Sunday, 9 June 2019

A response to - 'Spare me this Pagan Revival'

At the end of November 2018 there appeared online and I believe in print, a somewhat controversial article by Julie Burchill. There was to be fair to Burchill, rather a knee jerk reaction to her writing and one can wonder how many read the entire piece. I noted that many allegedly attacking her work were actually attacking her as a person, her life choices and her politics. I have no interest in either. I know her name, I may have read some of her work but I have no interest in her life as such. The article however, is of a different ilk and the content of that needs to be addressed.

Burchill begins by voicing the opinion that 2018 has been quite an eventful year for the Pagan Community, noting that there is a demand by the said community for Prison Chaplains, a slot on 'Thought for the Day' and that a support group has been formed for Pagans in the armed forces. There appears here to be a degree of misinformation or perhaps misunderstanding. Prison Chaplaincy, school liaison services, Hospital chaplaincy and visiting have all been in existence for over a decade. Here Burchill or perhaps her sources, appear to be behind the times; none of this is in any way new.

The issue of the armed forces raises another question, since there is already a support network within the Police Service, why should defence or any other profession be any different? Military service personal put their lives on the line for the good of this country, why should their religious or spiritual needs be neglected? Most Christian denominations are represented by chaplains and so are other faiths such as Judaism. I see no reason why any minority should face discrimination in this matter.

The next few points raised by Burchill are rather less easy to dismiss and it is somewhat unsavoury, as I admit she may have a point. The bigger public festivals do bring out the more publicity seeking wing of the Pagan community and I personally find the velvet cloaks of the Goth Witch brigade, an embarrassment. They do not represent me or my path, so I avoid their YouTube channels deliberately. They lack a knowledge of history, genuinely believe in a lost matriarchal culture despite the lack of archaeological evidence, confuse matrilineal for the previous word and as Burchill points out, attack Christianity and Capitalism.

Both Christianity and Capitalism are justifiable targets for criticism but the manner of criticism I accept is questionable. Not everyone within the Pagan community is a left-wing Labour voting vegan and it is an error to presume so. Politics is obviously a controversial and  contentious area. It may even surprise the reader to learn that due to the more extreme methods of certain elements, not all women now consider themselves to be feminists. As for Pagan attacks upon Christianity, here I can support in principle Burchill's criticism. In our multicultural and post multi-faith society, criticism of a faith for being a faith is not acceptable. Pagans cannot expect equality if the same Pagans withhold equality.

Her claim however, that Pagans are perverts caused justifiable consternation with the Pagan environment. It displayed a misunderstanding of Polymory, skyclad worship and the less shameful approach to the act of generation, than that found in the Abrahamic faiths. It also appears to imply that Polymory and naked rites are the norm for all, they are not. Indeed on this point her argument is quite weak and although I do not wish to fall into the trap of criticising another faith, children are safer at a Pagan festival than a Christian prayer meeting.

The remainder of the article is a rather meandering and chaotic mess, in which Burchill attacks reincarnation, Pagan Festivals and equates Paganism with National Socialism. I am a Pagan, I have been for many years now. Yet I can honestly say that increasingly over recent years, I have found myself asking within the broader context of our community; what does this mean? I have come to realise that although I call myself Pagan, one of the few commonalities I have with others also self identifying as Pagan, is that I also call myself Pagan. My shared spiritual experience with that greater Pagan environment no longer exists and I often wonder if it ever did. Because of this detachment, I am able to regard Burchill with a less biased perspective. It is important to understand that Burchill has a job to do, she is a writer and she is paid to be controversial. Some of her observations are on target but others miss that target wildly.

On target is her dismissal of reincarnation, as she points out that everyone who comes forward was famous in a previous life. Certainly a true observation if you read certain newspapers and magazines. Sensationalist TV shows appear to focus on the publicity seekers claiming to be Julius Caesar or Cleopatra. These attention seekers are an embarrassment but it also shows something of a flaw in Burchill's approach. A confusion between serious Paganism, the study of the occult and that shallow pool we call the New Age. Here I perhaps display as much prejudice as Burchill, having coined terms such as New Age Garbage (NAG) and Mindless Bull-Shit (as in MBS fairs), I am obviously not well disposed towards such philosophies.

Although Burchill makes a valid observation in praising Martin Luther-King and his interpretation of an inclusive Christianity, in leading the way in the civil rights movement. Her dismissal of Paganism as having little impact upon Western Culture is a serious error. She fails to appreciate that although the legacy of many pre-Christian cultures may lie hidden in archaeology, it is the influence upon art and education via the cultures of Greece and Rome that are the basis of our Western Civilisation.

The dismissal of her association of Paganism with National Socialism is more difficult to deal with. The perceptions of that movement and its appropriation of pre-Christian symbolism remains to this day, a highly contentious area of study. The matter is also far more complex than Burchill would suggest. The majority of the German population, including members of the Party were Christian. The competition between party and church was based on power and politics, not on belief.

Philosophies like the symbols tainted by the National Socialist movement, remain difficult to integrate within our society but that is no reason to dismiss them. The swastika and the runes, all symbols misused by Hitler, predate his use by thousands of years.  Even that difficult concept of Blood and Soil (dating from the nineteenth century if not before), has some validity within occult thought; representing as it does traditionalist ideas of heritage, ancestors and the land. Concepts that most on the outside of our community cannot begin to grasp.

I do not expect all reading this to agree with me, least of all Burchill herself but for me the significance of her article lies in its prejudice and its ignorance. It shows that after decades of hard work and I write here as a retired Pagan Federation officer, an organisation that she quotes; that there is still much work to be done, much misinformation to be addressed and a great deal of ignorance to be overcome.

Read the original article by Julie Burchill here:

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