I've been a Pagan for awhile now. I'm no old-timer or anything, but I've been around the block a few times, seen trends come and go, and endured the occasional dark night of the soul. You know, the usual. While I've (mostly) come to be at peace with my chosen religious identifier, I still struggle with some of the baggage that comes with booking a long voyage on the S.S. Modern Paganism. The biggest for me, bigger than the fevered egos and unearned senses of entitlement, has to be all the "woo" that floats around us. What is "woo"? Here's a decent definition from a semi-famous blogging surgeon/scientist (and skeptic).

"If I had to boil it down, I'd define woo as beliefs that clearly demonstrate magical thinking, uncritical acceptance of things for which no good evidence exists. This includes, but is not limited to, psychic phenomenon, ghosts, the paranormal, "energy healing," the use of "colon cleansing" and "liver cleansing" to rid oneself of "toxins," homeopathy (especially quantum homeopathy), and a wide variety of other mystical and pseudoscientific beliefs. Woo is resistant to reason. Indeed, woo has a double standard when it comes to what it considers to be good evidence. It is very accepting of a wide variety of fuzzy, mystical ideas, but is often incredibly distrustful and skeptical of anything having to do with "conventional" science or "conventional" medicine. Woos tend to be very quick to react to defend their particular brand of woo and very unforgiving of its being questioned."

That definition is from someone who hasn't been down the idealogical rabbit hole of the Pagan/New Age/occult subculture, he would no doubt blanch at some of the things taken as matter-of-course within certain sections of my wider religious community. I have, at certain points in my life, been a participant or observer in Reiki healing, past-life regression, Chakra alignments, Ouija Board sessions, individual and group spell-work, multiple forms of divination, trance channeling, psychic warfare, and various other occult practices. That's leaving out the purely personal beliefs of some of my co-religionists that I've encountered, which run the gamut from fairly reasonable to whispers of true madness. Today, I'm not sure how many of the above practices I would seriously attest to as being "true".

The personal problem here is that I've always thought of myself as a rather level-headed fellow (as, I suspect, we all think of ourselves). I believe in science, in the advances of Western medicine, in what can be measured. I think that despite the rapacious and morally repugnant foibles of corporate capitalism on the practices of medicine and science, it is Western medicine and science that will eventually deliver us from scourges like HIV/AIDS and other killers. That affordable access to quality health care would eliminate most troubles that people currently seek alternative medicines for. Further, after doing some recent digging, I've been somewhat surprised to see that alt-health proponents are often far more "angry" and conspiracy-minded than the most brazen of hard-nosed skeptic.

For the most part I take a "live and let live" attitude. I've believed a few crazy things in my day, and so long as nobody is getting hurt (or as Jefferson would say, so long as it "neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg") I'm generally sanguine about the woo. It comes with the Pagan territory, and I'm just as susceptible as anyone to the urges for otherworldly aid when it feels like "mundane" tactics are failing. But lately, it seems like the woo-pitchers are getting increasingly strident in their "rights" and claims. When people like Oprah start lifting the anti-vaccine antics of Jenny McCarthy up from the fringes, and endorsing the money-swilling Secret-peddlers, I start to get worried. I worry that the woo is getting elevated beyond its mostly harmless place in the utter fringes, and being adopted by the taste-makers. To a place where people could really get hurt. I also worry that my increasingly skeptical and "mundane" outlook will eventually alienate me from the community I have been serving for the last several years.

I do believe that the rise of modern Paganism is a positive thing. That it offers a way forward from the idealogical and theological rigidity of the dominant monotheisms. That a post-Christian society is ultimately a better one for those who don't fit into the roles (gender, sexual, societal, or racial) prescribed by the institutions that brought us to this point. I believe that modern Paganism can reinvigorate us creatively, that it can inspire us, and provide us with deep wisdom concerning the planet with live on and the values that we should hold dear. But I find that I increasingly have little time for much of the "woo" that has come along for the ride so far. It makes me feel like I'm playing a game, and I don't want the lens through which I gaze at the ineffable to be cheapened by fantasies of power and importance. And ultimately, that is what "woo" feels like to me, a grasping for control over the uncontrollable. A hubris, you telling the world that you reject its truth in favor of one where you are a mythical warrior avenging ills on the astral. A world where matters of dragons and faeries become more important than the sufferings of our fellow human beings.

Perhaps this makes me deficit in the childlike wonder that many Pagans claim is necessary for magic to work, or to see the wondrous things they see, but I don't think I want to trade the "mundane" world I live in, with all its unique splendors and glories, for a different one.

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