Leaving the Fold

Teo Bishop, author at Bishop in the Grove and occasionally at the Wild Hunt, has had a profound spiritual revelation.

This year at Samhain I’m coming to terms with the realization that Paganism, itself, does not serve me in the way that I thought it did. Stranger even, I’m feeling pulled back to the Episcopal Church, to the God of Christianity, and to Jesus.

The timing of this couldn’t be more disruptive and inconvenient.

It would have been easier if this hadn’t happened; if I could have gone on to build a name and reputation as a writer and thinker in the Pagan community. It would be easier if I could savor in the experience of being on the cover of a Pagan magazine for the first time, rather than looking at it and thinking, “Oh, print… if you could only move as fast as we all evolve.” It would be easier if I didn’t have to try and navigate and negotiate my language around all of this. I don’t like offending people, and I anticipate that there will be plenty of people who will feel (if they don’t already) betrayed by this change of course.

But an authentic spiritual life is rarely, if ever, easy.

Answering the call of a God is not supposed to be convenient. When I felt touched by the Morrigan I had no idea the kind of disruption that would be forthcoming in my personal life. It was a serious rough patch. I wasn’t called into her service as some of my other friends have been, but she certainly made a mark on me.

And this feels even more encompassing than that ritual awakening at Pantheacon. This is even more immediate and intimate, albeit a little less war-like. Simply put, I’m feeling called back to the worship of God in Christ, and I can’t deny it even if I wanted to.

This is a difficult transition for one in the public eye to make. Teo is brave to make it and be honest about it.

*

When I was in college, there was a girl who participated in the campus pagan group. She was very active in the group, and very comfortable in her Kemetic-influenced paganism. She rejected her native Judaism emphatically while among other pagans, but kept up appearances and participated culturally in Jewish traditions, despite her revulsion for them.

She was very deeply entrenched in the broom closet, and made no pretense of ever coming out. Her dream, you see, was politics — the only thing she was more passionate about than her paganism was her political activities. But she aspired to power, and was utterly convinced that even a liberal Democrat could not hope to win an election if openly pagan. So she wore a cloak of proud Judaism and pursued her politics.

I haven’t spoken to her in many years. She is very active in political and Jewish circles. I have no idea if her newfound enthusiasm for Judaism is genuine on her part, and if she has turned away from her pagan path, or if she practices in secret and wear her Judaism as a mask for political gain.

Teo could have easily blunder along the pagan path. He could have kept up appearances and profited off his status in the pagan community. He could have pontificated at us and hidden his spiritual inclinations. He could have avoided the criticism levied at him.
But he was honest and open. He took the more difficult path. And that doesn’t surprise me: people who write about their intimate spiritual experiences and understandings aren’t often prone to misrepresent themselves. (Mea culpa – I misrepresent myself all the damn time. But it’s artistic license!)
But as someone who essentially shares some of my most intimate thoughts, feelings, and experiences in the hopes that it will provide the right kind of insight to help someone else who is going through something similar, I have nothing but the utmost respect for Teo’s decision to write about this experience. And to continue to keep writing.
Because guess what? Other pagans are going through this. This can help them.
*
There’s been some puttering on the Paganosphere about Teo’s baptism. Apparently, there are a lot of Pagans out there that are not happy with this declaration of apostasy. Except we’re Pagans. We don’t really have apostasy, do we?
We’re worried, I suppose, that we’ve lost a potential icon, a minor celebrity. Because apparently that’s really important to have, for reasons.
I don’t think it’s such a big deal really. Here’s this guy and he’s having some spiritual realizations which are causing him to move toward what he feels called to. We all have them. I think the only reason this is a big deal is because Teo has a bit of fame (outside of being Pagan) and so people are upset because this person who has a bit of fame might suddenly not be Pagan anymore. Let’s ask the honest and tough question everyone seems to be avoiding: Would you really care so much about Teo’s conversion if he didn’t have some fame attached? I know that must make me sound terribly, terribly cynical, but really, why are people getting so bent out of shape because someone shares that he’s going through a spiritual change?
There have been cries that this will negatively affect the Pagan Community, whatever that may be. Apparently Teo had some obligation to his readers to align his spirituality to theirs. Odd that he did not cater his Druidry to my Roman sensibilities. His readers ultimately have two options: stop reading his work and find someone else, or continue to read of his spiritual struggles and insights and gain from that. I will do the latter.
And yes, anyone who is hurt, upset or sad because there was a public figure who happened to decide that they no longer felt that they belonged on a ‘pagan’ path is a butthurt bitch. Being sad that someone is doing what they need to do for their own growth is sad. You can’t force someone to stay on the pagan path if they don’t feel they belong there anymore, end of story, and as much as you may feel the need to claim that it directly impacts the community, it doesn’t.
I wonder if we’re worried that Teo’s decision makes the rest of us look bad. Like he came and sampled what we had to offer, and went back to what he had before. It’s like someone leaving you to get back with their ex. It’s not them, it’s us. What have we done wrong?
After all, aren’t we waging a battle against Xtianity? Our converts have to come from somewhere! We lost another one to Jesus! Tighten the ranks, we’re taking casualties!
Let’s ignore the fact that people leave Pagan religions and traditions plenty of times. I’ve done it several times myself. We don’t care as long as their new path is also Pagan. I guess the numbers even out that way.
Dumbs it down barney style.

If an individual says, I don’t feel like Wicca is right for me anymore, I think I’m going to pursue Celtic Reconstructionism, Traditional Witchcraft, Norse Heathenism, etc….

NO ONE BATS AN EYE

The same individual says, I don’t feel that ____________ (insert pagan path here) is right for me, and I’ve been feeling a strong pull to Christianity

THE COMMUNITY AT LARGE SHITS BRICKS

— La La, again.
*
I’ve talked a little bit about “Christo-Paganism” on Tumblr. I don’t think you can be Christian and Pagan at the same time. That’s not my call — that is according to how Christianity defines itself.
Now I think you can be Pagan and worship Christian deities. And I think you can be Christian and do magic and witchcraft and follow folk traditions and talk to spirits and other “Paganish” stuff. But that equates Paganism with magic, and Paganism isn’t just about magic. And a lot of the old “Pagan” traditions have been absorbed by Christianity. A lot of Classical Pagan philosophy underlies Christianity.
So when I say “Christo-Paganism” isn’t a thing, understand I’m quibbling over terminology. The overlap is certainly there.
And let us not forget, the Pagan Community is but a subset of a larger community, the New Age/Metaphysical Community. And most of this community is nominally Christian, and a lot of them are okay with Pagans and do a lot of things Pagans so.
I refuse to close with “I wish you well” sentiments because this is not a farewell. Your path might lead you into new communities and you might write on different platforms. But if I were forced to create circles of “us” and “them” I would not base them on religious labels. I would base them on values. And as much as you value integrity, honesty, compassion, and love for deity, I can’t help but think we’ll be in the same tribe no matter what religious paths we travel.
The shift from New Age Progressive Mystic Pagan to New Age Progressive Mystic Christian is not a big one. In looking over Teo’s blog, I don’t see a major difference in his spirituality beyond what emanation of the divine he feels called to. That’s not to say there won’t be a big shift coming up, but for now I haven’t noticed it.
Think of how different Hellenismos and Wicca are, and compare that to Teo’s writing.
What I’m getting at is that it’s useless to fret over Teo “leaving the fold.” He’s still in the fold. He’s just in a part of the fold with a slightly different weave.
There’s no betrayal when someone leaves the Pagan fold. We don’t renounce any gods before stepping onto the path and don’t pledge eternal loyalty to any gods when we step on it
The bottom line is this: if you found Teo’s insights on spirituality impactful and significant (as I did), what makes you think that suddenly they’re no applicable? That they’re not just as significant? That they’re no longer helpful?
And that the sharing of his journey is no longer important for us as Pagans, because he’s switched deities and labels?
Please not that Bishop In the Grove is present in the blogroll to the right. It will remain there.
And here’s not much to say on the matter.
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3 responses to “Leaving the Fold

  1. Pingback: Leaving the Fold | Practical Pagans

  2. I’ve considered myself a ‘secular’ Pagan for many years now, so his returning to his roots is not an insult or betrayal to me. Instead, I see it as another stage of his own personal Path, even a bridging between the meta-commonality of immanent deity that our beliefs share on their deepest levels. I do begin to wonder though, if age has an effect on one’s spiritual path- if you were heavily inculcated into a childhood faith, often, advancing age acts to make you return to it.

    I am very glad that I did not choose to poke my own head above the public/private ramparts in expressing my own beliefs. I prefer to be private -even hidden- in my practice, and to appear only where I am needed, and for those who truly need me.

    • The very existence of this blog demonstrates that I am doing the same thing as Teo, and stepping over that private/public line in expressing my spirituality. But it’s very much the tale of my journey, and like Teo, I feel free (and even compelled) to change things as I go and to talk about those changes honestly.

      I do wonder if people who follow him develop a feeling of “ownership” over him, and that’s part of this “betrayal” nonsense. Kind of like when your favorite band puts out an album with a new sound, or when the sequel to your favorite movie follows an unexpected story line. You develop your own expectations of where things should go, and it’s easy to get disappointed when they go differently.

      I also think that the bitterness against Christianity has a lot to do with the whole thing. I’ve been discussing some pretty significant changes in how I view the world over the past month or so, and no one seems too bothered by it, because I’m still very pagan. Of course, I also don’t have enough of a following to generate any kind of controversy.

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