The Dynamic of Interfaith podcasts — Ashley Wagner
Ashley Wagner represents the Pagan community on CIC’s board. Listen to the fascinating story of how she embraces this tradition.
Ashley Wagner represents the Pagan community, but she is Wiccan herself. She has the large responsibility of explaining Paganism, which is an unfair role, since no one can speak on behalf of their entire faith. Tune in to learn more about this community so that we can be better advocates for all religions.
Listen to more “Dynamics of Interfaith” podcasts
Ashley Wagner Interview
Rachel: Today, we have Ashley Wagner. Welcome Ashley.
Ashley: Thank you for having me.
Rachel: Awesome, so Ashley could you give us a little bit about yourself, and how you became involved with the Center for Interfaith Cooperation?
Ashley: Sure. Well, I am the board member that is representing the Pagan community. I myself am Wiccan…mostly. I became involved in interfaith work. Charlie Wiles actually approached one of our community members who does some events at the InterChurch and asked them if they wanted to be on the board. That group, which is IPCOD, the Indiana Pagan Community Outreach and Dialogue, decided to open it up to the entire community because one, they knew that the community is bigger than just that one group that the CIC had been exposed to and two, they were too busy and didn’t have time to do anything like that. We got together, and they picked out community members who were active members of the community, people who were leaders of groups that were really active in the community – some of the old guard is what we call them for some of our elders. We had several meetings and let me tell you getting pagans to meet together is like herding ferrets. It’s very difficult to get them all to agree on a time and place to meet. We managed to do it a couple of times. John at the CIC came and explained what the board membership would be like and what they were needing in a board member and we took a vote which was an interesting process as well. There were, I think, three or four candidates for the board membership. We took a vote within the pagan community, so it’s even different than what was done for voting at the CIC. There were three or four people that were put up for the position. You had to be nominated by somebody else. You couldn’t nominate yourself. You had to submit a resume. Writing a resume out as a Pagan was like what do I put on here? Then, people read those over. People submitted their votes. They were counted by an impartial third party who was actually not part of our voting process, and it was decided that I was the winner. They submitted that to the CIC, and the CIC has to do their process and everything. And here I am.
Rachel: Wow that’s an accomplishment. You’re representing.
Ashley: Getting them together to vote on something was an accomplishment in and of itself.
Rachel: That’s awesome, so do you commit full-time to work in the pagan community or do you also have a job outside?
Ashley: I have a job. Like most pagans, we don’t have permanent clergy where that’s all they do. When I say the pagan community, we are talking about a collection of hundreds of different religious paths. Pagan is not a religion. Pagan is a group of religious practices. There are literally hundreds if not thousands of different ways to be pagan, so having one representative for the entire pagan community in just Indianapolis is representing an astounding number of denominations. We don’t have churches or synagogues or mosques or anything like that where our clergy can practice their faith full-time. We don’t have anything like that. We don’t have any funds or sacred spaces that are permanent to us right now. There are couple places in the world where they do have things like that, but that’s a really rare occurrence, so most people that are clergy within the pagan community, which I am actually clergy, have outside jobs. Unless they are retired from whatever job it is that they had before that, they mostly have day jobs, so I do have a day job. I work in an office. I talk to people on the phone and solve their problems for them and things like that.
Rachel: So how has this been a part of your faith journey? How did you become pagan and if that’s the right term? Would you consider yourself pagan or is there another term that you would take on?
Ashley: I do consider myself pagan, and I consider myself pagan because some of the more specific terms don’t always apply to me. I came up being Wiccan, but sometimes even I don’t think that fully describes my personal spiritual path because it is a very personal spiritual path. From a young age, I knew that I was different spiritually than other people. I got kicked out of Sunday school when I was really little for asking too many questions and the wrong questions apparently. They didn’t want me coming back anymore which turned out to be fine because my parents really encouraged questions of all kinds. They encouraged questions of our surroundings, about things we saw on the news or on TV, about our religion… I remember being really frustrated as a little girl and I going to my dad and asking a question and he would say we’ll go look it up. That was so frustrating to me at the time, and I said, “I don’t want to look it up. I just want you to tell me the answer,” and it was “go look it up.” Then, I would come back, and we would talk about the answer and what it actually meant and if I understood the answer and if I didn’t understand the answer he would explain it a little more in detail for somebody my age. That ended up being really beneficial for me later on in life because when I got to the age where I was in school, and they were teaching, I remember this really specifically, they were teaching us about stereotypes. What a stereotype is, and how people come up with stereotypes and if there’s any kind of truth behind them or where that stereotype may have come from. I started thinking about how Halloween is my favorite holiday ever. I wondered why witches have green faces and pointy hats and nobody could tell me, so like my dad said to do, I looked it up. I went to the library, which you wouldn’t think there’d be a lot of pagan information in the library in the early nineties, and there wasn’t a whole lot, but there was some. One of the first books I found was the encyclopedia of witches and witchcraft, and I read it and the more I read about it the more I thought that’s already something that I believe so that makes sense to me on an intellectual level and then the more I learned about the spirituality of it the more I thought that this is really the right path for me to go on. It was thanks to my parents encouraging me to look it up and learn it for myself that I started on this path and I think that they kicked themselves about that later because they had a very hard time accepting my religious choice because it was so different from what I had been raised in. It’s been a twenty-five-year journey since then. I was ten
years old when I started practicing and studying witchcraft and Wicca, specifically, and that sounds like a really young age to a lot of people, especially when I was a lot younger than I am now. It sounded really young and it kind of is, but when you think about how early kids are exposed to the religion of their parents, it is really quite old to be choosing a religion. Most people that are currently in the community choose a lot later in life. There aren’t as many people that are like me that are in it from a very young age becoming Wiccan although there are some other forms of paganism and there’s even fewer that are actually born into being pagan. Most pagans are converts of some other religious practice, usually Christianity, a lot of times Catholicism, so everybody has similar beginnings just maybe not at the same age. A lot of pagans you will hear when they talk about how they first came to paganism it’s “I started reading about all the major religions,” because we all do we all read about the major religions first, and then they start coming to different forms of paganism, and they realize how much that already coincides with the things that they already believed and how much it contradicts things that they feel uncomfortable with in mainstream religion. For a lot of them, they describe it as “a coming home.” It feels right. It feels like their soul is lighter when they talk about paganism, when they think about paganism it’s lighter for them because the burden of following a religious path that’s really not your own is very heavy no matter what your religious path is. If you’re trying to follow something that doesn’t actually feed your soul, it’s a really heavy burden that you carry with you.
Rachel: I can imagine. That’s the process, and I feel like it takes a lot for people to sit down and really develop their own beliefs. I feel like all my life, for the most part, I believed what my parents did. It wasn’t until I came to college that I really was given that space to decide for myself what I wanted to commit to.
Ashley: A lot of people discover paganism in one form or another when they’re in college because that is a really formative time in your life. It’s the first time for most people that they are away from their parents. The first time that they have to do those things by themselves. They’re more exposed to a lot more cultural differences than they were in their hometown and in their house and their high school. That’s a really common time for people to discover it. I guess I’m an odd person because I was ten.
Rachel: That’s fascinating. Now, looking at, and I know this is going to be hard to fully describe, but looking at paganism for somebody who has no idea what this looks like, is there any way that you could explain that to a listener?
Ashley: So paganism is a lot more about what we don’t share in common with the major religions and about what we do share in common with ourselves. So pagans by and large and this is not… okay. There are no absolutes in paganism. The first time you say “we all pagans are like this” there’s going to be some group who is going to say “no, we’re not like that at all. In fact, here’s six reasons why we’re not like that,” but there’s a lot of things that we do have in common. A lot of pagans are polytheistic, so they believe in many different gods even if they don’t worship many different gods, they don’t discount that those other gods exist within the greater work of the universe. You may only work with Isis and that’s your main patron goddess. Isis is a really common one for people to worship. But you don’t discount the existence of somebody like Freya or Bunagaya. You know many other different entities and gods and spirits and things like that. You know that they exist it’s just not the one that you concentrate on. We believe in different gods. They’re just not always the ones that we work with primarily, and some people only ever work with one god, and they never work with any other ones, but some people don’t work with gods at all. Some people only work with spirits of the land, and it depends on the person if they’re working on spirits of the land that they currently inhabit or spirits of the land from their ancestors, which are different things especially here in the United States where most of the people that practice paganism are not from this country except for our immigrant parents and
grandparents and great grandparents et cetera. There’s also people that work with ancestors, solely. They don’t work with any kind of divine beings of any kind. They work with their ancestral spirits only. And it’s not just their ancestral spirits, but the ancestral spirits of all of humanity so it’s not necessarily just by their bloodline, but it’s other bloodlines too. They maybe pray to Nefertiti, as a great Egyptian queen, even if that’s not in their bloodline. They feel some kind of kinship with her as a person in the world. You have to be careful with things like that though because you don’t want to overstep the bounds of cultural appropriation.
Rachel: I didn’t think about that. So could you be pagan and also be Christian or another religion?
Ashley: There’s some debate about that because one of the things that define paganism is that it’s not one of the big five. The big five being Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. Technically the dictionary definition of somebody who’s pagan is they don’t belong to one of those five things. Now you have pagans and then you have the different denominations of pagans like Wiccans et cetera et cetera but then you have people who practice witchcraft while often part of pagan practices is not necessarily pagan. You can be Christian and practice witchcraft. You can be a Buddhist and practice witchcraft. You can be Muslim and practice witchcraft. You can be all of these other religions and practice witchcraft, and it’s not the same as being pagan of any kind because it’s a different type of practice.
Rachel: That’s a good distinction, and then looking at you, since I know there’s so many different ways, how do you particularly practice?
Ashley: I am eclectic. Some people don’t like people that are eclectic because they don’t think that we have any kind of standards of belief in any way, but we really do. It’s just more on a personal level and not on a level of everybody that practices this way, does things this way. It’s “this is my practice, and this is the way that I always do it so that’s the way that I govern myself.” I am eclectic, so I take practices from different types of paganism and the things that I like I keep and the things that I don’t like I don’t keep and I think that it’s thanks to writers like Scott Cunningham that I learned that I was able to do that. Scott Cunningham is one my favorite pagan authors of all time and in one of his books he specifically states that if you don’t like something and it’s not working for you, don’t do it because it’s not going to give you anything. It’s not going to help you on your special path in any way. It’s not going to add to your experience during the ritual so just don’t do it and that was one of the best pieces of advice that I ever got growing up being pagan. You don’t have to do all the things that they say you have to do. You don’t have to have all the things they say you should need to have in your practice as far as tools and spaces and things like that, clothing. You don’t have to have all those things if it doesn’t benefit you. One of the reasons why you would have those things is because it is a psychological tool to help you focus your mind and focus your energy. You have that in every religion. Catholicism has a lot of props. Paganism has a lot of props. Everybody’s got props, and if it helps you focus, go for it. Use it. There are lots of props that I do use, but I can just as easily go and sit out in the middle of the woods and have a ritual with the sticks and the stones around me then I can have in my own home with my formal altar set up and all of my stuff that’s around me.
Rachel: So are there continuous practices that you do? Or do you just feel it in the moment and take on what benefits you most in the moment since you say you go into nature and you see these tools? Or is there a particular process that you go through each time?
Ashley: I think that depends on your practice. Some people are really good at spontaneous ritual, and they open their mouth and all these beautiful poetic words flow out and some people even when it’s written down and if you the paper in front of them, they stumble over the words. I think that depends on your practice. I do it both ways. Some rituals are very planned out. There are rituals that you’re supposed to do every year during certain times of the year. We have a calendar, a religious calendar in Wicca. Specifically, it’s called the Wheel of the Year. A lot of pagan communities use those holidays or similar holidays or some of the holidays and not all of them. In Wicca, you also have the 13 full moons and you have the dark of the moon as well and ideally, if you’re really good and really devout you do all of those things, but again ritual is something that you do over and over and over again. It becomes part of your routine, so if your ritual whatever for the full moon is to have this big elaborate set up with wine and cakes and lots of candles and incense and chanting and flowy skirts and brooms, that’s great. If that’s your thing, I applaud your dedication and your willingness to set up all that stuff and clean it up at the end of the night. My full moon ritual most of the time is saying “hey, it’s a full moon. Let’s talk to the full moon a while and see how she’s doing, and let’s talk to the spirits and let’s talk to her ancestors and we’ll share some drink and some food and maybe light some incense if we are really feeling fancy. My full moon rituals are usually really simple. It also depends on if you’re in a group or if you’re by yourself. Your solo rituals are probably going to be really different than if you’re having a lot of people with you. It’s also going to depend on if you’re just a participant in the ritual, if you’re just a witness in the ritual or if you’re the leader of the ritual. It kind of depends on the situation. We don’t always have the same people leading the ritual each time. Sometimes it changes depending on what the ritual is, who feels the connection to the god that’s highlighted in that ritual, who really loves that time of year, or sometimes it’s just about whose turn it is. It really just depends. There’s a lot of factors going into it.
Rachel: Definitely and you said sometimes that’s community and sometimes that’s solo. So some people do share a commonality to come together to worship together?
Ashley: Yes, it’s different than it is in some of the bigger religions. Pagan rituals are a lot smaller, generally. A typical group depending on what you call them a grove, a coven, a kindred, or just circle is usually between five and ten people. I mean that’s pretty average for a group. They’re usually very small groups. People work very intimately with one another. It’s a very different dynamic than if you go to church even if you go to a small church. You probably have more people than that there, and you probably don’t know everything there is to know about everybody in your church. When you’re in a pagan group a lot of times, you will pretty much know everything about everybody. It’s very close-knit. It’s an extremely intimate relationship, and I’m not talking like sexually intimate. It’s emotionally intimate, which is sometimes so much more intimate than other types of intimacy. It’s a very small group. Groups are usually not really formalized. They’re not really connected with one another. I have belonged to several groups all at the same time and as long as our rituals don’t clash with one another, I can go to all of those rituals at the same time, but probably I would say most people that practice paganism one kind or another are solitary practitioners. It’s because a lot of them don’t know that there are other pagans in their community, or they know that there probably are, but they don’t know how to find them. Pagan groups are usually really picky about who they let into their group. We don’t want people that are there to just observe and that’s all that they’re there to do. We want people who actually want to take place in the spirituality and the practice of it. You can go to an open pagan ritual, but you’re not just going to sit on the sidelines and do nothing. You’re going to be in the circle with everybody else, moving with everybody else. If you know the words, you will be chanting with everybody else, you know raising your hand, standing, sitting, dancing, climbing trees, whatever it is the ritual calls for at that point. You’re going to be active in the ritual even if you don’t have an active speaking part in the ritual. You can’t just be a casual observer for paganism, and some people come in and try to be that. They just want to watch, and we’re not really into voyeurism in that sense. We get a lot of people that are just doing it because they’re trying to rebel against some kind of authority, usually their parents. Being pagan is hard, and it’s not for the casual person and we really try to discourage people that are just doing it to do it. Well, do it on your own for a while first because you work so intimately with people. You also want to make sure that you can work with those people, so you can’t just go to a pagan gathering and say “Hey, I want to be part of this group” and expect to say “Welcome aboard. Come along! Here’s your athame.” You have to practice with these people for a while. You have to get to know them on a personal level because it’s such a personal experience and emotional bond that you create with these people that you practice with. We do have groups that get together. There are a lot of groups that get together. Most groups don’t really last that long because of many different reasons, but most people are solitary practitioners or the group will break up and go spread to other groups and be a part of those groups and then those groups will break up. It’s just kind of like a life cycle and that’s something that we pay a lot of attention to is the life cycle of earth and ourselves but also our groups too. When it’s time to disband as a group, it’s time to disband as a group. That’s what you do.
Rachel: That makes sense. So if someone were wanting to learn more or interested in pursuing this path, would you recommend making that their personal journey, so going about their research and understanding by themselves? Because it sounds like if you wanted to become involved in that community you’d want to know your personal understanding and beliefs going in.
Ashley: It’s good to know your personal understanding and beliefs going in, but a lot of people do need help. They don’t know where to start. There’s a lot of information out there, and it’s really hard to sort through the information that’s good information and the information that’s bad information. When I was really young studying, a teacher told me to read everything you possibly can. Even the bad things will give you information and usually that information is how to spot the bad things. That was when the Internet was really new. Today, there’s so much information. People are inundated. There are websites you can go, there are Facebook groups that you can join, and there’s just so much out there that people get really overwhelmed. They don’t know where to start. There’s quite a few New Age shops and pagan shops in the Indianapolis area actually, and even when you go into those shops, it’s still really overwhelming to new people because they don’t know what to look for. They don’t know what they’re supposed to be getting. They don’t know who the good authors to read and the authors that well their theories may be good, but all of their information that they were basing this on has been debunked because it was written by Margaret Murray and she’s been debunked. It’s really difficult to know as a new person today where to start, so when starting, I like to have pagan show up at events. Every month, we have pagan night out. There is a Facebook event for it, so go check it out. We meet once a month, and it’s really just a networking and socializing event. We have new people come in, and there are regulars. I’ve gone to almost every pagan night out every month for the past six years. It evolves. People have come and gone. People show up sometimes and don’t show up other times. We have people that come rarely and every time they come it’s a big deal because they never get out of the house, and we have people that come all the time. We have new people who show up all the time. Just this past month in November, we had several new people that came that had never been to a pagan night out before. The month before that we had several people that had never been to a pagan night out before, so that’s a good way and that’s where I’ve met a lot of the people that I’m currently friends is a pagan night out because there is
no obligation to be part of a ritual at that time. There’s no expectation that you have to stick with this group. It’s just for socializing and networking. You can learn the different groups that are there. You get a really good feel for the types of people that are involved in the community and are active in the community when you go to events like that. There are other things around the city. If you go to Facebook, which Facebook has its issues. I have issues with Facebook, but we do use it a lot for networking. So there are going to be a lot of events listed on Facebook for groups and then in the Indianapolis area or beyond that, you can go to because we use that a lot for networking. We have Pagan Pride Day. This year it’s going to be October 5th, I think. It’s the first Saturday in October at the Marion County Fairgrounds and Pagan Pride Day is going to be in its 22nd year here, I believe, so it’s been going for a long time and sometimes people come from not just across the state but from other parts of the country to come to our Pagan Pride Day here. For some Pagans that’s the only time that they see other pagans is at pagan pride day, so we do exist. We do have community outreach through several different groups. We have community events that happen. It’s just a matter of knowing where to start and that can definitely be really overwhelming, and I do recommend people starting with a friend to get some advice on what to read and where to go.
Rachel: Yeah definitely and I know that probably helps some misconceptions too. Looking at Paganism have you encountered those misconceptions, and how do you feel when somebody has this preconceived notion? How do you try to debunk that?
Ashley: Yeah so I am really grateful for pop culture because it has shown a favorable light, for the most part, on paganism, right now. When I was growing up, I was just like every other young pagan. I was angry about everything all the time. That’s a normal stage for pagans to be in, so don’t get offended if we’re like that. I was offended really easily when people would get stuff wrong, and it wasn’t just that they were getting stuff wrong it’s that they were being offensive. They were literally trying to be offensive. They would call me a devil worshiper. They would ask me if I ate babies. Men often assume that I’m extremely promiscuous because I’m pagan which is really laughable. It’s the things that people would say to me that you’re going to hell constantly. People would say that I was going to hell I’m not going to lie. It’s really difficult to date as a pagan because you can be having a really good date with a guy and then you know if a few dates in the subject of religion comes up and you say well I’m pagan. They’re out the door faster than you can blink because they think that you’re going to curse them or something like that. People get scared of us more than anything. I really blame the teachings that they were given as a child of what pagan means. The people that study Christianity called pagans nonbelievers and that’s not true. I mean we believe in a lot of different things. We just don’t believe in what you believe and that’s why we’re called nonbelievers. Pagan actually comes from an old Roman word that really just means country dweller which all that actually meant was somebody you didn’t practice the state religion, so at one time everybody was pagan. It just met somebody who didn’t practice the state religion and in Rome, it was the Roman religion. Rome would go out and conquer all these surrounding peoples, and the people that didn’t practice the Roman religion were pagans. They had their own country gods that they practiced with and that’s where the term actually comes from. There’s a lot of misconception about where the word comes from and what it means today and what pagans actually do. We don’t eat babies. First of all, there’s way too much fat on babies, and there’s not a steady supply. That’s a joke. That’s really a joke. We don’t worship Satan because Satan is a construct of Christianity and we’re not Christian. There are people that count themselves as part of the pagan community that are called Luciferians that do practice with the archangel Lucifer, but that’s not the same thing as Satan and even people that study Christianity will know that’s not the same thing as Satan or the devil. There’s a lot of gods in paganism that look like the devil or act like the devil as you see in Christianity, but that’s where Christians got that idea of what the devil looks like and acts like. It’s from these pagan gods of people that were eventually taken over once Christianity became the big thing. There’s a lot of misconceptions about who we are and what we do. We do have a set of morality. It’s just not predicated on whether or not we’re going to be punished by a divine being later on for it in the afterlife. I don’t kill people because I don’t want to kill people. Taking away their life is wrong. It’s not up to me to decide what they do with their life. Now if they’re hurting other people, yes I am going to stop them, but if they’re not hurting anybody and all they are doing is living their life to the best of their abilities and trying to get through the world. There’s no reason for me to tell them to stop.
Rachel: I feel like that’s general humanity at that point, so looking at interfaith in particular and your interest in that and wanting to become a part of that community. How have you found a sense of support with the Center for Interfaith Cooperation? Has it been difficult to maneuver amongst different religions or is it easy to find a commonality?
Ashley: With some people in the CIC it’s been easy to find a commonality because I think those are the ones that are more open to questioning what paganism is, and they have their assumptions but maybe my assumptions are not right because she looks pretty freaking normal to me. They’re more open to asking questions and receiving answers and then saying, “oh well we do this in my faith, too. Wow, that’s not really that different,” and I say, “No, it’s not is it.” There have been people that have not been quite as open, and I think they just don’t know what to do. I don’t know if it’s because they’re bad people or they are not accepting of my faith. They just don’t know what to do. They’ve never been around somebody who’s pagan. They sometimes don’t know what to ask because they’re afraid that I am going to be offended or they just don’t know what to ask or maybe some of them might actually just be afraid of me, which is fine. Working with the CIC in some ways has been harder and in some ways has been easier than working within my own community. Within my own community, I am just another person. I don’t have any special powers. I don’t have any special authority really other than what they give me. Whereas with the
CIC, I’m a novelty. If they have a question about paganism and what might be appropriate, they’re going to come to me. I’m the person to go to. It’s great, but it is a lot of responsibility. I have found that navigating the different religions within paganism is much more difficult than navigating the different religions within the CIC because again for the most part a lot of the people that are at the CIC are there to learn and are there to facilitate those interfaith relationships. Whereas in the pagan community, there is only now starting to be a sense of we really need to come together as a community and support each other as a community and not just as separate groups doing things. Just now within the pagan community, we’ve been having more of “Well your group is doing this. Is it an open ritual? Great I want to come to that. I’ll get the details on Facebook.”
Rachel: So do you find that it may need to start in the pagan community, the sense of identity of some sort, in order to facilitate an interfaith dialogue amongst different faiths?
Ashley: Absolutely, we are having a lot of discussions right now and a lot of dialogue right now within the pagan community as to what our community is going to look like. My personal opinion about it is that we can’t be exclusionary in our community. There’s a lot of politics involved. There’s a lot of “this is the way we’ve always done it, so this is the way we were going to continue to do it” within the pagan community, which doesn’t really work because if you wanted to stick with the way that it was always done just because we had always done it that way paganism would not exist in its current form in the first place. While I appreciate the old guard and our elders and what they did for us, the things that they did for us coming up in the fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties, and nineties. I will always be indebted to the things that they fought for and the things that they accomplished for us. I mean I remember when in the state of Indiana you could get your kids taken away for being pagan, and I remember when you couldn’t anymore
get your kids get taken away. It was very recently. I remember when the very first times that they were allowing pentagrams on the headstones of soldiers who had died to be buried at Arlington cemetery and other military cemeteries. There was a time when you couldn’t have that. Your choice was a cross or a Star of David or nothing, I think. Now, you can have several things on your tombstone. I know you can have a pentacle. You can have an awene and couple of other things, too, but I remember hearing on the news when you could finally have pentacle on your gravestone. I remember these things. These are within my lifetime as a millennial, so I will always be grateful for the things that I know our elders did for us. The wars they fought for us. The things that they championed when nobody else would champion for us, but their job’s done now, and it’s time for the younger generations to pick up that mantle and continue to fight the continued fight for LGBTQ rights, to continue to fight for women’s rights, and the rights of immigrants and refugees, and things like that. People that we want to have in our community. We cannot have a strong community when excluding those types of people. We need them in our community to survive and to continue to move forward as a group and as a religion. If religion doesn’t change with the times, it cannot be the religion of man. I don’t remember who said that, but it was somebody who is much more famous than me. It is very true because if your religion doesn’t change and stays stagnant it can’t survive. We have religions within the pagan community that are dying. Traditions that are dying because they refuse to change. They refuse to update their old ideas of only having men and women in equal numbers, and you can’t have anybody whose LGBTQ in that group because it goes against the tradition. Those religions are dying, and so be it, if they die out. If that’s why they’re dying, then we probably don’t need them anyway. I’m going to get a lot of crap for this if somebody from one of those communities hear me, but it’s true. We need to evolve as a community. We are in the throes of deciding what our community is going to look like, and I personally want it to look like so many shades of the rainbow and so many shades of gray and all of the colors in the world and every denomination. There should be no limits to how you worship the divine and excluding somebody just because they do it differently than you is not okay. I mean there are some caveats to that, of course. People who are just actually evil people and do evil things don’t belong in our community, but other than that, it should be pretty open. We shouldn’t be sequestering ourselves.
Rachel: That’s the definition of interfaith.
Rachel: From what I see it.
Ashley: Yeah, so it’s been a lot harder within the pagan community because you have this reverence for the old gods and the old ways and therefore, you’re supposed to have reverence for your older and the old guard, but they’re not continuing to change. Their job is done. It’s our turn. They’re having a difficult time giving that up, so it’s been a lot harder. It’s been a struggle especially within the last couple of years.
Rachel: I feel like part of what’s liberating about paganism is that you can make it your own, and it is an evolving faith whereas so many do have that rooted history that is institutionalized and “this is the way things are” mentality, and this is the way they worship, and there is nothing wrong with that, but I think that’s one of the great things about paganism from what you’ve been saying.
Ashley: Yeah it certainly is a changing religion. The old gods that we worship these days and call by their ancient names are not the same ones that people at that time worshiped. Their personalities and their motivations have changed because ultimately the gods that you worship is reflective of the people and the person that you are. If your God is vengeful and wrathful, what does that say about your society. If your God is loving and accepting what does that say about your society. If your God used to be one way and is now something different, what does that say about your society. The gods are reflections of ourselves. I know a lot of people are like “well the gods created us,” and that’s fine if that’s what they want to believe, but they are reflections of ourselves. There’s nobody that’s not going to argue that the gods are archetypes of human behavior, so how you work with those gods and how they reflect your behavior is very telling of
Rachel: Thank you so much, Ashley for being here.Tags: ashley wagner, dynamics of interfaith, interview, podcast, Rachel Koehler