journeys in paganistan
observations at paganicon, 2019
By Carl Teichrib
Occult themes abound in children’s literature, on television shows, and in the movies. The entertainment industry has made a handsome profit in selling the supernatural. But as this research report by Carl Teichrib demonstrates, there is a reality beyond books and TV screens – a spiritual worldview that honors creation over the Creator. Is a new Pagan age dawning? It appears so.
The conference room quickly filled. Already the first day of workshops had wrapped up, and a strange combination of giddy anticipation and serious intentionality was in the air. Greetings and hugs were shared; old friends reconnected, and newcomers were welcomed with nods and smiles. People were visibly excited, for the next hour would be the event’s official opening, a highly charged movement to set the tone for the weekend convention.
The room was devoid of chairs, and so the crowd gathered three-and-four deep along the edges, clapping and moving to the sound of inviting rhythms. The center area, however, remained free of attendees, yet it held a focal point: a draped table with seven pillar-candles, a vase, and a large bowl. When things finally settled down, it was explained that what we beheld in the middle was a well, and we were all encouraged to add water to it as we felt led. This gathering, we were told, was a sacred grove – we were the trees, mystically connected through branches and root.
A witch stepped forward, and wand-in-hand she walked around the well, casting a magic circle.
Same Yet Different
In a hotel conference building in a Minneapolis suburb, amongst the public patrons lodging in this same establishment, a unigue gathering took place from March 22-24, 2019. It was the ninth annual Paganicon, a convergence of Witches and Wiccans, Druids, Heathens, Satanists and Luciferians – an eclectic representation of the modern Pagan revival. On Friday morning, before the event began, I asked at the sign-in desk how many were expected; approximately 800 were registered.
This was not my first time at Paganicon, the regional conference for the homeland of Paganistan, the affectionate name given by local Pagans for the Twin Cities metro-region. In 2017 I attended for research purposes (see chapter 7 in my book, Game of Gods), and now, two years later, returned to keep current with what was happening in the growing Pagan community. Of special interest was the broad acceptance of Satanism.
But hold on, you might be thinking, Satanism and Paganism – isn’t this one and the same?
Yes and no.
Yes, in that Christians recognize there is, ultimately, no Biblical difference. The ruler of this world (John 12:31), also known as the deceiver, “that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan” (Revelation 12:9), is the one who tempted in the beginning (Genesis 3:1-5). As the father of lies (John 8:44) who transforms himself into an “angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14), Satan is the originator of the first deception, that the creation – Adam and Eve – can be on par with the Creator (Genesis 3:5). This ruse is expanded in the book of Romans, that when we exchange the truth of God for the lie, “we worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25). Granting nature a status of Divinity is the heartbeat of Paganism. Indeed, if I’ve heard one thing from the Pagan community, it is this; we are a religion of nature. Such is the core of Oneness – that God, Man and Nature are essentially the same, which is the opposite of the Biblical worldview – that God is creator, and everything else the creation.
No, in that within the Pagan world there are differences in teachings, rituals, and understandings of deities and supernatural entities. For example, when comparing Gardnerian Wicca with Asatru Heathenry, one finds profound distinctions within beliefs and practices. Both are religious movements within the context of neo-Paganism, yet have teachings unique to their own paths. Likewise with Satanism.
Interestingly, the Apostle Paul inferred structures and divisions within the supernatural realm,
“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (Ephesians 6:11-13).
Powers and principalities… this thought struck me as I watched the opening ritual unfold, listening as deities and goddesses were invoked.
Listening and Learning
As a Christian researcher my primary task is to listen and observe, take notes, and consider how a particular movement is shaping and/or reflecting our times. This includes trying to understand its challenges and issues, and how it views itself in relationship to society – points of contact, and visions of tomorrow. This is what I do when attending any research function, be it an interfaith forum like the Parliament of the World’s Religions, a world government meeting, a transhumanist conference, or a culture-transforming event like Burning Man.
During my three days at Paganicon I attended twelve workshops, lectures, and group discussions. Here are some of titles and notes of interest:
The Horned God: This was a historical survey of horned spiritual entities, from Hindu’s Pashupati to Pan and Satan. It was explained that the Horned God – a hybrid, bestial connection between Nature and the Supernatural – is a terrifying mystery, and that to be horned is to be divine. Interestingly, the speaker said that as cultures honoring the horned god come-and-go, even disappearing under the weight of the ages, the entity nevertheless reappears. Powers and Principalities…
Blasphemy as a Healing Tool: A Satanist from the Twin Cities opened this talk with a confession; she had no Bibles with her. As it was explained, she normally starts her presentations by tearing up a Holy Bible, standing on its shredded pages, and inviting others to come forth and do likewise. Bibles had been ordered for this workshop but they hadn’t arrived, and she wasn’t able to check into her hotel room yet, so she couldn’t take a copy from there. Her Bible destroying routine wouldn’t be happening.
Acts of blasphemy, she elaborated, are more than just a personal slap to the Christian faith; it is her service to the community. Have you been wounded by a church? Do you despise Christianity? Her answer for personal healing is expressions of apostasy and blasphemy. For example, if a formally identified Christian wanted to sever ties to a church, she would draft an official letter of apostasy on his or her behalf. Overt acts of blasphemy were encouraged in conjunction with the notice. What hit me was this: no one has a monopoly on hurting others or being hurt, Christians included – a sad reminder of humanity’s fallen nature – but in hearing her acts of blasphemy, it began to sound less purposeful, and more petulant.
Here’s a sober question. Certainly you felt uneasy about shredding Bibles, but did it bother you when I mentioned individuals leaving the Christian faith?
This workshop reinforced something I would hear more than once; that many who formerly identified as Christians now follow Pagan paths. For example, during a Saturday panel the question was raised as to which religious affiliations people held before joining the ranks of neo-Pagans: Methodists, Baptists, Lutherans, Catholics, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Orthodox, and Missionary. Heads around the room nodded in affirmation. In fact, it was acknowledged that a relatively new movement was being born, Christo-paganism – an intentional cross-pollination of Christian teachings with Pagan practices and beliefs.
But a form of this has already been happening. Today many churches extol God’s goodness, preach a message of peace, and bend to the world in advancing deep-green causes. In the United Church of Canada hymnal, More Voices, there’s a song to the Greek Goddess of Earth, O Beautiful Gaia. In the Mennonite Central Committee’s publication, Earth Trek, there’s an appeal – bold in the original – that reads: “This week, make an offering to the Earth, in the form of a prayer or some other gift.”
Is this not paganism? It certainly fits Romans 1:25, “serving the creature rather than the Creator.”
Is this not a form of blasphemy in its own rite?
Discernment for Magickal Folks: This was an intriguing presentation, wrestling with the question: how is spiritual discernment exercised?
For Christians, we turn to Deuteronomy 18 with its warning not to engage in occult practices, and we look to 1 John 4:1-6 with its testing of the spirits against the Gnostic message. Other examples include how Jesus Christ handled demonic situations, the authority of God used by the Apostles in similar settings, and the Early Church’s reliance on the power of the Holy Spirit. In other words, there is a robust Biblical framework we draw from – including the assurance that our soul is secure, that nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:31-39).
For the Pagan world, which does have spiritual manifestations – invited possessions, entity visitations, and unusual experiences – the question of discernment hangs in the air. It boils down to personal evaluation, we were told, and to aid in this process a worksheet with questions was handed out,
“Who am I interacting with? Specific Goddex, spirit, my own subconscious, the dead? Who did I perform magic for?… What did I feel/see… what did I want?… Where was I physically… mentally/spiritually? Where did I perform the magic, and for what reason?”
It was noted that Pagans are prone to a lack of discernment, as the quest for spiritual experiences often outweighs cautionary factors. There is an addictive quality too, it was said, with a reminder that supernatural encounters can be manipulative. We were warned that if the “inner voice changes” it may be an outside entity probing inward. Furthermore, if negative experiences are causing fear and anxiety, then participants were encouraged to seek counselling and therapy.
Hotline telephone numbers for suicide prevention and mental health were printed on our worksheets.
Satanism 101: Previously, the neo-Pagan community had distanced itself from modern Satanism, a fact acknowledged in this workshop. However, an increasing acceptance of what is known as the Left Hand Path is now perceptible. To help Pagans better understand the movement and its implications, this session – led by the Satanist who hosted the Blasphemy workshop – broadly outlined philosophies, branches, and influences. Distinctions between Satanism and Luciferianism were explained. Both elevate the Self or “I” as the Self-god, but the first is more attuned to carnality and individual license, while the second pursues enlightenment through knowledge. Both are grounded in rebellion as an act of transformation.
What troubled me was what I heard in the minutes before the start of the workshop. As the room was filling up, a few Witches and Satanists were freely talking about Christian reactions; how insults and hurtful words had been hurled at them, and in one case, a proclaimed Christian had picked up a bag of garbage from a nearby trash-can and dumped it on the person.
Now, I have no way of verifying the legitimacy of the perpetrator’s faith – whether they were Christian in name only, or otherwise – but it made my blood boil. We as Christian believers are commanded to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind,” and to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37,39). Thankfully, I do know Christians who purposely reach out to the Pagan community with grace and truth, showing love and compassion, without fear or compromise – recognizing that humanity has intrinsic value because of our special creation in the image of God (Genesis 1:26).
Doc Murphy’s Plenary Practice: Of the workshops and lectures attended, I was especially interested in hearing Murphy Pizza, a cultural anthropologist who specializes in Paganistan as a religious community. Pizza had been tasked with delivering a plenary talk to the Upper Midwest Section of the American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature, and so this was an opportunity to test and flesh-out her presentation.
Pizza, an academic and Pagan graced with a witty style, offered insights into changes and challenges; the contemporary social acceptance of Paganism, the struggle over who represents the community, and how a diversity of practices and beliefs are building on each other. Paganism, she noted, was no longer in the shadows. As a matter of fact, one of the reasons for its phenomenal growth is that the movement has stepped out of the broom-closet, so to speak. In the not too distant past, the neo-Pagan community guarded itself with secrecy and veils of mystery. But times have changed, boundaries have blurred, and there is openness for others to enter – and they are.
Marriage of Heaven and Hell
Paganicon was more than just workshops and discussion groups. Over thirty vendors were selling books, crystals, magic wands, ceremonial knives, Tarot cards and other divination tools. A long table near the hotel’s front desk offered free literature for everyone; brochures from Druid orders, a flyer from a coven seeking new members, and postcards announcing likeminded events – the upcoming Pagan Spirit Gathering in Ohio, a Sacred Fire Circle in Wisconsin, North Dakota’s Grand Sabbat, and the Midwest Witches Conference in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Two rooms were set-aside as art galleries. A meditation space was available for those who found themselves overwhelmed, and another room offered six stations for Tarot and Bone readers, psychics, and Reiki energy healers. Saturday evening a colorful labyrinth was set up for mystical encounters. And on the second floor, past the main ritual room, was an area for children with Pagan-appropriate activities. By the way, most children born into Pagan households stay in the community. Hospitality suites were open for specific tribes, covens, and occult orders. Llewellyn Worldwide, the largest independent Pagan/Occult publisher, facilitated meetings for writers. Throughout the hotel people were connecting and networking.
At one point, a middle-aged gentleman approached me in conversation. He was involved in the New Thought movement, and was attending to better understand Witchcraft as his workplace – a health care facility – had Wiccans as staff members. I was upfront about my Christianity, and for two hours we had a deep and respectful discussion comparing the Biblical and Pagan worldviews, beginning with God as other than creation. I’m glad to have attended for this reason alone.
Friday evening featuring the notable Druid, Damh the Bard, singing songs and telling stories from the old country. An Equinox Ball was held on Saturday night, a colorful celebration with vibrant costumes and a lively concert. At one point, some impromptu performances popped up in an area adjacent to the hotel lobby. Yes, the Pagan community has its own musical spread.
Rituals were also part of the daily agenda, often happening concurrently with the scheduled workshops. Some were participatory in that attendees were incorporated into the movement, other times a workshop started with a small ritual – such as a libation before a lecture on animal sacrifices – and a few were demonstration rituals open for observation. All were serious in intent and action.
On Saturday I witnessed the Marriage of Heaven and Hell, described as “a unique double-ritual, led by two practicing ritual magicians, in which the celestial and infernal conjoin.”
In the ritual room were two magic circles on the floor, one ringed with the names of angelic hosts, and the other dedicated to the dark powers. Commanding the first was a “Christian magician” wearing Templar-style robes, equipped with a sword. His ritual followed a medieval-period, heretical text of ceremonial magic, then used by dissident Catholic priests and later by Protestant mystics. In this text, the names of God are used as a force for summoning spirits, thus “Alpha-Omega” was inscribed in the encirclement. To be clear, this was not Christian in any Biblical sense, and the participant was a Pagan practitioner versed in occult lore.
In the second circle, wearing only black pants and boots, was a Satanist with ritual body modifications. His movement was a modern adaptation of another text of ceremonial magic, though of a later period and with a darker emphasis. Within his space were goblets, a knife, a goat skull, and other ceremonial tools. Bloodletting and blood drinking were part of the process, as was a verbalized and written pact with the “demon king of endarkened light, power of the Black Sun.”
Both occultists – the Satanist and Christian mystic – performed within an interlocking expression, going back-and-forth to create a unified ritual. And that was the point. What appeared to be paradoxical and divergent was mysteriously bound together; two paths in one accord.
But this actually makes sense. The Christian mystic was using God’s name as a universal force, a tool of cosmic power. In fact, after the ritual was over, he described his circle-center with its Alpha-Omega as the cosmic source of all things. Thus, when stepping in, he was “taking the position of God… so I command as God.” The Satanist also described his experience in a cosmic fashion; it was an act of self-directed salvation, using the demonic as a force for personal transformation. Both embody the spirit of Romans 1:25 – worshiping the creature rather than the Creator.
For myself, the summation of Paganicon and the religious movement it reflects was observed late Sunday afternoon. The last workshop was over, and I had time to wander before the closing ceremony commenced. Walking into what had been the ballroom the night before, I could see ten Witches in a tight circle, repeating a simple song of theological potency. Any Christian who knows Scripture would recognize the words: “Oh oh oh… I AM that I AM.”
“I’m not afraid of Witches”
As a researcher, going to events like Paganicon provides important insights into our rapidly changing culture. The observations, pages of notes, and materials gleaned will be used in my presentations and teaching opportunities, informing the Christian community as to the growth and worldview of Paganism. But it doesn’t end there. Christian reactions betray an underlying condition that needs to be addressed.
Upon hearing I’ve attended events like this, the response from many Christians is: “I could never go there.” Generally speaking, I agree. This type of research is not for everyone, and to go means you understand the calling and reason. However, something else is usually going on, as the statement is often followed by a question: “Weren’t you afraid?”
“Are you afraid of Pagans?” I’ve asked back, and in most cases the person affirms that there is, indeed, a measure of fear.
Why? Pagans are people, and odds are you interact with them without realizing it; they can be found in almost every occupation – schoolteachers, lawyers, store clerks, business owners, and students. Nor are they geographically limited. Are our fears reasonable? Or have we succumbed to stereotypes and media images, scaring ourselves? Please understand, I am not detracting from the seriousness of the spiritual reality, but if you had lived in Rome or Athens or Ephesus during the time of Christ, your Pagan setting would be far more real and raw. Yet, it was in this spiritual context that the Early Church flourished, brining the light of the Gospel forward. Moreover, the Apostle Paul even presents us with models on how to engage, pointing to the God who is creator over creation (Acts 14:11-18, 17:16-34).
One week after my return from Paganicon, I had the privilege of talking with a young friend at Millar College of the Bible. She was interested in hearing about my trip, but as I explained what transpired, including the rituals, it was evident this was troubling to her. I stopped, briefly outlining the core differences between the God of the Bible and the Pagan worldview – that the God of Scripture is not compared to nature, or human wisdom, nor the strength of nations (Isaiah 40:12-18). She knew this, but it was important to re-focus on whom it is we follow.
I told her something else, a fact that came to my mind when observing the Marriage of Heaven and Hell, for there was a point in which I was uncomfortable. In that place where demonic entities were being summoned, I, too, was strongly reminded of an incredible promise,
“…that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).
We either bow in love and thanksgiving now, or judgment later. But every knee will bow – every human, every spirit. So why are we afraid? Why do we allow fear of the Pagan world to impede us?
Two months later my friend excitedly emailed me. She was a cabin leader in a Bible camp, and a 12-year old had approached her: “I’m a Witch, but you don’t have to be afraid of me.” My friend told the camper that no, she wasn’t afraid of her. The next day the conversation repeated. Looking into her eyes, my friend responded with confidence, “I’m not afraid of Witches.”
And with that, a floodgate of questions opened – and a Christian camp leader, a Wiccan, and a group of young ladies spent time seriously considering the God who is above all things,
“For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him” (Colossians 1:16).
As our culture increasingly accepts a Pagan worldview, the question hangs over us as believers in Jesus Christ: Why are we afraid?
Game of Gods: The Temple of Man in the Age of Re-Enchantment, by Carl Teichrib, is a comprehensive investigation into the changing nature of Western Civilization, the replacement of the Judeo-Christian framework with a new, yet ancient paradigm. It is a journey into the cracks and crevices of big history; an expedition into the expanding realm of transformational movements and influential ideas – forces of change that are shifting how we think, behave, and relate.
Game of Gods is a must have for any serious Christian researcher interested in the manifestations of spirituality prevalent in our day.
– Mike Spaulding, host of Soaring Eagle Radio.