When is Paganism not Paganism?

From Emma Porter: “what Capitalism tries to hide from the seeker, is that Paganism is free.”

When it’s paganism with a small p, that’s when.

What can that possibly mean? Well, let me try and explain. Recently in a well known pagan fb group (at least well known in good old Blighty), I stumbled upon a discussion on what Paganism means to the individual in terms of deity and beliefs. I was struck by a response that seemed to be quite popular, and it was along the lines of having atheist beliefs but living the pagan lifestyle.

This is when paganism is not Paganism, at least to me. Is this what our spirituality has become? A lifestyle choice? Online debates about the reality of deity? Oh no, hell no!

Surely as Pagans, the Earth, nature herself, is sacred. You can feel it, can’t you, when you’re outside in the wild with the wind in your face, the rain on your skin, the heat of the sun or the cold of the snow. Surely this is the very essence of Paganism, our connection to and our own place in this, the web of life. “A pagan lifestyle” without any of this is empty and meaningless.

I would like to think that the contributor to said Facebook discussion simply meant that her path does not necessarily revolve around the worship of deity. Worship of and to deity is a personal choice, a personal belief, and I do believe that one can truly have a meaningful Pagan practice without deity, literal Gods and Goddesses.

But what if this isn’t what she meant, and indeed she meant what she said? What is a pagan lifestyle without the spiritual side?

I love the idea of a witchcraft shop that sells herbs, parchment, inks and the like;however, most of the shops I have encountered have been massive disappointments, selling the usual array of crystals, candles, synthetic incense and angel ornaments. This is what I think of when I think of paganism as a lifestyle without the spirituality.

And what’s wrong with that? you may well ask. Well nothing….if you just so happen to like the smell of incense, even if it’s just chemicals and perfume, or the shine of crystals, mined from the earth. There’s nothing wrong with that if that’s what you like (well there is, but that’s another article for another day). But it is not Paganism. Do not be fooled.

This is the work of a system that seeks to keep us dulled down, that seeks to keep us busy with mindless, empty, cheap shit that has no practical or spiritual purpose. When mothers and fathers have to work full time jobs and still ends cannot be met, here, have some cheap shit to take your mind off your own slavery, slavery to a system that many within it, even those at the bottom, defend.

We Pagans are not exempt from this lie either, are not exempt from the self delusions that enable this lie. We’ve all fell for it, at the beginning, when we first start out on the Pagan path. It’s a difficult pitfall to avoid, when you’re new and everything seems so beautiful and shiny. But then you take home your crystal, your incense, and display them and burn them, but what then? Nothing, that’s what, and after a while you see that these trinkets, whilst look the part, add nothing at all to your practise.

And so you head back out to the New Age shop or market stall and you buy something else in the hope that it might make you feel more of a Pagan. And so it goes on and on, in a cycle, until you are ready to break that cycle. Some never do, and some don’t want to, they are happy with their illusions.

What the system, what Capitalism tries to hide from the seeker, is that Paganism is free. You do not have to spend a penny. However capitalism serves the lazy pagan. Why go out and connect with the earth when you can buy this or that to make you feel more pagany? It makes the person with the most money, able to buy the biggest pentacle ring or necklace or crystal seem holier than thou, more genuine and authentic. It is everywhere in pagan culture. Look how much fellow seekers charge for their works. The poor are often priced out.

This isn’t to say that Pagans must give up money, or give freely their own works and endeavours – I’m all for a fair wage for a fair day’s work, but as someone for who, especially in the past when my own children were young, has nothing left at the end of every month, thirty pounds for a working or for supplies is unheard of, a luxury to be dreamed about but never realised. What about those in that situation? Are they to be left out, forgotten? Is their belief and spirituality less than someone who can afford all of the trappings? Yes, if the pagan lifestyle is empty of spirituality, another prospect for capitalism to take people’s hard earned cash for things made in China for as cheaply as possible.

Pagans can no longer afford to be lazy if we want our spirituality to mean something. This earth is our home, and so our paganism must be nature-centred. It is simply not enough to say that we are a part of this universe and that the universe returns to us what we send out, as a well known New Age book seems to think. It is not enough to be grateful, not today when this precious earth of our, when our Mother Nature, whom we worship as Pagans, is under constant attack. Untold damage is wreaked on this earth in the name of capitalism, in the quest for newer and more efficient ways to separate the people from their hard earned money.

I too have been guilty of this. It is a relatively new aspect to my craft, environmental activism. Don’t get me wrong, I’m big on recycling and reusing and reducing my waste and carbon footprint and the like, but it isn’t enough. There’s more I need to do, but I’ve started, and that’s the important part, the hard part, finding your voice, your confidence to speak out against injustices perpetrated by the strong against the week.

Part of what prompted me to act is the fracking of local beauty spots and countryside, but that’s not all. I’m tired of feeling helpless as I watch the destruction of the very nature I worship, all for the sake of profit, profit that benefits the few and leaves the many grateful for whatever scraps they are thrown. Everyday, that part of myself grows stronger, more self assured and confident, and it will for you too. Taking the first step, the first real step, is hard, but each successive step becomes easier.

We Pagans must act, and our actions must serve and protect nature. The alternative is paganism as a lifestyle, and that isn’t worth a damn.

Emma Kathryn

My name is Emma Kathryn, an eclectic witch, my path is a mixture of traditional European witchcraft, voodoo and obeah, a mixture representing my heritage. I live in the middle of England in a little town in Nottinghamshire, with my partner, two teenage sons and two crazy dogs, Boo and Dexter. When not working in a bookshop full time, I like to spend time with my family outdoors, with the dogs. And weaving magick, of course!

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11 thoughts on “When is Paganism not Paganism?

  1. Great piece on how Paganism today is so totally disconnected from nature and the cycles of the Earth, which many would argue is still the root of Paganism. Over the past decade I have chalked this phenomena up to “Urban Paganism” but it is still disconcerting to say the least. Compounded with New Age/Pagan Capitalism which has flooded the marketplace with consumer goods, we now have a whole demographic of pagan neophiles who mistake the materialism and novelty of fun new things and experiences for the spiritual path itself. A product of market/state and modernity, a neophile is a new type of person who dovetails perfectly with the aims of consumer capitalism. And how ironic that this new trend rejects the ancient traditions of earth-emergent pagan societies and aligns itself with a hegemony that is destroying all life on Earth. Obviously the solution is embrace a Paganism Activism that puts Earth Community ahead of Empire ~ thank you Emma for highlighting this important issue!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I only buy a couple things, beeswax candles and some decent Frankincense, most every thing else is what I had on hand, or found, and a couple things I created, one being my Yucca Stalk wand, and a copper plated Geode, that I helped mine, pendants that I helped make with my partner some forty-two years ago.


  3. Wow. No words.

    I feel this message strong, sister.

    Thanks for putting this message out there in a way I was asking to hear.

    I see many people do this EXACT thing- and people pretend that the material will do the work for them.

    But they’re disconnected from source, and they can’t use objects they have no REAL connection to.



  4. i read your article with interest. As the Pagan Housewife, I like to blog about my experiences of walking in Nature, hearing the call of our Great Mother, and the practices that I do. I admit that I do have a small of collection of shop-bought crystals, Tarot decks, books etc, but I am completely aware of the consumerist nature of my purchases. I also know that if I put in the spiritual work, I can connect with these objects on a deeper, more spiritual level, and it will lead me forwards and closer to my true purpose. I am not currently in a position to be a pagan activist. I can, however, write about my local environment, my meditations, my dreams, and hopefully inspire others to find their own path in life. Thanks for sharing your thoughts 🙂


  5. Well i’m Spiritual without Paganism as i’m a Heathen, I felt pressurised to start a small business 5 years ago on a self employed basis and I sell hardly anything, spend most of my time caring for and nurturing others, then again everything I make is deliberately challenging the main stream fashion of Paganism so I usually give the real stuff away as gifts and advertise the naff imitations for sale, only to attract scammers and con merchants, seaming to be getting a lot of that lately, actions speak louder than words every day of the week. Be an activist as its more interesting. But i don’t spend too much out on stock and advertising as it tends to skint me out. Capitalism? What’s Capitalism? I ain’t benefiting from it, then again, most probably wouldn’t want to.


  6. I got this off the merriam Webster dictionary: “Definition of pagan: Pagan is derived from the Late Latin paganus, which was used at the end of the Roman Empire to name those who practiced a religion other than Christianity, Judaism, or Islam. Early Christians often used the term to refer to non-Christians who worshiped multiple deities. In Latin, paganus originally meant “country dweller” or “civilian;” it is believed that the word’s religious meanings developed either from the enduring non-Christian religious practices of those who lived far from the Roman cities where Christianity was more quickly adopted, or from the fact that early Christians referred to themselves as “soldiers of Christ,” making nonbelievers “civilians.”
    The definition and etymology of heathen overlap with those of pagan: both words denote “an unconverted member of a people or nation that does not acknowledge the God of the Bible,” and heathen, like pagan, is believed to have come from the term for a country inhabitant, or in this case, a “heath dweller.”
    Both words have developed broader and pejorative meanings over time, with pagan being used to mean “an irreligious or hedonistic person” and heathen “uncivilized” or “strange,” but their original meanings are still in use”

    Based upon that kind of definition, I would class myself as a Wills Heathen, Wills means strange and the fact that I live near to Wills Neck Mountain and in the Campion Village of Wilstock. (Like a stockade). People of the Heath “an area of open uncultivated land, typically on acid sandy soil, with characteristic vegetation of heather, gorse, and coarse grasses” just like what you find on high ground, there’s an ancient Germanic word that is Heofan, its where the words Heathen and Heaven come from, means high ground like where Heather naturally grows, like a mountain.

    Personally I wouldn’t want to accept a Christian Label for the way that I naturally am. Especially as Moses was an Egyptian called Thothmose and an avid follower of Atom-Ra


  7. Hi and thank you for taking the time to read and respond.

    I do understand what you are saying, perhaps I should have been more clear on the use of the word ‘pagan’ and ‘paganism’ within the context of this article. I use the term here, and mostly, in the more modern sense of the word, as a spirituality, in the way in which most who identify as ‘Pagan’would use the term. Like most things however, context is everything. Sometimes it seems like I only ever call myself ‘Pagan’ when the topic of my spirituality comes up. It’s kinda weird to think and talk about it as something separate.

    Ultimately, ‘Pagan’ and ‘Paganism’ are labels, and like most labels do little justice to the idea or concept they aim to describe.

    Thanks again for reading 🙂


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