You join a group. You’ve got your own ideas and experiences. You speak about them. Someone rushes forward to tell you in no uncertain terms how wrong you are and why you’re a terrible person. You get disgusted with the group and dip out.
Now, replace “you” with “I” and that’s pretty much the story of my recent life.
I’m about as sick of neopaganism as I am with Fundamentalist Christianity and both are doomed perspectives on their respective religions for precisely the same reason: intolerance of perspective.
For the past 20 or so years, we’ve witnessed the decline of Fundamentalist Christianity in the West. Now I forecast that we are about to witness the decline of what can only be termed Fundamentalist Neopaganism within the Western Counterculture. What makes the latter so devastating is that it differs from the former in the scope of how widespread it is; Fundamentalist Neopagans are embedded in every circle, temple, lodge, grove, group, and coven throughout the Neopagan / Magical world. Worse still, Fundamentalist Neopaganism spreads in a memetic fashion that appeals to the non-fundamentalist neopagan by advocating tradition over diversity of perspective.
So, what are the hallmarks of Fundamentalist Neopagans? Let’s list a few:
Failure to Ask — Rather than asking, “What do you mean?” a Fundamentalist Neopagan charges into any discussion with “That’s WRONG!” Fundamentalist Neopagans may not understand how a ceremonial magician uses the phrase “banishing” as opposed to how a Wiccan or hoodoo practitioner uses the term. Other views, other traditions, other experiences are automatically wrong and those who bring them up are often placed on the defensive. Efforts to explain anything are met with hostility.
Appeal to Authority — The Fundamentalist Neopagan relies on an absolute authority or an accepted definition for debates or discussions. Often, such people have multiple authorities to draw from in order to support their positions. These authorities, because they are either remote or dead, cannot be argued with or debated. Aleister Crowley, Gerald Gardner, Doreen Valiente, Scott Cunningham, and others are their go-to sources and their rebuttals often begin “So-and-so says that….” This effectively allows the Fundamentalist Neopagan to adhere to an unchallenged (and unchallengeable) worldview that rests on nebulous quotes often half-remembered and always taken out of context.
Political Righteousness — Like the right-wing Fundamentalist Christian of the 1990s, the left-wing Fundamentalist Neopagan is just as insufferable. Their concept of spirituality is forever linked to their concept of politics and moral correctness. These people will tear apart a group by insisting that Democratic Socialists need to “get in line” and support their candidate (or that everyone needs to embrace Democratic Socialism). They are often Social Justice Warriors and have a simplistic moral compass that points them in the direction that seems the most inclusive on the surface without considering problems associated with socioeconomic status. Politics seeps into the group and then into ritual and those who don’t agree with whatever political agenda is advocated in the group are, de facto, wrong.
Tolerance of Bad Behavior for the Sake of Retention — This is a big part of the problem of fundamentalism of either stripe. The fundamentalist clique will tolerate what should be intolerable behaviors (shouting, demeaning, bullying, threatening, interpersonal violence, etc.) for the sake of maintaining the cohesion of the fundamentalist in-group.
Grade, Rank, or Degree Trumps Real Experience — This is a common problem: the grade of a person is viewed as a measure of their ability across domains. But a third degree high priestess with an art degree is no match for a novice witch with a computer science degree when discussing web design; a 90th degree Memphis-Misraim pseudo-Mason with a high school diploma doesn’t hold a candle to a college-educated “cowan” when it comes to damned near anything outside of clandestine Freemasonry. This becomes incredibly dangerous when candle burning and supplemental medicine take the place of traditional medicine at the behest of someone further up the occult food-chain.
Fundamentalist Neopaganism will destroy the movement if we don’t recognize it and work to address it. It’s just another form of authoritarianism that demands obedience and respect with precious little to justify that level of dogmatic adherence. Neopagans would be well advised to be on their guard against it and, when it starts seeping into their groups, to simply back out slowly to avoid creating conflict.