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This is your guide to get started in an Authentic Irish Pagan Practice, with native Irish Draoí (Druid), Lora O'Brien.

July 17, 2020

3 Pagan Mistakes (And How To Avoid Them)

You might have made these Pagan Mistakes in the past and still feel mortified – maybe even felt like you couldn’t go back to the Coven/Group/Event ever again?

Or maybe you’ve been doing some (or all) of these things and didn’t even realise, this whole time. 

But look, we’ve all been there, I promise. This article isn’t about shaming or blaming.

It’s like I always say though (actually, it wasn’t me that said it first)…

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

– Maya Angelou

The point here is for us – collectively, as a community – to know better, and then to do better.

Will you join me in that?

First of the Pagan Mistakes – Knowing Too Much

Or at least, thinking you do.

When you read your first book on Paganism, it can feel like things are finally clicking into place for you. Watch a few YouTube videos on top of that, and you’re riding high on how much sense everything seems to make now.

You know this! You got this! You’re gonna tell the world about this!

For many of us, we’ve felt a little different our whole lives, even if we could never quite figure out why. 

Until now, and I get it. Learning about Paganism can open up a whole new world for you – it should, actually! 

The thing is, it is a whole new world. And you absolutely can’t learn about it quickly, in any depth of knowledge or experience, from reading a few books by popular NeoPagan authors, or racking up a load of YouTube watch time. 

I love Pagan books! And YouTube videos by Pagan creators! 

I write and create both myself, in fact. They are an important starting point for people to discover and begin to learn. 

But there’s so much more to it than that. 

Besides the fact it’s gonna take you time and experience to actually PRACTICE your Paganism; develop relationships with Gods and Goddesses, learn how to Meditate, figure out what flavour of Paganism fits with where you’re at… 

You also need to be reading and studying beyond what NeoPagan authors are telling you, and really keeping an eye on these common Pagan mistakes as you go.. 

For example; learning about ecology, history, language, archaeology, politics, social justice, and leadership skills are all important for any Pagan Path you want to walk for any length of time.

So please do enjoy the enthusiasm and excitement that comes with your new found place in modern Paganism… but also understand that there’s more to it than you may yet know. 

Don’t go telling folks what they should or shouldn’t be doing, and please don’t presume you know more than anyone else you meet along the way.

Most of the sensible elder Pagans are kinda quiet about what they do and how long they’ve been doing it, so honestly… don’t presume. 

Second of the Pagan Mistakes – Knowing Too Little 

… And expecting that everything is going to be handed to you, just because you want it. 

I make a whole shit tonne of Pagan content – both free and paid – so that people have access to the right resources so they can learn what they need to know. 

And yet, every day, I get personal emails asking me questions which would amount to a free personal consultation service session, if I was to answer them individually. 

Your questions are usually not new to me. 

After 25+ years as a consciously practicing Pagan, much of that time being spent in the public eye in some form or another, doing community service work – believe me, I’ve seen and heard it all before. 

Much of it so often that it becomes Frequently Asked Questions, and I’ve likely created a Blog post or a YouTube video or a Class at the Irish Pagan School specifically so I wouldn’t have to keep doing the same work over and over again. 

And – of course – I’m not the only one.

We’ve all seen many of these Pagan mistakes first hand – daily, in some cases – and authors like Morgan Daimler, Benebell Wen, and the Story Archaeology Team are incredibly generous with their time and wisdom. They have already answered many of your questions, and spoken about experiences and issues very similar to what you’re experiencing. 

But there is a prevalent attitude of on-demand entitlement that truly has to stop. 

Take a breath, and do a google search, before you get in anyone’s YouTube or Blog comments, Facebook groups, or direct in their personal email inbox. 

Read another book. Meditate or do some divination on it and see what your own Guides can share with you. Research outside of Paganism and seek answers on similar issues in different contexts. 

Even if you join a Pagan group or organisation, this is essentially a solitary and self directed path. 

You can have teachers and guides, of course, and the more you know, the better your choices will be in that regard. That’s all normal. 

But ultimately, it’s up to you to find your own way. 

And that takes work. 

Third of the Pagan Mistakes – Taking What You Want

You knew I’d get here, right? 

Related to both of the above, but entirely deserving its own call out, we have the huge problem with modern Paganism… Cultural Appropriation. 

DO NOT SWITCH OFF HERE.

I mean it. This might be difficult to hear, but if that’s the case then you need it more. 

You might think you’re engaging in Cultural Appreciation, when it’s actually Cultural Appropriation. You might not know the difference. You might tell yourself you don’t even care. 

But you should care. 

Paganism doesn’t happen in isolation. One of the fundamental beliefs is that everything is connected, energetically and practically, on the planet we call home. 

What you say, and what you do, matters. 

You either believe your energy or your magic can affect the world and the people around you, or you don’t. 

(ProTip: if you don’t believe that, then maybe Paganism isn’t actually for you? Re-assess that.)

If you do believe that, then you have some responsibilities to consider. 

There’s a great article on the University of Utah website about Hallowe’en (in itself, an appropriated Irish Pagan festival!), which gives a clear definition that’s useful here: 

“Cultural appropriation can be defined as the ‘cherry picking’ or selecting of certain aspects of a culture, and ignoring their original significance for the purpose of belittling it as a trend. Appreciation is honoring and respecting another culture and its practices, as a way to gain knowledge and understanding.”

https://attheu.utah.edu/facultystaff/cultural-appropriation-or-appreciation/

A lot of this speaks to the attitudes of entitlement mentioned above. That is prevalent and normal in some societies *cough US and Britain cough* but it is time for us to move past that. 

You don’t deserve to reach out and take what you want, and use it any way you want, just because you don’t have it in your own life. 

You are not entitled to that, just because you don’t have it, but you want it. 

This is even more important when we are dealing with spirituality. 

Here is another breakdown, which I particularly resonate when it comes to modern Pagans looking at indigenous spiritualities whose culture they are not a native part of: 

“Cultures adopt aspects of each other all the time. This is fine when both cultures are exchanging equally – called ‘Cultural Exchange’ – but if there is a power imbalance between the cultures then it is not an equal exchange. If a minority culture is adopting aspects of a dominant or colonizing culture in order to fit in or survive oppression then it’s called ‘Cultural Assimilation’. If it is a dominant or majority culture taking aspects of the minority culture and taking them out of context of that culture and profiting by them in some way the original culture is not free to do, then it’s called ‘Cultural Appropriation’.”

http://www.muddycolors.com/2019/02/cultural-appropriation-vs-appreciation/

This ‘profiting from them’ is often the key to whether your Pagan practice is ethical or not. 

We often see a very one-sided take, take, take attitude in NeoPaganism, where someone goes and learns some shit about an indigenous culture, then decides to write a book, set themselves up on YouTube, or speak at events (often all three), as self styled experts on those traditions. 

If you are profiting financially from a culture that is not yours, that is a fairly obvious red flag. I don’t care how many times you’ve visited as a tourist, or brought groups on spiritual pilgrimage, or paid native folk so you can be ‘initiated’ into their tradition over a long weekend. 

None of that means shit, if you are not walking in (what I call) ‘Right Relationship’ with that culture – there is a balance of give and take, and you are genuinely a part of the living tradition – and recognised as such by those people.  

Then – maybe – think about writing that book or running that workshop. 

The more subtle side of this though is those who profit by association – social credit, if you will. 

Those who are invested in their identity as an Irish Witch, or a Voodoo Practitioner, or a Norse Runemaster… who do not have any direct experience of the source culture or traditions, and do not put any effort into a fair exchange back to those sources. 

In fact, many will hideously mangle the source culture because it makes them feel cool, or they can fool others into thinking they know what they’re doing. 

I’m looking at you, kilted dudes and chakra dudettes.

Look.

I know none of this is easy to hear, if you’ve been making these mistakes. 

Or if you used to do these things, and you’re still embarrassed about how little you knew but how much you though you knew, and deserved. 

But this is important. 

If we are going to build a ‘new normal’ from here, we need to clear the decks somewhat in the Pagan communities, and set new standards. 

Educate ourselves, and do the work to seek out those who have been trying to educate us for a long time. 

Then LISTEN. And LEARN. And GROW.

So we know better. So we can do better. 

Want To Learn More About Avoiding Common Pagan Mistakes?

Whether you are currently a priest or priestess, are considering taking on such a role, or would like to be more informed about Pagan leadership so you can better support your community, this book helps you learn about the practical skills required and provides ideas on how you can acquire or improve them.

Explore the two primary categories of priestly duties—pastoral and sacerdotal—and find a plethora of insight into specific topics, including group leadership, teaching, crisis counseling, communicating with deity, devotion to deity, intervention and healing, life rites, and community celebration. As Paganism continues to grow and new generations become leaders, this guide shares a practical picture of what the Pagan priesthood can be.

A Practical Guide to Pagan Priesthood: Community Leadership and Vocation – by Rev Lora O’Brien.

Product details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Llewellyn Publications (October 8, 2019)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 073875966X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0738759661

Buy It On Amazon US – https://amzn.to/32iuk0E (affiliate link)

Buy It On Amazon UK – https://amzn.to/2ZxZOy9 (affiliate link)

Buy It From Llewellyn – https://www.llewellyn.com/product.php?ean=9780738759661

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About the Author

Irish Author, Educator, and Guide to Ireland. Co-Founder of the Irish Pagan School, Eel & Otter Press, and Pagan Life Rites (Ireland).

Lora O'Brien

  • Thank you Lora! I am one of those chakra dudettes and looking back on the emails I have sent you, #2 is certainly relevant there. I would much rather someone call me out on my shit than keep doing it over and over again to the detriment of everyone around me. That’s true respect #babypagan

  • Sometimes I get confused about the cultural appropriation bit. My mother’s family is part of Clan Lamont, which (as you may already know) was a Celtic clan situated within the Kingdom not Dal Riata, so I get messed up about their traditional spiritual practices as Celts. Who were there God’s? Did they differ from those of the Irish? On the other hand, my father is Mi’qmaw, but he was very distant and so I was raised primarily by my mother who held pretty fast to her Scottish heritage, so by incorporating Mi’qmak practices, am I appropriating the culture? I always felt very drawn to it as a child, but I was very removed from it because of how distant dad was, and because they’re an East coast tribe, and I grew up in Vancouver, BC.

    Anyway, these have been some of my thoughts.

    Thanks for sharing this information ❤️

  • Lora, thank you for this blog. I totally agree with you on all 3 points. I think point 3 is so very important, and very few people even address it.

    I live in New York City, and I frequently encounter people who declare that they are a shaman in a particular indigenous tradition after taking a quickie course in shamanism. These individuals either wittingly or unwittingly are manifesting and perpetuating the arrogance of the colonial mindset. They appropriate and often distort the culture which they supposedly admire and on which they are self proclaimed authorities.

    Again, thank you in particular for addressing point 3.

  • Would you consider, then, that “eclectic paganism”, the umbrella under which by and large most pagans I’ve encountered stand, is fundamentally the wrong way to approach spirituality? That there should be no freedom to incorporate elements of different paths into a personal path, but that instead we should only focus on one path we are either connected to through heritage or which we have researched and studied and devoted ourselves to exclusively?

  • go raibh míle maith agat lora for speaking out against spirtitualists cultural appropriation. i’ve had e-fights w/ ppl who consider themselves able to use native american terminology because “it’s our tradition too”. so infuriating!!! and it is RIFE in pagan spaces. i really appreciate that you push back publicly against this bullshit. thank you for all the work you do; my life wouldn’t be the same. sláinte

  • Thank you Lora. Thank you for caring enough to call us out on our shit. If I am gonna take the time to do this, I want to do it right; for you, for me, for all around me, and most importantly for gods and goddesses. Thank you! 😉

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