So, Let’s Talk Paganism

(I probably don’t need to do this, but let me just say that the following post is going to contain a bunch of woo-woo crap. If that’s not your thing, please don’t make a big issue about how stupid it is or how I’m going to Hell or how we all need to embrace Christianity or secular humanism or whatever. I understand that, if you’re born and raised in certain religious traditions, the kinds of stuff that may come up here can be very shocking and distressing. I also understand that, if you think that spirituality is hokum, the urge to share how stupid and deluded people with religious beliefs are can be overwhelming.  I’m still going to ask y’all to treat anyone who will share openly with respect. And I will try to talk gracefully and unselfconsciously about it, myself.)

It’s hard for me to untwist whether I was a feminist before I became pagan or if I became pagan before I became a full-fledged feminist.  Probably the two things were always hand-in-hand for me.  I was raised in a very religious household.  My dad is a Methodist minister, now retired, and my mom is one of those people who suggests praying about everything that troubles anyone, because she firmly believes that it will help.  We often lived next door to the churches my father served and I would say that I was at church, for one reason or another, at least five days a week.

Women in my Dad’s church could perform all the duties men could. I myself was often acolyte and liturgist and, for many years, I gave the message at the sunrise service at Easter (I had written up something about meeting Jesus at the tomb from the perspective of Mary Magdalene. Basically, if you’ve ever sung “I come to the garden alone,” you’ve got the gist of it).  My dad also had close female minister friends.

So, while I have my… differences… with the Methodist church, I wasn’t raised to believe that women were somehow less holy than men.

Still, I wanted desperately to have some female religious role models, some stories that I could relate to.  I wanted to look in the Bible and read about someone like me.  And the whole “I know it says ‘God the Father’ but God doesn’t really have a gender” and “Just look for the minor female characters and imagine whole lives for them” and “Well, you have to understand that when this was written…”just didn’t cut it.  It was like, in order to find my place in my own religious text, I had to close one eye and squint and do five mental leaps, and frankly, I just wanted to be able to take the damn thing at its word.

I didn’t want to have to say “Mother” or “Parent” softly to myself when it said “God the Father.” I wanted to believe that what God said about Himself was true. Not literal, necessarily, but true.  Because the way I was doing it was exhausting and wasn’t working for me. It wasn’t making me feel closer to God; it made me feel like a girl who makes excuses for her abusive boyfriend–he didn’t really mean those mean things he says about me, he’s just stressed.

So, I decided to read the Bible as if what it said was true. Again, not literally true, but that, if God said He’s a dude, I’m not going to sit here and say, “Oh, well, that’s just metaphorical.” I’m going to take Him at His word.

And then I encountered the passage–Proverbs 8:22-31. If you’re not familiar with it, at the beginning of Proverbs, Wisdom, who is female, talks at great length about herself.  And Wisdom doesn’t say, “I’m a metaphor! Don’t worry folks! Everything’s cool in Monotheism land! I’m not real.”  Instead what she says is, “I was there before everything.” Instead what she says is, “Then I was the craftsman at his side.”

Holy shit.  That sure doesn’t sound like monotheism. Even if God “birthed” her before everything, she was His aid in creation.

I felt lied to and kind of cheated.

About this time (and I told you we would get to the woo-woo crap), I noticed that I was drawing the Hanged Man in every tarot reading I did and that it never seemed to fit in with the rest of the cards. In other words, it didn’t seem to be a card for the person sitting across the table, but for me.

I didn’t know what to make of it, so I went back to all the books on tarot cards I could find in the library and read up on all their explanations for the card and in one of them, I found these words, “I know I hung from the windswept tree, nine whole nights.”  Ha, it gives me chills to even type it to you, just from an aesthetic standpoint, something about the “o”s in “know” and “whole” maybe, or just that nice turn of phrase “windswept tree.”

The speaker there is Odin.

And Odin does something I had never, in my life, heard of a god doing: he listens to women, hangs out with them even. No, it’s more than that: he assumes that women know things that he doesn’t know and that they can teach him. And that the things he can learn from us are of such value that he’s willing to risk public ridicule to learn them (see, for instance, Loki’s claim in the Lokasenna that hanging out with witches has made Odin unmanly).

And I thought, okay, then I’m throwing my lot in with these folks.

As I said, I’m not a very formal heathen. I don’t really hang out with other heathens doing heatheny things. My heart is with my family and my community and my home and land.  I feel my ancestors are with me, always, and that the gods are just the most ancient, most powerful of those ancestors and that the thing that would be most fortunate for me and the people and things that hold my heart is for me to work to be in right relationship with them. I believe that luck, or fortune, or what happens is the driving force in our world (a girl can have a long discussion about that, but I’ll point you here and here, for starters, but be warned, I was still pussyfooting around coming out and saying, “Yes this is my truth.”) and I do what I can to try to ensure that our luck is good.

I consider myself a hardcore polytheist, but within limits. I think, for instance, that Wodan and Odin are the same god. I don’t think that Mercury is. But I’m also not blind to the fact that Zeus, Jupiter, Tyr, and others all seem to share at least variation in the same name, if not similar characteristics. What can I tell you? I still don’t want to think of Zeus and Tyr as being two versions of the same god. So, I don’t.

So, what about you?  If you’re a pagan, what brought you here?  Do you see your paganism and your feminism intertwined? What are your gods like? Why do you like them? I’ve rambled on long enough. Your turn.

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72 comments for “So, Let’s Talk Paganism

  1. September 1, 2009 at 9:54 pm

    I’m an ethnically Jewish Wiccan of the Dianic sect, mostly. I’m really very new at this and I don’t know where I stand on it but I have found something I like and something that makes me happy and understand the world, so I try to live my life by the teachings therein. For me, my feminism and my religious quest, which is still an In Progress event, are intertwined. But it was my feminism that gave birth to my religious quest. Somewhere along the lines of my life I started realizing I didn’t LIKE being in a religion that was about fire and brimstone. That was not my God. It never was. I never felt like synagogue was important in my life, even when I was praying every day in my religious elementary and middle schools. I also never thought anyone was listening.

    And one day I was in Yom Kipur services, got fed up with all the Sin and Sorrow, and walked out and had a sandwich. And I never went back. At the same time, I was learning about the old goddess religions in a women’s studies class I had accidentally stumbled into. I hadn’t meant to take it, but the class I wanted was canceled, so i took that class instead. And once I learned that the world had not begun with Abraham (which of course I knew but I never knew the religious contexts), that the religions that came beforehand were not only completely different from monotheism but were also respective and even glorifying of the feminine, I just had to explore more. I had a friend who was Wiccan, and I had always been interested in the religion, and so I started reading a bit. I’m not expert, but I like that I can touch these things, that when I wear my tiger’s eye bracelets I believe it does protect, that when I light incense it speaks to the air elements that carry the world. I feel like finally, someone is listening. And she’s not punishing anyone. She’s just there to love. Which, I suppose, I always knew she was.

  2. September 1, 2009 at 10:25 pm

    Excellent post! I’m not a pagan per se, but I LOVE to hear about others’ relationship with paganism, spirituality that directly supports the feminist she/he is, and how their spiritual beliefs of luck, fortune and polytheism stand in harmony with their standards of equality. I am specifically inspired by stories of those raised in a Christian background of sorts and how they came to embrace paganism in the way and timeframe that works for them. Thanks for sharing.

  3. September 1, 2009 at 10:39 pm

    THREADJACK: You know I’m an atheist, but I was raised in and attended a Methodist church for my first 20 years or so. This:

    I wanted to look in the Bible and read about someone like me. And the whole “I know it says ‘God the Father’ but God doesn’t really have a gender” and “Just look for the minor female characters and imagine whole lives for them” and “Well, you have to understand that when this was written…”just didn’t cut it. It was like, in order to find my place in my own religious text, I had to close one eye and squint and do five mental leaps, and frankly, I just wanted to be able to take the damn thing at its word.

    was my experience the whole time I was in it. And the little inconsistencies, like the “Father, But Genderless” exceptions really made it easy for me to leave in the end. At some point, after years of questioning, for me it finally came down to saying, publicly, “Mary was the mother of God and also a single, unwed teen mother, and I, an unwed, single teen mother should be able to feel ON SOME LEVEL AT ALL safe here after my life of participation in this church, but I don’t,” and when that mess went down I left the church forever. It was indeed a little, wee, tiny bit personal. Then again, the inter-church conversation about whether gay people should be allowed to have public lives without church commentary was really popular then, and only solidified my opinions about it all. I couldn’t handle the small hypocrisies that undermined a) the Biblical teachings, and b) the omnipotence of what was presented to me as a kind and loving God, and eventually it all felt like a farce.

    But you know what? I really miss the feel of that community.

  4. QRaccoon
    September 1, 2009 at 10:51 pm

    I am a Buddhist Wiccan. I was raised Catholic (like so many pagans) but it never seemed right. The implications that women were supposed to be weak and lesser always seemed wrong to me. I knew I was strong. The notion that women couldn’t be called to God like men could be (no women pastors) still pisses me off.

    So I guess, for me, feminism led me to paganism. I already knew I was a pagan at the time of my Confirmation (though I had never heard of Wicca), so I picked St Brigid for my saints name. Brigid being Goddess of Ireland, that was made a saint when the Church moved in.

    My Gods of choice are Baron Samedi and Kwan Yin. The Baron is a loa (or spirit) of Voodoo. He is a god of death, but not a depressing sort. He laughs at life and how we take it seriously. I have a raven tattoo over my heart to remind me of his wisdom. Kwan Yin is the Buddhist mother of mercy, She who hears the cries of the world. I wear a mala of rosewood and pearl to remind me to be compassionate to everyone I meet.

  5. Literate Shrew
    September 1, 2009 at 10:53 pm

    This sums up just about the entirety of my paganism: “I feel my ancestors are with me, always, and that the gods are just the most ancient, most powerful of those ancestors and that the thing that would be most fortunate for me and the people and things that hold my heart is for me to work to be in right relationship with them.”

    I follow beliefs and practices that came from a tradition of people who were handed this patriarchal, frankly oppressive form of Christianity (not that forms are like that, mind you) and said “Right. So these saints are just new faces for our old gods? Thanks.” Then, of course, they were demonized (pun intended) and persecuted and ridiculed and silenced and erased. Thanks, Christianity.

  6. September 2, 2009 at 12:09 am

    I often identify as Wiccan, but I think I am more of an eclectic Pagan.

    And I think that my Native American heritage had a good chunk to do with my leaving of Christianity, combined w/ the shame I faced when I became pregnant in college. I found it to be more inviting and respectful of women. All the shame and guilt I felt washed away when I embraced both my Native spirituality and Paganism. It also coincided more w/ my personal ideals, which as it turns out, were very feminist.

    Great post. Love it.

  7. September 2, 2009 at 12:28 am

    I am a neo-animist. At least that is what someone told me I am. It definitely came before my feminism. I was raised a Seventh Day Adventist and was very satisfied until I hit my teens and started thinking about what I was being told was true. Within a few years I began to recognize the deep beauty and life in all of the things around me. I felt that there was something shared with all things, a bit of energy, a soul if you will, but no overarching deity.

    Feminism didn’t really blossom in me until I began considering having a child. It was the first time I had ever been truly open to the positive aspects of being a woman (I was serially sexually assaulted as a child). I found some wonderful friends and gave birth to a girl. I am learning all I can, and being as strong as I can to be an advocate for and an ally of anyone who is oppressed.

    p.s. The only gods I ever pray to are the traffic gods. They are capricious but often kind. Yes, I’m sort of joking and sort of not.

  8. Dianne
    September 2, 2009 at 12:50 am

    I was raised Judeo-Christian (Jewish father, Protestant mother), but I’ve identified as Wiccan (eclectic) for years now. I was drawn to the idea of a divine Mother and to the goddesses that belonged to the myths I’d loved since childhood. (Today, I identify particularly with Minerva and Diana.)

    Paganism had room for female narratives and seemed to value female experiences in a way that Judeo-Christianity did not: there were rituals for childbirth, for naming and blessing of babies; for the celebration of a girl’s first menstrual cycle and to mark the onset of menopause. And women themselves were valued–not just as potential childbearers or as mothers, but for the traits comprising every life-stage from girlhood into old age.

    All this was refreshing, compared the meager biblical accounts of women, and to the ones that seemed outright misogynistic (Eve, anyone?).

    There was also emphasis on love for and preservation of the planet, which resonated with me in a way that Genesis’ “subdue and dominate” simply didn’t. Paganism draws on nature religions, which makes it a natural path (not to be redundant) for environmentalists as well as feminists. Often, the Goddess and the earth are portrayed as a single figure; caring for the planet and the life thereon thus becomes a form of worship. (The ties between feminism and the environmental movement are possibly another discussion, but I thought they were worth mentioning.)

  9. Unlikely Heathen
    September 2, 2009 at 12:51 am

    Aunt B, I’m pleased and surprised to find another feminist heathen here. Thanks for this post, and I would love to read further “ramblings” on this topic. Also, could you please direct me to the rest of the feminist heathens?

    You know how our gods are, so I won’t get into their overall and extensive awesomeness. What I love the most is that they’re flawed. Odin left his heart in San Francisco eye in the well. Tyr gave his hand to bind Fenrir. I love that they have real, raw emotions (Skadhi) and that they can be irrational. It gives me hope when I lack wisdom or maturity in my actions.

    I love the way oracular seiðr can give me a sense of the infinite–not enough to leave me afraid, but enough to humble me and grant my cynical mind awe and wonder. Runes feel so comforting in my hands. My shelves seem perfectly suited for our religious scholarly habits.

    I might be the least likely heathen around, but the gods call who they will. I’m still surprised that I love heathenry as much as I do, that I could love imperfect gods more than one perfect God. I still question how this fits. It shouldn’t, yet it does. Gæð a wyrd swa hio scel.

  10. July
    September 2, 2009 at 12:59 am

    Scandinavia Studies major here!

    There is evidence that Tyr was originally the chief god of Germanic societies. Odin usurped his place later on. The name Tyr is a cognate of deus (or vice versa) in Proto Indo European. He even got his own rune. And he had the balls to put his hand in Fenrir’s mouth. I’m Jewish, but I always thought that was pretty damn cool. And the metaphoric lesson there is: put your hand in the wolf’s mouth. You will not get your hand back. But it’s not really lost. It still has meaning. Sacrifice is not meaningless. Loss is not meaningless. Pain is not meaningless. It all has a purpose.

    Tyr is a one-handed god,
    and leavings of the wolf
    and prince of temples.

    Tyr and Zeus are not the same. Roman and Germanic societies make that clear, from a not-Pagan perspective.

    Proverbs wise, a lot of the Tanakh was written at a time when Judaism was competing with Polytheism in the region. Many of the mitzvot are designed to keep Jews from practicing paganism and to protect the essential monotheism of Judiasm. Translations of Biblical Hebrew are always dodgy, but the characterization of Wisdom as female can be interpreted both as a poetic device and evidence of syncretism, not necessarily mutually exclusive. Another example is the Song of Songs.

  11. September 2, 2009 at 2:01 am

    My pagan beliefs and my feminist identity grew together, and I’m not sure I could really tease them apart. I was raised mostly non-religious but ethnically Jewish, going to synagogue on High Holidays and such. I believe that the Divine is in nature and in all living things, that it has no one gender, but that we affix to it characteristics we perceive as Male or Female because of our own cultural backgrounds. When I put a name to the Divine, I speak to its aspects as Brigid, as Kwan Yin, Green Tara, Loki, and Pan.

    Patriarchal religions go hand in hand with patriarchal cultures (though I suppose it’s quite the chicken-egg conundrum to figure out where that began). Neo-pagan traditions can offer spiritual warmth without the historical/cultural baggage, if only because they are so new. This is not to say they are invariably non-sexist or non-trans/homophobic – that is definitely not the case – but that they afford more opportunity to be so.

  12. still figuring it out
    September 2, 2009 at 2:45 am

    I have been a solitary Wiccan for about 20 years and have just recently started reading the Bible again so that I can discover the women in it and their roles. I consider myself polytheistic – Wiccan, Christian, Buddhist – as well as secular humanist. Yeah, I know those two don’t exactly go together but religion to me is how it works for me in my life and I’m free to pick and choose the parts that help me make sense of things. Very occasionally the deities speak to me (most recently Saturday) and open my eyes to something and then I’m off on a new path but that usually only happens when I’m searching and I don’t know what for. I consider it a cosmic help line that when you call, the best qualified deity answers your question. Religion is an intensely personal subject for everyone and I don’t think any one religion has all the answers. They all glorify a god and who’s to say that they aren’t all talking about the same one(s)?

  13. September 2, 2009 at 6:29 am


    I’m a Christian, but don’t worry: I’m not going to try to convert you! That said, I do feel compelled to speak in favour of my religion, lest others be turned away from God.

    I feel, therefore, that I do have to challenge the understanding of Christian theology suggested in this thread.

    Particularly, on Proverbs: Wisdom, who is female, talks at great length about herself. And Wisdom doesn’t say, “I’m a metaphor! Don’t worry folks! Everything’s cool in Monotheism land! I’m not real.”

    But, Proverbs does say that it is metaphorical. It is not Wisdom speaking, but King Solomon writing about what wisdom is like. In Proverbs 1:5-6 it says “let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance – for understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise”. The notes on the translation says that “riddles” could also be translated from the Hebrew as “allegories”. In other words, metaphor and simile.

    Interestingly, the description of Wisdom in Proverbs 8:22-31 is very similar to the description of the Word in John 1:1-5, which leads to the possibility (if one insists on the passage about Wisdom being true) that the Word and Wisdom are one and the same – that Christ is, in the origin, at least as much female as male. That Proverbs 9:1-6 also uses language similar to many of the parables that Jesus told (those where he illustrates heaven as a mansion with a great feast) could also be read as indicative of this identity. (Incidentally, the Qu’ran considers the concept of the Holy Trinity to be a betrayal of true monotheism and criticises Christians for it). Also interesting, Wisdom says, “I was given birth”; since giving birth is something that women do, and God being the only being who could have given birth, God must be female for this statement to hold true.

    I thank you for highlighting these passages, because I had not considered them in this light before, and I feel that my understanding of my God has been enhanced because of it.

    I think I would have more concern about the slut/saint characterisation of Folly and Wisdom in the allegory.

    I have one other thing to say:

    God did not write the Bible. A bunch of dudes did, maybe under inspiration from God, but they recorded it in their way and their understanding of what was revealed. To find the Truth of God in the Bible (especially the Hebrew Scriptures/Septuagint) is to filter out what has been overlaid by Humankind’s limitations and prejudices.

    I don’t go with the “metaphor” version of God being only “He” and “the Father”; instead I believe that a bunch of dudes editing the books just assumed God could only be male like them, and ignored the female.

  14. September 2, 2009 at 7:41 am

    Don’t have time to write much of anything this morning, and it would probably be incredibly inarticulate anyway…but wanted to let you know I’m listening, hard. I guess the most accurate description I could give for myself is “spiritual seeker”, and I’m drawn toward mysticism and the female divine.

  15. Aunt B
    September 2, 2009 at 7:57 am

    Oh, y’all, I am so sorry about how many of these sat in moderation while I slept, especially because, dang, there’s some great stuff here.

    Lauren, I hear you. I really miss that sense of community, too, and that opportunity to spend time with a bunch of people of a bunch of different ages. I especially miss the ways the women would carry the congregation–especially how that was tied to feeding people. I love how, no matter how small the church, you can almost always find a little old woman in the kitchen doing dishes or getting ready for some upcoming thing. And if you’re willing to dry while she scrubs, you can listen to her tell stories about all the people you know. I do miss that.

    QRaccoon, I was hoping we’d get some folks who know the loa in this conversation!

    Unlikely Heathen, I often wonder why there aren’t more feminist heathens, too. I think, though, that when the two most prevalent strands here in the US of heathenism seem to be “I am a giant scary racist!!!” and “I am a manly man man man.” it can be off-putting to women who don’t want to be associated with racists and who certainly know exactly how “I am a manly man” leads to “and therefore I insist we not do anything to challenge patriarchal power structures!”

    I’m giving it time. The racists seem to be drifting further and further afield into “the gods are just Jungian archetypes” territory and I don’t believe you can open your life up to folks who have long reputations for upending things just to see what will happen and assume you’re going to get to keep doing things how you used to do.

    I know I haven’t been able to.

    Snowdrop Explodes, thank you for making your threadjack respectful, but I feel like this is exactly what I asked people to refrain from. You read some stuff and it kind of freaked you out and now you want to make sure that people know the truth about Christianity. Please don’t. Many of us are from Christian backgrounds and, no matter how well-meaning, “You’re just thinking about this wrong! Here’s the right way!” is still the same old “You’re just thinking about this wrong! Here’s the right way!”

    So, please, folks. If you feel compelled to type anything even remotely related to “I do feel compelled to speak in favour of my religion, lest others be turned away from God.” please just refrain from commenting at all.


  16. September 2, 2009 at 8:05 am

    What brought me here to pagandom? To my self identification as a gnostic shamanic wiccan?

    Basic information is in the URL above.

    I was raised Roman Catholic. I’ve always felt drawn to serve the divine, & fully intended to become a Monseigneur when I was young.

    I often found myself praying to Mother Mary in the enclosed garden behind Mary Queen of the Holy Rosary in Lexington, KY. And I often prayed to Mother Mary before Jesus Christ or God.

    There are several things that led me to paganism.
    A) I had a near death experience and Gods voice was a woman’s. It got me questioning my faith: If The Church got God’s gender wrong, what else did they get wrong?
    B) I was too immature to not blame The Church for the hypocricy that I saw within it. (Much too much “Do as I say, not as I do.” regarding family particularly).
    C) The willful ignorance of many Christian practicioners drives me crazy starting with the first Commandment (much less the rest of “The Book”): “I am the Lord thy God: thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” Which tells you two things.
    1) There are other gods.
    2) My Israelite children, it is okay to have & worship other gods, so long as they are secondary to me.
    Very few practicing Christians, that I’ve discussed this with does; can; or will agree with my interpretation of this passage. There’s an intellectual house of cards that fall if my interpretation is correct.
    D) I discovered Shinto appeals to me and that as a way-of-life it is just as valid a moral approach as what I was raised with.
    E) At twenty, I discovered sex and didn’t want to marry The Church anymore.

    I will say that I’ve discovered hypocrites; liars; cheats; theives; users & abusers; and otherwise ‘broken’ people within every faith.
    I’ve come to believe that the divine reveals itsself to every culture in the best way that that culture can understand it, and that that culture (being comprised of mortal men) muddle up the message a little bit. I don’t believe that any particular culture has the whole of “The Truth”, which is why my beliefs are so eclectic.

    I’m gnostic because I feel that there is no substitute for experiencing ‘god’. I just don’t know how to share my experience.
    My morals and ethics are shamanic because I feel that I’m morally required to make the most of my gifts & to use them to the strengthening of my tribe/community/neighborhood.
    & I’m wiccan because when I’m not praying alone in the equivallent of a loin cloth to Mom (i.e. Kentucky, my local variant of Gaia); the Catholic in me loves the social ritual of a group of us trying to reach the same state-of-consciousness & oneness-with-god at the same time. (“Dad”, for me, is The Thunderbird. Like Thor, he protects mankind from supernatural evil, so I don’t pray to him often.) My Wicca is a (Gardnerian) derivation of the Order of the Golden Dawn’s western magical tradition/system that allow one to plug in their own deities. And many, many modern pagans are familiar and comfortable with the wiccanesque ritual format, which is handy.

    Adieu, Adéesse, & Blest be,
    The Kentucky Pagan Forum Moderator
    Lucien D’Cœur
    a.k.a. Jerry M. Chaney II

    “There is no greater Power than Knowledge;
    There is no greater Knowledge than Love;
    & no greater Love than the Empowerment of another.”

  17. Axiomatic
    September 2, 2009 at 8:35 am

    I’m an atheist myself, and one entirely lacking in the “neat story about how I realized the religion I was brought up in made no sense” department. My parents brought me up quite godless, and thus I remain.

    The reason I’m chiming in is to add that I, too, am severely irritated by those who go around calling all gods the same just because they have certain similarities. Their position is as false as it would be if they claimed that because you and I have both at some time in our lives driven a car, and both my car and yours had the same number of wheels and even had windshields that faced the same direction, IT MUST HAVE THEREFORE BEEN THE SAME CAR.

  18. Joy
    September 2, 2009 at 9:36 am

    Aunt B and Unlikely Heathen,
    The local Asatru group that I sometimes hang with, while not explicitly feminist, has very clear non-discrimination language in its governing documents. Their practices also show them to have confidence that the women of the group are every bit as capable and spiritually valuable as the men – so they do exist!

    On a personal level, I like to say that Narnia brought me to paganism – partly because it’s kinda true, and partly because, well, I like imagining ol’ Jack Lewis twisting at the thought. But seriously, my first intentional break with the theology I’d been taught as a child was in 6th grade when one of my friends and I were talking about how we didn’t feel it was very fair for nonbelievers to go to hell – God is just, after all, and beyond that, merciful! So if someone only heard about Christ in a persecuting context or never heard at all, they couldn’t possibly be held responsible – just like in The Last Battle!
    Since that revelation, I pretty much accepted Christianity as the Path I was on, but not the One True Way (even then, I was leaning towards being a soft polytheist, and I couldn’t see Deity being upset because someone honored Dionysus’s sacrifice instead of Christ’s). In college, I began to feel stuck spiritually, and there was no one there to help me figure out how to progress – I knew there had to be more, but I couldn’t find it. But I did find pagan-y friends and the local pagan community. By spending time with them, I not only found the spiritual growth I’d been seeking, but I began to see people who lived their feminism, people who were actively thinking about gender, race and class, and people who didn’t accept the standard relationship structures. So, I guess paganism led me to a conscious feminism, if only by leading me to people who were practicing it.

  19. GrimInamorata
    September 2, 2009 at 9:50 am

    SnowdropExplodes trying to keep people from “turning from God” is highly inappropriate. However, I have to agree that coming from a literary perspective, Wisdom was not intended to be a polytheistic reference in the Bible and just personification of an abstract concept. There are however polytheistic references all over the place in the OT (there are several places where “God” was actually originally “Gods”).

    Christianity for me was actually a place where I fostered my feminism (I was raised Quaker). It just wasn’t for me though. I needed more relatable images of divinity to feel actually close to any religious belief. Paganism could fill this lack of a deity with a personality, and there was definitely more room for my own religious and political expression.

    As a whole though, I actually found Paganism no more feminist than any other religion. The large number of heterosexist ideas in Wiccanism turned me away from it, masculine/feminine dualities are a large part of Wiccanism. There are a Dianic groups which are for “biological women only” which is highly transphobic and disgusting.

    That being said though… every religion has it’s nasty parts. Paganism is highly flexible and allows for a very personalized, self-guided experience. There are times where I have to stop, confront, and rethink some sexism, racism, or cultural appropriation issues I find in Paganism, but due to Paganism’s lack of a fixed system of belief, this sort of questioning isn’t just encouraged, it’s almost mandatory. And that’s what I love about it.

    Also, I heart Hecate…Goddess of liminialities who protects wronged women, had hell-hounds, and her own fringe cults for the frickin’ win.

  20. LSG
    September 2, 2009 at 9:51 am

    Aunt B and Lauren — I’m not pagan, I’m closer to atheism (with a good old dollop of “still figuring it out”), but I also grew up in the Methodist church and reading your post/comments made my heart ache, once again, for that community. I do miss it, very much, but at this point I just can’t believe it. I have no real insights to contribute, but it was painful — and good — to read the words of other women experiencing similar things. Thank you! I look forward to hearing more from you, Aunt B.

  21. September 2, 2009 at 10:42 am

    I was raised in a loosely Roman-Catholic home. I was baptized and did my Communion, but decided it wasn’t for me because it just didn’t speak to me and I had a hard time believing in it. My parents, always supportive, accepted my decision not to continue participating in the church.

    I’m Pagan/Wiccan and a feminist. The two developed together. I pinpoint its beginning to about the seventh grade when I began reading Greek mythology and discovered a whole new way to think about deity and practice ritual. While ancient Greek women didn’t really have much freedom, I was blown away by figures of strong, independent women and representations of women as gods.

    I spent some years trying to figure out if I was hardcore polytheist, archetype polytheist, and so forth. I’ve decided it doesn’t matter much and that, more often than not, what I do is more important than what I believe. Though I recognize similar characteristics, I treat the gods as separate entities.

  22. Melia
    September 2, 2009 at 10:44 am

    I’m not a regular reader. Came over here from the Wild Hunt blog, I believe.

    I was raised Roman Catholic but it never felt right. Mass felt like pageantry. Men could do this that and the other but women couldn’t. The last straw was when planning my outdoor wedding, the Arch-Bishop refused to grant us a dispensation (yeah I thought they went out with the Reformation) to have the wedding off of sanctified grounds (read church grounds) because my husband wasn’t baptized or of the faith (never mind the fact that he readily agreed to have a Catholic ritual to solemnize our marriage). His reason? By forcing us to have our wedding conducted in the church, he felt that they could draw my future husband into the faith (completely ignoring the fact that my future husband found divinity in nature not a building). This had the opposite effect on both of us. We found a non-denominational preacher to wed us at our choice location and a couple of months later I started exploring the Pagan faith, much to my mother’s regret.

    Found out later that the Arch-Bishop was trying for his Cardinal’s cap and so doing everything by “the book”.

  23. Unlikely Heathen
    September 2, 2009 at 11:47 am

    July said, “And the metaphoric lesson there is: put your hand in the wolf’s mouth. You will not get your hand back. But it’s not really lost. It still has meaning. Sacrifice is not meaningless. Loss is not meaningless. Pain is not meaningless. It all has a purpose.”

    This is one of those lessons that I’ve found draws a lot of people to heathenry, and it is one I struggle with because I don’t take the same lessons from the story (an awesome and difficult part of heathenry is that we work with lore, not canon). Sometimes there really is meaningless loss and pain. Sometimes, we will be unable to even create meaning from it, but one should never be afraid to put his or her hand in the wolf’s mouth if it means that the world will be better for it. I draw more from the lesson of conquering the fear of loss–Tyr knew he was going to lose his hand–that would paralyze someone of lesser character. Also, there’s the whole lesson of not putting your abilities on the line unless it’s really important…

    Aunt B, it’s great to meet you, and I recognize the rarity of a feminist heathen. Let me invite you to use my email any time you’d like to talk. I’d love to see where you think that organizations are heading and what you think of their tactics.

  24. Caitlin
    September 2, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    I was an eclectic pagan before I was a feminist. I started dabbling in witchcraft- reading, buying books, trying some spells, etc., but quickly found that I am a lazy witch and mostly content to not meddle beyond the occasional candle spell or protection (which I admit are mostly for my own comfort). This started in 8th grade, when I thought all paganism was Wicca, and that turned me off because I believe the ultimate lifeforce of the universe, Gaia, if you will, is inherently genderless and there was a lot of binary and gender/sex essentialism in what I was reading. I started to identify as a feminist late in high school.

    My thoughts on the matter now are that I believe everything and everyone is a part of that same lifeforce, which also created it all (I mostly refer to it as she). I believe gods and goddesses are simultaneously her children and expressions of herself, as we are, but they’re a lot closer to her. We see the faces we need to see. We named them and gave them power. I used to be strictly Gaia (universe mother goddess) interested but in the past year I’ve been dipping a toe into Hellenic reconstructionism, particularly the Eleusinian Mystery cults of Demeter and Persephone, which started in what I believe was a calling from Hecate. There were so many things in my life that I think in retrospect were a big HELLOOOO, if you will, that I have been slowly easing myself into getting to know her.

  25. nm
    September 2, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    I’m another monotheist here, with a question that I hope isn’t a threadjack or disrespectful of B’s wishes. (And if you decide it’s either, B, please feel free to delete it.) Anyway, it’s this: a number of the pagans here speak of being solitary worshippers, sometimes according to a personal, syncretistic set of beliefs. And I recognize that after millennia of domination and sometimes very active repression by monotheistic groups, there aren’t exactly a lot of congregations for you to choose from. But if you could, would you join such a group? Would that help those of you who miss your birth religious communities? Or, while you miss the social aspect of organized monotheism, have you worked out such uniquely personal belief styles for yourselves that communal worship isn’t something you think about?

  26. Aunt B
    September 2, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    GrimInamorata, that’s an important point. It’s not like you’re less likely to find pagan asshats than you are asshats of any persuasion, just that pagan asshats have a hard time finding wide-spread, systemic reinforcement of their asshattery (asshabidashery?).

    Unlikely Heathen, you hit on something really important, though, too, about the difference between lore and canon, I think. The meaning the stories have isn’t fixed. The person who reads or hears Tyr’s story and takes from it that pain and loss have meaning isn’t wrong, but nor is the person who takes from it that sometimes there is no lesson.

    The thing I appreciate about that story is that he loses his hand and it stays gone and he isn’t diminished. He just doesn’t have a hand. Being raised Christian, there’s so much emphasis on praying for healing and being made whole that I think it does contribute to a feeling of any deviation from “able-bodied” (whatever we mean by that at a particular moment) is a loss, is a state of un-whole-ness and a state of being in need of healing, of being diminished.

    There’s nothing about Tyr being down a hand or Odin being down an eye (kind of, ha, he even refuses to lose body parts in ways that fit easy categorization) that diminishes them. Life’s hard. You don’t always make it to the end intact. Not even the gods do. But that doesn’t mean you’re diminished as a person, that you don’t deserve a place in the community.

    It’s hard for me to talk about without getting a little emotional, but that’s something I take from those stories that’s very, very important to me.

    Unlikely Heathen, I will be emailing you when I have some time to collect my thoughts. Thanks for your kind offer.

    Really, I’m surprised and deeply moved by how much this whole thread has affected me. Thanks to all of you.

  27. Aunt B
    September 2, 2009 at 12:19 pm

    Hurray! NM, I’m glad to see you here. I have to say that, for me, I really relish being able to practice privately. The parts of Christianity I miss are enormous losses for me, that I really do grieve.

    But, keeping in mind that my experience of being raised in parsonages informs this, I relish knowing that no one is going to show up at my house demanding to come in and see if I’m keeping it to the church’s standards. I love that no one is looking at my behavior and then calling my minister to discuss whether it’s important. I don’t have to worry about trying to figure out what I should do when people I have come to love and feel great community with act with great cruelty towards anyone they’ve decided is in the wrong. And I never again have to keep my mouth shut about how people who have wronged me and my family just because we can’t talk bad about other ministers.

    I will miss those folks with my whole heart and I will be relieved to never have to share a room with them again. I don’t think there’s any way to resolve that, at least, nothing I can do.

  28. oldlady
    September 2, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    Aunt B–thank you more than I can say for beginning this dialogue. Rejecting patriarchy has to mean rejecting monotheism.

  29. Bellona
    September 2, 2009 at 12:57 pm

    I have been a solitary pagan for well over thirty five years and I have to say that I came to feminism through being pagan. I learned through my relationship with the Goddess what a liberated women was. It took a long time of personal introspection and relating to Her.
    My religious background was fundamentalist and then Mormon and ironically it was the bishop of our stake that sent me on a quest for something other than god the father.However, I think I was a pagan from when I was very young. In a Sunday school class we were asked where is god. Everyone said up there in a throne with his angels and all. When I was asked, I said in all of us, the animals, trees, even the rocks and grass. I was banished to a corner for my unnatural way of looking at things but I never lost that belief. Another thing was that no matter how hard I prayed to God and Christ I NEVER EVER felt a spiritual connection, not as a fundamentalist and Mormon. But when I found the Goddess it was like coming home, She was there with Her arms wide open and I have never looked back. Now I am at the crone stage of my life and because I had a spiritual role model in Demeter and other mature goddesses when I went through menopause I didn’t see it as a curse but as a natural course of my life. And it didn’t seem to hit me as hard as my Christian counterparts who complained constantly that they were cursed or being punished by their god. I have to admit I never understood their reasoning.
    Goddess bless!

  30. kb
    September 2, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    oldlady-that seems a little quick to dismiss experiences other than yours. There are plenty of non patriarchial monotheists, and many others who don’t belong to a established tradition. that said, I’m respecting the whole “don’t try to argue why people JUST DON’T KNOW” also, I’m pretty heavy polytheist. for me it did come from seeing god as explicitly a woman, not just “in the image of eve” but then always called male. so feminism and religion went together.
    nm-I actually do like community and look for it wherever I can find it (yeay colleges w/ pagan groups), but that doesn’t really attend my faith-I go to public rituals with other people to socialize, but don’t inform my personal belief in gods from that. I try to get into some traditions with a more community oriented focus, but I ether get turned off by some aspect of the people(for groups I have a “genetic link” to or feel like I’m appropriating too much. It’s an issue I’m still working on.

  31. September 2, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    Oldlady, “Rejecting patriarchy has to mean rejecting monotheism.”–to me, that sounds like “only lesbians make good feminists.” Care to elaborate?

  32. Aunt B
    September 2, 2009 at 2:26 pm

    Let’s not, please, turn this into an occasion for monotheism bashing. I know it’s a fine line to walk because people often become pagan because they’re not happy with monotheism, but this has been so awesome so far because people have been respectful, even in the face of ideas that are weird and threatening to them, of different people’s beliefs. And there are ways of saying “Monotheism isn’t for me,” without saying “monotheism sucks for everyone.”

    I don’t want to dissuade fruitful lines of conversation, but please, let’s please be gentle with each other and try to not make sweeping generalizations.


  33. Keldrena
    September 2, 2009 at 3:12 pm

    Eclectic Neo Pagan here. One of the things I find I struggle with in my Paganism is the large amount of racism I’ve been finding. I’m still, but it’s a journey.

  34. September 2, 2009 at 3:46 pm

    I grew up a-theistically (as opposed to atheistically) because my mother had a beef with the Catholic church somewhere around the Vatican II pronouncements. So — no religious training as a youngster. Went to church (Luthern) later with Dad and Step-mom, and honestly? Very little of it resonated with me for very long. By the end of high school I was actively questioning Christianity, and in college I discovered paganism. I am a lazy sot, religiously, though, so have never really dug deeply into the paths of paganism other than reading some really awesome theory.

    My feminism seems to have been innate, although it has been refined over the years. I just never understood (as a kid) why boys and girls might be treated differently, and since my parents never told me I couldn’t do something just because I was a girl, I didn’t internalize that difference. I’m glad I discovered the feminist blogosphere though; it has helped me question beliefs and find out where sexist thinking has seeped into my brain. I deeply regret not having taken more women’s studies classes in college — I may have gotten to be more articulate in defending my (apparently radical) liberal beliefs. ;) Gotta love family….

    At present, I consider myself mostly an agnostic with pagan leanings. :) I try to be respectful of all religions although some of them try my patience sorely, especially with the “separate and not quite equal” treatment that women seem to get in many (most, even), places. (Aaaaannnnd… I just inadvertantly cut a bunch of stuff. Crap.) I find that spirituality is a very private thing for myself, so I’m not sure I’d join a community even if I could find one. and yet I do find myself longing for community in a way.

    So, I’ll just sit over here and try to be respectful, and ask questions that are respectful. I seriously got chills reading the interpretations of the passage on Wisdom and the story of Tyr losing his hand, so maybe the Universal Divine is trying to tell me something today. And now I’ll be quiet, and let the real pagans speak. ;)

  35. oldlady
    September 2, 2009 at 3:47 pm

    Okay. I’ll qualify it: For me, rejecting patriarchy has to mean rejecting monotheism. I don’tmean to step on anyone’s toes–I just happen to believe that’s true. Not a fact; an opinion.

  36. oldlady
    September 2, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    And no, I don’t believe you don’t have to be lesbian to be feminist.

  37. September 2, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    Being raised Christian, there’s so much emphasis on praying for healing and being made whole that I think it does contribute to a feeling of any deviation from “able-bodied” (whatever we mean by that at a particular moment) is a loss, is a state of un-whole-ness and a state of being in need of healing, of being diminished

    In Catholicism, though, there is a whole tradition of saints who are disabled, the disability meant to signal they are transcendent, not of the material/physical world. Also, can be symbolic, as St Lidwina’s was, to illustrate the idea that Christ is crucified (by us) throughout the ages, not just once.. which I think is a specifically Catholic (Cistercian? Damn, I used to know that stuff!) concept.

    Enjoying the thread. I have always loved the pagan traditions salvaged within Catholicism, as well as the syncretic elements like Voodoo/Hoodoo. I also believe basic polytheism is addressed (sublimated?) within Catholicism as worship/prayers to a variety of saints. I have lost my faith in the Trinity and the Church numerous times, but my faith in Mary and the saints is very strong. And I think that’s why; it is very archetypal and basic, the ancestor-connection you describe so well.

    As for patriarchy, as I never tire of saying: I would have liked the chance to be a priest myself… I admire the roles women have in paganism and the equality of the circles (by comparison, anyway). The Church is as patriarchal as the govt (any govt), and its patriarchal structure can be challenged the old fashioned way: Let us in, and let us at the top positions.

    Woman pope in my lifetime? Nah. But maybe for some of you…? (Promise you won’t give up after I’m gone, okay?)

    Great thread, Aunt B.

  38. lowly_adjunct
    September 2, 2009 at 4:14 pm

    Unlikely Heathen:

    I’m another one, heathen by way of children’s literature (big purple book of Norse mythology, which I bet my mother’s sorry she ever gave me), a dissatisfaction with both Catholicism and then Wicca, and a rediscovery of Norse lore in college. I guess if I had to wear a label, it’d be soft Reconstructionist. It’s a very tribal feeling for me, being heathen, like I’m among kin, rather than a worshipper. We’re all family, even if they’re hella more powerful.

  39. Sadie
    September 2, 2009 at 4:22 pm

    I am a pagan/animist (as well as an anarchist and a feminist) and I exist on the edges of the Reclaiming Community in San Francisco (that is to say, I’m not very involved). Reclaiming works for me for a variety of reasons…

    -they are thoughtful and intentional around not engaging in cultural appropriation
    -women and goddesses are central, women are visibly in leadership
    -activism and engaging in work to change the world is integrated into the practice
    -they hold 6 to 8 public rituals each year so I can mark the major holidays, in community, without making a larger commitment than that.

    I was raised by a seeker and so was exposed to a lot of different religions and spiritualities as a kid. which made me rather cynical while also exposing me to the concept that there are many, many different ways to find meaning in the world. As an adult, i cannot grasp the concept of ONE TRUE GOD or really of any single all powerful deity. it doesn’t make sense to me on any level. And I’m an anarchist, too, so the concept of one unaccountable, all powerful authority is just yuck. It feels to me like men (who sought to hold unaccountable power over others) created that god in their own image.

    What I do believe is that the sacred and the divine are all around us, present in the most mundane things (a pebble, a worm, the wind) and the most amazing things (childbirth! ancient redwoods! kindness!). i think I probably believe in Gaia though I’ve not explored that school of thought very much. I am undecided about wether I believe gods and goddesses really exist as entities or if they are just expressions of the sacred divine in different forms. My political and spiritual beliefs are merged in a general concept of all things are sacred and all people divine, and everything (and I do mean everything) is connected; and so, treat the world and the creatures in it accordingly!

    As for feminism…I hold the monotheistic big three religions at least partly if not wholly to blame for the widespread imposition of patriarchy throughout the world. I’m not a pagan as a result of rejecting the monotheisms, and I didn’t reject them because of feminism, but I find the idea that there is only one god and it’s a MAN just silly. I feel like my feminism is not in any way at odds with my paganism, though the two are in someways independent of each other.

    I’ll note, too, that there are times when the gender binaries in the Reclaiming public rituals bug me (the god and the goddess are always called in, but where is the nongendered or multi-gendered diety/entity?), but at the same time there is often space for the fey, who i don’t know very much about but I understand exist outside of that binary.

    a final word is that it is through becoming a parent that I’ve become more actively pagan. not because parenting shifted my understanding of the world, but because I wanted to have a larger framework for my kid to see herself in. it’s one thing to practice as a pagan in isolation, it’s another to raise a child in a marginal spiritual tradition in isolation. And although I didn’t have it as a kid, i can see the appeal of that strong community often offered by churches, and want my kid to know other kids raised as pagans.

    oh…and you know, us pagans would HAVE that community if it wasn’t for the fact that Christianity tortured, killed, and did what they could to eradicate us, and appropriated many of our rituals and traditions into their own story. why do the christians decorate a tree on christmas, eat eggs on easter? LOL.

  40. September 2, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    why do the christians decorate a tree on christmas, eat eggs on easter?

    Did you know Jehovah’s Witnesses won’t? And that’s why they won’t.

    That’s one reason the mainstream religions were so hostile towards them, since they called them out on that.

    Well, and all that knocking on doors…

  41. Sadie
    September 2, 2009 at 5:23 pm

    true story: one of the many religions we spent time with when I was a kid was the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In fact, it’s because of them that my parents got married officially. I can tell you that not celebrating birthdays sucks for a kid!

  42. Sheelzebub
    September 2, 2009 at 6:00 pm

    OK, I’m not a pagan–I’m an atheist who goes to a UU Church. But I have to make two observations:

    1) Aunt B, “The Formal Heathens” would make a SNAZZY band name

    2) WRT to appropriating pagan holidays (and gods/goddesses, what with the Saints) into Christianity–a lot of evengelicals will NOT celebrate Halloween because they say it’s a pagan holiday. They hate it when I point out that the Christmas Tree and Yule Log are pagan symbols.

  43. Marja E
    September 2, 2009 at 6:33 pm


    As a young womon growing up trans, I had a lot of trouble relating to spiritualities, particularly but not only pagan spiritualities, that treat maleness and femaleness as two independent cosmic principles. Because that would mean that I was born dead. I have an easier time relating to spiritualities which treat them as two expressions of an all-gendered being. I just want to say that an understanding which works for one person might alienate another.

  44. September 2, 2009 at 7:14 pm

    Thanks for starting this discussion!

    Another Pagan {animist and polytheist} and probably best described as a Reconstructionist. I am also a keen student and practitioner of Traditional European folk magic, although I do believe that one does not necessarily need to be Pagan or even a theist of any stripe to be one.

    I embraced Feminism and Paganism around the same time, and found that they could certainly be complimentary. At that point {I guess about 15 years ago} I was largely influenced by the ‘Goddess movement’, and although I have changed paths I still feel that my spiritual beliefs match my political ones.


  45. Alexis
    September 2, 2009 at 8:31 pm

    I dig this article! Guess I’m the odd-lady out on this thread, Christian but very sympathetic and interested in pagan practices. I was a practicing Wiccan for three years (Athena) but left it once I hit my anarchist years. At any rate, it’s cool to see someone openly talking about tarot. The females in my family have been blessed (well, the fundie ones wouldn’t think so) with divination gifts for several generations, but it’s difficult to talk about such things with people, least you get called “crazy” or “flakey” by not-so-sympathetic people.

  46. oldlady
    September 2, 2009 at 8:42 pm

    Just me again, saying again how much this discussion has meant to me–sixty years ago to actually say out loud that one was a pagan or polytheist (especially in Texas) would have brought down the wrath of the universe.

    But hey, look around–we all come from the same source. I mean, once this planet was a big spinning hot glob, but look what came out of it–rocks, mountains, seas, rivers, lakes, and critters–including those that stand up on two legs. So–that means we all came from the same thing, we’re all part of creation, and we’re all holy –the mountains, the rivers, the animals, and us.

  47. Aunt B
    September 2, 2009 at 8:56 pm

    Marja E, that’s definitely been an unfortunate trend in some traditions, to view male and female as completely distinct energies and to place such high value on that arrangement that valuable members (and potential members) of the community are alienated.

    Alexis, it’s funny. I read tarot, even when I was Christian. My great grandma on one side read palms and my great grandmother on the other side read tea leaves. Never, in all my life, did I hear anyone in my family claim that divination was anti-Christian. Getting too caught up in it? Sure. But developing it as a skill? How could that be? It was just something a person did.

    Imagine my surprise when I learned that it was “occult”!

  48. Emma
    September 2, 2009 at 9:50 pm

    I’m an atheist who’d be a pagan if I could believe in it. I like paganism, (especially animism and the norse gods) as far as I understand it. The concept- this crazy quilt of gods and ancestors and spirits and forces, real and complex and as interesting as anything I can imagine- god, I want to believe in that. (No pun intended.) I like how the universe looks from that perspective. I like the deities, and some of them seem like the sort of people I’d want to know. I’d love to have a religious tradition like that, a community I could belong to, a religious experience that didn’t ring false.

    The thing is, in my heart of hearts, I don’t believe it’s true. Truthfully, I don’t think I could believe in anything as much as any religion requires. I can believe in the existence in the ground beneath my feet, the air I breath, the sky above me- this and nothing more. Just what I see, and feel, and observe. And, for better or worse, I’ve never observed anything that’s made me think divinity is possible. So I don’t believe. I’m not wired for it, I guess. I wish I was, sometimes.

    My feminism springs from the source as my atheism, though- the same skepticism that lead me to reject religion. Why is something this way? What causes us to think that? Is there evidence?
    So, in a way, I traded the possibility of having a religion for the possibility of equality. Despite the bittersweet nature of my atheism, I wouldn’t give that for anything.

  49. September 2, 2009 at 10:07 pm

    I’ve identified as Pagan since I was a young teenager. While I was never actually raised to be christian, most of my family members were and are christian. I rejected the religion out-of-hand before I could even actually articulate my problem with the religion. Somehow even as a very young child I recognized that the religion was very much a source of all that I felt was instinctively wrong with the world.

    Aside from my rejection of christianity, my becoming Pagan was something that just sorta happened. As cliche as it might sound, I simply felt led to honor the Goddess. Hecate seems to be my chosen diety, although in all honesty it has been too long since I have convened with her.

    My feminism and Paganism have been very much interrelated, but I feel sure that even if I hadn’t been drawn to the Goddess that I would still be very much and very adamantly a feminist.

    “I’m a Christian, but don’t worry: I’m not going to try to convert you! That said, I do feel compelled to speak in favour of my religion, lest others be turned away from God.”

    Psst….Snowdropexplodes, I think you may already be too late to the party on that one. Just a hunch. One other thing: That type of attitude is exactly the reason so many people are “turned away from god”. If your religion is all it’s cracked up to be, people will not need to be reminded of it.

  50. September 2, 2009 at 10:11 pm

    “The thing is, in my heart of hearts, I don’t believe it’s true.”

    The great thing about Paganism is that you don’t necessarily have to believe that its true. Paganism for many people is more symbolic than anything else. When I call on Hecate, for instance, I don’t believe that Hecate as I picture her actually exists. She is just a source of inspiration for me and how I envision the power of the Universe…for lack of a better explanation. It’s also possible to be an atheist and still draw on the symbolic power of Goddess imagery….

  51. michelle
    September 2, 2009 at 10:15 pm

    I’ve been a practicing, garden variety pagan for over 20 years now. I was raised Catholic and like so many others, it didn’t quite fit. It wasn’t logical. If God is a loving God then why did he have to knock up a teen-age virgin and then kill that kid to save everyone? There was never a good answer.

    I also got tired of feeling second class. I was good enough to do the work of the church but not good enough to lead worship. Um, no. Bye.

    I did take some of the Church’s teachings to heart. A lot of what Jesus said about loving thy neighbor and being good to each other and not judging each other is good stuff. And Judith, with her beheading of Holofernes! Totally kick butt! ;-p

    So, when I got to college, I met some like minded peeps and started reading and chatting and doing a bit of divination (tarot mostly) and protection spells, and eventually settled on solitary pagan with celtic overtones (my heritage is Scots/Irish/English) but of no fixed system.

    In my reading I realized that the basic message of a lot of our world’s religions was, “Be good to each other”. If they were all saying the same basic thing, why couldn’t they all be right? so I opted for paganism because it let me believe that painlessly. I didn’t have to hate anyone because I disagreed with them. I wouldn’t be called to kill anyone because they thought differently. I liked that a lot.

    I see the Divine as Whatever It Wants To Be. I envision Her as the Greek Fates (Clothos, Lachesis, and Atropos) because I am a fiber artist (I spin, weave, knit, crochet, sew, embroider, etc.) and have been from the time I was tiny and I believe that Fate plays a strong part in everyone’s life and I’ve seen Her Work in my life.

    I see the Divine as female because I am. It makes it easier for me to connect to Her. The Divine can also be male or both or Neither. It’s the Divine; It can do what It wants to. I’m just a peon trying to muddle my way through. ;-p

    I’ve also felt most connected to the Divine outside, in Nature. Visiting Niagra Falls was a spiritual experience for me. I was awed to tears at the power of Nature. Gardening, pulling weeds, planting seeds, is part of how I celebrate being pagan. Some years I celebrate more than others.

    I’m forgetful about the other bits. I don’t pay that close attention to the moon. I notice it when it’s up and know about what phase it’s at, sometimes. And the quarter and cross quarter days often surprise me. I figure the Divine knows what’s in my heart, by my actions, doing rituals on specific days are important only if you need them to be.

    I always try to live my beliefs though. I live by two rules. “An it harm none, do what thou wilt.” and the idea that you get back what you put out. I try really hard to think about how my actions will affect those around me and try to do the things that are best for all involved. It doesn’t mean that I ignore what might happen to me but I know what my limits are and how much I can deal with. and I’m willing to put myself out if it means someone else will be more comfortable.

    Oh, and I was a feminist way before I was a pagan. I couldn’t believe the line I got about women in church, so when I found something that treated women way better, it wasn’t hard to leave.

    I don’t really miss my church community that much. I’ve got lots of friends and family and most aren’t religious enough for my paganism to be an issue. My in-laws even know I’m a pagan.

    Thanks for giving us a space to chat about this!


  52. Ruchama
    September 2, 2009 at 11:17 pm

    Very interesting discussion. I hadn’t realized there were so many different perspectives on this.

    The stuff about divination kind of reminded me — my mother really doesn’t like psychics or tarot or anything like that. She’s never exactly said that it’s un-Jewish, but that’s it’s messing with things that we shouldn’t mess with. We were allowed a Ouija board, but we had to assure her that we were just playing, and weren’t actually trying to contact the spirit world.

    But, on the other hand, my sister can, after talking to a pregnant woman for about five minutes, say whether the baby will be a boy or a girl. She’s been doing this since she was a toddler, has predicted at least 30 babies, and, as far as anyone can remember, she’s always been right. She has no idea how she does it — she just sits and thinks and either “boy” or “girl” comes into her head. And my mom never put this into the same category as psychics or tarot — she’d actually brag about it, and when a pregnant friend was visiting, she’d call my sister into the room to show it off.

  53. Emburii
    September 2, 2009 at 11:54 pm

    I don’t know how I would classify myself. I swear by the Bright Lady and the Horned God, but in the end I think of them as facets of the Universe and not absolute boundaries or discrete entities. I’d like to practice, but I feel uncomfortable with the rigid dimporphism and sexism that seem to pervade some pagan traditions, even some practices of Wicca. The Mother is nurturing, but does this mean a Father cannot be? And is the only significance for women to be the vehicle for new life, then, or accepting that as our ‘role’ in life, given the entire emphasis on a Goddess’s role as Mother in many religions? And what does this mean for transgender folks, doesn’t such a rigid set-up exclude them by mapping deities and divine principles to such strict human-centric roles that are demonstrated in nature to be more fluid? Even the Bright Lady can wield a sword, and even the Horned God knows mercy, and when they overlap it seems silly to insist that they are just ‘he’ and ‘she’. In the end I see them as guides to the meeting place between nature and intelligence, beings that I wish to evoke pride in by compassion and hope rather than strict adherence of some Way Things Should Be, and I worry that trying to find other people to practice with will force that meeting point into some formalized mockery of all I hold divine in intelligence, questing, and equal footing.

  54. Cynthia
    September 3, 2009 at 12:41 am

    Feminism came first; Paganism wasn’t too far behind. I don’t follow any strict religion, but I adore crystal magic, Tarot, and the richness of myth and belief from many cultures. I was raised Baptist in Georgia and because of a heavy dose of childhood depression, I was an all-out fanatic. I would bring my Bible to school and preach at the other children! No wonder I didn’t have many friends. In high school I started to perceive the differences in how men and women were treated and recognize how my own mental illness wrapped up in my religion – feelings of failure, of worthlessness, etc. In college I met my now-husband and all he really had to do was ask questions that I’d never had the courage to ask and suddenly my worldview changed in a major way. Paganism was a way for all of my other beliefs to fit together and I dove right in. I happily befriended other blossoming Pagans and did a lot of soul-sharing. Unfortunately for me, those other Pagans that I befriended, and most of the ones since that I’ve been close to, ended up being very unhealthy people. I was very hurt and felt very betrayed by the majority of Pagans that I got close to. Now I’m very reticent about discussing any of my beliefs in public. It isn’t fear of the Christians so much as it is fear of repeating my mistakes. So I’m feminist, Pagan…and very lonely :( I miss the community of a religion I no longer believe in and the community of madness that almost tore me apart.

  55. Atheling
    September 3, 2009 at 7:01 am

    Long-time lurker coming out of the woodwork here, just because this thread is utterly fascinating. Thanks, Aunt B :)

    I’m British and was raised URC (United Reformed Church, not sure if it exists in the US) which is a small and very liberal nonconformist church. I drifted gradually away from actual belief whilst still recognising the moral value of Christ’s precepts and the social value of the church organisation. Since moving away to university I’ve never been to church (unless you count the non-denominational, uni-wide carol services, which I go to because I like carols).

    I’m also a literature student whose particular field of excessive geekery is medieval literature, and I’ve loved the legends of the Norse and Greco-Roman gods since I was yea-high (thanks to a big book of myths probably much like lowly_adjunct‘s). I may not believe in them, but I feel I could respect them if it turned out they were real, which is most definitely not the case with the God of the Old Testament. (For what it’s worth, my current attitude to Christ is that he was probably a real person whose teachings the New Testament preserves, but no more.)

    Which brings me to this comment:

    I’m still surprised that I love heathenry as much as I do, that I could love imperfect gods more than one perfect God.Unlikely Heathen

    I honestly think this is one reason why I love Norse theology/lore so much. It makes sense. Q: Why is there evil in the world? A: Because some of these almighty powers are malicious, limited, or incompetent. And is that so bad? I can respect the flaws of the flawed, but not the failings of the self-proclaimedly omnipotent. I’m not entirely sure how much sense that makes, but hopefully some semblance of a point emerges . . .

    Personally my favourite is Loki. As a shapechanger he’s spent time male and female, human and animal – he could be anyone; as the personification of chaotic intelligence, he speaks for the genius and the monster in all of us. I think if I believed in anyone I’d believe in him.

  56. Aunt B
    September 3, 2009 at 8:17 am

    Atheling, I think it goes even farther than “there’s evil because the gods are flawed.” I think it’s just there’s evil because luck can be bad or good, it’s just one of the ways the universe works. I don’t think it’s a trickle down thing–because the gods are fucked up, the world is fucked up (to be crude). I think it’s more like gods and people alike have the capacity for great good and great evil.

    There is a lot of weird gender stuff in paganism, though I must say I think it’s because we humans are weird about gender. I see that in heathenism in its various strains. It’s not at all surprising to see the “I am a manly man and this is my wife, who is tough, but a real woman!” with all the bullshit we all know that entails.

    And they do that even as they honor gods who blithely walk all over gender norms (“Oh, you’re back? Um, I married your brothers, yes both of them, while you were gone.” for instance.).

    If you want a pagan belief system with a set tradition and an established magical path, you are going to encounter a lot of gender binarism. If having a set tradition is not that important to you and if you don’t need the rigors of a formal magical system, you can bypass a lot of that stuff.

    I think, though, that we’re hitting up against a big difference between what we might call the neo-pagans and the reconstructionists. For people who practice Wicca and heavily-influenced-by-Wicca systems, theology is important (I think, though I’m not Wiccan, so Wiccans, please feel free to tell me I’m talking out my ass).

    For folks in my camp (mostly), there is no one book, there is no one collection of spells and charms, there is no one right version of a story. It kind of doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are working to be in right relation with the world(s) (and I’m doing a bad job of talking about this, but I hope it comes across).

  57. kb
    September 3, 2009 at 10:18 am

    Aunt B, I actually have had a really different experience than the last paragraph. . . that’s kinda been my issue trying to really belong with reconstructionist groups-no, they might fully admit that we don’t know the one right theological practice, and which one is right depends on who you’re talking to, talking about-all norse? not the same practice. but there did still seem to be more pressure on belief that a lot of wiccans. . . you had to believe as the community did, even if communities could believe different from each other. You had to believe it outside in your life, not just inside. it was described as “a culture, or a way of life, not a religion” in multiple cases to me. Which may work for lots of people. but I always felt pressured.

  58. Aunt B
    September 3, 2009 at 10:38 am

    Kb, no, you know, you’re right. I believe what I wrote in my last paragraph to be true and I gravitate to other heathens who believe things along those lines, precisely in direct reaction to the nonsense of that “the whole group believes exactly the same thing.” I actively avoid those folks.

    I, too, tend to think of it as more a way of life than a religion, but what I mean by that and what the clannish folks mean by that are two very different things.

    I’m going to admit that such an approach seems so contrary what makes sense in the world, often borders on cultish, and always seems to devolve into discussions about whether non-white people can be aligned with the Northern European gods, and I find that discussion to be so painfully stupid that I can’t stand it. It’s along the line of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin for me. It’s about establishing rules and human order (and human evil) on what is at heart a wild and natural thing.

    And don’t even get me started on the hostility towards magic and oracular traditions you sometimes find.

    Just a sore spot of mine and I was clearly glossing over it without realizing it.

  59. Level Best
    September 3, 2009 at 11:44 am

    Aunt B, a fellow Tennessean and spiritual seeker, here. I love Tiny Cat Pants, and your posts at Feministe have been wonderful! I really like this statement from michelle: I see the Divine as Whatever It Wants To Be. I have been protected and have had my prayers answered many times. I feel like the great majority of established religions actually are being quite nervy and presumptuous in trying to limit and define what God is and who can represent God. I believe in the Divine and know there is a relationship between the Divine, me, and many people close to me. I feel closest to the Divine when I am in natural surroundings, when I am interacting with animals, when I am witnessing or committing or receiving kindnesses, and when I am with those who are passing on beyond this world. I deeply believe hierarchies, “power over,” and doing things which harm living things are wrong. I know all of this sounds vague, but in my older years I increasingly feel I can only say what I experience and have experienced and not try to limit my faith by cramming it into a pre-existing niche or definition. Thank you all for your thoughts and descriptions!

  60. Unlikely Heathen
    September 3, 2009 at 11:55 am

    Aunt B, I am so glad you posted this. You’re not the only person who has been improved by this conversation. It’s encouraging to discover that I’m not mostly alone (Hi, Atheling and Adjunct!). Really, I only know about half a dozen people in the US who I can talk to. The closest (aside from family) is eight hours away.

    It’s nice to read what you wrote about making it to the end intact:

    There’s nothing about Tyr being down a hand or Odin being down an eye (kind of, ha, he even refuses to lose body parts in ways that fit easy categorization) that diminishes them. Life’s hard. You don’t always make it to the end intact. Not even the gods do. But that doesn’t mean you’re diminished as a person, that you don’t deserve a place in the community.

    I needed that.


    Never, in all my life, did I hear anyone in my family claim that divination was anti-Christian.

    I’ve spent a little time studying Ozark and Appalachian folk magic and lore, and this is common. It certainly was my experience that most divination or oracular practice fell under a Christian handwave citing Joel 2:28/Acts 2:17, but the family traditions I grew up with seemed a lot, um, fluffier, than what I got out of it.

  61. Aunt B
    September 3, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    Yeah, I wonder if there’s not a distinction being made between “beneficial things everyone could do” and “potentially harmful things that not everyone could do.” So, reading tea leaves or watching the patterns of birds is something everyone could do, even a little magic might be okay if it seemed like something available to everyone. But it’s the hidden stuff that’s able to be used to harm that falls outside of Christian behavior? I’m going to have to think some on that.

    I know that there are Christian pow wow doctors and hoodoo practitioners who will incorporate the recitation or writing of Bible verses down and their religious dedication would never come into question in their own communities. Their power, obviously, comes from God.

    So, clearly, there’s some room for that kind of Work if it works, even among American Christians even if it’s not exactly acknowledged.

  62. September 3, 2009 at 12:25 pm

    Eh, I had multiple folks growing up refuse to let me read their cards because it was “black magic” or “un-Christian.” Mom once offered a book about Bhuddism to a friend who said that reading it might be blasphemous, so no thanks. A Wicca group at school had the principal tear down their posters from the halls, etc, etc.

    But it was a very specific time and a very specific moment–they were all about banning the HP books at my school, if that gives you an idea.

    I’m no longer anything resembling “pagan” (I actually have issues with the word), grew up a weird mix of pagan/Bhuddist/lapsed Catholic/Scientologist.

  63. Level Best
    September 3, 2009 at 1:31 pm

    “So, clearly, there’s some room for that kind of Work if it works, even among American Christians even if it’s not exactly acknowledged.”–Aunt B.

    I think you’ve nailed it again. My mom always knew when a close friend of mine would come over (the friend had no phone–poor grad student), once sensed when a car was about to come head-on at me in a one-lane tertiary road well out of her sight (and prayed, and a big German Shepard walked in front of my car and stared down the blind hill I was approaching until I swerved into a yard)–in short, had many episodes of “knowing.” And she was from the Appalachians, and had attended Baptist and later Methodist churches and didn’t really give her second sight much thought. I think this sort of thing is common but kept off the books, so to say.

  64. roro
    September 3, 2009 at 4:39 pm

    Wow…who knew there were so many pagans here? This is a wonderful conversation.

    I was born to an atheist father and a neo-spiritual mother, and both were master hypnotists. I wouldn’t say that I’ve been a pagan my whole life, but I definitely remember drawing my family with different auras over their heads, and talking with my little sister about our “last lives”, and learning to read palms and tarot and perform hypnosis — all when I was very young. I’m a math nerd and an engineer, and for a while I was full-blown atheist, kind of a worshipper of science and math, but that got boring and lonely. I took up paganism as a more formal study soon after going to college. I was a a fairly skilled witch for a while (although I never really chose a particular pantheon), and I loved divination of many different sorts, but just like Caitlin says above, I was a lazy witch. I still hold with the religious beliefs and do little altars for Halloween, but I’m definitely not “active” any more.

    As for my feminism, I guess I was always a feminist, too, although I didn’t have a word for it until recently.

  65. Kerry
    September 3, 2009 at 5:11 pm

    Great little article, I’ve really enjoyed it and the comments following.

    I was raised by a mother who was basically Episcopalian (if you asked her) but brought me up with Mother Nature and the belief that women and men were “different” (in regards to plumbing, reproduction, etc.) but equal in everything else. I was a feminist and pagan from the beginning, I guess. *smiles* The beauty of a 60s baby being raised in the 70s…

    I tried hard a few times to go with the flow and fit into Christianity, but it just did not work – and it wasn’t because I didn’t put any effort into it either. LOL I tried Wicca because I loved the obviousness of the duality of Goddess/God, Mother/Father, etc. but have ended up as just a plain old neo-Pagan in the end due to my dislike of some of Wicca’s founding fathers’ beliefs.

    So, for me, the “what came first” question is like the chicken and the egg and it doesn’t matter in the end…

  66. Angiportus, Afficionado of Liquid Garnets
    September 3, 2009 at 8:20 pm

    Left Hand Path agnostic, here. That means simply less subservient to whatever mysterious powers exist, than in some other traditions. Looking up to them as older relatives/teachers who could perhaps learn from me too–which means that I am setting an example for them, which is quite a responsibility. But then again, I’m officially an agnostic… What forces I sort-of-believe-in are nameless and sexless ones of my own discovery.
    Started out being raised by parents who took me to this church to listen to some old dude drone on and on, and made me say verses to this vaguely spooky uber-principal up there at bedtime. When father was replaced by stepfather, no more church, but now I was praying to that god to forgive me for being more interested in things than people, for feeling the way I did about shapes and so on, in short, for existing. Long story short, at 12 I read a passage in some story about an atheist and for the 1st time made the connection tween the oppression I felt as an oddball and the wider theme of pleasure, fun, pride, etc. being sinful, clear down to “everything that tastes good is bad for you.” Something burst, and I feared that sky-boogeyman no more. When I announced this to parents, they didn’t seem to give a crap. Not for years did I realize that they were not believers and had put that stuff in my head just to make me fit in (it never worked, anyway.) I have since called them to account, and Dad at least had the spine to say that books then didn’t say how to raise freethinking kids.
    I discovered the Satanic Bible, but it sounded kind of hokey. I looked into books on witchcraft and so on but they didn’t appeal either. I wasn’t comfy with humanoid nature-deities that ruled a cruel natural world and must be as negligent and uncaring as the father-figure that didn’t grant so many of my early prayers. Gender roles, and any sort of sex, were always alien and offputting to me, and lastly I didn’t need to hear from one more corner that the structures, technologies and ideas I loved were somehow less holy or powerful or legitimate than what nature came up with. I built my own path over the decades, nameless and unknown but fitting me like the shore fits the water.
    But I learned a mighty lot from the Wiccans, Heathens, Setians and Chaotes I read, and for that reason alone rejoice in seeing them flourish and prevail against those who would crush them. Oh, yes, I’ve benefitted from knowing some Christians also…the ones who respect me. I guess there are many true paths…each to their own, and I am glad I had the chance to find mine on my own.
    Feminist? Gender [and genderless] equality? Always. Good discussion here, thanks for letting me in.

  67. September 3, 2009 at 8:46 pm

    First, I want to say how excited my partner and I are to see a guest blogger from Nashville writing on Feministe. N-ville represent!

    I’m a pagan because I’m a incarnation of Pan on Earth. I’ve faith in the fabric of things. And the vibration of dawn (my orgasms) make thereof.

    I’m also a communist and dadaist. All these things lead me to conclude monotheism has a negative effect on society.

    I too come from a Methodist family.

    Don Van Vliet: Please god fuck my mind for good.
    John Balance: In the distance, a cathedral in flames

  68. Ian
    September 4, 2009 at 12:40 pm

    “So, clearly, there’s some room for that kind of Work if it works, even among American Christians even if it’s not exactly acknowledged.”

    That no man’s land where things are recognized but not acknowledged! It’s one of those little compromises that I just wish could be overcome more often by all kinds of religious folks.

    It just feels like there is room for a healthy dialogue (even if not agreement) between Christians and pagans around this. Maybe we could even get past the ‘occult’ fear lingo more often and start talking about spiritual health, of individuals and communities, about the shared spiritual world we occupy a little more?

    It’s encouraging to see just this little bit of that discussion happening here.

  69. Cynthia
    September 4, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    (not the same as the other Cynthia who posted above)

    I’m another feminist heathen. I was raised as a secular humanist/uu and then was drawn to eclectic neo-paganism ( Starhawkian Wicca – I never was comfortable with what I read of the more formal Wiccan traditions.) Out of that I started looking for just a more coherent tradition and a more concrete connection to the past. I love the emphasis on poetry in the Norse/Germanic /Anglo-Saxon tradition. I also love that the stories aren’t obvious -they leave alot of room to reach for meaning and context.

    I love the post & the discussion – thanks.

  70. Ravenwyles
    September 5, 2009 at 10:39 pm

    Like many people above, I don’t fit neatly in any one group’s box. Maybe that is the natural result of being in America. We’re all such a diverse mixture within ourselves and among each other that (if you believe in ancestral memory and the collective unconscious) I think it would be hard for most of us to define ourselves. What I appreciate most about the pagan people I’ve known is their acceptance of others, regardless of their particular belief systems. I haven’t found that to be true of many mainstream religions.

  71. September 6, 2009 at 8:21 am

    In answer to your question… feminism and religious beliefs are totally intermixed.

    Someone asked where are all the Pagan feminists? I ask the same question because I was called by the Goddess as a young child and today I live my Feminism and Goddess beliefs together having re-established an ancient Goddess tradition, the Cybeline revival. We have a brick and mortar location in the Catskills of upstate NY, have a Women’s Spirituality centre that is also the convent home of our Priestesses and teach a theology that is essentially that the Divine is within us all and all around us.

    So where are all the Pagan Feminists? You can read some about us at We’ve been waiting for spiritual oriented women to join us in communal spiritual living with a charitable outreach and our organizational model is totally horizontal (a true consensus model). Unlike the Dianics, we are trans-positive.

  72. karak
    September 14, 2009 at 3:31 am

    I am a Pagan. I call myelf a Celtic Pagan, and I worship Morrigan, the goddess of war, who has three faces.

    I began to turn away from Christianity because I never believed that Jesus Christ was god clothed in human flesh, and only by believing in him could we attain eternal life.

    And then a lot of the hypocrisy, sexism, and blatant lies and bullshitting of practiced American Christianity started to bother me, especially as I became more and more of a feminist. And then I met a friend who was already a Pagan and he “converted” me to a faith that could hold all my beliefs.

    American Christianity is either hyper-aggressive or very passive, but it has this idea that there is a plan, and things happen for a reason, and that believers are special and will be rewarded. I don’t believe that. I believe that life is suffering, an unceasing eternal war. That good things and rewards in life are pure chance, and have nothing really to do with your own efforts. I worship a somewhat hopeless Goddess, because when everything is meaningless, nothing I do is wrong as long as I keep fighting and never lay down my sword. I’ve taken this approach with me into feminism– I have no hope of a truly post-feminist or post-racial or post-whatever war. The important thing is fighting for it.

    I worship a Goddess of War and Death because I truly believe that those are the only constants in life. She offers no false promises of eternal peace or hope or justice–those things don’t really exist, and they can’t exist. But since life is a war, I can fight for whatever I want, and that’s where I choose to stand my ground.

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