Inclusion and Selectivity in the Pagan Community

Alright, I’m about to express an extremely un-popular opinion.

Last night I was reading through old posts. I had gotten a new comment on my blog “Pagans and the Modesty Issue“. Between that and my blog “Gender Respect in the Pagan Community“, there was a lot of controversy and I still attract a lot of readers to my blog with these two posts. Between the Pagan Soccer Mom and Star Foster posting about it on their FB pages (and where has Star Foster gone to these days? She seems to have disappeared off the face of the planet), people either loved what I had to say or hated me and called me the worst person ever (I’m paraphrasing here, but you can imagine some of the things that were said).

I occasionally go back to these posts myself to remind myself that I did actually say what I wanted to say and didn’t sound completely irrational (at least from my own point of view). Blogging, and really, any sort of public writing or speaking, takes a certain degree of courage, especially in today’s Internet world of instant access. Anything you say and do can be taken a thousand different ways by a thousand different people, especially when what you express goes against the popular opinion.

This is something that our younger generations, unlike ours, are faced with. When I was in high school, if I got myself into something that I shouldn’t, we didn’t have Facebook to broadcast it all over the world and to ruin our lives forever. We had MySpace, and we were in the beginnings of this world of social networking on the internet and on cell phones. But we were nowhere close to what we’ve got today. While our children deal with this and feel its affects us in every aspect of their lives, it is also a reality that impacts the Pagan community.

One of the comments that I had gotten on my blog “Pagans and the Modesty Issue” was, “Modern Paganism needs to be inclusive, so this needs to be a non-issue, separate from the dialog about sex and patriarchy”. This is a sentiment that I’ve seen a lot of lately.

I disagree.

Most Pagan traditions, if you’re following an actual tradition, are mystery traditions. (And yes, this has been a kick that I’ve been on a lot lately, but it’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot as I’m beginning to approach my own initiation). Mystery traditions are inherently not “inclusive”. That’s sort of the whole point.

Modern Neo-Pagan Eclecticism has changed the face of Paganism. That’s not a good or bad thing, it’s more of an inevitable thing. I started out as an Eclectic and I’ve found my way to Wicca (the exact opposite of what most people that I know have done), so maybe I’ve had to approach thinking about it a little differently than most.

Inclusion is a politically correct term these days. And in most ways, I think it’s a good one. Theoretically, having rules about inclusion mean that employers can’t discriminate because of race and sexuality, that witches can’t be burnt at the stake because the Muggles freaked out over something ridiculous, and so on and so forth. And in the larger overall community, Hel’s yes we should be inclusive!

But I think it takes on a different character in the Pagan community. Rather than the idea of inclusion, Paganism has one of selectivity.

In the Pagan community, we’ve seen a lot of upset lately at Pantheacon over the whole Z Budapest controversy and once again, we, as a community are having to redefine the idea of inclusion. Apparently twenty years ago the controversy was over homosexuality and it’s place in ritual. We got the Minoan Brotherhood and Sisterhood out of this controversy.  Now we’re having to redefine our old-fashioned ideas of gender and the potentials that define people in an era where technology can actually create the you you wish to be. Some of the outcome of this is simply a dialogue addressing old ideas that don’t fit with the modern worldview, and this is healthy and good.

But when it comes to our mystery traditions, inclusion is slightly different. I don’t care about your race or sexuality or anything like that, but I am practicing a particular religion that moves along its own realities. If you don’t want to put in the hard work of living and learning these realities, this is not the path for you. This is a path that requires hard work. If you aren’t going to put your nose to the grindstone and do the work, I’m not going to include you. Traditions have a set way of approaching the Gods; if you don’t want to follow that particular path, that codified way, you’re asking not to be included. This is of course one of the huge differences between Eclecticism and an initiatory path.

I know, I know, this makes me a hateful, terrible person.

But really, this is true in most religion. God A says I need this, this and this for my particular worship and in return I’ll ensure that, that and that. God B says, well you need to do it this way to approach me and so on and so forth. One of the things we do in practicing a particular religion is learning how our Gods wished to be worshiped and then how to take it to the next level in our personal relationships to them.

My S.O. wrote a blog called Talking the Christo-Pagan Blues where he addresses this idea. His point is that people aren’t letting go of their old religions when they become Pagan and this is hurtful to our community. (And if I thought I was hated for my modesty posts, he was completely vilified for his viewpoints in this particular blog). His main point was that it’s disrespectful to completely ignore the way a particular God has asked to be approached and worshiped. Christ is a good example of this; people want to make Christ into something he isn’t. He was not a Shaman, he was a Rabbi. Want to worship Christ? Go to a Christian Church and do so in the proscribed way. This also goes back to the idea that words do have actual definitions and we can’t make them simply mean what we want them to mean, just because it isn’t convenient. Doesn’t work? Fine, there’s probably another word out there that does work, go find it and use it. Otherwise, why have language at all? To refer to the Bible, you just have babble.

And this isn’t about making our community more insular; it’s about getting people to understand that guidelines exist within our community: if you wish to enter our community, do so because these guidelines are meaningful to you. It is simply disrespectful to enter an existing community, and then attempt to tear it down because its tenets are not meaningful to you!

The Pagan community today really likes this idea of inclusion, and to a certain extent that’s fine, as long as you’re extremely respectful about what you’re doing. But that’s the problem, most people don’t take respect into consideration, and when they say they’re going to worship Kali and Aphrodite together, they don’t seem to want to take into consideration the cultural contexts they might be addressing; the fact that Kali and Aphrodite might have no interest in being worshiped together. (Maybe they do, did you take the time to actually ask? What are you going to do if you suddenly have two extremely angry Goddesses in your Circle?)

Just because we are a modern take on an old religion, doesn’t mean that we can toss all of the rules out the window. And yes, rules do exist.

So when you say that you’re a Buddhist Wiccan Voudon with Hindi leanings, are you actually thinking about what you’re doing? Are you actually taking the time to learn the rules before you break them? What’s the point of following a path when you don’t take the time to actually learn about the path you think you’re on? Isn’t there a certain level of hubris inherent in that way of thinking? Or do we, as a community, no longer care about the Gods we’re worshiping?

If we, as a community, don’t start thinking about what we’re doing, there will be major consequences down the road. Sort of that old saying that my mama always like to throw at me, “you made your bed and now you get to lie in it”.

Paganism really isn’t a path for lazy people. It’s a proactive religion. We don’t just go to church on Sunday and listen to someone preach at us. We go and participate in rituals and we practice magic. This is not the course for the faint of heart. Our actions have consequences in the real world. We are putting energy out in hopes of changing the universe. Shouldn’t we take the time to learn about what we’re doing before we actually attempt to do it? Why aren’t we thinking beyond what is “easy” for us to do?

Paganism is not the catch-all path that so many want to make it; perhaps we don’t include everyone, and perhaps this is not a terrible thing.

12 thoughts on “Inclusion and Selectivity in the Pagan Community

  1. Phelena says:

    Good points and very well written.

  2. Yes this is a controversial topic for sure. I was once barred from attending a lecture because i happen to have a dick between my legs, and it will always stick with me.
    There are initiate traditions, and people have to realize it is about learning the system and earning their way in, not just putting a new sticker on their car bumper, lol.
    I am “a Buddhist Wiccan Voudon with Hindi leanings” but i always keep my rituals and my gods separate for sure as some of them Definitely do not get along. I think mixing too many together is just disrespectful, and stupid and even dangerous at times.
    Thank you for your candid post.

    • BlueStarOwl says:

      I think it comes down to actually thinking about what you’re doing and unfortunately not too many people actually do. The word “inclusive” get’s thrown around without people actually thinking about what it means and how it will effect things. The idea of being inclusive is such a multi-faceted topic with so many layers to it. On one hand, our community does need to be inclusive and not discriminate based on things like gender (and I’m sorry you had that experience). I think a lot of this goes back to the whole meaning of words thing and how our community needs to come up with different words for communicating these issues.

  3. Cin says:

    As someone from a path that includes initiation I do believe we have to be a bit selective about who we have in our working groups and covens. You have to make sure the energy gets along and the personalities as well. If I am going to be spending time with someone I want to know we mesh.

    However, if you are throwing a public ritual, a public lecture or anything of the sort I don’t think you get to be selective. You have chosen to put it out there as an open and public thing then you have to be prepared to accept whatever you get. That is the point of public things to allow everyone to come together and to put yourself and ideas out there so that new people can hear about you or be intrigued enough to want to learn more.

    I also work cross pantheons. However I started this carefully and with meditation and thoughtfulness. My Gods have chosen to work together and if I think about adding someone who won’t mix I get told no. I like to think of them in a meeting discussing who gets custody of me at what times and when they will work together etc. 😛

    • BlueStarOwl says:

      I know a lot of people who work cross pantheons and cross cultures and do so thoughtfully and respectfully. Honestly I admire the people that can actually do it quite a bit. In my own background, I came from a group of Eclectics that did just that and were really great about showing me how to actually do that in a manner that wouldn’t get me in trouble. I just happen to have come across a lot of people who don’t think about what they’re actually doing at all and like to throw around the word “inclusive” without actually thinking about it. Public rituals are a whole ‘nother ball of wax. I personally avoid them like the plague. Not because I have any issue with being inclusive of everyone in the ritual, but because I find too many public ritual leaders who don’t take the fact that they are in public in mind at all and actually forget about how inclusive they need to be! I almost included some thoughts about Teo Bishop’s blog “I felt ashamed at Pagan Pride”, where he talks about this, to include some of my thoughts on that, but thought that I was getting too long. I would be curious to hear other people’s thoughts on public ritual and the ups and downs of doing one and being involved in one.

      • Cin says:

        Oh yes, there are a good many people out there who make me cringe in their handling of things, but I do try to remind myself that maybe it works for them. But the inside voice sometimes has its own little rant. lol

        I’ve only been involved in a few public rituals that were not fantastic, but that was more from a “I’m bored and this is flakey” kinda thing rather then anything bad happening. I am lucky enough to have come from a very large and mostly open community and so a good chunk of the public rituals were well thought out and engaging. So I’m probably in a minority about that 🙂 We always tended to look at them as almost a public play that had to involve the audience. So any I’ve been in have had things happening to keep people involved. And the important thing is making sure those who can’t be as mobile as others also feel involved.

  4. BlueStarOwl says:

    With permission, I’m reposting a comment that was left on my FB posting for this blog from my good friend Chris C.

    “There are generally three paths a contemporary pagan can take in regards to practice.

    The INCLUSIVE path, which is more like a public service. You come and stand in a circle and watch what the HP/S is doing, you might sing along if you know the words but generally you are there to be spiritually inspired by the song and dance of the candles and incense. These are public circles or gathering of some sort. Check your local UUC for pagan groups that hold public services OR just join your local UUC because that’s pretty much what they provide anyways (minus the circle and incense)

    While there might be open courses on how to expand on certain skills, you’r not really going to learn how to inspire. Your not going to expand your connection with the divine to the level of serving others. It is the difference between learning to act and watching a play. The inclusive path is one of seeking spiritual entertainment. I think this is fine for most people but due to an adverse reaction toward organized religion your going to have a hard time finding public groups.

    Then there is the SOLITARY path. This is mostly a path of self exploration and independence. It is where most of us start and where most of us end up. It can be lonely but the seclusion of practice leads us to light the darkest places within, without the drama of other participants and, if we learn the skills, we can reach great inner depth and reflection.

    Lastly, there is the EXCLUSIVE path. For someone who wants to practice with spiritual kin, it is really the most common path however it can be frustrating because these are closed-door groups. These are paths of tradition. They are not in flux, or up for a vote. They are a specific way of learning both how to inspire one’s self and how to inspire others. This is the life-path of learning to become a teacher and is not to be walked casually.

    As I have seen in many traditions, experienced myself and have in turn done to others, a teacher (begrudgingly) accepts the entrance of a student only after having been asked (and turned down) no less than three times. It requires work, time, dedication, honesty, loyalty and trust. And frankly we are talking about years of practice with the goal of honing ones witchery. This isn’t a church, this isn’t entertainment, this is the art of spiritually inspiring oneself through inspiring others. Many don’t make it but those that do find themselves part of a core of people that are close like family. It can be a wonderful experience and it can be harrowing as well. It has to be exclusive because every tradition is in the process of providing the service of casting steal. Not anything thrown into the mix will do.

    So what has some people in a guff? They think that anyone should be allowed to join any tradition as though a tradition is a church. In this I think the reference to not letting go of the religious past lives is completely accurate. They confuse the difference and this idea of a sort of “training guild” is completely foreign.

    In large part, traditions train solitary practitioners and teachers of that tradition which is again, exclusive.

    And it is frustrating. Many people seek the comfort of community among those of similar practice and belief but rarely is there a tradition performing spiritual practices publicly. Partly out of the fact that there is no financial support in the community for a service that resembles “organization” and maybe partly out of fear that the larger, less tolerant religious community will come down on them.

    So, I don’t think there is anything wrong with exclusive traditions. That’s how it has always been and most people new to the path don’t quite get it. It is like asking to be a part of someone’s family. You don’t just leave the door open for anyone to come in, sleep in your bed and eat your food and then leave because they got bored.

    But what I WOULD like to see, is more people trained in the art of spiritual entertainment, actual holding public rituals. There is a large number of pagans who seek the inspiration but don’t want to spend 3-5 years learning everything. There is an audience for it and it leaves them somewhat frustrated.”

    The Discussion went on with (and the article referred to is Teo Bishop’s “I felt ashamed at Pagan Pride”):

    “There is a major lacking of community leadership largely in part because there is also such a rub against the idea of “organization” or seeming like an “organized religion”. I have argued with people that it isn’t being “organized” that is the problem. The problem is not recognizing some of the basic pieces of providing a service. I have also long argued that the service of faith entertainment (public practice of religion) is a business. It requires funds, time, organization and leadership to provide that service to a community that wants to consume it. As such, you have to walk between the worlds of the mundane business person and spiritual teacher. I think there is a desire for it, I just think that in most places there isn’t enough interest to put together a financially sustainable organization.

    I have always found entertainers to be some of the better leaders in this realm because they understand that spiritually inspiring others is largely a matter of public entertainment. When asked about invoking, I have often compared it to method acting where the priest/ess “becomes” the role of the divine.

    I read the article you linked to above and, I get it. The hard part about doing public ritual is that the circle is, by the nature of what it is used for, meant to double both as a shield and a container. It is meant to be an impenetrable divisive casting of energy to separate worlds and guard against spirits, energies and bad juju that might seek to undermine spiritual works.

    Performing circle is by design and purpose exclusive.

    While not a perfect solution, what we have often done at public gathers at our home is to put the boundaries further out from the circle of work, marking the respective quarters with appropriately colored ribbon and casting the circle proper in advance. Also, we tell people in advance that there will be circle, and that all faiths are invited to stand and that there is no “outside” watching because everyone who enters our property is already within.

    To cast circle in public is tricky from the traditional sense. Most traditions are very particular about how they perform circle. Every movement, every word, every tool and action has purpose and meaning, right down to how you walk and move in circle. (always circular, always deosil, never widdershins!). This makes an open circle difficult in a public place with the uninitiated. A die-hard traditionalist with an OCD for micromanaged ritual details is going to detest the idea of public circle. They either won’t go, won’t participate and usually won’t lead.

    The best public circles I have been a part of have been at someone’s house with both invited guests and neighbors, offering others to stand in circle as a spectator instead of outside. Thus the circle is not the line, the circle is the stadium while the inner area is respectively the stage.

    As for casting in a public place, I don’t know what to say. If you have a wedding in a public place, a drunk dude could walk by and call the bride “GODZILLA!” because…. its a public park. The freedom that encourages us to be prideful in public is also the freedom that others can use to ridicule our pride and practices. Being proud is also part of being brave in the face of those who would otherwise dissent. And you can’t forcefully include people into something they want no part of and would rather just watch in disapproval.


    Personally, I don’t do pagan pride days… or any pride days for that matter. I don’t feel a need to push my personal tradition and culture out into the public no more so than I really want Christians, or Hindus to feel like they need to educate me through forced public cultural exposure. No thank you. I am already pretty well versed and if I have questions I know where to go and who to ask.

    I am a quaint circle practitioner. I consider circle to be somewhat like spiritual sex… maybe a spiritual orgy of a sorts but still with a select group of people that I trust and who I feel elevates me as much as I help to elevate them.


    And lastly, the guy’s comment on how it was like *gasp.. ” a Church!”. Again with the contrast to other faiths as though they are the antithesis of our entire practice and nature. I would argue that a Church is MORE open than a circle. They want you to come in! They WANT you to join their congregation. They want your financial support and Boy do they have a message to share with you! (something about damnation and membership based forgiveness)

    I have nothing against a “Church” or a “Temple” in structure. In fact we should take a few notes in how to put one of those together so that we can hold a pagan pride day at a contemporary Pagan Temple! They have Greek Fest every year at the local Greek orthodox church that is just awesome! Music, greek food, art and jewelry and of course tours of the church (which is beautiful by the way). I wish, as a pagan community we could do something as wonderful at a location that is both private and open to the public. Thus, those who are interested are welcome to come but it is not in a place that is forced upon passerby’s or people who would use the public space for other purposes.”

  5. I agree with Paganism not being inclusive, but I do think it’s important that magick is inclusive – that we encourage every person who is curious to study some form of magick. It’s far more important that magick become more widely practiced than it is a religion be widely practiced. I could care less if there are millions of Pagans in the world or just a few dozen – but if more people worked on the magick, seriously and truly, we would have a lot more stable and sane people in the world.

  6. Kerry says:

    Wonderful post! Everything you’ve said rings true for me, and I wish that people would reflect upon what you’ve said, and understand the joys of inclusive AND exclusive forms of Paganism.

  7. ChilliBean says:

    I know you have not gotten a comment on this blog for a long time but I have a problem that needs advice. I used to belong to a traditional coven in another state. It was what you talk about…dedication and hard work. Our coven members moved to different states, including myself. I tried to find local groups and one of the groups fit me in a sense of finding a group to do ritual with, though they have different gods and ways of calling the corners. But, especially now during Covid, the group seems to be only the leader. There is not really a sense of coven since it is a public group but several group in the group are flakey and disruptive. We try to have a meeting about a spiritual topic and they make it about themselves or their drama. Since the leader wants to make a Patreon, they want to record all rituals for YouTube, which is something my old coven would never do. Since we are not a coven, the leader calls those shots. I tried doing virtual ritual, but could not get help because my apps would not allow me on. I feel friends with this person but their attitude of including everyone, even people who tend to gossip about other pagans who are not in attendance puts me off and some of them talk during ritual and do not take it seriously. I am private and my job is not one where I am totally out of the pagan closet while they are promoting their group and tradition as a very public thing. Not sure how to explain to her I do not show up for her current Covid era masked outdoor rituals…I feel my image and anything I write or perform for the group is my property and should not be used by a person to make money if they do not have my consent. All these groups preach consent, yet they feel free to record everyone. It drives me nuts. My line extends back to witches who would have been arrested in the 50s if someone outed them. It was important to remain silent.

    I don’t get pagan pride day either though I did do a candle workshop class at one. It seems a place where Christians like to protest stuff they are not educated about and make people uncomfortable.

    Do you have any advice for me? I do not want to seem like a snob but my study makes me seem like one. My career might be hurt by my religion. Their job probably not. It is like we are not even on the same page. When we had a private place for ritual, this was ok. It was private and not recorded. I am not sure I like where the group is headed. I feel it is mostly to line their pockets and not the community.

    • Cassandra says:

      I would say that this is just not the group for you and it’s time to find a different group, which I understand might be difficult. These are all valid concerns that you shouldn’t ignore. Have you talked to your current group leader and had an honest discussion about these issues? How do you talk to them about it? You do it bluntly and tell them what bothers you and why. Anyone leading a group should listen and respect your wishes in these regards. We should all be mindful of privacy and consent. If they don’t, this is a huge red flag. You are totally in your rights to say that no one can record you or announce you publicly as a part of this group, or use your material without consent.

      Pagan Pride Day is where people who are publicly out can discuss/provide information/teach workshops/do ritual and just generally introduce the rest of the community to paganism in a way that is from our perspective. It is not for everyone. It is a place that often attracts protestors. It is not always safe space for people who are not out of the broom closet, though t can help people get introductions and further information on the path. You might find another group at a pagan pride.

      I’d leave this group and find a different one. When your instincts are telling you they’re uncomfortable my general advice is to listen to those instincts and to move on.

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