Since the lottery of the calendar layout leaves me with the final column of 2022 at The Wild Hunt, I feel at least a sliver of responsibility to put a bow on the year. That being said, I’d much rather look ahead than look behind.
Anyone with an internet connection can find plenty of roundups of the year that was. Instead, I’d like to present my wish list for progress in American Paganism.
Many of the below items can be applied to Paganism outside of these United States, but I’m most concerned with what we can do within our own spheres of positive influence.
In the spirit of New Year’s Eve, here’s my countdown of ten things that I’d love to see in the coming year, each with a link to something to do or something to read as inspiration towards action.
10. Pagans joining social progress organizations as individuals while being outspoken about their Pagan perspectives. If we want to work towards a brighter tomorrow, we don’t need to start from scratch, and we don’t need to control the dialogue. There are plenty of local, regional, national, and international organizations focused on specific issues. Let’s join them and act upon our Pagan impulse to protect and improve the world in which we live.
Click here for help finding a local group to join.
9. Pagans taking leadership in climate change activism. Whether we embrace world-affirming religious traditions, honor the gods and goddesses of the earth, or give gifts to the spirits of the land, our various forms of Paganism have special relationships with our environment. Let’s be bold about this, let’s speak out about this, let’s write about this, and let’s take action about this.
Click here for my attempt to engage with the dialogue on climate change ethics from an Ásatrú perspective.
8. Pagans running for local elected office (especially school boards). W.B. Yeats wrote, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.” The worst people we know have been taking over the political scene at the local level, state, and national level to force a far-right, sometimes outright Christofascist agenda on the rest of us. Let’s get on the ballot and challenge this slide into darkness.
Click here for information on starting a school board campaign.
7. Pagans entering interfaith spaces and acting as if they belong at the table. I’ve written before on the lack of Pagan inclusion in interfaith organizations, but I do believe that – with determined effort and spirited gumption – we can change the narrative of the interfaith movement to truly embody the welcoming diversity they so loudly proclaim. It’s not enough to pay dues and sit in the audience. We have to show up and act as if we are just as qualified to serve as leaders, because we are.
Click here for information on a range of interfaith organizations.
6. Pagans putting pressure on religion reporters who only write about Pagans for stock holiday pieces. We all know the articles corporate media outlets post every year on the supposed Pagan roots of kissing under the mistletoe & etc., written by writers who never mention living Pagans in any of their other religion coverage.
Let’s not throw fuel on the Yule fire by allowing ourselves to always be seen through the lens of the Christian calendar and instead support outlets that actually report Pagan news (by donating to The Wild Hunt, for instance) and contact mainstream news outlets with our own stories.
Click here for tips on contacting the media about a story. (Editor’s note: And send tips to us here at TWH directly!)
5. Pagans turning to ancient texts not in an attempt to return to some pure Paganism of the past but as inspiration for modern practice intrinsically based in our own times. Ruth Michaelis-Jena writes, “Though Goethe had been the force which drew the early Romantics together, to him the study of the German past and the older literature was not an end in itself. It was a background only to his own creations, and part of world literature.”
The Brothers Grimm compared their own collecting of isolated folktales to gathering forgotten ears of corn after a natural disaster has destroyed a harvest: “The little bundles will be carried home, more cherished than big sheaves, and will provide food for the winter, and perhaps the only seed for the future.”
Let’s turn away from fetishizing past practitioners and accept that we belong to new religious movements inspired by ancient religions – not to the ancient religions themselves – and let our ongoing study of the old texts we love prod us into building contemporary practices that bloom in our own era.
Click here to read about a professor of religious studies who argues that “studying ancient texts enables scholars to harness change.”
4. Pagan organizations making openness the norm instead of the exception (especially regarding sexual abuse). It’s easy for us to tsk-tsk churches that coverup the sins of their clergy, but we know about the wrongdoing because these are major religions with vast numbers of members and a large amounts of media scrutiny that publicizes the crimes. In the byways of the relatively tiny Pagan world, coverups are easier.
Let’s not emulate the worst impulses of the larger religions and instead be brave enough to openly oust abusers and to go completely public with the details (while being sensitive to the safety and wishes of the victims).
Click here for information about the National Sexual Assault Hotline and links to many additional resources.
3. Pagans abandoning right-wing tropes of “our glorious ancestors” and “warrior culture.” Some aspects of modern Paganism are irredeemably rooted in racialist nationalism of the 19th century. The recurring rhetorical focus on ancestry and violence is so hardwired into so many subsets of American Paganism that putatively “not racist” groups sometimes share rhetoric with the far-right groups from which they attempt to distance themselves. Let’s emphasize elements of Paganism that aren’t repackaging Blut und Boden (“blood and soil”) ideology.
Click here for an example of promoting positive aspects of Paganism without focusing on bloodlines and weapons.
2. Pagans not using one type of inclusion to deflect criticism of other types of exclusion. The fact that the roots of modern Paganism include hoary racialist nationalism unfortunately also means that racism lingers in many of today’s Pagan organizations, even those who publicly market themselves as “inclusive.” Given that race issues have and continue to be the elephant in the Pagan room, it’s important to face them head on instead of deflecting.
Let’s commit to having open discussions about race in our own communities and avoiding the flim-flam sleight-of-hand like that of one participant at a Pagan conference who blurted out, in response to what they clearly found to be an uncomfortable discussion of racial diversity, “Our group is diverse! We have a polyamorous member!”
Click here for some frank advice on white people learning to talk about race and racism.
1. Pagan national-level organizations electing all-BIPOC leadership. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “I’m sometimes asked when will there be enough [women on the Supreme Court]? And I say when there are nine, people are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.”
If even the suggestion that American Pagan organizations should consider electing a full array of leaders who aren’t white sets off “reverse racism” sirens, brings out “we only consider qualifications, not race” bells, and arouses “we don’t have any non-white members” admissions, there are three obvious responses.
If electing an all-BIPOC leadership team is considered racist, why weren’t those endless all-white leadership teams inherently racist? What about the qualifications chosen as important somehow always ends up selecting only white winners? What about the organization attracts prospective white members and repels prospective BIPOC ones?
Let’s commit to making fundamental changes that confront the lingering racism in American Paganism.
Click here for on article on restructuring organizations to advance racial justice.
And now, the toasts!
To those who are already working on some or all of the above: Cheers!
To those to whom little or none of the above applies: Prost!
To those for whom something or other of the above resonated: Skál!
To those who felt anger or hate when reading this column: Maybe it’s time to step back and reflect.
Raise your glass to the hard working people,
Let’s drink to the uncounted heads.
Let’s think of the wavering millions
Who need leaders but get gamblers instead.
Joan Baez, “The Salt of the Earth”