This blog began as a short comment regarding a blog post and corresponding comment-conversation posted by a member of a pagan group on the popular (and fabulous) online art community deviantART. My initial comment, which was in response to what I felt was an outrageous attitude toward a pagan newcomer, became so long and slightly off-topic in terms of the specific issue posted, that I realized it was no longer appropriate for the venue. Obviously, I had deep feelings about these in-group/out-group relations, and the treatment of pagan noobs specifically. So, I cleared my head, rewrote my feelings, clarified my point, and turned it into this blog entry.
It turns out my passion for this topic was a really good thing. It cemented my decision to begin this project called Pagan by Nature. I had this idea for awhile, but never found a solid mission until now. Pagan by Nature is a chronicle of paganism from an outsiders perspective. I still consider myself a pagan noob, and even if I didn’t, I would still cringe at the treatment I see other sometimes suffer for asking basic questions and making rookie mistakes. It seems many people forget the fact that to learn one must acknowledge ignorance. But more importantly, I want to remind people that being at the beginning of a journey is the best place to be. The journey is full of possibilities, daunting, but full of possibilities. For those that find themselves at the beginning, you are not alone. For those that having a difficult time finding their footing at the beginning of this path, I’m right there with you.
Ignorance Is Not A Crime
Most of us who have been on the path for awhile have unfortunately become well aware with the term and practice of “trad bashing.” Well, I wanted to voice an opinion regarding the pagan community and what I call “noob bashing” and alienation. Trad bashing is really bigotry. I just want to get that out of the way. Bashing, trashing, trolling, or verbally abusing others with different opinions or levels of knowledge is intolerant in the extreme, not to mention an unintelligent method of debate. Even if someone is out-right Wrong with a capital W, that person is still worthy of respect, and the benefit of the doubt. Being wrong isn’t a crime. No one is right all the time. So, why do we jump at judgement when we come across someone who has less knowledge than ourselves?
Ignorance is not a crime, merely a stepping stone for greater knowledge. It is a state of being that all Seekers embrace when beginning their journey into uncharted territory. Why do some pagans see this as an opportunity to flaunt their self-anointed superiority? The simple answer is because they’re human, the defensive answer is because their asshats. But neither are truly answers, nor are they philosophically sound arguments. So what do we take from these incidents?
Noobs are people too! Specifically, pagan noobs are pagans, just like you and me. This is a simple enough concept, and I’m sure many of you will agree with this statement. But it is very important to take this concept beyond the simple abstract. Our understanding of noobie behavior often gets lost when dealing with it firsthand. Noobie questions and opinions can be easily misunderstood by those with more experience, and have therefore gone deeper into the practice. Wading in the shallows can become extremely taxing for some pagans. Noobs are often labeled as fluffies, ignoramuses, and even trolls just for asking questions. May of us can mistake their ignorance for stupidity, or even out-right prejudice. We have to remember that “noobs” are just “new.”
I can understand how annoying it must be to be asked the same questions and repeat the same answers over and over again. But here is the deal—if you have had such conversations over and over again, then you should be really good at it. If you’re not, then I believe you have an obligation to step down as a self-appointed “clarifier” and let someone else teach the noob. Abusive behavior against an ignorant beginner is never warranted, nor helpful, nor justified. I have a hard time with this; for noobies, above all others, need the most patience and understanding.
More Pagan Than Thou
Coming from another religion, not to mention suffering the exposure to influences of historically inaccurate portrayals in popular culture, I had been taught many things about paganism that I now know to be either highly unsupported theories, evidence taken out of context, or just out-right false. Many of these beliefs were extremely prejudiced. Some falsehoods were specifically engineered to raise fear of the unknown, while others were simply the results of mistakes or lack of research. Some beliefs were incredibly damaging to the pagan community, while others merely trivial ideas. All of these things made my mind a hotbed of contradictions. When I began learning pagan philosophy and religion, I immediately agreed with certain pagan beliefs and incorporated them into my own spirituality. But I was also totally against others for a very long time, some of which were rather core concepts. Was I a pagan? Yes. Was I ignorant? Absolutely. Was I stupid? Absolutely not. I was simply new to the community and the teachings of various pagan traditions. I still am.
I have seen and experienced some horrifying treatment of noobies. (This is probably why my feelings are so strong on this subject. For instance, I still harbor hard feelings toward the nerd/geek/techie/fananime community(ies) for their “smarter than thou” attitude toward me.) But the general treatment most noobs receive is a vague coldness from those that believe they know more, and are therefore superior. It breaks my heart to see noobs be rejected in this way. We were all ignorant of pagan knowledge once, even fam-trads have to start somewhere. If I had ever posed a beginner question in a online public forum (like the incident that inspired this blog) and someone flamed me within an inch of my life, I may never have continued my journey on this path. Why would I want to associate and learn from a community that treated me so. Internet abuse is abuse. Regardless how wrong anyone is in their misconstrued or false knowledge, that kind of treatment toward a newcomer is abusive.
To Teach Or Not To Teach
I believe that those who claim to be knowledgeable in this broad path called paganism, and contribute to the community in forums, festivals, and classes, have a responsibility to be good pagan citizens to others. I understand the yearning for more in-depth conversations and teachings among elder pagans, and it can be frustrating to constantly have to hold the hands of newcomers, but we can be both a place for grown-ups (elders), and still kid(noob)-friendly. I do not believe that those are mutually exclusive concepts.
How would we do this? First, as I said before, leave the teaching to the teachers. If you don’t want to teach, don’t. If you are asked a question, and you have the answer, share the knowledge, and turn them onto a teacher for more information. (And to preemptively answer the inevitable question of “What if they keep asking?” for those who don’t want to be bothered: if you are being pestered, then that person is being antagonistic, and they should therefore be turned away politely but firmly. Simple as that. Pests are not noobs, their pests.) Certain topics of conversation are very tiring to have over and over, but I don’t believe we should judge people by what they do not know, only by what they do with what they know.
This is also good advice because you may find that you are talking to someone who knows far more than you in another subject. It’s happened to me – and whether you know it or not, it’s happened to you too. Watch what you say to people. On these subjects, you’re not just dealing with facts and numbers, you dealing with people’s hearts and personal communication with the goddess and universe. If you cannot bring yourself to treat others with respect, even if they’re totally in the wrong, even if they seem rude, then sorry to say, they really have no reason to respect you back.
Secondly, patience is a virtue no matter what morality you follow. Taking a moment to consider where someone else if is coming from before you respond could be the difference between starting a war and gaining a friend. Third, get off you high horse. There I said it, moving on. Fourth, go ahead and let people know exactly what kind of organization, gathering, circle, meet-up, online community, or church you want to have and who you want to attract to it. If you don’t want to deal with newcomers, then say so. A clear statement of membership requirements can spare everyone heartache. Noobies may feel a little rejected by the exclusivity, but you will be sparing us feeling a much more traumatic rejection later.
The Outsiders Want In
Personally, I have spent most of my life on the outside looking in. I never felt so “outside” than in my experiences in religion and spirituality. As a born-and-raised Christian, I didn’t fit in with the perfect Christian girls, nor did I agree with many of the core Abrahamic traditions and beliefs. I really knew nothing, and had been told that I knew enough to make judgements. It was a long and painful road to enlightenment, and still have much to learn. Because of my experiences, I have a special place in my heart for christo-pagans and so-called fluffies, buffy witches, and all pagan noobs.
As a brand-new pagan, I was woefully inexperienced and ignorant of the culture. I still have no personal guide, no real-life pagan friends, and very little resources. I am made constantly aware of my ignorance and lack of experience. In a weird way, even with three years on the path under my belt, I am still more comfortable with acknowledging the knowledge I lack, than accepting and sharing the knowledge I have. I realize that this is a common enough situation that many of us in the pagan community deal with. It is a powerful switch to go from one religion to another. Many things must be learned, many things must be unlearned.
I learned about paganism from other pagans. Authors, bloggers, podcasters, forum moderators, social networking community members, shop-owners to name a few. Word-of-mouth and patient pagan teachers is where I found the goddess. I also got shot-down, trolled, labeled, ignored, discriminated, and talked-down-to by impatient pagan [bleeps]. My mission with this blog is to shed some light on the pagan experience seen through the eyes of a pagan noob. I hope to teach some newcomers, and to remind those of you farther down the path that there is still much “noob” in you to be celebrated!
Other Noob Supporters
One of my favorite bloggers and podcasters is the fabulous Fire Lyte from Inciting A Riot. He has launched a wonderful heartfelt project called Project Pagan Enough. This project is very close to my heart as it promotes tolerance and understanding towards all pagans. We need to stop bickering over who has what degree and who is a more dedicated eco-activist. Regardless of what you wear, music you listen to, or where you live, if you’re a pagan then you are just as much a member of this community. (Cue chant: “one of us, one of us…”) Go forth and riot—become a Pagan Enough supporter!