Conversion, paganism and other impossibilities

One of the few areas of wide agreement across pagan paths, is that we don’t proselytise and we don’t do conversions. People either choose to become pagans, or they don’t. Go back twenty years and not only wouldn’t we convert people, we’d often collectively take a lot of persuading that someone new was serious enough to be let in.

There are a number of ways of converting people to any faith. Quite often it seems to me that what the would-be-converter is interested in, is getting the convert to go through the motions. Where a religion has lots of visible manifestations – religious gatherings, personal adornments, dress styles etc, it’s very easy to look like you’re doing it without needing to understand or feel anything. There have been (and probably still are) plenty of times and places where visible participation was all that mattered. It’s very much about control and power, and has bugger all to do with religion in any kind of spiritual sense.

Then there are the converters who have seen the light, and want you to see the light too. They may bang on your door in the hopes of persuading you that they are onto something good and important. So long as they have no means to force their opinions, I don’t find this too objectionable. Quite often it is rooted in genuine belief and enthusiasm. I do consider that kind of converter fair game and I make an exception for them – I will make as much effort to try and convert them, as they expend trying to convert me.

I assume when I’m blogging that I’m mostly preaching to the converted, as t’were. If people are reading for other reasons – curiosity, academic research, or because they were looking for something about world of warcraft druids and got here by mistake, they can easily enough leave. There’s no kind of captive audience here, which is as well.
Very few pagans have grown up pagan. Most of us at some point, have made a choice. I think the majority convert themselves, but there is a process, a route from not-pagan, to pagan. Like all religions it involves a quest for meaning in life, a desire to belong somewhere, and seeing something that touches you. I have no qualms about putting things into the world that might touch people. Those things are likely to be green in essence, about how we live with each other and how we live with this plant. But a person could respond to that in all kinds of good ways that would not take them into paganism at all. There are pagan values that I am passionate about getting out there, and getting into other people’s heads, but they are not uniquely pagan: Tolerance, diversity, peace, creativity, community, inspiration, and so forth. You could be deeply honouring all of those things whilst being an active Christian, or an atheist, or probably a lot of other things too.

I do not, in my heart, believe that any person can actually convert any other person to a spiritual belief. It goes with not believing that anyone can change anything that is inside someone. We can only change ourselves. Trying to change someone means trying to take control of them, have power over them, in a way that doesn’t really work and is entirely at odds with any good spiritual tradition. What remains is inspiration. If one person inspires another, with their faith, or philosophy, that’s an entirely different process. And I think what really has the power to move other people is not what a person says about what they believe, but what they do with that belief. Regardless of what the belief is. If a person is happier, more functional, more able, more inspired as a consequence of a belief, that shows, and in sharing what a belief gives us, we do more to advocate it than ever we could by trying to tell people what they themselves ought to believe in.
In terms of making converts for specific faiths, this is not a reliable strategy, which is also a point in its favour, I think. Whatever name you give it, a spirituality that is felt and compassionate is a precious thing, and if more collective effort went into that than trying to claim who has the right names for deity and the best forms in which to worship, we might be getting somewhere.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

5 responses to “Conversion, paganism and other impossibilities

  • Autumn Hazelhewn

    Your comment about “because they were looking for something about world of warcraft druids and got here by mistake” made be laugh because I am a former “WoW druid”. All of the points you’ve made here are valid…in a way, I don’t think you CAN convert someone to paganism. It is truly something that must be found in the heart.

  • Selene

    Graet post, Nimue! I’ve taken you up on your offer and reposted it as the “Druid Blog of the Month” for April over on the new OBOD site: http://www.druidry.org/druid-way/resources/druid-blogs/blog-month. Thanks! — Kathleen (aka Selene)

  • Selene

    Great post, Nimue! I’ve taken you up on your offer and reposted it as April’s “Druid Blog of the Month” over on the new OBOD site: http://www.druidry.org/druid-way/resources/druid-blogs/blog-month. Thanks!

  • silverbear

    I myself have travelled more than a few paths to get here. Christianity, Paganism, back to Christianity and then Atheism then back to Paganism. What I find in more secular religions is a strict adherence to rules coupled with a lack of understanding of other people. When I was looking for a Church in my area, I wished to find one that taught from the bible and not one that preached about how they were right and everyone else was wrong. Quite frankly, I was unable to find that. By the time I was done, I had reconsidered my beliefs and realised that they did not conform to the general rules under which most Christian churches and sects tend to operate. From there it was as simple choice to begin exploring the alternatives and from there I am here.

    I believe that your overall statement about not being able to convert others to Paganism is poignant. Paganism (when scooped up into the same cauldron, pardon the joke) is not a “religion” of conversion but a myriad of spiritual paths all traveling in a similar direction.

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