Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Catholicism, Paganism, Interfaith Dialogue and the Wild Hunt

In a recent Wild Hunt posting, Jason Pitzl-Waters discussed Elizabeth "Liz" Dodd, a onetime Witch whose spiritual quest led her to Roman Catholicism.  As always, Jason presented the case fairly and clearly.  His criticisms of "conversion narratives" and his questions about Dodd's motivations and research skills were trenchant without being strident or hysterical.  Still, I wonder if we might not approach the phenomenon of Liz Dodd in a slightly different manner.   Any interfaith dialogue must begin with people who do not understand each other's spiritual motivations.  And I wonder if Jason was unfairly dismissive when he wrote:
Dodd wants it both ways, she wants to be seen as the “real deal” when she talks about her time as a Witch, but her own biography is that of a seeker, a dabbler, who simply rebelled for a time against her childhood faith (later in the article she talks of a post-Pagan period where she was a “vegan Buddhist”).
If Pagan cyberspace is any indication, there are many Witches who are indeed seekers and dabblers rebelling against their childhood faith.  And Dodd is hardly the first Witch who was introduced to the faith by Silver Ravenwolf: neither do her motivations distinguish her from many another young Witch:
... As a teenager, with only a limited amount of say in what I'd have for dinner, for example, the idea of unmitigated supernatural power, coupled with such a self-governed morality, was very appealing.  My interest in Wicca increased, even in the face of frequent magickal failure. In the booklet I suggest that Wicca can be an important stage in spiritual growth for a young person. Like many of my generation, I was looking for a religious home. Wicca is far removed from mainstream western religion; it has no hierarchy or clergy, no central texts or commandments. It is a framework upon which young, spiritually hungry people can construct a religious identity independent of their parents.
Neopaganism/Goddess Spirituality in America is still largely a religion of converts.  We can expect to see a large number of "seekers and dabblers" passing through: many, like Dodd, will move on to other spiritual pursuits.  We can benefit from exploring both the reasons why they were attracted to the movement and the reasons why they ultimately found it unfulfilling. 

Dodd complains of a lack of depth and scholarship within modern Neopaganism and Occultism. I think it is fair to say that we have not yet produced a MaimonidesAvicenna or St. John of the Cross  and equally fair to say that there's a whole lot of sloppy scholarship and embarrassingly bad Neopagan material on the market and on the web.  That is not to say that there is no depth or breadth to be found in Neopaganism - but it certainly isn't as large, visible or accessible as in traditions with a longer history and greater social capital. 

Interfaith dialogue gives us the opportunity to rectify mutual misunderstandings.  It also gives us a chance to compare and contrast our approaches and to discover areas where we might be doing better.  We need not win Liz Dodd back: if she has found satisfaction in her Catholic faith, then why would we wish to take that away from her? But we should recognize her sincere if flawed attempt to engage with our faith and give her the same courtesy.

And before I go, two more minor nits.  I'd say that the "religion" Dodd was describing - Solitary Witchcraft/Solo Neopaganism - is indeed around 20 years old, having begun about the time Scott Cunningham released Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner.  I would also note that struggling with one's faith has a long and honored tradition within Catholicism and most other religious traditions.  If Dodd's struggles with her faith are a sign of "spiritual immaturity," then what are we to make of that poor bastard Job?