on purpose, as despite its influence I couldn't claim to be either a scholar or an initiate of its traditions. The climate in Perth, as you mention, has been a factor here - I was interested until I got to know it a lot better, and then I wasn't. So that's where the main gist of this comes from. Thanks again :D

  • Jön Upsal's Gardener
    Jön Upsal's Gardener Monday, 11 April 2016

    The irony of this post astounds me. The fact that you are really blind to its irony astounds me even more.

    Show me a neopaganism that isn't "radical and progressive"! Show me a neopaganism that isn't "progressive and gender inclusive", doesn't "show respect for other cultures", and doesn't embrace radical environmentalism. You've collectively either driven away or "othered" anyone who disagrees with that agenda.

    Contemporary neopaganism is all of those things and more. The left wing politics of progressive, politically correct, and even Marxist thought have so thoroughly permeated modern neopaganism and Wicca that such calls for change in the community must be seen as a joke.

    You already are the mainstream in paganism. Any dissenting voices within your movement are immediately contained, attacked, and ostracized. Unless repentance is immediate and unconditional, the "othering" commences. Just look at what happened to Z Budapest or the recent debacle at Many Gods West. You and the rest of your politically motivated neopagans have succeeded in driving almost anyone who doesn't subscribe to your left wing PC echo chamber out of the "pagan umbrella".

    You can't make a call for radical change within neopaganism. You're already the mainstream. And like most leftists, you're applying the same totalitarian tactics that you ascribe to others, with more vitriol and vigor. All you can do at this point is institute more witch hunts, strive for ever-greater ideological purity, and eventually eat your own, as every "revolutionary" movement has done.

    Congratulations. You've won. Enjoy it while it lasts, because soon that umbrella is going to get really lonely.

  • Lee Pike
    Lee Pike Tuesday, 12 April 2016

    As Peregrin mentions, the views I express here are totally relevant to the climate I'm familiar with. Maybe it is different where you are, which sounds awesome, by the way.

  • Peregrin
    Peregrin Monday, 11 April 2016

    Hi Jon ... we are living in different 'Paganisms'. Lee clear says she rights "from the point of view of a progressive witch living south of Perth, Western Australia." Come to Perth! I'll show you plenty of Neopaganisms and NeoPagans who aren't progressive and gender inclusive. A leading elder her about a year back in a forum on Gender and Wicca trotted out the old argument that 'you can't get a foal with two mares'.

    Not sure where you are from ... enjoy it. In the meantime I'll be with Lee under the umbrella :D


  • Christopher Blackwell
    Christopher Blackwell Tuesday, 12 April 2016

    Like most everything else in Paganism it is a matter of personal choice. If it ceases to be a choice than what good is it?

  • Ian Chandler
    Ian Chandler Thursday, 14 April 2016

    Thanks for the stimulating article and comments. Paganism is such a 'big tent' encompassing so many different beliefs and practices, we will never completely agree (and hail to that!). However, I hope that as time and dialogue goes on, we can scratch below the surface of 'pagan identity' and and share a growing realisation of what consistency between belief and practice really means.
    I believe that most of us share a compassion for those less fortunate than ourselves, and a recognition of the beauty and value of the natural world. One practical expression of our common values is PaganAid, a charity set up by the pagan community to support 'sustainable development' - helping to relieve extreme poverty while protecting the environment. More details at . I hope you can support it and publicise it more widely.

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