Mr. Noodle

Mr. Noodle
Mr. Noodle

Saturday, July 3, 2010

walking away from Paganism

I have been meaning to write about this for months. I kind of forgot about it, really, and I think it's good. I started composing an essay on this topic several months ago now, but set it aside because it seemed too angry, and that wasn't what I wanted to convey. I'm addressing this now for a few reasons:

1) I have just today listed all my Pagan books for sale on Amazon.
2) A Google search of my name turns up some Pagan stuff.
3) because of these things, I want to set the record straight about where I'm at.

I will begin with a brief history.

(N.B. Below I use some jargon that may be unfamiliar to those who don't know much about this topic. Hopefully that won't detract from the content of my narrative).

I identified as Pagan/Wiccan for about ten years. Not solidly, but within the space of ten years, I developed into quite an adept. I studied with an excellent teacher, led and co-led several public group rituals, had a few rites of passage, wrote an article for Witchvox, and was really active in the Pagan community. I led a group at the University of Victoria for three years. I even started the process of enrolling at Cherry Hill Seminary to do a Master of Divinity, on the path towards being Pagan clergy.

But after I returned from living in Asia, when I came back to find my teacher/priestess had an actual class/coven, I started having my doubts about the whole thing. There were a few things I was uncomfortable with - nothing to do with my teacher - I have the utmost respect for her - but nothing I could really put my finger on.

I did a lot of internal storming about my discontent, trying to pin down exactly what I was discontent with. Which of my needs were not being met? Why did some of these experiences leave me so irritated? Why couldn't I turn off my inner critic and just have the great religious experience I was supposed to?

Soon after I started the club at UVic, I left the coven I was practicing with. I enjoyed my time with the club, but eventually I knew that after I finished my schooling, without leadership, the club would probably fade. And it did. I finished my degree, went on my honeymoon (which was in fact a full moon cycle), and came back to no real commitment to any group or path of study.

A few months later, I realized that I didn't miss it. At all. Previously I had felt guilty if I didn't celebrate a sabbat or a full moon, but even after learning all I could about these holidays, I had a hard time getting in the mood short of simply wanting to decorate a la Martha Stewart.

My last act as a Pagan was to go to a Yuletide ritual held by my former group last winter. I was even asked to lend a hand, since they were short and I was an experienced handmaiden.

But that, as every other Pagan ritual I have ever attended, left me feeling kind of empty. I never got that satisfaction from having gone into trance or had a deeply moving experience in ritual. According to the literature, this is supposed to happen at some point. With nearly a hundred rituals under my belt, I really should have had this experience at least once.

But I never did. I got the routine down pat, I could set up a circle like nobody's business. Putting on a public group ritual us much akin to putting on a play: script, costumes, choreography, music, props, etc. I was good at it and I enjoyed that part. But that is just theatrics, and not so much about the faith.

I stopped identifying as Pagan around Christmastime. It was around then that I came to a few conclusions.

Religion serves a number of purposes for people. I know I won't include all, we all have our own reasons for seeking or not seeking, but here is what I came up with.

1) People who seek religion want communication or connection with deity.

Right. Fair enough. I don't believe in God, or a set of gods or goddesses. I am a scientist. I cannot believe that there is some sentient being out there who is orchestrating all this.

For a while there I was listening to CBC's Tapestry, the weekly program about religion and spirituality by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Always interesting, the guests that the host Mary Heines was interviewing last fall and winter were (by accident?) often people who were devout athiests or people who went so deep into their faith that they walked through it - came out as non-believers. I thought this was an interesting thing - partly because of the content itself but also because of the timing, as I was having these own feelings myself.

In another post today I talked about the death of my friend Jeremy 20 years ago, and that a number of people I knew or who were in my life in the few years following also died. Death makes you question God - or whether there is one. I'll likely cover this topic in another post, another day.

2) People often seek religion for community.

And here is where I get a bit controversial. In times of old, the church was the community. Nowadays, with so many faith options, choosing a faith is also a choosing of community. I don't know what it is like in the monotheistic faiths, but with Paganism, it seems to be either very exclusive or overly inclusive. What I mean by this: by 'very exclusive' I mean closed covens who have enough members and don't want you in their group. Okay, understanding the nature of ritual as I do, fair enough. But then there is the 'overly inclusive'. This is the kind of situation where because someone identifies as 'Pagan', then no matter what their flavour is, everyone comes, from the people who believe in fairies and angels to people who claim to have been ceremonial magicians to people of the different sects within Pagansim (Wicca, Druids, Astruar, etc.) to people who call themselves Pagan but really just want another outlet for their SCA fantasies.

I don't mean to be insulting, really I don't. But in my experience, maybe one in twenty of these people I have met are true to their faith and are not what serious Pagans refer to as 'fluffy bunnies' and I call flakes. And the sad truth is that flakes turn up to public ritual and you have to pretend to circle with them 'in love and trust'. For lots of these people, because they are already on the outskirts of the status quo, the only place they feel like they have community is among other Pagans.

It took me a long time to realize that I don't actually want to spend time with most of these people. The serious Pagans are nice people outside of the faith - which means faith has nothing to do with it. And I already have a strong and solid social community, so I don't need that from my faith.

3) People often use faith as a means of personal development.

I'm not saying this is true for everyone. Sure, I experienced a lot of personal development through working with my priestess. But I am an introspective person by nature; I have done lots of work on myself with my counselor at uni and with the help of a number of self help books and journaling. I started to feel like I hit a wall in my spiritual development.


Now before I walked away from religion entirely, I did give some thought to the other faiths out there. Not believing in a God, all the theistic faiths were out of the question. That left Buddhism.

Before I happened upon Wicca/Paganism, I would have referred to Buddhism as my 'spiritual mother tongue'. Not like I ever got far enough to Take Refuge or anything, not like I ever had any sort of regular meditation practice, but I did a fair bit of reading on the subject. So, before shutting religion out entirely, I had a last glance at Buddhism.

Amazingly, I found it didn't really suit me anymore. The person I am now is quite different from the person I was a decade ago.


So it's been six months now since I stopped calling myself Pagan. I have spoken about this to a few friends and family and most people are surprised: they knew how serious I was about my pursuit of knowledge about faith. But when it comes down to it, I don't miss it at all. I can still appreciate it and have huge respect for the work that is being done, as I respect everyone's right to have a faith. I only submit that, at least for right now, it is not for me.

And if you ask me what my religion is, I will say knitting is my religion.


  1. I say good for you. I think knitting as a religion is a great choice. I'd pick both knitting and crochet, though I do have a much bigger heart for knitting anymore.

  2. It's interesting to hear you finally put this narrative together Stace, and I don't think there's anything controversial in your list of reasons why people choose religions, for those of us for whom religion is a choice. We've talked before about that sense of searching for belonging in the world, and how finding a life partner really has a huge impact on that drive. My own sense, and I think this was true for my minister father too, is that you have to experience the moment of transcendence or spirituality somehow first, and that guides your spiritual practice. That sense of peace and transcendence, though, can happen in a multitude of context, and it makes perfect sense to me that knitting-as-meditation would be one of those, although I'm not sure if that's really what you meant! For me that sense does come through in meditation, which is why Buddhism remains appealing. But taking on a whole religious culture, as you did for these many years, is a big deal, and I have yet to feel compelled to do that seriously.

    Look forward to talking with you more about this! :)