How Many Pagans Are in a Group?

A reader says, I recently talked to a friend of mine who is in a coven – the group is Pagan but I don’t believe they’re specifically Wiccan – and told her I was interested in joining the group. She told me that the high priestess has set a limit that she’ll only have [number] people in the coven, and even if someone new is interested, they won’t take any more than that. Is this a red flag that means I should stay away from this group?

Image by Stonehenge Stone Circle via Flickr

Actually, no, it’s really not, as long as all the other aspects of the group are things that work for you. There may be any number of reasons that the high priestess (HPs) may have set this guideline. Let’s look at a couple of possibilities:

  • The leader(s) of the group may feel that this number – seven, thirteen, twenty, whatever it may be – is the maximum amount of people that she can manage effectively. Remember, a HPs is not just showing up for two hours to lead a ritual once a month – she’s also managing the group’s finances, making lesson plans if it’s a teaching coven, writing new rituals so everything is always fresh, studying and reading new material to share with the group, acting as a mentor and counselor, mediating potential disputes between members, and so on. If she’s concerned that trying to manage any more than X Number will lead to chaos – or at the very least, a less meaningful experience for existing members – then she’s wise to know her own limits. It’s also possible that the group’s constraints are due to limited physical space – if they meet in a room that only fits six people comfortably, a responsible HPs isn’t going to invite ten people in.
  • The group’s tradition may have determined that their number – again, whatever it is – is magically tied to their tradition. In some groups, particularly Neowiccan covens, thirteen is considered a perfectly magical number of people to have. In others, it may be nine, since nine is also considered a power number in Numerology. Regardless, there may be a magical significance behind the number, so it could be more than arbitrary.
  • It may be that the group only accepts members at certain times of the year. One coven I know of only takes new seekers in at the time of a blue moon, as sort of a play on the phrase “once in a blue moon.” This means the rest of the year, no matter what, their membership is closed to any new people.

If your friend’s group maintains a wait list, or at the very least, a contact list of interested prospective members, make sure the leaders have your name – this way, if someone does leave the group and will be replaced, the HPs can reach out to you to see if you’re still interested. All other things being equal, don’t let a limited membership roster scare you off.

It’s not uncommon to encounter, and it’s not a warning sign at all.

Image by Stonehenge Stone Circle Creative Commons License CC by 2.0 via Flickr 

Blasphemy and Paganism

Here’s one from Ye Olde Magical Mail Bagge: A reader says, “I was at a Pagan event last month, and dropped a candle – I seriously thought I was going to set my robe on fire. I said, “Oh my goddess!” and was immediately jumped on by a woman who scolded me for being blasphemous. I told her that I didn’t think my goddess really cared if I said something like that, but she told me that “taking the goddess’ name in vain” was wrong. This sounds an awful lot like Christianity, which I left recently. Am I missing something? Is there really a rule that says I can’t say “oh my goddess” if I feel like it?”

You said WHAAAAAT??? Image by Christels from CC0 via Canva

No shit, y’all, if I had a dollar for every time someone tried to make someone else Pagan A Different Way, I could legit quit my day job.

The concept of blasphemy is one that’s common to the Abrahamic faiths, but is not widely found in other religions. For many religions, certain words are never used, because it’s considered blasphemous to do so. In some orthodox branches of Judaism, one is not permitted to write the name of God – if you’re jotting down His name, you might write it as G-d, to avoid being seen as blasphemous.

The dictionary defines blasphemy as disrespect – or at the very least, irreverence – towards something sacred or holy. Much like sin and obscenity, disrespect is typically in the eye of the beholder. In the Abrahamic religions, the criteria are pretty well established as part of doctrine. For Catholics, as an example, the sin of blasphemy includes blasphemy against the Holy Spirit — the questioning of whether the actions of the Holy Spirit might be attributed to some other being or entity.

Some groups take blasphemy to an even more strict level. For example, in Islam, it’s seen as disrespectful to draw a picture of the prophet Mohammad, and you could easily find yourself under a fatwa if you scribble out a cartoon with his image. Certain fundamentalist Christian groups see the celebration of any religious holiday with secular aspects as blasphemous — colored eggs at Easter, or Santa Claus during Christmas would fall under this heading.

But here’s the big thing: if you’re not part of a religion, it’s unreasonable for members of that religion to hold you to that religion’s standards. In other words, Jews don’t expect non-Jews to never write out the word “God,” because it’s a rule for them, that’s found in their holy writings. So, why would a member of one Pagan group think it’s okay to tell non-members to follow the group’s rules?

In many Pagan religions the deities are not seen as stern taskmasters, or angry old men who rule through fear rather than love. In fact, some – although certainly not all – Pagan gods and goddesses are a lot of fun — they are often viewed as having a bit of a sense of humor, and not concerning themselves overmuch with the day to day activities of their worshipers, unless we specifically address them.

 

So here’s the question for you — do you think the goddess of your tradition finds it disrespectful for you to say “oh my goddess” when you drop a candle? Do you think that it so enrages her that she’s going to stop what she’s doing and somehow make you suffer? Or do you think maybe she’s having a little giggle over the whole thing, and then going on about her business? Or maybe, just maybe, she really doesn’t notice at all, and if she does, she maybe doesn’t give a damn because she’s busy doing Goddess Things?

You’re going to encounter fundamentalists in every religion — and that includes Paganism. Don’t let a negative experience with one of them color your entire perception of Pagan spirituality. You’ll meet far more people who believe that the gods have a sense of humor, and that they don’t especially care if you blurt out “oh my goddess” when you’re about to set your ritual robe on fire. Honor your deities the way your heart calls you to do, and don’t let anyone bully you about it.

Finding Pagan Role Models

Look for role models in your own community. Image by Andrew Poplavsky via Canva

A reader writes, “I’ve recently begun following a Pagan path, and I’m meeting some resistance from my friends and family. They keep pointing out that there aren’t any Pagan role models to look up to in today’s society. Christianity has a number of famous people who set an example for others with their spirituality and good works. There are a lot of Jewish people who can be held up as an example of their faith. But everyone keeps asking me where all the famous Pagans are. I don’t know what to tell them, but I’m wondering if this is something I should even worry about.”

Well, your friends and family do make a valid point – there aren’t a ton of famous Pagans in today’s mainstream society. And honestly, that’s partly because there’s still some degree of secrecy about following a Pagan path, although that’s certainly changing. People may be concerned about losing jobs, kids, housing, or whatever if they reveal their Pagan beliefs. Despite the fact that modern Paganism has come a long way in the past few decades, it’s still something that people tend to keep private. And while we’ve talked about “celebrity Pagans” being few and far between, there are certainly Pagans out there who are part of mainstream pop culture.

Singer Sully Erna of the band Godsmack is an initiated member of the Cabot tradition, and actress Fairuza Balk owned an occult store for a while, and has said she became Pagan after starring in the movie The Craft. A number of popular authors, including Laurell K. Hamilton, are Wiccan.

Those are all people who would probably be known to mainstream – i.e. Not Pagan – society. However, there are countless numbers of people in the Pagan community who are openly practicing.

Take any of the published Pagan authors, musicians like Wendy Rule and S.J. Tucker, or outspoken educators and activists like Selena Fox or Starhawk – all of these people are unapologetically and openly Pagan. Feel free to point to any of them as a role model if your family feels you need to offer one up.

Finally, and this is the most important part – there are people in the Pagan community who are just average folks who have done some pretty awesome things, and they certainly qualify as role models too, even if your friends have never heard of them. Take, for instance, Roberta Stewart, the widow of fallen Wiccan soldier Patrick Stewart.

Roberta worked tirelessly to make sure that other Pagan soldiers killed in action could get a pentacle on their headstones. Or what about teen Pagan Jerica Haynes, whose school presentation on diversity got cancelled? Even in the face of opposition, Jerica still stood up for her beliefs and managed to work together with school administrators to present a thoughtful program on her Wiccan faith.

How about the countless covens and groves that organize food drives each fall, or who gather up ritual materials and books to send to soldiers overseas? The priestesses and priests who offer their time and energy to counsel others in times of need? The solitary practitioner who anonymously shovels his elderly neighbor’s driveway in the middle of the night? Sometimes, you find role models not on the cover of a magazine, but right in your own back yard.

It’s also important to note that in many Pagan pantheons, there are legends about gods, demigods and mortals who perform actions worthy of emulating. Perhaps you could cite some of these to your friends and family members as examples of role models. You could also point out some non-Pagans you admire, if their work or ideas have influenced your life – the Dalai Lama isn’t Wiccan, but many non-Buddhists honor him for his wisdom as a spiritual leader.

So, while I wouldn’t worry over much (or really, at ALL) about whether or not there are public Wiccans or Pagans in pop culture, there’s certainly no shortage of people whose work and efforts are worthy of honor and respect. If you feel that offering your friends and family a list of role models (even if they’re people typically only known to the Pagan community) helps, then go for it. Meanwhile, continue learning and growing yourself, and who knows – maybe someday you’ll be a role model for others!

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Are You Ready to Be a Pagan Teacher?

Image by Latino Life via Canva

At some point in your spiritual journey, you may feel that you’ve learned enough to share your knowledge with others. Perhaps other people have approached you and asked you to teach a class or lead a group. It’s indeed possible that your life experience and studying has put you in a position where you can take on this responsibility. Perhaps you’re even thinking about forming your own coven. However, before you commit to such a big undertaking, you may need to take a few things into consideration.

First, think about whether the knowledge you have is enough to teach a class or lead a group. Do you understand basic ritual format and spell construction? More importantly, are you capable of teaching this information to others in a way that is understandable, without dumbing it down? Can you demonstrate the things you teach, or do you have to rely on just reading from a book?

Next, think about whether or not you’re someone people will respect as a teacher. Are you living a magical life each day? Are you just talking the talk, or are you walking the walk? Often, in the Pagan community, we see people who claim to have vast acres of esoteric knowledge, and yet they’re unhappy, living in squalor, and unable to cast their way out of a paper sack — would you take lessons from someone like this? I sure wouldn’t.

What can you possibly learn from someone who can’t get their own act together? Make sure that you are able to be someone students look up to.

Do you have enough patience to teach? For some people, teaching may mean having to explain the same concept seven different ways to the same person. Can you do this, without screaming, “You’re an idiot!” at someone who asks a question over and over again? Are you capable of being selective in taking on students, or will you teach anyone who asks you to do so?

One of the most important things to keep in mind is the question of why you want to teach. Really, what will you get out of it? Are you interested in teaching because you’d like to have people following you around and hanging on your every word? Do you want to lead classes because you have a need for validation and back-patting from others? Or is it simply the case that there is a need in your community, and you feel called to get involved? Do you believe that you can do some good by helping others on their spiritual journey?

Finally, remember that there is an investment of your time and energy in teaching and leading.

Selene K., a Wiccan High Priestess from Maine says, “For each hour-long ritual I lead, I spend about five hours in preparation. If I’m teaching a class, I might put in anywhere from ten to fifteen hours of prep time — and that’s for a two-hour lesson!”

Ultimately, not everyone is capable of teaching — and that’s okay. The important thing to remember is that just because you’ve begun teaching doesn’t mean it’s time to stop learning. Share what you know, help others on their path, and most importantly, never stop growing yourself. It’s this last bit that will help you become a teacher truly worthy of the name.

Are You Ready to Be a Pagan Teacher?

At some point in your spiritual journey, you may feel that you’ve learned enough to share your knowledge with others. Perhaps other people have approached you and asked you to teach a class or lead a group. It’s indeed possible that your life experience and studying has put you in a position where you can take on this responsibility. Perhaps you’re even thinking about forming your own coven. However, before you commit to such a big undertaking, you may need to take a few things into consideration.

First, think about whether the knowledge you have is enough to teach a class or lead a group. Do you understand basic ritual format and spell construction? More importantly, are you capable of teaching this information to others in a way that is understandable, without dumbing it down? Can you demonstrate the things you teach, or do you have to rely on just reading from a book?

Nanaimo Pagan Pride Day 2010 061

Next, think about whether or not you’re someone people will respect as a teacher. Are you living a magical life each day? Are you just talking the talk, or are you walking the walk? Often, in the Pagan community, we see people who claim to have vast acres of esoteric knowledge, and yet they’re unhappy, living in squalor, and unable to cast their way out of a paper sack — would you take lessons from someone like this?

What can you possibly learn from someone who can’t get their own act together? Make sure that you are able to be someone students look up to.

Do you have enough patience to teach? For some people, teaching may mean having to explain the same concept seven different ways to the same person. Can you do this, without screaming, “You’re an idiot!” at someone who asks a question over and over again? Are you capable of being selective in taking on students, or will you teach anyone who asks you to do so?

One of the most important things to keep in mind is the question of why you want to teach. Really, what will you get out of it? Are you interested in teaching because you’d like to have people following you around and hanging on your every word? Do you want to lead classes because you have a need for validation and back-patting from others? Or is it simply the case that there is a need in your community, and you feel called to get involved? Do you believe that you can do some good by helping others on their spiritual journey?

Finally, remember that there is an investment of your time and energy in teaching and leading.

Selene K., a Wiccan High Priestess from Maine says, “For each hour-long ritual I lead, I spend about five hours in preparation. If I’m teaching a class, I might put in anywhere from ten to fifteen hours of prep time — and that’s for a two-hour lesson!”

Ultimately, not everyone is capable of teaching — and that’s okay. The important thing to remember is that just because you’ve begun teaching doesn’t mean it’s time to stop learning. Share what you know, help others on their path, and most importantly, never stop growing yourself. It’s this last bit that will help you become a teacher truly worthy of the name.

Image of Nanaimo Pagan Pride Day by Kam Abbott / Flickr / Creative Commons (CC-BY 2.0)

Love Offerings & Donations at Pagan Events

I first got involved in the Pagan community back around 1988 or thereabouts, but it wasn’t until some twenty years later that I heard someone use the term “love offering.” At first, no kidding, I thought it was in reference to some kind of sixties-era sex practice, but as it turns out, it’s just a phrase that means a donation. Who knew? Not me, that’s for sure. However, whether you call it a love offering or just a donation, at some point, you may find yourself at a Pagan event wondering if you should toss a few bucks in the pot. The short answer is, yes, if you can, but not if you can’t afford to.

A reader asked me years ago, ““I recently attended a Pagan event, and it was supposed to be free. When I got there, they had a jar on the table with a note that said “love offering” and people were putting money in it. I went ahead and contributed, because I didn’t want to look stingy, but can they really call it a free event if they’re asking for donations?

Well, ok, no one wants to look stingy. I get that. But on the other hand, events take money to put on, and if making a donation is the cost for me to continue to enjoy stuff, I’m all for it. I’d certainly never shame anyone for not making a contribution if they can’t afford it, but if people say, “I’m not contributing because I shouldn’t have to and stuff should be free,” I’ll have plenty to snipe about then.

Image by Dave Dugdale, Licensed Through Creative Commons ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The phrase “love offering” does appear to be a regional one – I live in the Midwest, and I hear it a lot – but it’s the same as a donation jar. This is something that’s not uncommon in the metaphysical community. It’s designed to encourage those who have some extra money to share it if they can, while not making those who don’t have extra feel bad about it. It’s a donation given out of love and ability and an understanding of community spirit, rather than from obligation. So yes, it’s still a free event, and they’re perfectly within their rights to ask for a donation from those who care to make one. No one is required to do so – if they were, it would be called an admission fee.

That having been said, I think it’s very important to recognize that even “free” events cost someone money – and it’s usually the folks who took the time to host and organize them. If there’s food, tables, chairs, entertainment, ritual supplies or even a venue rental, those charges have come out of someone’s pocket, and it’s not unreasonable for them to make you aware that a donation is appreciated.

Furthermore, even if there was an entry fee charged, that’s generally acceptable too. Again – events don’t just magically happen on their own. Even if the organizers are not making any profit (and I can pretty much guarantee that they’re usually not), it’s still perfectly acceptable for them to charge a fee that helps offset the costs of the event itself. Some of this may include asking vendors for a table fee, or passing the expenses along to the consumer — in this case, guests like yourself. If it’s billed as an entry fee, and it’s outside your range of affordability, then you’re under no obligation to attend the event. Some events offer work equity in exchange for admission – you volunteer to help out for a couple of hours, and you’re in for the rest of the day at no charge. That’s a pretty good trade-off, really.

I know that in some areas, this topic has become a matter of hot debate between groups – one coven will host an event and ask for donations, and then another coven will accuse the first of being greedy and trying to “bilk the newbies.” I can assure you that this is not anyone’s intention when they ask for a love offering, donation, or other type of contribution.

Do you have to donate? Certainly not, and if you can’t afford to do it, no one is going to hold that against you. But chipping a few bucks into a jar, if it’s within your means, is a wonderful way to say thanks to the people who made the effort of putting the event together for you to attend. It’s also a good way to assure they’ll be able to put together another event in the future.

Want to have nice things? Me too. Let’s be willing to pay for the privilege when we can afford to do it.